Saturday, August 30, 2008

scotland-part 2

I had visions of giving you daily, perhaps even hourly updates of our trip. Not to be. Not even the "daily" part has worked out. But I'll try to catch up to where we are now. Here's the last of Scotland ...

Thursday morning, we hopped on a double-decker bus and headed toward the heart of Edinburgh--Princes Street and the Royal Mile. As we drove through town, I saw this chimney sweep shop and immediately thought of Mary Poppins. I wonder how many times these people have heard that. (Click on any picture to enlarge)

<-- Victoria Street, on the way to the Edinburgh Castle. While crossing this street, I looked back and saw a knit shop. Dave heard the tremendous sucking in of my breath, turned to look, and then glanced back at me with that pained, panicked expression he usually saves for JoAnne's Fabrics and Michael's Crafts. I begged for a quick peek and said he didn't even have to come in with me. He liked that idea. When I opened the door, I found about twelve women all knitting in a circle. The strangest thing was, they were absolutely silent. I mean silent. No music, no talking ... just the click, click, clicking of their needles. They glanced up at my arrival, and I half-expected someone to say in a low, scary voice, "Take a chair ... we've been waiting for you." But no one spoke, except a few minutes later, when one woman whispered something about her mum's cricky knee, and someone else nodded in return. It was just a tad eerie to me, especially coming as it did on the heels of this year's Stitch 'n Pitch, where I sat with a whole bunch of my closest, noisiest knitting sisters watching the Mariners beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

When I turned to leave the shop, I said, "Thank you. I'll come back when my husband isn't pacing around outside." They laughed at that, but then all the sound shut off immediately and it was back to click, click, click ...

* * *

This was one of our options for lunch. We both opted "no." -->

Instead of eating roast pig-that-has-sat- in-the-window- for-who-knows- how-long, we ducked into a noisy little place and shared a sampler tray of egg rolls, fried chicken, sausages, and onion rings, and a plate of bangers and mash, which we both loved. How can you not love a big old pile of mashed potatoes and gravy topped with three sausages?

This was our destination. While walking, we stopped and asked a doorman what would be the best way to get up to the castle. He looked at me and said, "Ehh ...'ave ye got a rrrrupe?" A long second of confusion hung between us until Dave interpreted. "Rope. Do we have a rope." Very funny, doorman.

So we walked around the side of the castle, which wasn't a long walk--maybe a third of a mile--but it was steep. I wonder who does their lawn ...

Here's Dave catching his breath as we make our final ascent. This tour has been great for exercise. It seems like everyone walks everywhere in Europe. If we lived here, we'd toss that car in a second--especially if we lived in Edinburgh. We got our first parking ticket within ten minutes of arriving in town. We left the car on the street in front of the b & b, and in the time it took for us to sign in and walk back out to put coins in the meter, a man on a bike had already given us a ticket ... for 60 pounds. That's $120 American dollars. We got our second ticket the next day when we inadvertently parked along a curb with a yellow strip, but the yellow strip was buried all along the street by about a foot of orange and yellow leaves and we didn't see it until later. A devious trick, I tell you. We're disputing both tickets.

The view from the top of the stairs.

My most favorite memory of Edinburgh. This was the one thing I most wanted to see while in Scotland--the bagpipers. I could have stood listening all day.



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

scotland-part 1

We're here! And even though it's only the first day, there's already so much to tell. I'm afraid, though, that until I finish this book project, I'll have to be brief.

I'll wait to tell you about our flight over until I can really describe it to you in detail. It was interesting in several aspects, and I don't want to rush it.

We arrived in Edinburgh six hours ago. In that time, we got our car and worked like crazy to keep it on the left side of the road. Every time we came to an intersection, we sucked in our breath and tried to force our tired brains to "do the math." If we have to stay on that side of the road, but we want to turn right, that means we have to ... wait, that's not right ..." Most of our conversation from the airport consisted of one phrase: "Stay left." Here are pictures of Dave acclimating. To be honest, that first one is of Dave's first three seconds in the car ... while we were still at the Alamo rental car lot, so he hadn't truly been tested yet. But here's one of him driving: The laughter may have been due to a wee near miss (do you like how I'm already throwing Scottish words at you?). At one point, it looked like we were seconds from seeing Jesus for the first time, but then we got back in our lane.

We had a lovely tour of Edinburgh while we drove around the same square mile for 20 minutes, looking for a street that kept ducking itself away every time we got near. After exchanging dollars for pounds and asking directions of a man with a thick, thick, thick-and-delicious brogue, we stayed lost for another half hour. In fact, after following his very specific, very clear, very Scottish-flavored directions, we were even "loster," if I may take the liberty to create a word. But after stopping at a visitor's center, the woman there told us, in a thick, thick brogue, how to pin down the street that kept eluding us. I believe we would still be lost, still circling that lonely mile, and probably sobbing by now, except that along with her verbal directions, she also drew us a map. Here are pictures of the "street where we live," and the family-owned bed & breakfast which is our Edinburgh home.

As far as I can tell, this Scottish attack cat is for looks only. She was nothing but friendly. Her fur was nice and satiny, just like my American cats, and she clearly liked when I scratched behind her little ears, just like my American cats ... but she gave herself clean away when she rolled her "r's" during a meow.

We took a short three-hour nap, woke up, walked into town, and bought dinner at a little place that specialized in "fish and pizza." I'm still wondering at that combo. But I'll tell you what--I've never had fish and chips that good in my life. The comparison is something akin to pitting mom's homemade pot roast against a Swanson's frozen pretend-roast t.v. dinner. Ivar's and Skippers probably ought to take a field trip over here and see how it's supposed to be done.

The women who boxed up our dinner thought it was odd that we wanted salt-and-malt AND tartar sauce. By the looks they gave each other, I'll bet they're still talking about that. We thought it was a little odd that there wasn't a napkin in the place. Not only are we still talking about that, but now I've blogged about it too.

We took our dinner and sat in the park called "The Meadows, where we watched--and I'm not kidding--a man and his Scottish terrior chase each other around the grass. How appropriate is that?

On the walk back home, which was about a half hour each way and which felt wonderful after all our flying and napping, we spotted a happily familiar little coffee shop. Can you see the Starbucks logo in this picture? So tomorrow morning, after a breakfast of apples and granola bars, we will slip into Starbucks, grab a latte, and plan our day. Watch for pictures of Edinburgh castle sometime tomorrow night.

We miss you all! In just a few short hours, you (our church family) will meet for the weekly spaghett/lasagna feed, and lots of laughter and fellowship, and great teaching. Lord willing, we'll be ... asleep! :)



Thursday, August 21, 2008

late night meetings

I'm leaving for Europe Tuesday morning (Did I really just say that?). Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, and France ... here we come! Life is busy in this pre-travel week. I'm drafting/editing a book which I will probably turn in ten minutes before we leave for the airport, which will leave me those ten minutes for packing. No time for blogging now, but watch next week for a description I'll no doubt have of my first footsteps on "the motherland." (I'm a Scottish lass, born of the surname Douglas, don't you know.)

Here's one from the files.

A few years back, I went through an extended period of insomnia. Several times a week, I'd wake between 2:00 and 3:30 a.m. The realization that I'd lost my grip on unconsciousness never failed to irritate me. I fought it as best as I could. I'd keep one eye closed as I navigated my way across our bedroom and into the bathroom, hoping to fool the other eye into believing we were still asleep. It rarely worked. I'd stumble back to bed, resume my best falling-to-sleep position, and lay there for long minutes, or an hour ... or two ...wondering what in the world was wrong with me that I couldn't sleep through the night.

But it occurred to me one night that maybe I wasn't waking up at all. Maybe I was being awakened.

"Is it You, Lord?" I asked. "Are You waking me?"

I tried to come up with a reason why God would want to interrupt my r.e.m. sleep. After rejecting "practical joke" and "health sabotage," I was left with the only reasonable conclusion: He missed me. Perhaps we hadn't had enough us-time during the day, and He waited until dark to get me alone.

I decided I'd go with that. "Lord, from now on, if I wake in the middle of the night ... I'll know it's You."

He took me up on that offer.

During this time, we gave away our mobile home and moved into a teeny travel trailer, which was to be our dwelling for the six months it would take to build our new house. It wasn't the ideal situation for middle-of-the-night rousings, but I long ago gave up arguing with God. If He wanted me to ease myself inch by slow inch across Dave's snoring body and grope around in the darkness for my robe and slippers, then so be it.

I took to keeping a square of tin foil near the dining table so I could mold it around the plastic light cover, allowing only a small, directed beam of light to leak downward and onto the pages of my Bible. Somewhere deep, I've clutched the sounds of my sleeping family, a slumbering earth, and the gathering storm of water heating in my tea kettle. Collectively, all that noise created the most peaceful silence I've known.

I'd sip my cocoa and read, and listen. God never failed to speak to me in those quiet hours. Sometimes He'd speak to a specific need in my life; most nights He just told me He loved me. We doubtful beings never stop needing that reminder, and He knows that.

I learned a great deal about the heart of God in those late night meetings--and all the meetings since.

One night several years ago (long after we'd moved into our home and given away that little travel trailer), I felt that familiar nudge and rose to meet with God. But the moment I sat down--before I could even open my Bible--I felt a strong impression to repeat a favorite scripture: When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. --Isaiah 59:19 (NKJV)

I didn't know why I felt such an urgency to speak that verse, but I said it anyway. And then I said it again ... and again. For an entire hour, my mind was completely trained on that one truth from Scripture, and all I could do was sit in the stillness of my living room and repeat the words over and over. I have never before or since felt a leading to pray that way, but it was clear on that night that God would have me do nothing else.

It was 3:30 when I stopped. Though I felt completely energized, as if I'd just taken the most wonderful nap and was ready to face my day, I also felt so at peace that I knew I'd fall asleep as soon as I sank down into my pillow ... and I did.

The next day, a friend called me. As our conversation progressed, she kept yawning into the phone.

"Tired?" I asked, laughing.

"I am," she said. "I haven't been sleeping well. I keep waking up in the middle of the night."

"Me, too," I said. "In fact, I was up last night."

"I was, too," my friend said.

I then explained what had happened the night before. "It was the strangest thing, but I felt completely riveted, completely focused on repeating those words: When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him."

I heard a long pause on the other end. And then she asked, "Exactly what time were you up?"

"From 2:30 to 3:30."

The pause lengthened, and when my friend spoke again, I heard tears in her voice. "God had you up praying for me." She had awakened at 2:00 with a heart so heavy, it drove her to the bathroom floor, where she lay sobbing and trying to pray. She didn't share the exact nature of her grief. She simply said that life felt too hard; hope seemed too distant. She felt utterly overwhelmed, she said, by a flood of worry, fear and despair. Until suddenly, at 3:30, the darkness fled, the heaviness lifted and she felt awash in peace. And at the same moment that I rose from my couch and returned to my pillow, my friend rose from the floor and returned to hers.

I am often completely taken aback by the knowledge that the God who dreamed up gravity and love, who thought to put spots on a giraffe and devotion in the heart of a puppy, who named and then scattered the stars in the sky, would watch me sleep ... and wake me to meet Him ... and invite me to put my two hands next to His on the plow.

What kind of God is this?



Sunday, August 17, 2008

fall on my knees

I never delighted much in contemplating commas and colons, or in spelling or measuring syllables; but now ... if I attempt to look at these little objects, I find my imagination, in spite of all my exertions, roaming in the Milky Way, among the nebulae, those mighty orbs, and stupendous orbits of suns, planets, satellites, and comets, which compose the incomprehensible universe; and if I do not sink into nothing in my own estimation, I feel an irresistible impulse to fall on my knees, in adoration of the power that moves, the wisdom that directs, the benevolence that sanctifies this wonderful whole.

–John Adams



Thursday, August 14, 2008

pray for the harvest

We've been praying for Greg and Cathe Laurie and their family since the death of their son, Christopher, on July 24th. Below is a video of the message Greg shared with his church family (Harvest Christian Fellowship) just three days after Christopher went to be with the Lord.

This is aptly entitled "I Still Believe." The truth of our faith shines brightest in the darkest moments. Jesus is real to this family; I pray He is real to you too.

Please keep Greg in prayer tomorrow as he begins his Harvest Crusade. I'm sure the crusades are physically taxing under normal circumstances, but with his emotions raw and his heart wounded, he's going to need the strength that only God can give.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

what lies beneath

You remember Jaws. It's the movie that singlehandedly emptied the ocean, if only for a moment. Who wanted to swim out there in all that darkness? After seeing that film, it was a long time before I'd even wade. I'd venture out to knee-height in slow, inchy, trepidatious steps, but all the while, I could envision the scene underneath those waves. I was certain that like beacons, my two white legs had drawn the attention of two beady fish eyes, and any moment, I would come face to fin with a fangy predator.

The pool, though ... there I felt safe. Nothing lurked below those beautiful, fake blue waters. Just a drain.

Or at least that's what I thought ...

These incredible photos are of a White Bengal tiger named Odin who lives in a zoo in Vallejo, California. Odin is six years old and 10 feet long from tail to nose.

(This is my favorite. It looks like he's either covering a burp or rethinking that last bite.)

Odin was hand-raised at the zoo. After he was weaned, his British trainer, Lee Munro, discovered his remarkable skill. When a lump of meat was thrown into a pool of water, Odin dived happily in after it.

"He makes a funny face. It's actually to close his nostrils to stop the water from going into his nose."

Not all big cats enjoy the water, but for tigers from the hot climate of South-East Asia it's one way to cool down.

"Plus they hunt in and around water. They're an ambush predator so they wait for prey to come down to the water," his trainer explains.

"When you actually see him dive underwater he looks so graceful. Odin loves the water and he loves food," he said. "Not all big cats will dive and swim underwater, even for meat treats."

Munro said tigers were the most powerful swimmers out of all land-dwelling animals.

White tigers--the most rare variety--get their white color from an unusual and extremely rare genetic combination. A century ago there were about 100,000 tigers in the wild. Now there are just 2,500 adults, with the Bengal variety almost extinct. None has been seen in the wild since the last white tiger was shot and killed in 1958.



Sunday, August 10, 2008

hillbilly chili

So we have our annual Chili Cook-off last Sunday. And just like every year, little paper donkeys hung on the walls of the church office. Honey-combed sombreros and chili peppers dotted the tables. A giant blow-up jalapeno bounced and jiggled in its pinned-up spot near the door.

One by one, potholder-clad women carried in casserole dishes of cornbread--some plain, some cheesy, some flecked with peppers or corn or a little of both. One by one, confident-looking men strode in with their crock pots of chili. You could see by their faces that each of those men had already cleared a spot back home for the Chili King plaque; each could already feel that Chili King crown on their big heads.

Like I do every year, I had to smile at all that confidence.

Waiting hands took each entry, numbered them, and shooed the contestants outside. While the men stood around in clusters not telling each other their recipes, the women wandered from group to group encouraging each other. "Ooh, you put green chilis in your cornbread--I love that!" "White cornmeal ... that's a good idea." "Yours looks so cheesy! I'm definitely trying yours."

Only God could have made men and women so different.

Though most of the men were mum about their entries, one man (who shall remain unnamed) began campaigning pretty much the moment he handed his entry over and heard his number. "Try number 10," he urged. "You gotta try number 10."

A lot of people tried number 10. All the judges did, of course. And then, after Sue Kunkle was crowned Cornbread Queen and Scott Mayor was crowned Chili King, and Dave handed over the plaque from last year and we all lined up for chili, a whole lot of people dished themselves up a big scoop of number 10.

We ate. And then, when it was far too late to do anything about it, the maker of number 10 spilled the beans. It seems the meat in his chili was meat he had trapped, killed and skinned himself. At his house. Where the varmint had just, the day before, killed one of his ducks. Number 10 chili was full of ... raccoon.

Oh, the gagging that ensued. The retching. The groaning. Laughter came later, but people in shock don't usually think to laugh. It took quite awhile for the color to return to that crowd.

The jokes have begun, of course. Suzzanne Schalo, one of the judges, took it the hardest. Her husband, Joel, and I have had a good time teasing her about the ordeal. "Did it taste like chicken?" I asked. Joel told me she's been picking whiskers out of her teeth all week, and that she might be coming down with a cough ... unless it's just a fur-ball. I told her I didn't want to see her nosing around the garbage cans or chasing ducks.

Pretty much the second we got home from the Cook-Off, Dave began writing up the rules for next year. Rule number one: ingredient disclosure.

Only in Marysville, Washington--home of Hillbilly Chili, and Calvary Chapel Boone-ville ... or should that be Coon-ville?



Wednesday, August 06, 2008


From the time I was a child, I've been aware of "girly" behavior. I don't think mannish behavior looks good on a woman. So you'll never find me sitting backwards on a chair with one leg slung left and one leg slung right. I wouldn't crop my hair short, or wear clothes that could go either way.

And the only reason I'm telling you that is because you need to know the power of crab. Put a plate of crab in front of me, and I forget all about girly behavior. Sleeves are for wiping; fingers for dipping; silverware nothing but optional.

We went crabbing yesterday with people so lovely that in ten years of knowing them, I've yet to spot a single flaw. I've long believed they're really angels masquerading as humans. I've told them my suspicions, to which they just laugh nervously. But what else would you expect compromised agents to do? No one else has caught on. One day, however, all the earth will know that John, Laurie, and Elaina Watson (now Elaina Scougale) are angels. (Scotty, their son, is a real boy. I'm not sure how that worked out).

We rose early and took John's boat out. I can't tell you where. Even angels like to keep their best crab-hunting grounds secret. Let's say it was somewhere in the neighborhood of Camano Island. Let's say it was near a green buoy. Let's not say anything more.

Blue sky, bluer Puget Sound waves, and just enough breeze to ward off sweat. Laurie brought perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwiches packed in perfect, uncut rectangles in the very bag the bread came in. Along with that we had peaches from Costco, ice cold water, and little bags of Cheetohs. I'd brought along bags of raw nuts, but you can probably see the end from here. Cheetohs trump raw nuts any day of the week.

John and Dave loaded all six traps with turkey legs while Laurie, Tera and I led cheers from our perching spots. After dropping the traps in a long, bobbing line, John taught Tera how to drive the boat. Somehow, I felt relaxed enough while she bounced us along Puget Sound that I managed to knit several rows of a black, baby Alpaca wool scarf.

We ate and laughed and told each other stories. We talked about church, and God, and how good He is to have brought us all together. And in between all that, we (meaning the men) snagged 15 Dungeness and 3 Red Rock crab.

In really good stories, you don't have to follow the main character while she sorts through junk mail or maneuvers her car back and forth into a parking space or brushes her teeth. You skip all those boring life details and go right to the good stuff. So I won't tell you about emptying out the boat, or snapping the tarp back into place, or driving home, or cleaning all those crab. Let's just go to the table.

There was butter. Lots and lots and lots of butter, melted just so, with a layer of translucent yellow floating over an opaque collection of creamy, salty loveliness. I knew going in that some of that deliciousness would end up on me; sure enough, I wore a splatter or two when I arrived at church later.

I'd brought along marinated T-Bone steaks from our own home-grown cow. While the steaks cooked, I sauteed mushrooms in butter, garlic, worchestershire and sherry. Laurie made corn-on-the-cob; John handled the crab. Dave watched expectantly.

The table bowed in the middle under all that bounty. John, knowing that crab is the thing of my daydreams, teased that he was going to pray a long, long time--just to make me wait. I laughed nervously (angel payback, I'm thinking), but then, looking at the faces I love so much and the abundance of God's provision, it occurred to me that we could pray for a half an hour straight without really making much of a dent at all.

How does one begin to say thank You for a mountain of blessing?

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

ode to granola

One from the files ... because I suddenly have a hankering.

You start, of course, with a giant bowl of oats.

I don't mean "quick cook" oats, either. Those worthless flakes pose no challenge to teeth; they offer no satisfaction. Regular oats. Giant bowl.

In a just-big-enough pan, you then heat together a bit of oil and honey. The oil--in my opinion--should be olive, because it's so good for you. And as long as I'm being bossy, I suggest you go out and get yourself a bee hive and do the honey right. But if you can't do that ... say, you live on the third floor of an apartment complex with no balcony ... then find yourself some good local honey. It's better all the way around. It's not been cooked to death so as to kill off all the local pollen and antigens.

You then stir those together with your favorite wooden spoon, the one that's been darkened by a hundred batches of brownies, stew, and caramel corn. That spoon knows its way around a pot. While this mixture is heating, you go a little crazy with the spices. You toss in a generous heap of cinnamon, because you know that's the spice that will circle the house first. Clove is good. And naturally, you'll want a good pinch or three of nutmeg, because there's not a spice in the world as mysterious as nutmeg. It's the one that adds interest to the project ... and you know that.

When the whole spicy concoction is just warm enough, you pour it over the mass of oats and stir till every flake is coated. And then you divide the whole pile onto two baking sheets--again, the ugly ones, the stoneware slabs you've seasoned up with a lot of good cooking.

While the oats get a head start in the oven, you pull the nuts down from the cupboard and set to chopping. Not too fine. Maybe on this day you feel like biting into a mixture of hazelnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds. So you chop the choppables and toss in the tiny seeds and when you feel the oats have waited long enough, you open the oven door again and add it all together.

Ten minutes pass. Twelve. The cinnamon finds its way through invisible portals in the oven and rushes past you in a teasing stream. You catch a hint of nutmeg, a whiff of toasting hazelnut. People began appearing from corners of the house, sniffing and looking at you expectantly.

When you all can't stand it anymore, you flip the oven light on and hunker down together to peek in the window. It looks good. It smells unbelievable. And at just the right moment--when the oats and the nuts and the honey and spices have reached the watched-for shade of gold--you don oven mitts and pull those sheets out. And then, because you're making a perfect batch of granola and it wouldn't be perfect without them, you sprinkle handful after handful of dried cranberries and raisins over those baking sheets. You stir carefully while someone else grabs bowls and yogurt and milk.

And then, while you're tasting that first warm, spicy mouthful of earthy goodness, you turn your back to the east-facing windows, where a sliver of sunshine has fought its way through the clouds, and you look instead out the west windows. You train your eyes on the curtain of gray over the tops of the evergreens, and you convince yourself it's not an August morning, but a cold day in October--with falling leaves, and a warm fire, and a candle on the mantle.

That's the power of granola.