Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Christmas Thoughts... So Why this Lavish Joy?


So what can we say about Christmas? No, Not the colored lights and the laughter and the camaraderie of friends in cheery places. Those are merely reactions to Christmas.

What can we say about the why of Christmas? The source of our joy?

Christmas is a light…A light which shone into the darkness...and the "people who walked in that darkness" saw a whole new world. 

It’s an understanding of God…finally.

People have always had an awareness of God. They look around. They see that “things don’t make themselves” and they deduce a planner, a maker, an architect. They look within. And they realize that people matter. There is that sentient spark that is more than just the body we wear. There’s a feeling that I…that part of me which is identity…is immortal…or should be. There’s a knowledge of “justice” that’s higher than animal “might makes right”. There’s hope and love and all kinds of feelings that seem more than what we are made of--chemically. Throughout history…there’s a desire for purpose and a knowledge that there must be a God…but knowing Him, well that’s another thing.

We read in Hebrew history of a time when the Israelites camped in a wilderness. For years they wandered around with their tents and their sheep. They had a tent for God too, and they packed it up and carried it along with them. But entering the presence of God was impossible for most of them. There was fear. There was awe. There were commandments—laws they could not keep and a holiness so pure it was frightening. Lambs, they sacrificed to atone for sins. They sometimes loved their God, and sometimes gave up on serving him. When their failures overwhelmed them, they turned to an easier way. “It’s better to ignore God,” they thought “and be our own independent lords”.  Anarchy followed. Then captivity. All kinds of slavery. Darkness.

But as they suffered…generation after generation…they whispered to each other the promise that their prophets had kept alive through centuries of writing…a savior will come. God will provide a lamb—a lamb so holy we will never need another sacrifice. He will show us the Father. All things will become clear. Light will shine.

And God? Well He kept loving and He kept promising and He even kept talking to those who wanted to listen. And then, one weary night, Jesus slipped quietly into the middle of human history.

Some were unimpressed. After all, they had heard many stories of gods taking human form…waltzing down to earth to stir things up, instigate battles, seduce women, reward the faithful and punish the unbelieving…or punish the faithful and reward the beautiful—these gods were capricious. When they got bored, they left. They never suffered. Felt cold. Thirst. Hunger. Weariness. They never really understood men because they never became mortal.

At Christmas we celebrate something very different. Christ. God became man. He became one of us. Not a rich one of us and not an oligarch or an exalted warrior. A baby. A child. He would show God to us.

He would pay for sin…once and for all…make a way for us to follow, restore our friendship with God…to the point we could call Him Father.

This Christmas baby was Immanuel which means literally “God with Us” He was the light and He is still the light…shining into all our dark places. That is the joy of Christmas. That is the why.

Credits to John Bailey for the stunning picture of the Rosette Galaxy.



Saturday, January 2, 2021

It's a New Year!

 ...and the snow came like a blessing--soft and forgiving, making everything wondrous.

The grandkids came over to slide on our hill, make snow angels, throw snowballs and craft a snowman with a stick nose. They brought some family friends from Florida who had never experienced snow, so all the snow legends had their brief moment. I say brief because it was 31 degrees, and the sun blazed. By afternoon, the temperature climbed to 41. This lovely white was mush and mud. Still, a wonderful day in 2021, and one worth remembering.

Friday, December 25, 2020

2020--Pandemic, Panic, and Pandemonium--but now Christmas.

And everybody gives a huge sigh. Those of us who have lived through this year don't have to say anything else. Our lives have been shaken, and over and over we have shaken our heads at unfairness, injustice, and insanity!

First, the pandemic—a plague that stopped normal life in an instant. We quarantined to slow the spread; we schooled online; we only met with social cohorts. Shops were closed. Even churches. Everything in our busy lives ground to a halt. Out here in rural Oklahoma, the word was surreal. Months we practiced this strange social behavior, knowing there were no cases in the county. Retirement homes, nursing facilities, and hospitals were locked down. Nobody could go see grandma and grandpa. We walked. We visited national parks. We gardened and filled our pantries... all as though in a dream.

The economy crashed. We were kept waiting while congress stalled on aid. Politics held us hostage. Tasks forces sprang up...trying to help but being slandered and rebuffed at every turn. The crisis turned into anger and insurrection. Race riots, incited and abetted by political agenda, brought every day another lunacy. There was no peace on earth. Fanning the flames, the screaming media told us what to think while censoring whatever hope we had.

The virus finally hit us in October... after schools had re-opened and football and volleyball had tried a comeback.  Waves of illness over the plains; Most was mild, a trifling flu. Some was serious and hospitals filled. There was a vaccine ready... oh wait, it couldn't possibly be ready... until the election was over, then mysteriously, oh yes it's ready; it's within days of being available.

Then the election... a huge, cheating, fiasco. Stopping the count for spikes in the mysterious middle of the night. Dark plots. Obvious injustice. Witnesses and witnesses to a great travesty. Yet their voices went unheard, for justice was not only blind, she refused to even weigh the case. 

Some of us got sick with the coronavirus. I worried as several of my friends struggled to breathe and spent time in the hospital. Some died. Then I noticed a headache, and a fever, and I tested positive. A strange illness. Nobody's experience was identical.  For over two weeks, I battled fever, cough, weird aches and exceptional fatigue. I took steroids, a couple of z-packs, hydrated, and took my vitamins and aspirin, not knowing if it would help. It was wearying, but I survived.  I still can't taste the Christmas candy...or the ham or those peanut clusters and pecan pies. Sigh.


Christmas programs—cancelled

No cantata this year. Everything was scaled down and low key.

A year of introspection.                                                                                                              Of stars shining out there in the universe untouched by our sordid situation.

A year of cancelled plans... but God's great plan has not been cancelled.

A year of quarantine... but God isn't held back by regulations. His presence enters even the sick room. He sits with us when nobody else is allowed.

A year of instability, fraud, violence, disaster... winds assaulting our foundations. 

Remember the Rock of Ages.

Christ our King!

It's still Christmas.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Oldest Phillips Gas Station

 Whenever I visit my parents in Texas, I swing by the little town of McLean. Oddly enough, even though it's located right on I-40, it hasn't seemed to profit from the traffic that rushes headlong across the USA--madly to the fast-paced cities of the East and even more madly to the frenetic metropoli of the West. Nope. This little Texas town is s-l-o-w. Although main street is a divided four lane highway, there is no need for traffic lights or even stop signs.  Nothing moves.
Under the blazing summer sun, sits this: the first Phillips petroleum filling station. which opened around 1929 and operated for 50 years. It's like a doll house for size; only teeny model A's or T's (or P's and Q's...however far they got with the alphabet) could have fit here. I had to stop, walk around a bit and take pictures.  Not a soul in sight.
I love the high plains of Texas.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Some Days the Clouds are Everywhere I Look

 Hot, Puffy Clouds
 Fresh-popped and sizzly

So close
I could juggle them
If I were only a little taller
Or perhaps just closer
to that hazy horizon

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympic Extremes

                   Usain Bolt

His name should be lightning or thunder,
This dashing Jamaican wonder.
He exhilarates the crowd
Into cheering aloud
As he plows his competitors under.

Fiji Rugby Team in Prayer

Though rugby causes many to stumble
The Fijian team did not crumble
At their moment of glory
Their song told  the story
And even in honor they were humble

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Olympic Shotput...

Women’s Shot Put Final—America’s Michelle Carter vs. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams

Her hair was a little too curly,
And her figure an out-sized too girly
But with one glorious swing
She landed the thing
And left her competitor surly!

They say that anything can happen at the Olympics. It looks like that’s about right. The New Zealand champion had won gold at the last two Olympics and held a strong lead in the event here until the final swing, when the American threw better than she had ever done before and won the gold.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

More Limericks 2016


In fencing one aims to provoke
With a sudden advance and a poke
If a foil makes a slash
There's a green or red flash
To enlighten the spectator folk.

            The Final Five
Five gymnasts who staked a gold claim
struck pay dirt with Olympic fame
With smiles on their faces
As they all took their places
They finally gave us their name.

Beach volleyball just can't decide
How much they should show or should hide
Why can't they wear shorts
Like other team sports
So there won't be so much to deride?

Here's a little limerick just for those announcers who feel they must fill every second with conversation no matter how inane:

 Those experts for every attraction
Must detail each minor infraction
They constantly chatter 
Of things that don't matter
While I want to be watching the action.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Olympic Limericks. Oh no. Not again.

 I can't believe it has been four years since I wrote the last Olympic limericks, but amazingly enough, it has. So it's time for more. Can you bear it?

The fans of the world rush pel-mel
"olympics", they boisterously yell.
For these games are the sportiest
These athletes the fortius
The altius and the citius as well.

They've all gravitated to Rio
 In search of a medallic trio
They crave just a chance
To survive and advance
"The gold? Oh will it be mio? "

The fasta', the higha', the stronga'
whoever can stay in the longa'
She'll read her own story
He'll shine in his glory
Like the flag-bearing man from the Tonga

Disclaimer...These pictures may not all be from the 2016 games.
I'll add more when I have time.

And limericks. I'll add some more limericks too.
If you aren't patient enough to wait for them, here's a link to some from four years ago.  It's surprising how many of the limericks still apply, actually.  Oh well. Here's the link

Mount Capulin National Monument

 Whenever Turtle and I go driving far away, we like to break up the hours spent in the car with a brief hiking jaunt. Recently, on our way to attend a convention in Denver, and even during our off time there, we discovered and re-visited some our favorite places to hike.
 Mount Capulin, located conveniently on a long dreary stretch of North-Eastern New Mexico about thirty miles east of Raton provides a perfect break. It is only three miles off the main road, and takes just a few minutes to visit. There's a narrow road that circles up the volcano and a parking lot near the rim.
 From there, we climbed up a path that was about the width of a sidewalk, paved and well studded with gravel bits to prevent slipping. It was a moderate hike, due to lots of climbing sections, but, had we been acclimated to the altitude, we would have called it "easy".
 Whatever, we called it, the views were worth every bit of the laborious plodding up the slopes. From the rim you can see the interesting shapes of ancient lava flows, and parts of four states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

 The wind blows strongly across the top and it doesn't take long to figure out what direction it usually takes.

There are plenty of benches too. Just perfect for those of us who are not used to 8000 ft. altitude and 95 degree heat at the same time.
This picture is the only one I didn't take. It's an areal view and I don't fly. The road curls around the mountain. That spot at the end is the parking lot. From there you can hike down into the volcano or take the trail around the rim.

It's magnificent!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Raymond Chandler...and wonderful similes

I have about a dozen favorite mystery writers. None are modern. Many are British. There is one, however, whose novellas make it into the anthologies with regularity. I probably wouldn't make a collection of all his books, but I do like reading some. His detective is American-- a cross  between Stout's Archie Godwin and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Philip Marlowe is what they call in detective fiction "hard-boiled". He may bounce or crack, but he doesn't break easily.  This summer, while reading a couple of Chandler's books I've been amused by his similes; he sprinkles them like salt, especially when he is introducing a new character. If I were still an English teacher, I think I'd assign a little chunk of his writing and have students find them...just for fun.

Here are a few of my favorites:

From The Big Sleep

"A few locks of dry, white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock."

" The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands."

"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings." 

"He looked a lot more like a dead man than most dead men look."

From: The Lady in the Lake

 "The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile.  She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens."

"Grayson put his bony hand out and I shook it. It felt like shaking hands with a towel rack."

"A wizened waiter with evil eyes and a face like a gnawed bone ..."

"She put a firm brown hand out and I shook it. Clamping bobbie pins into fat blondes had given her a grip like a pair of iceman's tongs."

"We shook hands. He had a hand like a wood rasp."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Smithsonian---All of Them!

 There are actually 19 museums/centers/zoos/gardens connected with the Smithsonian now. The original building is a visitor center with a concession stand and directions to all the other attractions.

My advice: schedule two days for the Smithsonian. One cannot do justice to that many free exhibits in one day. More advice: don't try to stay with someone and look at everything together--nobody in the world has that many similar interests. We did well to stay in the same museum, and even though we started exploring with a senior, we soon all went our separate ways, texting each other to meet at the fountain, main arch, gift shop or taxidermied whale, whatever the case might have been. That way we were free to meander to our hearts content.

Spirit of Saint Louis

It was raining, so we didn't brave the outside gardens. Instead we opted for the Air and Space Museum--Turtle wanted to see the "Spirit of St. Louis". Of course there are many more exhibits--both World Wars and the importance of the airplane in them are featured; the Wright Brothers have an entire room. There is a large jet cockpit for children to clamber into, and space stuff all over. Two floors full of stuff to look at and letters to read.

 We visited the American History Museum where we saw the flag that flew over Ft McHenry and inspired the Star Spangled Banner; (It was huge (30x34 feet) and would have been even bigger (30x42) if its owners hadn't spent the best part of one hundred years handing out little snippets of stripes and chunks of a star for souvenirs. Yes. Really. Ah well)

South-American Aqua-marine

the Natural History Museum which has a lovely collection of gems, including the Hope diamond;

Hope Diamond
Marie Antoinette's Earrings

and the Natural Gallery of Art, where I could have stayed all day.  It seemed like every room I walked into contained at least one painting I've seen many times before in a book--a literature book--or in a slide show about great art.  There were paintings by El Greco, Copley, Monet, Manet, Vermeer, Hals, Van Gogh, Renoir--Amazing. Of course I took pictures...and they are not good at all, due to lighting issues inside, so I went to the web site and found them all.  National Gallery of Art

Pierre Auguste Renoir

Self Portrait-Rembrandt van Rijn

Georges Seurat

Frans Hals

Mary Cassatt

El Greco
Vincent van Gogh

Jan Vermeer

Vista from a Grotto-1630's-David Teniers

John Singleton Copley

What's missing, of course, is the background decor and the proper understanding of the size of the sculptures and  photos. Many of the old paintings were large enough to take up an entire wall. So here's the most valuable  lesson I've learned: go to the web sites ahead of time and study about the museums. There is information on every museum including which metro stop is closest. That's what I call a good source of information. Smithsonian Link and one I should have used before my trip to DC. This picture sums up my chagrin over it.

Edouard Manet