Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Best Gift

If Emmanuel came to our world this month,
Would it make the evening news?
Or would it be lost in TV ads
For gadgets we’ll never use?

If the Incarnation came to our town
This week, could we really tell?
Or would His gentle blessing
Be drowned out by jingle bells?

If Jesus came to our house today
Would we have time to visit?
Or would we be out shopping;
Not at home, and so we’d miss it?


God is with us every day,
Goes with us everywhere.
God’s love is the very best gift of all;
Given to us so we can share.


Monday, October 13, 2014

CAUTION: Technology may be hazardous to your health

Before I begin this rant, let’s get something straight. The word "technology" in my vocabulary means only a personal computer and a cell phone (not a smart phone whose intelligence exceeds mine!). Those two devices are the extent of my entry into the 21st century’s mysteries of domesticated electrons (or whatever it is that runs that "techy" stuff).

But even my tentative entry into that electronic world has convinced me that technology can be hazardous to your health! For many years we’ve known about wrist pain (carpal tunnel syndrome) as a result of spending too many hours keyboarding. We can develop blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) in our legs, back pain, and stooped shoulders (or should that be "stupid shoulders"?) from too much time spent sitting at the computer desk. Eye strain and hallucinations can result from uninterrupted hours of staring at a computer screen.

Fingertip numbness can occur from pounding the keys of the computer keyboard in frustration after too many hours of inability to complete a task. This can lead to hearing strange voices as your numb fingers hit incorrect keys and bring up advertising for stuff you’ve never heard of before! By this time, you have a full-blown case of computer addiction and information overload.

Cell phones have different health hazards. A pain in the neck is one of the first symptoms of overuse. That progresses to a permanent crook in the neck toward the ear accustomed to balancing the cell phone on your shoulder. Scientists are not of one mind on whether the use of a cell phone causes radiation to your brain. They all agree, however, that continuous overuse can result in an enlarged, cauliflower-shaped ear. Like the old game of "telephone," constant use can also cause the spread of inaccurate information which may lead to broken friendships.

So why do we take these health risks? Why do we endanger our well-being with these electronic boxes? Advertising has told us that they will make our lives more convenient, transactions faster and more secure, and we will be more accessible to our friends and important information.

Well, I think advertising has sold us a bill of goods! Tell me about convenience when I have just spent twice as long registering on-line than if I had used a pen and paper. Tell me about faster when I have to boot up for the umpteenth time because the wi-fi system has gone down again. Tell me about security when Chase Bank, with all it levels of security, has been hacked into and customer data has been stolen. As to better access to our friends, what about the non-friends who infect our on-line accounts with viruses, or strangers who come out of the woodwork "liking" us. Not to mention our access to scammers who promise us a fortune for the cost of only a few dollars. And, of course, there are the ads that pop up in every possible location trying to sell us stuff we don’t want. And important information? Indeed, it is there, but it’s usually buried deep under a mound of UNimportant information or appears only in the small print.

All of this is pushing me toward a health problem that I have not yet found listed in any of the medical diagnostic books. It could be that I am the only person suffering from it but I suspect more cases will occur in the future. The disease is "technology induced paranoia".

The initial symptoms are subtle; just a constant repetition of the question "Why?" Receiving no logical answer, the disease grows more serious; I’m becoming convinced that technology has been invented for the sole purpose of frustrating me! It exists primarily to make my life miserable. Otherwise, why can my husband solve a computer or cell phone problem in 15 seconds that has been bugging me for hours? The whole field of electronic devices is out to get me!

And I know that they’re coming for me! Can you hear them? They’re coming up the steps to the front door! I know what they’ll do. They’ll grab me and carry me off to a small, windowless cell containing nothing but a pencil and paper! Without a trial, I’ll be declared an enemy of the Technological State and left there in prison to scribble my life into oblivion!

Help! Can’t somebody rescue me from my suffering in technology-induced paranoia? Is there no hope? Oh, woe is me: I even had to use the electronic box to write this complaint against it!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cotton pickin' time in south Texas

When the roadsides in nearby Willacy County look like this,

it's cotton pickin' time in south Texas!
Usually, on our fall trip south, all we see are cotton fields that have already been harvested and disked in preparation for next year's crop. 
 But this year the cotton harvest has been late, and apparently abundant.  Harvest season appears to be quite brief and very weather-dependent.
As we have observed cotton harvest from the sidelines in our northern neighbor-county, the field work involves two large pieces of machinery.  The first is the harvester:
A four-row picker seems to be the most common in these parts but videos we have watched have shown pickers as wide as six-rows.  Since the harvest is so dependent upon good weather, it's not unusual to see more than one picker at work in order to speed up the process.
The second essential piece of equipment in the field is the "cotton module builder," also called a compactor:

A closer inspection would show you that this "box on wheels" has no bottom.  It is moved to the field on its wheels, pulled by a tractor.  When it arrives in the field where it is needed, the wheels are retracted and it sits on the ground.
The tractor that pulls the compacter to the field provides the power for its operation.  When the picker completes its load of cotton,

it approaches the stationary compactor,

and the load is dumped into the open box of the compactor.

  Nothing is wasted.  Even the bolls that overshoot the compactor are gathered up by hand and returned to the machine.
Then the compactor begins compressing the "seed cotton" into modules by use of a hydraulic device mounted on the compactor.  Numerous harvestor loads of cotton are necessary to complete the module which can weigh as much as 18,000 pounds.  The cotton module is removed from the compactor by a pulley device mounted in the compactor. The module is then covered with a tarp, and left in the field until taken to the gin.

 With the harvest complete, it's time for the  next phase of production: the processing.  Specially designed trucks with parallel chains built into the floor of the tilting truck bed, load up the cotton modules in the field and head for the cotton gin.
Modules of seed cotton await processing at the gin, covered with tarps to prevent any moisture from spoiling the quality of the crop.

Seed cotton, raw from the field before processing, contains many impurities such as the seeds, tiny branches of vegetation, and field soil which must be removed before it is useful.
After the lengthy and complex processing of the seed cotton, it is then referred to as cotton fiber and compressed into smaller units called bales.  Each bale weighs approximately 500 pounds.  They are weighed,
and stored in the warehouse,
awaiting shipping.
 Cotton fiber for making cloth, yarn, string, and other products is only part of what the cotton crop yields.  Cottonseeds removed from the fibers are stored in bins such as these:
and made into oil for human consumption, livestock feeds, and biodiesel.
Cotton does not seem to be as important in Texas agriculture as it is in some other areas of the South.   But it is one of the "three C's" of Lone Star farming -- cane, cotton, and citrus -- that we ex-Midwesterners find new, different and interesting.  We thought you might, too!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Apostles of ego, Disciples of deception

"Allah told me to do it!"
"God is on our side!"
"For Allah and his people!"
"For God and country"
"Convert or die!"

Those who make war
in the name of their Deity
– not their Holy One –
but themselves!
These "faithful followers"
are led by human desires,
not the will of an Ultimate Truth
whose nature is
creativity and goodness!

Any God, Allah, or YHWH
small enough to be confined
to human understanding
is too limited to deserve
our respect or our worship!

Those who burn, destroy, terrorize, bomb or kill fellow humans
in the name of their Transcendent Deity
deceive themselves.
Their devotion is not to any Deity
but to power, dominance, control, and conformity
to their own standards.

These disciples of deception
– attempting to expand their faith –
succeed only in spreading hatred,
bruising the image of their YHWH, God, or Allah,
killing Truth,
and disfiguring the beauty
of the Truth-Giver.

Child-raising advice?

"Train up a child in the way he should go," says the Good Book, "and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).  King Solomon is credited with writing most of the book of Proverbs and he is renowned in the scriptures as a man of great wisdom.  That’s probably why he stayed silent on what can happen to that "bundle of joy" between childhood and old age!

Solomon left us no wise words on the "wild oats" a child – even a well-raised child – can sow between the ages of ten and one hundred and ten.  He doesn’t mention playing hooky from school, fist fights, scrapes with the law, substance abuse, traffic accidents, or time behind bars.  Solomon wisely keeps silent on problems such as multiple sexual affairs (perhaps as King he thought that was normal!), serial divorces, custody battles, or contested wills.  He makes no mention of ruptured relationships, disastrous career or financial choices, or affiliation with the "wrong" crowd or political party.

No, Solomon’s proverbial wisdom speaks not a word on these child-raising realities!  He only holds out to us parents the distant hope that "when [the child] is old he[she] will return" to the good precepts taught when young.  Will we parents – prematurely aging because of our offspring’s follies – live long enough to see that child return to civility and good conduct?

But, then, with 700 wives and 300 concubines, Solomon probably considered child-raising to be "women’s work."  So he really had very little experience in that field. And with no Dr. Spock to refer to for advice, he didn’t really know what he was talking about!

But really, why should we take child-raising advice from a leader who overtaxed his people, enslaved them to build his great monuments, and led his nation astray by trying to appease his many foreign wives?  His son, who succeeded him on the throne, was rejected by the people due to his brutality and it split the nation apart!

I think I’ll look elsewhere for child-raising advice!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nearly Ten Years Later at DeGray Lake State Park

During the winter of 2004-2005 we took an eight-week trip in an older motor home to help us decide whether we wanted to sell our house in Ohio and live full-time in a recreational vehicle.  Within the first couple of weeks of that trip we decided that yes, we did want to live full-time in a recreational vehicle, but not in that motor home because it was too limited in interior space.  One of the memories from that trip is a visit to DeGray Lake Resort State Park in Arkansas.  Less than a month after the photo below was taken we had purchased the New Horizons fifth-wheel trailer that has been our home for nearly ten years.

January 29, 2005
Yesterday we were back at DeGray Lake State Park and although we did not get a waterfront site, we were just across from that site we had enjoyed so much nearly ten years ago.
September 13, 2014
During our lengthy walks ten years ago we were fascinated by the tree pictured below.   It is located near the swimming beach in a day use area.   We had to wonder how the tree came to be formed as it is.
January 29, 2005
Of course, on our return trip we made a special point of taking the two-mile plus walk to see if we could find the tree again.   Sure enough,  it is still there!
September 13, 2014
And so are we!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tom Sawyer's RV Park

This evening we are back at a campground where we have enjoyed staying several times in the past.   Tom Sawyer's RV Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, is located right on the edge of the Mississippi River.   In fact, one must cross the levee in order to get here.  And, yes, it does flood sometimes -- especially in the spring of the year.

The Mississippi River is visible beyond the next row of RVs behind our trailer.  The waterfront sites had all been reserved by the time we arrived, so we are in the second row from the water.
As we went for our afternoon walk we wandered right along the edge of the Mississippi River.

There are many splendid views of the Mississippi River from the campground.  Whether one takes lengthy walks or sits on one of the waterfront benches there is much to see along the river.

We lost count of the barges and tugs that came past -- 24 hours a day.  The close-up below is of the tug pushing the twenty barges tied together in the photo above. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ferne Clyffe State Park

During our travels from Ohio toward Texas we spent some time at Ferne Clyffe State Park on 2,430 acres in Johnson County, Illinois.  Located near Goreville and close to both I-24 and I-57, the park features numerous dramatic bluffs and several seasonal waterfalls fed from runoff from the upper bluffs.

On our first evening after dinner we hiked to the Ferne Clyffe Lake created in the late 1950s by an earthen dam across the Buck Branch Creek.

The next morning we took an easy hike up the Big Rocky Hollow Trail to one of the waterfalls.  The trail followed a dry creek bed through the hollow with tall bluffs on both sides.

When we reached the waterfalls we found it to be dry, but then we remembered that the falls here are seasonal and there had been no rain recently.   Still it was an enjoyable hike.

There are so many beautiful locations along our journeys and we delight in finding new discoveries.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grace Strip

High speed highways these days are designed and built with a narrow corrugated strip of pavementy outside the driving lane. It’s sometimes called "the rumble strip" because that’s what it sounds like when a distracted driver allows her vehicle to veer off the roadway. It’s also sometimes called "the wake up strip" to describe its effect upon a dozing driver who lets his car drift across that built-in noisemaker.

In some states, that teeth-chattering strip is immediately outside the white line marking the outside of the driving lane. Other states leave a narrow area of smooth pavement between the white line and that jarring strip of corduroy asphalt.

After many years of drifting back and forth across the painted outer limit of the driving lane, I have come to call that small smooth area outside the white line "the grace strip." Without that strip of "grace," I am immediately "punished" for my "sin" of inaccurate steering by the raucous noise and unsettling vibrations of that hidden highway "hell." That little "grace strip," on the other hand, gives me time to "repent" of my "sins" and correct my course before the "punishment" of the rumble strip sets my nerves on edge and distracts me even worse!

Thank God for grace – on the highway, and all along my pathway through life! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dinner with History

Last Sunday, we went to Stockport Mill Inn and Restaurant in Stockport, Ohio.

Stockport is located on the western bank of the Muskingum River, a 45 minute drive over beautiful Ohio-Appalachia hills from our son's house near Athens.  We were about 175 years too late to see the little town in its glory days.  But the Stockport Mill still stands beside the dam that held the water which turned the mill wheels to grind flour.  That same water power turned the turbines to produce electricity for the community.  The Stockport Mill also served as a safe place on the Underground Railroad which ran along the banks of the Muskingum for nearly 25 miles.
But those days are long gone now, lost in the mists of history.  The Stockport Mill ceased its milling operations in 1997, but the huge, four story building has not been left empty to grieve that loss.  In the recent past, the building has been converted into a hotel and restaurant.  Their Sunday noon buffet is varied and out-of-this-world delicious!  The hotel has only eleven large rooms, but each is equipped with a spa or hot tub.  The d├ęcor of the place is utterly antique with the furniture tastefully arranged around many pieces of the original milling equipment which have been left in place.
Across the river, another piece of Stockport's history has been kept alive and active.
Long before the invention of the automobile or the construction of all-weather roads, the river was the main highway for those towns fortunate enough to be located on its banks.  The dam which ran the mill on the western bank of the river made it necessary to construct a lock on the eastern bank so ship traffic could continue on their way from Zanesville to Marietta.
That lock has been preserved, still operates, and is available for use by boat traffic up and down the river.
The lock tender, seen here talking with our son, was a knowledgeable and genial man.  He explained to us how the lock works and it was obvious to us that the tender, who both closes and opens the lock for river traffic, would have to be as big and strong as he appears to be!
In the 1840s, when river traffic was at its height, one of the most successful river pilots was a woman named Jane McMillan.  She was called "Old Jane" and she was reported to have known the river so well that she could navigate it safely even at night! 

So, stuffed with good food and several fascinating history lessons, we headed home, once again winding our way through those scenic hills and valleys of southeastern Ohio.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cincinnati, Ohio

"When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times."  (http://www.twainquotes.com/Cincinnati.html says This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.)

The above quotation attributed to Mark Twain was mentioned by the docent who gave us a tour of the Union Terminal building in Cincinnati currently housing the Cincinnati Museum Center.

This huge structure whose rotunda is the largest half dome in the United States was begun in 1929 in an effort to combine the five separate railroad stations in Cincinnati into one Union Terminal.   It was completed in the year 1933 just as railroad travel was beginning to decline because of the increased utilization of automobile and airline travel.   That decline in railroad travel gave rise to the use of the opening quote attributed to Mark Twain, 

Train traffic increased for a brief time during World War II as railroads became the main means of military transport.  But the end of the war in 1945 again reduced train travel to a mere trickle.

Fifteen local businesses were represented in the industrial mosaics designed and created by German American artist Winhold Reiss in the train concourse.  Each mural is 22 feet high and 110 feet long.

Train service left Union Terminal in 1972.  However. in 1991 Amtrack returned and continues to provide one train eastbound and one train westbound each day.  The main attractions today are the three museums housed in Union Terminal:  Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, and Duke Energy Children’s Museum

 In addition, the Museum Center houses the Cincinnati History Library and Archives.  MarySue  spent two major blocks of time there,  searching in vain for information about her great-grandfather who apparently lived in Cincinnati for a while.   To her knowledge nobody has ever been able to accurately identify that great-grandfather's parents.

During our stay in Cincinnati we have stayed in the Winton Woods Campground -- one of three campgrounds in the Hamilton County Parks (www.greatparks.org).

The campground features full hookup sites as well as water and electric sites and tent sites.
We have enjoyed the two-mile plus paved hike and bike trail around Winton Lake with views of Winton Woods and the boathouse on the lake.

Tomorrow, we'll head east for one last visit with our son over the Labor Day weekend.