Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring blossoms

by John D Ramsey

Gabby was Daddy's helper Saturday. We hunted dandelions in the front and back yards. I dug them up and Gabby tamped down the dirt and grass after I had pulled the tap roots. I know that it is terribly old-fashioned to dig dandelions, but I avoid using chemicals in the yard. A yard is a place for people to visit and children to play. If there is such a thing as a "safe amount" of herbicide exposure then certainly no exposure to herbicide is also safe. We fed the dandelions to Clover, the lop-eared bunny from Minnesota. She seems to prefer fresh greens to timothy hay. Because the dandelions were chemical-free, Clover found them suitable for breakfast.

In the afternoon Gabby and I set up a miniature photo studio in the garage. It was a simple setup. A tripod, 35mm Nikon camera, a light stand with an old Smith Victor photo flood, long black velvet skirt hanging from a garage shelf, and a Lastolite reflector. I am sure that we could still find blue photo flood bulbs somewhere, but we settled for a 100W GE Reveal bulb. We had some Fuji ISO 400 film. I do not remember where it came from, or for what we had expected to use it, but it was on hand and that made it the perfect film for this project. I put a piece of cardboard over the window in the side door. It was dark enough so that we could see what our lighting looked like.

We cut flowers from the yard and posed them in the garage using a stand, floral wire, and a clamp. I would frame, focus, and hold the fill reflector while Gabby tripped the shutter release. All the photos were snapped at F/16 with shutter speeds varying from one to four seconds. Claire became interested in the project, too, and she held the fill reflector for some shots. I am not sure that she realizes how thrilled that I was that she joined us. I know that she was distracted Saturday by a science fair project on which she was working; nevertheless, I was glad she took time to work with me.

After each photograph Gabby would add the flower to a vase. It made an odd looking bouquet, but Gabby would not discard the flowers when I finished with them. The flowers were props to me, but they were precious to Gabby. They could not be cast aside. I intend to get some enlargements of Gabby's photographs so she can use them in her bedroom as wall art. I hope that she remembers our time together when she sees the photographs on her wall. Our picture taking was not an elaborate project, and the results may be pleasing, but they are not spectacular. If we recorded beauty, we did not create it. Nevertheless, I hope that Gabby remembers Saturday afternoon. I hope that she understands how much she contributed to the project. Were it not for her, I would have lost interest before I started.

The last promise in the Old Testament is found in Malachi 4:5, 6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (NASB)

Luke 1:17 explains that this was part of the ministry of John the Baptist. Nevertheless, when we review words of John the Baptist in the Gospels, we do not hear him saying, “Fathers, turn your hearts to your children.” Nor do we hear him saying, “Children, turn your hearts to your fathers.” What John did say is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

What we should observe is simply this: right relationships among men begin with a right relationship to God. Moreover, our relationship with God must begin with repentance. Modern Christianity seems to be tired of repentance. To some, sin is merely failing to live up to potential. Spirituality is measured by what we accomplish, and faith is mistaken for self-confidence. This puts each man in the center of his spiritual universe. It elevates man and diminishes his Creator. This is the same sin which God attributes to Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12-14. We are not the center of our own spirituality. Christ must be our foundation, the fullness of our hope, and not merely a means to an end.

The last prophecy of John the Baptist is recorded at the end of John Chapter Three. John the Baptist ends his farewell speech saying, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

What begins with repentance continues in faithfulness and obedience. The result of this is that we no longer live for our own gratification. Our hearts in tune with Christ are turned toward others. Fathers' hearts turn toward their children. Children's hearts turn toward their fathers. Once reconciled to God, families can be reconciled together in him. It is curious to me that modern Christianity spends a lot of energy promoting better relationships without proclaiming repentance before God. Much of modern Christianity appears to me to be like pretty flowers that are severed from their roots. Regardless of their appearance, they will die without fulfilling their true purpose which is to spread life.

Sin, by the way, is not our failing to reach potential, but rather our selfishness which causes us to rebel against the Life Giver. All our wicked deeds are merely symptoms of rebellion. Our efforts are insufficient to overcome the sin which separates us from God. Only Jesus Christ, carrying our sin in judgment upon the cross, can reconcile man to himself and to the Father. His sacrifice brings us new life in him.

While I hope that Gabby remembers Saturday and the good time we had working together, my greatest hope for her and for all my children, is that they will have a relationship with their Heavenly Father through faithfulness to his Son, Jesus Christ. The older I get, the more dependent I am upon God. The more I know of him, the more I draw my life from him. I am more grateful for his mercy toward me today than I was when I was younger. I pray that God will draw my children ever closer to himself even as he is drawing me

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gabby dance

“He has shown kindness
by giving you rain from heaven
and crops in their seasons;
he provides you with plenty of food
and fills your hearts with joy.”
Acts 14:17 (NIV)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Air roasted

by John D Ramsey

I thought that I would miss Minnesota more than I have. Two years ago, we moved back to the Kansas City area. We have only returned to the northland once since completing our move. Our return trip was a story. I took off work on Friday. Lisa, Claire, Gabby and I left early in the morning. Claire and Gabby were eight and three respectively. Our adult son, Daniel, had stayed behind when we moved. While he had come down often to visit us, I had wanted to make an effort to see him. I did not initially realize what an effort it would be.

As we approached Cameron, Missouri, I noticed a temporary lighted highway sign. MO/DOT was kind enough to inform travelers that Iowa was closed. At this moment, my air card from Sprint seemed, for once, like a great idea. We checked the weather and discovered that blizzard conditions had made Iowa impassible. We drove from Cameron to my parent’s home a half-hour away, and we waited. Lisa used my laptop to check email along the way. She was intrigued with EV-DO until we approached the farm. The signal faded as we left the highway, and we disappeared from the Internet. The air card immediately reverted to the waste of money that it had always been.

Mom and Dad have DSL and a wireless network, so soon after arriving at their place we were browsing again. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the highway status in Iowa changed from “closed” to “travel not advised.” I asked myself, when is travel through Iowa actually advisable? I concluded that conditions must be close to normal. We set out again and made good time until Des Moines. From Des Moines to the Minnesota border was a wasteland of wrecked cars and snowdrifts. The roads were in poor condition, and we joined the column of brave souls crawling north toward freedom. When we finally arrived in Minnesota, MN/DOT’s fleet of snowplows was working to clear the shoulders of the highway. The highway driving lanes were in great condition.

The conditions we had faced in Iowa had been exacerbated by bureaucratic intransigence. Nevertheless, in their defense, I see this as a marketplace reality. Iowa knows that it is a drive-thru state. In contrast, Illinois, Missouri, and Minnesota are destination states. You could argue that Nebraska is also a destination state, but that would be hard to prove. Regardless, Iowa’s concept of highway safety is to post a message saying, “Travel not advised.” That is cheaper than actually mitigating the effects of bad weather. Who knows, tomorrow it might all melt. To punctuate their hospitality, Iowa also prevents tow trucks from operating during inclement weather. If you dare to journey through Iowa during a storm, and you end up in a ditch, your AAA membership will not save you.

Anyway, when we arrived at the Holiday Inn near Daniel’s place, it was after midnight. We had driven over eleven hours for a seven-hour trip and twice as much Iowa as usual. The layover at my parents’ added to the length of the day, but probably spared us from the worst of the storm. We spent a nice weekend with Daniel.

Every day when he is in Minnesota and I am in Missouri, I miss him. His every visit seems too short and they are ever too seldom. We have come to the conclusion that it is easier, and cheaper, for Daniel to drive to Kansas City, than for the rest of the family to journey to Minnesota, and so that is the way it works. He comes down when he can. While I miss Daniel while we are apart, I also miss Cara while she is in Texas. I miss my kids regardless of where they are, but I find that I do not miss Minnesota as much as I thought I would.

When we left Kansas City, we knew we would be leaving behind great BBQ (Gates, Hayward’s, and Jack Stack are among the most notable), we knew that we would leave behind City Market, the Country Club Plaza, and thousands of familiar landmarks that made us feel at home.

After seven years in Minnesota, I had wondered what I would miss upon leaving. I do not intend to offend Minnesotans. I liked living in Minnesota. I just have not missed it as I thought that I would. Lisa and I have discussed this, and we came up with a short list of things we miss from Minnesota including Tavern on Grand. If you travel to the Twin Cities, you should buy a walleye basket at Tavern on Grand. Initially, we thought that we missed Leinenkugel, too, but Lisa found it at the local Wal-Mart. We do not drink enough beer to claim realistically that we miss it, but we could understand if someone did. Besides, Leinies are brewed and bottled in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

It is a Minnesota truism that the best things in Minnesota come from Wisconsin. It is true about the beer, it is true about the cheese, and it is true about professional football. Nevertheless, if you do travel to Minnesota, do try the Canadian walleye at Tavern on Grand.

When we first moved back to Kansas City, we did miss Dunn Bros Coffee. While living in Minnesota, Dunn Bros was an important part of our week. Every Wednesday night, we would drop Gabby and Claire at AWANA, and retreat to Dunn Bros. I would order a depth charge, Lisa would order a mocha, latte, or sometimes tea, and we would decide what variety of coffee beans to brew at home until next week.

Lisa and I have been married for almost twenty-seven years, but there are not very many bullet points regarding the secrets of our success. While we may have several habits, we do not have many rules. One rule that we do have is simply this: Do not talk about money at home. Our weekly trip to Dunn Bros became our regular “money meeting.”

We were thrilled to learn that Dunn Bros was opening a couple stores in the Kansas City area; however, the Kansas City mutations were disappointing, and we stopped making the effort. This was a bit of a crisis for Lisa; while we could talk about money anywhere, she struggled to find coffee that I liked.

Lisa is industrious, and it did not take her long to find the best coffee in Kansas City. It comes from The Roasterie, just off the Boulevard in Kansas City. Their coffee is distinctive because it is air roasted. Last summer, Daniel was down for a weekend. Cara was living at home for a few weeks after graduating from college. Lisa arranged for the family to take a tour of The Roasterie on a Saturday morning.

Cupper and master roaster, Norman, talked the small group through the history of western civilization, correlating the growth of liberty with increased coffee consumption. It would have been impolite to tell Norman that correlation does not prove causation, besides his arguments sounded as plausible as most economic theory. In reflection, coffee does exemplify the glory of economic liberty. Lisa now buys The Roasterie’s City of Fountains blend from Costco. Norman and the crew at The Roasterie could trace the route of green coffee beans from the growers on remote mountainsides overland and across oceans and overland again into one of their roasters and on to packaging and distribution. While coffee travels from the harvesters’ fingertips to the cup in my hand, my money traverses a reciprocal route. Such is the beauty of free enterprise. I think that Norman enjoys participating in global commerce almost as much as he enjoys the aroma and flavor of a great cup of coffee.

When I drink coffee, I do not think about global commerce. I think about Lisa. I can, and I sometimes do make my own coffee, but most mornings Lisa makes it for me. She makes an effort each week to make sure that we have good coffee on hand. She relies on Norman, et al, to fill the supply chain, but if Norman did not she would find good coffee somewhere. She watches our bean inventory as closely as she watched the inventory when she managed a coffee bar.

The other day, Lisa entertained several moms in our home. She noticed too late that the grinder had enough beans for only one pot of coffee. Lisa was a day away from her scheduled trip to Costco. Being resourceful, Lisa pulled a bag of The Roasterie’s decaf coffee from the freezer. She let it warm to room temperature before swapping it for the coffee in the grinder.

The women apparently raved about the coffee. One called it the perfect cup. Fortunately, no one asked Lisa how to make the “perfect” cup of coffee because the answer would have been something like this. “Buy a pound of The Roasterie’s decaf, open the package, make one or two pots for a special occasion. Reseal the packaging and store in your freezer for a year. Let the coffee beans warm to room temperature and place in grinder that most recently contained fresh beans (City of Fountains blend preferably). Leave grinder settings adjusted for a small pot, but make a full pot instead.” When Lisa told me this story, I realized that she exerted both effort and some risk for my benefit. She preserved the last pot of real coffee for me. She did not have to; she wanted to.

On some days, I drink other coffee at the office. I do drink other coffee Tuesday morning at a men’s Bible study. Occasionally, Lisa and I go to Dean & Deluca for espresso. A couple weeks ago, we went to Starbucks. Drinking other coffee is a nice reminder to me of Lisa’s efforts to give me the best. Drinking lesser coffee reminds me that I am blessed.

Perhaps the reason that I do not miss Minnesota is simply this: All the best I had in Minnesota is with me still.

Love ya, Honey.