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December 30, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Kodachrome

Those memorable Kodak moments captured on Kodachrome slide film are long gone, thanks to the overwhelming success of digital 'film' and personal post-processing on your computer. Today was the last day that this film was processed. Steve Curry was given the last roll to shoot. This was the choice for portrait takers, giving a ruddy glow to even the pastiest of faces. Landscape portraits were warm and dreamy with all of that saturated color. There was no blue or greenish cast to them. And the greatest miracle of this miracle film is that it doesn't lose its color after 40 years. Plenty of time to digitize all those old shots.

I assume this picture, taken of Grandpa Skinner throwing me to my dad at Avila Beach, was Kodachrome. Hey, I'm sure of it. And so it's over 60 years old. I didn't shoot too much of it because it was only ASA 25 (or ISO for you moderns). I switched to Ektachrome for a little more speed, but paid the price by trading the warm color cast to a cooler blue one. Not the best move, but it's ancient history now, set in stone --- on the acetate of each slide.

December 24, 2010

Park Ticket

Angel wanted to test her playground skills today before going to her dad's for Christmas Eve celebrations. Stockton was still socked in at 11:30 and the playground equipment was all wet, so we took advantage of her photography skills. She got her canvas sneakers soaked traipsing across the grass, but got some good shots and didn't complain about her freezing feet until we got in the car.

Grammy stayed home and burned the chocolate chip cookies!

December 21, 2010

Starry, Starry Flight

Starry, Starry Flight

In starry, starry flight between a blushing moon and earthy light —
Ghostly forms — both sign and seal of near and distant storms,
Slowly swim and glide below the jeweled span in which they hide,
Keeping midnight rendezvous with ancient lore and worlds to come.


Last night's lunar eclipse was an extraordinary sight for mortals who happened to see it. I awoke at 12:30 a.m. and noticed the blinding moonlight from two hours earlier had disappeared and knew the eclipse was in progress.

I mounted my camera with the 55-200mm lens to a tripod and went outside in my PJ's and socks. Barb was right behind me. What a view!

After a few minutes, Barb said, "What is that?!" A flock of geese was gliding across the sky below the moon. There were about 14 of them. There was no way I could capture them since each exposure was at 3 seconds at f8. So I grabbed another picture of geese I had, worked it in Photoshop and added it to this picture to approximate the look and feel of seeing this flock right below a red-orange moon!
Like Ansel Adams said, "Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." I had to add the geese, but what a night to remember!

Here's the original picture I used, and here's how I did it: Working in Photoshop Elements 9.0, I wanted to bring up the stars (there were only about 3-5 of them showing in the original). So I used the oval selector tool and circled the moon. Then I opened Levels and lowered the highlights and contrast to darken it quite a bit. Then I opened Shadows/Highlights (Curves) and lightened the shadows. This made the invisible stars come up. If I went too far, the black background got too light and blotchy, so I backed off just enough to eliminate that. While I was doing this, the dark moon came up to a more normal color. Had I not darkened it at first, it would have been blown out when bringing up the stars. Then I used Layers again to make the black really black.

I found a shot of geese in flight I had taken earlier, tightly cropped them and resized them to a size that would fit when I placed them on my 1100px wide worked copy. The geese were dark on a light sky, so I inverted the shot (Ctrl and "I" keys), which made the background dark and the geese light. I used the paint bucket fill to blacken the background, then used a color that approximated what I saw (kind of a grayish brown from the city lights) and painted each goose with it. Sometimes the paint would only fill 1/2 of the goose, so I used a slightly lighter color to do the other wing. Then I placed them on the worked copy where I wanted them, rotated them, flattened the layers, then used the Brush tool to color them further. I know they look painted, but that's the best I can do. I purposely left them very dark, just like in real life. Just a hint of city light.

I added the larger star on the left to give more balance and a few small stars near the geese (remember, there was a black square around them when I placed them on the working copy.

Guess I could have spent more time on it, but I'm happy with it as is. Interestingly, I could only make it a 84kb file due to all the black in it!

December 18, 2010

Old Sentiments

Christmas cards and advertisements range the proverbial gamut from religious to ridiculous, as you can see in this sampling. Each conveys its message with excellent artwork, photography and color, hoping to attract the buyer who in turn wants to convey a particular theme or feeling. The Victorian era cards depict a wide range of celebration, usually involving children. Ruddy cheeked children. Big, dark-eyed children. Beautiful children. Really unreal and dreamy children.

I remember the winter when we got a brand new 1957 Ford station wagon. It was the first new car I could remember our family having in Paso Robles. The spartan interior and long lines will long be remembered. It may have been right after Christmas when this 'present' appeared. Can't remember.

And, of course, what would Christmas be like without using it to sell cigarettes or hard liquor? This was the perfect opportunity to lend an imprimatur to a number of vices, thus sanctifying their use and by implication, misuse. Shame on you, Ronnie, for keeping all your friends hooked on that nasty habit.

Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to explaining this unusual greeting. Were there pigs milling around the manger? Or maybe they would soon grace the Christmas dinner table. Or the couple who sent out this card looked like pigs, or acted like them or smelled like them or ? I really like the expressions, though! They look like a couple I'd really like to visit with.

Have you cut your own Christmas tree? We did that one year, but didn't drive to the mountains to do it. It was as close as a tree farm a few miles north of us.

My favorite trees have been the ones I've bought live and planted afterwards. The first one, an Aleppo pine, was planted in the early 90's in the backyard and grew along the ground before heading heavenward. About 20 years later, it took vengeance and came crashing down after a strong winter storm. Thankfully, it hit the house, but no major damage resulted. I'm still burning its remains in the fireplace!

December 11, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

We're always late getting the outdoor lights up at Christmas time. Since this is one of my least favorite things to do, Barb has taken the reins the past few years and faithfully tacks them up in rain, sleet, snow or slush. Today's mid 60's makes it a lot easier, and she enjoys trying to brighten a spot at the end of our cul-de-sac.

Our neighbors spare no expense in their decor, with lighted reindeer, blow-up Santas and tube lights around the edge of the grass. Sorry, but we draw the line with lights. Maybe a star.

Our heater has been broken for a week. Waiting for parts, installing a new thermostat, roof too wet to walk on - another fire will keep us toasty tonight. Thankfully, it hasn't been freezing outside. I'm hoping all the lights will warm us up a bit, too.

Once again, Jesus tells us, "I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12

December 9, 2010

When The Cat's Away . . .

We were greeted with an unusually bright rainbow at work Tuesday morning at sunrise. The brightest anyone of us had seen. We oooo'd and aaaa'd while I kicked myself for not having my camera with me. Jan took cell phone photos. I was hoping a Stockton
Record photographer was up early enough to see it, too.

Then on Wednesday, I decided to take my camera just in case another 'event' might happen. Well, the event happened, but it wasn't nearly as bright and only lasted about 5 minutes, where the rainbow Tuesday was shining for a good 15. So these pictures are but a meager replay of the day before. But you can still see the double arc, just like before.

After the excitement, everyone got more excited as we put up xmas lights. Even Roy and Tasha came with stuff. Tasha wanted to play, play, play, but didn't like her Santa hat at all.

With morale boosted, we all worked harder than usual the rest of the day - even though the boss was out of town! Ha! Roberta, you missed all the fun!

December 5, 2010

True Peace at Christmas

CHRISTMAS -excerpts from a poem by Henry Timrod (1828-1867)

How grace this hallowed day?
Shall happy bells, from yonder ancient spire,
Send their glad greetings to each Christmas fire
Round which the children play?

How could we bear the mirth,
While some loved reveller of a year ago
Keeps his mut Christmas now beneath the snow,
In cold Virginian earth?

How shall we grace the day?
Ah! let the thought that on this holy morn
The Prince of Peace -- the Prince of Peace was born,
Employ us, while we pray!

He, who till time shall cease,
Will watch that earth, where once, not all in vain,
He died to give us peace, may not disdain
A prayer whose theme is -- peace.

Perhaps ere yet the spring
Hath died into the summer, over all
The land, the peace of His vast love shall fall
Like some protecting wing.

Peace in the quiet dales,
Made rankly fertile by the blood of men;
Peace in the woodland, and the lonely glen,
Peace in the peopled vales!

Peace in the crowded town,
Peace in a thousand fields of waving grain,
Peace in thehighway and the flowery lane,
Peace on the wind-swept down!

Peace on the whirring marts,
Peace, where the scholar thinks, the hunter roams,
Peace, God of Peace! peace, peace, in all our homes,
And peace in all our hearts!

This Christ-given peace points not primarily to an inner contentment, but to peace with an all-just, righteous and holy God, who would condemn all except for His sinless Son's intercession on behalf of all who believe in and trust Him for that forgiveness and peace.

May that true peace be yours this season as we celebrate God's greatest gift to a spiritually dead and darkened world. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." John 8:12

November 28, 2010

Rainy Day

Weekend rain has put a damper on getting any exercise, except for walking through parking lots and to the refigerator for leftovers. The diabetes rate will triple in the next 40 years in America, unless diet and exercise are taken seriously. You think your insurance premiums are high now? Just wait.

Didn't the Roman Empire end this way? Not with a bang, but with a belch?

November 27, 2010

Double the Fun

This Thanksgiving dinner was missing trumpet fanfare but little else as we sat at tables spread to the max with all sorts of traditional scrumptiousness. Robert and Becky hosted our small gathering of family and friends. Partly potluck, the goodies ranged from pecan and honey-glazed brie to Costco tri-tip. Even Angel had fun playing with the kitten and the piano. Not too many pictures taken, but I was having too much fun talking (listening) and eating. God has so abundantly provided, and we thanked Him for it.

I noticed that for the first Thanksgiving celebration in my long history, almost everyone was using an electronic device of some kind or another. Phones, cameras, iPod Touch, computer, even a Canon Selphy printer. It's all about making sure you're entertained during the entertainment, I guess.

November 21, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving–Old Style



Let’s switch gears and nudge the nostalgia button. Our great-grandparents probably gave and received Happy Thanksgiving cards just like these. They were from a simpler time that shared a simple message with simple artwork.


Most of these cards picture children. Children with smiles. Children having fun. Children being children. May this Thanksgiving week bring back the wonderful memories of family and friends from bygone years as you make new memories with loved ones this year! May God's riches blessings be yours!


What is Truth?

Today's sermon provides an unvarnished look at "Truth." Using Paul's second letter to Timothy, he unfolds II Timothy 1:13,14 in simple language, emphasizing the Biblical idea of singular, moral, spiritual and cultural truth. The sermon is entitled: "Retaining Sound Words"

We live in a world where most people invent their own truths based on subjective feelings, cultural norms and peer influence. But Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Do you know what that truth is?

Dr. Steven Lawson pastors Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.

November 20, 2010

Asking the Questions

I think my Grandfather Skinner had a love for the sea. Born in San Jose, growing up in Templeton and raising a family in San Luis Obispo, he worked as a delivery truck driver for Union Oil and often traveled to company storage tanks in Avila. He was a member of the San Luis Yacht Club and loved taking us grandkids to the beach.

He died in 1951, long before I'd even think of asking him about his life and what was important to him since I was only 5 years old. What was his favorite song? Where was the best place to fish? Did he read his Bible every day? Did he know the mayor? What was his greatest regret? Would he like to live anywhere else? How did he and grandma meet? What were his memories of serving in WWI?

Have you asked the questions yet?

November 13, 2010

Universal Off-Color

With students meandering the sidewalks, skateboarding and walking here and there, the University of the Pacific in Stockton proved to be a great place to capture some fall color --- and a crime perpetrated by local neighborhood skater hoods who loped their merry way through the center of the campus.

Of the half dozen miscreants, one needed a quick hero fix. Spying a freshly poured concrete sidewalk repair, he pulled a quarter out of his pocket and wrote his tag line: BB W$, which probably translates into West Side Bad Boyz or some other inane moniker. He threw the gritty coin into a garbage can nearby, while one of his buds couldn't believe it and started dumpster diving. I got a shot of the graffiti and 'boyz', wondering if I needed to hurry to the car. A girl with a ready phone witnessed it also and called the authorities. Such is our brave new world where there will always be small mob/dare you mentality.

I should mention that most of us, including truly yours, were guilty of the same foolishness when we were young and stupid and needed someone else's approval and praise. And the difference now is . . . ?

November 3, 2010

Unfinished Symphony

Many have dubbed former and next governor Jerry Brown's portrait in the state Capitol as an 'unfinished' work. Others say it is the best political portrait of the 20th century. I think it only fitting that he adds a second painting to the wall of governors. Something more realistic and detailed. Something to reveal every wizened wrinkle in his aging face. Something to reflect his hand-wringing trepidation after receiving the admiralty of a sinking ship.

May God direct his every decision and show mercy to us all.

October 30, 2010

Dark and Dreary - All is Bleary

This fall's colors are starting to find their way to the front door. The backyard maples and frontyard birches haven't seen any change yet, but the house has been decorated to remind us that nature's glory will soon be seen.

Changes are also seen in the sky as this weekend's storm approaches from the west, blowing north as it plots a path along the coast. We haven't had the predicted rain showers yet (it's 2:43 p.m, Saturday right now), but it has been cloudy all day. Angel is playing with the cat and watching cat videos on the computer. All is quiet on the western front.

A few remnants remain from the summer roses - persistent blooms before the freezing winds and frost. Then it will be time to pull them out and plant another that hasn't been borer infected. I'm just not a rose lover type of guy. At least when it comes to babying them.

Mother Liz and daughter love driving around in the Rabbit.

Halloween is a low-key event here at the homestead. The true bug-eater that she is, Angel has no problem posing as a withered wretch before going to the church's big candy/game/music/fun evening Friday night. Adventure will be her forte as she finally decides on a life course. May God direct her, whatever her decision might be.

We're often caught off-guard in our expressions. We hate having our picture taken because of the few bloopers that caught us with our tongues hanging out, eyes crossed or worse. Here is proof that you can take a bad picture and make it a standout. Just depends on who's judging the contest.

October 25, 2010

Arroyo Where?

Here we are in Arroyo Grande, the berg you usually whiz through when traveling north of Santa Barbara on the way to San Luis Obispo. We're visiting an ice cream parlor that lets you experiment with different mixes of ice cream (which is why it's called Doc Bernstein's Ice Cream Lab). Our friends, Tom and Linda are here with us (Linda's taking the picture) after a going to church in Paso Robles together, then zipping over to Morro Bay for lunch, then to Oceano to see the Train Depot (it was the Railroad Festival weekend on the Central Coast).

In this crazy world, friendship is becoming more important. My favorite composer, Edvard Grieg, said, "It is great to have friends when one is young, but indeed it is still more so when you are getting old. When we are young, friends are, like everything else, a matter of course. In the old days [our golden years], we know what it [really] means to have them." And as Selden said, "Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes; they were the easiest for his feet."

October 3, 2010

Old Familiar Places

Although Dryden said, "All objects lose by too familiar a view," that can't be said about certain places we visit often. As the seasons change and people come and go, the experience changes as well. Our perspective skews a bit. We refocus our line of sight and find new details to give greater definition of the world before us.

We hosted the roaming gnomes, Don and Janet, yesterday by traveling to Sutter Creek. Granddaughter Angel in tow, as well. It was another hot day without much of a breeze. Those miners must have loved working the streams and rivers in the area during the summer as long as they were able to get their feet wet and stay cool. Don and I were boiling while shooting the Knight Foundery and environs. Not much water in the creek at this point anyway.

The girls let their eyes do the walking as they perused the antique/junktique stores and kept in the shade. The boy photogs didn't keep their 40 minute limit agreement, and were soundly trounced in the Ice Cream Emporium upon return from their labors.

Angel felt a bit out of place, which is normal for any ten year-old who is forced to tag along with a group of sexagenarians. At least she is learning that old folks can have a great time and laugh a lot, in spite of their decrepitude, a not-so-small pleasure God has given to the aged among us.

September 26, 2010

Taking That Risk

After a Tahoe wedding, Karli and James invited their flatlander friends from the Valley to join them at their reception at the church. This allowed a number of friends to meet this tall, dark and handsome stranger who joined the Bruneel clan.

James is a fellow photographer who enjoyed shooting 4x5 film and making huge enlargements. He almost risked going into business with a large format printer (said he'd only have to sell 60+ prints to pay off the equipment). But providential paths led another direction and he is now managing a lodging establishment in Santa Rosa.

We often fall into life work that we were never specifically trained for, yet it becomes an all-consuming passion. We actually enjoy getting up in the morning and heading toward our rendezvous with hard work and diverse co-workers. We are rewarded for fulfilling our end of the bargain as the necessary cog in the machine.

Work is a God-honoring institution. Adam the gardener knew it. And so did Paul the tentmaker.

September 19, 2010

Spin Out

Yesterday, Angel finally spent all of the birthday money given to her in July. A new toy craze is called Beyblade Super Vortex Battle Set, where spinning tops 'fight' in a plastic bowl. The longest spinner is the winner, of course. She and Barb played for over an hour, wringing the last ounce of 'oh, boy, a new toy to play with' out of it. The screaming and yelling reminded me of --- you guessed it! --- Yahtzee!!!! Now there's a game to hate when you aren't hard of hearing and you're playing with the Queen of Scream, Barbara. A nice quiet game of Scrabble is more to my liking, thank you.

As Satchel Paige once asked, "How old would you be if didn't know how old you were?" Some of us are still in the youth category and can muster childlike exuberance automatically. Maybe you're one of this number --- and you're probably a woman --- and you're married to a dull and humdrum of a man who just can't get excited about anything lately. He says it brings on migraine auras when he gets excited. It's a stress thing that he tries to avoid at all costs.

Curmudgeons of the world, UNITE! Maybe I could get excited about joining that group. Doubt it.

September 17, 2010

All Work . . .

The enhanced work ritual of body-crushing overtime leads me to this conclusion: bis pueri senes.
Old men are twice children. That primal weakness that required regular naps after hours of play is repeated on the other end of the stick when work replaces playtime. Unfortunately, they don't allow napping during my ten-hour shifts!

September 13, 2010

Noisy Nostalgia

The 5th annual Kingdon Airport Drag Races were held last weekend. This is a strip just north of Stockton that was popular for the local boys back in the 50's through the mid-70's, when everyone with a hotrod ran their cars down the 1/4 mile ---LEGALLY! It was a way to get speeding teens to stop racing on public roads. Like that would ever happen!

It was fun going to my first drag race. Hundreds of cars racing each other and over 100 classics lined up for perusal. And hundreds of people there Saturday morning while I was taking pictures. It was loud, smelled of burned rubber and alcohol and all very 'macho.'

Racing in and around Paso Robles when I was a kid was restricted to public roads only. The Atascadero Speedway was for hard-core daredevil guys who didn't mind wrecking their cars, I guess. Country roads were more for the 'don't touch my car - I just polished it' types, like me.

I was never into speed for the thrill of it after I sold my '67 Mustang Fastback in 1971 or so. Been there, done that. Life is short enough without mismanaging second causes.

Thank you, Lord, for preserving me during those years.

September 5, 2010

Balloons Galore and More

The beauty of sunrise in the San Joaquin Valley is layered depending on the amount of smog in the air, whether there are clouds over the Sierra Nevada, or whether some man-made art gets in the picture. The hot air balloon lift off yesterday morning in Ripon certainly added to God's touch by painting the sky with bold and lavish colors.

Thankfully, they let the photographing hordes get as close as possible, which proves that these balloon people are extremely long on patience. I only had one of them warn me about stepping on a rope that was a safety hazard.

Shooting these events requires speed, agility and an eye for the bold and beautiful. Throw in the artistic and you're guaranteed some winners. Don't be afraid to zoom in close, shoot from the ground up and expect the unexpected. It will be pretty dark when they start firing up, so you may want to boost your ISO a bit. But remember to lower it as soon as the sun comes up (unless you've got one of those $2500 cameras without any noise at 1600 ISO).

The main thing when shooting is to try to enjoy the moment. Don't get so caught up in the perfect angle and color that you don't relish the noise of the burners, the smell of the propane and the expertise of the balloonists as they coordinate the dozens of volunteers who help them get their balloons off the ground. Talk to people. Be friendly. Smile a lot. Remember, you're not getting paid to do this. Although I did run into Clifford Oto, one of the photographers of the Stockton Record who was there on assignment. You'll see a few pictures of him at work in this series. Clifford has a blog, so he may comment on his visit: Clifford's Blog.

This is a two-day event that includes:

-- Pancake breakfast (with two sausage links, scrambled eggs and juice or milk)
-- Lots of vendor booths
-- National Anthem
-- Tethered balloon rides
-- Two running events
-- Wizard of Oz's 'Dorothy' and Toto
-- Professional kite performances
-- Skydiver show
-- Schaffer Tae Kwon DO demonstration
-- Air George helicopter landing
-- Cannon Acrobatics
-- Yes Company performance
-- Tri-tip lunch
-- Kite show and Candy drop
-- Desert Wind Dancers

And that's all done by 1:00 or so. This is a fund raising event for the Children's Hospital of San Joaquin.

I'll try to be there again next year - and take my rather-be-snoozing wife. She'll thank me in the end!

September 2, 2010

Okies and Okra

Just about when you've forgotten you roots, along comes a bag full of okra from a friend, and you figure as long as it's deep fried and breaded you can enjoy it instead of having to pretend to like the greasy, snot-like drippings of having it presented on your plate in a boiled condition like you used to suffer through when visiting relatives in the mid-west or poor folk transplants here in Stockton about 35 years ago when you used to buy bags of groceries for the family that had just a little income and too many kids and lived in a hovel downtown, and that gets me thinking about how far away and long ago that seems and how painful that memory is in more ways than one.

Lord, forgive my ingratitude and selfishness.

August 29, 2010

Urban Forest

There is something wonderful about being able to find silence, serenity and simplicity in a city park. Kofu Park in Lodi is a jewel in the city's park system. Huge grass expanses that drape the sides of sunken fields; multiple species of trees lining the crater's rim; a plethora of greens to enjoy --- all add to the pleasure of sitting on a bench under a spacious oak tree where you can breathe deeply and find a retreat from the weekly mayhem.

You won't be alone, most likely. The park is dog and people friendly as well. You will be entertained by canine antics and children rolling down the hills. And if you like baseball or soccer, you will be treated to these at certain seasons.

The city of Lodi will be adding an even bigger park next year. Tree planting will start in March, 2011. It will be a beautiful place in the years to come as those trees mature.

"God has given to us all things richly to enjoy." His creative genius has included a world of trees.

August 22, 2010

Hanoi Hilton Glory

The following was written by Air Force Captain, Eugene "Red" McDaniel, whose plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. His experience in the Hanoi Hilton proves both the depravity of man and the grace of God.

"Between the pressure and pain were monotonous gray gaps --- tedious hours of boredom, endless hours of doing nothing but think and wonder and sometimes worry. To combat the mind-numbing dullness, we invented elaborate mental exercises to while away the time. We taxed our ingenuity and mental resourcefulness with mind games, calculations, remembering, construction projects, planning vacations, thinking through adventures and fantasies, reliving history, composing poems --- anything to keep our minds alert and alive.

"On Sunday mornings, we worshiped the Lord together, tapping our clandestine worship through the walls. We found bits and pieces of scripture buried deep inside our minds and shared them with one another --- missing words, missing lines, passages paraphrased. We prayed together, through the walls, then we closed our primitive worship service facing the east, each man in his own cell, toward the Gulf of Tonkin where we knew U.S. Navy ships were waiting offshore, as we pledged our allegiance to our unseen flag.

"We learned to pray for our guards, Spot and Rabbit, Jawbone and Sweetpea, Slug and the others who inflicted such ruthless torture on us. We learned to share our sparse food, to tend another man's wounds, to find and share the courage and strength we needed to meet each day.

"We put together, as best we could, a makeshift copy of the Bible. It could never be called the Living Bible or the King James Bible. We called it the Revised Prison Version. We wrote down all the scripture we could recall on pieces of toilet paper stuck together with glutinous rice. Ink was a problem We tried brick dust and water. We tried blood and water. Finally, we tried cigarette ashes and water, and that worked. The V.C. gave us three cigarettes a day in the good times when they were feeling generous, and we found all kinds of uses for the tobacco . . .

[A few years later in 1969]

"At some point during the seventh night [of torture], I became dimly aware that I wasn't going to make it after all. All the positive thinking, optimism, and hope I had so carefully nurtured from two long years was exhausted. I was going to die. And death would be welcomed.

"As I knelt crumpled on the floor in my own blood and wastes, I found myself yielding control to God. I found myself surrendering my fate to Him unconditionally. There was no more human resolve or pride or tenacity of spirit --- just surrender to Him: 'Lord . . . it's all Yours . . . whatever this means, whatever You have in mind now with all of this, it's all Yours . . . .' God knew my breaking point. He knew exactly when the torture had to stop. And it did stop, at the threshold of death. He had a larger purpose for me. He had spared me at my shootdown. He had graciously allowed me the privilege of serving beside men of great courage --- to help them find strength, and to receive strength from them in turn. He had preserved me through two long years of torture and deprivation. He delivered me that seventh night, as well. Kneeling there, empty before God, I was overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of His presence and profound awareness that He was forging a deeper dimension of faith and commitment in my life to glorify Him in the years ahead.

"He was not ready for me to die. He would bring me through four more years of imprisonment, back to my home and family, back from the brink of the grave. He would give me back my health, and I would testify of His power to heal. He would help me to see His divine purpose in allowing me to suffer, and He would use me as an example that others might know of His power and turn to Him for life.

"To my amazement, I was put in a cell with Windy Rivers and Ron Bliss, two outstanding Christians. They didn't recognize me at first because I looked like a specter out of hell. My eyes wee sunken, my skin turning jaundiced, legs pitifully swollen, body caked with scabs and sores, and my hands dangling limply at my sides. But they rallied on my behalf, and lovingly nursed me back to health. They fed me, shaved me, washed my wounded body, and even helped me to relieve myself. Jack Van Loan, another prisoner, massaged my hands for hours on end over several months, slowly bringing back the circulation. During that time, my broken arm finally began to heal.

[After being set free]

"For me, the Vietnam War is not over. It won't end until we bring home those men who were left behind in 1973. The ordeal won't end until my questions about my country's honor are answered. America has forsaken some of her highest ideals: liberty, justice, loyalty, righteousness. It was these ideals that kept me going from day to day in my captivity. They are the ideals that keep me going from day to day now in my search for answers to some deeply disturbing questions about my country.

"I know that God will give unmeasured grace and mercy to those men still held in bondage, just as He ministered to me in the Hanoi Hilton. He has not forsaken those forgotten heroes in their quiet suffering. He shares in their sufferings as He shared in mine. God is in Hanoi, in the jungle camps of Laos, and in the boxcars of the trains that move our men from one location to another so they can never be found. Nothing can separate them from the love of God. He will hold them in the hollow of His hand."

Today, Captain McDaniel is the founder and president of the American Defense Institute and the American Defense Foundation in Washington D.C. Both are committed to preserving a strong national defense of America.

August 14, 2010

Long Live the Maestro

My work routine can be extremely boring, which is why most of my team mates listen to personal radios. Since I operate a number of pieces of equipment, there are four of them posited in four different places. All cheap, flea market purchases, if I remember right.

Wearing earplugs all day forces some of us to crank up the volume. Thus, old hard rock blares at the folder and soft rock stirs the soul at the envelope press, while shipping may listen to Christian or sports broadcasts and I listen to Christian, news, talk, smooth jazz, or classical. Hector, one of the pressmen, plugs in his earbuds, so we don't hear his sports news. It must be shocking for a visitor to walk into the finishing department and hear Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor blaring in their right ear and Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze blasting in their left ear.

I ask myself, "Why am I the only one who grooves on Classical music?" Now that's an interesting term, "groovy." It sits on the shelf gathering dust, just like the records that gave it birth. Its current replacement? How about "Oooh, that bytes!" Slang changes --- classical music is here to stay.

There are still classical music radio stations! There are still aisles and aisles of classical CD's in the music stores. People still play orchestral instruments in real life orchestras. Even Stockton, CA, has a symphony orchestra! Composers still compose. Audiences still pay to hear them. They just don't utilize Mosh Pits, jump up and down and scream during the performances. It's not that they aren't emotional. Many movements bring tears and smiles. They save their yelling for the end. Kind of like many of us will do when we die and are freed from the sin and pain of this life as we enter the presence of our Creator and Redeemer.

God is the great composer of history as He "works all things according to the counsel of His own will." His encore will open with the theme, "a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

Eternal bravos for ever and ever!

Note: Our three composers above are Edvard Grieg, Ludwig van Beethoven and Henry Purcell.

August 10, 2010

A Certain Sphinx

There are a number of Sphinx moths in California, all with different 'first names.' They range in size, shape and color, interestingly, or strangely, as your opinion divines.

I found this guy (or girl) on an iris leaf in the front yard after work. It looked like a dead leaf from 6' away while I was watering. But leaves don't flutter when they get sprinkled, so I took a closer look. It's markings were striking on it's 3" wingspan, and I hurried to get my camera. There was no need: this wasn't a butterfly! This was a half-asleep moth. But it was in the shade and the shots were pretty bad.

After dinner I went out and put it in a jar to identify it using the Internet. It's called an Achemon Sphinx, looking almost identical to the east coast version, the Pandora, which is greenish. The California version is brown, with black (dark brown) spots and pink secondary wings.

After it, I put it on the grape leaves in the back yard to get some better shots. I had to force the main wing out to get the lower wing to show it's pink color. In about 5 minutes, the little guy started fluttering his wings for about a minute, then launched into the air, flying slowly over the grapes on the fence and into (and beyond) the front yard again.

Just then, a small white butterfly scurried around the tomato plants and finally settled on a green tomato. You have to sneak up on butterflies, just like birds and dragonflies. I was only able to get one picture before it skedaddled.

Life is full of unseen beauty, ready to show it off before your very eyes.

August 7, 2010

Swings and Rainbows

The mornings are beautiful-
The breeze is cool.
Sprinkler spray drifts across the lawn,
Painting rainbows in the sunlight.

The empty swing is swaying-
I can almost hear the laughter.
I think you can, too.

Maybe there will be swings
And rainbows in heaven.
I think so. Do you?