The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, December 25, 2015

Spreading Holiday Cheer Can Be Easy!

Last night we had to make one quick Christmas Eve trip to the grocery store. My wife got a grocery cart only because one of the store staff helped her pry apart the last two carts (haven't experienced the grocery that chock full o' shoppers before). At the end of our trip, holiday confections in hand, I took the cart back to the rack, which was a good three or so rows away from where we had to park. I just can't leave a cart stranded out there among the parking spaces for somebody else to recover. As I approached the totally empty shopping cart corral, I very tall, older employee took the shopping cart from me with actual gratitude. He said, "Thank you. We really need these. I know it's not your job, but do you know if there are ANY available in the store right now?" I think there were none actually and admitted that. The shopping cart I had returned started back toward the store, but the employee gave it away to an approaching shopper before ever making it back inside. Returning a shopping cart brought about a little good cheer. Who would have thought.

Wishing you all peace, love, joy, and hope for the holidays. Hoping you'll find simple ways to spread all that around this season.

Merry Christmas: Do Not Be Afraid: The Five Minute Response

As the ghosts said to Scrooge, my time is short. My message must be brief. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas. Wishing all who celebrate another deeply meaningful faith tradition the blessings of the day for you. 

The message I have to share this Christmas morning before the family arises is simple. It came in Luke chapter 2, verses 8 through 11, from an angel to shepherds (social outcasts of Israel's world of 2000+ years ago). It reads: 

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

Messengers from God often began with that brief warning: Do not be afraid. It might be comical, given how often they felt they had to start that way, if it were not so important. You see the results of people being afraid all over this struggling world of ours. When we are afraid, we demonize people who are different from ourselves. We speak of them as if they were brute beasts. When we, in fear, come to think of them as less-than-human, we free ourselves to do terrible things to them as we are now free to believe the worst of them. Genocide and terror are the evil spawn of that fearful mindset. I was grieved to see an interview with followers of a candidate I will not name. These people were so fear soaked, they would believe any outrageous thing about others. Violence will ensue, and already has, even at this candidate's rallies. 

This Christmas, follow the admonition of the angel and the angelic host (by the way that can be interpreted as God's army ... an army calling for peace on earth and delivering the best of news, transformative to all humanity in its open invitation to all of humanity. Let's all work for peace, work for justice, and strive hard for an end to fear, which is truly the root of so much evil in our world. 

Have a wonderful, blessed, beautiful, fear free holiday and a productive year pushing back against fear in all its forms. This Christian is calling all humans of all faith traditions to this cause. When Christmas rolls around again in 2016, let's see how much closer we can be to loving each other without fear and the hatred it breeds.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Technology Changing Our Surroundings

Our son came home for Christmas. What a joy for us! He flew in from out West and I went to the airport to pick him up. So, what? Big deal, you say (or would if you were that sort, which you kind readers are not).

The big deal was the surroundings. It's been a while since I've been to our airport. They no longer let you into the airport proper if you do not have a ticket. There was a large area called the "meeting point" just off the baggage claim (and one flight above it). In this space to the right was an information kiosk with one person to answer questions. Above the multiple, automatic doors leading into the airport proper were admonitions against entry in red stating that unauthorized folks trying to enter that way would be charged with a federal crime. On the walls to either side of the portals of release were screens displaying arrival and departure times and status updates in flat screens.

Otherwise there were a few black chairs and lots and lots of empty white wall space. There were no news stands, no products of any kind to look at, no food to purchase. The surroundings were almost as sterile as the rooms Dave Boseman lived out the closing years of his life at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why was this so? It quickly became obvious (after I thought this is what purgatory must look like). Every person in that room except the information lady pulled out a smart phone and scrolled through their favorite sites or played their favorite games. Myself included after that short observation, made with surprise. I downloaded a game and got busy. Checked Facebook. Then I quickly realized that there was no point in coloring up that waiting area. All the color and content we desired was right there on those little pocket computers. Talk about changing the way we live.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

ORBCOMM-2 Full Launch Webcast



For all the details of the SpaceX Falcon 9 historic return from orbit to ground ... and the return to flight of SpaceX, getting a bunch of satellites to orbit, take time to watch this.

Falcon 9 First Stage Landing | From Helicopter



The future is now. A fifteen story tall rocket has been successfully returned to earth under control and in one piece from orbit. This opens a brand new era in cheaper, reusable rockets. If SpaceX continues on the path they intend, there will come a day when every stage of the rocket will return to earth for refurbishing and reuse. As yesterday, December 21, 2015, was the day both this happened and my wife and I saw Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, this was a great day all around.

If you're curious about what Blue Origins managed compared to this flight by SpaceX, see: http://www.theverge.com/2015/11/24/9793220/blue-origin-vs-spacex-rocket-landing-jeff-bezos-elon-musk
For the full story (in video) of the historic flight, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/12/orbcomm-2-full-launch-webcast.html

Monday, December 7, 2015

10 Steps to Stress Reduction

'Tis the season for stress and anxiety, fa la la la AHHHHHH!!!

I spent some time today looking up stress reducers to lessen anxiety at this busy time of year. There were many lists from a variety of medical sites. I found one list particularly useful, especially point number 2. The Cleveland Clinic provided this extremely useful list:


  1. Eat and drink sensibly: binge eating and drinking increase stress, although it may seem otherwise, so beware (a little stress inducing, that first one, eh?). 
  2. Assert yourself: Say "No" when you need to. Meeting everyone else's expectations is impossible and unhealthy. I especially like the line I'll quote directly: "Remember, being assertive allows you to stand up for your rights and beliefs while respecting those of others." 
  3. Stop smoking and other bad habits: Nicotine brings on stress symptoms (among other things). 
  4. Exercise regularly: Okay, I'll get back to it again
  5. Study and practice relaxation methods: Relax daily, choosing from a variety of options (sounds like a plan). 
  6. Take responsibility: Control what you can control and leave behind what you can't. Couples well with point 2. 
  7. Reduce causes of stress: Prioritizing your time is what this boils down to, basically. Allowing yourself to take on too many demands leads to dangerous levels of stress. Again, return to point 2.
  8. Examine your values and live by them: Make your actions reflect your beliefs and feel better. Use values when choosing activities. 
  9. Set realistic goals and expectations: You can't be completely successful at everything all the time. 
  10. Sell yourself to yourself: Remember what you do well to build up a healthy level of self-esteem. Don't let circumstances and negative people knock you down and leave you lying there drowning in stress.


There you have it. Ten ways to reduce stress. Number 2 is the biggie for me. I'll check back with you on how these worked down the road. Let me know if they work for you ... and enjoy the season.

You can see the Cleveland Clinic list (with additional information) for yourself at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_Stress_Management_and_Emotional_Health/hic_10_Ways_to_Ease_Stress Don't say we aren't concerned about your health here at J.S. Brooks Presents.

Skewering Title and Pomp

Back in 1970, author Patrick O'Brian wrote his book Master and Commander about life at sea in the British Navy during the Napoleonic era. The adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey (the Master and Commander of the sloop Sophie) and his friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin offer up this observation on why we should not get so hung up on titles as we do. There is great wisdom here, particularly in the final conclusion [second to last line]. In the scene presented, officers of the ship celebrate Dr. Maturin's decision to stay on and sail with the crew, acting as their surgeon.  Enjoy:

Dr Maturin is speaking first: "There is only one thing I do not care for, however," he said as the order was passed reverently round the table, "and that is this foolish insistence upon the word surgeon. 'Do hereby appoint you surgeon ... take upon you the employment of surgeon ... together with such allowance for wages and victuals for yourself as is usual for the surgeon of the said sloop.' It is a false description; and a false description is anathema to the philosophic mind."

"I am sure it is anathema to the philosophic mind," said James Dillon. "But the naval mind fairly revels in it, so it does. Take the word sloop, for example."

"Yes," said Stephen, narrowing his eyes through the haze of port and trying to remember the definitions he had heard.

"Why, now, a sloop, as you know, is properly a one-masted vessel, with a fore-and-aft rig. But in the Navy a sloop may be ship-rigged--she may have three masts."

"Or take the Sophie," cried the master, anxious to bring his crumb of comfort. "She's rightly a brig, you know, Doctor, with her two masts." He held up two fingers, in case a landman might not fully comprehend so great a number. "But the minute Captain Aubrey sets foot in her, why, she too becomes a sloop; for a brig is a lieutenant's command."

"Or take me," said Jack. "I am called captain, but really I am only a master and commander."

"Or the place where the men sleep just for'ard," said the purser, pointing. "Rightly speaking, and official, 'tis the gun-deck, though there's never a gun on it. We call it the spar deck--though there's no spar, neither--but some day the gun-deck still, and call the right gun-deck the upper-deck. Or take this brig, which is no true brig at all, not with her square mainsail, but rather a sorts of snow, or a hermaphrodite."

"No, no, my dear sir," said James Dillon, "never let a mere word grieve your heart. We have nominal captain's servants who are, in fact, midshipmen; we have nominal able seamen on our books who are scarcely breeched--they are a thousand miles away and still at school; we swear we have not shifted any backstays, when we shift them continually; and we take many other oaths that nobody believes--no, no, you may call yourself what you please, so long as you do your duty. The Navy speaks in symbols, and you may suit what meaning you choose to the words." 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Taxi Anyone?


Stopped at my usual station for gas this morning and was surprised by what was peeking around the side of the garage at me. A classic yellow Checker Cab, and it is for sale. If you've ever wanted one of these for your own, now is the time apparently. This may be one of the "A12 Marathons" introduced in 1961 and produced until 1982, but I could be wrong. I didn't inspect the cab that closely myself. While it called to me, I have no intention of owning such a venerable vehicle. Hey, if you can tell me more about this blast from the past, leave me a comment.


Enjoy, and happy motoring.

For another classic car captured, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/05/1941-cadillac-sightings.html

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beware the Title "Expert"

When others try to bestow the title "Expert" upon you, it's a bad thing. When you declare yourself an expert, it is a dangerous mistake. Studies discussed on NPR today looked into what the mantle of "expert" does to a person. In studies, some people were given tests designed to be easily passed. Others were given more difficult tests. Those with the easy tests succeeded and were declared experts. Those who failed were not. As a result, those who were given that title of expert became more closed minded individuals. They felt that their status meant they had all the knowledge they needed and were not open to new material.

I discovered this for myself some years ago when I wrote my first book. It was an introductory guide to antique ceramics of a particular sort. I had read the books available, talked with collectors and dealers, and photographed their examples for inclusion in the book. It was a lot of work, but it was not an exhaustive study. However, once the book was published, some people began calling me an "expert" in that subject. I refused the title and continued to learn more, which was used in later books on the same subject. I still do not consider myself an expert, and I've covered a lot of ground in the antiques, collectibles, and art fields. I highly recommend refusing that title when someone tries to bestow it upon you. I also recommend avoiding the temptation to take on that title yourself.

This explains why so many experts when interviewed are entrenched in their positions and will consider no other point of view. That title has done bad things for their ego. In my humble opinion (and that's all it is), those who attempt to bestow upon you the title expert are those who do not want to do any research themselves. Those individuals who accept the title are often people who no longer wish to do any further research and are declaring themselves done. Those are both gross generalizations and do not apply in all cases. I'm certain some wear the mantle of expert far better than others, remaining humble and inquisitive throughout their long and productive careers. We should all be more like them.

Disclaimer: This short post in no way elevates the idea that we should all be ignorant. Their is plenty of people promoting that idea in what they say and do. Many politicians promote ignorance when they use the dodge "I'm not a scientist ..." right before saying something profoundly ignorant about a field they do not understand, will never be mistaken for an expert in, and have no desire to learn about as it would challenge their preconceived notions. Instead, learn all you can about what fascinates you but stay humble. True wisdom is discovering how much more there is to learn, no matter how much you have already discovered. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Like BBQ? Seek Out Jimmy's BBQ in Malvern, PA

Jimmy's BBQ, located at 309 Lancaster Avenue in Malvern, Pennsylvania, is worth your time. Your taste buds will thank you. Slow cooked barbeque awaits you there. The pulled pork sandwich I had (dry rubbed and smoked for 12 hours) was wonderful. It was also large enough to sample all three of the barbeque sauces at the table (hot, sweet, and vinegar-based [the last a treat I hadn't had since living down South]). It was well worth the $7.25 for that filling sandwich. No coleslaw topped this pulled pork, although provided on the side, so do as you see fit.

I look forward to going back to try the ribs sometime when I need a real treat. You know you are in carnivore heaven when you see offered as an appetizer 1/4 pound of smoked bacon for $3.50. You can get chicken, sausage, and salmon sandwiches as well. Salads and sides are available if you feel so inclined. Family packs are available and catering is done.

If you are looking for a fancy joint with plenty of "ambiance" and a two hour wait, go elsewhere. If you're looking for a place you can take the whole family and you'll be fed right, stop by Jimmy's BBQ.

You can find Jimmy's online to see more. Here's the menu: http://www.jimmysbbq.com/menu

Bon appetite. (So much for my declaration never to review another restaurant after two closed on me, but this is special.)

Stand Up Against Toxic Speech

With the shooting at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado as the most recent example, it is long past time for civil people to speak up against hateful speech. For far too long, we have allowed commentators, politicians, and their followers to spew hateful messages against all who oppose them. We must not allow such hateful lies stand. We need to counter such messages with facts, delivered civilly, to counter messages that demean others (often simply for the crime of disagreeing with the speaker's narrow interpretation of some issue) and are quite often fact free.

We need to speak up and help curb this dangerous trend for the sake of those who can be swayed to violence based on such hate speech. To stand by silently, is to be complicit with the violence that comes in the future. Politicians who lie to make political points must be called on their falsehoods, publicly and persistently. Politicians who use thug tactics and support violence against those who disagree with them from among their own supporters must be stopped. Their way of thinking and acting is too toxic to be allowed to gain access to the seats of power in ours or any nation.

Those who resort to bullying, lies, and hate speech to get their way are banking on the idea that civilized people will not speak up against them. Civilized people will be too shocked and will resist getting drawn down into the mud where such folks thrive. Well, that cannot be allowed to continue. We must be willing to speak up, to marshal our facts, to speak truth to power, and to demand together that the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater is not allowed to continue any further. If we do not, our democracy and our civilization will be destroyed. If we do not, those chimps using simple stone age tools may be our replacements as we allow hatreds to grow to the point we enter a final war. I hope and believe we are smarter than that. 

Stone Age Chimps Offer Humans New Opportunity

Science fiction is full of stories of the benevolent advanced species who helps guide a much more primitive people to a better understanding of their universe. These advanced species put their primitive counterparts on a path that advances them in their evolutionary struggles. Well, science has provided us, we humans, with the opportunity to become that advanced and benevolent species ourselves. It seems African chimps with stone resources readily available to them have entered a stone age all their own. It's pretty simple tool use at this point, rock hammers for pounding open tough nuts, but it's a start.

The question is, could we bring ourselves to be concerned enough about another species to actually provide such help. Or, are we more primitive than we like to think? Will we remain mired in our own arguments, feuds, and turf wars and not be inclined to help? Or, will we be so greedy for land and resources, that we will drive yet another thinking species into extinction, as we have done before. The choice is ours. I hope we'll follow the science fiction path. I hope we'll be more successful at it than the monolith seeding aliens of 2001: A Space Odyssey whose advanced knowledge led the early humans to use those bones as clubs to kill off a particularly irritating rival for a water source. While the monolith technology is beyond us, the ability to help is not. Although, we would have to violate that Star Trek Prime Directive to do so. I wonder if we will?

For one of many articles on this subject of tool using chimps, see: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150818-chimps-living-in-the-stone-age

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Disturbing News from Bookstore: The Five Minute Response

I was in my local bookstore, looking for a particular translation and edition of a study Bible I find valuable. I couldn't find it on the shelf in the hardback edition, so I went looking for the information desk person and help. I was told that the Bible I was seeking was listed as being available on the shelf. We went to look again. The edition I was looking for was not to be found. My helper sighed and told me a "Bible liberation" group had been through the last week.

I was mystified. I asked for a little clarification.

I was told "Bible liberation" folks believe the Word should be free to all. Therefore, they go against the teachings of the Bible and steal copies from bookstores to give away later.

I am appalled with this behavior. It is wrong and wrong-headed. Let me suggest an alternative. If you wish to give away the Word free, then purchase copies, perhaps used from library sales, and give them away. That way you respect the work that went into printing, binding, publishing, and distributing the Bible. You encourage more copies to be printed. You provide the Word free as you desire it to be, standing on your values without going against Scripture in the process. You become a better believer on a much more honest ministry mission.

And that's the five minute response. 

When Passion Twists Us

I had an unfortunate encounter with a "true believer" the other day. The event, the day, the time, none of that is important. The person's identity and gender, equally unimportant. What was important is that this individual had very strong views on abortion and was sharing them publicly in a venue not appropriate for such sharing. This person is stridently against legal abortion.

Sadly, this individual also is strongly against any human being who does not share the very narrow interpretation this person had adopted as his/her own. In a very few minutes, this true believer had managed to insult many friends of mine, family members, and all the Protestant denominations in a wide ranging series of gross generalizations extending far afield from the original topic. I did my best to remain civil while trying to suggest that not all of the information and assumptions about others presented were correct or helpful. However, when taken by surprise, it is difficult to be as clear-headed as one would like to be.

I have reached an age where I can no longer sit silently for the sake of polite society when one stomps so carelessly on others while following a certain point of view and position in society, especially a hot button issue like this. It is going to take some time to find just the right note or to determine when the best response might simply be to question the appropriateness of the discussion at that particular moment in that venue. The thing I found saddest in the situation is that this individual who so strongly supported life prior to an age of reason, seemed to have no support whatsoever for people who disagreed on this one topic once they could think for themselves.

I suggest moving forward, even when passionate for our position on some topics, that we work hard to respect the views and life experiences of others, listen to them, and see where we might agree, where we might actually be able to work together from those positions of agreement, so that we can strengthen society as a whole, understand each other more clearly, and leave behind the gross generalizations that so often lead to violence and injustice when left unchecked.

Wishing you all peace in troubled times.

Advantage of Early Rising

When you find yourself
up with the moon...
It is the day before Thanksgiving. I have to go to work and tie up loose ends, including writing my Sunday sermon (not something I want to be doing on Friday after Thanksgiving while visiting with family). It is 5:45 a.m. I've been up since 5. That'll teach me to go to bed early because I "need the extra sleep for the five hour trip." HA! I feel like I'm living in Stephen King's novel Insomnia (if you haven't read it I highly recommend it). So, being a sometimes blogger (sorry about the lack of material for over 20 days ... work and one of the biggest seasons of the liturgical year coming up kept me away), it was nice to have something to do with the hour before I am supposed to be awake.

Rather than fighting, tossing and turning, and possibly waking my wife, I'd rather be doing something at least somewhat useful. So here we are reader, you and I, sharing a few moments. I highly recommend to you that you too find something you enjoy doing with the sleepless times as they come. Be grateful rather than resentful and put yourself to work. Obviously you've gotten all the sleep your body is going to give you. Like the main character in Insomnia, learn to appreciate what you were given and deal with the wakefulness in a positive way. Who knows where that will lead you? It could be quite productive. An approach of thankfulness is certainly better than one of resentfulness. It starts the day on so much of a higher note. 

Capturing More with Cell Phone Camera

I've taken pictures for a long time, some of the photography was done professionally for books on a wide variety of antiques and collectibles. I've used a wide range of cameras. However, none has changed my own behavior as much as the camera in my cell phone. I'm more willing to experiment with a wider range of images using my cell phone because it is always there with me. The quality is good ... not nearly as good as an expensive digital SLR would be. However, it is good enough to capture the play of light and shadow, as seen here with the nearly full moon lighting the clouds around it. The moon isn't crisply defined, but then again the picture was taken hand-held and is pretty good for that unstable mount in the dark of night.

I'm enjoying playing with this system. I wonder just how much more of life is being captured during this time in human history than was ever captured before using rolls of film or digital memory cards in larger cameras.

Well, I can answer at least part of that question. A great many cell phone cameras are being used to capture injustices (still pictures and movies) as they occur and change the way people either behave or view the behavior of others. So, at times the impact is great ... especially when it allows so many of us to become photojournalists of the amateur sort. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stress Kills Joy: The Five Minute Response

Stopping at the library tonight I made a discovery. For quite a while now, my new career path has had me seriously stressed. With that stress came a loss of desire to do some of the things I love, the things that make me feel human. When I say a new book by Christopher Moore (self-described comic horror author), a sequel to one of my favorite novels: A Dirty Job, titled Secondhand Souls, I snatched it up for a quick read. It was then I realized just how long it had been since I'd read fiction for fun. That was one of my joys, one that had dropped away under the stress of getting up to speed with the new career.

Another joy is writing these blog posts on the weird variety of topics I like to follow. But that's over now. I'm back. I'm feeling a lot more myself for it. Don't let stress rob you of your joys. Force yourself to continue to do those things you love. Force yourself to carve out time FOR yourself. It is necessary for mental health and will make it easier for loved ones and friends ... and work colleagues ... to be around you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some reading to do.

And that's the five minute response.

For more on Moore, Christopher that is, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-stupidest-angel-by.html

Monday, November 2, 2015

Our Superpower

When you were a kid, did you wish you had superpowers? Yeah, me too. I thought if I had real superpowers I could make a difference in this world of ours (after spending a lot of time flying and busting through walls just for the heck of it ... I was a kid after all). Turns out we are all gifted with one superpower, a superpower that actually is a life or death power over others. It is called ... love.

Sure, roll your eyes now. You knew it had to be something lame like this, right? But, I tell you it IS a superpower. You only think it is not because we have all been gifted with it (every normal human that is, yeah there are a few dangerous and sad illnesses that prevent this superpower from taking hold). Babies will not thrive unless someone bestows love upon them. Our domesticated pets crave love from us. We have written more books, songs, and poems about the superpower of love than any other thing in the whole wide world.

Using this superpower to love others, we change the world in small ways. Did you know that notes have been left behind by suicide victims (people suffering from the terminal effect of a dread disease, that's suicide) who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge that said if just one person will smile at me or say a kind word to me (offer me just a little love in other words), I will not jump. That's the life or death power of love. It's real.

I recently watched an old video of one of my very favorite preachers, the Reverend Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame speak on the power of love when receiving an award later in his life for his work on TV. He said each and every person involved in the television industry had a responsibility to promote the sanctity of life, the worth of every person, so that all who watched might be convinced that they are a person of worth, that their life makes a difference, and that they can improve the lives of others. Promoting an idea that life is cheap is wrong and must end. That was powerful preaching from someone who knew the power of love. During this show, Mr. Rogers would tell the children who watched that he loved them. When asked why, he said he knew that for some it would be the only time that day they heard a person tell them they were loved. That's how important love was to Fred Rogers.

I've used this superpower to diffuse tension. Try this: while waiting in line at the cashier, if things begin to get tense, find some reason to smile and maybe strike up a friendly conversation with the person next to you. Watch the tensions begin to diminish as the people around you react to your warm and relaxed attitude. It's powerful. Be kind to others, offer a helping hand, and listen more than speaking (others need to be heard, sometimes desperately). Use you superpower for good. Help change the world around you in small ways. You never know where that will lead you. You never know when your warm smile, friendly wave, or gentle greeting might just save a life.

Let me know how it works out for you. Yes you, who are a person of worth, a person loved. Have a blessed day. 

Top J.S. Brooks Blog Posts of October 2015

Here they are from highest to lowest, the top ten J.S. Brooks Presents articles that caught readers eyes for October 2015, in link form:

Toyota Yaris: Finding Your Jack and Tire Pressure: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/04/toyota-yaris-finding-your-jack-and-tire.html
Resetting the Clock on Your Toyota Yaris (timely for November 1st): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/05/resetting-clock-on-your-toyota-yaris.html
Turning Off the 2009 Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required Light (do you see a theme here?): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/turning-off-2009-toyota-yaris.html
Top 12 Blog Site Lists of 2014 (ironic perhaps): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/01/top-12-blog-sites-of-2014.html
Changing Rear Turn Signal on Chevy Uplander (much maintenance required in October I guess): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/08/changing-rear-turn-signal-on-chevy.html
Contribute to Philippines Super Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief Fund (your generosity honors you all): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/11/one-way-to-contribute-to-relief-funds.html
C.S. Lewis Explains Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/03/cs-lewis-explains-love-your-neighbor-as.html
Does Kepler Discover Massive Alien Construct?: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/10/does-kepler-discover-massive-alien.html
Soapbox: Misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and Magic Phrases (sometimes I lose my cool): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/10/soapbox-misinterpretation-and-magic.html
AND Star Wars: The Force Awakens New Trailer: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/10/star-wars-force-awakens-new-trailer.html

To this I would like to add two early November posts that deal with Halloween events and history:

Halloween's 2500 Year History (broke my 30 minutes or less rule with this one ... but it was worth it): http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/11/halloweens-2500-year-history.html
AND Asteroid Ultimate Trick or Treater for Halloween 2015: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/11/asteroid-ultimate-trick-or-treater-for.html

Enjoy! 

Asteroid Ultimate Trick or Treater for Halloween 2015

Asteroid 2015 TB145
Image Courtesy of NASA
Halloween 2015 say a visitor zip by at 302,000 miles above earth that we were glad to see leave without tricks. This dead comet looking so much like a death's head came calling at one in the afternoon East Coast time, saying boo to astronomers. The Arecibo Observatory saw the specter first and created this radar image. This spook measures 2,000 feet, rotates once every five hours, and has headed back into the nether regions.
For more, see: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/halloween-skies-to-include-dead-comet-flyby

For another article about strangeness in space (much deeper in space), see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/10/does-kepler-discover-massive-alien.html

Halloween's 2500 Year History

Consider this an early article for next year. It's been that kind of month ... sorry.

First, I have a background in archaeology. One of the questions archaeologists want to answer is WHY people did what they did in the past. And no, it never boils down to, "they were primitive and dumb and didn't know any better." People are complicated. The history of America's second most expensive holiday today is complicated.

Second, this is an adult version of the history. If you wish to pass this along to children, some editing will be required.

It begins in Ireland, some 2500 years ago when the Celts (well, there is currently some dispute on that among British archaeologists but we'll stick with Celts until we know better) discovered this was a great place to live. At this time, the prophets Joel and Malachi were working hard to try to get the people of Israel to change their wicked ways. This is some 500 years before the birth of Jesus among a people the Israelites would have termed "Gentiles" (people Jesus and the evangelist Paul would work with centuries down the line).

The Celts had a problem over there in Ireland. They were concerned at their harvest festival, October 31st, when summer officially ended and the people needed to have enough food stored away to live on until spring, that their harvest might be ruined and their people threatened with madness in the dark and dangerous months ahead. They determined the threat to be coming from ghosts, specifically the ghosts of those among them who had died in the previous year. To counter this threat, on October 31st, during the harvest festival of Samhain, adults would dress up in wild costumes (animals, demons, hobgoblins, and witches, oh my) in an attempt to confuse and spook the spooks away. The idea was that the ghosts of the dead lingered for one year with an eye on ruining crops and possessing living souls (human or animal) for a full year until they could move on to the afterlife.

When the living were appropriately dressed in spooky fashion, they would noisily parade through their homes, wreaking mischief as they went, in order to make the place unappealing to spirits looking to take up residence. The costumes also helped keep you from being identified by old uncle Sean and aunt Annie who had died and never liked you much anyway. Once parading noisily had been accomplished inside the house, the process was repeated outside the house, with neighbors gathering together and parading through town. Outside of town, a roaring bonfire was lit, more mischief made, and here things got particularly dark. In fear of the ghost possessed, at times Celtic townsfolk would identify one who appeared to be possessed already among them (it did not pay to be eccentric back in old Ireland) and sacrifice them. Here we see the use of the admonition against occult practices from Deuteronomy 18:9-12. In fear, we can do terrible things heading down dark paths. The "why" in this case remained trying to protect your people from evil.

Around 2000 years ago, the Romans invaded Ireland, in 43 A.D. They found the celebration of Samhain appealing in the dressing up in costumes, the parading, the bonfires, and the mischief. The human sacrifice part they wanted nothing to do with and replaced that with an Egyptian practice of using effigies in royal tombs (instead of the pharaoh's servants, which was a great relief to the staff when the royal leader died), creating effigies if they felt it necessary to appease restless spirits in some way. So, by the time Jesus had practiced his revolutionary ministry in and around Israel, his disciples were performing their ministries (which would be recorded in Acts), and the apostle Paul was evangelizing and letter writing to the Gentiles in the 40s-60s A.D., the Romans were going to be taking up the lighter side of the Celtic Samhain festival. They also fused it with two festivals of their own, one honoring the beloved departed who had gone before them and were missed and the other honoring a goddess whose symbol was an apple. From this fusion, the Romans created a game: you took a large bucket, filled it with water, dumped in a bunch of those apples, shoved your face into the water, and attempted to retrieve apples with your teeth. Bobbing for apples was a Roman addition to what would become Halloween. However, the Romans had other ideas about how to appease the restless dead (those who had passed violently and remained angry) and in Italy, "bones of the dead" almond cookies are still made (looking like finger bones). Those cookies showed respect for those who had gone before them. For more, see the article referenced by Archaeology Trowels and Tools, and originally appearing in Forbes Sciencehttp://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/10/31/how-the-ancient-romans-gave-us-bones-of-the-dead-cookies-for-halloween/

In 609 A.D., the Catholic Pope Boniface added to this growing tradition. Pope Boniface declared November 1st to be All Martyrs Day, which in time become All Saints Day, the day to remember the beloved and missed departed souls who were residing in heaven (those of more questionable destination will be addressed a little later). Deciding it would be a good thing to bring those Irish Celts into the Catholic fold (a really good idea as Ireland produced some great and very determined evangelists afterwards), it was decided to incorporate aspects of the Celtic holiday into a new holiday, including the bonfires and the costumes and parades and such, while jettisoning the darker, occult heritage. A new holiday needed a new name (one that would stick with variation) and All-hallows Eve was born, coming from the Middle English Alholowmeesse.

After the Irish became Christians, they added another wonderful wrinkle to the holiday, using a folktale to spice things up. This is the story of Stingy Jack, an awful sinner, terrible drunk, and obviously penurious guy (here's a story for the kids but keep it gentle, okay). One day this pretty despicable guy manages to convince the Devil himself (note this is the first mention of the Devil you've seen in this history ... and will be the last until the 1980s) to climb a tree (I don't know how or why precisely). Once the Devil was up in the branches, old Stingy Jack quickly carved a Christian cross in the tree, trapping the Devil where he sat. Stingy Jack kept the Devil there until extracting a promise from Satan that he would never tempt Jack to sin again. Sadly for Jack, the promise came too late. When Jack died, he had sinned too many times for even God's grace to forgive. Heading for Hell, Jack discovered the Devil held a grudge against him for his trick with the tree and refused him access to the fiery underworld. Jack was doomed to trudge the frigid nights of earth until Judgement Day. However, Jack did get one concession from the Devil, a single ember to light his way. Jack placed this one solitary burning coal into a hollowed out turnip (Jack hollowed it with his teeth) and this became Jack's Lantern. Every year since, the Scots and Irish had hollowed out potatoes, turnips, and beets, placed lights in them, and set them out in the night as jack-o-lanterns (is this still done by the way dear readers?) These lights served a singular purpose ... can you guess? That purpose was to ward off evil ghosts with scary faces carved into these lights in the night. Here again, we see protection of the people playing a role in All-hallows Eve. Personally, the image of the lit watchmen in the night protecting people from evil, driving back the darkness with the light, is an image I've always enjoyed.

Moving on to the 800s A.D. in Europe, another innovation is added to this complicated holiday. November 2nd had by this time been declared by the Catholic Church to be All Souls Day, remembering the dead of that more uncertain destination of Purgatory, where souls laden with sins to expunge before entering into heaven waited. On All Souls Day, European villages practiced "souling." Souling involved going from village to town seeking square biscuits laden with currants called "soul cakes." For each soul cake given, the person receiving the gift promised to pray for the soul of a dearly departed loved one suspected to be residing in Purgatory. Every prayer that individual received would shorten the time that soul spent in that limbo world. So, it paid to be generous to those who arrived at your door seeking soul cakes. Note that here the theme has become protecting the beloved departed. This is a recurring answer to the why question for Halloween.

Over in the British colonies in North America and the early United States, Protestants were suspicious of this very European and Catholic holiday they had heard about. Halloween gained no real traction in the U.S. until the 1840s and the Irish potato famine. With an influx of Irish Catholics came the Halloween celebration. The dressing up, the treats, the bonfires, and the mischief arrived on American shores. When Protestant kids saw what their Irish Catholic compatriots were up to, they wanted to join in on the action. The mischief turned toward tipping over outhouses and taking people's front gates off their hinges, having nothing to do with scaring off ghosts anymore. The mischief makers had a lot more to fear from the living if they were caught. Once arriving in New England, the Irish abandoned carving turnips, beets, and potatoes. They turned instead the the impressively large pumpkins. While the Pilgrims gave us uses from the pumpkins interiors for Thanksgiving, the Irish gave us a use for the shells at Halloween ... creating the most enduring symbol of the holiday ever.

The U.S. would continue to have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. In the 1920s and '30s, the mischief took a marked jump as vandals took to that aspect of the holiday with far too much enthusiasm. By the 1950s, communities across the nation had enough of that nonsense. They declared Halloween to be a holiday for small children, in which they could trick or treat in hours set by their communities. Now the holiday had gone from a costumed affair for adults with a serious purpose in mind to a holiday treat fest for young children. In 1982, Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition declared Halloween to be a gateway drug to the Devil, raising opposition to the holiday among conservative evangelicals. Churches agreeing with Robertson and crew created Hell Houses as a way to scare teen straight into the faith, away from evil, and bolster church attendance numbers.

However, the spookiest aspect of the modern holiday was yet to come. Here was a terror far greater than the ancient Celts, the Romans, the Catholics, or the Protestants could imagine. Modern industry has run with Halloween in a very big way. In 1985, the story goes ... and there may be some folktale to this, but who doesn't like a good folktale ... that the candy industry worked hard on senators (even leaving candy pumpkins on their seats in the Senate Chamber in D.C.) to extend daylight savings time to November. Doing so would keep Halloween evening lit longer, kiddies out collecting candy to later hours, and neighbors buying ever larger supplies of treats to give away. Then there's the abomination of "sexy" anything costumes ... but that is too frightening to contemplate. Despite the misgivings of some, today Halloween is the second most expensive holiday on the calendar, topped only by Christmas.

That's the long and complex history of Halloween. Through it all, the whys comes down to protecting our loved ones from evil in the night and remembering those we have loved and lost. Wishing you and those you love the best in all your All-hallows Eves to come.

Had the Irish of old seen the asteroid of 2015 Halloween day come by, they'd have created a whole bunch of jack-o-lanterns to ward off that evil spirit. See: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2015/11/asteroid-ultimate-trick-or-treater-for.html

Sources:

Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, various articles, and The Oxford Annotated Study Bible NRSV.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens New Trailer

During the half time of the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants football game (which the Eagles were leading 17 to 7 at the half) on October 19, 2015, J.J. Abrams and crew first released the next Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. The official poster, released just a little before that, has no image of Luke Skywalker. There is scant presence of him in this trailer either. Make of that what you will. Mostly, just enjoy this tease as we all wait with growing anticipation for this next Star Wars installment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGbxmsDFVnE

If you want to read a little more along with this final trailer for the movie, see: http://www.theverge.com/2015/10/19/9539109/new-star-wars-7-trailer-force-awakens

Surprise! Rose of Late Fall


On a weekend where areas of New England had significant snowfall, it was a pleasant surprise to have a last hurrah from one of our rose bushes. One last perfect bloom before the cold winter sets in completely. For all of you who live in cold weather climates who are battening down the hatches in preparation for winter, this one is for you. Enjoy this last, lush surprise and the promise it holds for next spring. 

Take care and keep warm! 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Soapbox: Misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and Magic Phrases

One of the most corrosive misinterpretations of Scripture is known as prosperity gospel. If you believe in a particular way, God will bestow wealth and good fortune upon you. Conversely, if you suffer it is because you are a great sinner and a terrible person. Believe correctly and you'll live on easy street. This is patently false, as the Bible will tell you over and over again throughout both testaments.

Chicago's Archbishop Blaise Cupich argues against the current corrosive misinterpretation of the Second Amendment, see: http://www.religionnews.com/2015/10/12/catholic-chicago-cupich-gun-control-laws/  As for what the Second Amendment did and did not do, see: http://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-ii This balancing act between Federalists and Anti-Federalists led to this document, for good and for ill. In the modern interpretation, the first thirteen words are eliminated entirely. The idea of balance is tossed. Instead, this misbegotten idea that we will all be safe only if we are all armed to the teeth has grown up (a wonderful way to sell guns and ammo, kudos on that manufacturers). Open carry white folks walk through airports in some states armed with semi-automatic weaponry ... and walk out unscathed while a black man in a toy store holding a squirt gun is shot dead. The current state of affairs led Georgia to allow firearms in bars ... which led to the easily seen result of drunks in gun fights. Instead of the land of the free and the home of the brave, many in the US are now the terrorized in the home of the exceedingly violent. Internationally, it has been proposed that travel outside the US be restricted until we get our house in order.

In the midst of it all, I see a repellent trend recurring. Back in the George W. Bush years, you could not raise a valid complaint about any governmental program without adding "Of course, I support our troops." It was a phrase designed to tell others you were still an American, despite having a complaint. Today, we have come around to that again, "Of course, I support the Second Amendment" before you can say word one about trying to keep children from being shot in schools! But NO, I do not support the Second Amendment as it is currently interpreted. I do not support a strange and twisted view of Old West American history in which every person carried a six gun on hip, ready to deal out frontier justice as seen fit. That mentality leads to vigilante justice in store parking lots, firing at shoplifters in a crowded lot. That line of thought leads to pre-teens shooting little girls who won't let them see a puppy.

Worse that that lip service to a twisted interpretation is the venomous response to those who stand up against that interpretation. The acidic name calling (which should have been left behind on the grade school playground in reality), the dark aspersions against someone's character, the questioning of a person's intelligence, allegiance, religious background, and country of origin are loathsome in the extreme ... and are seen as much a part of regular discourse as shootings in public places have become.

Look, I don't really care which side of this divide you fall on. What I care about is that innocent people are dying with alarming regularity in the US, in greater numbers than any advanced nation not currently involved in a devastating war (or civil war). In the end, I want what it will take to bring the death toll from gun violence down, way, way down. NO, I will not use any magic phrases to make this go down easier. I will not say, "I don't want to take away your guns." NO, I will not say, "Gun don't kill people. People do." No, I won't say any of the other things people say to defend themselves and their positions these days in weird attempts at self defense or balm against each other. Right now, far too many people who should never have them are enabled by guns to do what they could not so easily do without them ... murder people. I want it to stop, NOW. That is my bottom line. The killing must stop. To make it stop, good people from both sides of this divide (YES there are good people on all sides of this debate who DO NOT DESERVE THE SMEAR CAMPAIGNS RAINED DOWN UPON THEM WHEN THEY SPEAK UP OUT OF HONEST CONCERN) to get their heads together, use their brains as God intended, and come up with actual solutions to real problems. I want people to stop dying violently at the hands of weaklings empowered by guns. It is a plain and simple thing to which there is no plain and simple solution. However, railing against each other, blaming each other, accusing each other of asinine and illogical things while digging ourselves ever deeper into trenches of our own positions that are looking every day more like our own graves and the graves of a great civilization will NEVER get the job done. The current approach will only get more people killed and more weapons sold to those who are incompetent to use them. It is time to act like grown ups, roll up our sleeves, and get down to the hard work of seeking a real COMPROMISE solution to a misinterpretation of a compromise amendment that has opened us up to a world of hurt, a world of violent death, and deep, dangerous division fueled by the misguided idea that anyone who does not agree with me completely is my sworn enemy. That isn't true either. That's an idea we need to put behind us if we are ever to solve this crisis. We claim to be a moral nation. It is long past time we acted like one.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Public Speaking: Freedom From the Fully Written Text

If you have long been wed to a fully written manuscript for public speaking, let me suggest an alternative. No matter how well rehearsed you are, no matter how well you read, working from a fully written text (even perfectly polished) sounds ... well ... read.

I suggest to you being bold enough to venture out into the world of the bullet point text reminders instead. Here's how it works for those who have spent years writing everything out.

Take a deep breath, be calm, much will be the same.

Begin with your note taking as usual.

Create you outline. Place your notes in order throughout your outline.

Now, take the leap of faith you have probably considered before.

Instead of writing out your manuscript as usual from your organized notes, commit to creating just a few pages of bullet points instead.

When you have committed to moving forward with the bullet points, you'll quickly realize you are going for a more lively story telling method of delivery. This will change how you think about organizing your material and what to include. You'll probably lean toward more emotive material that is easier to remember and deliver and jettison a lot of intriguing but tedious (and difficult to remember) details that give your delivery an academic feel.

It is very important that you DO NOT write out that manuscript, AT ALL. It will only paralyze you later when you desperately try to remember all those beautiful transitions and pretty turns of phrases. You do not need them! Your more natural delivery will carry the day.

Give yourself enough information with each bullet to remind you where you are going at each step in your presentation.

Avoid complete sentences to avoid the temptation to read.

When you are finished with the bullet points, if you discover you have created too many pages beyond what you planned for, brutally edit down what you have written. Root out those full sentences that have crept in.

What you will discover is that you are now liberated. You have more time to practice as you've cut down on hours of writing time. You will be looking up at your audience far more often and they will find you more engaged with them and more interesting to listen to. You will actually enjoy yourself far more as you will be telling stories instead of reciting what you have written. You'll quickly discover that your delivery will be more creative and as you work on practicing you may well discover narrative threads and images that connect throughout the text that you did not realize were present all along and you will emphasize those, much to your own delight and the enjoyment of your audience.

If you are held back by the fear that you will forget some detail or other, remember YOU and only YOU know what you intend to say. If you jettison some small detail or other by accident, only you will ever know (provided you don't tell anyone ... i.e., don't be a blabbermouth about that). You can do this. You should do it. It is liberating the very first time you do it. You may even discover that your body gets more involved in the story telling than it ever has before. That shows you the new level of engagement you have achieved. I cannot encourage you enough to make this move.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Does Kepler Discover Massive Alien Construct???

Photo Courtesy of NASA
Every once in a while a story comes down the line that just piques the imagination like no other.

Among the many stars the Kepler space telescope has studied is a star like no other so far observed. The light dimming with a transit that marks a planet passing in front of its host star is usually very regular as planets are basically round objects. However, it has long been hypothesized that an alien civilization sufficiently advanced could make large structures (such as sunlight harvesting platforms of immense size as an example) that would create an irregular dimming of light as it passed in front of its parent star.

Such an irregular dimming has been discovered. Natural explanations are being sought (of course). Perhaps a cluster of comets pulled by the gravity of a nearby star has drifted across the star. It has been suggested that this may be the answer. Then again, it may not. Time will tell. I'm rooting for advanced aliens. That would be so much more interesting, don't you think.

To read more, try: http://news.discovery.com/space/alien-life-exoplanets/has-kepler-discovered-an-alien-megastructure-151014.htm or http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/15/the-strange-star-that-has-serious-scientists-talking-about-an-alien-megastructure/

Live long and prosper ... as the aliens say.

To see what the SETI Institute is doing in response to this news, see: http://www.seti.org/seti-institute/mysterious-star-kic-8462852

Fall Beauty Intrudes

I spent a little quite time in a local cemetery today. I was waiting for a funeral party to arrive as the officiating pastor. As I waited, nature's beauty came sneaking into my preparations.

This colorful tree, boughs extending gracefully over many graves, was struck by late morning sunlight. It blazed with color. As I admired the view, capturing the moment with my cell phone camera, a red fox ran past, a blaze shooting through the grass.

During the graveside ceremony, a hawk called out twice from a nearby tree.

The air was still, the sun warm, the gathered crowd thoughtful amidst the quiet, gentle beauty all around us.
Can't decide which cropping I prefer ...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Breaking News: Water Found on Mars

Curiosity rover landing site on Mars. Courtesy of NASA.
Today NASA declared that they have found evidence of water moving across the surface of Mars in certain areas during the spring and summer months in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Evidence came from Recurring Slope Linea, dark lines descending from high slopes during those warmer months. This water is highly salted, allowing it to remain liquid at much cooler temperatures, down to -70 degrees C. So Mars is a much wetter world than previously thought.

The entire hour long press conference was fascinating in its explanation about how evidence from multiple spacecraft and rovers combined brought about this important discovery. While at this point NASA officials were unwilling to say whether or not this improves chances that life might be found at the surface of Mars, everyone on the team felt that life deep below the surface, sustained by water and ice found there, was a virtual certainty.

The presence of water at the surface also has importance for future Mars missions involving humans exploring the red planet directly. Stay tuned for future developments. This will certainly impact what equipment is carried on future robots headed for Mars. 

For the highlights from today's historic news conference, see: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html

For what the scientists currently believe was Mars's early life as a world like ours, see: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main/index.html 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Matters of Life and Death on a Highway


I've found myself stopped in traffic many times. Here on a major highway, we all came to a stop for no reason we could see. We were too far back from the action to know what was going on. It's frustrating when you have someplace to be and you're going nowhere fast. All those car commercial claims declaring that one vehicle or another will go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye are worthless in this situation. A few cars manage to get turned around, travel back up the shoulder and exit the wrong way up a nearby ramp, risking another wreck or ticketing if the police come by.

People get out of their cars. People do what people do. They stand up in open door frames, trying to get a better view of what has happened. Several head off toward the roadside shrubbery, apparently very interested suddenly in local flora (hey, when you gotta go ...). One gallant man brought an umbrella with him so his lady could have some privacy when she took her turn in the shrubs. But mostly we waited.

Then the police do start to show up, riding up the shoulder in a hurry, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Along with them came fire and rescue units. We began to understand that something bad had really taken place. Shortly thereafter the thump of helicopters overhead was heard. One was a news chopper from a local station. Two others were medivac helicopters from hospitals. We became quiet and solemn indeed, realizing a truly terrible wreck must have occurred. Matters of life and death filled our minds. Prayers for whomever was involved were sent up. After forty minutes, once helicopters and several fire engines had moved off, we started to move slowly forward. We were funneled left to avoid the wreck. It had been bad. One car was a charred skeleton of its former self. We went by solemnly, silently, and drove carefully onward, mindful of each other and of life's fragility. 

Adventures in Home Maintenance: Cleaning the Siding

We have reached that exciting point in home ownership where many changes need to be made. Much painting and upkeep needs to be done. Here's what we learned from power washing the siding.
Electric powered pressure washer.
Note how the water hose and hose for the wand attach.

  1. You can rent a power washer from many of the chain hardware stores. The electric models are the least expensive. In our neck of the woods, $25 will get you four hours of washing. For a modest ranch house, four hours is quite enough. 
  2. When renting a power washer, have the hose coupling checked before you leave the store. The hose for the power washing wand is held in place with ball bearings covered with a sleeve that holds the connection tight. The male attachment on the hose gets a lot of wear and tear. Our first try failed as the sleeve covering the bearings would not lock tight and upon turning on the motor the hose flew out of the mount followed by an impressive stream of water. Upon returning the unit for a replacement, it took the staff three times to find a hose that would work. Have them check it first and save yourself a second trip.
  3. Get a bottle or two of the cleaning fluid, which requires you to use a different tip to apply the soapy water than the high powered rinsing tip (either tip applies to the end of the wand used for washing the house). 
  4. Watch a video on YouTube demonstrating how to use the make and model of power washer you are using before you rent the unit. This will save you confusion and irritation later. 
  5. If you use the electric model, make sure you can plug it directly into an outlet. They do not recommend using an extension cord (tripped breakers may result). 
  6. Experiment with side to side and up and down motions. Dirt and grime will respond differently in different places ... I can't tell you why. 
  7. Work section by section across the wall surface. Have a ladder ready for the higher reaches of the wall. 
  8. Have someone work with you for safety's sake, especially when climbing up and down a ladder with wet shoes. 
  9. Wear clothing you don't mind getting wet. Work in warm weather. 
  10. Prepare to be horrified at how dirty the wall that gets less sunlight really is as you start to clean ... and glad that you have done the job. I recommend starting with the dirtiest wall while you are fresh. It is tiring cleaning walls with pressurized water. Oh yes, and be especially careful around those windows (they need to be shut and you don't want to hit them with the water stream). 
The dirtiest wall coming clean ... slowly.

Expensive Veggies ... The Stuff of Legends???

I know the organic vegetables can be more expensive than the regular "garden variety," but this is ridiculous. At $249 each, these tomatoes really are the stuff of legends. Now, I know what they mean and I know they know we'll know what they mean. But if you take that lack of a decimal point literally, WOW! If that's the bonus buy savings, how much are the regulars???

Clock from a Bygone Era?

Sometimes items from the past take us by surprise when we're out on the road. Here is a clock in a downtown area that looks like it has been there a good long while, keeping time near the train station, courtesy of the local Masons Lodge No. 711 from the looks of it. Then again, clocks like this are still made, so this could be a recent addition. It's hard to say.

With the cameras in phones these days, it's amazing what you can capture walking along the street.

If you know more about this particular clock, especially whether or not it is an old model, I'd love to hear from you.

Update: I found out the Masons had restored this clock in recent years and that it sits out in front of their lodge. For more, see: http://www.pagrandlodge.org/district36/711/711newsletter.html

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fie on Fanatics: Quotes to Live By

The first quote is from Brad Hirschfield's book You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. This is for those most strident supporters of the "New Atheism:
"Belief is more complicated than either the believers or the disbelievers among us are usually willing to admit. Too often I hear people referring to God as a delusion and religion as some kind of neurological disorder. All their qualms and suspicions are justified [in the wake of religious violence discussed just before this quote]. But if all they see is the ugly face of faith and the danger in spiritual connection, they have become as absolute in their disbelief as any religious fanatic. They have become fanatics of secularism who are as problematic as the fanatics of faith, because ultimately it is the fanaticism that kills, not the faith."
The second quote is for those faithful folks who use their religion as a weapon to beat people with, doing great harm. It is from the one-time atheist and later Christian writer C.S. Lewis and is found in his book Mere Christianity. He writes powerfully: 
"All the worst pleasures are surely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the animal self and the diabolical self. The diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

I think that gives everyone a little something to think about before stepping up on the next soap box.  

Adventures in Fitness 22: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Called Back to the Gym

It's been a while since I've posted under Adventures in Fitness. It's been a while since I've exercised regularly. What happened? Life in ministry happened. I began my new career as a minister in 2014. The first year was all consuming. Over half way into my second year, I've got the basics nailed down and can breathe a little.

Then, God called me back (sure, roll your eyes at the religious reference if you must, but I'm a pastor ... and it's true in my case). You see, yesterday my wife and I helped a member of our congregation move some of her clothes from the apartment she had been living in to her new place. She had to move because the building caught fire and was badly damaged. Fortunately, her things on the third floor were spared the destroying flames and the worst of the smoke. She needs to move her things out quickly as the landlord is looking to rebuild. I'm try to gather a work crew, but in the meantime, after church was finished, we changed into work gear, rolled up our sleeves, took our large van over and got busy.

The apartment was on the third floor. The only access was a winding staircase leading from the basement to the third floor. We "Stairmastered" for hours. I expected to feel crippled up today (lack of regular exercise and all ... or so I thought). Instead I felt limber, the feeling I remembered and welcomed after a good workout.

Not long ago, I discovered I'd actually lost weight on my job (there's a lot of walking involved in ministry). Returning to the gym I discovered I was not short of breath on the machines. Several of them I was better on than I had been last time I'd been there. Some equipment I had to dial back the weight as I had indeed lost muscle mass in my chest and back and arms. Sure, that was to be expected. The rest was not. It was a great workout and a return to old friends. It was a joy.

I'll be back again. I'll try to work in a regular routine as I hope to be in ministry for many years to come and I want to be able to help others as best I can. That means getting this particular aging temple of God repaired and in proper working order once again.

So, back to the gym, back to knocking off the rust, and back a little wiser. I learned an important lesson. It's a journey, this fitness thing. It is not one and done. It is not a situation that if circumstances work against regular workouts you have failed. No, it is an ongoing process and you can pick it up again. Your body will remember what you had done and will fall back into the routine with a lot less grumbling than you might imagine. You'll find joy in that ... and a lot of satisfaction. Just don't let the old ego get in the way. Accept the fact that you're going to have to do shorter routines with less weight than you were doing when you left. Those muscles don't go on pause and maintain while you were away from the gym (home or public gym). You don't have anything to prove to anyone. Don't delay exercise further by hurting yourself the first time back with overexertion.

Enjoy the journey. Maybe I'll see you at the gym.

If you want to catch up with my last post (lamenting lack of ability to keep up a routine, ironically), see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/02/adventures-in-fitness-21-one-guys.html