Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Ring Out, Wild Bells'

By Alfred Tennyson - circa 1850

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Solitary Life

When I was a boy, my parents had a record album of a Christmas concert / dinner party that they played every year. The original event was some sort of Christmas charity event in Beverly Hills, recorded during the late 1940s or 1950s. There was some sort of relationship with this event to my extended family, as my Aunt was one of the party organizers. Beyond this, I can't tell you anything about that record.

I was short sighted enough to let it go as part of the estate sale of my parents home, several years ago. Alas, I wish I had that record back now.....

Along with the requisite Christmas Carols and songs, there was a short speech entitled "One Solitary Life", that I used to enjoy listening to. As I sat on the living room couch, 40-plus years ago, I think God used that little piece to begin a conversation with me about who He really was.

To this day, I find this one of the most convincing apologetic pieces I have ever run across. I found a great version of this on YouTube, recited by Bing Crosby. Sorry for the odd roller coaster burst at the beginning of this.....

Happy Boxing Day!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All is Well

Christmas is in just four short days. What happened to the time?!

Today, for the first time, I heard this Christmas Carol. Its perfect for the need in our troubled world.

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice

For tonight darkness fell

Into the dawn of love's light

Sing A-le

Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well

Let there be peace on earth

Christ is come go and tell

That He is in the manger

Sing A-le

Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well

Lift up your voices and sing

Born is now Emmanuel

Born is our Lord and Savior

Sing Alleluia

Sing Alleluia

All is well

But, as I listened, I wondered to myself - in the midst of a world brimming with hunger and suffering, war and loneliness, pain and suffering - does it really feel like "All is Well"?

Does it, now really?

And yet, more than 2000 years ago, into a similarly troubled world, a tiny defenseless little baby came. He seemed so much like every other baby. And what about those baffled parent to whom he was born. And those mysterious people who came to visit him soon after his birth.

It's a mystery to me, that birth. And, strangely, it's a mystery to me how, in the midst of all the struggle and pain the world, we might be comforted by the ideas behind this song, and still believe there is hope for our world.

And yet, for countless ages, we have been comforted.

All is Well. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Goodbye to Cindy

This one will be a bit long, so be patient with me.

The Lag in Writing

I have not been writing here for over a month. I am not
really sure why, but now, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the midst of Advent, I have a reason to write, and perhaps the muse to share things here will return. Also, sometimes, its just good to take a break from my relationship with my laptop.

Older Daughter is now home for the Holidays, (this actually started before Thanksgiving) after a quite successful first quarter away at college. She returned Saturday from a road trip to Santa Barbara to pick up high school b
uds from college (in heavy rain), and is home safe. We are thankful for these graces.

Thanksgiving this year at our home was simple and warm, with a crowd of only seven; good friends and family together. Again, thankfulness is offered for these things. Today, Younger Daughter is in the midst of heavy studying; sophomore year first finals are next week.

Goodbye to a Dear Friend
I just lit the fireplace before I sat down to write, and the warmth of the fire is slowly filling the room. But now, something is quite different in our home. For the past 12 years, we have shared our everyday life with a wonderful, mellow, and very loving friend. Someone who never got mad at any of us; a chocolate Labrador, named Cinderella. Cindy for short.

And tonight, its different here. There is no one laying against the couch by my side, in her usual spot. I miss that rhythmic breathing, often snoring, and Cindy's interest in anyone new who came in the room; that tapping of her tail on the floor.......this is hard.

Cindy came to live with us in 1997, when Kelly was 7, and her sister was just 4. She was just weened as a puppy, and a big responsibility for our family. She spent lots of time in a crate on our old back porch, before we remodeled, keeping the washer and dryer company. The rest of her time she spent in our back yard, before we had a pool. She was one rowdy puppy, and had the skill to somehow completely destroy (with her puppy and adolescent dog teeth) a 4' high Bird of Paradise plant, and a 10' high climbing rose.

What I have just learned is that we take the little things in life so for granted. And Cindy, with her constant love and affection, was a gift to us. Each day, a dog who just loved us all, that thought that we did no wrong.

She was the source of much joy and laughter. When the girls were younger, and our back yard was just grass, each summer she would join us in the car, for a 15 minute ride to my parents home, for a long game of Frisbee-catch in their swimming pool. As a Lab, she just loved the water - it really was her second home.
And then, when our pool was finished five years ago, it became her real second home during warmer months.

I recall that very soon after we finished the pool, I noticed that something was acting up with the pool filter - the pressure was way above normal, a sign that the filter was somehow beginning to clog up. I thought we had a defective filter, I mean, the darned thing was brand new! I even called the manufacturer on their 800 number - and asked lots of questions.
Half way through the phone conversation, I thought I should disclose the twice daily swimming habits of our dog. The fellow on the other end of the phone burst out laughing, and said something to the effect of "there's your problem with your pool filter bud - DOG FUR!"

I confess
ed to a good friend the other day that I felt terrible, as I was more saddened by the loss of this dog than I had been by the loss of my parents in the recent past. This good friend, who has known me for 20+ years, surprisingly disagreed (maybe its because he loves dogs), and pointed out that Cindy was such an intimate part of our lives for 12 years. Nancy and I were still in our 30s. I mean, really now, that sweet old dog literally grew up with us. In our home. Every day. She watched us love each other, fight with each other, struggle with life, fight back and let loose with tears, laugh loudly together, and she was such a fixture of each day. She helped us stay ordered, with her twice daily feeding, the walks through the neighborhood. Taking the time to stop and pet her, and tell her what a lovely girl she was.

As the years progressed, the bouncy young dog became quite regal, as she slowed .

And so, last Friday afternoon it was 55 outside and gray and raining, when we said goodbye to our dear brown friend. Appropriate weather. At left is a photo taken moments before Cindy left us....she gave me lots of kisses before she left. What a sweet way to say goodbye. It still feels a little gray in my heart.

Cindy taught us lots of stuff. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Be very sad when everyone excludes you, and makes you sit outside. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Never pass up the opportunity, and delight in the simple joy of a walk, or a run. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps. Play daily. Don't ever take yourself too seriously. Let people touch you. When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Be loyal. Protect your family. Never pretend to be something you're not. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, just sit or lie close by.

But for all the sadness, its worth it; for all the piles of love that sweet dog gave us. Sweet Cindy, you will be dearly missed. There will never be another dog quite like you.

Norris Family Christmas Letter 2009

For more years than I can count, Nancy always asks me to write the family Christmas Letter. And every year comes the same feeling; how can I say it in just a page? Where are just the right words to express the journey of our family over the past year? Perhaps to start with the youngest, and work up from there….

If you can believe it, Heather is now a sophomore at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy. Recently, as we were going somewhere in the car (tip: best place to connect with teenage daughters) I asked Heather if she had any regrets about her school choice. “Not for a second”, was the answer. We are thankful. Heather just loves life, it’s as simple as that! This year brings new challenges. The Youth and Government program will enable her to travel to Sacramento in February to participate in a mock legislative session. Watch out Arnold! Since August, Heather has had a Learner’s Permit to drive. Watch out other drivers! She is talking about traveling overseas this coming summer for a mission trip with our church. Heather brings great joy to all who know her!

Kelly is home for the Holidays now, after her first quarter at DePaul University in Chicago. It is so good to have her home! When Heather and I visited her for Parents Weekend in October, I asked her to rate her college experience on a scale of 1-10. “Nine!” was the emphatic answer, and we are giving daily thanks for this. DePaul is an amazing place. Kelly has made remarkable new friendships, and already seems more mature and thoughtful. Although we miss her, we highly recommend sending your kids away to college! What a young woman; only 3.6 more years to go!

Nancy continues a life devoted to serving others. She is now into her second year (!) of the search that will hopefully soon bring a new senior pastor for our church. Continue to pray for Nancy and her seven friends on this committee, will you? This past July, Nancy spent a week just loving teenage moms, for Christ, at a Young Lives camp near the Grand Canyon. And earlier this year, Nancy joined the Board of Directors of Club21, a community service organization in Pasadena that works to support families with kids who have Down Syndrome. For these things, I am immensely proud. What a woman! We recently, and thankfully, celebrated 21 years of marriage by toasting one-another and tasting wine, while being amazed at the beauty of the Central California Coast.

This summer, our family traveled to Toronto for two weeks of simple relaxation, where we also ventured north to a cottage on Georgian Bay for time with family. At twilight, the deep blue of day fades to the light orange of evening, time for conversation and laughter with family around the dinner table. But, don’t miss it, outside in the dark, there are stars. Billions. This is a place, away from city lights, where the Milky Way stretches from south to north, spanning the entire sky. The Artist of this night sky filled His brush with stardust paint, wound up, and let loose with a massive and limitless spray of dots across the Heavens. Lying on the dock, looking up, near midnight is a time for silence; the cosmos hang above you like the ceiling of a limitless cathedral.

As for Steve, as I lay on the dock at midnight, I just wonder about all this. What happened? Just yesterday it seems, these girls were little, and hugging my knees. Today, they stand eye to eye, and mock my clothing choices and lack of hair, but tolerate me just the same. One girl off at college, the other one heading that way faster than we want to admit. My sweet wife is just as gorgeous as the day we married, and still is patient with me. Even in a tough economic year, I still have a company and job I love. We are all waist deep in blessing. Daily.

How do you measure a year? How can we tell you how we are all really doing, without sounding pretentious, or self absorbed, or heaven forbid, boring. As I write this, I picture each of you, our many dear friends and family, maybe standing in your kitchen, looking through the mail at the end of the day, and finding this letter. My hope is that you are in good health, and somehow wondering about the same kind of things I do. How did we get here in life, and where are we going? Perhaps God is involved in this all, perhaps it’s His Blessings we reap each day. You, our friends, are our greatest blessings!

And so, to continue a tradition we started last year, we will be giving a gift in your name that might hopefully bless others far away, living in a places much more challenging than we will likely ever know. A real, live, flock of sheep will be given to a community in the third world, so that they might become self sufficient.

Maybe it’s not just coincidence that so long ago, simple sheppards were given Great News that changed the world forever.

Merry Christmas, and Great Peace!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Just Another Rainstorm?

Do you ever wonder why you were put on this earth?

Do you ever find yourself pondering deeply profound questions of life while driving in the car to someplace mundane; and then mentally drop the subject, because you have to get to the meeting, or grocery store, or whatever by six, and you don't have time to ponder such heavy stuff? Besides, the traffic is just ridiculous.

I was given
this book by my wife for our anniversary. As it turns out, I think I might be a lot like Donald Miller.

Miller writes:

Back when I got out of high school....I used to suddenly realize I was alive and human. Back then I wondered why nobody else realized what a crazy experience we were all having. Back then I'd be lying in bed or walking down a hallway at college, and the realization I was alive would startle me, as thought it had come up from behind and slammed two books together. We get robbed of the glory of life we aren't capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake slowly to everything. Your brain doesn't stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the lights on, and you're groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn't that big of a deal, that life isn't staggering. What I'm saying is I think life is staggering and we are just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we're given - it's just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.
It's not just another sunset, not just another funeral. It's life, and I do think its staggering, and stupefying, and amazing and gorgeous and ugly all together. Sometimes I think if we understood the weight of the beauty, or comedy, or tragedy of it all, right in the moment, we might spend much of our days either in tears from the immense depth of it all, or bent over in hilarious laughter that we get to be part of this Creation that God is not done with yet.

Just something to think about, as you get stuck in traffic again tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

History Repeats Inself

This is my Dad, circa 1942.

This is his grand daughter, circa Halloween 2009. She is wearing his flight suit in which he piloted B-17s in World War II. Really.

A Gaelic Blessing

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Holding Up the Word, Depaul Community Mass

Recently, while visiting Older Daughter at DePaul University, I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Vincent Depaul Parish, on the campus of DePaul University. This experience might also be known as "Protestant Neophyte Visits The Other Side of the Reformation".

I arrived about 15 minutes early, and already found the sanctuary of St. Vincent to be nearly full. It turned out to be a standing room only Mass. The church holds, by my rough estimate, about 2,000 souls. In attendance were students, parents, and alumni. This was a wonderful experience, full of the sacred rights of the church, and for me, full of much thanksgiving for a daughter well off at college in Chicago at DePaul.

The primary feeling I still have of my morning hour spent in the Parish of St. Vincent is that of the profound mystery of the church. The mystery of trying to understand this life I lead. The mystery of how God is involved in the life of my daughter - this girl I love more than I can speak of. For some reason, my attendance at this Mass was very emotional. For me, not unlike laying on the deck of the dock in Northern Canada this summer, gazing up at the Milky Way above. All, a mystery.

Holding Up
At the beginning of the mass, various elements important in the service are processed into the church. A large golden cross, carried high, by a DePaul coed student, the elements of communion, carried by priests. Candles and incense. A long train of laypersons, altar boys, and priests. Like the procession of Followers, down through the ages.

They line up, and process inside the sanctuary. During this procession, a gathering song is sung; soft drums, and the University choir, something faintly African sounding, it stirs the heart deep within. In the very front of this procession is a book. A large red leather book, held at arm's length, high overhead. Its a heavy book, the kind you find only in a really old and seldom visited library. It looks like something that does not get opened much. Thick and cumbersome, weighted with the burden of time.

But there it is, high in the air, at the front of this line of faith. It takes me half a minute to get it. What book is tha....wait. Oh! The Scripture. They have it at the front of the line! They are holding it up.

That Bible, held high. I have not been able to wrest that image from my mind ever since. And when I think on it more than a minute, it sort of catches my breath. That book, those people, this world.

All of us, in a way, standing in a line. Its been that way for centuries. And at the front of that line, even though we don't pay it much mind in the mess of everyday, there is a book. And if you look carefully, over the heads of those in front of you, its still being held high.

High over our pain, high over our joy, high over history. That book.

The community gathered together. The Book held high.
Once again, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DePaul Family Weekend 2009

Younger sister and I have just returned from Chicago for DePaul Family Weekend 2009, otherwise known as Visiting The Gigantic Educational Expenditure.

This is the one weekend each fall that family members (read: those actually paying the massive bills to operate this university) can come, visit their kids, dress badly, quietly revel in the middle-aged admission that they are definitely no longer of college age, wait awkwardly in dorm lobbies, and get free t shirts.

I must admit, DePaul does a pretty good job of client care for parents; I think the administration knows very well where the money comes from. And you get tshirts!

Here are my random observations on DePaul, my daughter's new life, and culture in Chicago:
  • Fall is a real season! Its cold here. And its only October. The weather was 40-45 degrees with rain showers the whole time we were there. Ahhh! And it will only be getting colder. Much. And folks wonder why there are 37 million humans living in California.
  • The Fall colors here are wonderful. What a beautiful introduction to Winter. I am beginning to understand why my wife, who is from Toronto, misses Fall so very much. Its just gorgeous, this daily reminder of the Seasons of life. I like that our girl wanted to go to a college that feels, well, classically collegiate.
  • There do not seem to be many classes at school on Friday. I don't really remember this from my college days this being the case. Yet another reason to become an academic, its seems; four day work weeks, and summers off. As for the students, three day weekends work fine, just ask them.
  • Chicago is an amazing city. Over the past two days we have spent a lot of time walking the downtown loop area, Michigan Avenue, and riding "The El". All freshmen at DePaul are required to take a "Discover Chicago" class, that plunges them into the city, to begin the process of becoming life-long learners and helping them to understand better the city they are going to school in. I think this is a capital idea!
  • Did I mention the free t-shirts. Let me tell you, these are the most expensive free t shirts I have ever owned. I picked up lots of them, but still they cost me multiple thousands of dollars per shirt. Need a t-shirt?
  • Why does DePaul have a mascot that is a guy in a Devil suit? Catholic school, Satan as the Mascot. Very strange.

At the end of these busy days, the only thing that really matters is how our oldest girl really feels about her time thus far at college. Did she make the right choice? Does she feel confident, enjoy her classes, feel good about her decision? Is she making good friends, and are they kids with character?

So Saturday, at lunch, I asked the key question. "So tell me, so far, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your college experience?"
The answer. "A nine". Interestingly, I received the same answer when I separately asked several of her best friends. Outstanding. Lets hope those numbers hold up.

When I return home, I will stop on my way down the hall - for a moment in Kelly's now too-quiet bedroom. I will stand in the darkness of a Southern California Fall, thinking of my daughter, some 1,700 miles away at school.

As I stand there, I will give thanks for a happy and confident young woman, now off at college. The Journey continues.....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Sully" Sullenberger Has Something to Teach Us

"It wasn't his life goal to be known as a hero, but it has been his life goal to have a close, loving relationship with his daughters, and of course with me. I think that is what he would like his legacy to be".

Sully is a hero because of this legacy. Plain and simple. I choose, each day, to believe Sully's kind of legacy is something noble

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Loving Father Must Surely Dwell

We received a last minute invite Saturday night to the Hollywood Bowl. Boy, are we glad we said yes, and never have I been more surprised and touched by a performance than I was by the LA Philharmonic's powerful delivery of Beethoven's 9th symphony.

My primary exposure to classical music is rather shallow, as I a am near complete musical moron. However, classical music is still a near constant background during my work day - I stream it on my PC at the office, and it plays as the hold music on our office phone system. To me, its part (not all) of the music of heaven; and we can glimpse it while still here on Earth.

I must admit, while parts of the 9th are familiar to me, I have never heard the entire symphony all the way through. I did last night, and I will never forget it. Ever.

The reason
for the concert, was the welcoming of the new Music Director of the LA Phil, Gustavo Dudamel. Suffice it to say, Gustavo is amazing; I have written about him before here. But I was equally struck by the music itself, and the deep content of the lyrics; a concert piece written by a musical genius when he was completely deaf.

While enjoying greatly the early part of this piece, I was stunned and gladdened by the final choral refrain - performed by the LA Master Choral. This refrain is of the 9th Symphony is taken from a poem by
German poet, playwright and historian Friedrich Schiller:
Let me embrace you, O millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry firmament
A loving Father must surely dwell.
Do you fall down, O millions?
Are you aware of your Creator, world?
Seek Him above the starry firmament!
For above the stars He must dwell.
Across almost 200 years, from its premiere in 1824 in Berlin, the music of Beethoven and the poetry of Schiller filled a moonlit Hollywood Bowl last night.

How is it that we live in these times? A planet filled with so much joy, and so much pain. So much beauty, and yet overwhelming sadness?

And yet, a loving Father must surely dwell.....are we aware?

First, a link to excerpts from the 9th, just for the joy of the music:

And then a link, complete with shaky camera to the actual finale of the event at the Bowl. What a night!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Closer Than We Think?

"Spend your life inside a box
looking through stained glass

Dream about a better day and hope it finds you fast"

Lately, I have been reflecting on what much of the evangelical world has taught me over the past 30 years.

And I am having my doubts.

Not about Jesus, or the fathers of our faith, or the sacraments or the primary elements of reformed theology. Its about the other stuff.

And this is the stuff that often serves to define who evangelicals are. One of the pieces that really bothers me is the whole subtle idea of evacuation theology. Why this obsession with leaving the planet? Perhaps its because living down here, on this dusty, too hot, too cold, suffering, starving, messed up place, well, just hurts too much. Its better not to think about it; easier to dwell on Someplace Else. Its easier to argue about the concept of election, or who is really saved, or predestination, or the End Times (woooooo!), or, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Its easier to make rules, clarify rules, argue about rules, and then constantly fail trying to follow them. No wonder most of the world is bored by us church people.

But what if The Kingdom has come? What if Jesus was right, when he said that the Kingdom is at hand? What if we are to do Kingdom work right now, instead of Someday By and By?

Recently, and almost by accident, I downloaded some music on my IPod from Fiction Family, a couple of very talented musicians who have made just one album. The song "Closer Than You Think" does a wonderful job of capturing what I have been thinking about. I share it here for you to think about as well.

You've got a vision of some far of day beautiful and bright
A carrot hanging out of reach, but always in your sight
There's an icon in your mind that stands for happiness one day
A picture on some wall of a kingdom far away

Oh, It's closer than you think
Oh, It's breathing in between
Oh, It's closer than you think
Oh, It's right under your feet

The sky is much more blue and the clouds are always white
The streets of course are gold and lit with ray of light
There's nothing on this earth that's as good as whats up there
Life is so much better when you're floating in the air

Oh, It's closer than you think
Oh, It's breathing in between
Oh, It's closer than you think
Oh, It's right under your feet

Forget about your brother if he doesn't seem to understand
The heaven you've concocted in your head
Never mind your sister when she asks you silly questions
About all the broken people left unfed
Cause burning questions are better left for dead

Spend your life inside a box looking through stained glass
Dream about a better day and hope it finds you fast

Oh, It's closer than you think
Oh, It's breathing in between
Oh, it's closer than you think
Oh, It's right under your feet

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I agree with this!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Only Seeing Stars

This is a song I heard tonight that I love. With Older Daughter off to college, I am musing poetic, and this song says it quite well for me.

For my good know who you are....Grace and Peace for the Journey.

"But me, yeah me I’m only seeing stars"

Monday, September 07, 2009

Off to DePaul, These Moments, This Journey

It seems as if in the first moment, I was holding a wet, wiggling baby girl in my arms. How in the world was I going to handle the challenge of being a father? What lay ahead? Where was this little one headed in the world?

And then, across a blur of days, months, years, there were those other moments, as this little three year old girl would charge my knees each night when I came home from work, shouting my name. The best name I will ever have. Daddy.

In being a parent sometimes you wonder if they will ever grow up, overcome their anxieties and fears, and strike out on their own. But, in time, they do grow up. Oh, do they.

Or those brighter moments, the ones that make you smile when you are driving somewhere in the car, and remember something very funny this remarkable teenage girl said. A sly observation, or a downright hysterical comment. Example: last month we went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Toronto. At first, she thought it was named the Dead Sea Squirrels. Really. Maybe this is why she needs to go to college. I digress.

Turn again, another moment. Here she is at the airport, standing in front of me, very ready to go, 18 years old, and boarding a plane to fly 1,750 miles to Chicago and DePaul University. Who could have imagined this?

On her own, out the door, on her way. If only a bit tentative, yet completely confident, and so "done" with life at our house.
Onward with this Journey.

I am stunned, and joyous, and silent, and wondering. What the heck just happened, that drop off at the airport, and how did I end up in this place? This place of departures, yet beginnings. Of bittersweet sadness of parting, yet great joy in the promise of the future for a remarkable young lady.

That little miracle God dropped in our arms 18 years ago; she was a loan, not a purchase; a gift to hold lightly, not a thing to be clutched. Today, she is ready to go, ready to learn, eager to move on. You go girl!

I am pretty sure that there are very few events in life that so clearly illustrate the word bittersweet. We are so thankful for these 18 years, and we look forward to a bright future, full of hope.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Station Fire Time Lapse

This is one of the better time lapse series I have seen of the Station Fire above La Canada. This is exactly what we have been seeing over the past several days, as we travel the five or so miles north of our home to observe the fire. As of the posting of this, the fire has now reached over 100,000 acres, with a 25 mile long fire line. Stunning.

This video is so, well, disturbing. The ball floating around the pool, the sprinklers going on and off - and in the distance, all Hell is breaking loose. I am sure this is a metaphor for our life here on this earth, but I can't quite put it into words.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pyrocumulus Overwhelming

Its like something in the back of your mind, all the time.

The past several days have had an ominous mood around our area. There is a new central topic of conversation - "have you been up to see the fire?" "Do you have friends up there?" "Are they safe, have they been evacuated"?

The morning sun is a burnt orange through the haze, and the outdoors smells sickly of smoke; the odor of destruction on a massive scale. And today, I learned a new word to describe clouds - pyrocumulus. These are the bizarre, massive, and foreboding clouds formed by wildfires. Dirty brown on the bottom and white on top. Like nothing you have ever seen. Over just the past three days, the Station Fire, as it is now known, has grown from a puff of smoke just north of La Canada, then to 1,000 acres, then 5,000 acres, and as I write this on Sunday night, is listed at just over 40,000 acres. Stunning. A force of nature.

I have lived within 10 miles of this fire area for all of my 51 years, and I have never seen a fire of this size and scope in my life. We have friends whose homes are threatened. Our family has taken time out to drive several miles north of our home to observe the fire progress over the past several days. It is truly massive in scope, and I have thought also about the massive carbon footprint this has created.

Two thoughts. First, I recall that a lack of controlled burns created similar massive problems at Yellowstone National Park in years past, and lead to a reassessment of fire control policies. Could this be applicable to Southern California?

Second, hats off and prayers for safety for the piloting skills of both fixed-wing and helicopter fire fighters. I have been watching them work at a concentrated pace the past several days, and have been thoroughly impressed at their accuracy, tenacity, and determination to save the homes of people they will likely never meet.

Also, fire agencies from all over Southern California and the West have joined the fight on the ground to protect homes. Just as on 9/11 - these brave souls see danger, and do not run away. They come running.

I am humbled by their efforts.

This last photo was taken about two hours ago by my daughter, Heather.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Citius, Altius, Fortius....Clarius!

Recession have you down? Feeling the blues?

I think I might be feeling some of those things. After a wonderful late summer break with the family in Canada, I am back to the grind here at home. Don't get me wrong, I love my job (and thankful beyond words to have it!) - but the daily beat of life and this bummer economy can get to a guy.

As we head back into the busy days of fall, full of activities, and schedules, and just plain lots of things to do - maybe we need a moment of inspiration and clarity. Or maybe, say, five moments.

John Williams is perhaps the most recognized composer of the 20th Century, and has become almost synonymous with the Olympic movement. One of my all time favorite Williams pieces is "Call of the Champions" composed for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

When asked about the ideas behind the composition of this piece, Williams responded:
"In thinking and reading about what we might have sung, I came across this Baron de Coubertin motto: 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' [swifter, higher, stronger]." (Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympic Games back in the early 1890s.) "I thought it would make a wonderful declamatory handle, just that triad of words sung in a very forceful way by the chorus. We had all 350 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing this and it was electrifying. It sounds like all the heroes coming down from Olympus and chanting together."

"Always this triad of words, but at the end of the piece I needed to break the rhythm of the text. So I took the liberty of adding the word clarius to the motto ­ a word a Roman might have used to speak of intelligence and clarity of mind."
Swifter. Higher. Stronger. And Clearer. Can we carry these words in our hearts and minds into the mess of everyday life? Can we do our jobs, love our friends, encourage one another, and contribute to our communities and our world in a way that embodies these words?

That is the inspiration I need today. Maybe you do too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cousins at Canada's Wonderland

Thanks to Uncle Dave for this wonderful video:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Julie, Julia, and the Family Next Door

Everyone has heard of the rule of Six Degrees of Separation.

As it turns out, I am only two degrees separated from Julia Child! I find this excellent, as I just love to cook, when time and life allow. To me, Julia Child was a woman who drank deeply from the cup of life.

How do these degrees of separation work?

When I was a teenager, a very cool family moved in next door. The parents were former Cal Berkley grads, and the Dad was an oarsman from Cal. I think he might have competed in the Olympics. The story was that this Dad worked with the "State Department". We bought that story. Completely.

Anyway, this was a wonderful family for me to hang around. First of all, there were more than three people, and being an only child, this was a very good thing. They used to have very fun, large, and loud parties, and were very gracious to my family, always inviting me over (perhaps they sensed my loss in life as an only child). Lots of laughter, always! I also remember stories about this families friendship with Julia Child, of all people!

We used to have some amazing basketball games in their swimming pool. We rigged up a real hoop that was attached to a full sized backboard, mounted on the diving board, which allowed for in the water dunk shots. For a high school kid who just loved basketball, this was excellent.

So, lets connect this to my date with my wife last night.

Nancy and I went out for a movie date, and saw the unabashed chick-flick, "Julie & Julia". The trailer is below, but suffice it to say this movie deals in part with the early life of Julia Child, one of the most famous cooking writers of all time. Great film, lots of laughter, and joy, and cooking and a real celebration of marriage. Quite refreshing, frankly.

Now, back to the two degrees of separation.

As it turns out, the Dad next door.....he did not exactly work for the State Department. He worked for the CIA. Much to my shock, I found this out just a couple of years ago, when the Dad next door passed away (guess there is a rule about telling the truth about that sort of thing), and I was reconnected via the Internet with the kids I grew up with. Also, a minor detail in the story is that the precursor to the CIA was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

And here is the connection to Julia Child. Julia was married to Paul Child, who was an employee of the OSS, through the guise of the State Department. Many years ago, my childhood neighbor dad and his wife were stationed in Oslo, Norway together, and Julia Child and her husband Paul were stationed there as well.

Julia was trying to get her very first cookbook published, so she decided to test recipes with a cooking group that was made up of international embassy wives. Turns out our neighbors were in this group. They met once a month at a member's home, cooked all morning and then sat down to lunch and wine. The wife of the secret spy who lived next door where I grew up even spent time with Julia as the years went on, helping on occasion with her TV cooking show.

So there you have it. I almost, sorta, kinda, but not really knew Julia Child.

If my life gets any more thrilling than this, I may pass out from the excitement.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sit, Swim, Read, Talk, Wonder, Repeat

Amid the great quiet, there is a soft, rhythmic sound here. Always there, off in the distance, not too far away.

It’s the gentle lapping of waves on the beach of Georgian Bay, just a bit north of Penetanguishene. Sound travels forever over these waters, and you can hear a conversation of two folks over the water 100 yards away. Off in the distance, you can hear the ski-doos and pleasure boats humming along. The sound of wind off the bay filling the countless trees. Everyone here seems focused on doing pretty much nothing. This is a very good thing.

The smells are of fresh breezes off the water, with an occasional whiff of varnish, from the neighbor who is applying a fresh coat to their dock, or the late afternoon smell of something hitting the barbeque next door. At the end of the day, the smell turns to that of a campfire on the beach, built by the kids for toasting marsh mellows. Smoke in your nose never smelled so good.

The touch is of soft beach sand on your feet, even though you might have to hunt for the soft spots between the rocks. Or the cool chill you feel all over when you jump in the water off the dock. Once in the water, the sand beneath your feet combines with some kind of mysterious Canadian algae to make it feel like you are walking….on velvet. Really.

And the sights. Oh, the sights. Hundreds of small islands on the distant horizon; all stuffed to the brim with maples, pines, and every sort of green tree. Water everywhere, dark and blue and inviting. Come on, just jump in! Here, at our vacation cottage on the bay, the sky is so big it’s almost overwhelming. At twilight, the deep blue of day fades to the light orange of evening, time for conversation and laughter with family around the dinner table, something so ancient, and yet so needed even today; a chance to connect with those we love.

The evening brings the chance to work again on that 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that has been laid out on the table for three days. Perhaps a board game with the adults and kids together – the chance to laugh again and make fun of the odd uncle from Canada. Or America, take your pick.

Don't miss it. Outside in the dark, above this scene there are stars.
Uncountable billions. This is a place where the Milky Way stretches from south to north, spanning the entire sky. The Artist of this night sky filled His brush with stardust paint, wound up, and let loose with a massive and limitless spray of dots across the Universe. Stunning.

Just to look up at this grandeur, almost uncontrollably causes your mouth to hang open. The ability to speak leaves you. Lying on the dock near midnight is a time for silence; any words tend to mess up the wonder of it all. In a cloudless summer sky, the cosmos hang above you like the ceiling of a limitless cathedral. This nighttime gazing at the heavens are sacred moments of the most profound kind.

Frederick Buechner once wrote:

“Jesus is apt to come…into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but….. at supper time, or walking along a road…. He never approached from on high, but always in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks….The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments.”

For this city guy, who is now wading deep in the waters of middle age, a week up here in the woods can be filled with sacred moments. There are more at home, in the business of everyday life. May I live a life that listens, touches, and senses these moments…..

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