Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's Scary?

On this Halloween day, in a world that can seem pretty scary, I want to share something I heard on the radio several months ago. Nancy Leigh DeMoss was talking about the circumstances of life that cause us to fear, those things we are facing and those we are worrying might come our way. She said, "Do you know what's scary? What's scary is if God falls off His throne, and that's not going to happen!"

I trust that will bring you as much courage as it did me. There are many things in this world that I'm not sure about, but this I know -- God is not about to fall off His throne. And as long as He's in charge, we can walk in safety and peace. When our hope is in Him, we need not fear.

Check out these verses from the Psalms for further study: Psalm 11:4; 33:20-22; 45:6; 46:1-3; 48:14; 62:5-8; 93:2; 94:19; 103:19; 147:10-11.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Baby and Her Buddies

You should meet Baby, a Muloccan Cockatoo who belongs to my friends Steve and Janice. Baby's a character. She's mischievous, she's noisy, and she's a hoot!

In her screechy voice Baby announces, "I be good! I be good!" This, however, is not always accurate. Sometimes Baby be bad! On a number of occasions she has walked into the bathroom and, with her beak, turned off the valve on the toilet, making it impossible to flush! Baby spends a lot of time out of her cage. They returned one day to discover her beak all shiny from a stick of butter she'd eaten from the butter dish, after she had destroyed the silver salt and pepper shakers. She's also destroyed the phone, the mail and a pressed back oak chair. Poor Baby. Since ruining the chair she gets put back in the cage before the last guy leaves the house.

Baby loves to be the center of attention. When Janice sits on the couch, Baby sits next to her or on her shoulder, and chatters. Even patient Janice wearies of this from time to time. When Baby is especially unruly she will put her in "time out" -- on the front room floor with a cardboard box over her for five minutes. Not to be outsmarted, Baby starts to peck, making little holes in the box. One day Jan got busy and forgot that Baby was under the box. When she remembered Baby she went to check on her. Baby had pecked herself a hole big enough for her head to pop up out of the box. And sitting around the box looking quite interested were three curious cats!

Baby shares the house with five other birds, including Pierre, an African Gray. Pierre had belonged to a man from the French Congo who, during the fight for independence, had given him to a CIA agent who was leaving on the last flight out. Janice says they are always trying to get secrets out of Pierre, but he won't share them! Another African Gray, Georgie, doesn't say much. She just sits on a plastic lady bug that she thinks is her egg.

The best talker among Janice's birds is Cicero. When Jan gets up in the morning Cicero asks, "Whatcha doin'?" And when the lights get turned off at night Cicero says, "OK, time for bed." Cicero not only speaks well, he also says appropriate things, and uses phrases she's never heard him say before. He'll say to Baby, "Baby, you be quiet!" "You're a bad bird!" "Stop that!" When one of the family is scolding Baby, Cicero will say, "I didn't do it!"

And Baby answers, "I be bad!"

Upon Janice's recommendation, I recently read a book by Irene M. Pepperberg called Alex & Me {How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence -- and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process}. It chronicles Pepperberg's 31 years of work with Alex, an African Gray -- an amazing bird who not only repeated what he heard but also learned complex tasks and displayed complex reasoning abilities.

In my favorite Alex story Pepperberg tells of a demonstration she was doing for a group of sponsors of her research program, highlighting Alex's ability to recognize the individual sounds that make up complete words. Grouping plastic refrigerator letters by sound, each group in a different color, Alex would answer her questions: "What color is 'ch'?" "What sound is purple?" and so on. Each time Alex would answer correctly. After each correct response Alex would ask for a nut. "Want a nut," he would say. But they were pressed for time so she ignored his request, planning to reward him when the demonstration was complete. This went on for a while, Alex responding correctly even if he didn't get a nut. Here's how she describes what happened next:
"What color is 'or'?"
"Good bird!"
"Want a nut." Alex was obviously getting more than a little frustrated. He finally got very slitty-eyed, always a sign he was up to something. He looked at me and said slowly, "Want a nut. Nnn...uh...tuh." (pages 178-179).

Clearly, animals know more than we think, and think a great deal more than we know, as Pepperberg states (page 219).

If you doubt that, just spend some time at Steve and Janice's.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Extended Family

"We just bought a house!" It was a Saturday in June of 2007 and we called my parents with the news. They were taken aback. "We didn't know you were looking," they said.

We really hadn't meant to buy a house that day. Indeed, we hadn't been looking, and we didn't even plan to move. But we had just made one of the best decisions of our lives. We'd bought a house for a widow in Africa.

That morning we had heard a presentation by Denise Patch, co-director of a program called Sister Connection. She talked about the thousands of women of Burundi who had been widowed through the civil war that raged in that country for over a decade. She explained that these women, who were raising their own children and often other orphans, were considered the outcasts of society. To support a widow through Sister Connection would give her a means to care for herself and her children and would give her dignity in the eyes of her community.

We headed over to the sponsorship table, looking for a widow with two boys, maybe about the ages of our own boys. That's where we learned about Esperance. On her information card we saw that she had two boys who looked to be similar in age to our sons, and that she needed a house. Like I said, we hadn't planned to buy a house that day, but when we learned how easy it was to enrich someone else's life we were grateful for the opportunity. Esperance's metal roofed brick house cost us just $500 (houses now cost $600) and was one of the best gifts we've been privileged to give.

We received a gift from Esperance recently. Abby and Thad Nelson went to Burundi recently as a part of a team providing a camp experience for Sister Connection kids. They returned with gifts for sponsors in our church. Our gift was a trivet made of a long, tightly woven cord wrapped around and around, with "AFRICA" stitched into it. It is quite intricate and would have required great patience to make it.

When we began to sponsor Esperance and her sons they joined the children we sponsor through International Child Care Ministries. Rachel is ten and is one of several children in her family in Malawi. Eight-year-old Jean Philippe is from Haiti and has seven siblings. Our small contribution to these families make it possible for the kids to go to school and maintain basic nutrition, things we take for granted in the U.S.

If you'd like to learn more about either of these programs, check them out at Sister Connection or International Child Care Ministries. Extend your family and provide support to people who could really use it. According to Matthew 25:40, you'll be doing it for Jesus.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Useless Trivia

"Why is gibberish called gobbledygook?" That's one of the questions in a book that Samuel got for his birthday which explores the illogical English language. It's called Who Put the Butter in Butterfly?

Here's the answer: How appropriate that gobbledygook was coined by a politician! During World War II, Congressman Maury Maverick of Texas, made up the word spontaneously during a speech. He compared the verbiage of a colleague to the turkeys back home in Texas. Not only did both the gobbler and his political enemy spout uninterrupted verbiage, but both strutted with undeserved pretension. As Maverick himself said, "At the end of the gobble there was a sort of gook."

Yes, Maury was related to the Maverick immortalized by James Garner in the television series Maverick. The reason that the name of Maury's grandfather, Samuel Johnson Maverick (1803-70), has long stood for "independent freewheeler" is that old Sam refused to brand his own cattle but claimed any unbranded range stock he came upon as his own.

Okay, so maybe you prefer cereal to gobbledygook. Here's another of Feldman's questions and answers. "Why is the cereal called Grape-Nuts when it contains neither grapes nor nuts?"

C.W. Post introduced this cereal in 1898 and dubbed it Grape-Nuts because of the natural sweetness of wheat and malted barley ("Sweet as grapes," he said) and because it was as crunchy as nuts.

Crunchy as nuts? The cereal is much crunchier than nuts unless you soak it in milk for a few months. Wouldn't Grape-Rocks have been more appropriate?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hiding God's Word in our Hearts

In my first quarter of college, my professor for Introduction to the English Bible told us we'd be going through the Bible three times during the ten week course. The prospect seemed formidable, and I told my granddad about my concern. "Oh, that's easy enough," he said. "Just read through it and say each word three times. Like this: In, in, in, the, the, the, beginning, beginning, beginning..." It turned out to be one of my favorite classes during my college days, as the Bible came alive for me through our study.

Each day as Dr Wilson entered the classroom he would quote a few verses of the book of James. We'd repeat it several times until we had memorized it. The next day we would review what we'd learned the day before and he'd add a few more verses. By the end of the quarter we could quote most of the book of James.

Something happens to you when you memorize scripture. When you thoughtfully take God's Word into your life and mind, it begins to transform you. The Holy Spirit applies the truth of the Word to your life, showing you God's greatness, giving your understanding, pointing out areas of need in your own life. We are told in Psalm 119:11 that hiding God's Word in our hearts helps us not to give in to sin.

When we memorize the Bible we are filling up a well from which the Spirit of God can draw when we find ourselves in need. But He can only draw from our well what we have put into it.

Memorize God's Word. Meditate on it -- that is, think about it, ponder it, explore how it applies to your own life. Because the Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) it has the power to impact your life like no other book.

Are you facing overwhelming circumstances? 2 Chronicles 20:12 shows us how to respond. "For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Needing direction? "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you" (Psalm 32:8).

Anxious? "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Discouraged because of life's difficulties? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 and 18, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

If God's Word is living in you, He can remind you of it just when you need it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Enjoying Some of Fall's Benefits

We're soaking in the colors and flavors of fall while we still have the chance. Last week's wind storm knocked many of the leaves off the trees, but still we catch the most glorious displays of vibrant color in the late afternoons as the sun filters through the maple trees in the neighborhood. They seem especially breathtaking after a rain. Driving north along Pioneer Highway and I-5 one recent late afternoon I could hardly keep my eyes on the road for taking in the foothills and snow covered Mt Baker, and whisps of fog hanging over harvested fields. It may not be the best time of day to travel if you are planning to feed your family in a timely fashion, but, oh, is it nice if inspiration is what you're after!

Our taste buds have been active these days too as we have enjoyed our small but delicious harvest. Our clay soil grudgingly gave us beans, peas, cucumbers, butternut squash, a bushel basket's worth of tomatoes and even a dozen or so strawberries! We were tricked into thinking we had a great corn harvest because of the amazingly tall stalks, but they only produced a few full-sized ears. We are about out of everything except swiss chard, which is just now at its peak. How nice to eat fresh produce from our own garden!

We enjoyed a pot of soup made with our own butternut squash the other night. You might like to try it. Here's the recipe:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

2 T butter
1-1/2 c chopped onions
1 t minced garlic
1-1/2 T curry powder
1 T brown sugar
1 butternut squash (about 2-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (6 cups)
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and cut into eights
3 c chicken broth
3/4 to 1 c half and half
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt butter in stockpot over medium heat; add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder and brown sugar.

Add squash, apples and chicken broth to the onions. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree squash mixture until smooth. Transfer back to stockpot, stir in half and half to desired creaminess, and return to a simmer. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All Aboard!

I've never lived in a town without a train. When I was a child in Everett I could hear the distant whistle of the Burlington Northern as I was falling asleep on a still night. Seattle's King Street Station was my point of departure and return when I traveled with others from my high school to Cheyenne, WY for a week. I remember the fun in the lounge car and trying to walk smoothly down the aisle as we hurtled along. But mostly I remember the spectacular sunrise in the Rockies. It mesmerized me.

Years later, during Samuel's train phase, we took a family trip to Portland to see my sister Peach. Not only did we make the most of all that Amtrak had to offer -- including a magic show -- but we took a train ride through Portland's Washington Park on our zoo visit, and we went to a pumpkin patch with a train that ran around a lake on the property. It was perhaps the most exciting train ride of all that weekend, as pirates attacked a raft in the middle of the lake and an animatronic Jaws surfaced long enough to be menacing, then re-submerged.

Of course the train had stopped running through our neighborhood in Western New York a century before we moved there, but the old railroad grade was still evident, even on the family property. As the story goes, the tracks were taken up and shipped off to Europe to be used during World War I but the ship sank and the rails are now somewhere in the Atlantic! The random fruit trees along the grade were seeded by apple cores that passengers threw from the windows of their lumbering trains.

I spent much of my three years in Japan on the train, but that's another story.

Soon we will have our own train station, right here in Stanwood. I'm imaging Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund sitting on the bench, heading off to Narnia. More likely it will be commuters, grateful to catch a few extra ZZZZs on their way to work, and folks off to Seattle to shop or see a Seahawks game. The late night train whistles that put me to sleep these days will take on new meaning for me as I realize that the station, just down the hill from us, is making life more accessible for us and our neighbors.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Identity Crisis

The ornithology final was coming up and the student, anxious to do well, poured over the text and all his notes for hours. When the test time arrived he entered the classroom confidently. But what's this? Lined up on the lab table were twenty pair of bird legs, no two alike. And written on the board was the exam: Identify each bird by its legs.

Stunned, the student struggled with the exam for half an hour but identified only a few birds. As he was leaving the classroom he thrust the test paper into the professor's hands, but just as he reached the door he heard, "Wait a minute! You didn't put your name on the test. What's your name?" Reeling around, the student bent down, pulled up his pant leg, and said to the prof, "You tell me!"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Samuel

Today Samuel turns 18. He'll take a Trader Joe's flourless chocolate cake to share at school this afternoon, then we'll have dinner with Gram, Gramps and Auntie Peach. During our celebration we'll talk about life these past 18 years. We'll smile and laugh and enjoy all this day brings.

But inside I'm blinking back tears as I review this amazing boy's life and recognize God's fingerprint on every page of Samuel's story. This tender little lamb that God asked us to shepherd has grown into a winsome young man with a wonderful sense of humor, a creative mind, and a love for Jesus. Our lives are richer (though our wallets are poorer -- can this kid eat!) because of Samuel, and so are the lives of many, many other people. Wasn't it Linus who said, "To know me is to love me"? Those are apt words for our Samuel as well.

We celebrate you today, Samuel. Happy birthday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moving On

Today our friends Josh and Amanda Brooks and their wonderful kids leave Warm Beach to start a new phase of their lives in Wenatchee. Their U-Haul is ready and they'll be driving over the mountains to settle in as the senior pastoral family at the Free Methodist Church there.

His first year out of seminary, Josh came to Warm Beach as a pastoral intern. When his year was over, they stayed on. That was ten years ago! How we have enjoyed their ministry, especially their leadership in the Seekers Community. Pastor Josh has always led with integrity; he lives what he preaches. His own walk with the Lord has made us hunger for a deeper relationship with Him as well. He knows and loves Jesus, and is intentional about sharing Him with others. Thank you, Josh, for your role in the church and in our lives.

When they first moved to Warm Beach, Arianna was just a baby. Now there are two more girls (Karis and Glory) and three-year-old Josiah. Amanda's tender and hospitable spirit have ministered to so many in the community. She has homeschooled her children and teaches them piano. (How is it, Amanda, that we've never even heard you play??) The Brooks' gracious daughters and delightful son reflect the love and joy that they experience in their home. To encounter these great kids is to know that they are being raised by godly, wise, praying parents.

We are sad to see them go, but confident that the Lord has led them. We pray that as they transplant to a new location they will make a good adjustment and each one will find a very special place in the church and the community. May God use them in Wenatchee in ways that they can't imagine. After all, that is what He does with those who are fully committed to Him.

(photos by Adam Stevens)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ken Medema

IIf you have a few minutes, treat yourself to an incredible, creative musician -- Ken Medema. Listen to him improvise a song using three random words given to him from the audience (cabbage, gazebo and love) and four notes ( A, D flat, B and F). The second video features his song, "Moses."

To learn more about Ken Medema, or see his schedule, check out his website.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whatever Happened to Ironing?

One of the first gifts Tom ever gave me was a cordless steam iron. He said it was the best he could do since he couldn't find an iron that would attach directly to my hand.

I am not afraid to iron. When I was a kid we ironed everything, including our hankies. For a while we even used a mangle to iron our sheets -- an antiquated monstrosity that we pulled away from the wall and plugged in. We'd fold our sheets in half and run them between the heated rollers of the mangle, pressing out the wrinkles, at the same time pressing in a few new ones. It didn't take us long to realize it wasn't really worth the trouble.

I've heard that there are people who don't even own an iron, but I myself am a rather recent convert to the "Why Iron?" club. Once my kids hit middle school I realized that I was doing them more social harm than good by ironing their jeans and t-shirts every day. These days I just try to shake things out well when they come out of the dryer, fold them up, and hope they don't end up in a heap once they get taken to their respective rooms. Sometimes, though, somebody wants a shirt that has been left in the dryer for two or three days. I can't just let him get it out and put it on -- I just can't. So I dampen a towel, throw it in with the clothes, and run the dryer for a few minutes. I pull out the shirt, snap it out briskly and hand it over with a smile and a "Here's your shirt. Have a nice day!"

Ah, sweet liberty! This has given me courage to venture out without a touch of make-up. I've even made a few mad dashes to the grocery store early in the morning, before I got my teeth brushed.

I may be about ready to give up ironing, but there's no way I'm getting rid of my ironing board. That's where I put all my unfinished projects when it's time to set the table for dinner!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Final Thoughts on the Brain

As we wrap up the week's posts on the brain, I have a few random thoughts.

1. Give your brain a good workout by mixing things up. Take up a new hobby; drive home a different way; learn to play the cello; get a French dictionary and translate a page from a children's book; use your opposite hand for brushing your teeth. I've been brushing my teeth right handed this week. Next week, after my gums and the roof of my mouth heal up, I'm going to try using the hair brush in my right hand when I dry my hair each morning. (Perhaps that will be a week I don't schedule appointments out in public!)

2. Sing!! Who cares what you sound like, just SING! Here's a great CNN article about a group called Sing for Joy, made up of folks with Parkinsons, MS and other serious health problems. Singing is good for the brain. And a side benefit is that singing is good for the soul.

3. Each brain is wired uniquely. Even identical twins have different wiring. On top of that, the things we take in through our senses imprint on our brains. At the moment there are over 6,790,000,000 absolutely unique brains in our world.

4. Our brains are capable of rewiring. This week CNN did another remarkable story, this one about a woman from Virginia who was born with only half a brain. Check out the story and news video here. Fascinating!

5. I am reminded of the words of David in Psalm 139, verses 13 and 14.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am
fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Our brains, so complex, so delicate yet so responsive to healing, are the work of God. He was involved with us before we were even born. We have the capacity to grow, to learn new things, to seek after God. Our amazing brains point us to our amazing God. His works are wonderful; I know that full well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nonsense -- and Non

I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.
Dr Seuess

I like nonsense too, so here's some non-nonsense, interspersed with some nonsense, about the brain:

-The brain processes approximately 70,000 thoughts per day.
-There are 100 billion nerve cells in the brain.
-The brain has no pain receptors, so it feel no pain.
-Your brain generates 25 watts of power while you're awake -- enough to illuminate a light bulb.
-It is not possible to tickle yourself. The cerebellum warns the rest of your brain that you are about to do so. Alerted, the brain ignores the resulting sensation. (Try it if you don't believe me!)
-How much of the human brain do you use? 100%
-How much of the information that you hear do you forget? 90%
-A cooked potato can jump-start your brain when you're feeling foggy. Problem is, I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with that potato!

It is good to rub and polish our brains against that of others.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.
Woodrow Wilson

It may well be there is something else going on in the brain
that we don't have an inkling of at the moment.
Roger Penrose

A man who works with his hands is a laborer;
a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman;
but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.
Louis Nizer

The surgeon knows all the parts of the brain
but he does not know his patient's dreams.
Richard Seizer

Don't lose
Your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it
Burma Shave

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brain Rule #1 -- Exercise boosts brain power.

At his presentation a couple of nights ago, John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work and School, told of a study of Japanese kids who would rather play video games than exercise. In fact, they were "exercise resistant." These kids were tested in math and showed poor scores. After a three-month exercise regime they were tested again. Their math scores were remarkably higher. Next the researchers took away the exercise program and after a few weeks retested the kids. Their math scores had dropped back down.

This is just one study out of an enormous body of research that indicates the brain boost that comes from exercise. No wonder he made it his number one rule!

Just a half hour of aerobic exercise twice a week is enough to provide tremendous benefits. So whether you walk, swim, use a treadmill or jump around to a video in your own living room (he even says fidgeting counts!) you can expect to see marked improvements. Exercise:
- strengthens muscles and bones
- reduces Alzheimer's risk 50%
- helps you solve problems
- decreases risk for diabetes
- improves fluid intelligence
- changes your blood lipid profile
- treats depression
- reduces risk for cancer
- treats dementia
- cuts risk of stroke in half
- decreases risks for heart disease

So, if reading this list didn't tire you out completely, get out there and exercise!

(Dr Medina says to make sure you check with your doctor before you start an exercise program.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Now, what did you just say?"

You can hold seven pieces of information in your mind for 30 seconds, say John Medina, author of Brain Rules. It doesn't matter your IQ -- everyone can hold seven pieces of information in their mind for 30 seconds. But to keep that information in your mind, you have to repeat it...and repeat it...and repeat it...

Now it is in your working memory. But if you want to recruit it to become a part of your long-term storage you have to -- yep, repeat it...and repeat it...during the next 60 to 120 minutes.

Are you seeing a pattern here? For new information to become a part of you, you need to repeat it. Maybe it's the doctor's address or a shopping list (with seven items on it, of course) or a piano piece you are learning. Repetition will help cement that into your memory. According to the Brain Rules website, "It takes years to consolidate a memory. Not minutes, hours, or days but years. What you learn in first grade is not completely formed until your sophomore year in high school."

Don't be discouraged. Choose something do-able, like a telephone number, and repeat it several times over a 30-second period. During the next couple of hours, repeat it several more times. Then go make a call and tell your friend how easy it was to memorize his or her number! If you hope to keep that memory alive, though, avoid adding it to your speed dial!

In case you've forgotten from yesterday, here's the web site for John Medina's Brain Rules . And if you're itching for a chance to check your short-term memory right now, you can do it here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Three Pound Wonder

We are "fearfully and wonderfully made," no doubt about it. And we're just beginning to find out how wonderful the brain is. Our little gray cells have attracted a lot of attention lately, and every day there is more published that tells us what to eat and how to live in order to promote brain health.

Tonight I plan to attend a presentation by Dr John Medina, the director of Seattle Pacific University's Brain Center for Applied Learning Research. He'll be talking about Brain Rules, the twelve principles behind optimal brain power at work and home. This week's blogs will feature Dr Medina's insights. You can get a preview by clicking on his website, Brain Rules.

In the meantime, here is a link with a few fun games to challenge your brain. If you prefer the paper and pencil kind, here are some puzzles you can print out. Might as well have a little fun!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Really Matters

In the end, the only thing that really matters
is how you answer the question,

"What did you do with Jesus?"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Aahhh, Twins!

"Kindergarten babies, born in the gravy!" taunted Ernie. For days he had come to the end of our driveway on his way home from first grade and antagonized my twin brothers. Timmy and Teddy would stand on the front porch and seethe. "That Ernie. One day we're gonna get him!"

After days of enduring Ernie's jeers, Timmy and Teddy had had enough. Again he stood at the end of the drive and issued his challenge. "Kindergarten babies, born in the gravy!"

"Oh, yeah? Well, we can fight gooder'n anybody!" they shot back.

"Oh, yeah?" baited Ernie.

"Yeah!" they yelled, as they jumped off the porch and landed in a heap on the front yard.

Over and over they rolled, beating on each other. They hit and slugged, they pulled the beanies off their heads and lashed each other in the face with them, they pummeled one another. Exhausted, they rose and dusted themselves off. Standing side by side they looked at their horrified antagonist and shouted triumphantly, "See, we told you we could fight gooder'n anybody."

That was their last encounter with Ernie. But it wasn't their last time to stand together.

Since their birth, the twins were comrades. Whether they were emptying Mom's powder on the carpet or filling the gas tank with rocks, they worked together. "Twin-proofing" the kitchen proved ineffective. Although Dad and Mom secured the cupboard doors with roller skate straps and stowed the chairs on the utility room counters, the boys were still able to hide plastic spoons on the oven elements, only to be found when the oven was pre-heating.

They were identical; they were inseparable. They signed up for the same classes, wore matching clothes. Tim says that if he lost Ted in a crowd he would just look down, see what he was wearing, then look for that outfit on someone else.

The boys had their own system -- intricate and unspoken -- when it came to dividing up responsibility. On the mile walk home from school, one boy would carry all the books while the other walked along empty handed. Suddenly the boy with the books would slug the other who, in turn, would take the entire pile and carry it until he got tired and, yes, slugged the other. Or take the red tandem bicycle that Tim ad Ted loved to ride. The guy in the front would pedal like crazy, unaware that the guy in back wasn't doing his share. No matter. Soon the chain would come off and the responsibility for pedaling would end up on the legs of the guy in the back.

It's the humor and the music that tie them together. And it's the humor and the music that set them apart. Outlandish, silly humor, uncomplicated humor. Tim's message machine that answers by telling a story about "a priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk who go to a baseball game and it's the bottom of the ninth, or whatever, and the monk...BEEP. "What's the end of the joke, Tim?" "I don't know. I just made it up as I was filling up time on the answering machine!" Ted's epic poems that he wrote for his co-workers in response to their request for vacation time.

And always the music. Whether in vocal groups, choirs or productions, they were always singing. Too old at eleven to be the young twins in the high school's production of "The King and I," they were written into the cast as additional sons of the king. Even in college they spent more time in performance groups than in academic endeavors.

I see grown-up Tim in my mind, reading glasses perched on his nose, a stiff black folder opened and laying in his right hand, his left had cradling the bottom left corner. He looks down, then up when the instruments begin to play. His soul opens up and music, pure and clear, pours out. Heads snap up, people hold their breath while this man, whose very life is music, speaks into their hearts.

And Ted, raising his chin until he is facing the ceiling, lifts his voice with the abandon that comes from unrestrained joy. Vaguely aware of the audience he is drawing into worship, he sings his own song to the God he loves.

These men, these brothers of mine, these fine, fine men.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What's for Breakfast?

Yesterday we had oatmeal for breakfast; today we had oatmeal pancakes. Now that's good!

When we make our hot cereal we mix Scottish Oats with regular (not quick cooking) whole oats, and add a couple of extra goodies, such as Chia seeds (pricey but very healthy and available in the gluten-free section of your market), coconut, raisins or dried cranberries, chopped nuts or blueberries. It's always tasty.

But the real reason we make oatmeal is for the pancakes the next day! And here's how we make those:

Oatmeal Pancakes
2 c leftover cooked oatmeal
2 eggs
2 T oil
1 c rice flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 - 1 1/2 c milk or milk substitute

Warm the leftover oatmeal in the microwave for about a minute. Stir in the eggs and oil until they are mixed well. Combine dry ingredients and stir them into the oatmeal mixture. Add milk, according to desired consistency. Cook on preheated skillet. Makes 14 4-inch pancakes.

Here's another of our favorite pancake recipes:

Banana Pancakes
4 eggs
3 T oil
2/3 c milk or milk substitute
1 1/3 c rice or barley flour
4 t baking powder
3 large ripe bananas, mashed

Beat eggs with electric mixer for 2 minutes until frothy. Add oil and milk. Mix together dry ingredients and add to egg mixture until well blended. Stir in bananas. Cook on hot griddle. Makes about 12 pancakes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Waiting for Favorable Conditions?

Today C.S. Lewis reminds me to get to work:

There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.

Quoted from Elizabeth R Skoglund's book, Found Faithful, page 263

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Actor David Suchet

Maybe you already knew this, but I just learned that David Suchet, the British actor who plays Hercule Poirot, is a follower of Jesus! You can hear him on Haven Today, reading the story of Zaccheus from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Suchet came to Christ when he was forty, twenty-three years ago, but has only made his faith known publicly in the past couple of years. If you'd like to listen to an interview between David Suchet and Charles Morris from Haven Today, click here. He shares his testimony clearly, from the heart. It was a real joy to hear his story.

Monday, October 5, 2009


The new glasses are ready. A trip to Costco on a Saturday afternoon doesn't seem like a lot of fun, but we need those glasses. Entering, our eyes scan the mammoth warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with bargains too good to pass up. Saturday -- the best day of the week to sample crab cocktail on sesame crackers, microwave pizza, an exotic new dessert. We don't need a tent and we've just stocked up on light bulbs, so we move to the optical department, take a number, and watch the crowds as we wait. Flatbed carts loaded with appliances, lawn furniture and slabs of meat roll past us toward the front door. Tired children whine and a few young adults discuss their evening plans. A family pushing two large carts jockeys into a checkout line. "We just came in for diapers," the mom sheepishly confesses to the clerk.

And then we hear it. Slowly it penetrates our consciousness and we are aware of music -- not twangy country western or syrupy love songs piped through the store, but gentle, quiet music. We stop watching people and begin to listen. "Do you hear it?" "I think so. Where is it coming from?"

We turn. Behind us, under the wall-mounted tires, is a display of grand pianos. No one is playing them; still, we hear music. Moving closer to investigate, we see the keys of a player piano moving up and down. The chaos of Costco fades as we listen to the song programmed into this piano:

In this very room,
there's quite enough love for all of us,
and in this very room,
there's quite enough joy for all of us.
And there's quite enough hope,
and quite enough power
to chase away any gloom.
For Jesus, Lord Jesus,
is in this very room.

In this Very Room by Ron Harris. If you are interested in knowing the story behind the song, check out Ron Harris's website here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sing Praise!

At breakfast this morning Tom told me about the book he is reading, a thriller in which the powers of evil are overcome when songs of pure worship and praise are offered to the Lord.

There is scriptural precedence for this. 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 tells of the dire circumstances facing the people of Judah when armies from three nations joined together and attacked them. King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast and sought the Lord. He ended his prayer with these words, "For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you" (12). We read in verse 17 that they were told, "Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you." The next morning "Jehosaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.' As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah and they were defeated" (21-22). It is a marvelous passage which have blessed me again and again the last couple of years. I encourage you to take some time to read and meditate on the promises and presence of God in these verses.

When we sing, and especially when we praise, we are focusing on God. All our problems, no matter how overwhelming, lose their hold on us as we shift our focus to God Himself. We sing praises to God because He is worthy. And when we praise, our faith is strengthened; our hearts are encouraged; joy replaces fear.

The other day on a radio call-in show, the host asked a caller how she got through a very difficult period of her life. "I sang songs of praise," she responded. You can listen to Russ Taft sing about the power of praise in his song, Praise the Lord.

May your day be filled with songs of praise!

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's for Lunch?

Have you noticed the good price on cucumbers and tomatoes these days? How about turning them into sandwiches for lunch?

Cucumber/Tomato Sandwiches
Spread two pieces of pumpernickel or rye bread* with cream cheese or a wedge of Laughing Cow. Layer one piece with slices of peeled cucumber, then a layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle with dill weed and top with the other piece of bread.

Along with some grapes, a few black bean corn chips and the baked pears from the September 28 blog, you have a tasty lunch.

Even though Fall is here, I recommend a tall glass of ice tea to accompany this lunch. Here's our secret for making perfect ice tea. We use 4 bags of store-brand black tea and one bag of Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Ice Tea in a 3-quart pitcher of cold water and let it set in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Enjoy your lunch!

*I'm wheat-free so I can eat these breads. But if you are gluten-free, you'll want to substitute the bread for something like Pumpernickel Bread by Gluten Free Life or EnerG's Onion Crackers. Either should be available at your local health food store.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fun with Names

When we lived in Western New York, we went to Fillmore to see the dentist and to Wellsville to see the doctor. We are grateful we did not need the services of the Amigone Funeral Home!

The dentist is my brother-in-law, Dan Kauffman, who goes by the name Dr D.K. Always up for a laugh, his office phone number is 567-4242 (567-haha). And guess what "ha" means in Japanese? It means "tooth."

Rather convoluted, but it's all true!

These are aptronyms (also called aptonyms). I've always been interested in them but didn't know there was a word for them till our local paper, The Herald, began running a weekly column of people who are aptly named for their jobs, including a county Superior Court judge named Ellen Fair and an accountant at a meat packing plant, whose name is Janet Moo.

I'm tall, at least by Japanese standards (5'10"), and nearly every day during my three years in Japan someone would see me for the first time and remark about my height. I can tell you it's not always easy to be gracious when someone points out something that you know all too well. So I was impressed that all eleven featured so far in The Herald's column seemed comfortable with their names and the reactions they get upon meeting someone new.

Got some good aptronyms of your own? I invite you to send them to me; one day I'll print a list of them in the blog.

And if you're in the mood for reading more about aptronyms now, check out this link at BuzzWord.