Archive for the ‘Random thoughts’ Category

Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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Grammar is fascinating and frustrating. A wordsmith must surely play with it sometimes to see what change in perspective it gives a sentence or idea or story. All people who try to thoughtfully put ideas down on paper or screen must surely have faltered in how to follow the rules while conveying the thought and feeling. As a teacher and sometime writer, I deal in a fair amount of grammar though I am by no means a wordsmith.

So it was today that I warmed to the prayer of my pastor as he requested of God that He make our indicatives into our imperatives. I believe I knew what he meant, that we should take those statements of fact that God declares about who we are and what we have in Him and make them bold statements of faith by acting on them as though commanded by the very statement of them. I lost most of the rest of his prayer as I requested that God would indeed do that in my life in areas that I knew were not fully under His Lordship.

It was only later in the day that I again reflected on the thought, this time to consider if I had really understood it. Then my mind went all bonkers on details. For instance, what is the term for different types of statements? Oh yeah, mood? When he made that request, being a man who frequently studies the Scriptures, was he thinking English or Greek verb moods? What are the English and Greek verb moods, what do they mean, and how are they expressed? How might I use conscious awareness of them to benefit my writing and deepen the content of what I convey?

It feels good after so many months of tight schedule and stressful deadlines to be sufficiently unencumbered of the mind to have random thoughts and have a few minutes to put them down. Here is an attempt at sharing a good mood:

I desire while still living who I am in Christ shall command me to obey.

That is a mood worth having!

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Evidently, last night a spider had laid three lines of silk down the windshield of my truck squarely in the line of my vision for driving. The Sun shining in from just south of my predominantly easterly direction on the way to church down the interstate produced little repeating rainbows in the silk. From bottom to top they gleamed: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and the last two just looked like black gaps before the next red. The colors were brilliant and made the silk appear much wider than it did when the Sun was obscured once or twice by tree branches. I noticed that when I moved my head left or right the colors changed. When I moved to the right the color transitioned to longer red beads up and down the silk. When I moved my head left the color transitioned toward blue. Just before I exited the interstate the roadbed trends slightly more North and I finally began seeing violet when I leaned left.** I was thankful for light traffic on the interstate since I was focusing on 5 lines, one solid white, one dashed, and three multicolored. I thought of lunar eclipses, when the Moon is blood red or orange. Light from the Sun is refracted by the atmosphere onto the surface of the Moon which is moving through the shadow of the Earth. The shorter wavelength colors bend more evidently, careening off into space between Moon and Earth. I also reflected on the refraction that occurs in a droplet of water on a leaf producing and fisheye view of flowers or landscapes behind. The Sun was also pleasantly warm on me. I praised God for beauty He instilled into Creation which points to His superior beauty and His goodness that allows me to be aware of and see it and experience warm Sun and have a truck to travel in, and so on. I went to a corporate worship service later, which I would always recommend, but I got started early with three lines of evidence for God’s beauty and love of beauty.

**I don’t think that I ever see indigo, or is it violet I don’t see? That is, I don’t discern two colors, indigo and violet. I had the thought for the first time today that perhaps I don’t see violet. When I get in discussions with my family about a transition color between green and blue, they always say it looks blue and I most usually say it looks green. Does that mean that I see colors differently than most people, seeing what normal (whatever that means in this situation) eyes discern as blue as green or that I just name them differently? If it is the former, then perhaps I also see indigo as blue and violet as indigo and don’t see a separate violet color. If this is true it in no way changes reality, but only casts a shadow of doubt on my perception of reality. Afterall, certain people certainly hear more or most frequently less than 20 to 20,000 Hz frequency of sound.

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     In my Earth Science class we are learning about Meteorology. Today I was discussing cumulonimbus clouds, how they form, and the results of their violent action. Maybe you can guess where this is going. Given my particular Southern accent, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the pronunciation of hail and hell. (And yes, I can pronounce them differently and correctly, and yes, there is a difference in Southern accents. (That was for my Northern brothers and more British speaking acquaintances.)) So, a student immediately seizes upon the opportunity to ask which one I meant. I replied, as the snickers increased, that we could talk about either one. I then proceeded to compare and contrast the two by way of modeling proper separation of homonyms (as they appeared), prefacing my comments by saying that I take both seriously, since I believe both are real. Encouraged on by several students, I re-pronounced the words, “hale” (long a) and “hel” (short e) and said one is cold and one is hot. One is a thing and the other is a place. 

     Had I had more time to think, I believe that after re-pronouncing them that I would have said something more along the lines of, “One is a thing; one is a place. Both are real and dangerous. One is hot and one is cold. One can ruin your day and one can ruin your eternity. One can injure your head and one can injure your soul. Both are avoidable if you retreat to an ‘umbrella’ of protection from the wrath they entail.” Hopefully the little I did actually say communicated much of what I would intend to say if it were not a spur of the moment reaction.

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If you hold to objects close together with a small gap between them and peer through toward a bright light you can see the bending of the light around the two edges as an interference pattern. The result makes the two object appear to grow together if they are at the correct distance apart. You may find an example at the following link: https://www.meteoros.de/blog/pics/blackdrop2.jpg The parallel lines of dark and light are called a diffraction pattern even though the sight of them results from light interference. Seeing Venetian blinds lit up by sunshine today with blurry edges reminded me of this pattern. If you ever see the old movie “Sergeant York” you may remember him moistening the front sights of his rifle. This disturbs the diffraction pattern making for clearer sights. As I stood taking in this familiar sight on the blinds the thought of a metaphor for moral ambiguity came into focus.

At the edge of light and shadow
Is where the challenge of life is
Ambiguous scenario
Time to have a real life pop quiz

Diffraction pattern blurs the line
Blinds by alternate light and dark
Fuzzy scheme in the contrast cline
Right and wrong seem no longer stark

Are there exceptions to the rule?
Dismiss the law and moral code?
Sparse view, the way of the fool
To quit the way for your own road

There is good and bad in the gray
Right and wrong all mixed together
God has not left us with no way
To discern, know, and do better

When life does not seem black and white
Then pray to God and search His Word
Don't give up on doing the right
Don't give in or follow the herd


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I was so regular about blogging until this Autumn when it all fell apart. Taking a class at the local community college after about 24 years away from the classroom has been a fun challenge. I believe time studying how students study has caused me to be a wiser student, but an old brain is simply slower, or at least this one is. With the immense amount of time pressure and brain strain I just cannot feel justified in blogging, but I just could not pass up the following short interaction in class yesterday:

My students and I were discussing one of my warm-up questions at the beginning of class. The question asked why Earth was considered to be in the life zone of our solar system. In order to contrast our privileged position I contrasted it with Mars. One student mused that “they” were talking about sending people there.
Another one said, “I wouldn’t want to go”.
“Why not,” I replied.
“There’s no wifi up there.”
I reasoned, “If you went to Mars, NASA would send you, therefore, you would have wifi,
the best wifi in the solar system. They have wifi on the International Space station. They e-mail home.”
The student replied, “You really could live on Mars, then.”
“So you think that you have to have wifi to live?” I queried.
“Yes, I would.”
“I went many years without wifi and had no problem.”
Several students chimed in together, “But you didn’t need wifi back then.”
Another student added, “Yeah, you need food, air, water, and wifi.”
One would like to assume that there was some tongue in cheek here, but the first response, “You really could live on Mars,” was intoned as one of those aha moments when the student understood that spaceflight was not just science fiction, all because NASA provides wifi there. This one should go in that book that all teachers say they will write one day about student reactions.

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The ability to remember and associate smells is one of the most powerful forms of memory, enhancing a sense of time and place and visual cues. The Olfactory Glands are located in the sinuses very close to a part of the brain that processes and retrieves memories and emotions, the amygdala. Scientists have isolated a thousand different enzymes that bond to odiferous chemicals in the  identification of smells in humans.

 I’m originally from East Tennessee where the clay is nearly as orange as this print and hard enough so that you are not be able to stick a mattock into it more than 2 to 3 inches no matter how hard you hit it. There is abundant clay where I live now but it is most usually infused with muscovite mica (the silvery sheet mineral that you can see through) which makes it much easier to dig in.  My number three son and I are building a deck for a colleague of mine. Where the deck is located there is no mica in the clay (odd) so it digs like East Tennessee clay.  On the way home the other day I inadvertently put my hand on to my face and smelled the clay/dry grass mixture on my fingers. Memories began to flood in from so many times and places that I couldn’t ruminate before the next set of life experiences were upon me. Being dirty is repulsive to many but when it reminds me of things I have enjoyed doing it becomes a perfume. I immediately thought of helping friends and strangers put up hay on a hot or balmy June  or September day. I thought of setting fence posts for a horse training ring and the one hole where the Sassafras root filled our noses. Or the many fences I have built or repaired over lawn and woods when the scent of clay on the posthole diggers is matched with leather warming up on the wooden handles.  I thought of collecting spiders for research and digging in the back yard where I grew up to make a hide-out with my brother. I remember tilling in the garden in The Horseshoe and caving in a number of East Tennessee sinkholes or repairing pipes or foundations for many evenings and nights until a dropped into bed. All of these thoughts flooded my mind in less than a minute. Odors can be very subtle and yet bring back some of the most vivid memories. I was surprised by the sudden onset and pleased by the thoughts of life lived to the fullest.

When I was a youth, I once prayed that the Lord would let me experience life to the fullest. They say you should be careful what you pray for but I believe you should be bold in what you pray for when your heart is right. God is wise and kind enough to sort out how He should answer. God has abundantly answered that prayer, but of course, not in ways I would have ever expected or wanted. With the many good and significantly pleasant memories are the hard and mundane and heartbreaking ones. You can’t really experience all of life without difficulty. I’ve never been afraid to work hard, so many of my good memories are high energy, even difficult experiences, that only later mellow into good memories. I am thankful to God for allowing me to experience so many varied activities and interactions with people over the years. He is good to me far beyond the necessities of physical and spiritual life. I have truly enjoyed life and want to share my love of the outdoors and science and beauty and solid thinking with others. Though read by few, that is the reason I write this blog, to point to the One who creates, saves and sustains so abundantly.

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During the sermon this morning the pastor referenced two metaphors used by John MacArthur concerning unity in the church. Never quite willing to let a good analogy go unanalyzed and extended I began musing.

According to his reporting of MacArthur, we frequently see unity as a bag of marbles. Marbles (people in the church) are held in (unity) by a bag (programs). If the bag wears thin or tears the church loses all its marbles via the loss of the external binding force of the bag.   It occurred to me that the congregants scatter because they have potential energy (sin nature) that gives them momentum (movement) away from one another once the constraining force of the bag is reduced. The reason this occurred to me is that I have seen dead churches that still have a semblance of unity even when there are no programs to hold them together simply because there is also no life or movement in the church. Dead objects don’t move (or stop their present straight line motion (tradition)) unless acted upon.

MacArthur thought that a better analogy for unity was that of a magnet (God) acting as a central attractive force upon iron filings (the people). But the science teacher in me rebuffed that there are no mono-poles. For every north pole there is a south pole, always. So what we are being attracted to as our north pole-God- causes us to be oriented away from what is then our south pole-the world, the flesh, and the devil. Iron filings alone will be attracted to either pole but once magnetized by an attraction to one pole will orient with their “backs” to the other pole since they become mini-magnets with north and south poles. We still have sin natures which pull us the wrong way, but we now have a new pole oriented toward God and others in our church, unless we pull away.

What attracts you? What are you being oriented toward? What have you turned your back on or is this outside force deciding for you? Orient yourself toward God by His grace along with a body of believers (iron filings) and you will turn your back on evil. Try to stay neutral and you will be pulled in by the next passing attraction.

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Here are some random funny and profound moments in public education from Tuesday two weeks ago now:

1) As I arrived from my first school at my second school today I could here the chemistry teacher waxing eloquent about highly energetic chemical reactions. So, I went up to the door and said, ” Mr. V, like it not, you’re going to get a reaction out of me.” He replied, “That was spontaneous!” “Yes, totally spontaneous”, I reiterated.  His students sat dumbfounded, not knowing whether to laugh or question my sanity. Several minutes passed while I opened my room and settled in. All the while Mr. V was talking about the energy of spontaneous reactions.  I went back to the door, pointed to my brain case and said, “Mr. V, I just wanted your students to know that I am more stable after that spontaneous reaction.” The students just stared, and one or two began to giggle. Mr. V said later that the whole class broke out laughing after I left. They all thought I am crazy. It may be true, but I’m stable.

2) While I was teaching later in the day my teacher’s assistant (TA) was grading bellwork questions. These are review questions that the students complete at the beginning of class and hand in all together at the end of the week. One girl had written on a bellwork early in the week, “you look nice today.”  The next day she wrote, “you look sharp today, Mr. F”. By now I was embarrassed, but my TA showed me the third comment: “I don’t understand what you are asking in this question”, to which my TA had written in red pen, “What’s wrong, is my beauty distracting you?” It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction I get out of that one!

3) On a bit more serious note, I have this student in my 1st period class that is frighteningly perceptive as to how I am faring emotionally. She almost daily asks me how I am doing by predicting how I feel: “Are you angry today, Mr. F?” Are you having a good day, Mr. F?” Are you frustrated about something?” What are you so happy about? What are you worried about? Did you get some good news or something? Now I am the first to admit that I am the type of personality whose emotions are easy to read- wear them on my sleeve, as the saying goes- but some days I try to hide my emotions because I have a job to do, or because I don’t want to talk about it, or because I want to be encouraging, but she will have nothing of it. Her questions persist. It caused me to realize just how the stresses in my life are straining me, causing me to effectively deny my faith to this perceptive girl who knows when life is getting to me. I claim to be connected to the One Who is the source of all peace, joy, and comfort, and yet I am frequently stressed out. As I thought about this on the way to school the next morning I began praying that God would cause me to experience more of the peace He had made available to me. In the next two weeks up until now I have been making a habit of singing a hymn on the way to school and praying for my students, my family, and whatever fruit of the Spirit seems most lacking in me. The stresses have not gone away but I have a genuine confidence that God is helping me. The next day after I had the realization of what this girl’s questions said about me, I began calling her ‘Thelma’, which is my mash-up of Thermometer Lady. I didn’t explain the meaning of the nickname to her but I meant by it that she was taking the temperature of what the teacher was feeling so that she knew how to react. More than likely she learned this is some situation where it saves her considerable difficulty to know what the temperature is. I decided for my part to let her be the thermometer and I would be the thermostat, regulating the temperature of the room by calling out to my God to be the source of power and heat sink (“cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you” I Peter 5:7) I need before I enter class. I am amazed at what I know to be true can become so clouded by the immediacy of difficulty. ‘Thelma’ gave me a little perspective that I needed.

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I had a few random, funny and profound things happen in public school today:

1) As I was coming into my second school I overheard the chemistry teacher telling his AP students about very energetic reactions. I came to the door and said, “Like it not, Mr. V, you are going to get a reaction out of me,” to which he replied, “That was spontaneous!” I reiterated, “Yeh, that was totally spontaneous.” The students just stared in stunned silence. I went across the hall and opened up my room and settled in. Meantime, Mr. V was continuing on about changes in energy of these reactions he was describing. I came back in a few minutes to the doorway, pointing to my brain case and said, “Mr. V, I just wanted your students know that since my spontaneous reaction I am much more stable.” Again the students just stared, though two muffled laughter. Later Mr. V reported that as soon as I left the whole class broke out in laughter because they thought that I am crazy. Maybe, but I’m stable.

2) Later in the day as I was teaching, my teacher’s assistant (TA) brought a bellwork paper to me from one of my students. Bellwork is questions that student answer as review for previous day’s learning and hand in at the end of the week. Early in the week this girl had written on the bellwork, “You look nice today.” The next day she wrote, “You are looking good.” By this time I am a little embarrassed, but my TA pointed to one more entry on a bellwork at the end of the week, “I don’t understand this question,” alongside which my TA had written in red ink, “What’s wrong, is my beauty distracting you?” Oh, my goodness, I wonder what kind of reaction I’ll get out of that one? I guess I’ll have to at least explain that I have a TA.

3) The third occurrence which actually happened first is a bit more serious. I have a girl in my first period class who almost daily greets me with a question about how I am feeling. She is frighteningly perceptive about my emotional state, predicting how I feel by the way she asks about it: “Are you frustrated, Mr. F?” “Are you having a good day, Mr. F?” “Are you angry about something?” “Why do you seem so happy?” “What is bothering you?” “Are you sad?” “Things are going real well today, aren’t they?” “Are you tired?” Now I will be the first to admit that my emotions are easy to read- wear them on my sleeve, as the saying goes- but sometimes I try to hide them because I have a job to do, or I don’t want to upset my students, or because I don’t want to talk about it, or sometimes I don’t think they are even showing. She is almost always right or at least leaning in the right direction in her perceptions. It caused me to think about the saying that we should be thermostats rather than thermometers. That is, we should affect the emotional, moral, and intellectual temperature by our attitudes and actions rather than just reflect it by indicating and becoming the temperature of, giving in to, the surroundings. But I thought, thermostats are also thermometers, for if you don’t know what the temperature is, you can not affect it in a positive way for good. You may be heating things up when they should be cooled down, and vise versa. So I decided that this girl has a very notable talent that she probably acquired from a less than comfortable surroundings where she needs to read the temperature to stay out of trouble. If she uses her readings carefully, both in terms of not insisting that she is always right when she may not be and using the information to better her reaction to it rather than copying peer pressures, she may help herself and others move toward more profitable responses. For my part, I have decided to stop being annoyed at the perceptions and use them as checks on both my emotional state and how I am coming across to those I am supposed to be serving. That is humbling and challenging. And I’ve decided to give this girl the nickname, Thelma (“Thermometer Lady”). It almost works; it is a mash up after all.

4) I’m on a roll now, so here is a “foot in mouth disease” story from several weeks ago. My Physics students were discussing problems they had attempted for homework in a whiteboard session. Students collaborate in small groups to write answers to problems on 2′ x 3′ dry erase boards. Then they defend their answer before the rest of the class. Properly facilitated and fully engaged participation on the part of students makes this possibly the most fruitful form of group thinking. One of the groups had a particularly confusing problem for them that had precipitated much heated debated among the three group members. In fact, one of the students had gone so far as to prepare his own whiteboard with an alternative answer. The two other students somewhat disdainfully commented that A had drawn up his own answer. Realizing that A, who is an Asian student, had the right answer and that the whole set up had a teachable moment, I quieted the other students by saying, “Listen up, A has a minority report!” The class went totally silent and African-American Miss S looked totally shocked. I went on about how we should listen to A because sometimes the Minority Report was the correct one and that he should be heard. I could hear S mutter, “But, Mr. F…” My students just stared (or glared?) at me. Now all this while I had been thinking Majority and Minority decisions of the Supreme Court and the minority reports that the fewer justices give when they vehemently disagree with the majority. Suddenly it occurred to me how my students were perceiving what I was saying. I laughed rather uncontrollably for a few moments which further horrified my students until I explained that I had not meant at all what they had heard. We now wait for the “Minority Report” with a chuckle.

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Perhaps the reason I don’t have a very big following for my blog is that I mostly write for my own posterity and the comfort of getting my burning thoughts down in “black and white”, or whatever other colors I choose. I thought it was humorous and somewhat gratifying the other day when a student said to me about midway through a monologue I was giving in class, “Mr. [Leon], I could listen to you rant all day!” “That’s and interesting comment,” said I, “why do you feel that way?” “You are not afraid to be honest about what you think and always do it without being profane. There is alot of truth in what you say” Wow, so perhaps others are not so honest or insightful and are profane?

So, you might well guess that we are preparing for a rant, though this one is quite mild in delivery compared to the sarcastic and cutting version the student heard about the real deficiencies of public education (Perhaps that one will serve for another day. Oh, no, not another prescriptive education rant!). No, this one is about a significant blind spot that is preventing science education and political action from moving forward and it is not being caused by the uninformed. If after all of that you are still up for it, click on  Stop Writing Us Off    I look forward to some rousing comments.


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I’ll try to refrain from too much well worn cultural commentary on this one, but it is amazing how easy and prevalent “throw away” is in this culture. I was reminded of it again today. I come home to my wife wanting me to look at the Kirby vacuum cleaner. What in the world am I doing with a Kirby vacuum cleaner, you ask? Once upon a time I was stuck in credit limbo. I had no credit, not having chosen for many years to have a credit card, so I couldn’t get credit. It is similar to being unemployed or under employed because you are over qualified for any menial job. They figure you will leave soon since you have a college degree so they won’t give you a job. Or it is even more like trying to get a job and being told that you must have two years experience but you can’t get experience without a job. Anyway, the carpet brush attachment activates a clutch that may either be turned on to drive the vacuum forward and back or shifted into neutral so you get a better workout. If it is broken throw it away, right?

This reminds me of ever so many appliances that are or once were in my places of residence. Take for instance the dryer we still use. The temperature selection switch “tore up”. I don’t know why since my wife, as far as I knew, never used that switch. Without it the dryer didn’t dry. I went to the parts store of the local appliance dealer. “That part is no longer available.” You mean to say that I have to buy a new dryer for $300+ for a $7.99 switch that only cost the manufacturer $0.87 to make? That reminds me (We’ll never get through this story if I keep regressing.) of when I used to rebuild aircraft alternators, generators, starters, and magnetos. Did you know that most of the time an alternator that has quit functioning only needs less than $10 in parts to fix it but about 20 years ago the manufacturers disallowed any but the licensed manufacturer re-builders to get the parts so that they could charge customers anywhere from $80 to $200+ for re-manufactured alternators? Back to the dryer. I am a scrapper and scrounger from way back. Call it a survival technique if you like. I began asking around and calling every yellow page appliance repairman in my county and the next. I found a retired (figures) appliance repairman who has a shed out back of his house with 50+ washers and dryers that he sells the parts off of. After some friendly talk and a few pointers as to where the appropriate models reside, I crawled into the shed and sampled 6-8 dryers for temperature switches. As you might imagine, several were missing, probably due to failures of dryer switches on other dryers of that make. I used my adjustable jaw wrench to extract several switches only to find out from the owner when I crawled back out that part number switch would not work, a fact I suspected with four electrical connection prongs instead of three (I love talking trash in run-on sentences.) Undaunted, I crawled back in and extracted that last switch (of course it was; I wasn’t going to keep taking them out after I found the one I needed.). But when I brought it out and checked the resistance, it operated backwards. The owner said it didn’t matter. To this day the switch sits pretty much unused with a paper label reversing the original markings and attached by clear packing tape. The dryer works fine. We call that jury rigging (Look it up.).

I guess I was desperate to write a blog entry this month and didn’t want to expend the energy of thinking about some of the deeper and more difficult issues going on at the moment. I hope you relate to this desire to fix things and not waste money and material. It is not always possible, but it feels good when you can. For me it is a matter of stewardship and finances. Maybe I’ll tell how I’ve revamped the dishwasher 3 times with small parts for less than $35, or recently replaced a broken coupling on the clothes washer. Actually, it isn’t fun when you are troubleshooting the problem of replacing the part in an awkward spot, but it sure is satisfying afterwards. Did I say that already?

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Stress and strain are engineering terms. Stress is any force, pressure, torque, electrostatic potential, or thermal gradient that tries to distort an object, its surface or its components. (didn’t even look that up) Strain is the deformation of that object resulting from the stress. Motion is apt to result in both stress and strain. In elastic collisions stress does not result in permanent strain to the objects involved because the colliding objects temporarily distort and return to their original form when the deforming energy is converted to other forms, most notably heat. In other words, the strain is passed out of the system, leaving no impression on the objects. The most common example is billiard balls colliding on a pool table. Non-elastic collisions, on the other hand, permanently deform the objects involved. Tossing wet mud onto a wall where it sticks is an obvious example.

So, am I merely in the mood to convey physics concepts which are all too obvious to many who read this page? No, stress and strain have very straightforward analogy to life in the body and mind and spirit. Frequently when people say that they have so much stress in their life, they really mean both. That is, they are saying that all of the pushes and pulls that are stress are getting them down and making it hard to function, strain. I am experiencing both- changed schedule, pressures to succeed, accusations of neglect and slack-handedness, bills, desire to enjoy and play when it’s time to work and serve, and very notably, sadness at seeing someone I love degraded in her ability to serve her family as she likes to do.  You may take this for whining if you like, but it is really just the way that I have learned to deal with the stress. Somehow it’s supposed to be more noble to not talk about your troubles. Of course, there is nothing noble about self-focus and there is way too much of that in this society. Perhaps then I should keep quiet. Aaaccchh! Tangents!

So (love that word) here’s another one. My wife took about 6 hours to fix my son and me supper one day this past week. She can’t much read recipes just now, and her work is very slow and deliberate, but she so wanted to take care of her family that she worked diligently most of the day cutting up salad, baking sweet potatoes, sauteing cabbage and carrots with venison sausage, and baking cornbread so that we could eat a good meal. I about couldn’t eat for the tears. Then this morning she fixed oatmeal pancakes, a recipe that she had never done before. She laughed that it was a good thing that all of the ingredients were 1 (cup, teaspoon, etc) because she could not have made it otherwise. She still can’t say most names or understand much of what is said to her, but she can fix meals and wash dishes and she is happy to be able to do it again. I guess we’ll go grocery shopping together this afternoon.

Anyway, I have concluded that strainless stress is probably not very beneficial to this object. Afterall, if I am not changed by what pushes on me I’m apt to have to repeat that lesson until there is change. The idea of standing up to stress with dauntless courage and stone-faced lack of strain is neither where I live nor useful to my progress forward in the faith. I want to learn now so that I don’t have to repeat the lesson. Of course, the strain I am after is one that conforms me to the image of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, not a wet mud pie stuck to a wall like so much yak dung on the side of the house drying to be used for fuel to cook and heat. Though it is not particularly what I want in the sense of what is enjoyable, change for the sake of conformity to His image is good, and God is good in patiently working strain into my life through the stresses He ordains. The more pliable, that is non-resistant to strain, I am, the easier that strain will conform me without destroying the very fabric of who I am. It reminds me of Philippians 4:6-8: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” I so want that peace of and with God that so surpasses comprehension that onlookers upon spying it cannot help but attribute it to a work of God. But that will involve far more stress and considerably more strain that I’m not all too sure I’m up to. I have discovered that is not for me to determine. As per Colossians 3 I need to focus above so that I may succeed below:

God’s grace is my comfort and rest


My strong tower in the midst of test


While I trust Him I shall prevail


Raised from the dead without fail


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A student “set me off” thinkin’ about old sayings yesterday in class when she arrived, sat down and ask me how I was doin’. “Fair to midland”, I replied, “I’m tired from running and not sleeping.” She laughed, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that other than my grandfather.” (Regretfully, I’m old enough to be her grandfather, but I left that out of the conversation.) “So is that good?” she inquired. “It’s OK, I reckon.” “Well,” I began, “I don’t wish my life away, but everybody needs a Friday now and then.”

Then I began thinking of some of the sayings I learned from my mother, but I got “bumfuzzled” tryin’. Oh, well, “six of one, half-a-dozen of the other”. My mother was not much for sayings involving “outlandish” people like “faster than a one armed paper hanger” but she could “teach an old dog new tricks”. I wish I could remember more of her sayings; “one will come to me” “every once in a blue moon”. When they do and I voice them, my students think that they are funny or they just look at me “sigogglin'” like I’m “a few bricks minus a load.” My father-in-law was a good one for sayings. He’d “treed more than a few pole cats” “in his day”, been “up the creek without a paddle” on a few occasions, and gone a whole day with “narey a bite to eat” “more times than he cared to remember.” That was because his father was known to “not hit a lick”, working “narey abit” for “as long as he could remember”, better than “a month of Sundays.” 

Youth have sayings, too, but for the most part they lack the richness of the old sayings. I suppose that is because language is far less isolated to regions, changes faster, and is abbreviated electronically down to acronyms and buzz words, the sayings of the day that “I can’t make hide nor hair of.”I wish I could remember a few more of my mother’s sayings but “for the life of me” I can’t think of another one “even if my life depended on it.” I wish you’d “help me out” and suggest a few you know in the comments. “Whewee!” I guess I did remember one more “by the skin of my teeth”. Let’s hear a few of your sayings.

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I requested of my son that I be allowed to reprint his musing on life and bouldering.  Climbing just a few feet off the ground with just a pad and spotter under you has its mental challenges; It also has some significant physical challenges, but so does life. Check out the insights my son has about the two:

Bouldering is like life:
The objective is to go up
The right way is never the easy way
And the easy way is never satisfactory

Those ahead have left marks of their effort
Every step forward is pain
And only the strong or resolved continue

Strength comes from trying
Every moment rushes towards fatigue
And hesitation only rushes towards failure

Often we try problems before we are strong enough
Every season brings us closer to that strength
And failure doesn’t mean, “Don’t come back later”

Singularity is dangerous and unwise
Always have friends to spot your progress
And wholeheartedly trust them to catch your fall

Maintain a positive attitude in the face of difficulty
Always encourage your friends on in their climbs
And cheer them whether they make it to the top or not

The last move at the top is most strenuous
Every fiber of your being strains at the mantle
And all your strength, balance, endurance, and skill is tested

The peak may be your goal
But the joy of companions is sweet
And the peaceful and beautiful view surpasses

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So what? So huge! So that we could. So, the conclusion is firm.

So much intonation, emotion, implication, connection, conclusion, in short, communication in so small a word. In reality the word may most usually be eliminated or another word substituted without harming the simple meaning of a sentence, but the passion of the argument or apathy conveyed will frequently be lost as well. As with any word used to elicit reaction, overuse so downgrades the word to cliche status as to make it sound like a nervous twitch of a self-absorbed, shallow person we find annoying.

So what’s my point? In writing or in speech use words with high energy infrequently but to best effect.*

In a more pedantic sense ‘so’ may be used as four parts of speech:

adverb- in a manner suggested

conjunction- in order that or with the result that

adjective- conforming to actual facts

pronoun- as specified or to suggest estimate

The definitions I am giving are minimal and devoid of example, both of which I leave to the reader to search out, but they do point to a common purpose for the word which is to intensify language by directing the hearer to intended cause and effect.

Another way of saying it is ‘so’ emphasizes the part of the meaning the user most wants you to understand. If I say, “I want it done”, the hearer only knows that I expect completion. But if I say, “I want it done so,” I intensify or focus on the mode of completion given in the instructions. “So, you want the blue one” does not simply affirm that I heard your desire, but additionally intensifies the fact that I understand why you say you want the blue one by connecting my acknowledgement back to your reasons. If a person, for effect, wants to heighten intensity of speech regularly for the purpose of attention, the actual result will be to lessen its intensity and any hearer’s interest in it. We have all heard this mode of operation in the person who uses a word like ‘awesome’ continually. “That was so awesome!” He is an awesome singer.” “That was an awesome shot. “He had an awesome hangnail.” You get the point.

This intensity of communication is somewhat lost in writing. A speaker may use intonation of voice tone or duration and gesturing and facial expression when using ‘so’ for maximum affect. The best that may be done in writing is to set the scene, convey the speaker’s attitude, or spell the word incorrectly: “sooooooo”.

With so much serious discussion of a word you may have previously overlooked, perhaps a silly, aeshetic perspective might do. One famous singer rang out that ‘so’ was “a needle pulling thread” followed by ‘la’ and preceeded by “a long, long way to run”. 

This blog entry is obviously offbeat and markedly different than my usual fare, but it reveals a fascination I have long held for language meaning and use. Semantics and etymology are topics I have explored occasionally. God has given us a way to communicate our deepest desires and He has given us His profound truths in His Word. We explore, record, and convey our surroundings, our insides, and our God through language. I am thankful to its Creator for its existence and desirous of every full and good use of it for His glory. With out exaggeration He is so worthy of its proper and thankful use.


 *Conversely, don’t become so introspective in your writing, and more so in your speech, as to become stilted and unnatural in you communication. Neither dumb-down nor flatten your vocabulary for the expectations of the audience. Write for the benefit of others, but write in a way that communicates your own ideas in your own way. Concise and clear are desirable traits but should not stiffle crativity and personal preference.

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I have spent many hours studying and reading this summer. That’s good, but I find myself wanting to balance that with exercise and time in the woods. It was one of about 6 beautiful days we’ve had in the last 2 months so I had plans to get out. That fell through. I went back to studying, getting to a good stopping point. Then I moped a bit. Then I was irritated at myself because life is too short and interesting for that. I got up and made a plan. I’ve been focused on hiking and climbing lately and haven’t had my mountain bike out in quite some time. I told my wife where I was going; I put a few things in my pack; I oiled the chain and derailleur: I inflated the tires; I put the bike rack and bike on the back of the car; I went. Mountain biking by yourself is probably not advisable, but I was determined not to jump anything or go too fast since I’ve never been great at either and I’m out of practice. Instead, I determined to explore an old logging trail, which is essentially single-track because of the undergrowth, to see where it goes. On the way up by car I realized that this back-burner adventure (something I tuck away in my mind for a later opportunity)  had simmered for 7 or 8 years since I had been on the trail last. Time had prevented me from exploring to my satisfaction the two previous times I’d been there. I don’t even know what made me think of it now.

At the pull out the mosquitoes were copious, but as soon as I started moving it was the dozens of spider webs across the trail that kept my attention. I zipped down the approximately mile and a half from the gravel road, getting off only a few times for downed trees. The surface was relatively smooth and mostly leaf covered. The creek was, of course, higher than I had seen it previously due to the excess rain. I removed shoes and socks, wading and reshoeing. As I strained up the switchbacks away from the creek, out of shape for bike as I am, I began to notice the sky darkening. I had to walk some when my lungs hurt. I think I had gotten about as far up the ridge as I had come down on the other side to the creek and thought I saw light through the trees, indicating the top of the ridge. Soon after this thought of possible completion of my adventure the bike rear derailleur struck a downed branch which hung up and broke the derailleur off. I was amazed because I didn’t think it had struck that hard. It was obvious that uphill biking was terminated. I tried to jam the chain and derailleur in a position out of the way of spokes and turned to coast back down to the creek. What else could I do? That part of the return went smoothly and quickly. I reversed the process of crossing the creek and began to push. Mosquitoes urged me on. As long as I kept moving I hardly noticed them, but woe be unto me if I stopped for a moment. The slower pace allowed me to tune into the surroundings more. The woods were strangely quiet- no wind, no birds, no insects (while I moved)- and the sky was gray. I was thankful that my mind was clear of concerns and my body didn’t feel sluggish from sitting, but the woods spoke a melancholy hush to my spirit. If you think that I was imposing my feelings on the woods rather that the other way around, then I would contend that you have not spent much time in the woods alone. Check out the 1983 movie, “Never Cry Wolf”, especially the ‘thaw scene’. The Creation really does groan (Romans 8:19-23), frequently with deafening silence. 

I felt that the adventure part of the trip was just getting my bike and myself back, not so exciting. I did have several consolation gifts as I pushed the bike forward. A large bird startled the silence and flew up from a widowmaker tree upslope. It must have been a turkey judging from the large, fan shaped tail feathers, but for the life of me I’d never seen a turkey gain altitude that fast before. It was at treetop level before it flew over me. That startled me. Later, when I stopped for water, I noticed several Indian Pipe Fungi. As I took off my pack to get the camera, I again noticed this most regular companion of all my travels, my Jansport daypack. I bought it just before my sophomore year in college, which means I’ve had it about 34 years. It reminds me of the stuffed animals that become real with love and handling. It is on the third pair of zippers, two of the tabs now paperclips. The shoulder straps are paper thin. It is limp as a rag and hasn’t seen waterproofing in two decades. But that pack has been to the top of a 12,000′ peak overnight, to France and Costa Rica and New Mexico and Florida and Montana. It’s carried water, food, and clothing on 1000’s of miles of day hikes and some overnighters, bouldering sessions, mountain and road bike trips, vacations. It carried books and still does, tools, towels and watershoes to swimming holes and on canoe trips. I guess I rambled a bit. I guess I’ll keep the pack a little longer.

I saw a few more fungi before I reached the car. I battled the mosquitoes one more time as I racked the ‘tore up’ bike. I felt mellow and cool as the breeze dried me off coming down the gravel road. Wilderness, however it comes, clears the mind of concerns and body of sluggishness. The melancholy wilderness reminds me how thankful I am to have peace with God through the Savior. It’s lonely out there.

Indian Pipe Fungus

Indian Pipe Fungus, Red Maple and Black Cherry seedlings, Rhododendron foliage

Indian Pipe Fungi

Indian Pipe Fungi

Yellow Spindle Coral Mushroom?

Yellow Spindle Coral Mushroom? What is the black glob?


Tore Up!

Tore Up!

Amazing Pack!

Amazing Pack!

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No, I’m not Buzz Lightyear but I do have a story. I have trouble remembering my age when the following event occurred, eight or nine years old, but I can narrow it down because of the left over beginning writer’s paper I used. One day, probably a Saturday, my father was trimming the English Ivy that lined either side of our driveway and cascaded over the stone wall extending halfway across our front yard. My brother and I were cleaning it up as he cut the ivy, hauling it to the leaf pile in rear. I asked my father, “What is the biggest number that exists?” He replied, “It looks like an eight laid on its side.” That got him off the hook and me in a pickle. I now imagine him grinning to himself about what I would do with that. Afterall, I had expected a name: thousand, million, billion, and so on. It took me several years to realize he had described the symbol for infinity. So I decided to write to the biggest number I could on my leftover beginner’s writing paper from 1st grade, that tan colored paper with dashed lines for forming letters properly. I would write to each 100 on one side of a piece of paper. I vaguely remember knowing questions from my older brother or mother to the effect, “How long are you going to do that?” I remember that I made it to several hundred past ten thousand. I’ve always wanted to understand infinity.

Recently on a hike with my two youngest sons I asked the 19 year-old who is conversant in Calculus and particularly related to my question, limits, “Is it possible to have +∞ (there’s that silly sideways eight: read “infinity”)?”After some exchange back and forth, we agreed that it is mathematically possible. My son then added the insight that it is possible because “we created zero.” Immediately I saw that zero is the center of the mathematical universe. But the question persists: Is it possible to have +∞? Afterall, how is something infinite if it leaves out half of all that exists, namely -∞?

And this contrast is the difference between God’s eternality and our eternal life in Him. He is self-existent always (-∞ to +∞), period. We are finite, existing in Him, having a beginning, and if we be saved in Christ continuing forever to +∞, well past a few hundred over ten thousand. 

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What does it mean to be a friend?

The word is used in a very wide range of ways from a first time acquaintance to an intimate, long-term active relationship. Friendship may be predicated upon a history of common interests or beliefs or based on current needs and interaction. It may have come about and be sustained by relatively shallow common ground like mutual interest in in sports or numerous hobbies or it may rest upon much deeper foundations of kindred spirit, shared goals and beliefs, or enjoyment of each other’s company.  

What seems to be common to these ideas is sharing of something in common. There must be some level of agreement between friends. That agreement may even be to exclude certain conversations in order to preserve what is common, but that must result in a level of shallowness in the relationship. Deep friendship must involve an openness to discuss and express a full range of what is important to either person.

Scripture has numerous passages on friendship. Following are but a few that caught my attention:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14

One who will abide in God’s tent does not “take up a reproach against his friend” Psalm 15:3c

“A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

From these ideas I saw that a friend to me is someone that acts in a certain way. I know that my ideas in this blog are far from complete but they do represent a good starting point for considering what friendship is and what we expect of it.  I hope that a person who is my friend will have many of the following characteristics and I certainly want to strive to provide these actions for others:

A friend initiates, listens, confronts, encourages, remembers, takes time, cares, shares, confides, counsels, walks with, forgives, enjoys, endures, believes, advises, stays with a friend.

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After showing her some poetry of mine my English-teacher colleague challenged me to write Haiku. I’ve heard of it and maybe even wrote some in high school, but I don’t remember. It turns out to be a quite difficult short form of poetry that juxtaposes two ideas in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. It has some other characteristics but that is sufficient for me since I add one other difficulty of my own. I want my poetry to rhyme and I was told traditional Haiku does not. So I asked, ‘Must it not rhyme?’ or ‘May it not rhyme?’ Evidently traditional Japanese Haiku simply does not but in other Asian countries it frequently does. So with all of this swirling in my head I began: 

Said she write haiku
I don’t know what to pursue
Will truth and rhyme do?
Haiku has no rhyme
For this form I have no time
Want my verse to chime
Haiku Nazis come
Five, seven, five is the sum
Juxtapose in some

Then I got a bit more serious and wanted to write more substantial verse:

God’s Son comes in flesh                                               Beauty in flower
Controls worlds yet has to rest                                   And in design of tower
Died that life flourish                                                    Art forms with power
What odd design this
Transfer sin for holiness
God’s death buys us bliss

And to end on a light note, I ‘haiku’d’ (Where’s the Nazis?) science:

Biology, cool!                                                    Chemistry, oh my!
Growth, reproduce, cells the rule                 Explosions and baking pie
So look alive fool                                              Electron shift is why
 Physics tells what moves
Accelerates, stops and grooves
Know it all behooves

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18


Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains