Monday, December 31, 2007

The Yule Fire

We've had a fireplace in both of the houses we've lived in. My kids grew up helping to build the fires and loved to keep them going. Debra started a fire the Saturday before Christmas. We've carefully kept it going since then - no daily matches for us! We make sure we either leave a fresh log on when we go to bed or we pile ashes over the coals. Then in the morning we expose the remaining coals adding a new log and perhaps some kindling. Before long there is smoke rising and flames follow. We also have bellows which get put to work speeding up the process.

Debra asked me today why we seem to put so much importance in keeping the fire going. I think the answer is probably complex. Deep down in our psyches is the need for warmth and light. For ancient man it was important to keep a fire going without matches and firestarter matches. Flint and rubbing sticks together is a lot of work to get that initial fire going. Some of it is probably sheer laziness - as it is easier to insure that you still have coals, put them together, pop a new log on in the morning, and wait for fire to light itself. But some if it is also a skill challenge - what do you do to keep that hot fire from burning all the way out by morning? How do you stack it so no logs roll out? (I don't like fire screens - they keep the heat from warming the room.)

And, of course, another benefit - we've enjoyed the beautiful flames and warmth. We've had large roaring fires, and small gentle ones.

Some evenings we've added candles to the mix.

Candlelight and fireglow - definitely some of the wonderful joys of winter.

Family Time

When the kids were in junior high and high school we made a winter ski trip every year. This took us out of the hurry burry school activity world and gave us time together. As the kids grew up, went to college, got married, etc, we have not gone up there as a family - nor have we had much extended time together.

While we did not go anywhere this year, we have been very blessed with extended time as a family. It has reminded me very much of the times we were in Colorado during the winter. Jonathan and Debra have been staying in the RV and Thomas is home so we have had some wonderful quality and quantity time together as a family. We've watched almost all the episodes of Dark Angel, Chuck, Lost, and Jericho. I so enjoy hearing the kids laugh together. We've cooked, cleaned the kitchen, played board games, slept late, kept the fire going, and played with the dogs.

I can't think of a better or happier way to spend the holidays!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Musings #4 - The Real Joys

We've idealized Christmas on so many levels in the USA. We have songs like "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas," "I'll be home for Christmas," and "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." There is an expectation that everything will be merry and bright and joyful.

But December is an extremely hectic month as we try to make those idealized Christmas thoughts a reality. We become so rushed and harried that peace and joy are hard to find.

Living in Central Texas, "winter" can be 80 degrees - no snow in sight. When the kids were older, we went to the mountains for Christmas so we could have that "White Christmas." And yes, that was special. But the last few years, we've stayed in Central Texas. This year, the weather was at least cold enough to enjoy a fire in the fireplace.

For many people, Christmas does not always live up to the expectations - not everyone is lucky enough to have a congenial family to go home to. For others, loved ones are now in heaven, leaving empty places at the table. Joy can be mixed with grief.

Many families go into a lot of debt to provide wonderful gifts for everyone - creating hardships for the next year. And television commercials also feed into this "idealized" Christmas - with subliminal hints that the perfect diamond gift will make our beloved love us more.

To me, the important parts of Christmas are the remembrance of that tiny babe born in Bethlehem and time spent with my family and closest friends. While gifts are nice, it is more important to have time to enjoy our earthly relationships and to have time to contemplate the greatest gift of all - baby Jesus.

I'm not always successful in planning my Decembers keeping these priorities in perspective. But as I ponder the joys of this Christmas - extended time with my immediate family - I write these posts to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) how important it is not to get so wrapped up in the "tinsel" of an idealized Christmas that we miss the true joys of a real Christmas.

Christmas Musings # 3 - Christmas baking

When my kids were small, I wanted them to have as part of their Christmas memories the smell of baking in the air. These last few years, some of that has gone by the wayside as busy schedules and travel made it impractical. And Austin has a couple of good bakeries - Lone Star Bakery in Round Rock and Great Harvest Breads in Austin.

But this year, I wanted to do some of my "traditional" baking. I found my beat up December 1981 McCalls where some of my most cherished recipes originated.

I used the bread maker to make the dough for the Santa Lucia Ring . . . not entirely successful, it did not rise as much as it should - still looked pretty and festive, but the original recipe makes two rings . . .

Santa Lucia RIng

1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or margarine softened
3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115F)
2 pkg active dry yeast
6 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed cardamom
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups light or dark raisins
1/4 cup ground blanched almonds

1. In small saucepan, heat milk until bubbles form around edge of pan: remove from heat. (I use reconstituted dry milk to avoid that step.)
2. Add sugar, salt, and butter, stirring until butter is melted. Cool to luke warm.
3. If possible check temperature of warm water with thermometer. Sprinkle yeast over water in large bowl: stir to dissolve. Add milk mixture.
4. Add 3 1/2 cups flour and the cardamom, beat with wooden spoon until smooth - about 2 minutes.
5. Beat in eggs: add raisins and almonds. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing in last of it with hands until dough leaves side of bowl (dough is soft).
6. Turn out dough onto lightly floured pastry cloth. Cover with bowl: let rest 10 minutes.
7. Turn dough, to coat with flour; knead until smooth - about 5 minutes.
8. Place in lightly greased large bowl; turn to bring up greased side. Cover with towel: let rise in warm place (85F), free from drafts until double in bulk - 1 to 1/1.2 hours. Punch down. Turn out onto lightly floured pastry cloth.
9. Divide and shape: On lightly floured pastry cloth, divide half of dough into three parts. With hands shape each into 20 -inch roll.
10. Place on lightly greased large cookie sheet. Braid loosely. Shape into a circle; pinch ends together to seal.
11. To make holes for candles, insert sevenl balls of foil, 1 inch in diameter, between strands of braid, spacing evenly. Repeat with rest of dough.
12. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (85F) free from drafts, until double in bulk, about 60 minutes.
13. Preheat oven to 350F.
14. Brush braid with egg white (See Note) mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons ground almonds.
15. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden-brown. Cool on wire rack. Before serving remove foil balls, and insert 7 inch red or white candles in holes, first wrapping bottom of candles in foil.

Note: Instead of brushing with egg-white mixture, bake rings, cool slightly and frost with this icing: Mix 2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar with 2 tablespoons milk.. Decorate with candied cherries cut in half.

(I frost and use the cherries on top.)

Merry Cherry Cheesecake Bars

Crumb Mixture
1/3 cup Sweet Cream Butter
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour

8 ounce pkg cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup EACH chopped glazed red and green cherries (I've also used dried candied fruitcake fruit.)

In 1 1/2 quart mixer bowl combine all crumb mixture ingredients. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1min.) Reserve 1/2 cup. Press remaining into ungreased 8" square baking dish. Bake at 350 Degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. In same bowl beat all filling ingredients except cherries at med. speed until smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Stir in cherries. Spread filling over crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Continue baking 18 to 20 minutes or until filling is set. Cut into bars: cover and refrigerate. Yield: 3 doz.
Note: I like to double this recipe - easy to do and I use a rectangular baking dish.


This year I cheated and used a box mix for a Cranberry bread. I still have a pumpkin bread mix to use.

My daughter made the pumpkin and pecan pies.

And, yes, the diets start January 1st or whenever the "goodies" run out.

Christmas Musings #2 - December activities

December is always a busy month. It is easy to get run ragged. I've learned to alternate what I do each year. I try to make it to Pioneer Farm's Candlelight Christmas. But I seem to make it there only every other year. I forgot to check their calendar this year - it was on the first weekend, they had other things planned the other weekends. So I missed it this year. There is a big joint Christmas music evening - where groups of acapella singers from the area Churches of Christ perform. Most years I have not tried to go to that - one more thing to do in a busy month. . . But I've gone the last couple of years and have really enjoyed it. This year I had at least practiced Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. I could sing "most" of it . . .

In Austin, there is the Zilker tree, the Festival of the Lights, 37th street, Burnet's Main Street Bethlehem, Marble Fall's Christmas Walkway of Lights, the Nutcracker Ballet . . . etc. And farther away, Galveston's Dickens on the Strand.

Many things to do and enjoy at Christmas time . . . but you can't reasonably do all of them each year . . .

My advice for next year's planning . . . pick a few things, choose at least one new thing, and then don't fret about what you did not get to do this year.

Christmas Musings #1

For several reasons, my December was very busy. I got distracted from Christmas by some other things. So . . . Santa was a last minute shopper this year. Yes, I had bought some things early as I saw them, but I was out on December 23rd and 24th doing last minute shopping. Sometimes it is easy to procrastinate Christmas shopping, because you imagine that you will have time to shop to find just that "right" perfect gift. But for many of us the reality is that we're going to go in, know roughly what we want to get, and can really finish our Christmas shopping in somewhere between a few hours and a day. I've learned this lesson before . . . one could do this day of shopping in November just as easily . . . and be finished before the holiday rush. And there have been a few years that I have done just that.

For me in an ideal world, I would find gifts as we travel through the year. I would do my "last minute" shopping in November, leaving one less set of things to do in the busy month of December.

Will I do this any better next year???? Hard to tell . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Letters

In my morning reading:The Plot Lines of our Lives.

Being a self confessed hoarder (I'm working on it . . .) I save Christmas cards. Occasionally I do go back and read them and these Christmas letters provide a lovely history of the joys and struggles we've all faced as we walk through life.

While I can understand why some people may not like these letters - I have found over time that I do, because it allows me to keep up with what is going on with people I care about who live far away.

(P.S. The talk of mimeographed letters in the article - I now do mine using photoshop and a faded version of my Christmas card-hoping this adds a touch of elegance and specialness to my Christmas letters.)

Keeping Connected - The Christmas Card Tradition

From the time I left home, I've sent out Christmas cards. Out of the last 37 years there have only been a couple where I did not send out my cards. I keep a big list. You see . . . if you get on my Christmas card list, you almost never get taken off. I lose people when they move and don't leave a forwarding address. And, yes, sometimes people drift off my list as I like to send cards to people I'm doing things with, and so as my activities change, there are changes to "the list."

But Christmas cards are important to me. I grew up in Amarillo, but moved to the Austin area after my first year of college. I had good friends in high school - both through the school and through my church. I wanted to keep up with them. I met new friends those first years in college. I've kept up with several of them as well.

I've automated my system over the years. Instead of hand addressing them, I now use computer generated labels. And I finally started added a Christmas letter . . . but that only goes into the cards that I think the people would enjoy hearing our news. People I see all the time know what is going on. But I still take time to write notes into a very few of the cards for people I really don't get to see that have been special in my life.

As the years have gone by, we've lost people on the list as the generation ahead of us died. And we've had some casualties in our own age group as well. I used to use a Christmas Card Address book - I ended up marking it as these older relatives died. So as I addressed my cards . . . I would have an opportunity to bring them back to mind. With the computer generated list, I try to update it each year. But this year, I have several cards that I'll need to hand address - we lost friends and family again this year. Plus, I've got a few names to add that did not get added before I printed out the labels.

But my Christmas cards help me remember those special people. And I look forward to hearing from them, getting their Christmas letters that keep me aware of what has happened with them this year.

The last few years, I've been doing my own cards from photographs I've taken.

So for my readers who have not yet made it on my Christmas card list: I wish you an old fashioned Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace!

Monday, December 17, 2007

My "Church" project

During January of 2006 we were lucky enough to get to spend time in Breckenridge, Colorado. I take a lot of photos that don't get "worked" until much later. Some photos end up higher on my priority list. I took a series of church photos on a snowy day with the express intention of working them up later.

I finally got the "round tuit" for a project for this Christmas.

For my photographer friends, I'm going to give you the "before" and "after."

Cloudy days can be a photographer's best friend or his worst enemy. The clouds help even out the lighting and can help you get more vivid, true color. But cloudy skies really "deaden" an image and sometimes create dull, lifeless colors. Certain cloudy conditions can give you "naturally" black and white photos, especially when you are photographing water features. Lakes and oceans pick up their color from the sky. A blue sky day will give you beautiful blue water, a gray day will give you dark colorless water.

Here is my original image with a minimal conversion from RAW. Notice the dead sky and lack of color.

As I went searching for a sky to use, I wanted to use skies from other shots in the area. The sky I found for this one was taken early in the morning. I am facing in the opposite direction. People familiar with Breckenridge will realize that the church actually faces the sky slope. The finishing touch on this one was to clone snow onto the branches of the tree to the left so that it matches the snow covered trees in the background.

Once again you can see how the gray sky affects this image:


When I went searching for the blue sky for this one, I found that I needed to work on the sky to make it fit with this image. I used a levels adjustment to lighten the blues. Then I added more blue above the clouds and created a second cloud bank. If you look closely you can see that I added some little puffs on the right of the cloud bank as well.

The finished product:

This historic church is just down the street from the other two churches. It sits next to a beautiful building. I believe the church uses both the old and the new.

When I found my sky, it came with this convenient pine tree that shows up on the left.

The finishing touches on this photo were to remove the dark pine tree on the right and to keep the aspen branches to the upper right of the church. I create this combinations using layers and layer masks. I brushed back in the aspen branches making sure that the snow covered trees were visible between them. Without that touch, a careful observer might notice that I had done this cut and paste because the aspen tree would be "cut off" at the roof line. By making sure those branches (or at least some of them) extend higher than the roof, everything "fits in."

While none of these churches are completely as your eye would see them on a sunny day, an artist with a paint brush regularly looks at objects and creates an idealized environment for them. The end use for these photos is likely to be Christmas cards. But when I submit these images, I will be honest as to the modifications I have made. For journalistic or "news" type uses, these would be ineligible. But for that perfect "picture postcard" look that you want for a greeting card, I think these will work.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Photoshop CS3 Creativity Tour

I got an email back in November telling me about the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) Photoshop CS3 Creativity Tour One Day Seminar that was going to be in Dallas in September. I'd looked at a NAPP event a year or so ago, but it was going to be Las Vegas and our calendar was pretty booked up. But, Dallas is only a three hour (or so) drive away. In looking at the schedule, this had subjects that I was interested in learning more about - channels, paths, etc.

So I joined NAPP and I signed up. The event was on Wednesday from 10:00-5:00. Bert Monroy was our teacher. The picture of the train station on his home page tells you a lot about the talent and experience this man has. While that shot looks like a beautiful photograph, it is actually a handcrafted piece of art - sharp all the way down to the train in the distance. It was created with something like 15,000 layers. For more information and a closer look at this: Damen. It is worth a closer look - truly the work of a master.

Several times during the day, my jaw dropped and involuntarily I would say, "Wow!" And then I'd think my neighbors must think I'm a little nuts . . .

I want to learn to use my Wacom tablet. I've got one that I never quite figured out. I watched a Wacom sales person show someone how to learn to use it. I did take some time today to try some things out. You start out with a blank photoshop document and just start scribbling: XOXOXOXO, I tried writing Merry Christmas with some cool brushes he showed us. I even played with the pen tool. I'm glad we got a booklet with more detailed instructions. The pen tool is a powerful selection tool, but I'm missing one small piece of data on how to make it go around curves . . . I'll look it up in the morning.

I like the idea of using "smart filters" when I'm trying to play around with digital art. You can play with several filters at once and have both a record of what you have done, but like layers you can remove something without losing all of it.

I've made my first animation piece this evening.

And (when I should have been working on Christmas things) I created two Valentine cards.

But I wanted to play with some things I saw yesterday while they were still fresh in my mind.

I can say the time I spent in Dallas yesterday was well worth it. I can recommend NAPP membership and their workshops as places where you will learn a lot.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

African Elephants

Each day I scan for news on "My Yahoo." I have it set to get news from Reuters, AP, entertainment news from various sources, Denver's "Rocky Mountain News," the Los Angeles Times, USA today, and "most emailed "stories. If I'm really motivated (rarely) I have links to the New York Times, the Austin American Statesman, and other major US Newspapers. I won't say that this assortment keeps me "well" informed, but I do have a clue what is going on in the world.

Today's Los Angeles paper had an interesting article about the elephants in South Africa.

Now we really enjoyed seeing the elephants in Zambia and Botswana. They are amazing creatures, very family oriented.

I have photos of a group of them surrounding their young one for protection.

Babies stay with the family for several years and they are a long lived species. Needless to say, elephants are large animals with large appetites. They also don't have a good digestive system, so they don't get full advantage of what they do eat. In the southern parts of Africa, there are still plenty of elephants. Unfortunately, it is a "good news, bad news" situation. It was wonderful to see the large numbers of elephants everywhere at Chobe and South Luangwa. It is incredible to see a large herd of elephants cross the river or run to the water to get their morning drink.

But . . . at places like Chobe and apparently Kruger in South Africa, there are more elephants than the environment will be able to support. You see, elephants are hard on their environment - they eat trees and tear them up in the process, they pull up grass by the roots, and they are always hungry. During the rainy season, there may be enough food, but in the dry season, they'll eat tree branches -thorns and all. And, they kill many trees in the process by tearing off too many big branches and knocking the tops of the trees off.

Even if elephants don't digest their food well, all is not lost. There are a number of animals that find their diet in the remains of the elephant dung . . . baboons and guinea fowl can be found foraging in the piles of elephant dung for the seeds that the elephants were not able to digest. So, if you control the populations of the elephants, it might have an impact on some of these other species. However, other grazing animals might benefit from better forage . . .

I'm not a wildlife biologist, but I've seen or heard from several sources that places like Chobe have more numbers of elephants currently than is advantageous for the overall ecosystem. The TImes article does a good job talking about the tough choices that will need to be made. If you have to thin the herds (yes . . . that could be one of the right things to do) then you have to thin out entire families, because they have such a strong family structure. They are trying some birth control methods. And while it is an option, it might be possible to transport elephant families to areas of Africa where elephants were once common, but have now disappeared. But that is expensive, and most African governments don't have the money to transport elephants when their people are starving, wells need to be drilled, better medical treatment and medicines are needed, and the roads are filled with pot holes.

We were in Yellowstone during the time frame when there were too many bison. Bison also are hard on their environment. And when the number of bison reaches a critical level, they start leaving the park to forage. The local ranchers get most upset, because bison carry brucellosis which in theory could be passed on to cattle which then causes major problems for the cattle industry. Once again, the alternatives are not happy. Ranchers are allowed to shoot bison that leave the park. Last summer a large herd was "hazed" back into the park. No one was happy, because the cows had calves and were rushed with helicopters and cowboys - pushed faster than their normal speed possibly causing distress.

Whether we want it or not, humans have a responsibility to manage game herds so that their long term viability is maximized. If we let animals overpopulate, they will die of illness and lack of food. And, of course, human activity has reduced the natural range for many of the large herd animals . . .

Lots of issues . . . no great solutions . . .

I'm glad to finish this piece with the encouragement that at least here in the US, young people are going to college and getting "trained" in managing the land for wildlife. Let's just hope the politics keeps the importance of healthy wildlife populations as something we as a nation and a world value.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Music

I drove to Dallas last night because I'm attending a Photoshop Workshop put on by NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals.) I turned on the radio to find Christmas music. One of the things that occurred to me as I was listening was how pretty most Christmas music is. And while there are old familiar songs, there are new ones as well. Some songs take awhile to get used to. I remember the first time I heard "Rocking around the Christmas Tree." I don't remember liking it . . . but you get used to it and it grows on you. Every genre - classical, country, rock, big band, accappella, and, of course, Christian has music for this time of year. I need to get copies of the Andean flutes that I hear in San Antonio. (After I posted this blog, I went online and ordered the two Christmas albums-you can hear a sample on the website and their blog. )

Saturday night I was part of a group that sang in a "Celebration of the Season." Singing groups from churches of Christ all over the Austin area got together for a night of music. Our group sang a new song written my M.L. Daniels, "Christ was born." I'll try to get permission to post the link - it is a beautiful new song. And one of the groups sang a Christmas song by our Russian composer in St. Petersburg. It ended as we sang the Hallelujah Chorus. (For some of us it was attempted to sing - I know parts of it, but parts of it I can't quite sing properly . . . yet - I need to learn it. I WILL learn it!)

But I love the bells, the orchestrals, and the acappella music. It a part of this special time of year!

This coming Sunday, the 16th, our congregation will have its annual celebration. The kids have been working hard on their pageant, volunteers have worked on sets and costumes, our chorus is ready, and there will be Christmas treats and a Yule log afterward. I have many special memories singing Christmas carols around that fire. Being in Central Texas, sometimes it is cold that night and sometimes not . . . but it is still fun.

If you live in the Austin area, the fun starts Sunday, 6:00 Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ on North Lamar. You won't be sorry you came!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wind energy

I confess I was glad to see this article: All UK homes could be wind powered by 2020 yesterday as I was reading the news on My Yahoo.

Growing up in Amarillo, I remember when the first wind powered generator was put up in Bushland. It was a large 2 bladed turbine. Many times you drove by and the blades were either still or were gently turning as the wind blew. Eventually, more designs appeared nearby. And the Amarillo area has so much wind year round that it is not surprising that wind farms are being built in the area.

My grandfather bought farm and ranchland in the 1950's and 1960's. One of them is in an area where wind farms are going in. My first thoughts have been that I am eager to see these on my land. After all, wind does not produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases - it is a "clean" source of energy.

But I've been surprised to learn that wind energy is not being welcomed everywhere. I've tried to do some research. But . . . it is hard to fully believe information coming from a wind energy company's website. They do have a vested interested in promoting wind energy.

The main concern seems to be the deaths of birds and bats. And at one particular wind energy area, this has been a major problem. The problems at Altamont Pass have been widely reported. The combination of early wind turbine designs and its location on a pass which is also a major migratory route for predators have made it and wind energy controversial for those who love birds.

This article: Putting Wind's Impact on Birds into Perspective gives a bigger picture of the impact of wind farms on birds.

But I still don't have enough information. Are the newer designed wind turbines safer for birds? What elevation do migrating birds chose to fly? (I know migrating geese fly very high in the sky - I've seen them) For my own personal land - which birds will be affected? Most of the birds are ground birds - larks, sparrows, curlews, quail, etc. I don't think the Texas Panhandle has large populations of bats like we do here in Central Texas.

There are so many issues here: impact on wildlife, future energy needs, global warming, and even world peace. I'm naive - I don't want to believe that the only reason we have soldiers in Iraq is because of the oil found there. But . . . for many reasons, I believe it is important for our country to be able to provide for its own energy needs without relying on imported oil.

I also hear that we have foreign companies wanting to come in and build wind generators and run wind farms. Not to be negative to foreign investment, but with all the jobs that are migrating overseas, surely we have enough American companies working on wind energy.

Does wind energy need more regulation? Probably - we need things like site corridors, bird migration corridors.

But it is so easy to be negative against something. And if we don't change our energy consumption and production, we won't have enough energy in the future.

Complicated issue - no doubt, but I hope that all the groups interested in this issue can learn to work together for what is best for everyone - clean energy, environmentally safe, minimal impact on wildlife and the esthetic issues.

A Unique Vehicle

Yesterday when I was leaving my Care Group meeting after church, there was a birthday party being held. I'd never seen a bicycle built for 7 . . . what a unique concept!

Not Your Usual Bikes!

Glad to say there is only one person doing the steering . . . but it sure looks like fun!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Charlie Duke and Apollo 16

This year we were privileged to attend Brentwood Oaks Christian School's Partnership Dinner. The guest speaker was Charles Duke, one of the astronauts that went to the moon. What a joy it was to hear him tell about his experiences! I was very impressed with how he described viewing the moon and the earth from space. He used two passages - I think I found one of them Isaiah 40:22 "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers." He talked about how the earth looked like a big circle suspended in the heavens. The other one may have been Psalms 102:19 " 19 "The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth." Both of these passages give a beautiful word picture of how God may see the earth. Certainly it was an incredible experience to see earth from the moon.

Another thing that resonated in my mind - both in space and during the moon walk, there was no night. Reminds me of the
Revelations 22:5 "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light."

Henry and I were young when the space program began. We remember those first attempts to go into space. We remember the teachers with their radios listening live as the first astronauts flew in space. They brought TV's into our rooms (back when TV's were not part of the normal school day.) so we could see these historic flights. Henry and I were dating when the first Apollo mission went to the moon. We both remember sitting in his parents' garage room watching those first footsteps on the moon. This was exciting news. All the networks suspended programming so that everyone could see this marvel.

And while the space race began as part of the Cold War, it fed our imaginations - travel in space, living in space, traveling to far off galaxies - these felt real and possible.

But times change and priorities change. Our last human visit to the moon was in the 1970's. I would never have dreamed that we would not have gone back. Apparently there are plans to go back to the moon in the 2020's. But that seems a long way away.

Today, the US space program is relying on aging space shuttles and small rocket launches to put what needs to be up in orbit around the earth. I thought we would have a new design with more working shuttles by now.

Yes, we humans have plenty of problems and things that require money expenditures here on earth. But the money spent on the space program brought side benefits from the research.

I hope that something will happen to ignite that imagination and zeal for real space travel again. I would much rather spend money on new space technology for travel to the moon and planets than on new weapons and military spending to fight terrorism. (Yes, we do have to fight terrorism - I just wish that people could learn to live peacefully here on earth. Since that can't happen - yes, let's go to space to give everyone more room to live peacefully.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

High Island

Last spring as part of my birthday celebration (three friends of mine have birthdays close together and celebrate together every year), I visited High Island. I knew I was not there during the peak of the migration, but I still enjoyed wandering the trails and seeing the birds at the ponds there.

Hurricane Humberto slammed into High Island on September 12th. I had heard that it had done a lot of damage to the trees. I had a chance to visit High Island this week. I was worried about what I would see. Yes, there is a lot of damage. Most of the big trees at Boy Scout Woods were uprooted. But I was very impressed at how much clean up has been done. Most of the trails have been cleared, there is still plenty of thicket and small trees and shrubs to provide cover for the birds. Fallen trees had been chain sawed to clear the paths. There was a tremendous amount of work accomplished by dedicated volunteers.

I was going to put a post into TexBirds asking if the loss of the big trees would be a problem for the migrating birds, but I think I found my answer at the Houston Audubon Society High Island page. There are also links to photos of the damage before and after the clean up.

I am so grateful that this is still a beautiful place and that there are people dedicated to keeping it so.