Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Holiday Interlude in Concord, NC

"Sandwiched" between Christmas and New Year's
Judy and I were able to meet up with dear friends
Charlie and Liz.  We struck gold with our lunch
choice: The Havana Carolina Cafe' in Concord.

We are all game for authentic ethnic food,
and we certainly found it here.

Judy's Cuban coffee displays a touch
of their TLC.

Here's the Cuban Sampler Platter, which
both Judy and I got.  It is a WINNER!

Liz got a different assortment.  All of us
declared that if it were closer we would
be regular customers.

Strolling on Union Street, I noticed this
historic plaque.  When I saw the date, I 
realized that Jefferson Davis was fleeing
from Richmond in the closing days of the
Civil War when this event occurred.  He was
literally running for his life.

The old downtown area also boasted this
beautiful hillside garden.

I was a little rusty with my self-timer,
but figured it out.

There were many classic old houses on this
street, mostly in good shape or undergoing
renovation.  I dubbed this one the Gingerbread
house, and commented that it would fit nicely
in Charleston, SC.

Before parting, we stopped at a nice little
community park.  We followed the greenway
for a short distance.

I really liked this quote of FDR:
"Peace, like charity, begins at home."
That is certainly applicable to our times.

The quote was posted in 10 languages, and
though I photographed it from a few angles,
I didn't get all 10.  Only Charlie can tell me
which ones I missed.

This cool bridge was our turnaround point.
My knees had already had a good workout.

I love tunnels.  Doesn't everyone?

The well-equipped playground had some
impressive cutting-edge play equipment.

And Liz, being the good sport that she is,
allowed me to snap her trying out this
innovative "log-rolling" activity.  It looks
 like fun, but I played it safe and stayed off.

What a great little follow-up to Christmas
this day was.  We'll look forward to next time.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Close Call for Baby Jesus?

Some events recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke regarding the birth of Jesus might lead us to the conclusion that Baby Jesus had a very close brush with death while just an infant.  You probably think I’m referring to the incident where jealous and conniving King Herod, upon learning from eastern magi that a “king of the Jews” had been born, enlisted these wise men to locate this “king” and report back to him.  Through God’s providence, the wise men returned home by another route.  A wrathful and vengeful Herod was thwarted when an angel directed Joseph to take his family to Egypt.

But even before this, Herod had a missed opportunity to try to destroy the babe.  Luke reports that on the eighth day (after birth), the baby was circumcised and named Jesus, “the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”  Following 40 days of purification, also according to Jewish law, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him and consecrate him to the Lord. (Jerusalem was just five miles from Bethlehem).

Right around the corner from the temple, a mere one-tenth of a mile stroll, was the palace of King Herod.  But the king was oblivious to the momentous event happening right under his nose.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Satan was also caught napping.  Because God, in his providence, had already assured the well-being of His beloved Son.

Now the identity of Jesus had not been hidden from all.  Angels had proclaimed His birth to shepherds.  And at the temple itself, a righteous man named Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said, in part, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Immediately after this, Anna, an elderly prophetess, came up and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

I’m reminded by all of this that there are no accidents with God.  The Holy Spirit revealed truth to those who were ready to receive it.  But all was hidden from Herod, who God knew would later seek to destroy Jesus.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:20-25), “. . . For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

So what appeared to be a close call for Baby Jesus was nothing of the sort.  Even though Jesus was within the grasp of Herod, the king was blinded to the news that brought joy to many.  And Jesus would not be given up to evil men until He did so freely, yielding His life on the cross for our redemption.  
Luke tells us in Luke 2:51 “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  This reminds me once more of God’s providence.  The apostle John tells in his gospel how Jesus declared a mother-son bond between Mary and John.  I can imagine countless hours Mary would have spent recounting the early days of our Lord.  Tales that would be recorded and passed on to all of God’s people.  And as a modern maxim truly states:

 “Wise men still seek Him.”

Note: You may enjoy reading the full text of Simeon and Anna’s encounters with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  The full text is in Luke 2:21-40.  You may notice something you had missed, as I did.

Monday, December 8, 2014

More Christmas Fun of an "Eclectic" Sort

Our game of delivering "gifts" to the North
Pole was just the beginning of our Christmas fun.

Hunter and Brianna took a box of special 
ornaments and decorated a crape myrtle
tree in the front yard.

The next day Claire and Evan similarly
adorned a little redbud tree at our back gate.
As Judy observed, when people notice that
all your ornaments are within 48 inches of
the ground, they know you have grandchildren!

Moving on, Hunter had a great desire to be
 in a book.  And here is a Christmas book
that he literally got inside. It's actually an
advent calendar with pop-out windows 
throughout its folded pages.

Next, carrying on an old family tradition
(Former students, do you remember this?)
we decorated "gum drop trees." These multi-
stickered bushes are actually called hogapples,
and are native to the Sandhills.  But they're
not as common as they once were.

Later, while Bri and Grandma stayed in and
did some Christmas art, Hunter and I went
exploring.  The stream was still up from a 
recent rain, and we saw deer tracks and other
interesting sights.  We even found a large
gum drop tree for another year! YES!

It doesn't show up very well, but in Hunter's
hand is a mountain-crafted gingerbread man.
By alternately pulling his two cords, Hunter
raised him to the top of the door.  That's what
we call a physics lesson.

The next day, Evan also wanted to be
in a book.  He had a slightly different
interpretation of that concept. To each his own.

And now for the second gum drop tree.
All four children have learned by experience
how to carefully place the gum drops without
getting pricked in the process.  In the interest
of conservation, I harvested both gum drop trees
from the same bush, and the bush is still living.
Trying to do my part to preserve the species.
We'll see if the "pruning" helps.

As with anything she undertakes, Claire
applies the artist's eye and a delicate touch.
If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well, right?

And here's yet another way to enjoy that book.
As well as cookies and fruit.

My friend Andrew at church gifted me with
this musical tie.  Don't be surprised when you
see me with it.  I can already play Do-Re-Mi!

For some reason, I can't get my
camera to focus on our Christmas
tree, but this fuzzy picture will 
give you a general idea of it.
Our typical cedar, cut right beside
our driveway, it was already the
perfect height and was a few inches
shy of our nine-foot ceiling.

This P-47 Thunderbolt ornament, a tribute
to my Dad, is one of my favorites, and
well-loved by the grandkids, too.

Grandma and Hunter have Ninja Santa
battling the dinosaurs.  Or something like
that.  Don't miss the video later.

Meanwhile, in the other room, Bri was
creating digital ornaments on the computer.

Hunter had a great time with Grandma's
nesting Santas. 

Bri and Hunter recently went to see "The
Nutcracker," and the Nutcracker was very
much on Hunter's mind today.
He can really make that thing dance!

This is another Christmas game I devised,
but Hunter is the only one who has played it.
We each choose two characters from Santa,
Frosty, and a pair of elves.

You roll the die and move your 
character up the ladder the appropriate
number of rungs.  When one makes it to
 the top he gets to go "down the chimney."
Grandpa is usually the slowpoke in this game.

Bri now gets into the Santa and dinosaur
mode, but she even adds Mary, Joseph, and
Baby Jesus into the scenario.  Please don't 
give Hollywood any ideas!

And of course, the sequel is "The Nutcracker
to the Rescue."

We have some over-sized Tinker Toys
called Fiddle Stix and this was the first
time any of the kids showed much interest
in constructing something.  A year ago
the pieces proved too frustrating to connect.

How do you like Brianna's three crosses?
I love them.

I also like Hunter's colorful "wheel and axle."
I'm not sure where a passenger would sit,
but Hunter sent it rolling back and forth across
the living room's pine floor many times.

Hunter uses Roly Poly Santa to spin and
knock dinosaurs off their pedestals.

And Hunter has learned a magic trick.
He can put these six spheres together, but
not attached, and turn them into six
connected spheres.  The video is #1 below.

Video # 1:

Video # 2: Following directions on the 
Sit 'n' Spins.  Silly directions, like fall off
and cry like a baby.

Video # 3: The Trailer from Hunter's
"Santa Visits Jurassic Park." Or something
like that.

Wow.  Three weeks till Christmas.
Lets hurry up and play some more!

A New Christmas Game: Elves Delivering Gifts to the North Pole

When I taught school I delighted in creating 
Christmas-themed games to break the monotony
of academia.  Now that I'm retired, I still seek out
ways to add spice to holiday babysitting days.
VOILA!   A new game, tentatively called
"Elves Delivering Gifts to the North Pole."
A shorter name is inevitable, but I haven't
started working on it yet.

Here's how the game is played.  I load two 
sleds with Christmas balls (found in a dumpster
last year).  Any unbreakable ornament or small
toy could be substituted, but these are ideal.
Then the children (2 in this case) take turns
following a path of orange cones all over the
property until they come to the "North Pole."

At the "North Pole" destination the children
stand behind a marker and attempt to toss
all of their "gifts" into Santa's toy box.
We didn't make this competitive, but you
certainly could by seeing which child "delivers"
all his or her toys first.

The following two videos trace the path of
our route to the North Pole.  We'll play the
game again each week until Christmas, but
I'll design a new route with a different 
destination each time.

Doesn't look much like the North Pole, does it?
We just need a child-like imagination.

On a chilly afternoon Bri and Hunter embark
on their important journey.  They followed
directions perfectly and had a blast.

Let's see how their aim is.
Good thing these gifts are unbreakable, as I said.

Bri wondered if this was the North Pole.
Nope, false alarm.  This is one of our
property cornerstones!  But there is  a pole!
Good thinking, Bri.

The next day, Evan and Claire took on the
role of elves and tackled the same task.
Can you tell it was 10 degrees warmer?  

The children enjoyed imagining that we were
in the land of ice and snow, and it was exciting
when we unexpectedly came upon the next cone.

I think you'll be quite impressed with the
marksmanship of Elf Claire and Elf Evan.
They might do better than Fed Ex, UPS or USPS.

Evan wondered if the canoe might give us
an easier way home.

But alas, we had to retrace our steps
and collect the cones.  Grandpa will
spend some time creating a new path
and polar adventure for this week.
You'll know where to direct the search
party if we're not back for dinner!