Saturday, March 31, 2012

Palm Branches

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” John 12:12-13 New International Version

Today is Palm Sunday, and many churches will be filled with palms and will hand out palm branches to parishioners. But what is the significance of the palm branches?

Most of you know that when Jesus returned to Jerusalem, the masses meeting him there ran ahead of him spreading palm branches on the streets and waving them overhead as Jesus passed by. At this point in the story, I always recall that he is riding on a donkey and am concerned that the donkey will slip and fall on the palm branches under foot or shy away from the waving branches and dump Jesus at the side of the road. Of note is that the Bible elsewhere states that this is a young donkey which had never been ridden before. So how does this beast of burden navigate this ride? Anybody else ever wonder that?

But back to the palm branches. In ancient times, palm branches symbolized victory and were often waved when kings returned home triumphant. So, here was Jesus returning home and the people were acknowledging him as their king, their conqueror. Only thing is they were still thinking that he was saving them from their Roman overseers, returning Israel to its glory here on Earth. It would take them a while to get it and in the meantime, Jesus dies for them. What must they have thought of their victor then.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Las Vegas: The Ugly

Living in a small town my whole life, I realize that I have been sheltered from a lot of ugliness in this world. Go to any big city anywhere in the world, and you will find the homeless on the corners and panhandlers in the streets. And the more tourists that a city caters to, the more beggars it attracts as well.

With all its lights and all the money thrown about on gaming and shows, Las Vegas has a high unemployment rate and its share of vagrants. Walk the Strip after sundown and it seems as if the homeless and the jobless come crawling out of where ever they spend their days.

A few of them will be playing the guitar or providing some sort of music. Every night that we were there, a woman without legs was propped against a cement wall somewhere playing the accordion and singing. Her accordion playing was ok, the singing not so much. Others don’t seem to really care, don’t seem to even want to try. They will be sitting on a walk-way with a sign saying, “Too lazy to work, need money for beer” or something similarly inspiring.

What would it be like to be homeless, without a job or any prospects? Do these people have no friends or family who would be able to help them out, or have they exhausted that kind of hospitality? Have they made a string of bad decisions that have led to this point of no return?

I think back to when I was divorced and struggling to make the house payment, the car payment, and pay the day care. I was so blessed to have a job and have family able to float me the occasional loan. What if I didn’t have that advantage? How close was I to living on the streets with my kids? In all honestly, not that close. But truly, all it takes is one catastrophe for any of us to be that close.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Las Vegas: The Bad

Las Vegas wasn't only founded on mobster money. There was after all the building of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. But in the 1930s and 1940s as Las Vegas was beginning to grow, gambling was a big motivator, the draw that started bringing in the tourists with money to spend. Even after big name entertainers, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley, started lighting up the Strip, visitors still returned to the casinos. In more recent years, in an attempt to lure families, many resort casinos have added child-friendly entertainment. I don't think that's what is keeping Las Vegas going.
I try to picture gambling as any other form of entertainment. There are a lot of activities which people spend money on which don't reward you with anything except the activity itself. I just don't get any enjoyment out of throwing a quarter in a slot machine, watching the lights and listening to the bells, and then - guess what? My quarter is gone. Seems a silly way to waste of money, but if that is how someone gets there kicks, who am I to judge.
What I don't understand though is that a lot of these people don't look like they are having fun. Maybe they just hide it better then I do. My picture is of a sixty-something year old lady, with a cigarette hanging off her lips, a mixed drink in her left hand, her right hand pushing that slot machine button, over and over again. She doesn't look so happy to me. She looks like she is in a trance and moss is beginning to grow on her backside.
I don't want to say that gambling is all bad, there just is no upside for me. If anyone thinks they are going to strike it rich, well, let me know when that happens. Call me a hypocrite, but I will help you spend your winnings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Las Vegas: The Good

Las Vegas, Nevada, is certainly a place of contrasts. While we were there for only a few days last week, I witnessed so many stories, so many lives both good and bad, happy and sad. Instead of a play-by-play of what we did each day, I will present for you this week the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Why does the good always get to lead off? Oh, I know, because I have the most pictures of that.
New York New York
The fairy tale castle of Excalibur.
One of the fountains inside Ceasar's Palace.
The carousel at the Conservatory of the Bellagio.
Outside of the Venetian.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sin City

He went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution." Mark 7:20-23 The Message

My husband and I were in Las Vegas last week on vacation. When my co-workers found out that was where I was going for five days, they just stared at me, speechless. “You? Going to Las Vegas?” a few of them blurted out. I knew what they were thinking – that I am too much of a goody-two shoes to go to Sin City.

But as it says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t mean I’m not just as much a sinner as anyone else just because I don’t drink, don’t smoke, won’t even stop at the bar for an orange juice after work. I don’t gamble either and I try really hard not to swear, but none of that makes me better than anyone else.

So, what did I do in Las Vegas? A lot of people asked if we were going to some shows. No, no shows. You can see it all on TV with a better view, but I really don’t have any desire to see magicians or Elvis impersonators or musical circus acts.

Why then would I want to go to Las Vegas? Well, you’ll have to read my blog all this week to hear the stories. Coz there are lots of stories in a place like Vegas. And pictures too.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ready for April showers. In March?

Signs of Spring. I finally only have a few essences of snow left in the yard, those banks hanging on for dear life, and lots of those moldy-looking spots on the dead grass where the snow has just melted. The crocuses are gallantly popping unto the lawn. Robins are everywhere. And I am going to talk my husband into stringing our American flag up the flagpole in the front yard.

Yep, I think that it is really Spring, way early here in northern Wisconsin. We may get a few snow showers, a dusting or even an inch or two yet into April, but it won’t last more than a day or two.

Here’s my newest sign that Spring has arrived. My husband tacked a rain gauge to the deck. Missed the first few rains, but now I’m ready. We’re not measuring any more snow, just going to be measuring those warm Spring showers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where have all the cool old buildings gone?

Ok, I promise this is the last walk down grade school memory lane.

In fifth and sixth grade I finally got shipped into town (and probably had the shortest bus ride) to attend the really cool Washington School. Why don’t they make buildings like that anymore? Built in 1907 to initially house fifth through twelfth grades, it was full of character and stairs and cubby holes. All the floors were hardwood and creaked no matter how gingerly you walked.

It was three stories tall, and at least a couple times a year we had fire drills where they made us tromp down the metal fire escapes on either end of the building. We of course had blackboards in all the rooms – no such thing as whiteboards with colorful erasable markers. At the end of the day which ever student was the teacher’s pet got to take the chalk-filled erasers out on the fire escape to clap off the chalk dust.

Oh, and remember the portable classroom they had at Bradley School? They had a couple of those on the grounds here too, again for the younger grades. I can see why they didn’t want first-graders on the third floor. Those little six-year-olds could slip right through the metal grating of the fire escape.

As it is, Washington School caught on fire during the summer of 1978. I took some cool pictures of it, the shell of an awesome building, but then in 2008, when we went to Virginia to see my mom’s hundred year old uncle, I made a scrapbook of Tomahawk for him and put all those old school pictures in it. Luckily I was able to borrow pictures from the “You know you’re old school Tomahawk” facebook page. Thanks, guys.

All I have left is memories. And someday I will write them all down.

When I attended Washington School, those trees were giant elms. Just like the school, they were taken down, too, victims of Dutch Elm Disease.
Picture perfect postcard. Do they make postcards of schools anymore?
The school after the fire. Very sad.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't worry, be happy

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” Matthew 6:25-26 New Living Translation

Look at Dino. He doesn’t worry about what he is going to eat or where he is going to sleep. He just wants to play in the snow and catch snowballs, running and jumping, until he comes back up on the deck panting. He knows that we will feed him and that he can sleep on the end of my bed at night.

Sure, we have to be responsible, we need to earn an income, we need to budget our finances. But when things fall apart – and they will – it doesn’t help the situation to be down and depressed. We need to trust that God will take care of us, as he takes care of all his creatures.

Lord, thank You for all the great gifts You give us. May Your Holy Spirit assure us that You will watch over us and supply us with our ever need. Amen

Dino is pretty down now that the snow is just about gone. He will have to resort to catch tennis balls, instead of snowballs. I think that will be much easier on the teeth and the lungs. But this last one is a pretty amazing picture, don't you think? I had to take about 20 shots to get these few that turned out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Living in the Dead Zone

Ok, so here is the story of my life every spring.
Taken last night a mile from my house.
Just a half a mile from my house.
At the end of my driveway.
My backyard. Seriously. Taken last night within minutes of the rest of the pictures. Honestly. This would be why I don't get cell phone reception at my house. Because I live in the Dead Zone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Old Bradley School

My cousin Jodean pulled one more fast one on me in grade school on the playground of lovely Bradley School. It was a literal fast one, too. Our entire class was hurrying back inside from recess. I was wearing an elastic-waist skirt. Jodean ran up behind me and pulled my skirt down around my ankles.

What can I possibly say after that?

When they shut down Bradley School after they built the new elementary school in 1980, someone bought the building and turned it into a bar for a while. Hmm? If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that they sell fireworks at Tripoli School where I went to kindergarten and first grade. Then at one time you could buy alcohol where I went to school for 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade. What’s next you ask? Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Snow, snow, go away

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-15 New International Version

Hard to believe that just a week ago this was the path into my house. After being dumped on by 18 inches of snow, there was no place to go with it. Add to that the fact that I threw my son up on the roof to shovel off the heavy snow that was up there, and this is what you get. Luckily, a week of warm weather has melted a lot of it, but I still have high snow banks in my yard. And foresee that I will be seeing snow out my windows for quite a while yet.

Eventually it will all melt. Spring will come, the crocuses will bloom and the grass will turn green. But you know what, living here in northern Wisconsin, I have to face the fact that in a mere seven months, it will be back.

Just like Mother Nature keeps hitting us with bad weather, our sinful natures keep coming back too. We can’t escape it. All we can do is turn to God and seek his forgiveness from our sins. And turn to our shovels the next time it snows.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What wisdom did your mom impart on you?

“Those icicles have been known to kill people” The mom from the movie, A Christmas Story, 1983

I hate it when I catch myself saying these silly mommyisms. Why do we let some of these things come out of our mouths? "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about." “Your grandmother walked to school uphill, both ways (which actually is the Gospel truth coz her house and the school were on opposite hills).” “Keep making that face and it’s going to stay that way.”

I just hope my kids say these things to their kids someday. It’s tradition.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Word Count Wednesday

I don't know if you noticed the new widget in the column on the right side of my blog. It is something called Speedbo, where for the month of March I am challenging myself to write everyday on my latest book and try to finish it by March 31.

speedbo participant.jpgSo, here is my word count thus far.
A year ago this past January I started writing the story of a little boy living in the Bush of Africa. I got some 15,000 words into it and got side tracked with other things. But this is the challenge I have chosen for the month, and so far I am stinking at it. I've got 4098 new words written in the last week. Yuck. But I will persevere and keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's grade school once again

Welcome to the latest installment of the trials and tribulation of grade school. I attended Tripoli school, a very long bus ride from my house, for two short years, before they restructured the school district and I had the honor of going to Bradley school. Bradley school sits in the metropolis of Bradley, population several taverns and some railroad tracks. In the spirit of the typical country school circa 1970, this wasn't quite a one-room school house, but it was small nonetheless. In fact it housed only three classrooms, so the first grade classroom was in a separate building. Known as a "portable", these portable classrooms were brought in much the same as a trailer house would be. They seemed all the rage at the time as the tail end of the baby boomers was inundating the schools.

My fondest memories of those three years in Bradley mostly revolve around my cousin Jodean. It was wonderful to be able to bond with a relative who was not my sister, as my sister Pat and I had been nearly inseparable during much of our younger years. Jodean was a stable and positive influence. Ok, in truth she made laugh until I peed my pants and I worked very hard to pay her back. Perhaps this is in part where my warped sense of humor came from. One time, during lunch, she and I were laughing so much that we weren't able to eat. Our third grade teacher, a brutal woman, made the entire class stay in from recess until we had cleaned up our plates. I believe the meal was every school kid's favorite, non-descript meat in gravy on white bread (or shit on a shingle, as my husband calls it). Needless to say, even with the entire class of our peers watching us, breathing down our necks, and beginning to attain a mob-like mentality, my cousin and I struggled to choke down our gourmet meal without incessant giggling.

Somewhere in my house is a picture of me and Jodean at one of my birthday parties. Since I just could not find it tonight, here is her senior portrait. It was worth finding as on the back of it she wrote: "I remember when we made a bowl of soup in the basement out of water, sawdust, wood, and whatever else we could find."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What did God send you this week?

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;

he does great things beyond our understanding.

He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’

and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’

So that everyone he has made may know his work,

he stops all people from their labor.

Job 37:5-7 New International Version (NIV)

This past Tuesday night it started snowing around the time I went to bed. The forecast was for blizzard-like conditions with large accumulations of snow. They had said something similar the week before and we got flurries. The weatherman claimed that the storm had changed paths, so I wasn’t too concerned that Tuesday’s snow would amount to much. Wrong.

I woke up Wednesday to 18 inches of fresh thick wet snow on the ground. On my way to work, I got stuck in the four-wheel drive, in the middle of the road. The snow was so deep on our un-plowed country road that the Blazer wasn’t high enough to clear it. In answer to my prayer, the town snow plow came along and the driver pulled me out. I was able to follow his path to the highway.

We were luckier than other parts of the country, where deadly tornadoes again destroyed entire towns.

God can do what He wants with our weather and there is nothing we can do about it. We can be prepared, have extra food and water on hand, have a back-up power supply. But when the weather turns ugly, we just have to deal with it.

Is God flexing His wrath when he throws us storms and floods and tornadoes? Reminding us how puny and helpless we are? I honestly don’t know. All I do know is that when things are bad, whether the weather or our health or our finances, we have to trust that God is going to be there for us when we call out to Him.

Lord, thank you for sending snow or rain when we need the moisture and warm sun when we need the heat. Thank you for the clouds and wind and all the other weather that you send us for your own reasons. Help us to remember that no matter happens, the rainbow always comes after the storm.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

When is it time to call it quits?

“I am tired of fighting. . . It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. . . Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces, October 5, 1877

I don’t know why this quote came into my head today. How does one know when it is time to surrender? I would like to think that they would take me down still fighting, but sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest to just give in.

Or is it?