The Armstrong Archives (103): Fun for Kindergarten and Triple Birthdays

1981 Aaron + MikeWednesday, September 30, 1981 Well, we’ve finally conquered yet another round of colds, ear infections, and croup. It seems someone is always sick! You’d think we don’t live right, but I don’t know what to do differently to get the kids any more germ-resistant.

School’s going just fine for Aaron. He now has an extended repertoire of songs and poems, etc. to tell Jon (and Mike) as he drifts off to sleep. Tonight he was even telling Jon the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did I tell you about Aaron’s Wonder Book? I got him a notebook when he started school for questions and ideas. He draws pictures to remind himself, and then after school we look up the answers to his questions—so far mostly from the encyclopedias. It is a great tradition…our “homework” [It was just my idea, not really from the school], and even Michael enjoys it. You’ll have to look at it when you come. I’m learning fully as much as the boys. It’s very exciting! Legos. Little Giant JonIt’s been cold and rainy here—but little do we care since we’ve just been sitting inside playing legos and listening to stories. I’ve been busy taping stories. The boys are hot to have all the Pooh Bear stories taped. Right now we’re doing some simple ones: Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and Babar…which may not have even been popular when you were reading to small boys. I’ve also solicited for some help from Boris Karloff and have a couple of records of him reading Kipling’s Just So Stories. The boys have gotten into poetry a little lately too. They just loved Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six, so I’m going to try them on Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses tomorrow. We went to both the Main Library and our Loving Branch today, and I had just gone a couple of days ago. Aaron has scheduled “a walk in the woods, legos, and a lot of reading” for his birthday, so I wanted to BE PREPARED! Aaron's 6th BirthdaySaturday we’re going to have a birthday party for both boys, and Saturday night Alan is going to take me out for dinner for my birthday. Aaron requested that we all go to the Ponderosa Friday night and have cheesecake for his birthday. (I could hardly have thought of a better plan myself!) Alan agreed to take us, so I lucked out! Nice to have a son with similar tastes. [Aaron and I share a birthday, so it's been fun over the years to celebrate almost all our birthdays together!]Aaron's Birthday 1981Michael wants a chocolate cake with flowers and rocket ships. He’s really growing! Jacques was an awful crab last week with his cold. He’s developing quite a spicy personality and becomes more of a ham every day. He’s so lovable though, that we all forgive him his antics. [As I’m transcribing this bit of info, I have on my computer desktop a wild picture of about a 27-year-old Jon with a dew rag on his head and his Saturday night live crazy stance! Some things never change!] I’ll call when I know what we’re doing. MIke's 4th Birthday

[Included are two watercolors:

by Aaron, “A Parrot saying, ‘Hi Grandpa! Hi Grandma’”

by Michael, “Flowers for Grandma and Grandpa”



A Meditation on Pictured Rocks and Miners Castle

Miner's CastleOur last major stop in Michigan’s paradisial U.P. was at Miners Castle Pictures Rocks National Lakeshore near Munisingalong Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a spectacular 73+thousand-acre park which includes 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.Unusual Arches of Pictured Rocks If you ever get a chance to visit, Pictured Rocked Boat TourI’d really recommend taking a boat tour along the coast, Caves along Pictured Rocks because you can’t see the incredible colors and intricate designs of the rocky Pictured Rocks  formations nearly as well when you’re standing atop the sandstone cliffs. Hike to Munising Beach  However, there are also many memorable hikes along the forested ridges. Path full of roots Of course, they tend to be steep and rooty, but they’re absolutely beautiful! Miner's CastleOn this especially glorious August morning, we opted to visit Miners Castle Lake Superior from Miner's Castleand take a hike along the top of the 200′ cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. Kayakers in Lake SuperiorHowever, we got distracted when we saw groups of kayakers Kayakingplying the clear, quiet waters, Munising Beach.and we noticed that Miners Beach, which is usually quite deserted,Munising Beachwas brimming over with groups of kayakers! Sand PointSo, instead of taking a hike to Sand PointPictured Rocks National Lakeshorealong the rocky cliff tops, Beautiful colors of Pictured Rockswe decided to trek the trail down to Miners Beach. Miners RiverHappily, there’s a well traveled foot path that leads along Miners River Miners River reaches Miners Beachas it meanders from the high country down to Miners Beach. Miners River. Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreMiners River has its origin in Hiawatha National Forest, Looking back at Miners Riverand it’s the largest river in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Testing the water at Miners RiverThe water is cold but clear, Miners River Meets Beachand it’s very clean, despite looking brown from all the tannic acid (due to decomposed vegetation). Children playing in Miners River However, the color doesn’t stop anybody (like these children) from playing! Crossing Miners RiverNear the end of the trail there’s a footbridge across Miners River,Miners Riverand then it’s just a quick jaunt along the sandy river shoreline Miners Beachbefore you’re out to Lake Superior and ready for a swim! Lake SuperiorWell, we could have if we’d only thought to bring our swimsuits! Too bad. :( Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 2The other thing we’d failed to consider was just how hot and thirsty we might become. Water water everywhere, but ne’er a drop to drink! Picking Wild BlueberriesThankfully, it was blueberry season, and even the little bursts of wild Wild Blueberriessweetness were enough to invigorate us for the return trek (uphill). Miners River 2

It struck me that we took fewer precautions for this hike because we were so familiar with the area. Instead of my usual “Semper paratus” attitude (“always ready”), I felt so at home that I became careless. Not exactly that “familiarity breeds contempt” but that—at least in my case—familiarity bred a lack of normal precaution and thoughtfulness in planning. Munising National LakeshoreIs there any chance you and I are so familiar with this world that we’re not making adequate preparations for our spiritual journeys? Are we packing the swimsuit (garments) of salvation and the water of life so we don’t miss out?

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7).


A Few of my Favorite Birds (14): Flyin’ High Like the Eagles

Eagle 9.20.12 at our homeAlthough it’s rare to see an eagle flying over our lake (as one did 2 years ago), they do live in the area, and eagles are definitely one of my favorite birds! Golden Eagle Profile There is probably no bird as exalted as the eagle, which was used as a symbol of power and majesty even during biblical times. Great Seal of U.S. The bald eagle, indigenous only to North America, has been the national symbol of the United States since our country’s inception in 1789.Eagle Fluffy Feathers This great bird has been protected and honored ever since, as former President John F. Kennedy affirmed: Eagle as symbol of our Country 2 “The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.”  Eagle. Bronze Statue Bald eagles are among the largest of the “raptors” (birds of prey). Males weigh 7-10 pounds and have wing spans of up to six feet. Surprisingly (at least to me), the females are even larger, weighing up to 14 pounds and attaining a wing span of up to 8 feet! So, if you ever have the privilege of seeing a pair, the bigger one is actually the female. Eagle watching Although bald eagles have been carefully protected in America since 1940, some zoos are allowed—by special permission—to keep eagles. Golden Eagle 1The High Desert Museum near Bend, Oregon, has 2 eagles who were found injured but rescued. These stately birds could no longer survive in the wild. Pair of Eagles Did you know that eagles mate for life and live up to 30 years? The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids has a mating pair, and this year they have an eaglet, although I’ve not been able to get a good picture of it despite several trips to the zoo!  Eagle's Nest Eagles use the same nest year after year, which can eventually become  massive in size (up to 10 feet across). Although the female usually lays 2-3 eggs, only one eaglet normally survives, because it will kill any other eaglet that hatches, and the parents don’t intervene. Janine Harles's photo via Pivot Evans. Woodway, WA 5:12:14 (Above is a very happy exception, photographed by Pivot Evans this past May, 2014 in Washington State.) Bald-headed Eagle Wings  After about 4-6 months, the eaglets learn to fly by a do-or-die dive out of the nest. (If they’re too hesitant, the parent will eventually push them over the edge!) Bald Eagle in coniferHowever, because nests in the wild are usually at very high elevations, the parent eagle will swoop down under the eaglet and help support it if the young eagle doesn’t learn to flap fast enough to survive the first dive.  Bald Eagle over our lake 1.31.13Hence, the scripture in Deuteronomy 32:11-13, where the Lord speaks of his tender care for his children: “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him.” Bald Eagle. Heather CushmanAs I consider the mighty eagle—and how it represents America—I am sobered to remember that God is not only a tender parent, he is a demanding God who requires holiness. Bald-headed Eagle 1 In Obadiah 1:4 he warns against the sins of pride and arrogance, “‘Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down,’ saith the Lord.” Eagle EatingIf we don’t want to be reduced to living in captivity, we need to resist feeding on the carrion of this world and humble ourselves as a nation, Eagle flyingturning away from evil and prayerfully seeking the way of Light. Bald eagle fluffy feathersI would love to see our nation known for courage and goodness Bald-headed Eagle 2 rather than self-indulgence and degenerate living, wouldn’t you? Bald-headed EagleMay God give us grace to be true to our calling, individually and nationally, Eagle Flyin' High Heather Cushmanso we can keep on flyin’ high like the eagles! Bald Eagle (EJ Magnuson)(Close up of the bald eagle sitting high up on a snag and the next-to-the last picture are used by permission of my cousin, Heather C. The last picture was taken by my friend E.J.M. in Juneau, Alaska in July! The rest I took in Michigan, Colorado, and Oregon.)

Writer to Writer

09.17.14 Writer to WriterIf you’re serious about writing and ever hope to publish, I’d highly recommend Cec Murphy’s recent book, Writer to Writer: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Cec, who’s published over 135 books in his 40+ year career as a professional writer, filled his book chock full of ideas on how to improve as a writer and how to get published.

Cec’s style is plain, personal, and pointed. The entire book is written in bite-sized essays that provide excellent snacks for thought and are easily digested. He begins with a plethora of information to help unpublished writers grow beyond the amateur look—starting with your book’s first sentence. He walks you through principles for writing the best book you’re capable of writing and then goes on to explain many things about the publishing business, including how to write an engaging query letter, things to consider when looking for an agent, and even some tips on what to watch for when you’re getting ready to sign a contract with an editor who’s offered to take your book.

Writer to Writer is also a practical writing manual containing sections on grammar, verbs, point-of-view, and on and on! As a final gift, Cec includes a “bonus chapter” about marketing written by Kathy Carlton Willis (head of a communications company), because—as he puts it—she “knows more about marketing than I’d figure out in years.”

I highlighted so much material in my copy of Writer to Writer that it looks like a text book…and in reality, that’s exactly what it is! If you’re interested but can’t afford your own copy, Cec also has an excellent blog where he has shared much of this information over time and continues to give out freely from his lifetime of experience, as well as providing insights from other writers.  You can access his blog here:

Happy writing, and all the best to you as you write! If you read Writer to Writer, get inspired to be a part of a writing group such as he describes, and live in the GR area…let me know. Maybe we can get something going!

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
(Colossians 3:23)



Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Peaceful Munising Falls

Beautiful Fall LeavesAlan and I have visited Acadia National Park in the fall, Lake Superior Sunset and it is truly beautiful, Dead River. Autumn but I don’t think it’s any more stunning Munising National Lakeshore in Fall than Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) in autumn. Mackinac Bridge ViewIt wasn’t quite autumn when we got lost in blue Mackinac Bridge copy crossing the Mighty Mac during our last trip, Miner's Castlebut the U.P. was every bit as beautiful as we remembered it! Munising River After visiting Marquette, we stopped in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Munising Falls Trail to see a peaceful little waterfall tucked away deep in the woods.Munising Falls and Stream Munising Falls drops 50 feet over a sandstone cliff but is relatively quiet.Munising Waterfall. Kids youngSince “time immemorial” in our family, we’ve been hiking the kid-friendly trail Munising Waterfallthat leads upstream along a gurgling brook to the base of the falls. Munising FallsThere is a path on the ledge behind the first falls just before the second falls,  Enjoying Munising Falls and we used to walk Munising Falls 2 completely around the falls using this narrow passageway. Munising Falls Path endsHowever, the pathway is now deemed unsafe and has been closed,Munising Falls Stairwayalthough you can still climb the stairways on both sides for some lovely views. Tahquahmenon Falls copyForty years ago, when Alan and I were first married, we used to be able to walk behind Tahquahmenon Falls too, but that’s no longer allowed either. Dead River in FallSometimes I find myself wishing for the “good, old days” when there were fewer restrictions and more freedoms to enjoy America the beautiful! Joe Pye WeedInstead, in this world of change, I need to have more appreciation for the things Cloverthat remain constant—even the very little joys— and be more thankful for them. Barefoot CreekWe may not live on our beloved “Barefoot Creek” anymore, Munising Falls. Peacefulbut wherever we are, we can be at peace, because God is with us.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

(I took all these pictures in Michigan’s beautiful U.P.)

The Scoop on Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets


Stephen with DaisiesAlthough our family only lived in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula 4 years, Joel as BabyJoel was born there, and that era was very formative for our family’s lore, Picnic at Presque Isle so we’re often drawn to return on vacations…as we did just before school started. Stephen on mountain topLast week I shared about yet another climb to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain,   Wetmore Landinghiking the North Country Trail and swimming at Wetmore Landing. Jean Kay's Pastie ShopBy then we were ready for our favorite lunch: some of Jean Kay’s tasty pasties Presque Isle Road totaken out as a picnic to Presque Isle…a tradition since 1989 for us, Freighter into Marquette Harbor although the first time Alan and I took some pasties to the park, Presque Isle. Winter we didn’t realize it was going to be as chilly as it was, Sailboat. Marquette Harbor so we left our pasties on the table and went back to the car for jackets. Sea gull at Presque Isle Big Mistake! A seagull swooped in and tried carrying off the pasty, which Pasty broke into a shower of golden crusts, rutabaga, steak, onions, & potatoes! :( Yooper HatsSince then, we’ve learned a lot about living in Yooperland, Here's the Scoopand that’s why I want to share the scoop on some of Marquette’s best! Breakwall After lunch we took a meander out to the end of Presque Isle’s break wall, Presque Isle Breakwall which becomes a bit of a rock-jumping exercise once you’re out a ways. Rocky Walk! From the break wall, there are lovely vistas of Marquette’s lower harbor Lower Harbor, Marquette, MI and the clear, cool waters of Lake Superior.  Lake Superior's Clear WaterIf you ever have several days to explore the Marquette area, climbingClimbing down Hogback Mt.Hogback Mt. has been one of our favorite secrets since the kids were little. Glass Milk Bottles. Old FashionedHowever, having just one day, we opted for a quick nostalgia tour checking outYooper Dome all the places around town that had been special to us: the Yooper Dome, NMUNMU (where Aaron started college when he was thirteen), Marquette General HospitalMarquette General, where Alan worked and Joel was born, Office BuildingAlan’s old office, Youth Center& the youth center where our GR youth group once helped with renovations. Marquette LighthouseWe didn’t stop at the lighthouse or maritime museum, but they’re both worth visiting, and on a warm day, McCarty’s Cove (here) is great place to swim. Jilbert DairyAnother well kept secret is Jilbert’s Dairy…much loved by those who know.Jilbert's MenuWe used to get “mixed pails” (a gallon pail made from the tail-ends of two different types of ice cream that had been made that day) for great prices, Jilbert Sundaebut they don’t offer those anymore, although their home made ice creams are still “to die of” yummy (as Alan likes to tease) and priced very well.Jilbert Dairy CowBut, I’ve saved the very best secrets for last! Dead River FallsWhen we lived in Marquette, we “just happened” to live on 50 acres that dead-ended at the Dead River Falls. Dead River Falls 2 This wonderful series of falls is all on private property (as part of the flood plain for the Dead River dam system) and therefore isn’t a public park…but you can unofficially hike them by walking upstream from Marquette’s Tourist Park. Dead River Falls 3Alan and I think they’re even more beautiful than Maui’s 7 Sacred Pools!

Dead River When we lived in Marquette, we used to hike the falls from our backyard, and we were so enchanted that one summer I wrote a mystery for our children called The Dead River Diamond. Perhaps I can publish it in time for the grand kids, since I don’t really want my book to be just another well kept secret! Dead River Falls 4
For many on this earth, the all-time best kept secret is where to find not just one big diamond, like the Dead River Diamond, but a wondrous treasure that’s been hidden for each of us. Jesus called it “the pearl of great price,” and he was referring to the Kingdom of God. Have you found it yet? If not, please just ask. I have found it, and I’d love to share with you how you can have it for your own too!

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Rise Up, My Love (102): Come with Me

Rocky Mountains copySong of Solomon 4:8 “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon:” A surprising number of commentators argue over the physical location of the couple at this point and completely forget the more important spiritual aspect of the verse, which is the king’s invitation. It is as if the directors of the play got so totally consumed by figuring out the direction from which the actors should make their next entrance that they fail to comment on how the actors recite their lines! However, every word of God is important, so let’s consider why the king says, “Come with me from Lebanon.”

Weren’t they in Jerusalem? The royal cavalcade that appeared in chapter 3:6 was definitely transporting the bride from their home to a new location. At first I assumed that they must have been moving to Jerusalem, since that was the capitol, but after meditating on many Scriptures and studying up on Biblical geography and history, it seems most likely that they were moving to their new palace called the Forest of Lebanon, which according to The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “refers to an armory or treasure house which King Solomon built in or near Jerusalem” (Vol. 2, 594).

In I Kings 7 and 10, and 2 Chronicles 9, there are amazing descriptions given of Solomon’s wonderful retreat “cottage” called the house in the Forest of Lebanon…a little country estate of 11,250 sq. feet built entirely of cedar “and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold” (10:21). Solomon also had built at this palace a throne for judging which (if it is the same throne described in I Kings 10:18) was made of ivory overlaid with gold…a throne with six steps leading up to it and a dozen lions, one on each side of each step, guarding the way: “There was not the like made in any kingdom” (I Kings 10:20). This incredible forested estate was definitely made for ruling, and it seems perfectly reasonable to believe that this was the home to which Solomon was bringing his wife in chapter 3:6.

Let’s review quickly. In the first part of chapter three, the husband has disappeared and the wife goes out in search of him. After a happy reunion, the husband leaves again and the wife this time learns to wait in patience for his return. When he returns, he comes with a glorious retinue and whisks her off to a magnificent official celebration, probably the “grand opening” of their new palace…I would like to think the palace built in her honor. The opening verses of chapter four sing out the praises of the bride and seem to depict her glorious beauty at their public wedding celebration—perhaps instating her as the official queen—and during the rapturous evening that followed. The second half of the chapter, encompassing verses 8-14, could easily be describing a honeymoon of sorts, including a tour of the entire land over which the couple will be reigning together.

“Come with me from Lebanon.” When the curtain lifts, it seems that the king and queen are enjoying a royal honeymoon amongst the sweetly scented trees at their new estate known as the Forest of Lebanon. However, it’s not impossible that they have already made their way to the real Forest of Lebanon, which runs along the northern coast near Tyre and into Lebanon and would make an ideal vacation spot if you enjoyed sea, forest, and mountains. Talk about a room with a view! Mt. Hermon, which is one of the mountains mentioned in this verse, is in the southern spur of this forested Anti-Lebanon chain, and three countries meet on its slopes: Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Perhaps it is from this vantage point that the verse eight “snapshot” is recorded.

However, the most critical aspect of the verse is not their exact location, or how they arrived there, but what the king says to his bride: “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse…”

Two wonderful truths spring up from this geyser. “Come with me!” The first truth is that we are never called to go alone once we are joined to Christ, but we are ever called to come with him. God is neither an unfeeling deity who does not see, nor is he only a benevolent father who watches over us tenderly; God is a lover who calls us to his side, to walk in his presence with him! What a comforting thought—if we can only grasp it—that he calls us to walk in his Spirit with him. We should never feel alone.

The second truth is that we should always feel loved… and accepted…and united. “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse.” This is the first time the king addresses his bride as “spouse.” The word is kalla in the Hebrew, which is a term of tender endearment. She is now his bride joined to him…his spouse…even as Adam declared, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Could we ever feel unloved and unwanted if we understood the reality of Christ’s love for us? He has called us to be his bride—bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.

When we participate in the communion feast, we should be consciously refreshed by this thought! “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you (I Corinthians 11:24). “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). As we partake of the symbols of his flesh and blood, let’s meditate on the mystery of our being bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh! We are accepted in the beloved. We are one with him. We are never alone, and we are always loved!