Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hope on A Gray Tuesday

It's Holy Week.  It's Tax Day.  It's cold and raining when it should be spring.

But there's hope, indeed.

Warmer weather is coming this weekend, and 10 days from now is the last official frost date for my town.  Tomatoes will be in the ground soon, yes indeed.

But the best hope?  The best good news on this gray day?  I'll leave that to Max Lucado to share, excerpted from his book And the Angels Were Silent:
_____________________________________________

It’s nearly midnight when they leave the upper room and descend through the streets of the city. They pass the Lower Pool and exit the Fountain Gate and walk out of Jerusalem. The roads are lined with the fires and tents of Passover pilgrims. Most are asleep, heavied with the evening meal. Those still awake think little of the band of men walking the chalky road.

They pass through the valley and ascend the path that will take them to Gethsemane. The road is steep, so they stop to rest. Somewhere within the city walls the twelfth apostle darts down a street. His feet have been washed by the man he will betray. His heart has been claimed by the Evil One he has heard. He runs to find Caiaphas.

The final encounter of the battle has begun.

As Jesus looks at the city of Jerusalem, he sees what the disciples can’t. It is here, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, that the battle will end. He sees the staging of Satan. He sees the dashing of demons. He sees the Evil One preparing for the final encounter. The enemy lurks as a specter over the hour. Satan, the host of hatred, has seized the heart of Judas and whispered in the ear of Caiaphas. Satan, the master of death, has opened the caverns and prepared to receive the source of light.

Hell is breaking loose.

History records it as a battle of the Jews against Jesus. It wasn’t. It was a battle of God against Satan.

And Jesus knew it. He knew that before the war was over, he would be taken captive. He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday would come the blackness of Friday...

He then turns, steps into the garden, and invites Peter, James, and John to come. He tells them his soul is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” and begins to pray.

Never has he felt so alone. What must be done, only he can do. An angel can’t do it. No angel has the power to break open hell’s gates. A man can’t do it. No man has the purity to destroy sin’s claim. No force on earth can face the force of evil and win – except God.

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Jesus confesses.

His humanity begged to be delivered from what his divinity could see. Jesus, the carpenter, implores. Jesus, the man, peers into the dark pit and begs, “Can’t there be another way?”

Did he know the answer before he asked the question? Did his human heart hope his heavenly father had found another way? We don’t know. But we do know he asked to get out. We do know he begged for an exit. We do know there was a time when if he could have, he would have turned his back on the whole mess and gone away.

But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t because he saw you, and one look at you was all it took to convince him...
He saw you in your own garden of gnarled trees and sleeping friends. He saw you staring into the pit of your own failures and the mouth of your own grave. He saw you in your Garden of Gethsemane – and he didn’t want you to be alone.

He wanted you to know that he has been there, too. He knows what it’s like to be plotted against. He knows what it’s like to be confused. He knows what it’s like to be torn between two desires. He knows what it’s like to smell the stench of Satan. And, perhaps most of all, he knows what it’s like to beg God to change his mind and to hear God say so gently, but firmly, “No.”

For that is what God said to Jesus. And Jesus accepted the answer. At some moment during that midnight hour an angel of mercy came over the weary body in the garden. Jesus stood, the anguish gone from his eyes. His heart will fight no more.

The battle has been won. The sign of the conquest? Jesus at peace in the olive trees.

On the eve of the cross, Jesus made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you.

Lucado, Max. And the Angels Were Silent. New York: Walker and Co., 1993. 165-169. Print.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Rant... against lovely flowering trees

I have to admit something.  It's not a popular opinion I hold, especially here in Georgia, where subdivisions proliferate.

Some people might accuse me of "hating nature", or even being a "flowering tree denier".

But here it is.

I loathe Bradford pear trees.

You know the ones I'm talking about, right?

 
Yeah. These.


So why do I hate a tree that is the harbinger of warmer weather?  That signals the end of another cold winter, and promises hope for spring?

#1: THEY STINK.

I'm not going to say what they *really* smell like. (Google it if you dare.)  I think they smell like a rotting deer that got creamed crossing the road up from our house.  My neighbor has EIGHT of these darned trees lined up down the property line.  So right now I can't be in the back yard without thinking "is there another dead beast in the gully?".

#2: THEY ARE A MESS.
So all those lovely white flowers.  So beautiful.  So clean and pure.  Until you have to clean them out of your garden.  Off your driveway.  Out of your gutters.  Off your car.  Out of your dog's fur (not that we have a dog, but you get the idea).  Have you ever tried sweeping up those darned things after a heavy dew or - God forbid - a light shower?  AIEEEEEEEE~

3#:  THEY ARE A MENACE TO LIFE AND LIMB.
Literally.  This point has several subpoints.  1)  Where do most folks plant these?  Near the road.  How do these trees grow?  Out.  So when you pull out of the driveway, what do you see?  Tree branches, not oncoming cars!  2) I used limb literally here.  Do you know how darned breakable these stupid trees are?  After the last snowstorm, we had pear branches all over the streets.  They snap off at the trunk, and the whole limb just lays there, waiting to kill an oncoming driver.  (And then, to top it all off, the tree looks horrendous with a whole side missing!)

#4: THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.
Look at any subdivision.  You'll see them ranging up and down the street.  No variety.  No interest. Booooooooriiing!

Just. EEEEEWWWW.

Say No to Bradford pears!!!

Want a nice alternative? How about a lovely native tree?  I really like the apple serviceberry.  It blooms about the same time as the Bradford, with lovely white blooms that have a light, sweet scent.

 
Native.  Non-stinky.  Disease-resistant.  Hardy.



Our next house, whenever we take that step again, will not have Bradfords.  If it does, I will hack them down with glee and replace them with something much more palatable!

End rant.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Snowpocalypse! (x2)

So, y'all probably heard about the tremendous snowstorm that happened nearly three weeks ago, right?  That mighty 2 inches of snowfall that shut down Atlanta, trapping thousands of folks on the interstate?  (Yeah, there was a joke or two made at our expense...)  for those of you interested in the "what happened with the weather forecast" side of things, here's a blog post from the awesome Alabama metereologist James Spann.  He talks about the botched forecast, and how that little bit of snow can cause such catastrophic results.

The philosopher got stuck in it for 9 hours, and it took him a mile walk plus two different rides with strangers to make it home.  But we persevered, and thought we'd finished with winter.

But NOOOOOOOoooo.....

Round two hit us late last Monday night.  We got just less than a quarter-inch of ice.  Then we got 3 inches of snow Tuesday night.  And things looked like this:


 
But the sun finally came out on Wednesday, and brought blue skies and hope for a thaw...


 And then I discovered the best hope of all.... daffodils braving the cold and peeking their heads above the earth, the real signal of a warm spring to come.
(And I gotta say, it won't be here soon enough!!)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

California Dreamin'

So, later this year the philosopher and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary.  Hard to believe, right?  I mean, we're only in our early 30s or something..... 

Anyway, we've been talking for a while about what we'd like to do for that momentous event.  Bungee jumping is right out, as is skydiving.  We're not on the wealthy side of things, so as much as we'd like, a month in Greece and Italy won't work, either.

So we picked California.  We've got our plane tickets purchased, round trip from the airport down the road to San Francisco.  We've got our rooms booked, and our travel guide is starting to look dog-eared already.  (What? I'm a librarian.  Of COURSE I did research!)

Specifically, we picked here:

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Yosemite_National_Park)

Yep, we're headed for three days of hiking in Yosemite National Park! Now, y'all know I'm not crazy.  We may be shipping in a box of hiking boots and poles and packs, but I'm not roughing it.  We're not camping.  Ain't no WAY.  Instead, we're staying here: The Blue Butterfly Inn Bed and Breakfast, just outside the park boundaries.

(http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g32340-d667454-i18730659-Yosemite_Blue_Butterfly_Inn-El_Portal_California.html)

If this is roughing it, then I am ALL in!  So we'll spend three days in Yosemite, acting like the southeastern tourists we are. We've got a whole host of places we'd like to see, so we'll probably take the park shuttle to maximize our time there.  But there will be at least one for-real hike - probably to Yosemite Falls or in Mariposa Grove, because really, how can you go to a place like Yosemite and not get out on the trail at least once?

After our workout in the mountains (6000 feet above sea level?  Really?  How do people breathe???) we'll take roads west, and head to a more civilized clime.... Napa Valley.

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napa_Valley_looking_northwest.jpg)

 Yep, we're headed to wine country!  Heck, we lived in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a hotspot for wineries, so why not check out the valley that put American winemaking on the map?  And where are we staying?  Hennessey House, of course!

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dr._Edwin_Hennessey_House,_1727_Main_St.,_Napa,_CA_10-9-2011_11-45-57_AM.JPG)

Did I mention this is our 20th anniversary?  And that we've been saving for this vacation for more than five years?  No Motel 6 for us this time, no WAY!

Of course the philosopher is currently doing extensive, thorough research on various Napa offerings.  (erm, yes, wines).  We do plan on touring, of course, and are considering using Platypus Tours... because... platypus!!  I mean, how can you not love a company whose boss calls himself the Platypus-in-Chief??!?

It's still a ways off, but we're totally excited about this trip.  And I promise a long drawling blog post with lots of boring photos when we get back.  I would say we wish all our friends could join us, but I did mention that part about the anniversary, right?  8-)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Argh.

So , just finished reading an article in the Washington Post about Obamacare.  And it talked about something I hadn't considered.

Yes, I've considered that next year my employer might decide to ditch its employees and send all of us to the exchanges.

I've considered the more likely option that our spouses will be ditched, sending them out to the exchanges.  And because the exchanges require the reporting of total family income (even if it's just one member of the family applying) my husband wouldn't qualify for a subsidy even though he only works part time.  Unless we got a divorce.  How completely insane is that?

SO not cool.

But then I read the Washington Post article.

It's about prescription drug coverage.  And how one measure of cost cutting could come in the form of requiring the patient to pay more of the cost of "expensive" or "name brand" drugs.   Now, we do that already.  From the article:

"As the details of the benefits offered by the new health-care plans become clear, patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases also are raising concerns...
The easiest way [for insurers] to identify a core group of people that is going to cost you a lot of money is to look at the medicines they need and the easiest way to make your plan less appealing is to put limitations on these products,” Boutin said."
 Four examples listed.  I have two of those.  RA has generics that are nice and cheap.  So that's easy.  But diabetes... that's another story.  There are no generic insulins out there.  Why?  Because the FDA has yet to set standards that allow companies to make generic biologics.  Even though patents on some insulins expired over a decade ago.

I wan never a fan of Obamacare.  I like the idea of open markets with HSAs and the patient/doctor driving the treatment.   But this socialized medicine insanity just makes me sick.

For the coming year, we'll be stable.  But when the employer mandate kicks in and the folks who coordinate our health insurance benefits look at the numbers, I shudder to think what kind of hole we'll find ourselves in.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hiking to Alabama


We headed off to the mountains last weekend, and ended up hiking all the way to Alabama!  (OK, so we actually started at a trailhead that's only 2.7 miles from the state line, but who's counting?)
 

 The Pinhoti is definitely a favorite trail, and considering it runs from Birmingham, Alabama to Ellijay, Georgia, there's plenty of it to explore.  This trip took us up Indian Mountain.  We ended up being there just after peak color, but it was still beautiful.

 

Spring Branch is probably a rollicking little creek in the spring, but pretty quiet when the leaves are falling.

 
(We've already decided we really need to do this section again during the spring or summer - I bet it looks completely different!)

 
 ALABAMA!

 
GEORGIA!

As we took a break and ate lunch at the state line, we make one critical observation.  If Georgia ever wanted to invade Alabama (or vice-versa) the trek over Indian Mountain would be a significant limiting factor in terms of troop movement.  So from a pair of impartial on-site observers, we recommend Highway 278 or Highway 411 instead.  And if you'd like a more southerly route, Interstate 20 might be worth examining.

OK, so it's not likely that we'll see state invasions in our lifetime.

But there have been other invasions of a much more insidious and secretive nature.  Yes, lady and gentleman, I'm talking about ALIENS.

And we have PROOF.
 See????

And more proof - only aliens would do THIS to trees:


Alien activities!  The trees are lined up! WOAH!!  No human in their right mind would plant hundreds of pine trees in a straight...  Wait... what?  ::whisper whisper, murmur murmur::  Really?  ::mutter mutter::  REALLY?

OK, um.  Never mind.  [Aside: who knew folks go back and plant trees in straight lines on purpose?]

So.

Anyway.
 It was cool and cloudy, but all in all it was a terrific day to be in the forest!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Operation Christmas Child - How to Build a Shoebox!

OK, I know I'm not the first person to blog about Operation Christmas Child, or to talk about how to find stuff for a shoebox, or how to pack it, or ..... you get the idea.

But darn it, it's a GREAT ministry for individuals (and churches) so I wanted both of my regular readers to know all about it!

I shop mostly at WalMart and Dollar General (DG has some amazingly inexpensive toys and clothing, too!)  *IF* you start a few weeks before Collection Week, you'll be able to find plastic shoeboxes at WalMart for less than a buck.  (I waited too late last year, and ended up having to spend more because they were completely out of the cheap shoebox sized boxes!)

Like this:
A lot of folks will take fun wrapping paper and line the box (or wrap the outside).  But instead, I take a bandanna and use that as a liner.  It's fun AND useful!
Then I go on my shopping spree.  I try really hard not to spend more than $15 a box (not counting the $7 donation for shipping - more about that later).  And you know what?  You can totally stuff a shoebox for that, or even less!
This is my box for a 5-9 year old boy.  Bandanna, socks and underwear. Crayons and pencils (with a sharpener and eraser) and a notebook.  Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, washcloth.  Fun stuff like playdoh, a ball, a car, a top, a puzzle, a stuffed critter, and a glow stick.  I put the soap and toothpaste into a plastic zippie bag.

So inexpensive!  Here's a breakdown (some of these were purchased in a pack which I then broke apart; the prices are for the individual item:
  • puzzle - $1
  • stuffed bear - $1
  • glow stick - .50
  • playdoh - .25
  • pencils - .50
  • car - .75
  • underwear - $1
  • socks - .75
  • bandanna - .50
  • shoebox. .97
  • scissors - $1.10
  • toothbrush - .75
  • toothpaste $1
  • soap - .50
  • washcloth - .50
  • notepad - .75
Oh... and the most important part.  A bag of hard candy and gum!
OCC has a great list of suggested items, along with some guidelines.  PAY ATTENTION to those.  No liquids at all.  No war items.  No used items.  No food other than hard candy and gum.

Then break out your best Tetris mojo and start packing.  It can be a challenge, but if you've shopped wisely it will all fit.
When you've got your packing done, go to the OCC webpage to donate for shipping and print out your labels.
If you do this online you can print out a label with a BARCODE!  They'll email you and tell you where your box is going!  How cool is that??!?!

You can also add a family picture or a note with your address.  Sometimes the children will send you a note in return.  That is also WAY cool.

Finally, take your stack of shoeboxes
 to the nearest collection center during National Collection Week, November 18-25. 

YAY for SHOEBOXES!!