Thursday, February 27, 2014

A February Winter

 
My camera lies dormant for most of the winter, unless I am on vacation, there is snow, or there is some family indoor occasion. With the snow we had last week (I was busy working so did not get out much) here is a bit of what I was able to capture. Above is the first snowfall of the year coming just as the first little green buds are beckoned by some warm sunshine in the previous days.

 
The iconic raspberry sculpture on Clearbrook Rd. announcing that we are the Raspberry Capitol of the world (?) when actually we are becoming the Blueberry Capitol of the world.

 
The Snow Drops in my back yard with snow dropping on them.

 
Two days ago on King Rd.


 
Cedar Boughs with a light snow covering.

 
The new acrylic deck roof we installed last summer is working out really well. Here the accumulated snow is starting to slide downward and I have no idea how it can hold itself together as it hangs over the edge. Seconds after I took this photo, gravity took over and it all crashed to the ground below. No out of bound snowboarders were hurt in the photographing of this scene.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Over Once Again

 
When a person is young, the 4 year gap between Olympic games seems like a lifetime. This time around, it seems like just last week that Vancouver hosted these winter games. I was able to take in my fill of viewing due to lack of work these last two weeks. I enjoyed every minute of the competitions. The only downside, in retrospect, was the time difference and hearing the night's results on my radio alarm at 7 am. (Well, OK. The other downside was all the advertising)
Being the big hockey fan that I am, the highlight of the Olympics for me was the hockey and I was not disappointed. Gold in both men's and women's hockey is perfect, but the women's final game was some of the most exciting and inspiring hockey I have ever seen.
The Olympics brings out the best in the athletes, but also brings out the patriotism in the citizens of every country competing. My heart was swollen with pride over and over again and to see the joy and relief on the faces of the Canadian medal winners warmed me greatly. I have always been a rooter for the underdog, the one who works, dreams, strives, and overcomes obstacles  to achieve something great in his or her life, and then reaches the goal. I believe it is a God-given thing to be like that.
But anyone who was good enough to be there as a competitor was already a winner. When the difference between 1st and 30th place is fractions of an inch or a fraction of a second, one could theorize that they are all on par with each other. There should be no shame in not medalling. The friendly completion and the life lessons that the athletes learn are almost always stepping stones to other achievements, usually in the field of sport as an announcer, coach, or mentor. 
Yes, billions are spent, but I think and hope that the Olympics are a unifying force in our global community. In going against each other, we become closer. A paradox, but one we can all live with.   

Saturday, February 22, 2014

D.L. Moody

 
Dwight Lyman Moody 1837 - 1899 was a preacher, evangelist, and a publisher. He has an interesting history and if you are interested, Wiki has information on his life and accomplishments. Having recently read about Charles Spurgeon, I thought it might be interesting to compare the two, being on two sides of the ocean and both from the 19th century.

 
"Men of the Bible" is a free download from the kindle store. It is a series of sermons on a number of men of the Bible who all, by their actions and histories, portrayed something that DL Moody thought sermon worthy. The men are, in order, Abraham, Moses, Naaman, Nehemiah, Herod and John the Baptist, the man born blind and Joseph of Arimathea, and the penitent thief. I found the last chapter on the penitent thief particularly good.  

 
Moody, similar to Spurgeon, must have been a great orator because I found his sermons to be a bit dull. Not that I did not learn something from each of them, but by today's standards were simplistic. I get the sense that neither men were Biblical scholars but rather used simple ideas together with powerful word pictures and oratory to sway many people to turn their hearts to God. Moody was really big on repentance and turning from sin. He preached in an era when most believed in God and most gave the Bible serious credence. There is a certain assumption in his sermons that his audience knows full well the gospel message, but his job is to create a sense of urgency to 'get right with God' and the sooner the better.
It is obvious that different tactics are needed in each age and I find it interesting to see how the message has changed over the years, yet stayed the same. It is very possible to be culturally relevant without watering down the message.

 
This book is easy to read and not very lengthy. If you want some insight to the times and the man, this may be helpful.
3 stars

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Castaway

 
I may have read this novel many years ago, but if I did, it was not stored properly in my memory. A software glitch no doubt. Daniel Defoe first published this story in 1719 under a considerably more lengthy title : "The Life and Strange Surprizing story of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived eight and twenty years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the mouth of the great Oronoco River; Having been cast on shore by shipwreck, Wherein all the Men perished but himself. With an Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pirates."
If the title is lengthy, so is the novel.
Robinson starts his adventure as a rebellious youth who disregards the sage advice of his father and seeks adventure, fame and fortune on the high sees. After repeated disasters at sea, he still boards another ship and this time it is his undoing. He is the lone survivor of a shipwreck and manages to establish himself on an island somewhere around Trinidad.
The story is quite good in depicting the survival skills of Robinson, and how he innovated to eventually make life quite pleasant for himself. It also gives him opportunity to soul search and as he digs out a Bible from a sea chest he was able to salvage, the novel takes on an interesting twist as reflection on past rebellion brings Robinson to repentance and a true relationship with his new found saviour, Jesus Christ of the Bible. So the story is an adventure of survival and spiritual renewal as the musings of the castaway become quite theological and profound. This might be the first Christian fiction novel in history!
With his new outlook on life, Robinson takes on various challenges, such as dealing with cannibals, his 'found' friend and servant Friday, who also becomes a Christian,  and eventually his dealings with mutineers, the conclusion of which becomes his ultimate means of rescue and return to England.
Perhaps this novel is responsible for the clich├ęd idea of being stranded on a desert island with sustenance from land and sea, living in sunshine and surf for the remainder of one's days and quite enjoying it. Indeed, Robinson was loathe to leave his island when the day came when he had opportunity to do so.
I found the writing to be fast paced and certainly interesting enough to not only hold my interest, but at times it was difficult to put down.
I am enjoying my stroll down the classics aisle of the Kindle bookstore and now I have another one I can cross off my list. This was one of the better ones.
4 stars 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Prince of Preachers

 
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in 1834 and at the young age of 16, preached his first sermon to a group of farmers. Three years later he was called to lead the largest church in London, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he pastored for the next 38 years. He was a prolific writer, a charismatic speaker, and is considered to be one of the best preachers of all time, having preached to an estimated 10 million people in his lifetime.
 
"Spurgeon Gems" is a free download from the Kindle bookstore and is a collection of excerpts from some of Spurgeon's thousands of sermons. One gets a strong sense that he was a straightforward man who did not mince words. His theology was biblical and orthodox. I get the sense that he must have been a great orator because his words are not necessarily profound nor all that original, but are easy to understand. His main theme was grace, salvation not through works but as a free gift of God through his son Jesus, by way of his death on the cross. His concerns were the salvation of man's soul, and the discipleship of believers, that all do their part in the church and in preaching the gospel to all men.
It is a book that may be best referred to at times instead of read at one sitting. There is much to absorb here and the topics vary from the nature of God, to salvation, faith, wisdom, trials and suffering, prayer, family, the Bible, and preaching.
It is not a heavy book on theology but a glimpse into the mind of a great and effective preacher of the 19th century. If you want to know what he said that convinced thousands to come to Christ, this little book will give you a good idea.
4 stars   
 
 
 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who's in Control

 
When we encounter great difficulties in life, we wonder what God is doing. Of course, if you believe there is no god, then it is a random occurrence and you just happened to be unlucky. We never question God when things are going well.
It is a common Christian platitude to simply say that we must have faith that He knows what He is doing and that we do not see the big picture. Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century preacher, taught that if we could understand our faith, it would be a faith that comes from our own understanding and it would not be a faith at all.
 
A faith that we do not understand comes from God because his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are above our thoughts. If you and I could create a universe, and in that vast expanse, create a tiny bubble of survivability for a bio-diverse creation such as we experience here on earth, we would have no trouble understanding all things. But we are made in the image of God, and not Gods ourselves. That there is mystery and huge questions should not surprise us. 
It is easy to believe that God is control of the universe, and much larger and more complex areas of creation, but does he control or even care about the minutia of our small lives in the great scheme of things.
 Place all activity in the universe on a graduated scale from the greatest to the least, the sun moon and stars down to the bug crawling in the garden. At what point on that scale does God cease to care, control, or govern in some way? Does He stop at the orbiting planets? Does He stop at the moon and the tides? Does He stop at the seasons? Does He stop at the rising of the sun, and setting of the same? Does He stop at the hour, the minute, or the second? If He is big enough to create it all, He is big enough to control it all. Why should we think that the occurrences in our lives are random when we are the height of his creation?
If he cares, and if he is aware and even controls, why should we be anxious or fearful?
The death of a young mom (see last post) takes on a special meaning if this is true. There is a strategy and a plan here, but we do not understand it. But that is OK because we know there is purpose. We all need meaning in life, an understanding of why things happen and what things are all about. These meanings are above our understanding and it is OK. Our job is to incorporate this knowledge into our difficult task of learning to live with the new reality of our loss. The pain of loss and the grief we experience are very real, but underlying all the difficult adjustments is the relief that it is not in our hands, but it is in somebodies. God's. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Celebration of Life

 
We attended an extraordinary celebration of life today. We used to call them funerals but that belies what is really going on when a Christian dies. What made this occasion unusual is that the person taken by cancer was a young mom with 4 kids and a loving husband, parents, siblings and very many friends. The assembly hall was full. We felt a connection because we have been following her blog for the last little while and she was the sister to our daughter's very good friends.
The service was inspirational, moving, humorous, worshipful, and ironically full of joy and hope amidst the sadness.
The brief message was on 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12 which speaks of the trials and tribulations of life but what is inside our jar of clay (our mortal body) is a treasure because it lives on forever.
Our lives are like roller coasters, ups and downs, twists and turns, and we certainly saw that in this family in the last little while because a cousin and an uncle also died in the last few months.
But why the celebration? When we exit the rollercoaster of life, we are ushered into an eternal reality that far surpasses anything we have experienced here in this life. It is the Christian's great hope.
And that is cause for celebration and not mourning.   

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Meat is Meat

 
Today's MSN poll asked if the Copenhagen Zoo did a bad thing when it killed Marius the giraffe and fed him to the lions. 86% said that they believed it was a bad thing to do. I would suggest that it was not a bad thing to do, but perhaps the way in which they did it was not the brightest move given today's culture of political correctness.
Let's face it. Lions eat giraffes all the time. In fact, for a National Geographic cinematographer to get some good footage of this kind of thing is a feather in his hat. So what really is so different when the lion eats the giraffe in the zoo, where it was not torn apart at the throat, but humanely killed by the zoo staff and then cut up like a piece of beef or pork or whatever it is that they usually feed the lions. Skin the giraffe first and nobody knows that it is a giraffe that is being eaten. Red meat is red meat.
Where is the hue and cry when a cow or a pig or an old horse is butchered to feed the carnivores in the zoo. Why is killing one animal to feed another a bad thing only if the animal being killed has 'charisma' or is 'cute' or is 'beautiful'. Endangered is another thing, but Marius was surplus, having a shallow gene pool and he had to go. Should he have been sold to a big game farm where he would have been a trophy for some macho hunter with a high powered rifle and a telescopic range finder?
This smacks of hypocrisy just a wee bit. Most of us eat meat and we do not give it a second thought. Do we see the cute little red faced Angus calf suckling at his mother's hind quarters when we order a steak or veal cutlets? Would we have second thoughts if we did? We are conditioned, just we are being conditioned to protect cute species and never mind the not so cute ones, like the plain-Jane chicken from the broiler farm, or the ugly pink pig from the hog farm. For goodness sake, where do we think our breakfast sausages or bacon come from. 
Meat is meat. Get over it, you 86%!    
 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Relics

 
There is a curious little two verse passage in the book of 2 Kings, chapter 13, in the midst of the narrative. Verses 20 - 21 read like this: 20. Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. 21. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding  band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
 
This is a good bit of information for writing a novel plot regarding an archeologist and a rich backer. And that is exactly what Don Hoesel has done. 
After a tragedy on a dig in Egypt, Jack Hawthorne is in the doldrums as to what to do with his life other than teach at a University. It is then that he is contacted by a very rich man who is dying of some unknown disease, and who has already done a lot of research into Elisha's bones and whether they still have power, and where they are. 
Jack takes on the job and his search takes him to Venezuela and then to Australia where he uncovers a secret society that has been the care takers of the bones since they were first discovered and unearthed. 
The deeper Jack digs, the more he is convinced that there is something to this. He becomes a target by assassins when he gets close to the truth, but he is still not sure if he believes in the power of the bones. There is plenty of action and intrigue, but the believability is lacking, even apart from the fact of the bones being able to have resurrection powers. 
At the end of the quest, Jack discovers that it is true, and decides to do something about it.  No spoilers here. 
Some label this novel as Christian Fiction, but I would disagree. Jack does come to a faith in God but it comes by a much too unconventional path and because Christianity is more than belief in God (even the devil believes) and there is no talk of repentance or any kind of relationship with Jesus, this falls short of being Christian literature. One cannot make reference to a few verses in the Bible and then call the story a Christian story. This is more about violence, retribution, and revenge, hardly Christian virtues. 
Having said that, the writing is fast paced and clever in places, but this is not enough to get a good rating with me. Because of the holes in the plot and lack of explanation of certain aspects of the antagonists, I would not highly recommend this book. 
Average 2 1/2 stars.    
 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Endurance Test

 
I look forward to the Olympics every two years (summer and winter games) but I forget, from one year to the next, what an endurance test it can be to watch the proceedings on TV. I have not had a stop watch to confirm this, but my guess is that for every three minutes of games, there are two minutes of commercials. This would be much more tolerable if there were some variety in sponsors or there were more new and unique ads. I am writing this on Saturday morning, and have had a chance to watch uninterrupted most of the morning and I am sick to death of all the ads already. How will I make it to the end? I will not. I will find a site somewhere on the internet that will give videos and synopsis of the daily events. I am very interested in the events themselves, the personal stories, the medal count, and how Canada is faring, but I do not give a lick for the ads.  Maybe because I do not watch much TV, I am not used to this.
Why not take an approach that other advertisers have taken, on rare occasions. Have a brief ad at the beginning of an event stating who you are and why you want the viewer to watch the event uninterrupted. Now that is a company that could garner my loyalty instead of making me want to start a boycott.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Disappointing

 
It was 1964 when, as a middle teen, I discovered Ian Fleming. He is, of course, the author of the James Bond series and the first of many books that make up the vastly successful franchise. Ironically, that was also the year in which he died. I read every one of his books, but not the subsequent books in the series written by other authors.
Now along comes Damian Stevenson who is cashing in on Bond's popularity by writing a series of novels based on the life of Ian Fleming. The Bond character was created out of the imagination as well as the real life experiences of Fleming who played a vital roll in England's repelling of Nazi Germany. Of course, you know they were vastly fictionalized, and modernized, if you have read the books or seen even one of the movies. And in keeping with this tradition, Stevenson has created a much larger than life Ian Fleming who is more like a super hero than a down to earth secret operative.
I was disappointed to say the least. I was expecting a real life account of WWII espionage and what I got was comic book scenarios and impossible scrapes and last second escapes.
The plot, put quite simply, regards the fate of the French Navy after Hitler invades France, but there is too much illogical sequencing in the story to make it even remotely realistic. The wall to wall action is over the top and unbelievable. The first installment of the chronicles, Operation Armada is a free Kindle download, presumably an enticement to purchase subsequent episodes. I, for one, will not be doing this.
How it got so many 5 star reviews on "goodreads" is beyond me.
I give it 2 1/2 stars at best.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Birthday and a New Restaurant

 
It was our daughter's birthday this week and as is our tradition, the five adults in the family went out for dinner. It was her request that we go to Brodeur's Bistro on the corner of Blueridge and Mt. Lehman. We are always game to try something new, and because the Super Bowl Game was a done deal by half time, we met at 6 pm and found the place almost empty, despite all the large screen TV's playing the game.
There was a lot on the menu that looked very appealing but I chose the Buttermilk Chicken Gourmet sandwich with Poutine on the side. You can see from the photo just how large that was! Rachel has been here several times and is working her way down the menu. For the rest of us, it was mixed revues. I loved mine, but a few of the others were giving it average votes. It is a bit pricey but I thought the quality and taste was very good and there are a number of unique specialty items on the menu. Next time I go I will try their Montreal smoked meat or something from the New Orleans side of the menu.  The atmosphere is a bit like a sports bar, but that is the trend these days. I thought that because there were few patrons, they could have turned the volume down a bit. The service was friendly and very good.
Beyond this post being a restaurant revue, I must say that I look forward to these dinners which happen five times a year. I hope it is a tradition we can keep.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Chair

 
I take good care of my things. I do not abuse or misuse my 'stuff' so it was with great consternation that I sat down one day, in my very comfy office chair, leaned back, and almost crashed to the floor. With a loud snap, the base of the arm had broken and one whole side of the chair leaned back and collapsed.

 
I made four attempts to glue, screw, and repair the heavy plastic arm, but to no avail. The tension and forces upon these two pressure points was too much for even Krazy Glue II.

 
After sitting on a kitchen chair for a few days, I finally went shopping and found a great deal at Staples, getting $100.00 off of this multi-adjustable, leather 'task chair'. I am back in business and now have another item for the garage sale in Spring. The old chair will be free, of course, because of its condition, to anyone who thinks they can fix it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nicholas

 
In keeping with my current trend of reading the classics, I have undertaken and finally completed the reading of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby". Originally published in 1838 - 1839 as a serial, it is a long and arduous read. I was taken in by the story in the early chapters and even though it is wordy and tends to wander at times, the plot and characters are worth the endurance that is required to complete the book.
Without spoiling the plot, which gets more intricate as the book moves along, here is the general thrust of the novel.
 
Mr. Nickleby Sr. dies and leaves each of his two sons a handsome inheritance. One son, Ralph, becomes a businessman, a money lender, and in the process becomes unscrupulous and greedy, caring for wealth above all else. The other is a gentleman farmer, married with two children, Nicholas and Kate. Egged on by his wife, who sees Ralph's wealth, he speculates with his inheritance and loses it all. He dies of those things that are closely associated with defeat, poverty, and depression and leaves a widow and her two almost grown children.
 
The widow Nickleby approaches Ralph and kindly asks if he can help them out. Being very stingy and never having cared for his brother or his family, he reluctantly and very niggardly gives them some assistance. The help to young Nicholas comes in the form of a job at a boy's boarding school where we meet the first villain of the story, Wackford Squeers, the stingy, cruel, and scheming schoolmaster. Once you have come this far in the story, you will have developed a visceral hatred of Master Squeers, and you will be hooked.
The adventure moves on from there and gradually the 37 characters of the novel are introduced and developed. There are plots and sub plots, some very funny scenes, and enough irony and poignancy to have your emotions played with liberally.
Dickens is a master writer. Even his 'rabbit trails' are good reading, but I found myself often wishing for the story to come back to the main plot. In the end, there was little that happened in the book that did not contribute in some way to the outcome which is full of surprises and revelations.
I have never been a big fan of condensed books, such as Reader's Digest has published over the years, but I think this book needs some downsizing. No doubt its heftiness is a result of it being published as a serial over two years.
I might suggest that Dickens is an acquired taste, however, the themes in his books are universal. In Nicholas Nickleby, it is apparent what a life of avarice and selfishness results in, and what a life of loyalty, generosity, and moral fiber leads to. The contrast is very apparent and there is a lesson for all to learn from this story, no matter the degree to which we can identify with either side of this coin. 
3 1/2 stars  
  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Eagles Have Landed

 
Many years ago it was quite rare and great privilege to actually site an American Bald Eagle. In recent years they have proliferated. They are a common site and this last week there have been very many of them just to the north of our city. They are slowly getting used to living within urban areas, but are still a bit shy. One still needs a long lens to get a good photo of one them.
 
This is not my photo, but I was with Andrew when he caught this image with his long lens. Such majestic birds!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy Birthday

 
Why is it that when we look at our children, especially on their birthdays, that we see them as they were when they were very young? On their birthday, I go through the old photos and slides (which I wisely scanned a few years ago) and it is very nostalgic for me as the old memories come flooding back. What has happened to the years? I will tell you what happened.
 
Our cute daughter grew into a beautiful woman. As she matured, we slowly discovered who she really was and we were (and are) pleased. She found a wonderful husband, embarked on a career that she loves, and became the mother to three boys, our grandsons. The evolvement of our children and now our grandchildren is a constant delight, at least in our case it most certainly is.
 
A birthday is an occasion to give thanks and take stock. It is a celebration of survival, of progressive development, and a time to hope for a future that will be as much a blessing as the past has been. The greeting "Happy Birthday" is not only a wish, but an acknowledgement that we are happy that you have blessed us for all these years. (note that I am not giving away a woman's age. It is for the sake of self preservation that I do this)  
 
Rachel, may this day be a reminder of God's blessings in your life and a renewal of your commitment to follow Him.
Happy Birthday!  

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chinese New Year

 
We needed an excuse to throw a party, so, looking at the calendar, we noticed it was the Chinese New Year, the year of the horse. That was enough for us so we sent out the invitations and had some good friends in for a Chinese pot luck.

 
busylizzy prepared the rice, some vegetables and chow mein. The other guests brought chicken dishes, salads, lettuce wraps, desserts, etc. What a great feed it was!

 
I cannot imagine how much better it would have been if we were actually all Chinese.