Dunluce Castle: Inspiration for Cair Paravel

Last May Alan and I took a two-week driving tour of the British Isles with our youngest sons, Stephen and Joel, and then between May 24 and July 20th I started a series of travel blogs called R’n’Rs’n’B’nBs:Rambles and Reflections in Broadways and Byways of Britain. Life overpowered reflection, and I never finished the project, but I’m imagining a stretch of quiet now where I can resume recounting my rambles.And so, I will take up where we left off, leaving the Giant’s Causeway behind and heading northwest along the North Sea in Ireland’s County Antrim on a cloudless morning in early May, 2011.Our next stop was Dunluce Castle, purported to be C.S. Lewis’ inspiration for the castle in his classic children’s series about Narnia. (We visited many sites near and dear to the hearts of our British-lit-loving sons.) Dunluce is the largest and most sophisticated castle ruins in the north, built originally by the Normans back in 1503 atop a 100-foot, basalt outcropping connected to the mainland by a gracefully arched bridge above “The Mermaids’ Cave.” The castle was—like a beautiful woman—fought over and jealously guarded. During its 400 years as a power base in the north, it changed hands many times. Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, was the original builder, although by 1519 it belonged to the McQuillian Family, which was displaced by the MacDonald Clan  in the 16th century, who were then ousted by Sorley Boy MacDonnell.The stories of intrigue read like a novel… intermarriage with Scottish royalty… Sorley Boy and his men being hauled up the side of the cliff in baskets…the castle being restored with booty from the shipwreck of the Spanish Armada’s treasure ship Girona in 1588…However, the most provocative story comes from the life of Sorley Boy’s son, Randal, who turned the castle into a luxurious utopia for his wife, complete with a beautiful kitchen overlooking the sea.The couple loved to entertain until one day in 1639 when—as the tale is told—the entire kitchen broke off the house, plunging 100 feet into the sea below and killing all the kitchen staff.It’s easy to empathize with the wife, who refused to live in the castle anymore, and so they moved inland, and the castle eventually fell into disrepair.I was touched by reading the description given online in The Original Site of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board: “Today the pretty blue flower of Dunluce’ clusters round the castle’s ruined shell and drifts of seapinks are the only sentinels.”         And, that is exactly what we found on that beautiful May morning!Hearing the story of the ruin of Dunluce Castle, I couldn’t help but think of the words of Matthew 7:24-27 where Jesus taught a parable concerning the wisdom of building our lives on the Rock, Jesus Christ. “Every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened to a foolish man…the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

Earthly kingdoms will come and go, but God’s Kingdom of love and light will remain from generation to generation…forever!

“How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Daniel 4:3

Seattle and Mt. Rainier: Best Parks and Hiking Trails

If you’re ever flying into Seattle from the East (or heading south out of Seattle), think about asking for an “A” seat so you can savor the grandeur of Mt. Rainier out your window. On my wanderings this past month, I was able to enjoy some magnificent views of this majestic peak, which is the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states (14,411 feet)…and also happens to be a dangerous volcano.On the flight, I sat next to a woman who has lived in Seattle for the past 20 years and is an avid hiker, so I asked her for a list of her favorite hiking trails in Seattle and around Mt. Rainier where you can get some great views without having to actually climb the mountain.                          (Picture below by Troymason via Flickr to Wikipedia)

Jonathan and Gerlinde are meeting Brian and Sarah Cooper in Seattle for a visit in May, so I’m writing this for them in particular, but also for anyone who enjoys hiking and might be living in or traveling to the  Seattle area. Here is the list she wrote out for me: her two top choices are Discovery Park (4-stars) and Paradise Park.             (picture below of Paradise from the National Park Service) which has breath-taking wildflower meadows in the spring and wonderful views of Mt. Rainier. If you have more time, the lady also recommended Green Lake, Carkeek Park, North Bend (both Mt. Si and Little Si) and Shoqualmic Pass. I’ve noticed that you can find a lot more information for each of these parks by googling, which would help you refine your plans according to time, weather, and baby loads! Happy exploring. 🙂

“The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon my high places” (Habakkuk 3:19).

No Sleep, No Name…What’s this World Coming To?

Kathy just posted on facebook: “Iris is finally on a schedule. It’s called the No Sleep Ever schedule.” Yikes! Poor kids! 😦It’s been over a month since Baby Blue was bornand if he has a name yet, I haven’t heard! 😦On the bright side, Reid was released from the hospital yesterdayand today he’s back to having fun with his two big brothers! What an answer to prayer! Thank you to all who cared and shared our burden! 🙂And, on the West CoastAmelie has some very good news to share:She’s the proud possessor of her very own children’s book, which she plans to take with her when she visits her grandparents this summer in Germany!So, in the great scope of life, I’m extremely grateful for all the good things  around me and the blessing of being able to enjoy another spring…and I hope you are too! 🙂

“Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

Thomas Kinkade: Painter of Light Dies in the Dark

I just love the art of Thomas Kinkade. Do you? My favorite greeting cards are graced by his pictures.I have one of his commemorative tea cup and saucer sets.His cottages and gardens are the subject of our bathroom wallpaper border,

and we own his semi-autobiographical movie telling the wonderful story of how he and his brother struggled to help save their mother’s home. (2008 with Peter O’Toole— a truly inspiring family video for the Christmas season.)Although Thomas Kinkade created some 1,000 major paintings, perhaps his pinnacle work was done in 2010: The Cross, a huge mural adorning the Billy Graham Library in North Carolina. (If you have time for a short video of Kinkade unveiling his work, you can see it at: http://www.squidoo.com/the-cross-by-thomas-kinkade) According to Wikipedia, Kinkade was purported to be America’s “most collected living artist” before his death on Good Friday, just three weeks ago. It is estimated that one in every 20 homes in America has some of his artwork in some form. If I were fabulously wealthy and collected art, I’m sure I would try to buy one (or more) of his paintings!    Instead, we’ve collected many of his beautiful works in the form of puzzles.But, here is the real puzzle for me. How could someone who was faithfully married for thirty years and was quoted in the Wall St. Journal as saying, “When I was saved, my art got saved,” and “My paintings are messengers of God’s love”…how could someone who was doing so well fall from the heights of glorious light into such a pit of blackness?


What happened? Apparently he got side-tracked into an affair a year and a half ago and died at age 54 “after a night of heavy drinking.” What a tragic end to a most inspirational life! 😦Wall Street‘s article was entitled “Art in a Fallen World.” How sad, and how true. As I puzzle over the heartbreaking conclusion of Kinkade’s life, and the thought that the entire world has lost perhaps 20-30 years of his genius, I grieve. However, I also take comfort in some of the things he said: “The light that is in my paintings is His love, and it has nothing to do with me.”  “Don’t mistake the message for the messenger, just look to God.”

So, how to keep from coming to an ignominious end? As Kinkade said, “Keep pouring passion into the product.” But, we have to keep God himself as the focus for our passion, not wine, women, and wealth…not power and prestige or fame and glory. We’re never immune from temptation and never too old to fail. I think somehow the key must be in humility… in learning to submit daily to the Holy Spirit’s leading as He teaches us to walk in the Light of His presence: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

“But I keep under my body, and bring it into  subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

The Newest Arrivals

Well—as it turns out—I’m not the only one sporting new babies around here!One of the couples who spend their summers on our lake had quintuplets!I first noticed them when I was out walking yesterday evening,and by this morning, all the neighbors were checking them out.So, naturally, I felt quite flattered when they came to my house to call.The babies were absolutely adorable in their matching yellow outfits,and their parents were (understandably) very eager to show them off.I invited them to stay for breakfast, which they were more than happy to do,although their mother, who told me that her name was Gertrude (or “Gertie” for short), watched over them carefully to make sure they minded their manners. They were very dainty eaters, and I think they hardly spilled a drop!Their father (whose name is Maximilian) is a retired military colonel…a very no-nonsense kind of guy.He gave Gertie that a-short-visit-is-the-best-visit look and said that they really had to be on their way.Most of the children were very well behaved, although one of them was so busy playing that she didn’t want to have to leave.But, after a warning, she hurried to catch up with her brothers and sisters.I think I’m going to like our newest arrivals.I hope they come back often! 🙂

“A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24).

“True friendship is at the core of any happy life. If our family is our root system, our friends are our fellow branches. We’re all striving together, supporting one another, providing shade and comfort.”
~ Addie Johnson

Bird Brain

When I returned home from Hawaii one week ago, this lovely sight greeted me: a robust robin perched in the lilac bushes outside my bedroom window. “Ah, what a beautiful Michigan spring! How serene,” I thought to myself.It was only 9:30 am, but I was too tired to unpack and so I decided to take a nap. No sooner had I closed my eyes than I heard a loud “Bonk” against the window.I got up and looked out the window. The robin was sitting back in the lilac bush, but looking a little worried and confused. “Must have seen his reflection in the glass,” I thought, as I lay back down wearily in my bed.No sooner did I have my eyes closed than I heard a scraping sound and a whirring of wings beating against the window.By this time, the bird was looking quite distressed, and I felt very sorry for it. I waved my arms in the window and explained sympathetically that my bedroom would make a very poor place for a nest, and that she should be content to build in the lilac bush where she was sitting, or any of hundreds of other trees close by.She paid no attention to my advice whatsoever, although then she started attacking the window to the left.I felt so sorry for her that I couldn’t sleep, and so I got up and decided to work until she realized her mistake and chose another nesting site.But, she did not stop! She kept dive bombing the window all that day until sunsetand then started again promptly at 6:45 am Thursday morning. She kept up this routine all day Thursday and all day Friday! I couldn’t believe it. When she got tired of trying to get in one set of windows, she’d go around the corner and try to get in through the balcony.She was marking up the windows dreadfully from hitting them so often, and I could tell she was deeply distressed, but I didn’t know how to help her. I opened the balcony door and invited her in, but she wouldn’t come…nor would she have ultimately been happy inside our home. When the robin woke Alan up Saturday morning with her banging, Alan taped newspapers to the window thinking that would stop her. He said a bird that stupid didn’t deserve to reproduce, but I felt sorry for her, thinking about how sad it was that she could not seem to give up on an unattainable goal. Over the weekend, she gradually worked her way down the north wall of our home, and Monday morning at 6:45 am she began dive-bombing our tea room.Joel posted Davy in the tea room, and he has been happy to serve on guard duty!On Monday and Tuesday, Robin Redbreast continued her vigil, but with less intensity.And finally, this morning, a week later, I don’t hear her banging anywhere! 🙂Sweet peace! I sincerely hope she’s found a resting place where she may build a nest. I’d love it if she’s close enough to our home so that I can watch her babies grow up. We once had robins build a nest above our “Welcome” sign, and I just loved it. But—to keep trying to do the impossible—well, that’s sad.

It made me think: am I butting my head against a wall, trying to accomplish the impossible in some area? I think it would be wisdom to ask God but listen carefully and respond to His answer. Sometimes wisdom dictates that we stop trying, that we give up, that we accept human limitations. It is wisdom to understand that no other human being will ever fully understand us, and no one will respond to us with unfailing love the way God does. It is wisdom to forgive those who hurt us and to be compassionate toward those who betray us. It is wisdom to find our fulfillment in God and share his love with others, giving up any expectation of repayment. In wisdom is peace. Let’s not beat our heads against any unnecessary walls!

“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss” (James 4:3).

Baby Reid: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Well, this morning what’s really on my heart is my little grandson, Reid Solomon, who is pictured here perched on his mother’s knee at their church’s Easter morning service.He is the youngest of their Three Musketeers, and a happy, charming tot,very independent and full of me-too-ism. After Aaron took the older boys skiing, for weeks when we would talk to Reid by skype, he would remind us boldly, “I shee! I shee!” (Which, by interpretation, means: “I want to ski too!”)And, of course, he was dead serious, and we all knew it, since he actually took his turn riding a horse at Yellowstone last summer during our family reunion.Until Gerlinde, Kathy, and Grace gave birth this spring,Reid was the Armstrong family’s baby, and we’re all totally in love with him! So, when Reid developed a severely high fever (read 104°+) and broke out with a rash this past Saturday, we were very much concerned!  The worst of it was that they’d found a tick buried in his neck, so they were particularly concerned about the possibility of a tick-related illness. Aaron and Carleen took him right to the emergency department (E.D.).However, the E.D. treated him with Tylenol, did some blood work, and sent him home after his fever started to respond to the medication.

By late in the day Saturday, Reid began to eat again and seemed perky for awhile, but shortly after returning home, he became dull and spiked another high fever. Aaron and Carleen talked to the pediatrician on call for Reid’s doctor, but she thought it was probably just a viral infection and wanted them to watch Reid through the night, trying to control the fever with Tylenol. Aaron started doing online research, and at about 1:00 am Sunday morning he called Alan to discuss the possibility of it being something unusual, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), which can be fatal if not treated quickly although it can’t be diagnosed 100% until the blood work comes back—in 2 weeks—which is too late. They decided to hold through the night and hope the pediatrician would see Reid in the morning.Convinced that Reid just had a viral infection, the pediatrician didn’t want to see him…she’d already seen too many “similar” cases over the weekend.By this time, I was feeling rather desperate! I wanted our happy little guy back! I asked Alan if he couldn’t prescribe something over the phone, but he couldn’t, since he isn’t licensed for the state where they live.Aaron and Carleen tried to keep Reid content and the fever controlled with Tylenol, but by Sunday afternoon they noticed that Reid was not only lethargic and feverish…his fingernails and lips were turning blue.They took him to another E.D. department, praying fervently that someone would take his illness seriously. It “just so happened” (which we believe was by God’s provision) that there was in infection specialist there who said he did not believe Reid had an infectious disease. This doctor had seen Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever just once in his life—25 years before—but said once was enough to remember, and he felt that Reid had a classic case. He started Reid immediately on IV motrin, saline solution for his severe dehydration, and then doxycyline, which isn’t harmful if unneeded, but will save Reid’s life if he actually has RMSF.   Reid has been feeling better, although he’s definitely not out of danger yet.   By suppertime Sunday, he was doing very well, but then he got worse during the night with discomfort, more high fever, and vomiting.On Monday and then through last night he was up and down too. He has had some abnormal lab studies that could suggest the possibility of complications.We are waiting to hear the doctor’s report from this morning, but if you think of little Reid, would you please pray for his recovery? Thank you. As it turns out, RMSF is extremely rare but has shown up in nearly all the 50 states over time. It is lethal if not treated, but almost impossible to definitively diagnose until it’s too late. If you or anyone you love breaks out in a rash with a high fever…you may have one of a myriad of illnesses, but if you find a tick on the ill person’s body in conjunction with the symptoms I’ve mentioned, you might want to check out the below website to consider the possibility of RMSF. It’s definitely worth being presumptively treated as a classic example of “Better safe than sorry.”


“The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.”

Proverbs 21:31

A Trip to Visit Iris (Well, and her Dad and Mom Too!)

Yesterday after church Alan and I drove over to visit Iris…I mean to pick up my car, which Kathy and Carl had borrowed until they were able to buy another one (a sleek, black Hyundai Sonata) last Thursday.This living so far away from our kids and grand kids is tough! Praise God for cars, jet planes, kids, and grand babies to visit!Iris wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Grandpa,but Grandma knew exactly what to do with Iris!We were also eager to see how Carl and Kathy were faring.Carl broke his ankle and leg in four places seven weeks ago but had  gotten a “walking cast” last week, so Alan wanted to check out progress.A “walking cast” doesn’t mean Carl can actually walk on his foot yet, but it does mean that he might be able to walk in several months if he’s a very good patient and does well during his thrice-weekly, strenuous physical therapy sessions.This is very gross (so look at the picture below instead if you have a weak stomach), but you can see why he’s not just dancing for joy yet. (The back side of his leg is just as bad with a long scar running down it too.) 😦(Picture was a gift from Mikki Cooper to remind us of our little Iris.)

Carl was supposed to be leaving today for a two-week video shoot in Israel, but he’s had to give that up (although he’s been invited to go with them again in October if his foot can handle it).Iris empathizes. She’s just daydreaming about the day when her daddy can carry her around!Meanwhile, even though he has to use a wheel chair, Carl’s been back at work full time to take care of his family! He’s a brave man!Kathy’s holding up great too. Alan and I are really proud of both of them!All our lives—even the happiest of lives—are full of challenges, aren’t they?But I wouldn’t trade mine for anything, would you?

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise him all creatures hear below.

Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”



And thus ended my adventures in Hawaii, at least for now.We ended almost the way we began—communing with each otherand delighting in each other…strolling down the beachin the setting sun.Parting is truly such sweet sorrow.You just want to keep going, even when you know you can’t.But, for your encouragement…this is what the sunset looked like on my last night in Hawaii…and this is what the sunrise looked like on the first morning after I arrived home.Truly the sunset of all we know now will lead us to the sunrise of eternal life.

(Okay, so a Michigan lake is not as glorious as the Pacific Ocean, therefore I should have had it the other way around to express the glory of heaven over earth, but I was drawing from my actual experience, and “home sweet home” did comfort me! Heaven will be incomparably more beautiful than any place on earth, so let’s just try to imagine! 🙂 )

“And this is the record, that God hah given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God: that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

1 John 5:11-13

Coloring Pictures and Centering Prayer

I love this these thoughts on prayer from The Ragamuffin Gospel: “Prayer is another area that many struggle with because they aren’t aware that in the freedom of the Spirit there are as many ways of praying as there are individual believers. The cardinal rule in prayer remains the dictum of Don Chapman, ‘Pray as you can; don’t pray as you can’t.’ “Let us suppose you give your three-year-old daughter a coloring book and a box of crayons for her birthday. The following day, with the proud smile only a little one can muster, she presents her first picture for inspection.  She has colored the sun black, the grass purple, and the sky green. In the lower right-hand corner, she has added woozy wonders of floating slabs and hovering rings: on the left, a panoply of colorful, carefree squiggles. You marvel at her bold strokes and intuit that her psyche is railing against its own cosmic puniness in the face of a big, ugly world. Later at the office, you share with your staff your daughter’s first artistic effort and you make veiled references to the early work of van Gogh.“A little child cannot do a bad coloring; nor can a child of God do bad prayer.” (And here Manning quotes M. Basil Pennington’s book, Centering Prayer, pp. 68-69): “A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off her toys and friends, turns to him and climbs into his arms. As he hold his little one close to him, he cares little whether the child is looking around, her attention flitting from one thing to another, or just settling down to sleep. Essentially the child is choosing to be with her father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is hers in those arms. Our prayer is much like that. We settle down in our Father’s arms, in his loving hands. Our mind, our thoughts, our imagination may flit about here and there; we might even fall sleep; but essentially we are choosing for this time to remain intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to him, receiving his love and care, letting him enjoy us as he will. It is very simple prayer. It is very childlike prayer. It is prayer that opens us out to all the delights of the kingdom.”

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

“Be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him: for he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7