Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 31 – “They’re digging up the dogs”

An interesting notice was waiting for us when we arrived home on Saturday.  Just hanging there, rather inconspicuously on the door handle.  I thought at first it was somebody who wanted to mow the grass or sell us Avon or something.  But no.  Nothing so wonderful as that.  This was a cleanup notice about a toxic chemical spill in our back yard.  OK, wait a minute.  We were gone not even a week and come back to a toxic spill?  What?

Apparently, while we were gone the transformer on the pole behind our house (the same pole that was just replaced not too long ago) exploded and sent a rain of toxic goop cascading down upon the corner of our yard right where the satsuma tree is located.  The notice warned us to steer clear of any areas where we notice oil or any areas marked off with yellow caution tape.  We didn’t have any tape, so I went out to investigate and look for signs of oil.  Sure enough, we had a brand new transformer on the pole.  Looked about twice as big as the former one.  I did see some greasy stuff on the ground and on the branches of the satsuma tree, so all we could do was wait until the next morning for them to come do whatever their job was.

Sure enough, the doorbell rang as I was getting ready to leave for church.  The Centerpoint Energy hazmat team had arrived to rescue us from … whatever the oil was.  They donned actual hazmat suits (well, those white slip-on things with footies and head coverings).  They dug out two inches of soil (right over where we have our unmarked dog graveyard.  I told Chris at one point, “They’re digging up the dogs.”  She didn’t think it was all that funny.  Fortunately they were buried deep enough to avoid discovery).  They also trimmed off half of the tree to get at the offending substance.  And they ran soil samples down to four inches.  Gotta be sure.  They assured us they would replace the soil and grass and even the tree if we wanted them to, but “it wouldn’t be as big as this one.”  I don’t imagine so.  It wouldn’t have as many satsumas already growing on it, either. 

Later that afternoon we asked Nathan what was the real danger there.  If we ate the satsumas, would we turn into radioactive beasts?  Would we get as yet unknown super powers?  He assured us that the stuff was just mineral oil, and wouldn’t hurt us at all.  It was used to prevent the transformer from getting super-hot and spewing the horrible, unspeakable nastiness everywhere.  At worst, if we drank a gallon of it straight we would probably have diarrhea for a week or so.  Otherwise, it’s just greasy.

Well, that was a relief.  When we returned from church I went out to check on the damage.  Sure enough, there was some new topsoil.  No new grass yet.  And the back half of the tree had been pruned pretty severely.  I think we’ll take our chances with the tree and keep the one we have.  I’ll sure take the grass, though.

Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Father, thank you for unseen things like that mineral oil that do its job to protect us every day.  Kind of like you holding things together in the universe.  Amen.

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30 – “My Grandma’s Underpants”

Just before our last breakfast experience at Disneyworld, Zakary introduced us to a “brand new” game he learned.  It’s actually one that’s been around for probably hundreds of years in one form or another.  His version was called “My Grandma’s Underpants.” 

Yep.  You heard right.  Here’s the gist of the game.  One person is selected to start.  Everyone else gets to ask him any question they choose.  The only stipulation is, he must answer with the same response, “My Grandma’s underpants.”  Oh, and one other thing … he cannot laugh under any circumstance.  Smiling is allowed, but no outright laughing.  Laughter means the turn rotates to someone else and the game continues, unending.  So, do you have the rules down pat?  Maybe a few examples would be helpful.  Remember, a ten-year-old introduced the game to us:

What are you wearing under your shorts?
My Grandma’s underpants
What did you find when you opened your book to read this morning?
My Grandma’s underpants
What do you use to dry off with after you have been swimming?
My Grandma’s underpants

You can almost imagine how “interesting” the questions got the longer we waited for Mickey Mouse to arrive.  And even more interesting was the looks of the boys’ faces when a particularly embarrassing scenario was introduced and it hit them that their Grandma was indeed sitting across from them at the table.  Great, great fun.

So there you are.  That should be more than enough to get you started on a game of your own.  Spend quality time with your family on this holiday weekend.

Romans 6:22-23 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Father, thank you for family and thank you for the sacrifice made by so many so that we could have the opportunity to make these kinds of memories.  Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29 – “A Disney Adventure: Day Six – Coming Home”

So the check out process was amazing.  Too good to be true even.  We went over to get a cup of coffee and there hanging on our door was an envelope containing our boarding passes and new luggage tags for our flight home.  However, when Josh opened his envelope, it was missing one minor thing – Christi.  Not that she was all that broken up about the possibility of having to stay longer, but she did kind of want to accompany her family.  Her knight in shining armor husband took care of the problem with a quick trip to the front desk, though, and we were all set.  I think they were afraid to see Josh coming by this time.  They got to know him really well when we first arrived and their pack n play was missing from their luggage.  They did finally locate it, but not until they saw Josh’s smiling face more times than they cared to. 

Once that snafu was addressed we checked in our luggage (yep, they do all that at the resort as well), jumped into a real live taxi, and headed for the Polynesian Resort for a special breakfast experience.  Our table was right by a corner bank of windows overlooking the bay with the big Cinderella castle in the background.  Very pretty.  That’s some travel agent we had.  Thanks, Christi. 

Now, on to the breakfast.  It was an all-you-can-eat family style affair.  Bacon and eggs and waffles and fruit and pastries.  And we had some visitors while we ate.  Mickey and Pluto and Lilo and Stitch were all there.  Lilo didn’t hold much appeal for the boys.  Stitch was Ok.  Luke thought he was some strange-looking puppy dog.  Mickey brought forth the smiles, though.  At least until he accidentally smacked Caleb in the head.  But Pluto was by far the highlight of the day.  Can’t beat a good, old-fashioned dog. 

To get back to our resort where we were to meet the bus to the airport, we had to take the monorail to the central station, then transfer to Epcot.  From there we caught the bus back to home base.  Phew.  But we made it with an hour to spare.  Even had enough time for the boys to visit the game room.

Now, remember that part about “too good to be true”?  As we were going through security checks at the airport we noticed that Chris and Christi’s boarding passes were exactly the same.  Exactly.  They let both of them pass with little more than a quizzical look, but our senses were certainly awakened.  We headed right over to the Southwest booth to get it straightened out.  Sure enough, Chris hadn’t checked in yet.  Never mind the fact that she was standing right in front of them.  The attendant was very nice about the whole thing.  Blamed it on Disney, of course.  She took care of everything and issued Chris a proper boarding pass. 

No real issues on the flight home.  We stopped at Gringos for supper (after we got in the car.  The airplane didn’t pull over and stop at Gringos).  The boys were happy to see Freddy, and the four of them ran in circles for a while until bedtime.  Once they settled down, I don’t think it took them long to start snoring.  Chris and I made a quick trip to WalMart for some milk and stuff for breakfast, but we were ready as well.  Great to be back in our own bed.

Romans 6:18 says, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Father, thank you for a great week with Josh and his family.  Help them to hang onto some good memories.  Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 28 – “A Disney Adventure: Day Five – Animal Kingdom”

We began our day in the Animal Kingdom with a safari ride in a Jurassic Park jeep.  We didn’t see any velociraptors, but there were elephants and giraffes and okapis and elands and even some cheetahs.  I have had a craving for some Cheetos all day.

From there we took a train ride to a petting zoo. On the way there we saw the velociraptor compounds.  Either that or the rhinos.  While there we saw a trained animal show.  Started and ended with a pig, but had guest appearances from an owl and a rat and a macaw.  Oh, and the macaw pooped.  Really made the show.

We moved inside for the Finding Nemo musical.  It was done well.  My favorite was the gigantic bird.  Great perspective established with the human-sized fish.  I have to confess that I fell asleep before it ended, though.

Next we went on the Expedition Everest roller coaster.  And that, my friends, was actually a roller coaster.  And Caleb managed to survive it.  We were quite proud of him, since he was more than a little bit apprehensive.

Then it was off to the birds of prey show.  Hawks and eagles and exotic parrots.  I think I missed one of the last birds, though.  They kept saying “Nama, Stay.”  I never did see Nama.  Oh, and guess what?  The owl pooped.  Really made the show.

We did manage to get into the world famous Lion King show.  Now that was worth the entire day.  Loved the monkey acrobats.  There was no sleeping through this one.  Too much action and too loud.  Definitely high on my recommend list.

We went back for one final drive through safari country to see if the animals were more or less active in the early evening.  They may have been a little more active, but there weren’t nearly as many of them.  Not sure where they all went.  We did see something we hadn’t seen earlier - attack bunnies stalking the lions and cheetahs.  Yep, tiny little bunnies just waiting in the bushes for the big cats to fall asleep so they could pounce.  Poor predator kitties.

Here’s our people list for the day: Southern Illinois, New Jersey, Evansville, Indiana, Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Wales, Birmingham, England, New Zealand, Washington State, Virginia, and Cuba.

Romans 6:11-12 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”

Father, it’s been a long and fun week.  We could use your protection on a certain airplane ride home now.  Thanks.  Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27 - “A Disney Adventure: Day Four – Magic Kingdom again”

What a great way to start any day.  We not only had an all you can eat breakfast buffet that included bacon - lots of bacon – we were joined for the meal by … drumroll here … Tigger.  And Winnie the Pooh.  And Eeyore.  And Piglet (Who handled the presence of so much “other” bacon with aplomb).  Quite amazing, as those of you who knew me in high school can imagine.  I played Tigger in the senior year play, so meeting him in person was like meeting the one who has mentored you from afar into the bouncy-kind of guy you grew up to become. 

We did the water slide ride, whatever they call it here.  Nani wore her parka to try to stay dry.  I suppose it helped a little bit, but she was mopping her face just like the rest of us.

Our roller coaster experience was like the old Six Flags runaway mine train.  As far as roller coasters go, it was fairly mild.  But for a ten and seven year old, it was perfect.  They really built it up to Nani, too, and she managed to throw caution to the wind and stick her arms in the air.  I was proud.

We had shrimp for lunch.  I know.  What was I thinking?  But I needed a seafood fix, and they were available.  They weren’t all that terrible, for something that no doubt arrived frozen from Thailand a few days ago. 

We also did the It’s a Small World ride.  That one was quite creepy.  All sorts of dolls dressed in costumes from every place on earth.  And they were all sing that song.  Over and over again.  Sometimes in English.  Sometimes … not.  But always the same tune.  Over and over and over again.  It was like brainwashing technique.  Zakary took it all in stride.  In fact he pretended to do some target shooting.  I was riding with Caleb, and by the time the ride ended, he was just about to go bonkers.  For the rest of the evening, every chance I got I would hum or sing the song to him.  And he would dutifully shout, “DadDad, you are just aggravating me.”  Luke, though … Luke absolutely loved it.  Cried when his Dad told him he couldn’t go through it again.  Sigh …

Oh, and we went through the haunted mansion.  I thought that one going to be something really special, but not so much.  It didn’t help that the cars kept stopping for long periods of time, resulting in us hearing the same spiel over and over again.  And once we got stopped where the only thing Caleb and I could see was a large owl with lit up eyes peering down at us. 

Our final ride was on the train back to the main gate for some ice cream.  Well, they had ice cream.  I had Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade … Go Astros.  Before we left for home we watched a parade of dancing critters drive through the streets.  Mickey and Donald and Minnie and Goofy were the lead dancers.  Good old Goofy …

We expanded the “where are you from?” game.  Here’s our list: Rhode Island, Georgia, Hawaii, Ohio, Southern Africa, Canada, Jamaica, Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois (These guys were Cubs fans all the way.  Their 4-year-old told me he likes all the other teams except for two: Cardinals and White Sox.  No self-respecting Cubs fan likes the White Sox, and the Cardinals are just Cub Killers every year.  Every 4-year-old knows that), New Mexico, Brazil, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, MIT (That would be Massachusetts), Yale (Connecticut, right?), Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Haiti, and North Carolina.  Oh, and Zak met some people from France in the ice cream parlor.  This game has morphed into a home school geography activity.  Caleb was talking with a kids from Colorado even about temperature facts.  That counts, right, Mom?

One more full day.  Bring it on …

Romans 6:9-10 says, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”

Father, thank you for all the new folks the boys are meeting and talking to about their homes.  You created some fun people.  Amen.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 26 – “A Disney Adventure: Day Three - Epcot”

Yesterday was our day at Epcot.  I had no idea what to expect there.  The first ride was a travel into the past.  And it was really slow.  I mean, really slow.  The history was really interesting and all, but I thought when the car reached the end of the show and turned around, they should have dropped it backwards into a really fast roller coaster.  That would have been a memorable ride.

After the ride we saw some of the futuristic games the kids might have in the future.  One was a mix between hockey and shuffleboard and curling and video games.  Luke got a big kick out of that one.  Zak and Caleb went for the future cars – a video game, of course.

But we did find one ride where the boys first designed a car, then we got into a car that turned out to be a roller coaster.  A bit of a shock for Nani.  She got over it, though, and even joined the boys for a second go.  After the ride the computer compared the cars they created with how well it might have performed under measurable conditions.  They both did really well.  Zak’s was by far faster.  Caleb’s was more stable and less of a gas guzzler. 

We stopped at a Mexican food place for lunch.  This park is set up as different countries for themes.  That meal was followed with a boat ride through a Mayan Temple.  And that’s when I decided it was time for my game to begin.  What game?  The one with myself, of course.  How many different people could I meet from different places?  Here’s how I have done so far:
Arizona, Tennessee, New York, Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Virginia, California, West Virginia, and even three different people from England (Portsmouth, Manchester, and “Just England”).  Chris must have been so proud of me.  She stayed at least ten yards or more away from me while I was trolling for people to meet.  I’m sure that was so she wouldn’t inadvertently distract anyone while we were talking.  Or something like that.

The highlight of the day came after we headed back to the resort for an evening of rest and relaxation.  The boys headed to the pool.  After one particularly invigorating dip under the water, Luke came up sputtering.  And the portion of the pool that had deposited itself within the confines of his stomach decided to make a return trip to the source of the excursion.  Yup.  In short, he threw up.  In the pool.  Whistles blew.  Lifeguards leapt into action.  Little Luke Vaughan single-handedly emptied out the entire resort swimming pool.  How’s that for power?  It was time for supper anyway … for the entire resort.  And after some grub of his own, Luke was relegated to the kiddie pool (less square footage to contaminate).  Caleb returned to the big one with his Dad.  Zak stretched out on a pool recliner and began reading volume one of the Harry Potter series.  Great way to relax …

Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Father, thank you for the chance to meet so many different people today.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 25 – “A Disney Adventure: Day Three: Hollywood Studios”

I’m still having a hard time telling all these Disney places apart.  Josh took a little stab at my ignorance today.  As we arrived he said, “I think y’all will really like this place.  It’s all old stuff.”  And … thank you very much for that.  Sad thing is … he was right.  It was the movie one - Universal Studios, maybe?  And I did like it a lot better than the one the day before. 

The first ride was all about the history of great movies.  Saw John Wayne on a horse and Clint Eastwood on a porch.  Some gangster took over our ride and drove us through a gun battle with some guys in a car.  We drove through the Land of Oz.  Discovered a carefully guarded secret, too.  Guess it’s OK to let you in on it.  The driver of the car in front of us was Glenda the Good Witch.  Well, her secret identity, anyway.  Yup … he spoke back to the wicked witch and everything.  And I recognized the words from the movie.  He had to be her. 

We went on one ride that was a giant video game.  Everyone had a controller and we each had to shoot at targets while the cars moved from spot to spot.  I got 95,000 points.  Zak and Caleb really enjoyed that one.

Speaking of Zak and Caleb, they were joined by Luke as enlistees in the green man army – the army men from Toy Story.  They had to march and obey orders and everything, all in front of the whole crowd.

I have to mention the intermittent reign of terror perpetuated by a squad of storm troopers from Star Wars (particularly intimidating to little girls).  They periodically marched through the entire complex demanding absolute obedience and threatening to take down any rebel sympathizers.  Their fear tactics worked well for a while.  Until we began seeing Chewbacca and C3PO and R2-D2 and even a Jedi training academy.  There is still hope for the galaxy.

We saw a 4-D movie called Under the Sea.  That was impressive.  A live actress, some puppets, and some computer generated video all interacted with each other.  Impressive.

We also did some kind of Star Wars ride where the theater style seats moved all over the place in response to action taking place on the 3D movie.  That one was lots of fun.  Zak and Caleb built their own light sabre after we made our way back to earth. 

The Hollywood Tower Hotel of Terror was the best ride of the day.  Up and down and around while in a totally darkened hotel elevator.  Pretty scary stuff.  I took my Galveston Fire and Rescue chaplain cap off and sat on it so I wouldn’t lose it.  Little did I know that we would be spending most of the ride actually out of our seat, straining against the seatbelt as we plummeted to the ground and back up again.  The elevator somehow grabbed my cap and devoured it without a trace.  The staff promised to search for it, but I have little hope.  I suppose we are now immortalized in cobwebs for eternity. 

The Beauty and the Beast live musical was fun to watch.  It was like watching one of those Little Golden Books come to life, only with singing.  I stayed awake through almost the entire presentation. 

The Indiana Jones stunt show was interesting.  Not just the stunts, but the whole explanation of what goes on behind the scenes was fascinating. 

I decided to go ahead and get a new hat.  The sun has been treacherous here, and even with sunglasses on, I needed a hat to help block some of it.  I finally settled on the only one I could find with Goofy on it.  He’s not the only character portrayed, but at least he’s there.  And speaking of Goofy, we finally found him.  In fact, I got to have my picture taken with him.  Someone who will remain nameless made a crack about now there being two Goofy’s in the park.  I don’t know why Diane Huntley would talk about Chris that way, do you?

Generally speaking, this park was much less stressful, even with the cap-eating hotel elevator monster.  It was much smaller, so there were fewer people.  It was kind of like the difference between WalMart and Randalls.  With this fast track stuff and the benefits I got from walking with a cane, we really saved a lot of time.  What will tomorrow bring?  More Mickey-ness, I suppose.

Romans 5:17 says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Father, thank you for dream culminations and Goofy-ness.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 24 – “A Disney Adventure: Day Two: Magic Kingdom”

OK.   Yesterday we went to that big castle place.  The one with all the fairy tale stuff.  I don’t know all the place names.  Sorry. 

We watched the opening ceremony before we even entered the park.  Mickey and Minnie the gang.  Well, except for Goofy.  Goofy wasn’t there.  I wanted to see Goofy.

We went to that classic Disney venue – the Teacupticus Vomitus with Josh and Caleb and Zakary.  That cup was moving fast.  And it almost lived up to its name.  In fact, I’m still a little queezy.  Luke saw us having fun so he insisted on doing it again with his Daddy making it spin.  Guess Mommy and Nani couldn’t get it going fast enough.

As we walked around the park we saw Mickey and Minnie together.  But not Goofy.  Later on we saw Minnie by herself.  But not Goofy.  Then we saw Alice and the Mad Hatter.  But not Goofy.  We even saw Lilo and Pluto and Snow White.  But not Goofy.  At one point Tigger himself even attempted to high five me on his way to the bathroom.  But Tiggers are really bouncy, and DadDad’s are not so much.  So he actually missed my hand and sort of high-forearmed me.  I still felt cool, though.  Pooh was right behind him, too.  But not Goofy.

In one of the lines for a Dumbo ride there was a full-on playground right in the middle.  The boys passed on the ride and spent fifteen or twenty minutes just playing.  Luke found a little fire truck right in the middle, and that’s where he wanted to stay.  He kept saying, “I Uncle Nathan.”  Then me and Josh and the older two guys snuck out and rode the Goofy roller coaster ride.  But Goofy wasn’t there. 

I saw my first graffiti in one of the bathrooms.  Beautiful clean room except for a tiny word etched on some chrome, “Opiem.”  Hmm.  Is that how they spell it in Florida?

We went on the Carousel of Power.  At least that’s what we told the boys it was.  It was actually Carousel of Progress or something like that.  Very weird ride.  We sat in a theater and instead of the stage being changed, the entire theater seating area rotated in a big circle. 

 We actually got Nani to ride Space Mountain with us.  That’s the roller coaster that takes place in the dark pretty much the whole way.  Only thing I remember about my one excursion to DisneyLAND years ago was riding this thing about ten times in a row.  Well, other than buying a Mickey fanny pack.  Still need to duplicate that feat.

We did see the big afternoon parade of fantasy.  That was pretty cool.  All of the creatures/heroes/princesses/villians were in that one.  My favorite was the fire-breathing dragon.

Christi had arranged for a special meet and greet with Mickey himself.  Unusual thing there?  The character actually talked.  Sounded just like Mickey, and his mouth moved and everything.  Never expected that.  Leave it to Mickey to come up with surprises …

Last night we ended the day by taking a boat ride to a different resort and having supper at an all-you-can-eat place.  Good stuff.  Then the boys played on the beach while we waited for the boat to come pick us up.  We watched the sun set from a lawn chair.  Sigh.  Memories of home. 

Romans 5:11 says, “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Father, thank you for Mickey surprises and families to enjoy them with.  Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23 – “A Disney Adventure: Day One: Travel”

We woke up to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck hanging from the ceiling in our kitchen.  Christi had been on the prowl.  She had to make our whole day something special from start to finish.

OK.  Some of you will understand this.  It seems they have a Beep-Boop machine om the airplane.  Who woulda thought?

As the plane flew sleepily through the air, I was suddenly startled awake by the flight attendant, spilling the Sprite she had just placed on my tray all down my leg and right into her shoe.  She said that was payback for all the times she has spilled things on people. 

At the Orlando airport we decided to go ahead and eat, since the ride to the resort promised to be about an hour long.  We decided to hit McDonalds and get something light.  Chris had McNuggets.  I had a fish sandwich.  Now, my drink order seemed to be a topic of consternation for the poor waitress.  Check out this interchange:
Her: “What would you like to drink?”
Me: “Do you have tea?”
Her: “No.  Well, we do but it’s not like sweet tea or anything.  It’s only hot.”
Me: “Do you have lemonade?”
Her: “No.  No lemonade.”
Me: “Do you have anything that is not carbonated?”
(Here it comes …)
Her: “Diet Coke.”
Long pause.  Very long pause.
Guy working next to her: “How about some lemonade?”
Me: “That’s sounds great.  I’ll have that.”
Guy working next to her, to her: “Always offer them lemonade.”

We finally made it to the Pop Century Resort.  The boys immediately went swimming.  I didn’t get the memo about packing a swimsuit in my carry-on luggage, and our other luggage had not yet “magically appeared” in our room.  We watched them play for a while, and I went exploring on my own a bit.  I did see a “Convertible Cross Body-Hip Pack.”  It had a picture of Mickey Mouse on it and all, but I’m still not sure it exactly qualifies as a fanny pack.  Guess I’ll keep my options open.

We roamed around the resort after supper just to see what was here.  The outdoor decorations are amazing.  Gigantic is the word for everything.  Gigantic Mickey Mouse telephone.  Gigantic foos ball game.  Gigantic yo-yo that housed the stairs up the side of one of the buildings.  Gigantic hot wheels car.  Gigantic Goofy statues (Hope I get to meet that guy this week). 

We were all pretty pooped when it got close to bedtime.  Even Eastern Daylight Savings Bed Time.  And Christi has quite a full day already planned out for tomorrow, so by 8:30 we had joined together for family worship and adjourned to our respective, albeit adjoining bedrooms.  Of course they were showing an outdoor movie at the pool right outside our room, so it’s not like we wanted to go to sleep right away anyway …

Romans 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Father, thank you for first days and memorable memories.  Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 22 – “Waffle Cheeks Woman”

We are leaving this morning for DisneyWorld, so here’s some quick notes about yesterday.

We started our morning at the hotel breakfast bar.  The waffle machine was one of those in the shape of the state of Texas, so I was greatly encouraged.  Sadly, there was no batter when we arrived.  I trudged along to the next station … cereal and/or a banana.  Now this was just not going to work at all. 

Suddenly, from a small room at the back, came movement.  Could it be?  Yes, it was.  A lady was bring out the batter.  I immediately recognized her aloud for who she obviously was, The Waffle Woman.  She chuckled and said, “If you promise not to laugh, I have a story to tell you.”  I am never one to turn down a story, and I never really promised not to laugh, so she began her tale.

Seems she used to live on an Indian reservation in Northern California.  She remembers sitting outside on those old milk crates when it got really hot outside, wearing short shorts, of course.  After all, it was really hot.  On one especially warm afternoon she rose from her perch, and a friend started laughing hilariously at her.  “You have waffle cheeks,” he roared.  Now at that point I couldn’t help myself.  I asked, “So did that become your tribal name, Waffle Cheeks Woman?”  Without missing a beat she said, “No, but Waffle Cheeks became my email name.  Still is.” 

I love having free continental breakfast at hotels. 

On the road:
We saw a pickup truck full of gigantic nachos pulling a food trailer … Mexican food, of course.  And later we saw a van completely covered with icee stuff.  That was just a lead-up to the place selling giant chicken statues.  That beats the one we saw the other day selling giant tin Mexicans wearing sombreros.  No, really.  I didn’t make that up.

We made our way up to Waco to watch one of Caleb’s baseball games.  His team was dominant, in the field and at bat.  Afterward the boys decided to ride back to Galveston with us and meet Mom and Dad here later after a wedding Josh had to do.  Chris mentioned something about having some extra baggage, referring to the boys.  Caleb commented, “Nani’s have lots of different words for people, don’t they?”
We stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch and ended up settling in when a really strong storm cell blew in.  Caleb is deathly afraid of tornadoes.  We distracted him with a game of giant checkers. 

When the rain stopped we continued on.  And almost immediately had to take a detour.  High water in the road, so we couldn’t get to the freeway.  It wasn’t all that bad, though.  We enjoyed a nice drive through part of Bryan or College Station or wherever we were. 

Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Father, we give you our Disney trip.  Grant us your safety.  And a little fun wouldn’t hurt, too.  Amen.

May 21 – “It’s all about the journey”

How about a very fast and rambling look at our journey to Round Rock and beyond?  Sounds like fun, right?  Not mention that we have to get out of this hotel and make our way up north to Waco in time for Caleb’s 9 a.m. baseball game.  Movin’ on up …

Somewhere outside of Columbus we saw some little baby emus, or whatever bird looks like a baby emu when full grown.  We guessed the area was a wildlife ranch by the condition of the fence.
As we drove on we passed a ranch on the other side of the road that had some horses, sure.  But it also had buffaloes.  Wouldn’t have noticed except for a huge bronze-looking statue of a buffalo on the property. 
We passed some kind of huge pollution plant.  Smoggy-looking smoke was pouring from one of the three big smokestacks.
There was one business called the Thunderbird Classic Vehicles sales lot and airport.  They did have one airplane parked there, but a lot of very cool old cars.
Vultures and cows and dogs galore.  Even a few really big haws circling overhead.
We crossed the Colorado River.  Five times.  Chris even tried to drive into it once.  Said she wanted to see how deep it was.  Fortunately we were on the freeway at the time, so she was able to quickly see the folly of her desire.
We saw a cowboy church next to a ranch.  Appropriate.
We passed an 18-wheeler mired in the mud in the median between the divided road.  It wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.
The Bastrop fire area was quite sobering.  Lots of ruined trees and land, but there was some green sneaking through.  Hope.  Some of our Galveston fire fighters helped work that fire. 
Speaking of Bastrop, they have a Buc-ees.  We didn’t stop.  There was also a fireworks factory outlet nearby.  We didn’t stop there, either.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the business with the gigantic squirrel sitting in front.  Frightening.  More frightening than a beaver taller than me.  Needless to say we didn’t stop there.  But later on we heard that the business there has really good pecan pie.  Makes sense.  They have a giant squirrel to gather their pecans for them.

The child dedication for William and Levi went pretty well.  There were lots and lots of people.  Little tiny children-people.  Parents, too.  There were folks from their church, from Kenny’s fire department, as well as other foster parents.  Apparently Lauren has been telling Galveston stories to their small group.  We had several folks approach us and say, “Oh, so YOU’RE the Galveston people.  We’ve heard SO much about you.”  Yup.  Whatever that means …

Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

Father, help Kenny and Lauren as they raise those little guys and their two sisters through their own special journey.  Thank you for surrounding them with a church family that really loves them.  Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2016

May 20 – “On Neighbor Protocol and Vaughan Women”

We had some of those really strong thunderstorm cells pass over the Island yesterday.  lots of rain, and thus lots of water on the ground as it tried to make its way to the Bay.  We had several periods of flickering lights that pretty much got the best of me.  we got the computers turned off with no problem, but every time we thought the worst was over and I reset the clocks, here it would come again.  One time I had just set the last clock down when the lights started kicking off again.  Very frustrating.  We made it through, though, as we usually do.  Even had a few folks show up for home group last night.  Oh, and speaking of home group, I totally forgot to call Jennifer during our prayer time.  That’s on me, Jen.  We did pray for you and your surgery today, though. 

The first part of my day – the part before the rain started – was spent mowing grass.  Not ours.  We finished that task already.  We were just returning Nathan’s mower to him and I decided to surprise him by doing his yard as well.  I’m sure it wasn’t done as professionally as when he does it himself, but at least I presented him with one opportunity to not have to do anything.  Well, except maybe fix any flaws I might have caused.  I also didn’t know his “Neighbor Protocol.”  There is always a Neighbor Protocol when it comes to mowing and edging, you know.  Who is supposed to do what?  How high a lawn mower setting does he prefer?  Where is that imaginary line between properties?  And do you stop there, or is it OK to bleed over and help him out a bit?  Or does he prefer you not help at all because he wants to do it himself?  See what I mean?  There’s a lot more to mowing a lawn in the city than meets the eye.  Hopefully Nathan’s neighbor will still like him.

Now I did make one discovery while I was at Nathan and April’s house yesterday.  If there was ever any hint of a question, any remote wondering, as to whether or not April was truly a Vaughan woman, all that uncertainty was laid to rest.  See, in their garage, mixed in with their shovels and rakes and weedeaters, I finally found, to my utter surprise and shock, a broom.  But not just any broom.  See, it was one of those old-timey straw brooms.  Not that unusual in and of itself.  But the thing is, it only had about three or four inches of straw left.  That, my friends, is truly a Vaughan Woman characteristic.  I have to buy brooms for us all the time because Chris will use them until they are down to the proverbial nub.  You’ve been a Vaughan eight years, April.  If it was ever in doubt, it’s now not.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  The broom nub has spoken.

Romans 3:23-24 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Father, thank you for the awesome Vaughan women you gifted all three of my sons with.  Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

May 19 – “Upgrades”

Chris went to what she thought was going to be a Wednesday Club picnic yesterday at Kempner Park.  As it turned out, she was the only one who showed up.  Literally the only one.  She did see a family with small children playing and one other lady who just seemed to be taking a walk, but no one she knew.  Guess she didn’t get the memo …

While she was gone I decided to try again to start the process of upgrading the Bible software on my computer.  I use it virtually every day, and since the advent of Windows 10 it has been crashing two or three times every time I open it.  I did some checking and found out the software I had was three or four generations removed from being the newest.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, the reason for the software’s latest upgrade was … drumroll here … the advent of Windows 10.  None of the earlier versions was working properly so they completely redid their operating system.  It gets worse.  The most recent upgrade – the one that works with Windows 10 – can only be loaded as an upgrade to their former most recent upgrade, which meant I would have to upgrade first to that one, and then to the newest.  Crazy stuff. 

Now I started last month sometime trying to connect with the company to get the information I needed to make the upgrades.  I started with emails, because I never could find a phone number on their website.  Response was erratic at best, and usually obviously computer generated.  I did get one that promised to call me back.  That never happened.  So yesterday I began again.  This time I had a phone number, embedded at the bottom of one of the emails.  I made the call and … got a computer.  I had three choices: tech support (Not at all what would help me), sales, and customer service.  I gave both of those others a try.  Straight to voice mail after strongly suggesting I revert to emailing them.  I dutifully left a message both places.  I even went back to that one email from the person who promised to call me back, and sent her another request, outlining my frustrations.  And then, I waited. 

About an hour later I was trying to figure out how to use our new TV to show song videos so we can sing at home group tonight when the phone rang.  Surely not?  Yup.  It was the software people returning my call.  Customer service.  Once we connected, she was very helpful in getting me set up.  The first upgrade would be downloaded and the main one (the one that solved all the world’s problems with Windows 10) would be shipped in a thumb drive within a couple of weeks.  Seems they go back through my records and individually build the program to match what I have purchased through the years.  Then they test it before they send it.  Sounded good to me.  It also sounded when they realized I had been sent a “birthday code.”  Apparently they were giving big breaks to the old guys.  My code ended up taking $65 off the cost.  That was a huge help. 

While we were talking another call tried to break through my phone.  I ignored it, and they left a voice mail. And my email got a hit as well.  As soon as I finished the transaction I listened to the voice mail.  It was from the software company, assuring me that they would call back.  And the email was from the person I had just emailed earlier, assuring me that she would personally call me.  I suppose it must have been a really slow day at the office. 

So … It took about an hour to download the update, but I now have the preliminary update installed and waiting to be updated by the even newer update that is being shipped.  Haven’t had a chance to use the program yet other than a quick perusal to make sure the Hebrew and Greek packages were there.  They used to have problems getting their computers to recognize and send the Greek and Hebrew characters.    All was well on the foreign language front, though.  So far it doesn’t appear that I will have to learn anything new and confusing.  But as I said, the newer new update is “in the mail …”

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Father, thank you for the creative resources available to help study your word.  Help me to learn quickly.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 18 – “Hurricane Hunter”

We took advantage of one of those weird, occasional Galveston tourist-y type things yesterday.  Oh, I’m not talking about Moody Gardens.  We missed the blooming of the Super Stinky Flower.  I’m not talking about The Pleasure Pier, either.  We’re saving that kind of energy expenditure for next week at Disney World.  Nope, this was one of those poorly advertised, but really cool events that we somehow stumble across every now and then. 

It started the night before when I actually remembered to check the messages on our house phone.  The Galveston Office of Emergency Management was calling.  Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We weren’t being told to evacuate or anything.  Apparently it was their way of advertising something unusual that was happening at the airport. 

It is getting into hurricane season around here, and every year there is a Hurricane Awareness emphasis that the city puts on.  It is usually at the convention center and consists of lots of booths and guests from FEMA and local emergency responders.  And I imagine we will still have one of those in the weeks to come.  This one, however, topped all of that.  For there at the airport, Scholes International Airfield (So named because planes that leave the Island are automatically enter another country … Texas), were parked the Hurricane Hunter aircraft – the big boys that fly into hurricanes to get measurements.  (By the way, we learned that it was a Galveston boy who was the very first one to fly into a hurricane, back in the 40’s).  And not just them, but also a Coast Guard helicopter, the police and surf patrol boats, as well as some ambulances were there, too.  I understand that at least three of the fire department crews were a little busy at the time fighting a fire on a shrimp boat and keeping it contained.  Nice job on that, by the way.

We were allowed to go on board the Hurricane Hunter plane and even talk to the pilot and navigator.  Chris talked at length with the navigator.  She told her that they were spending the night here, then heading to New Orleans to do the same thing.  I was more fascinated with the conversation the guy in front of me was having with the pilot.  Here’s a taste of how that went:
Civilian: “So what’s your position on the plane?” (The Air Force guy looked about 18 years old)
Air Force Guy: “I used to be a navigator  but now I’m the pilot.”
Civilian: “Why did you change?”
Air Force Guy: “Because I could do it better.”
Civilian: “But doesn’t the pilot have to do what you say if you’re the navigator?”
Air Force Guy: (With a barely perceptible grin) “But he has the option to say no.”

While we were roaming around amongst the different aircraft, I saw a guy with a fire department shirt on.  I couldn’t help myself.  I had to introduce myself.  He was a retired captain out of the Austin fire department, and now works a lot with their Critical Incident Stress Management team when he’s not at his beach house in Bolivar.  He knew one of our guys, Scott Zahara.  Always great to connect with another one of the fire fighter family. 

I have to say we were duly impressed by the whole affair.  Our only regret was that it was so poorly advertised.  We would have seen to it that at least some of our grandkids could be there.  Ah, well.  Maybe next time. 

Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Father, thank you for the guys and girls who fly into those hurricanes and send us the information they collect.  Sure helps with our decision-making when a hurricane is looming.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17 – “An affair of the Heart”

Well, the only big exciting news from yesterday involves our trip to the vet.  No crisis or anything.  Fritz was just overdue for his turn.  We knew it had been a while, but we were pretty sure he was covered with those three year versions of the shots they give.  And he was doing fine.  We were just running low on flea medicine.

As it turned out, he hasn’t been seen since 2013, about what we figured.  The doc was more than pleased with his general condition, but sadly, the heartworm test came back positive … again.  Sigh.  The ongoing saga of Fritz’s affair of the heart.  He started this whole heartworm positive thing back right after Hurricane Ike, along with a whole lot of the dogs on the Island.  I guess they got stirred up by the flood waters.  As long as it is treated, it’s not a super-serious condition.  The treatment is interesting.  He would spend a few nights in the hospital and get some shots directly into his back.  Then he would come back in two weeks for the same thing.  Then he would have stay still and quiet for two months after that.  Yup.  Right.  She should have led with that part and we could have saved her some breath.  Fritz is not staying still and quiet for two minutes, much less two months.  And I didn’t even ask how much that one would cost.  Ah, but there is a second treatment option.  Fritz would have to eat yet another tasty treat once a month.  That’s all, just a treat with the medication embedded within.  Not even a choice here.  We opted for the treat.  Fritz thanked us. 

He got his rabies and whatever that other shot is that they have to have.  Everything else checked out fine.  We had to buy some flea medicine for Fritz and Freddy.  Heidi uses the same stuff as Fritz.  Needless to say, we left that place with a much heavier burden on our credit card bill than we expected.  But we did leave with a healthy pup.  And that’s why we went in the first place, right?

Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Father. Thank you for our four-legged friends.  They are great teachers of loyalty and affection.  Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2016

May 16 – “Video Limbo Land”

We went on a date night the other night to hear our worship leader Jim sing at Mod Coffeehouse.  We sat and chatted with Jim’s wife Charlotte, and we saw Cathy from church there as well with some of her family.  We were all surprised at one point when the guy just down the street began his weekly rendition of Taps from his balcony.  All of the lively banter and nightclub-type activity stopped dead in its tracks, and everyone stood at attention solemnly joining in on the tribute.  It was our first time to experience the playing, and it was definitely a powerful statement. 

Speaking of Jim, he and Lynn and Dan did a great job with music at the church fish fry yesterday.  We had a great turnout, too.  A group of high school students from Iowa here in Galveston on their senior trip found Seaside because they rented a beach house across the street.  They stayed for the fish fry and seemed to have a really good time.  Great kids, too.  I think just about every one of them personally thanked the cooks and me for letting them join us.  Maybe next time they come they can stay in our retreat center.  I also enjoyed talking to the pastor of a church in Hico, Texas, not far from Waco.  He and his family were on vacation, so they were happy to be able to take advantage of the free lunch as well.  Great worship.  Great fellowship.  Gotta love Seaside. 

We kind of needed a great day after the crisis here at the house on Saturday night.  Our television has been on the fritz for a while now.  The sound part is fine, but every so often the picture just decides to go away.  No particular rhyme or reason.  It just gets tired and shuts itself off.  Sometimes it worked to turn it off and back on again, to reboot itself.  But apparently Saturday was the day earmarked for final departure.  No number of off and ons helped.  The picture was permanently lost in some video limbo land. 

Chris apparently took pity on me enough to agree to accompany me to WalMart to seek out a replacement.  That was not going to be an easy task, though.  We haven’t bought a TV in well over ten years.  The one that just died was given to us after Hurricane Ike by some dear friends who live in Round Rock.  And we only operate with one TV at a time around here (No TV in the bedroom.  That place is for other things … like reading), so no spares.  Chris did some rapid internet homework, and we headed over to take the plunge.  Hopefully I’ll have some weddings to do this summer that will cover the cost. 

We did like probably 90% of other TV buyers at WalMart do.  We stood in front of the wall of screens for 30 or 40 minutes, pondering and comparing.  I liked Nathan’s take on TV purchasing.  He told me, “I stood in front of them and looked at reviews until I found one in my price range with good ratings.  Then I bought one a little bigger.”  That’s my boy.  We didn’t go for the little bigger, though.  Our issue was Smart TV or Dumb TV (or whatever the designation is for not-smart).  Either way I knew we were going to have some problems when it came time for home group.  Our old TV had a connection for extending a monitor cable with the old-style monitor connection.  We have a long cable that fit just fine between the computer and the TV.  That connection is pretty much non-existent any more.  Not necessary in the fast-paced computer world.  I understand it is possible not to do everything wirelessly.  That would be great.  Don’t have any idea how.  Sigh.

Since we do watch things on Netflix, we went with the Smart TV option.  Figured something in the house might as well carry that designation (besides Chris, of course, who is beyond simply smart).  The screen size is the same as what we had, but it seems so much smaller because the old one had speakers or something extraneous built in on the sides.  The first big issue was our sound bar.  It wouldn’t work.  All the connections matched up, but obviously there was something I was doing wrong or failing to do to convince the Smart-aleck TV to accept help.  Never could figure that one out.  I could actually hear it pretty well, though, so we may be all right on that one. 

Next I tried to set up the remote that came with the Smart-dude TV to also operate our cable box.  And of course an issue arose that didn’t match up with what the instructions were telling me.  Once you sync up, you are supposed to be able to disconnect the little device that makes the connection.  Not so much.  It worked OK with it plugged in, but once I unplugged it, all was lost.  Now by OK, I have to say it wasn’t perfect by any means.  After playing with it for quite a while, I think the remote itself just needs to be broken in.  Or I just need to learn all its quirks.  Or I just need to use the cable company remote and call it a day. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased with the Smart One.  It picks up the Astros games just fine.  We’ll have to figure out something else for home group singing.  Maybe I need to pull out my ukulele again …

Romans 1:8 says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”

Father, thank you for the great day at church yesterday.  Provide a special blessing to Jonathan and Bob for providing all those fish.  Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15 – “The Ides of March”

The Ides of March.  Great day for a fish fry, wouldn’t you say?  Well, we’re hoping for some good weather, because that’s what we have on tap after church today for our third Sunday dinner on the grounds.  All the fish have been donated by some of our prolific fishermen, so everyone is supposed to bring stuff that goes along with it.  Hope that preacher isn’t too long-winded today …

Yesterday we were in full-on birthday party mode. Both of them were over in Texas, too.  The first one was for two-year-old Cedric in Texas City.  Sesame Street theme.  House full of people.  I managed to grab a hot dog and some water and help a little with some plumbing issues.  Not yet solved by the time we had to leave, though.  Yikes.

Party two was in LaMarque for Josiah’s big sixth.  Pokemon theme.  I never have quite figured out what a Pokemon is.  They all look like cartoon gremlins to me.  Scary stuff.  He got several Star Wars toys.  We gave him a Batman action figure, cape, and cowl.  Kel confiscated the cape for himself.  Might be wearing it to church this morning if he can find an extender for the neck tie.  I scored a slice of pizza and some ice tea at this one.  Oh, and a licorice flavored twizzler.  Never tried one of them before.  Not a very strong flavor.  More like a piece of soft plastic that had been dipped in licorice sauce.  Yesterday.  Won’t be standing in line for that treat at Disney World, which, by the way, we leave for next week about this time.  Not that anyone is counting, but rumor has it that Chris sends out a text with a different emoticon for each day we have left before we leave.  And I may or may not have received my cane with a seat attached that I ordered.  Very cool utensil.  Lean on the cane while walking, and when you have to stand in line, it opens up into a little seat to sit in.  And word has it I can even take it on the airplane as an assisted walking device.  I’m ready.

Mark 16:6 says, “’Don't be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’”

Father, thank you for birthdays and celebrations.  Oh, and fish to fry.  Amen.