Sunday, July 30, 2006

Book Review Time (again)

What I read over vacation week:

The Scapegoat, Daphne DuMaurier. A masterful story about a man haunted by what he thought was failure, only to find himself in the shoes of a another man whose failure is worse than his own...and how he tries to redeem the other man's situation. DuMaurier is great at these sorts of complicated internal struggles with self-doubt, vulnerability, hypocrisy, and love. She must have been quite a student of human nature. Do read it.

Katie Fforde, never mind the name of the book. A very skip-able authoress. British fluff, not redeemable. Stupid.

The Omega Deception, John Bayer. Christian war thriller about missile-launching submarine technology during WWII. It's a clean, interesting read, but not especially deep with lessons about human nature. The protagonist rediscovers the sovereignty of God in the midst of hopelessness. Bayer is a Navy veteran and former missionary. Not bad.

The Sultan's Seal, Jenny White. I tried hard to get into this one, but it bored me, so I didn't finish it. It takes place in late 19th c. Istanbul, and the author does know something about the culture of the place and time, having scholarship credentials. But it's a little too sexual for me...too much innuendo.

(In our family we kiss alot of frog-books before finding the princes.)

Rich got through several maritime authors, all of whom get compared favorably or unfavorably to Patrick O'Brien, among them:

Any Approaching Enemy, Jay Worrall. Not bad, perfectly clean, but a tad unrealistic, as the story includes women on board a fighting ship, and few get killed and hardly any hurt during battle.

Audacity, Privateer Our of Portsmouth, J.E. Fender. The Portsmouth is New Hampshire in this case. Rich said it was a slow read, and not altogether as realistic as one could hope, since battles did not seem to result in much damage to the ships involved. Sea battle was a messy, messy desperate business. You need to get that right if you're after authenticity. The language of the book is more technical-- laboriously so, Rich thought-- but also more true to the period, which may or may not appeal to some.

Plan of Attack, Dale Brown. Rich always enjoys Brown. Thought I'd give it a try; occasionally I can get into a technothriller, but this one was too technical for me. Rich says it's a good one, though.

ALexander Kent is another maritime author Rich has much enjoyed as well as he has O'Brien. There is a whole, ehem, raft of these, which Rich is saving for travel reading. They are clean and very virtue-inspiring, he says.


We just got back from OH for a vist with Rich's 80-yo mother, who, after knee replacement surgery in Febrary, seems to be raring to go as always. While there we celebrated Meg's 18th birthday. She is now old enough to get married without our permission. Fortunately she has the eminent good sense not only to not want to, but there is no real prospect on the horizon. Not that there aren't interesting young men out there, but more that she wants to see what God can do with a single young woman yet. (Whew.)

So there we were in the northeast section of OH. If you've never been there, I can recommend a couple of places:

The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage ( This excellent and interesting museum details not only the Holocaust and its effects on local Jewish families on the CLeveland area, but also the influence of Jewish folk in the US, and even more interestingly, artifacts from the Holy Land directly (and intentionally, which I thought astute) relating to Christianity. Prominently exhibited was a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with one of the containers, and several ossuaries. We spent several hours in this museum. It is a must if you are in the Cleveland area-- great museum!

Parkside Church. ( This is Alistair Begg's church, non-denominational, and yes, a megachurch. Probably around 2000 worshippers per service at least, but when you hear the sermons, you see why.

The Sheraton at Cuyahoga Falls ( We didn't stay here, but we did celebrate Meg's birthday luncheon here in the restaurant pictured which juts directly over the Falls-- quite lovely, and not all that expensive, either.

Blossom Music Center ( The summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. For her boirthday, meg chose to attend a concert which featured the music of John Williams (of Star Wars music fame). I'm told the concert was excellent; the percission section put on Darth Vader helmets for the performance of that character's theme music. Other music that Williams composed, such as the theme music for the TV program "Lost in Space" was also featured. The man's been at it for a long time.

The Ohio Light Opera ( We saw the HMS Pinafore here, although we had just seen it via a different company at Purdue this past spring, but we figured this would enable the kids to form critical opinions, which they readily did, finding the set better at the OLO than at Purdue, but the acting slightly better at the Purdue show. Heard on the way to the show:

Meg: What's the difference between light opera and "heavy" opera?
Ian: The weight of the singers?

(You saw that one coming didn't you? Fortunately Rich and I were able to make a better answer.)

Other activities included a great deal of croquet playing, shopping, and eating homemade lime cheesecake for Meg's birthday, which was much better than the cheesecake I bought from a friend last year. Sorry, Gretchen...I'm just better at it!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Book Review Time

Thought I'd post about a few of the books I've read over the past two weeks.

A Pair of Blue Eyes. Thomas Hardy. Taking place in the last half of the 19th c. the book focuses on Elfrida, a young, naive, small-town daughter of a widower clergyman in Cornwall. It is the story of how Elfrida's impulsive actions haunt her relationships with the several men in her life, finally leading to a terrible misunderstanding. She is surrounded by characters who are innocent and honest, or sophisicated and introspective, or threatening and ill-willed, or well-meaning and a bit pushy. Wish they'd make a movie of this one, it'd be great.

The Hot Zone, Richard Preston. If I had ten lives to live, one of them would be as an epidemiologist. There's just nothing like an epidemiological puzzle. This is the true story of the filovirus Ebola Reston, which was barely contained in a specimen monkey facility in Reston VA. The reader is led carefully (if gruesomely; you were warned) through the jungles of Mt. Elgon in Kenya, where some of the most lethal viruses on the planet are found. If you like medical thrillers this is the best I've ever read. Richard Preston is a master storyteller. There is some language consistent with Army fatigues here.

Sarai, Marek Halter; Zipporah, Marek Halter. I had high hopes for these because my MIL has enjoyed Halter, but I was very disappointed. Even though it does not pretend to be anything but a fictional work, you kind of get the feeling that Halter has an agenda here, a rather PC one. He turns Zipporah into a black Cushite and makes everyone hate her because of her black skin. Then he has her bearing children out of wedlock with Moses because she is not going to marry him as long as he keeps refusing to go to Israel to rescue them from Pharaoh. "I won't marry you until the day you leave". Please! And Sarai becomes a pagan priestess in Ur, and is whisked away from Ur by Abram, who is one of the outcast Mar-tu tribe. The writing is not much above your basic romance level...give me Chaim Potok any day. Skip these. Skip Halter.

I need to decide whether I will read the Du Maurier I bought at the library book sale or get one out of the library and save the one I have for a trip. Maybe another Hardy? I rather liked the one I just read. Any suggestions? I like good English fiction that deals with the dilemmas people get themselves and others into. England must be full of very observant people. Hm.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Glory of God

Today's sermon has been part of a series on Jesus in all His various aspects. The subject for today was Jesus as Creator, and as our minister lovingly dwelt on just a few examples of God's genius and creativity and care in Creation, he concluded each example with:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

Here's an example he didn't mention which has been rattling around my brain for the past month or so as I have been waiting to begin working on a project. This project will deal with the proteins that are assembled in order to construct a virus, in this case the T-4 bacteriophage which attacks e.coli in humans. Below is a picture of it:

These critters are truly weird. No one can really say if they are really alive or not. They are more like machines that have to be plugged into a living host in order to get the energy to do what they do. The T-4 is made up of about 25 or so different kinds of proteins. Each one of these proteins has been examined with great care. Here's a picture of the T-4 that shows the individual proteins:

Each blob of color, including the white, represents an individual protein. You could think of them like blobs of chewing gum, molded into very, very specific shapes that enable them to do what they do. If even one molecule of a protein were to change, it would be the equivalent of replacing a mechanical component of a Maserati with something that doesn't belong there at all, rendering it completely useless, like installing a can-opener instead of a finely machined gear. Every protein must keep its shape in order to retain its function. Or you might say they are like Legos: they must retain a certain shape reliably in order to work as intended. Interestingly, proteins can serve in multiple situations just like Legos, but they have to retain their shapes in order to be at all useful. This is why the genomes of humans can have so much in common with gnats-- the proteins are the same, but have been arranged to serve in very different ways.

There is hardly to be found anywhere a mutation in a protein that isn't catastrophic for the organism. Which does not do much for the fantasy of macroevolution.

But I digress. What I really want to point out is that it is so obvious that these proteins are Intentional and created Good, because God says so. Jesus designed and sculpted with His amazing Fingers, these blocks of material to house the life which comes from Him alone and which is for His glory alone. So somehow (and perhaps I skate on thin ice here) it seems to me that viruses are perversions of His good work which attack His own creation. They reproduce only to propogate themselves, never for the benefit of their host. It is even difficult tell whether they are "life" as we know it. Yet even though they are agents of destruction, one can still see and be amazed by the glory of God in His creation. His stamp of sovereignty has not yet been blotted out even from this twisted little sister. And like the rest of Creation, even viruses will be redeemed along with the rest of Creation.

Praise be to You, O Christ!


One of my most favorite activities in the summer is to pick blueberries. It puts me in mind of Maine, my all-time favorite place. Of course the blueberry bushes in Maine are a good deal different from the ones in Indiana-- we are talking about high bush (Indiana) versus low-bush (New England). The low bush kind at most reaches only to your hips, and the berries are smaller, but they are more piquant. The high bush kind around here are head height or even a little taller, the berries are about as large as your thumbnail (and can get almost as large as a grape) and more mild.

Ian is in his own apartment and Meg is away in MI with a friend, so Rich and I are "alone" with each other, which is new and rather nice. Yesterday, instead of a run, we got on our bikes in the morning, and went up to a blueberry patch a couple of miles north of here. The sky was perfectly blue and the morning sunshine of that golden Midwest quality that promises a beautiful hot day. The early berries have been out for a couple of weeks and we've had plenty of rain. The Japanese beetles were out in force, clawing their way around the feast.

In Maine, blueberries are always associated for me with the sparkling sea. They grow wild, sprouting wilfully from the rocky soil. Sometimes one can find them interspersed with wild rasberries or strawberries. Blueberries, along with the Virginia Scuppernong grape, and cranberries, are the only fruits that are native to North America and up until their discovery, grew nowhere else in the world. Now they are grown elsewhere, of course. Blueberries are so popular in Eastern Europe that McDonald's sells blueberry juice instead of orange juice!

For some reason, blueberry patches strike me as some of the most peaceful places on earth. Maybe it's the abundance. Maybe it's the contented calm of the pickers, whose heads are filled with pies, muffins and Blueberry Grunt-- for me, it's looking forward to having a freezer full of berries that I can enjoy in January with some hearty stew like New England Boiled Dinner. Blueberries in January in a snowstorm are a piece of Heaven. We picked about five pounds in the quiet, humid air, knowing that the season lasts another five weeks or so...plenty more where these came from. Sheer bliss!

I think blueberries are also some of the most beautiful fruit around, especially the low bush kind of Maine. The whole plant is a visual masterpiece. The twigs are a silvery grey, and the small almond-shaped leaves react to stress by turning a vivid scarlet, sometimes only on the tips of the leaves, which is charming. The berries are whitish green before they are ripe, then they turn a pale cool pink,, then deep crimson, then blue overtakes them, and deepens into a deep navy powdered with a whitish finish. The overall picture hardly leaves any color out at all. Combine this with the smell and sounds of the sea-- the gulls, the gentle surf, the clacking of the pebbles on the beach as the waves jostle them-- well, this is Heaven. (Again, I ask-- how can there be no sea in Heaven!)

Sunday, July 09, 2006


There are people for whom there is hardly anything that is wrong in the world except for "intolerance", which of course is itself a contradiction.

I hope that someday someone might actually have the moxie to ask me, as a Christian, why I think certain things are 'wrong' or 'right'. I will give him the example of two books which I am fairly sure he has read: Animal House and Lord of the Flies. In each of those books the characters are "freed" from normal law and order, so they make up their own. And of course it ends up a bloodbath in the end, and the reader is left with a certain nausea because we realise that whatever is in the book lurks also within ourselves. We are nauseated because it is patently obvious to us what is wrong and what is right just by reading these stories. It's obvious that our laws have to come from Someone Who is outside us-- Someone Who is above us-- Someone Who has the authority to name and ordain those laws and execute true righteousness and justice. Our laws are based on Judeo-Christian legal roots-- that is, the Law given by God Almighty Over All. Is it not interesting that the following verse is repeated twice in Proverbs, in 14:12 and 16:25?

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

True Christians do not hate homosexuals. Let me repeat: True Christians do not hate homosexuals. True Christians love homosexuals enough to want to tell them that their way is leading them to a death that could be avoided, not because we say so but because God has said so all along. True Christians judge with the judgement that they themselves have had to be judged with -- the judgement that says "All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God." True Christians warn sinners and listen to the warnings of other Christians. They turn to God, agreeing with Him that their ways are sinful, and apply to Him for strength to stop doing those sins. They plead with the world to recognise that the laws of man will lead to death in an effort to turn these lost ones to life.

The stupid thing is that we can even sin in our attitudes when we share this Word. We can think ourselves better then the homosexual with his/her leather pants and aqua colored hair amd the bruises from Kaposi's sarcoma. We can think we are better, even when we abuse our loved ones with angry and destructive words, when we peruse porn on the Internet or phone, when we tell juicy, hushed stories about one another, and when we do not respect our husbands or fail to love our wives sacrificially.

In truth, all the true Christian has learned to do is call the stinking sinful garbage that hangs off all of us what it is, and put it where it belongs: on the Cross, on Him Who was made a curse instead of us.

Oh, Jesus-- give me a chance to tell a listening and needy heart about you, and to do it in humility!

What's It Like, Being Married To A Scientist?

Vignette 1: Hiking on a nature trail.

Rich: Oh, look at that. What species of tree is that?
Me: It looks like a maple.
Rich: No, that's the tree next to it. Look carefully.
Me: ash?
Rich: No. Guess again.
Me: A beech?
Rich: Nope.
Me: I give up.
Rich: It's a (rattles off Latin name)
Me; OK, what's that in English?
Rich: I don't remember.

Vignette 2:

Me: So, Mr. Meteorologist...what's the weather going to be today?
Rich: The sun will come up....then approximately 11 hours later, it will go down.
Me: Very funny. The weather forecast, please.
Rich: I don't know, I haven't seen the paper yet.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Give A Boy A Fish, Teach A Man To Fish

Ian moved to his apartment last Saturday. This may be a good thing-- hard to tell-- maybe he might just be ready for it. I literally forced him to cook a meal in the crockpot last week just before he left us:

Day 1, Me- Don't forget I need you to make a list of ingredients from the magazine recipe of your choice.

Day 2, Me- Don't forget I need you to make a list of ingredients from the magazine recipe of your choice.

Day 3, Me- Don't forget I need you to make a list of ingredients from the magazine recipe of your choice.

Day 4, me- I bought the ingredients. I want you to make the crockpot meal tonight.

Ian- Well.... I really had plans for tonight.

Me- Yeah? What?

Ian- I was going to play Warcraft with my friends.

Me- You can still do that, just make the crockpot up beforehand.

Ian- It will take too long.

Me- Ian, there are five ingredients to this recipe. You dump them in, and put the crockpot into the fridge until morning, take it out, plug it in and forget about it. You can do this, really.

Ian- OK

(Takes 15 minutes to make up crockpot)

Day 5- (dinnertime) Boy, this smells good. Yum (snarf, munch)

Is it possible I have taught him something? He made sure he had the crockpot when he left.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bits and Pieces

** Yesterday Rich was on the phone with his mother talking over what plans we could make for our visit to her house, near Cleveland, OH. She thought we might be interested in seeing the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit in the city, so Rich asked me if that would interest me. I didn't have my hearing aids in, so my response was:

"Ditsy Squirrels?"

** Rich and I are at an age where we know one another very, very well, and we are blessed to have a sense of humor about it. I've noticed that Rich has Buttons. You push one, and out comes a pre-recorded message that only varies a very little bit depending on the context. One of these buttons, since he is a meteorologist, has to do with Global Warming and Bad Liberal Science. Some of the buttons seem to be pushed by his natural reactions to things. Since Rich has an inordinately itchy foot, many of our conversations join the highway called, "I think we should plan a trip...!" (Life has been very interesting with him because of this tendency)
Another one he's acquired concerns the subject of Time Zones and a Certain Stupid Politician who shall remain Unnnamed. In fact many of his Buttons seem to involve Pinhead Politicians.

** Many of these Buttons are accompanied by the liberal use of what I call The Scottish Eyeball. You have to be Scots, fairly hairy (beard and eyebrows are ideal) and opinionated. Brown eyes are best. Mostly men have it, probably because of the hair factor, but one woman who has it is my daughter, who has everything but the hair. Besides Rich and Meg, others who have it include the likes of Sean Connery and Billy Connolly, who starred in Mrs. Brown. A week ago Rich was in DC for a conference and found himself at dinner with a rhetoritician who had all the characteristics necessary: Scots, bearded, brown eyes and very opinionated. His was such a pronounced Eyeball that Rich had to tell him all about it. The man, I am told, was profoundly delighted to know he had it. The Scottish Eyeball, in case you are wondering, is not a physically threatening look. It's more of a withering judgement on a situation, statement or person. With the mere throw of the Scottish Eyeball, the possessor eloquently reveals his complete disdain, irritation, and Final Judgement; it condemns the receiver to wallow unhindered in the mire of their own obvious folly. The Eyeball is unanswerable and therefore powerful.