Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Whimsy

Cloud based writing

One morning almost 60 years ago I entered a classroom to write my Grade 11 Composition final exam. I breezed through the first few pages, confident that I understood English grammar. The last page stopped me cold. It called for an essay on one of the topics in a long list. None of those topics stirred the slightest interest in my mind.

I glanced out the window. It was a glorious June day with puffy cumulus clouds drifting across the sky. I would rather have been outside, but I was stuck in that desk until I wrote the essay, or ran out of time.

Watching the clouds had a calmchild-830988_640ing effect. I saw a sheep being chased by a dragon. As I watched, the shapes slowly shifted and suddenly it was a Spanish galleon sailing through the skies. Cloud followed cloud and each one took on a recognizable shape then slowly morphed into something different.

Somebody coughed and with a jolt my mind came back into the room. The clock was ticking and the page in front of me was still blank. The list of topics was as uninspiring as ever.

Then inspiration struck: why not write about the things I had been seeing in the sky? I picked one of the topics that more or less fit and filled the page with my imagination. I handed my paper in and went outside into the sunshine.

I received full marks for that essay, 95% on the whole exam. Years later, I read in Writers’ Digest that a writer is doing the most real work when he is staring out the window. When he takes a pen in his hand or sits down at the keyboard that is just clerical work. I felt vindicated.

I still plot my stories and articles the way I did that long ago day in June. Only now the shapes I see are in my mind, not out the window. Clouds, people, ideas, arguments, incidents imagined or real, go drifting across my mind, often changing shape and becoming something totally different from the original idea. Some drift away, never to return. Some will drift through my mind for days, weeks, months, even years, before I put anything down on paper.

Sometimes I will think of a title and write it down. I might even write a list of words under the title, or a sentence or two. I have no idea how or where those words will appear in what I plan to write, but I think they will fit somewhere. Usually they do, but sometimes the whole shape of the story changes before I get it written.

I believe those idea clouds drifting through my mind are inspirations from the Holy Spirit. At least the ones that keep coming back. The changing shapes are the Spirit refining my perception so that I can understand how to put those ideas on paper so others can see what I am seeing.

Writers tend to classify themselves as either outliners or pantsers. An outliner has the whole plot down on paper before she starts – complete with descriptions of the characters, the main incidents and the conclusion. Pantsers start with an idea and proceed “by the seat of their pants” without a predetermined idea of where this is going to lead or what will happen along the way. Which category do I fall into? I don’t really know. I prefer to think of myself as a cloud-based plotter.

Reflections on my bread machine saga

I thought I had this bread machine almost figured out, I had managed to produce two loaves that were completely edible. Friday’s trial number six proved that I still have a ways to go – the loaf rose too high and then fell. I cut off the top part and the rest is quite edible, but I still haven’t mastered the process.

My mother was an artisan in the kitchen. she baked white bread, brown bread, rye bread, buns and cinnamon rolls without a recipe and without a failure.  A machine that makes breads does not have my mother’s knowledge and skills.

A bread machine is known as a robot boulanger in French – a robot baker. It occurs to me that in order to successfully produce a good loaf of bread with this robot I have to become its servant. If I do not do everything exactly as the robot wishes my efforts will produce flop after flop.

How much are our lives ruled by things? The weekend cyberattack creates some doubt in my mind about the brave new world that is promised by the internet of things. Could some shadowy group, directed by a criminal organization or a hostile government, bring all those things to a crashing halt?

What about self-driving cars? If one reads closely the propaganda in their favour, it becomes evident that the ultimate goal is to eliminate private ownership of automobiles. Would that then make us all slaves to some arcane algorithm? Who would design and control that algorithm?

The ultimate question is: How would a Christian live by the leading of the Holy Spirit if he cedes so much control of his life to things and algorithms?

I am not a Luddite, but these questions trouble my thoughts.

We shall have music

722px-Toxostoma_rufum_-Virginia,_USA_-adult_and_juvenile-8These plain looking birds are brown thrashers, an adult and a juvenile. They are long-tailed birds, a little bigger than a robin. Brown thrashers are rather shy about letting themselves be seen in public, but they fill the air with beautiful song, especially in the mornings and evenings.  My wife saw one this evening, the first sighting this spring. We look forward to a melodious summer.

The male brown thrasher has a repertoire of over 1,000 song types, the largest of any bird. We typically hear it begin by mimicking the song of a robin and then go on for minutes at a time with a steady stream of other songs. It will pause for a moment, then begin again.

We live on an acreage next to a farm yard. Between our houses there is a long shelter belt of poplars and willows. The poplars were planted 100 years ago and have passed their best-before date. Many have died and fallen, coming to rest leaning on other trees or along the ground. Others are half dead, massive, tall trees from which many branches have fallen, yet showing signs of life in the remaining branches. This makes for an unsightly, almost impenetrable thicket between our two houses. But it is ideal bird habitat.

Cats and compassion

We share our home with three cats. Each one came to us as a feral kitten at about six months old. This summer they will be 15, 7 and 6.

They are dependent on us for shelter, food and affection. They tolerate each other, but don’t appear to really like one another, though Pookie will let us know when Angus wants to come in. But as soon as Angus is in the door Pookie acts like he wants to fight with him. They never do each other any harm, though.

Angus came home twice with a bloody ear and now has two neat v’s notched on his right ear. My wife thinks he was scrapping with some other neighbourhood cat, but he showed no other battle wounds. I think that both times he probably lost a game of tag with the magpies.

They appreciate the comforts of home, having a special preference for the two recliners or the two office chairs, which happen to be our preferred seats also. They often interrupt our work with loud demands for food, for brushing or to be let outside.

Our laundry centre is located beside the hallway between the office and kitchen. Every once in a while we will hear Angus calling loudly. There he is, on top of the washing machine and wanting one of us to come and pay him some attention.

Two of the cats shed a lot of hair; we are often awakened in the middle of the night by a cat wanting to go out. The only reward we get is knowing that they like us and feel secure being in the same room as us. And nothing can compare with the contented purring of a cat on one’s lap.

Despite their annoying habits, we love our cats and think most of the distractions are good for us. Which leads me to ponder: am I as compassionate towards the people around me as I am towards my cats?

Compassion for a magpie?

magpie-1987710_1280A magpie is one of the most striking and beautiful birds that you will see in our parts. Its iridescent feathers may appear blue or almost black, depending on the way the light falls on them.  Adults are 46 cm from beak to the tip of their long tail. The wingspread is 64cm and they are very graceful in flight.

Their song is anything but graceful, a harsh, loud chattering. Most people consider them a nuisance, even a pest. They steal pet food left outside and two of them will torment a cat, one chattering and walking back and forth in front, just out of reach, the other trying to sneak up behind to peck the cat’s tail.

Magpies are members of the Corvid family, related to crows, ravens, blue jays and gray jays. Birds of this family are reputed to be the most intelligent of all birds. Magpies are the only birds that can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Magpies are year round residents here and I consider them a nuisance in all seasons. My daughter likes to see them around, I can’t imagine why.

However, for the last few days I have sensing a most unfamiliar feeling within myself towards at least one magpie. We see it daily, pecking around on our lawn. It is unmistakably a magpie in all ways but one – it doesn’t have a tail. We wonder what disaster befell this bird that it has lost its tail feathers. It can fly, but it seems to take more energetic flapping of the wings than usual for a magpie.  I’m sure the loss of a tail makes a big difference in its aerodynamics.

I’m sure the tail feathers will grow back. In the meantime – who would have ever thought that I would be feeling compassion for a magpie?

Misadventures of the kitchen klutz

I’m beginning to think I might be the fool for the whole month of April, not just one day. For the first part of this story please read my post from April 1.

The Thursday after that coffee fiasco, I decided to try baking a loaf of bread in my new to me breadmaker. I’ve been looking at breadmakers for years, dreaming of being able to make the perfect loaf of bread in my own home. As I looked, I would ask myself “How much do you really want to spend for a pipe dream?” After a while, I started looking at second hand machines. A few weeks ago I found one at Value Village that had a full size bread pan, the original instruction and recipe booklet and looked like it had hardly been used.  The sticker said $14.99, it was seniors day which meant 30% off for an old codger like me. With GST the price came to $11.00 and I thought I could risk that much on my pipe dream.

So, last Thursday I carefully measured  the ingredients, added them in the proper order, closed the lid and pushed the start button. Three and a half hours later I had a fresh loaf of bread. It smelled like bread should smell, looked pretty much like a loaf of bread, but seemed quite a bit more dense than what I had expected.

A light came on in my mind. I remembered how my mother carefully sifted and measured the flour when she baked bread. I had just scooped the flour out of the bag with the measuring cup. By doing that, I had packed the flour in and got quite a bit more than I should have. We ate part of that loaf – it wasn’t too bad; the rest went to the birds.

Yesterday I tried again. The recipe called for the liquid ingredients to be a little above room temperature, so I put two cups of milk and a cup of water into a measuring cup and miked then enough to take the chill off. Then I measured the flour, much more carefully this time, four cups of white, two cups of whole wheat. This time the dough rose – and rose – and rose, to the point of raising the lid of the breadmaker.

I went for the mail and when I returned there was an acrid smell in the house and smoke rising from the breadmaker. I pulled the plug. The dough had made its way over the edge of the pan and down the sides, until it came into contact with the electric element down below. I cleaned up the mess and will leave the breadmaker to air out a few days until I try again.

In between trying to make bread, last Saturday I tried the upside down coffee mug trick again. Both times when I did that I was using a mug from a family reunion. It is perfectly cylindrical in shape, the handle looks the same either way, and because of the dark blue colour the indentation on the bottom can look like the inside of the mug if one isn’t fully awake. That little indentation doesn’t hold much coffee, the rest travels to places it shouldn’t. You see, what I really need is a cup of coffee to wake me up before I make that morning coffee. Being a mere mortal, I don’t have that option.

My wife is somewhat bemused by all this, but willing to let me continue my experimentation. I have discovered that wives are much more tolerant of manly mishaps in the kitchen if they are not expected to clean up the resulting mess.

Oh, I think I discovered the problem with yesterday’s bread making experiment: the recipe called for a quarter cup of water and I used a full cup. I still believe that this is going to work – some day. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be any more mishaps on the road to that perfect loaf of bread.

April’s fool

First thing this morning I went to the kitchen and prepared the coffee maker to make my morning coffee. Then I went to the office and read my French Bible for morning devotions. I could hear the coffee gurgling into the mug as I read, but when I went to get my coffee I saw the mug had filled to overflowing and there was coffee all over the counter. How can that be? Our K-Cup machine only holds a cup of water.

I cleaned up the mess and made a second cup, turning the mug right side up this time. Well, what do you expect? It’s April 1 and I’m the fool.

Spring interlude

tax-468440_1280

I had cataract surgery the day after my last post on this blog (almost two weeks ago). The surgery went smoothly, the eye is recovering as it should and my distance vision is now as good without glasses as it was with glasses before the surgery.

So far so good. Better than good, wonderful. The problem is that after the surgery I couldn’t see well enough to read. My short range vision improved with the surgery, not enough to enable me to read with my naked eyes but enough that my glasses made everything more blurry.

A friend gave me the reading glasses he used after his cataract surgery. They were a step in the right direction, and helped me get some work done.  Last Tuesday I bought a pair that were stronger. Since then I’ve been doing more work, but these glasses distort everything else, giving me a bit of a queasy feeling.

I am very happy with the results of the surgery, but wish I had asked to delay it for at least a month. This is income tax season and I have done a number of personal tax returns since the cataract surgery, plus tried to catch up with my bookkeeping work.

I felt a headache coming on while doing one tax return Monday evening. This was a new client with income from a variety of sources. I had it all sorted out when I began getting error messages from Norton. The solution suggested by Norton was to uninstall the program, download it again and re-install it. I did that, then got a prompt to restart the computer, now or later. I pushed now and then realized that I had not saved the tax return. I think that dumb mistake, not the glasses, was the source of my headache. I guess that’s my reward for trying to work late. It wasn’t that bad, I already had the issues sorted out in my mind and could quickly re-enter the data and have a completed tax return.

The vision problem is also the explanation for why I haven’t been writing. Yesterday I bought reading glasses that have three strengths, one for reading, one for the computer monitor and one for looking at other items on the desk. They are distortion free and I think I am good to go now for the remaining four weeks until I can be tested for new glasses.

Are we like oxen?

oxen-1670818_1280

(My father broke land with oxen when he homesteaded in southern Saskatchewan a little more than 100 years ago.)

Exodus 32:9 – And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people.

Stiffnecked was originally used to describe oxen who would not lower their heads to permit the yoke to be fastened in order for them to pull together. The term was applied to the Israelites a number of times during the Exodus. After forty years, when they crossed the Jordan, they were a united people, able to work together.

Matthew 11:29 – Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

If we are a stiffnecked people, we will resist with all our might having the yoke applied. Thus we will never be able to pull together with fellow believers and never experience the truth of Jesus’ promise.

Reflections on turning 75

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was edging into the senior ranks. It was in 1992 and I was explaining to a younger friend how things had been when I was a boy. All of a sudden there was a little voice in my head saying, “Wait a minute! What’s going on here? It used to be that only old people talked like that.”

Twenty-five years have gone by since then; there’s no use trying to deny it any longer — I am officially an old codger. Today I am 75. And I am not 75 years young — I am not going to play that game. According to Moses, “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” By that reckoning I am five years past my best before date.

I have accumulated a ton of stories and anecdotes and some of them are even interesting to my grandchildren. My hope is that they will remember some of those stories in later years and realize that there are life lessons to be learned from the experiences told by the older folks. Lessons like the following:

The good old days weren’t always that great.
• Does anyone today remember tuberculosis and polio? There were epidemics of those diseases, and many others, when I was young.
• Does anyone remember dust storms that reduced visibility to zero and seeped into the best sealed houses? When I was a boy, most farmers had one piece of tillage equipment, a one-way disc harrow. They used it for seeding and for summerfallowing. The soil dried to a powder that would travel with any breeze. Today’s tillage equipment and farming methods conserve soil moisture and nutrients, making possible crop yields that were unthinkable years ago.
• Volunteer fire departments in small towns did their best, but they were untrained and under equipped. A grocery store in our town caught fire, someone rang the bell on the town hall and soon the volunteers were on the scene with the town’s fire equipment. In their rush to fight the blaze, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them untangled it was too late.

New doesn’t always mean better
• Teachers are better trained, schools are bigger and better equipped, the curriculum is constantly being upgraded. Illiteracy rates have exploded, store clerks haven’t a clue how to make change if the computerized till breaks down, and people don’t know what country Ottawa is in.
• Thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. Thousands of babies were born with missing or malformed arms and legs. Thousands more did not survive. Seldane was a marvellous new non-drowsy antihistamine. It caused me to have heart palpitations, a few people died — it is no longer available. My wife was prescribed Vioxx to treat her arthritis. She had heart palpitations while taking the drug; it also is no longer available.
• Time was when most people went to church on Sunday. The Word of God was read, moral principles and respect for others were taught. Of course there were a lot of half-hearted Christians and outright hypocrites in the churches. But has abandoning the churches made our world a better place?

Weather changes
• There is no such thing as normal weather, at least not where I live. When I was five there was a blizzard that closed roads for days and almost buried a passenger train — the town people carried food out to the train until it could be dug out. In the early fifties southern Saskatchewan had summer temperatures up to 105° F and winter temperatures down to -50° F . I don’t believe we have ever experienced those extremes in following years.
• Saskatchewan is more familiar with drought, but in the past five or six years we have had a series of summers with much higher than average rainfall.
• Forty years ago there was a suspicion that the Soviets were using nuclear tests to manipulate our weather and cause unusual storms. There were serious scientific attempts to explain how this could be done. Years of living here have convinced me that every year brings something we haven’t seen before and yet it is all part of the normal weather cycle. There is no need to look for a human cause.

There were frequent nuclear bomb tests in the late fifties when I was in high school. The media kept us informed when the cloud of radioactive dust would pass over our area. One morning Jack Dosko came to school and reported: “ The nuclear fallout passed right above us in the night and this morning I saw little pock marks all over the windshield of Charles Kennedy’s pickup. I wonder what else we will find.” Sixty years have passed and I still see windshields like that. I think it has something to do with our gravel roads.

Let’s not get too excited when we hear scare stories. This too shall pass.

%d bloggers like this: