Sunday, January 30

Dinner Train

Now this was a real trip, a bonifide cultural experience for this small-town-roots guy. Our company xmas party was perfectly timed for the end of January as we were bused to Oakdale, CA. This little berg only has a few thousand folks but boasts of a great rodeo, a cowboy museum, a Hershey's Chocolate tourist trap, a railroad museum of sorts (tracks go right through the middle of town), and the Sierra Railroad, which still hauls lumber in from the mountains and hosts one of the most popular and best dinner trains in the country.

A number of dining cars and lounge car take you back 60 years or so when this was a bigger part of the American travel tradition. Our car had been completely gutted to the bare metal before it was reconditioned with a somewhat art deco style. Inlaid wood paneling, cool sconces and pretty comfortable seating for a few hours.

Painfully slow and rocky, this ride featured the backyards, fields, then ranches of the locals, all set in the rolling landscape that borders the Sierra foothills. Strangely shaped mounds, green with this season's ample grasses and wildflowers (not blooming yet) and saturated with a recent rain --- these little hills ambled by. Some had lone oaks on them, but most were bare. Cattle roamed here and there. Orchards spread across acres of land. Little streams wandered back and forth and much of the flatland was still pooled from the rain.

California --- What a diverse landscape. What a more diverse history. This agricultural jewel is becoming an asphalt bungle as more and more farmland is covered by all of us who have this territorial mindset. Living above or below someone else is immoral, it seems. And creating cities on the edge of productive land is only a recent political issue. Hopefully, it won't be too little, too late.

Friday, January 28

Burns Tower

One of the landmarks on the UOP campus is Burns Tower, here seen across the way from Morris Chapel where we took wedding pictures a few weeks ago. It's tallish, can be seen from miles away and is pretty daytime-ugly in my opinion. But at night it lights up like a fancy skyscraper and the colored glass gives it a beautiful expression. Unfortunately, it's design doesn't quite fit the other ivy league buildings around it.

As a follow up on those wedding pictures I was so disappointed in. The newlyweds loved them. I'm so thankful that sometimes our judgment is plain wrong and all those guilt feelings are erased. Being a perfectionist has its negative consequences as well as positive.

Life is good. The sun played hide and seek today between the cloudy torrents. God is certainly a perfectionist when it comes to His artwork in nature!

Saturday, January 22

This Gray Umbrella

Given the unique advantages of living in the San Joaquin Valley, like lower cost of living, great fruit and vegetables in the summer, and wonderful people, there is that one unique disadvantage none of us enjoy --- winter fog and gray skies.

It has been about two weeks now without the sun's technicolor-enhanced view of life. An almost Oregon-like, socked-in, black-and-white movie atmosphere has invaded our little world and dampened our spirits. Only the heartiest venture forth in these dismally cold temperatures to do yard work or even go shopping. We dream of getting another storm, just so the overcast will be blown away and the sun will shine a bit between the clouds.

We dream of that soon springtime.

Monday, January 17

Reading Room at Circuit City

There's a new feature at your local Circuit City store --- The Reading Room. Reading hours? From 8:50 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. every morning. Unfortunately, this reading room is outside the front doors.

Sunday morning normally finds me and Barb in church at 8:50, but a Sunday sale preempted my attendance. Trying to rationalize this decision was difficult. I finally posited the position that I'm saving the Lord a lot of money for something I was going to buy anyway. And the fact that I could read my Bible while waiting in line only strengthened my decision.

The imaginary line never materialized. Here was the best deal that I can remember, yet no one joined me. A few cars drove by, but kept going. One girl saw me standing there from a distance, backpacked over and saw that they didn't open for another 40 minutes or so and left. A crazy walked down the street in front of the bus stops yelling profanities at no one, turned the corner and kept conversing with the overcast sky. About a dozen kids in red shirts arrived and scurried to their work posts. An extremely uneventful event.

So I read a bit. The parables in Matthew, specifically. "He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." Mt. 13:22. Gulp. I turned to Paul's letter to the church in Colosse. "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things on the earth." Col. 3:1,2. Wow! Lord, what are my motives here?

The purchase over, I headed back to join Barb in our Bible Study class after church. We were in Job chapter 3 where Job laments and curses the day of his birth after God allowed his family and possessions to perish and his body to be racked with painful boils. If my next log relates some catastrophe, now you'll know why.

Saturday, January 15

This Immortal Union

A family affair, the marriage of Marty and Lockey included relatives from near and far. I think the only friends that were invited took part in the ceremony. I was there to take pictures.

What a place! If you are ever in Stockton be sure to find the University of Pacific campus and open the door to Morris Chapel. They'll let you have a look-see. This is the first of California's colleges. Ivy League look-alike buildings and landscape. Wonderfully non-Californian, I guess. The chapel is a great, big, echo-chamber affair which is now used mainly to host weddings. There's another church across the street that's used to hold services (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright).

Shooting a wedding in this cavernous chapel is no easy task. The lighting is practically a nonentity. And existing light shots have a yellowish-creamy cast to them. At night, only the front stained-glass is lit from the outside. Our 6 p.m. predicament was added to by a flash unit that had a bad connection and wouldn't work most of the time. Thankfully, I brought three cameras. A lot of the returned prints were horrible, so everything had to be doctored and reprinted!

Hopefully, the bride and groom will get over it. The pictures, I mean. This was a shoestring budget affair, altho they gave me a nice 'donation.' I just feel really bad because of the poor quality of the pictures.

"One should believe in marriage as in the immortality of the soul," said Balzac.

"What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life --- to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting." George Eliot

What greater, indeed?

Tuesday, January 11

Rain, Rain . . .

What a week! The only place to escape the weather is on this high-flying jetliner. The contractor did a lousy job grading my lot, so it always floods around the house when we get a downpour. I put a drain in on the south side which keeps flooding below two inches or so on the foundation, but it still pools there and on the north side, too. I could dig up the front lawn and put a stream bed in. That would take care of it for good.

But my little headaches don't come close to the misery and heartaches being felt in Asia and even here in Southern California as people lose their homes, loved ones and their own lives from storms and tsunamis. "Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward," it says in the book of Job.

Job had many questions about his own suffering. He cursed the day he was born. He couldn't understand why God allowed such misery in his life. He found out in the end that God didn't owe him one. God will be God and work all things to His glory by His means and methods. This milktoast argument that God isn't really orchestrating every event in our world and that "Mother Nature" is doing her thing willy nilly means that God has no overruling control of natural law (which he ordained in the first place). The real problem is this: people want to believe that even though God created everything, there are some things He is powerless to provide or prevent. They will not let him be God, the omnipotent, all knowing, all ruling, all wise Creator and Lord of His creation. We want that power for ourselves. At least a little bit of it in our little bit of time and space. We who are totally dependent on our next breath and heartbeat for life, we who can't walk on water or raise the dead believe we know better than our Creator when it comes to this physical world and what happens in it. We cry unfair and why, when we should be crying, "Thy will be done; have mercy on me, a sinner; and lead me in the path of righteousness."

Sunday, January 9

Light Lost

Those fleeting moments of a failing sunset make me cringe. I don't have my camera with me. Trying to shoot through rooftops and city trees. Pinks fading to reds fading to grays. Pretty depressing. It's a hassle to take a camera with you all the time, though. Guess it pays off in the long run.

We had been shopping and were driving home when this blast oven of color explodes toward San Francisco. More wonderful than the color were the upside down triangles making shadows on the pink and darker cloud bellies. I thought --- these must be shadows from the Mt. Diablo range. I got home in time to get a backyard shot that shows a bit of them. Wish I had been west of town to do it justice. Of course, mountains don't cast shadows on clouds, but it's fun to think about.

Saturday, January 8

Online Banking

Remember the days when your currency may have used a $20 bill with a picture of Hugh McCulloch's portrait on it? I didn't think so. Especially when it also stated the name of The First National Bank in Paso Robles, CA. That was way back in 1922, when most of our grandfathers were teenagers.

We still visit our local bank, but look at what's changed over these many years. That $20 in 1922 is equivalent to $227.38 of today's dollars, according to the Department of Labor. There was enough hard currency (gold and silver) to cover the value of your paper money in those days. And there was no online banking.

Granted, it's a pain to spend gas to get there, stand in line for ten minutes, and not be greeted by name when you talk to a teller. But where else can you watch close-captioned Fox News, visualize someone robbing the place, and get a $7.41 rebate check cashed?

I enjoyed visiting the old Crocker-Citizens bank in Paso, where you always found a smile behind the counter and someone who knew you by name. Maybe it's still that way in Paso. I hope so.

Tuesday, January 4

Squirming In K-Mart

Thankfully, I didn't laugh out loud when I saw her. But I did smile.

Barb asked me to pick up some garbage bags for her after work, which I traditionally forgot while shopping for film and batteries at Target (lower prices than K-Mart, by the way). So on the way home, the big K became a convenience store as I breezed through the aisles and found a 20 bag box.

This store is the proverbial, large city, poor man's department store. I think the people who shop here can't afford the gas to get to WalMart, which is on the other side of town. They wander in, dazed from dealing with the real world, only too ready to get their fix of cheap stuff, while putting up with the 'help.' I didn't see any smiles, except for a fellow who said 'excuse me' when his cart zipped in front of me. Oh, yes, there was one woman who faintly returned my friendly grin in the men's department. Must be a type of post-partum blues, an after Christmas/New Years sickness.

Anyway, back to my story. While I was at the checkout, this young woman walked up to the return desk. This was no ordinary K-Mart shopper. She looked like someone from the Bay Area, short dark hair, dark eyes, beautiful and WELL DRESSED in an expensive sweater and velvet-type pants. She looked a bit fearful with her eyes glancing left and right without moving her head. She looked like she was in a hurry and didn't want anyone else to see her or know she was there. But I'm guessing, of course. And my guess is that she had never been in this store before. In fact, I don't think she ever shopped anywhere but Macy's, Dillard's or Gottschalk's. Poor thing. Hope she didn't get bombed by seagulls or robbed or beat up when she left.

We more or less headed for the parking lot at the same time. But I didn't want the surveillance cameras to think I was stalking her, so I went my merry way without seeing whether she got into a BMW or Mercedes. I wonder if she saw me getting into my old Chevy pickup with a big smile on my face. Yeah, right!