Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our Roman Holiday

It was our trip of a lifetime. For years we talked about travelling to Italy.  In September, it became a reality. We rode on planes, buses, and boats, but the only way to see the sights is on foot. According to Charles’ Fitbit, we logged 95,000 steps during our seven days touring Rome and the Amalfi Coast. 

Our amazing bus driver navigated the free-for-all streets of Rome with the efficiency of a race car driver. Most of the streets have no lane markers, so small cars, mopeds, and buses weave in and out with abandon. On the Amalfi Coast the narrow, winding mountain roads presented another challenge.  On more than one occasion, we participated in the “battle of the buses.” What happens on a sharp curve when two buses meet nose to nose—a game of chicken before they pass each other with six inches to spare?

I’ve always experienced severe motion sickness on buses and boats, so I was very nervous about this trip. My life and trip was saved by an anti-nausea watch and roll on anti-vertigo essential oils. I literally had NO nausea on mountain roads that were like coiled-up snakes, or on boats that rocked and rolled on the waves. The watch—worn on the underside of the right hand stimulates the vagus nerve that controls the balance of the ear canals. What a miracle invention!

Inside the Coloseum
Rome is a fascinating city with three distinct cultures. The deteriorating massive stone structures that defined the ancient civilization of pagan Rome were everywhere. The Colosseum, The Forum of Julius Caesar, The Circus Maximus, and The Pantheon brought back memories from my world history classes. That was the culture of Rome during the early days of Christianity. Apostles Peter and Paul were both martyred at the hands of the Roman authorities for proclaiming Christ and not accepting the Caesars as gods.
Papal Throne at St. Peter's

The Vatican and Catholic culture has dominated Rome since 380 AD. The many beautiful cathedrals and sites we visited were lavishly decorated with frescos and statues commissioned by the Catholic Church during the centuries from 1100 to 1500 AD.  Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel and his sculptures in St. Peter’s Basilica were breathtaking. Our tour guide took us to Vatican Square on Sunday where, at noon, Pope Francis delivered his blessing from the Papal residence. Although we are not Catholic, it was a meaningful experience. 

Today’s modern Rome has many of the features of other European cities—hustle, bustle, and traffic. It is a key member of the European Common Market and an important business, fashion, and financial center.  However, its major business is tourism. We were part of a tour group, but we met several young adventurous folks who were making their own way through Rome and Italy.  I admire their fearless spirit.
The Cold Mediterranean
The View from our Room

We spent our last four days in Italy navigating the Amalfi Coast. The rocky shoreline on the Mediterranean Sea is home to beautiful and quaint cities that climb up the mountainsides. We stayed in an old convent that had been converted to a hotel. It was a delightful base for exploring Amalfi, Positano, the Isle of Capri, and Sorrento. My walking, climbing, and hiking legs got a real workout.




We are still recuperating from jet lag and getting caught up with life here in Acworth.  It’s been good to sleep in our own bed and eat something other than pizza and pasta. As wonderful as it is to travel, there is no place like home.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Him-acanes and Her-acanes


As you can see, I took writer’s license and created two new words to describe the recent hurricanes.  For many years these dangerous storms received only female names.  But today names are alternated so that we have equal opportunity hurricanes.  I feel sorry for Houston. Its fifteen minutes of fame and its massive flooding from Him-acane Harvey is upstaged as 
Her-acane Irma targets the Caribbean and Florida. While watching and waiting for this powerful storm to hit Florida, I read some interesting and random information about Harvey and Irma. 

Harvey and Irma Schulter have weathered the storms of marriage for 75 years.  This couple from Spokane, Washington married in 1942, fostered 100 children during their long-lasting marriage, and taught children in Sunday School for many of those years.  No wonder their marriage has lasted so long.

Everything is political these days—even hurricanes.  From across the pond, actress Jennifer Lawrence pontificates that Harvey and Irma are signs of “Mother Nature’s rage and wrath” at America for electing Donald Trump who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change. I guess she has an “in” with Mother Nature.

Some see apocalyptic signs in the recent eclipse, earthquake in Mexico, wildfires out West, and hurricanes in the Gulf.  “Ahmed Ragab, a professor of Science and Religion at Harvard, argues that there is a good reason some people see doom in what’s going on: The pileup of disasters is affecting people.” (msn.com)

Max Lucado, San Antonio preacher and best-selling author, reminds people that God can be found in the midst of the storms of life. He doesn’t discount the pain people are suffering during the times of devastation, but offers encouragement and hope. (foxnews.com)

“The storm is coming, but God is with us.
Look ahead and chart a path to safety.
Look around and see who you can help.”

As Irma targets the metro Atlanta area, we are preparing for a tropical storm.  New batteries are in our flashlights and extra ice is stored in case we lose electricity from the high winds.  Many in disaster zones will have a long process to rebuild their lives. I am thankful we have a comfortable, dry house and am determined to take nothing for granted in these uncertain days.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fuzzy Wuzzy is a Bear

A tongue-tangling nursery rhyme goes like this:
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair,
So Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t Fuzzy
Wuzzy he?


I learned a lot about Fuzzy Wuzzy this past weekend at the Atlanta Christian Writers’ Retreat sponsored by Word Weavers International.  Fuzzy Wuzzy is a bear that I must tame in order to write the kind of book that all of you will want to read.

The marathon retreat weekend provided me and other local writers a great opportunity to improve our craft. I participated in a non-fiction critique group with five other writers.  The Word Weavers rules kept all of us focused and productive.  Nobody likes to have their writing subjected to the opinion of others, but in the end, you produce a much better piece.  Each one brought 2500 properly formatted words.

The guidelines require that each work be read out loud. During the reading and critique, the author of the material must remain silent. Each person who critiques must say something positive about the writing up front, before offering suggestions on structure, grammar, tense, and other elements of good writing.  Another encouraging comment is given at the end, before the next person critiques.
 
I brought two chapters for critique from Charles’ upcoming memoir, Chasing a Whirlwind. It frustrated me to repeatedly hear that many of my paragraphs and sentences were fuzzy and that I was way too wuzzy.  In other words, I need to clean up my act.  Move some paragraphs, reword some sentences, clarify this technical term, and stop using the word “was.” I only used it 88 times! The critiquers definitely had a point. It is a big challenge for me to write a memoir without using past tense.

When it was my turn to critique, I provided some of same advice for my fellow non-fiction writers.  I really enjoyed critiquing their poetry, devotions, articles, and blog posts.  Not only did we all improve our writing during the weekend, but we practiced some important Christian virtues.

Kindness: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

Patience: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” Ecclesiastes 7:8 

Honesty: “Teaching you to be honest and to speak the truth, so that you bring back truthful reports to those you serve.”  Proverbs 22:21

Stillness: “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.” Job 6:24


Humility: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” Matthew 23:2

Yes, I learned a lot:
How to improve my writing,
How to accept criticism,

How to gently speak truth.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Great American Solar Eclipse


Georgia has eclipse fever as it anticipates the total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. The Northeast corner of the state will experience 100% darkness as the path of the moon travels between the earth and the sun. We will see close to total darkness in our area as well. Eclipse parties are being planned and some Georgia counties are dismissing schools late or will not have school at all that day. The eclipse will reach its peak at 2:30 in the afternoon when school age kids would ordinarily load on buses to head home.

The last total eclipse of the sun—visible from coast to coast—occurred in 1918 and the next one in 2024 will only be seen in a small section of North America. So this is a once in a lifetime experience for Georgia. Solar eclipse glasses are selling out everywhere, but I did manage to snag a five-pack from Amazon. We are ready if the weather cooperates.

Scientists will take advantage of the eclipse to study the corona of the sun and gain new scientific data about its surface. Scientists in Albert Einstein’s day traveled across Europe to see a total eclipse to validate Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. They were able to take measurements during the eclipse that proved his light bending theory.

In ancient times, solar eclipses were viewed as omens and a foretelling of death and destruction. The Bible tells of several times in Jewish history when total daytime darkness was considered a sign of God’s judgment. In the book of Exodus, a plague of thick darkness lasted three days before Pharaoh set the Hebrews free from Egyptian bondage. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the sun was blotted out from noon to three p.m. The Bible also foretells that the light of the sun and moon will be blotted out during the end times.

The anticipation and preparation for this eclipse reminds me of the frenzy of December 31, 1999 and Y2K. The arrival of the new millennium was supposed to affect the power grid and computers all over the world. People stocked up emergency rations so they could survive for days without electricity and food.  It’s always good to be prepared, but the hype far exceeded the reality.

When the sunlight is blocked for several hours on August 21, it should remind us  that we are not in charge of the heavens or the earth. It will be a good time to reflect, pray, and consider our relationship to God—the One who created it all.  

Psalm 8:3-9

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
         The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
         And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
         And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
         You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
         And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
         Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
         How majestic is Your name in all the earth.”



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Come On, Ring Those Bells

“Everybody likes to take a holiday
Everybody likes to take a rest…”
 (Andrew Culverwell)

Everybody also likes a good sale.

An online shoe store promotes “Holly Jolly July.” Amazon Prime Day posts sales to compete with Black Friday—the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.  The Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas broadcasts two or more weeks of Christmas chick-flicks, along with the introduction of the Keepsake Ornaments for your tree. The home shopping networks lure shoppers with unbeatable offers for Christmas lights and d├ęcor. 

It’s a typical July in Georgia with temperatures for the past week in the 90s, with the heat index in the low 100s. The traditional celebration of Christmas is five months away, but Christmas in July is in full bloom—right along with the back-to-school sales.  Yes, school in the metro Atlanta area starts back on July 31.  But, I digress and will save that discussion for another blog.

The summertime celebration of Christmas didn’t start as a marketing campaign to sell more goods. It originated in churches in the 1940s as a way of collecting goods that would be distributed to worldwide missions. During World War II, the U.S. Post Office coordinated efforts with the Army and Navy and the commercial card industry to send Christmas wishes to those on the battlefield. Sending cards early in the year ensured their delivery by December 25.


When do you celebrate Christmas when you live in the Southern Hemisphere? With the winter months falling in June, July, and August, some countries like Australia and New Zealand promote a July 25th Christmas to enjoy a snowy, cold weather traditional celebration. Like the Northern Hemisphere, they also enjoy the December 25th festivities which fall in the middle of their summer.

In my humble opinion, Christmas can and should be celebrated often and any time you choose—even in July. According to most biblical historians, the arrival of the Christ-child into the world probably didn’t happen on December 25. Snow and ice on the ground in Israel would have prevented the travel of thousands who were told to register for the census in the place of their birth. That’s why Joseph and Mary made the journey to Bethlehem, and Mary delivered the son of God in a lowly stable far away from the comforts of home. The important thing is to rejoice that God sent His Son into the world as a human baby who, thirty-three years later, would give his life on the cross to save us all from our sins.
That is something to celebrate all the time.

“Come on, ring those bells,
Light the Christmas tree, Jesus is the king
Born for you and me.
Come on, ring those bells,
Every-body say,
Jesus, we remember
This your birthday.” 
(Music & Lyrics by Andrew Culverwell, 1970s)




Friday, July 7, 2017

Deep in the Heart of Texas


“The stars at night
Are big and bright
Deep in the Heart of Texas”
Lyrics:  June Heshey
Music:  Don Swander

Mr. & Mrs. Brandon Clark
The lyrics to the popular song from the 1940’s definitely describe the sights and sounds of the countryside surrounding Austin, Texas. We spent four days there celebrating the marriage of our granddaughter, Marcella Davis, to her new husband, Brandon Clark. The small town of Dripping Springs, on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, is the official wedding capital of the state. Surrounded by Live Oak woodlands and rolling hills, the wedding venue was one of 35 located in the area.

Marcella & Brandon built a beautiful flower-covered cross for their ceremony. It was a breathtaking backdrop as they pledged their vows to God and to one another.  The couple graduated from Texas A&M in May, and will live and work in Dallas after their honeymoon. Where have the years gone?  How did we get to be this old? 

While waiting for all the festivities to begin, we toured the Texas state capitol building.  The huge, pink granite facility was very impressive and beautiful.  It was educational to tour the historical legislative chambers, the ornate rotunda, and to check out the portraits and statues of famous Texans.  Davey Crockett, Sam Houston, Audie Murphy, and Presidents George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson were among the many on display.

The phrase,“You can’t get there from here,” must have originated in Texas.  Both San Antonio and Austin’s interstates are flanked by one way frontage roads. You can often see your destination, but it is a challenge to get there because you can drive only one way, find the road that crosses under the interstate, and then go one way on the other side. To get back to where you started, you have to make another big loop. If it sounds confusing, it is? Charles’ driving nerves and my navigating skills got a real work out.
Texas State Capitol 

Texas is a great state to visit and it was wonderful to spend time with family.  But the tall pines of Georgia, the sultry weather, and the music of the crickets and tree frogs made us glad to come back home again. 



Thursday, June 22, 2017

And We Have Liftoff


Charles & the VBS Rocket
When summer comes, Vacation Bible School is not far behind. Every year our church provides a week long opportunity for boys and girls to learn about the God who created them and Jesus who provided salvation for all mankind. It’s also an opportunity for the adults in our church to use their creative talents to make VBS a fun filled experience for all the children who attend. The theme of this year’s VBS is:

Maker Fun Factory—Created by God, Built for a Purpose

To support that theme, Charles was asked to build a rocket ship for the display at the front of the sanctuary. Asking an aerospace engineer to build a rocket is like asking a nerd to build a computer. You can bet that the new creation will be the biggest and best with all the bells and whistles and lots of bragging rights.

His steps for building the rocket were as follows:
  • Sketch a design on an industrial paper towel in the basement workshop.
  • Brainstorm how to transform the design into an actual rocket.
  • Visualize the components. Where could we find a tall cylinder, a nosecone, a set of fins, and something to simulate the engine and lights? 
  • Take scouting trips to Home Depot, Walmart, and the Dollar Tree to look for potential components.
  • Make more trips to Home Depot to get various glues, drywall putty, screws, paint, etc.
  • Spend every off hour, evening, day, and weekend assembling the perfect rocket.

After all that work, the rocket couldn’t just stand there, it HAD to do something!  So Charles worked with others at the church to create a recorded launch sequence accompanied by a loud drum roll:  “10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 All Engines Running, We have liftoff, We have liftoff.”   Each countdown is accompanied by simulated smoke coming from a fog machine.

The kids yell the countdown and the rocket blasts off each morning at 9:00 AM announcing the start of another great day of Bible School. Just as the boys and girls were created by God and built for a purpose, that rocket is fulfilling its purpose during this week of VBS.

One final question remains – “What do you do with a used rocket when VBS is over?”