Friday, July 27, 2007

Tonight I Begin Reading the Deathly Hallows!

It's Friday night, Eli is in bed, the other three are at the lake, Tara is getting ready to scrapbook and I am about to begin reading the first chapter of the last book of the one and only Harry Potter series. I am smiling as I type, knowing that I am about to reenter into an imaginary world that has captured my imagination for many years.

Tonight we three went out on a date, a late dinner at Flat Top (which was yummy), and then a slow saunter over to Barnes & Noble to get our prized book. Then it was brief stop by Starbucks to get our Frappacino's; the barista said that one of the girls there bought the Potter book the night it came out and stayed up to read the whole thing! She also said that it's all over the internet, how the book ends! Yikes! It's that kind of stuff that compels me to read it now, before someone spills the beans. I never skip ahead and read the end of a book to find out how it ends, but I'm also tempted on this one...but I think I'll take the risk.

So here goes...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 7.22.07

1Peter 2

Peter's letter reads like...well...a letter; it is personal, but in a subtle, thought-provoking way. Peter is writing to friends in the faith, sending them words of encouragement, direction, and instruction; he is passionate about his content, and really wants them to get his point. In reading through this letter, one gets the sense that he goes over the main themes over and over again; we belong to God, we live in hard times, our conduct should honor God and each other. In one sense, it is refreshing to read a letter that stays with a few themes; it is good to soak in a message, let it seep into your soul.

An interesting aspect of this letter is its density; it is chock full of Scripture references - the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and Paul's writings. In one sense, Peter is saying very little; he is bringing a full range of Scriptures to bear in on the condition his friends face. He says nothing new, but rather collects for them what has been said already about who they are and how they should conduct themselves in hard times.

What makes this letter additionaly interesting is how Peter weaves his story into the letter, how his story with God becomes a spur for them to let their story merge with God's as well. Chapter two is a fine example of this: it opens with a list of vices to avoid; the very ones that Peter was guilty of as a disciple. Then Peter writes about being a rock of God - which hearkens to his appointment by Jesus as a rock upon which He would build His church; Peter calls his friends "rocks" as well, stones that God has shaped for building a home of shalom out of which praises and gifts are given to God which bless the world.

Peter goes on to cite Scriptures from Isaiah and the Psalms which are a reflection upon how Peter stumbled over Jesus the rock, and how unbelievers stumbled over Peter the rock. And so it goes, Peter reflecting upon the variety of names God has given his people, and Peter both identifying himself as part of that story, and exhorting his friends to stay in the story.

In regard to conduct, Peter again speaks from experience. He knows what it is like to be at odds with governing authorities; based on his experience and the teachings of those before him, he advises them. Likewise for being under the master of another, it is doubtful that Peter ran his own fishing business, bur rather worked for another master. Peter ended up trading a fishing-master for a Jesus-master; and so he advises his friends, though you live under an earthly master, you are truly servants of God, so live in that freedom and bless others. Peter also understands very well the suffering that Jesus endured, and what that means for forgiveness of sins, freedom from unrighteousness and power to do good in God's name; and so he calls his friends to stop wandering and come home to God.

Jesus invited Peter back into the flock, to come under the Head Shepherd and Overseer of Souls; Peter is inviting his friends to come under the same Shepherd and Overseer. And Peter invites you too. Are you straying or staying?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

God Our Saviour Desires All People To Be Saved

1Timothy 1-3

Paul is writing to Timothy, one who he considers as a son, one who has grown up under his ministry. Timothy is currently a pastor in the Turkish port city of Ephesus, a major distribution center for the area's rich agricultural and quarry industry. It was a wealthy town with powerful men directing the affairs of the region; this was Rome's economic heart - from this region they financed their Empire. And here is Timothy, in over his head, overwhelmed by the pressures, desperate for Paul to come in and take over; and he gets the first of two stirring letters.

First, Paul is charging Timothty to lead, to be the authority needed to quell quarrels, to halt hypocrisy and heresy, and to set the standard for ministry: truth in teaching, holiness in character, love in all things. Maybe Timothy was feeling that it was impossibe for his church to thrive in its location, maybe he felt like his church was unable to really live out God's will, to save people.

Paul's second point in this letter is that God desires all people to be saved; Timothy can rest assured that no matter where he was leading a church, it would be amongst people whom God desired to be saved. Timothy may have countered: but you don't know how bad these people are, how opposed or ignorant they are of God. And Paul patiently reminds Timothy: I was the chief of sinners, of all the sinners surrounding your sanctuary, they are not as bad as I was - if God can save me, he can save anyone.

Paul actually describes the kind of people who might be frightening Timothy:
the lawless and the disobedient
the ungodly and sinners
the unholy and profane
those who strike their fathers and mothers
the sexually immoral and men who practice homosexuality,
slavetraders and slaveowners
liars and perjurers

And then Paul writes:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, fo whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe him for eternal life.

Know any sinners in your life? A characteristic of a sinner is a denial of the character of their actions, most sinners don't admit that their deeds are sinful. Or sinners are in denial that they are sinning, or they know they are sinning and choose to do it anyway out of rebellion or helpless addiction. What about the sins in your life, think they could keep you from Christ?

Paul goes on to write:
God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and people, the person Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.

God is always at work in the world, working to rescue sinners from their deadly ways. All have been ransomed, set free from the ownership of the Devil, and thus are now free to be adopted by God - if they desire it. So our task is to seek God's Kingdom first, his righteousness, His Way, and as we go that route, he will bring us across people - we as his instruments of grace and faith and love - whom he is at work in, people that are ready to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For some this happens early in life, others very late; for some it is a quick conversion, for others it takes a lifetime. But if God is patient with the world, so should we; and if God is lavishing mercy on the world, so should we; and if God is speaking truth into the world, then so should we; and if God is working to love the world and rescue it, then so should we.

Sinners are not to be hated, despised, scorned, mocked, sneered, ignored, forgotten, or despaired of. Sinners are to be loved in truth and grace, in mercy and patience, with salt and light; for that is how you need others to handle you, and it is how God handles you. God saved you from his wrath, and God wants to save everyone else in your life from his wrath; so stay open to his promptings so that you can be his instrument of salvation and truth.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Give Thanks to the Good LORD!

Psalm 118

One of my favorite songs, a gut-wrenching, trust-dripping, beautiful poem from a messed up sinner who won't give up on a God who won't give up on him.
"Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free."

What do you do when the distress is self-inflicted? When you've made mistakes that have messed up your life?
"It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man."

What about when others are making a mess of your life, when others are ruining what is good and beautiful for you?
"I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me."

What of God's work in your life, God's refining work as a Father correcting and directing a son/daughter who strays, forgets, and ignores what is good and right?
"I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death."

There is something potent about opening up yourself to God and letting him redeem what is wrong with you, and letting him redeem others through what has been made right in you.
"I thank you that you have answered me,
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone."

That inspires me; I know what it is like to feel rejected, I know what it is like to be rejected. It hurts, it hurts moreso when you feel like you had something to offer, when you wanted to make something good happen - and rejection is the response. But God can take any kind of stone and make it a crucial part of his work - any kind of stone that is willing to yield to his craftsmanship and blueprint.
"This is the LORD's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!"

It is an act of faith, it is an act of worship, it is an act of defiance towards all that is wrong in the world:
"You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever."

I needed this poem, I needed these words - thoughts of despair, feelings of frustration, dulled senses about the future, uncertainties, anxieties...all have been ebbing and flowing with great strength. Where it comes from, I'm not sure - which only adds to the grief. Yet God, I will give you thanks - though it may be solemn; and I will praise you, though it may be tentative. Yet who else is like you? And for what others need from me, who else would I rely on to do what is good? Thank you for Steadfast Love that Endures Forever.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quotes on Crisis, Difficulties, and Problems

Crisis refines life. In them you discover what you are.
- Allan Knight Chalmers, pg 51

To be mature means to face, and not evade, every fresh crisis that comes.
- Fritz Kunkel

The Chinese write the word "crisis" with two characters. One means danger, and the other means opportunity. Together they spell "crisis".
- Saul D. Alinsky (and others), pg 50

Sunshine without rain is the recipe for a desert.
- Arabian Proverb, pg 60

A man of character finds a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that he can realize his potentials.
- Charles De Gaulle, pg 61

There is no education like adversity.
- Benjamin Disraeli

The greatest difficulties lie where we are not looking for them.
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity is a greater one. Possession pampers the mind; privation trains and strengthens it.
- William Hazlitt

Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.
- Horace

Adversity is the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free from admirers then.
- Samuel Johnson

He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.
- Ben Johnson, pg 62

People don't seem to realize that doing what's right is no guarantee against misfortune.
- William McFee

Ninety-nine percent of problems are like sparks; they will burn out if they are not fanned. The early approach of leaders should be to keep conflicts calm.
- Leith Anderson, pg 164

Most problems have either many answers or no answer. Only a few problems have a single answer.
-Edmund Berkeley, pg 165

All cases are unique and very similar to others.
- T.S. Eliot

Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back.
- Piet Hein, pg 167

The biggest problem in the world could have been solved when it was small.
- Lao-Tzu

Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.
- Henry Kissinger

* quotes come from: Never Scratch a Tiger with a Stick, and other quotes for leaders, by Gordon S. Jackson

Sunday Sermon Notes - 7.15.07

We start a new sermon series on Sunday, we'll explore Peter's first letter to the scattered exiles of what is now the northern and central region of Turkey. There are three basic angles of Peter's letter: he is reminding these Christians whose they are and what they are, he is reminding them of how they are to live based on whose and what they are, and he is instructing them on how to believe and obey God in the midst of ongoing various trials and sufferings.

These Christians live in a region of several hundred thousand miles, terrain that includes mountains, steppes, trade routes and port cities. These Christians have Christ in common, but not much else: life in a lively port city is different than in a prosperous trade town which is different than a tribal village of the highlands. Some Christians are Jews, some are God-fearing Gentiles, and some were Pagans; some have been Christ-followers since the Day of Pentecost almost a generation earlier, others are recent converts who know nothing of the Scriptures, Israel's covenant, or Yawheh's work in the world.

The whole region was under the rule of the Romans, their Empire had engulfed the area completely. The Romans required allegiance to the Emperor - a kind verging on worship. This kind of pressure was more predominant in the port cities and trade towns. The highlands, though within the confines of the Empire, were relatively unfazed by the beliefs and requirements of the Romans - instead, they stuck to their rural, ancient, unbending traditions. Christians in cosmopolitan Nicomedia faced the pressures of "atheism" if they didn't pay homage to the Emperor; Christians in prosperous Laodecia could lose business if they didn't toe the Roman line; Christians in the tribal steppes of Cappadocia could be beaten for offending the native gods. These pressures are on top of the various trials that come from being alive in an unjust, unmerciful, world.

I suppose Peter could have said stuff like: grin and bear it; get over yourself; oh yeah, you think that's bad, wait till you hear my problems; stuff like that. But instead, he patiently reminds them over and over again - you are God's chosen children, and though you live as Exiles in a harsh world - you will be resurrected just as Jesus was, and the effects of that future new life are coming into effect NOW! So you can smile as you suffer, for you know that just as Jesus suffered for our sake, we can do so for him. Through his suffering we found redemption, through our suffering Jesus redeems others. We belong to God, and for this we can be glad no matter how gaping the wounds in our life. And because we belong to God, because we are redeemed Exiles, because we rejoice in our hardships, we choose the following acts: we choose self-control, we choose holiness, we choose reverence, we choose love.

We could let the world tell us how to live, but then what would we have? So we live and love in a world that will someday pass away, but our lives and our love will endure, for it is a love born of adversity, for adversity, a love that will sustain us through adversity. And we know that we don't suffer alone, we suffer alongside God, and we suffer with one another - the very ones who we live amongst and love deeply. We love as Christ loved, we love because Christ loved.

Who Else Did God Pity?

Jonah 1-4

The LORD's last line in the Jonah story:
"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor,
nor did you make it grow,
which came into being in a night
and perished in a night.

And should not I pity Nineveh,
that great city,
in which there are more than 120,000 persons
who do not know their right hand from their left,
and also much cattle?"

The LORD's first line in the Jonah story:
"Arise [Jonah], go to Nineveh,
that great city,
and call out against it,
for their evil has come up before me."

It seems that all nations would have some kind of evil come up before the LORD. This is a similar phrase God used with Abraham when he personally came to visit Sodom and Gomorrah, also with the Amorites and other people groups who dwelled in Canaan prior to the Exodus of the Israelites to their Promised Land. With the Sodomites, God sent a delegation to see if there were enough righteous people amongst them - ten would've prevented the disaster. With the Amorites God waited over four-hundred years before he brought judgment upon them for their wickedness. And here with Nineveh, God sends Jonah to proclaim their coming punishment for their evil - unless they repent.

So I wonder, how often did God send Israelite prophets to foreign nations to call out against them for their evil? How many of them repented like Nineveh? Is this Jonah/Nineveh story included because it is the one success story, or is it included as a representation of all the other nations that responded similarly? God's covenant with Abraham included a strong missional component - I will bless you, I will make you a blessing, and through you the whole world will be blessed. This Nineveh story is another example of how God's blessings upon Israel resulted in a blessing upon a foreign nation.

This story is hard to date, for the Assyrians (Nineveh being the capital city of that empire) destroyed the Israelites in 722BC. The Assyrian Empire was crumbling such that the Babylonians came to power, and then enslaved Jerusalem in 586BC. So either the Jonah story happens prior to the 722BC assualt, or sometime well after it, several generations later. Be that as it may, Nineveh was a despised city, a mortal enemy - Moscow in the 1960's, Tehran in the 2000's. It is not surprising that Jonah was reluctant. But what other cities recevied this kind of hope? How far did God send his prophets? There were tribes inhabiting all parts of the globe: North America, South America, all of Asia and Africa had people groups - did they also receive Jonah's?

The story ends with God reminding Jonah that people are more important than plants; babies are more important than blossoms. Nineveh was a great city, with 120,000 infants; there must have been close to a million people in that city. They repented. If Nineveh could repent like that, so could any other city that a prophet was sent to. The key was that their evil had come up before the LORD. Maybe we don't see prophets (coming from Tehran, Cairo, Havana, etc.) coming to cities in America like this because our evil isn't that great? Or maybe the prophets have already come and gone? Or maybe the prophets have gone down to Joppa?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

We Speak, Not to Please Man, But to Please God

1Thessalonians 1-5

Paul is reminding his friends in Thessalonica of his ministry attributes and habits. It's been awhile since he visited, and he wants to jog their memory concerning his work amongst them. Lest they reinterpret his motives and actions, Paul makes a point to reassert his authority and his love for them. Central to this reminder is the authority over him, and the love that motivates him: God and His Gospel.

I'm sure that Paul's maxim for speaking got him in trouble often; it would get lots of people fired if they applied this rule at work. What if you spoke the truth - even in love - to your boss concerning what you really thought about their management style? What if you spoke plainly to the fasttalking cubicle mates, avoiding all over-generalizations and thus being a lousy conversationalist? But then, speaking to please God and not man may get you a raise, since you'll be more trustworthy, more reliable, more loving, more encouraging, and more redemptive in your work and words.

For all of Paul's faults, he worked hard to speak only according to the Gospel. He wasn't out to make up new truth, but rather to proclaim it, and encourage others to live by it.

Petra has a great song from their 1982 album "Not of this World" called "Godpleaser". "I want to be a Godpleaser, don't want to be a manpleaser". I've grown up with this song, and thus this truth, in my ears and head for a long time. Doesn't mean I live by it as often as I should. But I do remind myself often, since I end up speaking alot - maybe too much (pastors can be prone to verbosity), to speak to please God first, and through that men and women may or not be pleased.

This maxim partly explains the instructions he writes to the church for how to conduct themselves: admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Think about how counter-cultural, how subversive that list of commands could be for you at work and school, even at home or church. To silently, but steadly speak only to please God; this would unnerve those grasping to project a particular image (which is rooted in pleasing people, hence in opposition to your strategy), and this would irritate those seeking to assert power in order to accumulate unjust gain (pleasing themselves at the expense of Imago Dei's).

Oh how easy it is to speak and serve in order to please others - in order that they may be pleased with me. It's a trap, to live dependent upon the fickle pleasure of others. It can be a trial seeking to please God, since he is invisible and incomprehensible. Yet, like Paul, faith in God propels me to please Him first, to seek his coming kingdom first, to desire his righteousness first, to delight in him first. And he'll take care of all the rest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

So Judah was taken into Exile

2Kings 19-25

It's the year 586BC, more than half a millenia yet before the coming of God in the flesh, and his chosen people have been Exiled. No more kings, they are done. The next king to arrive will be Jesus, descendant of King David on bothi his father and mother's side. Israel's exile will not end until they become their own sovereign nation in 1948AD. That's a long time to go in exile. Yet even in that state, in captivity, under foreign rule, God still has mercy on his people. Within four decades the exiled king of Judah is shown mercy by his captors...a powerful symbol of God's steadfast love to his punished people.

This last book of the kings ends with fascinating stories of King Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, and his descendants...stories that reveal the impending collapse of God's covenant nation.

Hezekiah starts well but ends poorly.
Manasseh starts horridly but ends well.
His grandson Josiah starts well but is killed in battle - by God, so to speak.
And the few remaining kings start bad and end bad.

As went the kings, the leaders - so went the nation. Though there was always a remnant of faithful followers, even they were swept up into exile. I wonder what they thought as they trudged to Babylonia, shackled and bedraggled. How did they feel - justified? morally superior? humbled? sorrowful? steadfast? Did they wonder why it seems that so few follow the Father? Did they wonder if being a remnant still mattered, seeing as they were being exiled as well? Most of their kings failed them, most of their priests failed them, and most of the prophets failed them. Would their ever be a prophet, priest and king who would not fail them? Does God fail?

Christians today still ask hard questions. Believers in Sudan trudge bedraggled, feeling abandoned. Christ-followers in China face fierce opposition from family and friends. Obedience is difficult in secularized, greedy, dirty-handed European nations. We feel like we are living as Exiles, for God seems more absent then present; our captors have the upper hand at most times; grief and groans seep through the bloody and dying streets of most urban centers. We are Exiles also.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Central Message of the Scriptures

Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm in the psalter, it is the shortest chapter in the First and Second Testaments, it is the middle chapter of the whole 66 books - vs 1 ending the Original Testament, vs 2 beginning the Fulfilled Testament.

Hallelujah - Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!

This is the central song of the Hebrew Scriptures, it was the hope of God for all Creation. Through Adam, God wanted all his progeny to praise Him all their days; through Abraham God blessed him that all nations would be blessed - and all peoples would extol him. What prompted God's crushing disappointment in his people was their obstinate failure to bless the nations, to sow seeds of worship around the world. The Torah tells the story of God's Creation - of the world, of a nation, of a covenant; the History remembers the sad rebellion and rare obedience of His people; the Poets utter honest accounts of reality, of redemption, of hope, of grievances, of justice and mercy; the Prophets call God's people to the covenant of blessing: obey God so that all the world be blessed through you - so that they can join you in the Great Song.

For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Hallelujah - Praise the LORD!

The central song of the Early Church was a continuation of the Teachers, Poets and Prophets: God be praised for his incomprehensible yet incredible mercy towards those that will receive it from Him. It was clear that God's chosen people had failed to convince the whole world to worship Yahweh...their exile was the public sign of their inward condition. It was also clear that other nations were coming to know the LORD apart from God's covenant nation. God wants all peoples to sing Hallelujah, so much so that he would come amongst us to teach all peoples the song, walk on the Earth in the flesh to demonstrate his steadfast kindness, to eat and drink and make merry with the world to reveal his loyalty to Creation, to heal and hear and help the wounded and angry and oppressed to reverse the curse which he promised to do.

The first word of this song is the last word: Hallelujah. Creation prompted a Hallelujah out of Adam; it does of us two when we see the birds soar above the woods, when we walk amongst the mighty crags, when we feel the pounding of the surf, when we touch the soft dirt of Spring...all peoples feel a joy that God wants them to put words and music to. The Restoration of All Things prompts a Hallelujah out of John the Revelator - he peers into the realm of God's presence and he is assured that Jesus the Righteous King will make all things right. Justice and Mercy will come and dwell amongst us, Peace and Delight will make its home with us, Love and Life will blossom within us.

God knows full well the hearts of the nations, of the peoples, of the tribes and clans and families and individuals. And he is always at work to teach them His Song: Hallelujah. And so those of us who have sung this song become God's primary music instructors for the world. But the teaching of this tune comes not from formal classrooms but in the everyday flow of the day, in the checkout line - sing the song, at the gas pump - sing the song, dinner with the family - sing the song, mowing the yard - sing the song, visiting your brother in jail - sing the song, consoling a greiving widow - sing the song, feeding the hungry - sing the song, helping the single mother - sing the song, forgiving those who hurt you - sing the song: Hallelujah.

There is much that happens in this world to make me cynical, anxious, critical, annoyed, cringing, times I am reluctant to whisper can be an empty song. But I ask myself: what other song would I sing? If not God, who? If I don't understand, what do I gain by ending my part of the song? What is life with out the Great Song reverberating in my home? So I keep singing, sometimes tentatively, sometimes triumphantly.

What keeps you from singing God's Song for All Peoples in Your Life?

What keeps you from helping the Peoples in Your Life sing God's Song with You?

Home from Vacation

We pulled into our driveway at 7:46pm, home from vacation! It was an arrival of mixed feelings: we are glad to be home, but we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation to Monterey California - and all the stops along the way.

Sleeping in this morning till 9am, we woke up just in time to rush down for breakfast. Jerm and Maria left by 7am to go visit the Field of Dreams, so our caravan rolled out around 11am from Iowa City, destination Fort Wayne. It was a fairly uneventful trip through the cornfields of Iowa and Illinois. We crossed the mighty Mississippi, skirted the south end of Chicago, and stopped north of Valpo to stay goodbyes to Jerm and Maria and family.

I was eager to get home and see how my flowers were doing; it rained once in three weeks, so stuff was might dry. A few days of watering should revive most of my stuff. The kids were eager to ride their bikes again, Emma ran upstairs to get her doll Mary, and the boys just ran all over the place with more toys from S&F.

Now, after getting the kids in their own beds, getting groceries, putting some stuff away, we're ready for bed.

It's been good to be away with our Hallman clan, we'll never forget Faye's Monterey and her brilliant idea to whisk us away to the town of her childhood. Now we're back home, ready for the rest of the summer and trading thousands of pictures.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Fun at the zoo and the eternally long dinner

The Henry Doorly Zoo of Omaha was jampacked with vacationing people, but it was a wide, spacious and beautiful animal sanctuary. The first activity was the carousel - Emma really wanted the horse with the red roses on it, and she got it! Next was the bears and the gorillas. We really enjoyed the gorillas, they were walking about, playing, eating, relaxing and other stuff. It was also fun seeing the wrinkly old elephants and the docile rhinocerous. Aunt Faye really liked the monkeys and Emma really wanted to see the birds. It was so hot and humid that Eli needed to be carried, to get some fresh air and catch a breeze. But because we didn't have any suntan lotion for him, I had to find shadowy places to walk - in the grass, on the sidewalk, on the street, up along buildings, wherever trees cast their shadows.

For a late lunch we squeezed into a nearby McDonalds, it was packed in there but we found enough space to munch our food. Then it was off to Iowa City for our last hotel stay. We made really good time there, got stuff unloaded quickly and got ready for dinner. The adjoining restaurant seemed nice enough, but once again, the place was mostly empty. We have noticed this pattern very often...on the upside, we thought that we could get quick service, get in and out and into the pool for a long time - and maybe even get the kids to bed early so that we'd be rested for our last travel day. Alas, it was the longest meal ever. We waited thirty minutes to place orders for our drinks and meals. We waited another twenty minutes for our drinks. Another thirty minutes for our salad and appetizer, and another twenty minutes for our main dish. It was ridiculous. There was one cook and one waitress for three families, and two of the families were our whole clan. When the Iowa ribeye did come out, it was very delicious. But we scarfed our food because it was 9pm and we were very hungry, and because the pool was calling our name.

Emma went all the way under the water with her goggles on! She did it so many times that she made herself sick and had to get out of the pool for a couple minutes. But then she was ready to jump back in again! She's a fish! Levi, Isaac and Eva had fun sharing the goggles and playing the pool as well. Now we're in bed and getting ready for the last day of vacation. We're ready to be home, since we miss home - but we've loved being on vacation with Aunt Faye and the clan, and we'll miss all the fun - but we'll never forget the memories. Tara has taken over a thousand photo's of the trip! We'll have lots of fun remembering our trip for decades to come.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Thru the Arches and over the road, to Omaha we go...

Lots of driving today, lots of driving through Wyoming and Nebraska. The land got flatter the further east we drove; more settled, more farms, more rivers and more traffic. Ugh. But the kids did fine for the eight hours of driving that we did today.

We made a stop in Kearny, Nebraska at the Great Platte Trail Stopover point thingy (I don't have the title in front of me right now...), a museum that arches over I80. It is a convergence point of several trails: Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, California, Overland - so the museum paid tribute to the families that pioneered through Nebraska. They had a tasty cafe there - we actually thought that maybe this cafe overlooked I80, but alas, once we got there we were informed that it was not the case. At that point Faye remembered maybe it was Chicago. Oops.

Tara drove the rest of the way to Omaha from Kearney, so I sat in the back with the kids to keep the peace while I read my Michener book - Centennial. Good stuff. Once we arrived at our hotel, we got changed, let the kids run around to let off some steam, and then went downtown. Very impressive. We at the Spaghetti Works Factory something - it was in a huge renovated machinery mill. Great decor, funny waiter, a balloon artist was delighting the kids, and the food was scrumptous. We all agreed that Ft. Wayne should redevelop some of their aging industrial buildings in the downtown area like what Omaha did.

Once back at the hotel, Tara had the rare privilege of taking the kids swimming while I played with Eli in the room and got the beds and stuff ready. Lucky her. Now the kids are sleeping (bedtime was about midnight), and we are planning on visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in the morning. If we wake up at a reasonable time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Caught in a Wyoming Thundershower

What an unusual day it was in Wyoming.

The kids slept in late this morning, though we were late getting to bed - we had too much fun with room service. Our goal was to leave by 10am, which means we will leave about thirty minutes after that set time.
Since we're in a hurry, Levi and Isaac help me with the luggage.
I was bound and determined to get some Starbucks to start the day, and I could see one from our parking lot - just through the trees and by some distant buildings. I told Jerm and Shirley to head on out to I80 and I would just swing through the drive-thru and swiftly get my coffee and catch up with them. I couldn't find the stupid Starbucks. I could see the sign one minute, I'd look down at where I was driving, and then look up and the sign would disappear. Very frustrating. The more wrong turns I took the more I needed the coffee. This was supposed to be a real quick diversion. It wasn't; so I gave up, and just as I turned onto a street to get onto the highway, we saw the actual Starbucks building. But it was too late. My wife wisely let me stew in my grief for a few minutes before she laughed.

For lunch we stopped in Saratoga, which is on the North Platte River. We decided that Mum would pick the restaurant, so she picked Mom's Restaurant. We were a little leery of the joint, since two bikers roared out of there as we pulled next to the little white building. But once inside the empty diner, we were greeted by a kind and warm hostess aka Mom. I was full from our room service breakfast of omelettes (which, by the way, were THE BEST omelettes I have ever devoured...), so I ordered an iced tea and bided by time to order desert: Banana Foster Ice Cream Pie. Ahhhh...vacation food tastes the best.

We took a side trip to Medicine Bow National Forest: Snow Cap Mountain. What a splendid park, with thousands and thousands of evergreen trees crowding the moutain slopes. And then we saw it: mounds of snow on the side of the road, on the cliff edges - and it was only sixty degrees outside.
Shimmering lakes that must of have been icecold dotted the landscape as we drove through. Just one more delightful experience in the Wyoming territory. The land would be flat and green, hemmed in by cloud-shadowed hills. Then the hills would morph into mini-mountains and the ground would be these myriad of mounds rolling along, like storm swells of earth rippling outwards.

Once through the forest, we arrived at our next tourist destination: Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site in Laramie. All I knew about it was that Butch Cassidy had been jailed there for about a year. It turned out to be a well-put together, well-financed, well-researched museum of that prison - its affect on the city and territory, as well as the forces that created it and the penal system it was promoting. Jerm and I spent a long time together reading almost everything, they had alot to read. Throughout the recreated prison were enlarged photographs of the inmates, with their story and name below. It added a very human touch to the place. Along with these pictures were many large plaques with insightful reflections on different elements of the prison, how it ran, how it developed, how it failed/succeeded. One insight: the prison was influenced by the belief that jail time was to be rehabilitative and redemptive. However, only one person out of the two-thousand inmates was rehabilitated. That one man went on to be a successful businessman in the area. This apparent lack of success was addressed in one plaque which critiqued some of the foundational philosophical and religious beliefs that created this system of imprisonment.

Emma, Isaac, and Levi enjoy prison life, Eva isn't so sure about it...

As Jerm and I walked out of the museum, we say that a huge storm was rolling in fast - drops of rain were already hitting. We walked briskly to the visitor center where everyone else was milling about, anxiously awaiting us because they had already seen the storm coming in. We hurried and got the strollers packed up, the kids piled in, and the vans on the way when a fierce prairie storm dumped on us. As we get on the drenched highway, Tara asks me if I got her wallet out of the stroller. No, I didn't; I didn't know to look for it. Did it fall out? No, I didn't see anything on the ground. What if it did fall out? What if we get to Cheyenne and we don't have it? We'll have to drive all the way back. You need to pull over and check to see if it is in the bottom of the stroller. WHAT? Arrgghhhh. So we pulled over at the next exit and find a side road, hoping for a break in the storm...which I goes from torrential downpour to normal downpour. I jump out, open the side door and then jump on the back of the van to open the storage unit on top of the van where the strollers are stored. I was hoping that I could stand on the ledge of the open side door and just quickly reach my hand into the bottom of the tightly folded up stoller and extract the missing wallet. No luck, I couldn't even see it in there. Which meant I had to take both strollers out of the storage unit...while it is pouring rain. Fortunately (or unfortuantely, depending on who is wet...) the wallet was in the bottom of the stroller. Tara wisely waited a few minutes before she laughed at the soaked and bedraggled husband sitting next to her. We eventually both laughed...

Once at the hotel, we got changed and Tara and I went on a date with Eli to the Cheyenne Cowboy Club for authentic Wyoming meat. Neat place, but hardly anyone in the restaurant...which I will say again, annoys me. Anyway, the buffalo ribeye was delicious - I was happily full, and dry. On the way to the restaurant we drove by a Starbucks, which we planned on stopping at after dinner. As we drove back, we couldn't quite remember what street corner it was on - it being on a one-way main artery. So we drove around for ten minutes, finally finding was not my day for quickly finding my coffee shop.

Now we're getting rested for our long trip to Omaha...eight hours of driving!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fort Bridger and the Oregon Trail

What a neat day for my Mum - she is a fan of the Macintosh game Oregon Trail. We played it alot as kids, on our old Apple IIC - with a green screen. The game was a very simple DOS program, but oh the hours we would spend on it. Especially my Mum. So it was a special treat to stop by old Fort Bridger in Wyoming, a key supply point on the famous Oregon Trail.

We left Salt Lake City a bit later in the morning than we planned, and then it took us about thirty minutes to find a gas station...there must be some ordinance against having refueling stations in convenient places. Once on our way, we wound through some impressive and breathtaking scenery. The climbing hills were more gentle than the Rockies and Sierras; the fields more lush and some of the cliffs more jagged.

Wyoming is not Utah. It's amazing how crossing state lines is obvious, even without the street signs. Wyoming is flatter, though it still has its share of hills and crags. It just seems wider, more open, bigger. In no time we were at the town of Fort Bridger, population: 150. For being in a remote place, the actual fort was in good condition. All of the other national parks we visited were beautiful, and lots of money had been spent on them. Fort Bridger is a state park, but it wins the award for the most love being poured into it. Not all of the fort is still standing, some of it was auctioned off decades and decades ago, but most of it is still there: the guard house, the school house, the milk house, the commissary, the general store, the ice house, the stalls, the wagon house, and so much more. There wasn't much of a crowd. The most interesting people there were historians who travel by covered wagon and horses; they travel all the trails - the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and many others. They had just arrived to the fort the day before, so their horses were getting a break while the travelers/historians relaxed by their tents and talked with the visitors. Aunt Faye, Tara and Isaac spent some time with them - which is how I know this stuff.
Isaac taking time to watch the horses munch and frolic in the fields.
Isaac and Levi patting the horses on the nose - they were thrilled to be so close to these proud beasts.
The museum had a thoughtful kids section, which included this mechanical horse which Levi thoroughly enjoyed.

For lunch we ate in a local restaurant across the desolate highway. Good food, neat place, friendly hostess and locals. Only a short drive later through stunning buttes and rolling ranges, we arrived at our hotel in Rock Springs. They had an awesome pool there: a kiddy pool,
a big pool with a curtain of water raining down, and a hot tub. It was alot of fun playing with the kids in their little pool - they loved it, even Eli.
They also loved going through the water curtain; Emma went through it a thousand times. She says that Eva taught her how to swim with her face in the water. So Emma spent about thirty minutes of our time swiming with her face in the water. She was so proud of herself. We were very proud of her!

We just finished up a delicious meal served via room service. Nothing like the family hanging out with good food and lots of laughter.

Tomorrow is Cheyenne and the Fourth of July Fireworks! Yee haw! Happy Birthday America.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Stopping Over in Salt Lake City

Today was a simple day: wake up in Winnamucce and drive to Salt Lake City in time to swim while it is still warm outside. So that is what we did. Except that we stopped at a Pizza Hut in Wendover, Nevada for lunch. It was supposed to be a quick stop. We had mixed feelings as we pulled into the empty I said earlier, I'm suspicious of restaurants without a crowd. The door to the restaurant was 12noon...another clue to turn away. But no, we really wanted to order a Taco Pizza (Eli doesn't like it when Tara eats red pizza sauce). We walk in to a very empty restaurant, with the classic PH sign: Please Wait To Be Seated. We seated ourselves, pulled a long line of tables together and waited. And waited. The lone employee came over to us, and we felt sorry for him. And the other three customers who walked in a few minutes after us. He did admirably well, but it was not a quick lunch break. And we didn't get our Taco Pizza. Oh well.

The rest of the trip to Salt Lake City was uneventful, other then our awe at the salt lakes. As we came over the hill and Wendover came in view, we were in awe at the vast salt plains. As we approached Salt Lake City we were in awe over the vast amounts of water that existed in this saltland. As a city goes, Salt Lake is fairly unremarkable. Not much of a tourist trap coming into town. Tonight we sleep just off of the Temple Square, we went swimming soon after arriving, but the pool was in the shade and breeze made it chilly - not that the kids minded.

Tara, Jerm and I just came back from a short walk around the square which is impressive. In it is a walled in area containing the Temple, the Tabernacle, various statues, gardens and offices. The block also has an enormous building dedicated to Joseph Smith, the home of Brigham Young, a gigantic office complex, and very pretty flowers everywhere. The whole area was very impressive, immaculate, imposing.

Tomorrow we head into Wyoming and plan to visit Fort Bridger and the Oregon Trial. Mum will love that, she used to be addicted to the game.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Welcome to Winnamucce

Well, here we are in the middle of Nevada, sleeping in a pleasant hotel located in a town with a funny name. I like towns with funny names.

Anyway, today was fun - we spent some time in Fairytale Town and Funderland.
Just outside of Sacramento is this beautiful park chock full of shade trees, fragrant flowers and bushes. It's also where we find the city zoo and the land of fun and fairy tales. First we hit Fairytale Land: the kids sat in King Arthur's chair, climbed up a big shoe, went up in a barn, played in Sherwood Forest
and some other fun stuff.

Then it was off to Funderland, where each kid received five tickets. Emma knew exactly what she wanted to do: the Crazy Cups that spin like...well...crazy. Eva joined her and they giggled and spun like crazy. The guys headed off for the carousel, they love those horseys - Isaac did it twice. Emma did a log ride and got her shoes all wet, Levi and Isaac flew some airplanes. All three of them did their first rollercoaster and loved it!
After the five rides we ate really tasty fried food that clogged up our arteries. Then we piled back into the van for the long ride to Winnamacce - a four hour drive east on I80 through the bleak and deserted wasteland called Nevada. There were some stunning views going over the mountains, and some of the desert hills had a kind of poetry to them.

So here we are, tucked in bed; we did drive thru KFC and feasted in the room, then went for a dip in the cool pool.
Now we're getting rested for the drive tomorrow to Salt Lake City.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Goodbye Monterey, Hello San Fransisco!

Friday was our last full day in Monterey, so we made the most of it. We slept in, and then went to a wonderful restaurant by the bay called New Beginnings; what a scrumptous breakfast! The pancakes were a foot in diamter, I ordered a stuffed breakfast burrito that was almost a foot long - and no, I didn't eat it all! The coffee was tasty as well. We then waddled over to Cannery Row, the kids really wanted to do the "penny mutilation" thing. While E.L.I and Eva ruined their pennies the mom's did some shopping. After awhile the guys and Lydia went back to the vans to hang out while the mom's and E/E finished up.

During naptime I headed out to a quaint and stuffy old bookstore tucked away in a small side street. I had some books I was looking for, but I was hoping to be surprised by what I found. Maybe I'd find a good philosophy or theology book, maybe a good history or biography. I ended up with two novels and a biography. I found a 1930's copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, a 1951 James Michner Return to Paradise, and a 1960's copy of Dag Hammershkilglehlged's biography. Fun. Then back to the hotel to swim with the kids - it was sunny and beautiful outside. Once we got dried off and cleaned up we went out to eat at Bubba Gumps. This was the third time Jerm and Maria had eaten there, but they didn't mind. I was a bit skeptical of the place, but they didn't disaapoint. It was a fun atmosphere, we sat outside on a deck overlooking the bay, a great tasting meal and good music - surrounded by my family...ahhh. We had to waddle out of this restaurant as well, over to Starbucks for a drink and a fudge shop for ice cream...I tried the fudge and I was very disappointed. But Emma's cottencandy ice cream wasn't bad.

So now all we had to do was drive to the local Wells Fargo bank for Tara to transfer some money, and we could get the kids in bed and have a few hours to ourself. All I had to do was get to the bank. I knew right where the bank was. We had gone by it a few days earlier. I took us down a street that was supposed to take us right to where the bank is supposed to be. But the street didn't take me there, and we missed the turn off, and next I know we are stuck in the middle of nowwhere, with nowwhere to tun off. Needless to say, S&F and Tara were very annoyed with me. But then they got even more annoyed when I didn't listen to their directions on how to get back to where we came from. I just kept driving, and we ended up along the bay under a fullmoon - a pretty view of the dark ocean. So we slowly wound our way up the bay to Monterey, and Faye got us to the bank forty-five minutes later. We were laughing about it after Tara transfered the money.

Saturday (yesterday) was our last morning in Monterey, the agenda was to leave at a reasonable time so we'd have some fun time in San Fransisco. Well, the kids slept in till after 9am, and then by the time we got them up and ready to go, as well as he van packed and ready to go, it was after 10am.
By the time we were all checked out of the hotel it was 10:30, and then we had to head down to Cannery Row - Tara needed to exchange a t-shirt and I needed Starbucks. So it was after 11 till we headed out of Monterey. The scenic drive to San Fransisco was beautiful; sandy hills and dry rolling fields; forest studded mini-mountains and lots of ocean.

We were impresssed with San Fransisco, once we entered the city proper we were delighted by all the multi-colored homes stacked on the steep streets, everywhere we looked. Exiting on King Street we drove by the Giants Stadium and then crawled for forty minutes to Fisherman's Wharf. Eli was screaming for too long, so Tara jumped in the back to feed him the rest of the way. Good idea. People were everywhere, we found a place to park by wharf 45, and then slowly weaved our way to the main area - there were people everywhere. Three strollers can make an imposing line, but we kept getting cut off. Finally we made it to No. 9 Fisherman's Grotto for a tasty dinner, overlooking the bay, the yachtes, the Golden Gate bridge.

With full bellies we walked around for a bit, finally ending up on a wharf dock to gaze upon an authentic WW2 Submarine and a Merchant Marine ship. Neat. Never seen one up close like that, very imposing. Levi and Isaac thought they were cool. But now we decided it was time to find the park at the base of the bridge; we'd let the kids get out and play while we took some neat pics of the city. But we never really found the park, though we had fun driving through the Presidio and seeing some neat streets. Finally we crossed the famous Golden Gate, we all decided it'd be more fun to walk it next time. And now it was off to Fairfield for our next night of blissful sleep.