Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pain and Blessings

Note: I originally posted this on I post here as well rather than write a new blog because I am this lazy.

When casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, God had a helping of parting gifts for the lovely couple, including warning Eve she will bear children in pain. Growing up, I was always informed that this implied labor pains that are now infamous. The only remotely tangential experience I’ve seen of them is after taking a couple to the hospital when they were about to deliver their second. As she laid in bed, he held her hand in comfort. At some point I saw a serene expression of anticipation and comfort turn to a grimace of silent, unexpressed pain as she quietly squeezed his hand in response to her own labor. I imagine I’ll go through the same, and if I can do so with the silence and humor he did, we’ll be fine.

However, I’m coming to the conclusion that we Baptists were underselling this “bear children in pain” thing by limiting it. Indeed, the entire process of a pregnancy seems to put women through a veritable wringer in all aspects: physically, emotionally, and mentally. From aches and pains of the joints that fluctuate on a daily basis to the sheer exhaustion, to the swings of emotion back and forth. Men don’t have to experience all this first hand. This, in a way, is a good thing as this means there’s one party in the couple who has the energy and health to devote his attention to his wife. I hope I’m using what I have for good of my wife and our daughter.

Being our first child, I find that all the things I know about pregnancy and childbirth and abstract are terribly lacking in the concrete. When something changes in how my lovely wife senses things going on with the baby, is that good or bad? If she senses nothing, is that good or bad? How can I comfort and reassure when I have no empirical data with which to build upon? And does she want Vulcan Dad Logic-Comfort? My guess is no. Humans, so irrational …

But time is flying by. Just yesterday we went to the clinic for her second ultrasound. There the technician poked, prodded, shook, and tried to get the best pictures of our little gal who was proving to be quite determined as to give the tech as little data as possible. Partway through this process, my wife began to cheer our girl on, entirely sympathizing with our girl’s desire to get away from all the pokes and prods. Thus, when the doctor returns and informs us the ultrasound gave sub-optimal results in certain categories because our girl was a bit too squirrelly for the tech to get a hold of, my wife gave a little inward cheer. Mother-Daughter Team: 1, Ultrasound Tech: 0 (since apparently we’re not counting the successful data).

Of course, we had a boy’s name picked out within months of marriage, so of course the Lord would choose a girl for us. Finding a girl’s name we agree on has been trouble and then some. We’ve been narrowing it down with a few aids. The least of these aids has been my book of baby names I got ages ago to help me make names for characters when I write. It has everything, and we’ve found more names we could cross off the list. For example, we’re positive we’ll never name our girl “Dickla.”

Worse, at one point we had a favorite name. Out of curiosity my wife did a search for this lovely name with possible Celtic or Gaelic origins only to find a page full of google images that are entirely nigh-pornographic, manga-style images from a character in some sort of game. No, I’m not telling you what this name is. Suffice it to say the Google-search has ruined this name for us for life.

In the end, however, every day we like to give thanks to God for our blessings. We have troubles, but I can remind myself that five years ago, I was convinced I would never have these troubles at all. I fully believed that the pattern of rejection would continue until I died old and alone. Certain that God had not given me permission to quit, I soldiered on and found that He had blessings for me all along. And for that, all the pain and trouble is worth it and more.

God bless.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Awkward Response

This is quite delayed, a response to something I saw over a month ago, but I felt it needed a response and I also believed I should respond after looking into what was being said and what the Bible says. I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself here, however.

One of the little groups one can follow on Facebook is called "Awkward Bible Verses." A small number of my atheist friends like this, demonstrating what kind of group it is. In general the pattern is to take a Bible verse that seems particularly questionable, post it - sometimes with a clever picture or artwork - and do the equivalent of a John Stewart facial quirk: laughter (in the form of approving replies) ensues. I am being rather hard on this group. Several of the posts have had writers who at least can look back at the Greek or Hebrew meaning of words.

The verse in question, here, is Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple."

I got to admit, they are good at finding awkward Bible verses. I would note that awkward is not hard to find, really. You get awkward verses fairly quickly into Genesis and honestly they just don't stop. If anything, I accept the awkward as a feature and not a bug. If something strikes a reader as odd or uncomfortable, it's likely the author wants that reaction - he wants you to look at what has been written and ask questions about it. Contrary to some claims, we're expected to discuss the Bible, especially when things look odd.

I'm going to go into the tl;dr territory. Sorry about that, but discussing this verse or most verses, can be an involved process.

The author has some good points. First, sometimes we Christians try to re-write things so they sound better. In this case, we take the word hate and try to say Christ means something entirely different. The author notes the Greek word here, μισέω (miseō), definitely means "hate" or "detest". We really can't or rather shouldn't try to weasel out of that. That's fair. I remember in the eighties when some people tried to rationalize away fear in "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" as if the author meant another word other than fear. It's a cop out. It doesn't work, and it's trying to make the Bible say something you like. We shouldn't do that.

Secondly, he points out that earlier, Christ notes we are not to hate our brother. And just to drive the point home he points to I John where the apostle calls on us to not hate our brother. It's true, both those are in there. That seems an apparent contradiction to which the atheist then stops and says, "Contradiction achieved! Christ wasn't all that great a teacher after all! He's therefore not the Messiah, and the whole Bible is therefore invalid." Well done. I guess I can go home now.

Oh wait, no I can't. Unfortunately for us and the length of this post, our atheist friend is engaging in the popular past-time of taking a verse out of context. I won't fault him exclusively for this. As I've said, it's popular and Christians love to do this more than anyone else. Luke 14:26 is about the beginning of a paragraph, and is part of a larger passage. As I said earlier, if we see a contradiction, it's an invitation to look deeper at what is being said, not an error of authorship. In this case, we need to look at the verse in its context, and also at the author of this work. Let's start, however, with the context.

Actually, I'm going to go further. Let's start at the greater context. We're in the middle of Luke, at the peak of Jesus' popularity. He's become something of the flavor of the month. He draws crowds. People go to amazing lengths to see him, to touch him, to get healed or blessed by him. He's getting some criticism from the "wiser heads" of the day, the Pharisees, but he's still getting invited to all the cool parties.

In fact, at the start of this particular chapter, Christ is at a dinner party with a Pharisee, he's just that popular. In Modern America, we tend to turn up our noses at the Pharisees and Sadducees of that time. After all, Christ was pretty hard on them. We'd do well to remember that Pharisees were highly regarded in their community at the time. Christ's criticism of them was rather subversive. So when a man with dropsy (or as Young's Literal Translation puts it, "and lo, there was a certain dropsical man before him") appears at the party, Jesus poses a question: "Is it acceptable to heal on the Sabbath?"

It's not entirely out of the blue, here. In the last chapter the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. He gave them a bit of a humiliating dressing-down there. So asking this question at the Pharisees dinner table recalls that moment. The Pharisees give no response. I, however, like to think of their response being more like several months ago when my wife asked, "So did you pay the electrical bill yet?" and I responded, "Well I *muttermuttermuttermuter* ..." She wasn't buying it either.

Christ isn't buying this non-response. He heals the man and continues, "Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" Again, no response ("*muttermuttermutter*") The Pharisees aren't willing to give an answer. Jesus then says

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who  are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Okay, this seems off topic. Wasn't he talking about healing on the Sabbath? Where does this come in? This has no bearing on what he was talking about!

Okay, actually it does. We have to assume the author put this particular passage in for a reason, and moreover that he has purpose to the placement of these passages. Look again at the Pharisees. These are important religious men, but when the guest of honor asks them about a potentially important topic of religious discussion, they decline to comment. They aren't willing to risk humiliation in front of their guests. Christ is telling them they've got entirely the wrong attitude. They should be willing to humiliate themselves with the potential of being exalted. Instead they try to hang on to their exalted position and end up being humiliated. He goes on to explain they shouldn't be looking for reward but instead giving freely, with no thought of reward. He sees right through them. They were expecting to get some praise from Jesus for being so gracious as to invite him to dinner.

At this point, someone clever goes, "Happy is he who shall eat bread in the reign of God" (again, using YLT here). I have to admit: This guy is me. I'm the guy trying to say, "hey, I can see how you're both right" or "hey, we're all following Jesus so all these details don't matter" (note, don't say this in the middle of a Lutheran/Catholic debate, from one who knows). So yeah, I would wager I know exactly what he was trying to do. He was trying to defuse the situation, let everyone off the hook. When God establishes his reign, we're all going to be at the table. Only ...

Jesus isn't letting that comment slide, either,

But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’"

We're getting invites, but not everyone is going to be at the table during the reign of God. In fact, some who were specifically invited won't be going. They had a lot of good excuses - seriously, there's nothing wrong with inspecting your purchases or getting married. In this case, however, it was a hindrance to them. The response, invite everyone else. Fill that table up with whoever you can, just don't let in those who refused. They had their chance. Not everyone is going to be at this table.

We've come a long way, but we're finally at verse 26. The question at the end of the first 25 should be, "Okay, so who is going to be at this table?" The scene shifts; however again, we assume the author juxtaposed these scenes for a reason. Now we get to the meat of things:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple

And yes, Jesus is using the word "hate". He means to use it. It gets your attention, doesn't it? It probably got the attention of the disciples as well. What's going on here?

Let's take a moment and look at the author, Luke. A contemporary of Paul, and probably the only Gentile author of any part of the Bible, Luke wrote one Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel of course tells the story of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts is unique. None of the other authors go on with narrative of what happens after. Luke shows the eleven apostles and the other disciples following Christ after being filled with the Spirit. In the course of the book they must stand against their own religious leaders, face death, and even Paul must remain a captive for a third of the book as he goes to trial after trial. The reader, Theophilus, probably would be looking at these Jews following some strange sect and going, "Why are these people doing this?"

Here's the verse that started the whole conversation. But even then, this is an incomplete quote. Let's look at his statement in its entirety:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not  hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends  a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."

Okay, hold on. We got the first part, but what does it have to do with mid-first century middle eastern architecture and what does that have to do with ancient military tactics? Is he just messing with us now?

No. He's giving us fair warning. Following Jesus is not for sissies. You are either all in or all out. And there are going to be people and things that try to turn you away. For the Jews listening to Jesus then, their religious leaders in the Sanhedrin would shun and persecute them. It's quite reasonable to assume they would have family who would be embarrassed by an individual's discipleship. I can imagine them saying, "You have a duty to your family, your parents, your wife, your children. Don't you love us? Drop this Jesus thing and come back to us. All will be fine if you do."

But Christ is warning them away from this. They will have to abandon standing, position, their people, their religion, even family. To anyone trying to turn them away with cries of "don't you love us?" the answer necessarily must be: "No." Paul exhibits this in Philippians 3:5-7:

 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ

Recently in a forum conversation, the subject of Messianic Jews came up. The orthodox Jews in this forum stated that such people weren't Jews, as they followed Christ against Jewish Law. A Catholic peer of mine tried to argue that was unfair, but ... well, they refused to accept. But that is what Christ is talking about. Following Christ means losing that which you might hold dear.

In college, in Campus Crusade, there was a young Asian Christian who was going to be baptized. For her, this was a huge step. For her family, this meant disowning. Baptism was a big deal for them. She couldn't be baptized into Christ and be a member of their family. Following Christ means losing that which you might hold dear.

Today, in our increasingly secularized culture, we're being told that to have opinions on same sex marriage outside the norm is immoral as far as our culture declares, and for that we can lose our business, our job, our financial well-being, or even our freedom. Following Christ means losing that which you might hold dear.

The apostles and disciples were persecuted and killed. Luke's book just stops, we never see what happens to Paul, but we do know that Nero officially declared the Christian faith illegal and persecuted them. By the last book, Revelation, almost all the apostles lost their lives in spreading the message of Christ. Only John remains, a prisoner on the isle of Patmos. Following Christ lost them everything.

Look back to the beginning: the Pharisees weren't even willing to risk their good standing. They weren't even going to risk getting humiliated by Jesus' tough question. To them, their worldly stature and possessions were far more important than following Christ.

That's what Christ is saying in this passage. In these early days when he's popular, he's got a lot of hangers-on, but he's having none of that. None of them realize what's coming. He's giving them fair warning. Be prepared, because to follow me you have to detest everything else. It will cost you dear, but he is letting you know beforehand. Like the builder or the warring king, he's showing you the plans ahead of time. The path before us is costly - very costly. We will have to make choices that will lose everything. But that is what it takes to follow Christ.

So yes, he uses the word hate, but no, he's not using it to contradict what he said before. This is preparation. This is letting us know what it takes to be a follower of Jesus.

Christ sums it all up:

Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

That is the path we are on. Plan ahead, it will be dangerous. If we hold back, we'll lose what makes us unique in Christ, and we are no good to anyone.  So is this awkward? You bet it's awkward. Christ intended it to be awkward. He wants to shake up these hangers-on. He wants to shake up His followers today. He's asking an important question: Are you all in?

Coming back to our skeptical peers - if they are still here as I did go on quite a while - we can see that Jesus said what he said, but there's a lot more to what is being said than the simple contradiction that was highlighted. Sadly, the author of the original post criticized Christians for simplified answers that fit their worldview and replaced it with one equally simplified that fit an atheist worldview.

Don't be afraid to look at the apparent contradictions and the awkwardness that's in the Bible. They exist and call your attention. They do not call for simple dismissals from any side of the debate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On The Naming of Things

Mrs. The Travel Slob and I were visiting my parents last night. At one point, the discussion of what we would name our up and coming Travel Slobette would be.

The Travel Slob: Well we're ruling out comic book names.

Mom: Oh please don't use a comic book name.

The Travel Slob: I don't see the problem with Supergirl Sedivy.

My poor mother always has to play the straight man for our family's comedy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Troubled Journeys

There are some journeys no one wants to take.

My wife and I have had a pretty crazy journey just to get married, we are still amazed and thankful that we found each other and love each other so much. Joy was the theme of our wedding and remained a theme of our marriage. Our theme verse is Psalm 126:3. Inscribed on my wedding ring is:

The Lord has done great things for us

And on her ring is the rest:

and we are filled with joy.

Joy filled our lives, especially marrying so late. The only thing that would increase our joy even more would be adding to our family. We both wanted children. Such things are easier to desire and harder to achieve.
It had taken us months with disappointment after disappointment. We saw doctors. We were finding it would be very difficult for us to have a child at all. We went to her doctor. We went to my doctor. My doctor sent me to a specialist. Surgery was discussed.

Then it happened. As we spent days weighing the necessity of surgery, that little test proved positive. The signs started to appear. Her doctor’s office confirmed our home test and sent us to a great obstetrician. There they confirmed with yet another test, they loaded us down with pamphlets and software galore to help us prepare. Even then the thought was overwhelming and exciting. Suddenly there was a whole part of the world opening to us. Things I used to be able to pass over I now paid attention with great interest. Most department stores have a whole section for babies – who knew?! It had seemed God had given us a little miracle of our own.

And how would we tell our friends and family? We didn’t just want to call and tell; we wanted it to be special. A plan was hatched! We had a clever idea and having just gotten a car for my wife, we used that as a convenient excuse to go to Utah and announce the happy news in person.

How often do plans go smoothly, without a hitch? Seriously, I’d like to know…

We were near the Idaho-Utah border when it started. Amanda noted she had some spotting. It wasn’t much, but just the word sent chills down our spines. We called her OB’s office where we were told not to worry unless it got worse. It didn’t quite stop, but it didn’t seem to get a lot worse. Hoping for the best, we continued down to Utah to her grandparents. We announced the news with the book, enjoying the reactions. We were praying the entire time.

In the morning, we got up. My wife said she didn’t seem to be having any trouble. Her grandfather wanted to take me to the small airfield with her cousin so we could take a look at his kit-plane and so the latter could see about getting his pilot’s license renewed. I was wary about leaving her alone – granted her grandmother would be there too – but understanding this was fun for her family, she encouraged me to go. I’ll admit, it was a lot of fun, and if things didn’t get worse, I might have had a chance to fly as well.

Things got worse. Not a lot, but worrisome all the same. She texted me while her cousin was in the air. Suddenly I couldn’t sit down. I started to pace nervously. I couldn’t relax. When would he get back? My worried attitude was readily apparent to her grandfather – which meant I was very worried. I normally don’t show a lot of emotion. That I couldn’t hide it meant I was truly afraid. Though they offered to let me fly, I noted it was more important we get back.

She was worried as well, I could feel it, but we still hoped for the best. After all, it still wasn’t bad. It was just … there. We had a little lunch at one of our favorite places to eat while we’re in Utah – Rib City. We went to One Sweet Slice (they made our wedding cake, the best wedding cake ever) to cash in a coupon. We tried to carry on as if things might be okay, but really that dark cloud was forming. There were two calls to her OB. We were assured we shouldn’t need to go in unless things got a lot worse. They never really did but the shadow remained. At last the fear was too much. We couldn’t delay any longer. We hurried with her grandmother to the emergency room.

I’ll be honest, most of the time I’m just fine in an emergency room. As young asthmatic boys my brother and I went to the emergency room so often that the staff knew our family by name. In those sorts of situations one either gets terribly stressed by the mention of such things or one gets so used to them that it’s hardly a bother, even welcome. I’m amongst the latter. I felt no ease this time. We still prayed. I’ll admit, I was begging the Lord often. “Please, please don’t break her heart. Please let the baby be well.” Again, my fear was readily apparent. My poor wife was terrified as well and needed reassurance. I found a little entertainment in rolling back and forth on the doctor’s stool, doing what I could to give her a smile. It’s not easy to do something like that when inside you feel a shadow growing over your heart.

The nurses took blood, they made her do tests, and they even performed an ultrasound. In the few short hours we kept giving information, and got little back. Smiles from the nurses and doctors did little to reassure us. The dearth of information was more ominous than anything. Waiting in silence was even harder. The door opening to our exam room became one of frightful anticipation. Again, we just wouldn’t stop praying.
After a long evening, the results came in: a completed miscarriage.

For us, there could be few words any worse to hear, but there it was. All that excitement and anticipation were gone in an instant. Even before those words, even when the bleeding got worse, we could cling to the smallest thread of hope. Please, please baby be okay. Please God let the baby be well. But in a few words that thread was cut. It was over abruptly.

There was a baby. We loved the baby. For a few short weeks, we got to enjoy a love that is a pale glimpse of what the Father has for us. Even before we are born He loves us as His own. Even before our baby was even noticeable to anyone, we loved that child with all our hearts. We were filled with joy in the anticipation of its arrival.

I’m not sure where that joy went. It’s gone. I’m not sure I understand why we were allowed to have this anticipation at all. I’m afraid I still get a bit angry with God at times. Why would He do this? If He didn’t want us to have children, why let us believe we could? If He did, why let us go through such a thing? Why did He have to break her heart? It hurt with such an ache I can hardly describe. It still hurts. I am less angry now. I apologizeto Him  for my anger.

Trepidation fills the hole that joy left. What if we can’t have kids? What if we never do? What if this was our only chance? Sadness layers atop the fear. There was a child we loved. When all sense would say we have no reason to love it, we did. Bitterness fills in the cracks. How is it that people entirely unsuited to have children are able to have many and we cannot? It gets worse as I log into social networks and see all my friends and family celebrating their children, old and new. I can only feel a sense of loss. I feel unfairly bitter towards even those I know to be great parents. I may just stay away from Facebook for a while. It seems to remind me too much of what we might have had.

We had a recent visit to her OB. There the doctor gave us a few facts to help us understand. I’ll admit that it probably helped me more than my wife. My analytical mind loves facts, and it clung to those facts as if they were driftwood in the open sea keeping me afloat. It was nothing we did, and nothing we could have done. It is more common than one would think. We could still have children. My wife struggles, as do I. I’ve found I don’t know what she clings to, but it seems she clings to me. I desperately want to find that stable point for her, and some days it just seems nowhere to be found. I’m reaching out to the Lord, but my fears and doubts surround me. Is He reaching back?

Anger and bitterness subside. I hope the Lord can forgive my anger. I know He has plans for us and is still with us. I fear should He return anger for anger; I am thankful I know He is forgiving and loves us. I pray for the comfort we need. In time, I’m sure, the pain will heal some and life will return to normal.

But that’s just the problem. We didn’t want it to go back to normal.

Monday, June 3, 2013

So the other day I’m lounging in Travel Slob HQ1, enjoying a delicious and nutritious breakfast3 when my Editor rudely interrupts my reverie with more outrageous demands4:

Editor:  Listen, it’s been ages since you’ve written another travelogue

The Travel Slob:  I’m conserving energy.  I need it for writing my Great American Novel

Editor:  You’ve never started writing a novel.

The Travel Slob:  I’m still saving up enough energy, and you’re delaying the process.

Editor:  Well I’ll delay that more.  We need a new one right away.

The Travel Slob:  Fine.  I’ve got notes on my honeymoon, we can use that.

Editor:  Your honeymoon?  That was almost six months ago.

The Travel Slob:  Yes, but we traveled.  To Maine.

Editor:  Y’know what?  Fine.  Go with it.  I’m tired of arguing.  Besides, that’s the farthest I’ve heard you traveling.  I can’t believe I pay you for any of this.

The Travel Slob:  You don’t pay me at all.

Editor:  And you don’t give me anything, it’s a mutual relationship.


So here I am, writing once more for you, dear readers (reader? Anyone out there?  Hello?  Hello?)  And yes, I am recently married to a gorgeous woman.  She even said she’d read my blogs which means that she may now be doubling my readership!  Thank you, darlin’!

After a lovely wedding (which henceforth I shall refer to as the Best Wedding Ever), we enjoyed a limo ride to gather our things, and then to our honeymoon hotel.  Of course, the wrong hotel was given to the driver so we ended up taking a little longer drive – much to our driver’s consternation.  We spend the night in the Little America Hotel where PRIVACY PLEASE!  Sheesh, you people just have no decency.  Except for you, honey.
This is all you get to see.
Friday morning we board a plane in Salt Lake City, Utah.  A connecting flight is made in Detroit.  I can now say I have set foot in Michigan but I shall not as I don’t count airports.  I’m fairly certain the Detroit airport is the cleanest thing in Detroit and it is indeed kept rather immaculate.  Of interesting note, the airport sports a tram in one section which is raised above the walkways but visible from the side.  It gives one the sense of being in Disneyland except without the mice or princess parades, and you’re in Detroit.  Food prices match about the same, however.

The next stop, Portland, Maine!  The airport there is definitely made to give one the sense of coastal Maine.  Heck, one can buy live lobster in the airport of all places.  Rocking chairs are among the amenities allowed travelers waiting for planes.  It’s a small airport with a homey feel.  Well done, Portland.
Seriously ... lobster at an airport.

Mrs. The Travel Slob and I, excited about our recent Best Wedding Ever, check in at Enterprise rent-a-car.  Though I reserved a compact model, they say for just a little more – the price of a mid-size – they’d upgrade us to a luxury car just for our honeymoon.  So, instead of a little Toyota Bucket on four wheels, we spent the weekend driving a Chrysler 300.  Well done, Enterprise.  Our next destination, the mountains!

The Bear Mountain Inn lies near Harrison, Maine only spittin’ distance from New Hampshire (note to the good people of New Hampshire: We did not spit).  It lies within the hills and mountains of Maine, with a lakefront and fine accommodations.  We rented the Sugar Bear Cottage, a small building off the side of the inn which gave Mrs. The Travel Slob and me the privacy we desired because all you people just need to back off already!  The cottage was cozy, sporting a bed, small table and chairs, a kitchenette, a bathroom to the side, and a fireplace that got plenty of use.  Hanging in the bathroom were two Turkish Bathrobes which were long and fluffy and comfortable.  It’s like wearing a teddy bear without the disturbing Furry enthusiast implications.  Win-win!
Mrs. The Travel Slob next to cozy cottage.

It was late, but we went for dinner at the Old Mill Tavern in town nearby.  That night they had the Maurer Meals Charity:  All food on their specials menu were grown or harvested by locals and half the price of dinner was donated to a scholarship fund.  Mrs. The Travel Slob enjoyed a delicious Delmonico steak, while I opted for a shrimp meal.  Along with dinner we had Pumpkinhead Beer – a local brewery’s pumpkin spice ale.  Satisfied and tired from travel, we head to bed.

Saturday morning welcomes us.  Breakfast was French toast, turkey bacon and herb potatoes.  Not much happens for us tourist wise because you don’t need to know!  Go away!5  We later enjoy dinner at the Black Horse Tavern – which I suspect is our favorite spot in that area now.  Mrs. The Travel Slob enjoyed a Filet Mignon, while I partook of the prime rib.  Mrs. The Travel Slob also tried “The Great Pumpkin” cocktail which took Pumpkinhead Beer, ginger apple vodka, and cinnamon sugar around the rim of the glass.  That coupled with a shared dessert of Mississippi Mud Pie made for a meal so decadently good we felt sinful even though we were just married.

On the way back, we buy a half-rack of Pumpkinhead at a grocery store.

Arriving at back at the inn, the Innkeeper, Jim Kerrigan, offers to start a fire near the outdoor deck.  It being a lovely night we agree.  Jim is a friendly man who clearly loves the area he lives in and loves running his inn.  As he struggled to get the fire to start – and it did take some time – he regaled us with stories of the surrounding area, great places to visit, and some of the experiences of guests in the inn’s past.  Mrs. The Travel Slob and I enjoy cups of Chamomile Mint tea when the fire blazes at last and let time pass as we enjoy each other’s presence and the quiet of our surroundings.  We go back to the cottage, satisfied.  Fade to black.

Sunday, breakfast is a Frittata with sides of herb potatoes and sausage.  Mrs. The Travel Slob updates her social networks as I take notes of our honeymoon.  We decide to go to nearby Bridgton to shop and walk the streets.  Architecture in this area has a certain feel to it that fits the region.  The people in the area are neither standoffish nor overly friendly, and we felt quite welcome and rarely overwhelmed.  We stop at an antique / flea market style store. Strange items and curios were in every section.  We even found a used Moose Menorah.  Nothing says Hanukah like a cartoon moose with candles coming out of his antlers.
“Hey Rocky!  Watch me commemorate the rededication of the holy temple during the Maccabean Revolt!”

We pick up an Arthur C. Clarke Novel, I one by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a random fifth so we get the 3 books for $5 deal.  We walk down Bridgton Street a bit further and discover a little book store.  Well we’re suckers for books so we go in and enjoy the little shop.  Mrs. The Travel Slob gets postcard for neighbor’s grandson and a magazine.  We soon have a large stack of books including those we brought with us.

Dinner was at Ebenezer’s, which took several passes on the road to find.  It’s nestled in what’s almost the middle of nowhere near a golf course, according to the Innkeeper who proves right.  Ebenezer’s sports a long list of beer like none I’ve seen.  On the west coast we tend towards the heavily hopped bitter beers.  Ebenezer’s had more in the sour variety.  Our waitress was concerned we might not be ready, but Mrs. The Travel Slob and I are no cowards (when it comes to beer)!  She went for one called My Blueberry Nightmare, a blueberry sour beer that we both decided was the best of the evening.  The waitress takes our photo with enthusiastic congratulations for our recent Best Wedding Ever.
This is the beer list at Ebenezar's. At least part.
The Best Bride Ever enjoying a Best Blueberry Beer Ever.

Back at the inn, Jim informs us that as of that night, we’re the only guests.  He lets us choose a different room if we so decide (we decline), and allows us to choose what time we’d like breakfast.  Normally it’s at 8:30am, but we opt for 10am.

We end the night in the cable with a warm fire and a movie on DVD.  We see “All the Pretty Horses”, a Matt Damon film based on a book by Cormac McCarthy.  I thought it a good movie, but Mrs. The Travel Slob found it too violent, too darkly themed, and lacking in enough horses.  So basically it was a movie based on a Cormac McCarthy book.

Monday we luxuriate in our early breakfast.  Blueberry pancakes are on the menu!  While the innkeeper is out, we tour the rooms out of curiosity.  The inn has a large number of comfortable rooms and even a suite in uppermost floor that was at least twice as large as the space in our little cottage.  Since we’re alone, we check out every room like a pair of burglars casing the joint (note: no joints were cased).  We then explore the grounds around us, taking in the spectacular scenery and peaceful surroundings.

We leave for North Conway, New Hampshire, but first stop at Pietree Orchards.  According to Jim, these Orchards were once doing poorly and a developer almost bought the land in order to build condos.  However, author Stephen King lives not too far from that area and did not want to see the region’s character spoiled with condos and the amenities that condo dwellers are known to expect.  So he purchased the Orchards in his sister’s name.  Good show, Mr. King!
The Unofficial Stepehn King Orchard. Abandon all hope (of eating apples of the non-tasty variety) upon entering here.

North Conway is quaint, but we arrive too late to try out the tourist train.  Still, we wandered outside the train station to see what it was like.  North Conway is the largest town we’d been to for any length of time so far, and far busier than any else.  We walk the streets, again enjoying the area before heading home.  We stop at a Starbucks for some coffee on the way.  Big mistake!  For some reason our coffee tasted just weird.  Very weird.  We blamed the water or New Hampshire or aliens or something.  On the drive back we have a sign that specifically forbids “out of state firewood” in Maine.  I have to wonder:  How do they know?

We go back to Bridgton for dinner at Bridgton House of Pizza, a small mom-n-pop operation that was nothing fancy at all, but still simple and light.  We return to the Black Horse Tavern for more of that mud pie and cocktails.  We liked it that much.  We return to the cottage, tired.  Another fire is made and then we Fade to Black.

Tuesday, breakfast is scrambled eggs and turkey bacon.  We decide to take a hike at nearby Hawk Mountain, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the inn.  The hike is easy if a bit rocky and rather wet thanks to heavy rains the previous evening.  There’s a false lookout point with a great view, but we braved a little further out and found the real lookout point at a rocket spot nearby for great rewards.  We ate Pietree Orchard apples at the summit – they were delicious!
We're certain the leaves were changing just for our Honeymoon. Look at that view!
Speaking of Pietree, we return for more apples because dang those apples are good, and a mini-pumpkin pie.  At this point, I think we have a bit of a dessert backlog.  The cashiers informed us that the view from the orchards is wonderful as well, so we brave heavy winds and were duly reward.  No hauntings or monster chasings to speak of, however.

Back at the inn, we get a little tea and pick up Horse-Opoly from the Inn lobby to relax at the cottage to a bit of game.  There is, of course, a vigorous amount of horseplay (hur hur), so much so that my chair breaks mid-game!  Mrs. The Travel Slob is of course, concerned, but no harm was done.  Except to the chair.  And to my pride.  Mid game there’s also a strange rumble and shaking.  Mrs. The Travel Slob feared an earthquake.  I dismiss it, having been in California too long.
One of the dangers of playing Full Contact Horse-opoly.

Wednesday morning, we watch the news when we get up and discover that yes indeed, there was an earthquake!  Boy is my face red!  It’s our last full day in the area.  We explore the grounds again, enjoying this area and thinking about what a great place this is.  We also head to Norway, Maine to see some more sights.  Norway enjoys a main street that maintains the old character of the town.  As a man from the West, such sights are amazing, and the drive to preserve such is commendable.  We pass a civil war memorial that causes me pause.  There’s a lot of history in the east and they do their best to maintain it.  In the west, we seem quick to replace old things, and often things don’t remain preserved.
Our lives are short, brief, a blink of the eye in the passing of history.
It’s our last night at the inn, and we enjoy some champagne as we sit near the fire again.

Thursday, we pack our things and get ready to check out.  The innkeeper recommends a lobster shack near twin lamps before we go.  We sign the guest book in the cottage so that others can perhaps share some of our memories.  We also opt to buy a couple of those wonderful bathrobes.  Mmmmmm!

We head back to Portland, Maine.  Our hotel isn’t ready right away for us, but we wait a little, and then afterwards drive to Twin Lamps for lobster!  We both get a lobster meal that they boil up right in front of us.  I thoroughly enjoy my crustacean, but Mrs. The Travel Slob has many issues with the food, in that it looks back and has way too many legs.  The lobster shack is built right next to the shore, so we eat outside at a small table where we can watch the waves crash against the rocks as we enjoy lunch.
I think Mrs. The Travel Slob is inching away slowly from our lunch.
At night, we walk the streets of Portland, just taking in the sights and window shopping, then return to the hotel to finish the night with pie, whipped cream, and more champagne.  We fall asleep in a room larger than the cottage but certainly not as friendly and inviting.  Also there was no fireplace.  Boo.

Friday morning is our last day.  We check out and go downtown Portland to walk around again.  We window shop at a comic book store, a toy shop, and other places.  We have a quick lunch, the reluctantly make our way back to the Portland airport to prepare to go home.  It’s been a long week, but so rewarding.  We both will miss Maine and hope to see it again soon.  We definitely want to get back to the Bear Mountain Inn and to enjoy more Mississippi Mud Pie.





1Actually, it’s just an office.2

2Actually, it’s just a cubicle.

3Pop Tarts, Black Licorice, and all the coffee in town

4Editor’s Note:  Outrageous demands?  I find occupying a cubicle and doing absolutely nothing outrageous.  Me:  Hey, get out of my writing!

5Editor’s Note:  Please don’t go away.  He needs all the readers he can get.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Water is Rising

I'm afraid I'm lacking the usual levity today...

This has been weighing on my conscience for some time. It's the things on Facebook I see, images, posts, shares that all say the same thing: “You just shut up now, we don't want to hear it.” It's bothered me, really, deep down inside. For the most part I've complied, keep my references fairly personal, letting things out in controlled fashions. I've still felt that nagging inside.

Last night, a dream came to me. I was in a town near a river. I was given a clear task to do. I was told that a flash flood would soon arrive, and that I was to go out to those near the river and let them know it was coming. There were many residents out on the river that day. In my dream some were in boats, other on the river side. It all seemed carefree, but I had to continue with my message. Throughout this dream, that was tantamount. I passed a large trestle-like structure. I called out to a couple amongst the rocks, and some young men below. I told them the flash flood was coming and they should leave the area right away. The couple ignored me. The young men laughed and told me nothing was wrong with the river.

I turned to walk back, doubting my own message. Could it be wrong? Even as I felt the doubts stir, I looked down. The river's edge was higher now, and I could clearly see it climbing. I turned back to the people on the rocks. The couple still ignored me. The young men turned concerned. They could see what I was seeing. Before I woke, I called out to them again, urging them to climb the trestle structure to get to high ground as soon as possible.

The dream stuck with me as I awoke. It brought to my mind the passage of Ezekiel 33:1-9, where God appoints Ezekiel as watchman. Ezekiel is told God has a message for Ezekiel, and it is Ezekiel's task to declare this message. What the listeners do with this message is less Ezekiel's worry than the delivering of this message. If the watchman does not sound the alarm, then those that fall are on his head; if the watchman sounds the alarm, those that fail to take heed are responsible for themselves. Whatever happens to those who hear the message, whether they are saved or fall, that depends on themselves as long as the messenger does his task. What is this message? God goes on to deliver a message of grace, that the exiled Judeans can still return to Him. The apostle Paul takes this role to heart, and notes he has no regrets, as he has delivered that Message faithfully, even as he is sentenced to die.

What is the message? That we are separated from God, in darkness. That God came to us as His Son Jesus, to live amongst us, die for us, and to rise again that we might be reconciled with God and that we might know He has defeated death. That Christ is alive, risen by His great power, and that we can have a relationship with God because of Him. Praise Him!

I can't keep silent about this. I have an obligation, a command, and a desire to let this be known. This is bursting out, I can't keep it down just because it is undesired. We have little time to act. In the span of the universe, our various lifetimes are terribly brief, and our lives are over in a blink of an eye. Should I blink and find an opportunity lost? Should I blink and remain silent? We may not want to hear the Message, but it is there. I need to speak out. I need to act as a messenger. Whether any will listen or not, I can't say. I can't and won't force any to do anything. But I can choose whether to speak or remain silent.

The water is rising.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Actual Travel Entry!

So here I am, minding my own business at my desk, enjoying a delicious Rob Roy (one and a half parts scotch, one part sweet vermouth, dash of bitters, garnish with cherry), when my editor drops in for another one of his useless “social visits”

Editor: So, the Travel Slob, once again there's a lull in your activity.
The Travel Slob: Hey, I write all the time, stop complaining so much.
Editor: Your last two articles were about comic books.
The Travel Slob: Well, I drove to the comic book store to get them.
Editor: That's not travel.
The Travel Slob: Sure it is. Just not very far.
Editor: I can't believe I'm paying for this.
The Travel Slob: Quality service! That's what I offer.
Editor: Well, I'm not paying for this. Make a real Travelogue or you're fired.
The Travel Slob: So will I get a travel expense account?
Editor: Use that money I can't believe I'm paying you.

Lucky for me, I had a great reason to travel already, as lately I've been seeing a wonderful woman by the name of Amanda, who is not in the same state as me, so I made arrangements to visit and it was off to Salt Lake City Utah and its surroundings! Amanda has joined my regular readers, bringing my latest reader count all the way up to five!

To maximize travel time and minimize travel costs (thanks to cheapskate Editors who don't give their traveloguers expense accounts), I left very early in the morning to leave from Oakland Airport. Since I don't go to the airport often, I had to call upon my nemesis, Delores, my GPS. Yes, once again I called on her for directions. Once again mid-trip she decided I was off course and decided to recalculate right as I approached an important fork fast. Much her dismay I picked the correct fork and made it to the airport with time to spare. Her days are numbered.

Getting up at 3am to drive to Oakland and take an airplane at 6am to get to Utah seemed a great idea, but I spent a good portion of the day sleeping. Though I was excited to see my lovely lady, I was very very tired. So much so that I required the first stop to be a coffee shop. I ordered a large. It was a 24oz cup. 24 ounces! I'm serious! I'm used to stores that stop at 20 but not Utah! They go up to 24! It's the 11 of coffee shops! I like that state already.

Much was not done this day. I met her grandparents – a lovely couple by the way, with a lovely home they graciously opened to me after I swore on a stack of Bibles that I wasn't an ax murderer (I'm making that last part up.) We also elected to see “Prometheus”. It's a terrible movie to watch for story, but a great movie to take your girlfriend to as there's many parts she has to hide from. Oh yeah... I won't review that film. I'm not getting paid enough for these travelogues, so there's no way anyone will expect me to tack on a film review for free.

Lehi is a lovely little town south of Salt Lake City. Yes, for all my curious readers, Utah is Mormon. The rumors are true! Lehi is the most Mormon of part of Utah, with an LDS church as common as Starbucks are in Seattle but without the coffee. There's a certain pride in the common history of the state, of a like I haven't seen even in Oregon which loves to tout the Oregon trail but has few connections otherwise. The common thread ties many in the state together, it seems.

Thursday evening was ended with a walk along one of Amanda's favorite trails. On the way back, the sun was setting, and twilight (the time of day, not the book) hit in a cool evening. A large form flew by to our surprise, silent and quick. We looked about, and in a nearby field spotted four Barn Owls, hunting for mice in the nearby field. Occasionally one would pass by and gaze at us curiously. Sometimes we'd hear one cry in triumph as it would snag its prey. They flew and hunted in perfect silence in the stillness of the evening. One cannot easily capture such a moment in words, and could never plan such a one.

We are a cute couple, and we decided to be cute at Thanksgiving Point, which has many attractions. The ones that attracted us that day were the gardens and the Paleontology Museum. The former were quiet and serene, but the hot day wore us out quickly. After a quick lunch we moved on to the museum, which was so immensely cool. As an red-blooded American boy I thought dinosaurs were the coolest thing ever. In first grade I got a stick book of dinosaur stickers with explanations of the beasties. I was hooked ever since. They had a whole museum for those things! Utah is lousy with fossils!

24 oz coffee, fossil fields … Utah is awesome.

Saturday was trip to the zoo day, which seemed a great idea, save that it was Dori the elephant's birthday. The crowds in the zoo were overwhelming. Worse, nowadays it seems parents drive their children's strollers like snowplows, shoving through crowds to get to where they want to go, pushing people out of the way so their little angels can see the animals and then not move from the spot and then get insulted when the next snowplow tries to do the same. I've never seen a larger group of people so completely oblivious to the presence of other people. We didn't stay as long as we might have liked, but it was for the best, perhaps.

The evening ended with grilled buffalo steaks – a home cooked meal that was delicious as anything could be. A meal with a loved one is great, a meal made by or made for a loved one is even better.

Sunday my lady love and I traveled to Big Cottonwood Canyon for church – two small Protestant churches met in the amphitheater for a special outdoor service there. We spent the morning surrounded by nature. The afternoon we went just outside of Heber City to spend Father's Day with her family, eating steak. I actually cannot eat steak for while now. I have eaten it for several days in a row. I've found I have a steak capacity, and I met that capacity. We arrived at her Uncle's home just in time to miss seeing a moose and her calf. Nature eludes me again. Fortunately, family decided to be entertaining enough.

In all, this was a great trip, made better in that I spent it with someone for whom I love. We'll meet again, soon, and more times as well. The future indeed looks bright.