Sweet Pickles

Anyone else remember this game?

Anyone else remember this game?

Maybe it’s just me.  But I remember playing this game when I was about Ruby’s age.  It had such a gentle, humane quality.  It didn’t resemble Trouble! or Perfection, that timed puzzle game.

perfectionI remember playing this game, rushing to beat the buzzer.  Once the buzzer sounded, all the pieces bounced out of their designated slots.  You lost if you didn’t get them into their slots in time.  It appealed to my competitive nature.

the farming gameWe got hooked on The Farming Game later in our teens.  We planted corn on Toppenish Ridge.  Little did we know these were real place names.  We had to stay on top of our crops.  Your goal was to “buy the farm”.  Seriously.

My kids have no knowledge of these games.  We managed to get our hands on an old edition of Payday

payday gameThis game helped Zac understand the cycle of getting paid and then taking care of bills.  We had a great time.

The kids have also played Parcheesi (Ruby always wins), Yahtzee, Mousetrap, Uno and various regular card games. Some of these have brought Ruby along in  her adding and subtracting skills, all while having fun.   I miss the times before electronics became so dominant.  We had a good time, my parents, siblings and I, hanging out playing games.  We talked and laughed.  We tried to avoid getting doubles three times.  All of these games taught us something about ourselves and the world around us.  What a great way to get an education and create memories.

What games did you used to like to play?  Do you and your family still play games?

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Christmas Brain

from etsy.com

from etsy.com

This picture (above) has nothing to do with my blog.  But it’s so cuuuute!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately.  Not blogging, but topical writing.  I’ve written Christmas stuff for our church’s Christmas program.  I’ve also written some things for a friend’s church. It’s a privilege to be asked and to be able to supply what’s needed.  All are done and it feels good.

Because of the writing tasks, I’ve had Christmas on the brain for several months now.  I know, I know; it’s still October.  My brother would be so proud.  I’ve been wearing the socks for weeks.  Hey, they keep my feet warm!

Please note:  I have done nothing else Christmas-related.  I have not shopped, decorated or baked for said holy day.

It wasn’t easy.  I worried and fretted a bit about getting it all finished in time.  People have to rehearse lines.  We needed to set a rehearsal schedule for music, lights, etc.  Actors need time to memorize.  It didn’t start to come together until I stopped freaking out and started jumping in.  I realized if God gave me the task, He would help me complete it. I could rest in that assurance. I went with whatever ideas came up, no matter how ludicrous they seemed at the time.  I could always edit them out later, like the bit about Spam. Kidding! The funny thing I discovered is that each type of writing enhanced the other.  Go figure.

It stretched me to write about a topic, a given subject or theme, instead of  at random.  This blog is pretty random.  But if you read regularly, you know that.  Also, thinking about Christmas hasn’t harmed me at all.  In fact, it’s put me in the spirit much earlier than usual.  I’m thankful for that gift.

Now, where’s that figgy pudding recipe?

Running and Flying

running_with_the_seagullsPhoto courtesy of runningzen

I went running in the icy blue today.  I couldn’t help myself.  The sky here is an intoxicating shade of blue.  Contrast that with red and yellow trees and I’m in primary color heaven, a gargantuan child’s crayon box.

I’ve been battling some sort of cold plus allergies.  I’ll blame it on the fog that never seemed to lift, trapping any possible foul thing by its suffocating presence.  I felt pretty lousy over the weekend and am just now starting to feel like myself again.  I don’t get sick very often anymore.  When I do, my emotions tend to flatten out and I feel like “meh”.  Who cares?  Not a great place to be.  Life itself feels trivial.

This morning, though coughing and battling a little congestion, I figured I’d give it a whirl.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that running should be fun.  I donned a garish fleece hat and headed out.

The cold nearly took my breath away.  This was our first hard frost since early last year.  I shoved my earphones further into my ears and tugged my hat down.  The first few steps were creaky.  My legs protested.  I am definitely feeling my age lately, folks.  Yet as I trekked up the hill, I couldn’t help smiling.  Saturday’s golden leaf drifts were gone.  Most sidewalks were clear, or were being cleared by swaddled men with leafblowers.  Frost silvered the grass as the glorious sun beat down.

I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you I’ve been mostly sugar-free for two weeks now.  I had coffee with a friend of mine last month and her story of giving up sugar made me think. I couldn’t shake it. Oh, I’ve fallen down here and there.  Instead of doing it perfectly, I now think of it as a baby bird learning to fly.  They soar a little, then crash.  They might even get a little frustrated, if birds have such emotions.  They get back to the tree, regroup, and jump again.  Some birds get a running start on the ground, then lift off.  Eventually, they fly freely on their own.

When I started to feel lousy, all I wanted was a piece of cake with chocolate icing.  Luckily, I had some hanging around.  Seriously, I’m learning how my emotions are tied to eating, especially sweets. I’m learning to drink tea or eat a piece of fruit if  I’m really hungry and craving something sweet.  I think my symptoms haven’t overwhelmed me, in part,  because of avoiding sugar.  It also helps that when I’m ill i don’t worry about it anymore.  I pray, rest, dose myself accordingly and move on.

Will I keep this lifestyle forever?  I don’t know.  All I know is I have more steady energy without it.  I’ve lost a couple of pounds and that’s great.  But what I like most of all is rising above sugar’s pull. I’m starting to fly.

Close to the Coach

PiPs camp

Yesterday afternoon was busy.  We had church, then a memorial service where Jonathon ran sound, and Ruby had her first camp and practice for PiPs.

What in the world is PiPs?  Glad you asked.

It’s a group of kids who learn ball handling skills, using basketballs.  They drill and perform at halftime shows.  They dribble, spin balls on their index fingers, practice skills to mastery and gain self-confidence in the bargain.  They also get a free basketball!  That was the selling point for Ruby.  My selling point is their February performance with the Globetrotters!  Can’t wait.

Ruby’s particular group has uniforms, a smaller-than-regulation-sized ball and practices every Tuesday afternoon until the end of time.  They are composed of kids from the three local grade schools.  The regular program ranges from kindergarten thru 6th grade, but after that you’re considered an “Old Timer” and are allowed to perform with the groups.  Heck, you can do it until college!

Sitting in the parents’ meeting while Ruby practiced, I learned about how kids who do PiPs go on to do well in basketball, sports in general and other areas of life.  They’ve learned if they mess up, especially during a performance, they keep going.  It’s not over.  I really, really like that attitude.  It’s a mindset the world, and myself, could use more of.

As I dropped Ruby off yesterday afternoon after registration, I felt a little sad.  She didn’t see anyone she knew and she wanted me to stick around.  But I knew I’d be in the way.  It was time for her to spread her wings a little, see what she could do.  Kids and parents came and went; the back door to the gym opened, letting in squares of sunlight and people.  Ruby slunk to the center of the gym.  There the coach was gathering the kids to him to get the party started.

As I walked towards the exit, I looked back.  Ruby sat in the green circle, cross-legged.  She waited at her coach’s feet patiently.  She trusted he would give directions and get it all going.

I thought, What if someone walks in and nabs her?  Totally irrational, I know, but I’m still a mom.  I am protective of my babies.  Probably always will be.  But then I realized something.  If Ruby – and the other kids – stay close to the coach, in the center of the room, they’ll all be okay.  Coach can see them and watch over them.

So it is with God.  He will guide and direct us.  We need to stay close to Him so He can watch over us.    Sure, he’s got omnipresence and that omniscience thing working for Him.  But for us to be protected, to truly be safe, it’s on us to cling and not wander around the gym, dribbling aimlessly.  And if we look up and find ourselves at the wrong end of the court, we can always come back.  Clinging is un-American.  Yep.  But it is fully Christian.

Going Grinch

I finished Jeremiah today.  Hallelujah!  Something in chapter 52 caught my eye.  I read earlier about how Zedekiah was captured and tortured, then carted off to Babylon.  This chapter outlines how everything went down.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars in front of the Lord’s Temple, the bronze water carts, and the great bronze basin called the Sea, and they carried all the bronze away to Babylon. They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, basins, dishes, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, also took the small bowls, incense burners, basins, pots, lampstands, dishes, bowls used for liquid offerings, and all the other articles made of pure gold or silver. (Jeremiah 52:17-19)

The next section talks about the weight of the pillars and all the artifacts.  I love how their value is calculated, as if that was why Nebuzaradan took these holy items. I mean, I’m sure Babylon could always use more income, but it wasn’t the only reason. Reading on, I learned more.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took with him as prisoners Seraiah the high priest, Zephaniah the priest of the second rank, and the three chief gatekeepers. And from among the people still hiding in the city, he took an officer who had been in charge of the Judean army; seven of the king’s personal advisers; the army commander’s chief secretary, who was in charge of recruitment; and sixty other citizens. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took them all to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And there at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king of Babylon had them all put to death. So the people of Judah were sent into exile from their land. (Jeremiah 52:24-27)

Nebuzaradan took people, too.  The people he kidnapped were even more important than the temple service tools.   Taking the officer and secretary of the army meant any remnants of an army couldn’t reconfigure or recruit.  They would be leaderless.  Taking the king’s advisors meant wisdom would be difficult to find.

Most importantly, snatching the priests and the chief gatekeepers meant the traditions of temple could not be observed correctly.   Old Neb knew the Hebrews were Yahwistic.  They had a monotheistic faith.  Destroy all vestiges of that, you conquered the people.  Nabbing the bronze sacrificial articles as well as gold and silver implements meant they didn’t have *anything* to work with.  They were literally at ground zero for rebuilding.

On August 17 of that year, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem.  He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, then took as exiles some of the poorest of the people, the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had declared their allegiance to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the craftsmen. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in Judah to care for the vineyards and fields. (Jeremiah 52:12-16)

Hmm.  Nebuzaradan also took some poor people, the rest of the ones hiding out in the city, defectors and all of the craftsmen.  Huh?  Craftsmen?  At this point, he reminds me of the Grinch, taking all the Christmas decorations – trees, lights, ornaments, food.   He must have seen the value in the ability of craftsmen to make, well, everything.  Useful in a bustling kingdom.  I’m sure he thought, Hey, if I kill everyone, this land will go back to nature and be inhabited by wild beasts.  Gotta leave some of these losers here.

Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.  Surrender, and your life is your reward.  God’s fulfilled  judgment against  Israel changed the course of the nation.   Despite the devastation, the book of Jeremiah ends on a hopeful note as the possibility of Israel’s rebirth hangs in the air.  Just like the Grinch couldn’t really steal Christmas, the future of the Israelites remained tied to God. The ones left behind and the survival of Judah’s king show the mercy of God.  The next king of Babylon, Evil-merodach (unfortunate, that) favored Jehoiachin, exiled king of Judah. Now the only thing missing is the rise of King Cyrus.

Friday ‘Fess Up

dance card

Sorry I didn’t write anything yesterday.  My dance card suddenly got very full.  Sometimes, my very part-time job kicks in, requiring me to put in actual hours.  Usually it coincides with more church activities and personal commitments. I kept rescheduling and moving things around in order to accomplish it all.  I can relate to all the scratched-in bits on the picture above.

Yesterday was a perfect storm of all three.  The good news?  I got quality time with my nieces and nephews.  We watched a little TV.  I played Scrabble with the 11-year-old and trains with the two-year-old.  They all rode bikes outside, whipping up and down their side road in the 40-degree weather.  We found an enormous spider.  We snacked on apples and cheese and managed to squeeze in a little volleyball.  It’s such a privilege  to see these great kids’ passions and strengths develop.

The two-year-old:  “Susan!  Susan!  There’s…Ruby!  Ruby poopy!  Ruby is stinky!” All of this with an earnest expression and a big grin on his cherubic face. Apparently, upon further inquiry, many of us were stinky – me, his mom and dad and siblings.  Stinkiness doesn’t discriminate.

The other good news is that the walls are up on the apartments and the shelter/office building.  Yay!  Progress.  The framing is done for the first floor.  Wooden studs outline where the rooms will be, all atop a concrete slab.  I know because i was out there again today doing site interviews in the misty dawn.  Met Barry White.  Yep.  He’s had a complete makeover (I didn’t even recognize him!) and is a bang-up carpenter, too.  He wouldn’t sing for me.

We attended Ruby’s parent-teacher conference two days ago.  She’s doing well and is a joy in class, according to her teachers.  Her reading is very good.  Her assignment entitled “A Little Bit About Me” listed writing as her favorite part of school.  Yay!  Areas she needs to work on are “spelling, science and ignoring her big brother”.

I am reminded again and again how short this life is.  I want to get the most out of it.  My dance card is blessedly full.  Thanks for being a part of it.  And that’s all, folks!  Have a great weekend.

Decision by Default

Today I was reading in the book of  Jeremiah. I’m almost done with Jeremiah, aka the “weeping prophet”.  The book is depressing.  God’s frustration with His people comes out over and over.  Jeremiah is not far behind.

Jeremiah 14:  19-21:

 Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
    We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
 Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you.
 For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
    Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
    and do not break your covenant with us.

Over and over Jeremiah prophesies the Babylonian overthrow of Jerusalem.  But lying prophets kept saying “peace and safety” and “never give up, never surrender!”  The people liked those words.  Jeremiah, doomsayer, got blacklisted.  Three officials who had King Zedekiah’s ear went to him and tattled on Jeremiah.  “He’s making the people anxious.  He’s telling the people to surrender to the Babylonians when they come.  Their reward will be life” (Jeremiah 38:  1-3).

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!” 

 King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.” (Jeremiah 38:4-5)

They took it upon themselves to lower Jeremiah into an empty cistern (a tank for water storage), where he was safe but sinking into the thick mud.

Another official named Ebed-melech heard of Jeremiah’s new circumstances.  He rushed to the king.

“My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.” (Jeremiah 38: 9-10)

He  and a team of his friends lowered some old rags and discarded clothes to Jeremiah, directing him to put them under his arms so the rope wouldn’t chafe him.  Then they pulled him out.  He was returned to prison.  But because of Ebed-melech’s intervention, he got a fresh loaf of bread every day until it ran out.

The end. Or is it?

Ever had a boss like King Zedekiah?  I have.  My boss had a policy.  You came to him with problems, but you also came with a couple of solutions.  Sounds great, right?  Except sometimes you have problems you can’t solve.  That’s why there’s a boss.

I remember going to my boss at Aspen with a problem.  I even had a solution,  I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.  All I needed, I figured, was the rubber stamp of his approval.  I got it.  But then…a coworker came into boss man’s office after me, citing the same problem.  He had a different solution.  So, the boss (let’s call him Ed) approved my coworker’s idea.

Wait a minute!  We just talked about this 5 minutes ago!  You said my plan was the right approach.  You can’t pull a switcheroo like that!  Because of this kind of double-mindedness, Ed undercut his own authority again and again .  Unable to commit to a single decision, his waffling made him seem dishonest.  We,  a small cohort, found it hard to trust him.  We never knew if he heard or understood the depth of a problem.  We also knew his word was never final, never complete.

Zedekiah was this type.  When faced with a problem like the extreme downer prophet Jeremiah, he let others decide.  It seemed to me, at first, like passive-aggressive behavior. Keep in mind Zedekiah was appointed as king by Nebuchadnezzar; he was not in the royal lineage. It’s possible he didn’t want to be king, at least not the icky parts dealing with people’s lives and such.  But as I read on, it seems more like resignation.

Why didn’t Zedekiah just have Jeremiah killed and end the negative Nancy fallout?  Well, he called for Jeremiah over and over again.  He wanted to hear, once again, what the Lord had to say.  We see it  later in chapter 38:

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” (Jer. 38:17)

Zedekiah later confesses he’s afraid to surrender.  He’s afraid of the Babylonians and the Judeans who defected to them (38:19).  So, he  does nothing.  Even more than the person of  Jeremiah himself, the fate of the people rests on the king’s shoulders.  He calls on Jeremiah now and then and takes him from confinement, like a dusty, human Magic 8-Ball.  “What’s the word, Jerry?”  But it’s always the same.  Babylon will win.  Surrender and live!  Zedekiah finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  He has no good choice.  He sees no way out.

What happened to Zedekiah?  Glad you asked.  It was as Jeremiah foretold.  The Babylonians came in Zeke’s 9th year as king.  The king and some of his posse tried to escape at nightfall.  The Babylonians captured the group.  They killed Zedekiah’s sons and all the other nobles right in front of him.  Then they gauged out his eyes and imprisoned him (Jeremiah 39).  Jeremiah, on the other hand, got to live.  King Nebuchadnezzar himself set up a “Jeremiah Prosperity Plan” (Jer. 39:12).  Jeremiah and those allied with him were given their lives as their reward.

The moral of the story is:  Not deciding is the same as deciding.  Are you in a place like Zedekiah today? Feeling resigned or hostile towards your circumstances but doing nothing to change them constitutes a settlement of sorts.  You can have all the faith in the world, but eventually you need to *do* something.  You will incur consequences, regardless.  Heeding the voice of God, no matter how hard it may seem, is the only safe path.