Pastoral landscapes

Jan31

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls. ~ Mother Teresa

Just another day in the central valley – cows, hills, blue sky, warm sun.  Ahhh.

Why we love California

Jan30

“Growing up in northern California has had a big influence on my love and respect for the outdoors. When I lived in Oakland, we would think nothing of driving to Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz one day and then driving to the foothills of the Sierras the next day.”  ~ Tom Hanks

Where was this photo taken?  At some resort hotel?  Nope, it’s just the little kid’s park in the downtown area of our little town – you know, four swings, two slides, and something to climb on.  And some grass and the lovely palm trees.  The sun was still coming up in the sky, and I thought this made an interesting picture.

As you might be able to see, the deciduous trees are without their leaves because it is winter, which here means high 30’s at night and 50’s during the day.  Not enough to kill off palm trees, but enough to rid the regular trees of their leaves – well, some of them.  Those to the right are being fooled by the rain into thinking it is spring time. 

And in a few weeks, like the end of February, it will be spring, thank God.  The sun today is a nice break from the weeks of gray rain and fog.  It’s nice to see the cloudless sky, which is what we usually enjoy during most of the year.

That’s just one of the reasons we love it here.  There is so much natural beauty here in the San Francisco Bay area, it’s hard to leave it.  I mean, we are just a few hours from Yosemite, an hour and half from San Francisco (one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen), and even my drive to work is filled with pastoral scenes of cows on green hills.

A few more observations I’ve made on California in the 15 years I’ve lived here:

  • It is true, the cost of living here is high, and it’s hard if you want to be a one income family.  You either live in a really small home or you live an hour away from where jobs and premium housing are.
  • Earthquakes are unpredictable, but rarely fatal.  I think most people are freaked out by the fact that you can’t predict them.  We feel them maybe once a year while sitting at our desks or in a meeting, it feels like someone heavy just bumped into the table, or a truck hit the building somewhere.  But that’s it, no big deal at all.  I watch the news and marvel at the deaths and destruction caused in the rest of the country by flooding, cold, ice, and hurricanes.  Of course, there are the fires, and some parts of California do get landslides from excess rain, but most of us are never touched by that.
  • It’s not as liberal here as most non-Californians imagine.  I mean, sure, San Francisco has it’s strong liberal element.  But because this is a strong agricultural state, there are plenty of farm towns, and there are plenty of conservatives out here.  At my job near the city, I’d say up to about half of the people I work with are conservative, which is probably a shock to the libs around here!
  • Just like in other parts of the country, and even in history as recorded in the bible, cities are usually more liberal and sinful.  I’m not sure why that is, but people closer to the earth seem to remember God more, while those closer to the cultural ‘power centers’ are often more anti-God, perhaps drunk with worldly power and values.  As John the Apostle said:

For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)

I hope I get to stay here in CA.  The sunshine makes me happy.

The miracles of cotton and denim

Jan29

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? ~ Jesus (Matthew 6:25)

This pic is not particularly inspiring, but it evokes in me strong feelings of safety and comfort.  I love my Levi’s 560’s (zipper fly, ‘comfort ‘fit, straight legs).  I personally love the stonewashed ones.

The history of denim jeans (and Levi’s) is interesting:

The word comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Originally called serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim. Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue “jeans,” though “jean” then denoted a different, lighter cotton textile; the contemporary use of jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), where the first denim trousers were made.

Elly-May Here’s a few observations about clothing I’ve made over my life:

  1. If you are in good shape, you will look good in pretty much any clothing (my favorite example is Elly Mae Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies, the Daisy Duke of the previous generation)
  2. If you want to climb the ladder in the corporate world, you not only have to be a hard worker and good at what you do and have a positive attitude, you have to dress the part – unless you are brilliant, wearing t-shirts and jeans to work is probably going to keep you out of management.
  3. Once you ARE in a position of authority, it helps to dress well in order to inspire confidence – you only have one chance to make a first impression, and most people look at your appearance and make a decision, often before you even speak.
  4. With respect to faith, what you look like on the outside doesn’t count for a hill of beans – many people put on nice clothes to come to church, but have not put on a good heart – one that is attentive, open to learn, ready to listen to and apply truth personally.

On that last point, one of my favorite scriptures is this:

“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

As a final note, I have always felt uncomfortable in churches where everyone dresses up, and enjoy the ones where even the pastor is somewhat casual.  When I was a newbie worship leader in one church, many people complained to the Senior Pastor that I often led worship wearing a t-shirt (or polo shirt when I dressed up) and shorts during the summer.  He defended me, explaining that clothes don’t make for godliness.   Now THAT was a guy I admired.

Art in everyday life

Jan28

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” ~ Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way

After weeks of rain here in northern California, the sun peeked out yesterday and presented some lovely shadows, including this one from the bike rack outside of my building.  Inverting the colors highlighted the shadow nicely, and also made the door stand out in an intriguing, inviting way.

I chose the quote above because it speaks of doors opening.  I am working towards a third career, that of being a pastor and writer.  The doors seem to open up slowly, but it is what I love to do.  I am growing weary of IT, having worked in this industry for 15 years.

Going through new doors can be frightening, challenging, and require sacrifice.  But I still want to go there, enough to keep trying, more seriously every year.  One day soon, I will find myself where I’ve wanted to be.

Knowing how to use the three sea shells

Jan27

“How’s that damn three seashell thing work?” ~ Sylvester Stallone as John Spartan in Demolition Man

I am always thinking about how to do things smarter and easier.  When things irritate me, I think, “how can I avoid this irritation?”  That’s why, for instance, I created a whole series of ranting articles on my Pet Peeves.

But one I failed to document in my rant on bathrooms is the whole process of using toilet paper.  Why aren’t they entirely replaced by bidets?  I dunno, maybe there’s an issue with getting dry that takes longer, but why reach in there if you don’t have to?  Why waste paper when you can waste water, and be all the cleaner?

Demolition Man is one of my favorite movies, for a lot of reasons, even though Larry is incredulous every time I mention it (he can’t imagine that any Sylvester Stallone movie might be in someone’s top 10, so I won’t mention my love for Rocky III).  Anyway, in Demo Man, Stallone’s character is re-awakened from cryogenic sleep in the future, and toilet paper is replaced by “the three sea shells.” He doesn’t know how to use them, and is mocked by a fellow police officer.  The movie never tells you how the shells work, so it’s left up to your imagination.  If it’s a bidet, it’s probably temperature, water on/off, and dry on/off.

Another observation about toilet paper – my company must buy the Costco brand – the paper I purposely do NOT use at home because it is impossible to get a new roll started – the combination of the cheap paper and the adhesive they use forces me to mangle the damned thing trying to get it started.  So we buy the more expensive branded kind.

Neorest I betcha there are all kind of toilet paper and toilet innovations that are yet to be created, or have been created and haven’t reached the mainstream populace yet.  I mean, the implementation of waterless urinals at my local movie theater, purported to save 44,000 gallons of water EACH a year, was cool.

If you have the money, you can always buy the TOTO Neorest 600, a high tech toilet with a 6-button remote control (I guess you need more than three sea shells) which can be yours for a mere $3600.  It does just what I propose – has a built in bidet and dryer, so no tp needed.  Now, if they could get the price down under $500, it might take off.

Thoughtful design in everyday things

Jan26

Design is intelligence made visible.  ~ Alina Wheeler

I have the opportunity to look at this lock a few times a day, and I noticed a few intriguing things about it.

First, it employs one-way screws – you can screw them in, but you can’t take them out!  Well, not without special methods, like using a Dremel tool to cut a slot in them so that a normal flathead screwdriver can remove them.  Ingenious!

I love smart designs that solve problems, like the new “spill proof” lips on detergent and side-cut can openers.  If you do too, you might like to read Cool Tools on a regular basis. 

Progress A second thing I noticed about this lock is the unique diamond shape of the slide-lock.  They could have made it square, but I betcha they save tons in metal costs by using this design.  And it’s probably just as strong, maybe stronger.

It makes me ask myself – where can I work smarter rather than harder?  My mom always said I was lazy, which may be partly true, but also, I am always looking for more efficient ways of doing things -as this poster from a woot contest says nicely.

My thoughts exactly.

Like a patient farmer

Jan25

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. ~ James 7:5

I previously passed this picturesque tilled field, and now, almost two weeks later, no change.  I’m not sure if you are supposed to let the field sit before you plant, or if the farmer is behind, or if he is just got ahead of his work.

We are still ‘enjoying’ the Tule Fog here, and braving the light rain almost daily during our commute.  The abundant rains caused my boy’s first baseball tryouts to be canceled this weekend.  I can’t wait to see him hit the ball!

Have a great day.

It was a dark and stormy night

Jan24

Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Well, at least dark.  This is just an end of the day pic on my street.  The moon looks nice up top. 

I am a night owl.  I could be sleep deprived for days, but if I stay up past 10PM, I get a second wind every time, and can stay up ’till 1AM or worse.

When I was younger and single, I would go to a friend’s house to game until 3 to 6 AM, then drive home no problem.

However, nowadays, if I do that, I pay a price in my body for a few days.  Can’t drink red wine with impunity anymore either.  Just getting older.

But I still love the night – no matter how pretty the sunrise is (and it is), toiling upward in the night is something I identify with.

Storms and the beauty of clouds

Clouds

Clouds and darkness surround us, yet Heaven is just, and the day of triumph will surely come, when justice and truth will be vindicated.  ~ Mary Todd Lincoln

I love living in California, mostly because of the dry, warm weather.  But during the winter, we get lots of rain, and with the rain, sometimes we get great cloud formations.  That's one of the things I miss about the east coast – spectacular summer rains and lots of billowy clouds.

Clouds1 Most of the time, the clouds here are either non-existent (blue sky days), or unremarkable.  However, during the recent storm which brought all kinds of chaos to southern Cal, here in the SF Bay area, we just got a regular soaking.  And some great clouds. 

I added the original pic as an insert so you could see the difference between the original and the one I cropped and colored on my phone. 

To be really amazed, check out 10 Rare Cloud Pictures.

What IS God’s Problem?

Jan22

My hope in writing the book is certainly not to encourage readers to
become agnostic, the path that I took. It is instead to help people think, both about this biggest of all possible questions and about the historically and culturally significant religious responses to it that can be found in the most important book in the history of our
civilization. ~ Bart Ehrman on his book, God’s Problem

I have a book habit.  I probably acquire 10 new books a month, and I buy sparingly!  However, being a father of three small children, a teaching pastor, and a full time IT worker, I don’t get enough time to read them all.

But big philosophic questions around belief and unbelief are something I have a keen interest in.  I believe that faith and reason can work together, and when both are healthy, they are not at odds at all, though faith may venture some place where reason can’t go.

Ehrman’s book examines one of the biggest, if not THE biggest challenge to the existence of God – the “problem of evil.”  Briefly, the argument can be summarized in this syllogism (a good way to state a position):

  1. An omnipotent (all powerful), omnibenevolent (all good) God could and would prevent suffering.
  2. Suffering exists
  3. Therefore, such a God does not exist.

There are plenty of people who try to create an argument that resolves this problem, and those solutions are called theodicies – literally, “justifying God.”

Does the existence of suffering in the world make you question or doubt that God exists? 

The value of (LOL)Cats

Jan21

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” ~ Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963) French poet

I am a “cat person” – I mean, I like all animals, including dogs, but I wouldn’t live with other animals.  Dogs are for people who like to play and activity, generally speaking.  Cats and cat people prefer repose and quiet meditation, with occasional but less frequent play.

Having pets really enriches the home environment.  And it teaches children how to be gentle, how to respect nature (esp. when the cat decides to use its claws to get a point across), and how to enjoy nature too.  My kids love the cats, though they are still learning not to chase, antagonize, or carry the cats around like dolls.

Lolcat I made the “LOLCat” above because LOLCats are a perfect fusion of geekdom and cat loving.  Of course, now there are also LOLDogs (what copycats, er dogs), and even better, an entire pidgin language called LOLSpeak has evolved, leading to the pinnacle of any language, a LOLCat Bible Translation Project.  For example, check out this verse, in English, then in LOLSpeak:

John 3:16 (NKJ)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (LOL)
So liek teh Ceiling Kitteh lieks teh ppl lots and he sez ‘Oh hai I givez u me only kitteh and ifs u beleeves him u wont evr diez no moar, kthxbai!’

Needless to say, I will have to own that translation – or “pwn” it, actually – how could it not be great?

Home cooking makes a house a home

Jan20

“A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul.” ~ Phillip Moffitt, Buddhist Teacher from Spirit Rock Church

One of the things I love about being married, and my wife in particular, is that the house is often filled with the yummy smells of home cooking.  Whether it’s home made cookies (pictured here), or chicken stir fry, or carne asada (fish taco night doesn’t smell so good when you first walk in the door :), home cooked meals made with care, creativity, and variety should not be underestimated in their ability to make the home a welcome sanctuary from the busy world. 

My old Italian friend Margaret used to make a wonderful pasta fazool, and would give me my own portion saying “food is love.” How right she was.

We have worked hard and sacrificed much to allow my wife to stay at home with the kids.  She works harder than I do, dealing with three small children and barely a minute to herself all day.  On top of all that, she cooks and bakes (and knits scarves, who knew she was so domestic?).  I take none of it for granted, and thank God and my wife as much as I can.

Still demanding more out of my cell phone

Jan19

From cell phones to computers, quality is improving and costs are shrinking as companies fight to offer the public the best product at the best price. But this philosophy is sadly missing from our health-care insurance system. ~ Arizona Congressman John Shadegg (R)

I like my Motorola Droid, I really do.  But it has some fatal flaws.  But so do all the other phones. 

Blackberry’s are great for communication, have dedicated hard buttons and configurable hard buttons for important stuff – but they stink as multimedia devices – even on the Storm 2, surfing the net is awful.

The iPhone is really usable, but it’s on a mediocre network, and has low video recording quality.  I’m sure Apple will be correcting that with the next iPhone, but this one – meh.

The Palm Pre?  Great interface (better than either iPhone or Android IMO), but tiny little toy phone.  I want a big screen you dummies.

And don’t get me started about the unusable WinMo devices.  I had one for four hours before I put it aside in disgust, and returned it the next day.  I love the size and form factor of the HTC HD2, but I won’t go back on WinMo, nor T-mobile.

Sure, the Nexus One is a neat phone, and it might even be usable once Verizon carries it.

Anyway, I spend way too much time trying to get my phone to be my electronic slave.  Today I finally got a Gmail icon that will show how many unread messages I’ve got.  All that work for such a small thing.  Of course, right now, it’s not reading “38” – it’s reading “err4”. Sigh.

Palm3z1 One day perhaps they will make a phone with all of my requirements – one day soon in fact.  Just not yet.  “What are your requirements, Mr. Demanding” you ask?

  • Bluetooth call activation
  • Bluetooth stereo
  • High quality video recording and photo
  • Big enough screen to surf the net in native HTML without zooming in (5 in?)
  • A great browswer

I think it will happen in the next year or two.  But man, I’ve been waiting impatiently since I got my first Palm III.

My caffeine addiction

Jan18

Coffee, the finest organic suspension ever devised.  ~Star Trek: Voyager

I admit it – I love my morning coffee.  I’ve quit caffeine before, but I always go back.  Why?  Not enough sleep, the love of the creamy sugary boost, the smell, the taste.

This cup is what I have in my car every morning.  So there you go.  I didn’t clean it up with filters – this is the unvarnished state of my coffee cup and cup holder.

I hate dirty jobs – actually, most manual labor

Jan17

“I’m going to cross this off the list and never come back here again.” ~ Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs

I hate manual labor.  I am not really built for it mentally.  Don’t get me wrong, I can do it, but I don’t get the same kind of satisfaction others seem to.  And when I was young, I wasn’t’ built for it physically either.  My first job at age 13 was as a farmhand, shoveling manure and stacking hay bales.  Except I couldn’t really lift a 60lb. bale over my head, and I was allergic to both they hay and the cows.  Like asthmatic.

Anyway, I showered last night, and I knew that the drain was getting slow – this morning I found out how slow – the water from that last shower was still sitting there.  So, I drove to the hardware store and got some Drano gel, a then came home, grabbed a wrench and a kitchen knife and got to work.

The good news is, I didn’t nick, bruise, burn, or crush any body parts, and I was able to un-ick the drain without having to break the seal on the snake I bought as backup in case the Drano failed. 

Afterward, I took this pic of my instruments of unobstruction, then used some digital filters to make them glow and show up in reverse color.  A plunger never looked so good – maybe this is what they look like on Pandora (the planet in Avatar).

Simple things make children happy

Jan16

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple eauty of nature. ~ Anne Frank

Today, I had the kids, and we needed to get out of the house.  We drove to the local luxury village in the hills near her called Diablo Grande, and we ended up catching lady bugs.  The kids had a blast, and we brought home about a dozen in a baggie.

I really do want to spend lots of time in nature with my kids. It’s a great way to learn science, and to learn about the Creator of the cosmos.

Tule Fog season

Jan15

Truth is the torch that gleams through the fog without dispelling it. ~ Claude Adrien Helvétius (French Philosopher)

What is Tule Fog (prounounced “TOO-lee”)?  It’s the thick, daily fog we get in the mornings in the Great Central Valley of California (and it is great, as in large), every winter from about Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.  It’s responsible for more weather-related fatalities in CA than any other phenomenon (we don’t get a lot of sleet ;).  And it’s named after the tule grass wetlands (tulares).

I actually love the fog – it’s kind of like the snow.  It makes things quiet, subdued, and peaceful. 

It slows us down enough to be in the moment, limited to our immediate surroundings.  It asks us to pay attention to what is right around us, obscuring what is distant. 

It makes our normal, familiar surroundings a mystery which only reveal themselves as we come upon them, making us feel like we’ve rediscovered something familiar.  I feel all yummy.  It might be a soup day for lunch.   Mmmm, Phở.

Some commutes are better than others

Jan14

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it’s liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

I had to stop on my way in this morning to capture this freshly tilled field.  Although I have a 50 mile commute to work every day, it’s made more pleasant by the lovely Central Valley scenery.  The Altamont Pass, also on my route, is beautiful this time of year, since winter is the green time (lotsa rain).

I love the smell of the earth, and love having my own small garden.  I have warm memories of my Grandfather, who forced us to till, plant, water, weed, fertilize, harvest, and eat out of his garden.

Ever feel like you are being watched from above?

Jan13a

“If I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything.” ~ William Faulkner

As I walked to Starbuck’s for an afternoon passion tea, I felt some beady eyes looking at me – sure wish I had better than a 5MP camera on a cell phone.  Mr. Buzzard was interested in me, but probably not as a snack.  He only likes food that doesn’t move, I think. 

Nice to get away from the monitor into ‘nature.’  Nothin’ to see here, move along.

One point twenty-one gigawatts

Jan13

“The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” ~ Dr. Emmett Brown

So I was driving home last night kind of fast, when suddenly, lightning struck my car!   Right at that moment, my camera took this picture.  Wait?  What year is it?  It’s not 1985?!?