Category Archives: Central American Adventures

Rhubarb and Black Cherry Crumble

One of the things Alan and I especially appreciate about traveling is the opportunity to experience new dishes and flavor combinations.  On our recent cruise through the Panama Canal, we tried all kinds of good desserts, but our hands-down favorite was a rhubarb crumble that had huge black cherries in it.  I’ve long loved rhubarb-strawberry pie, but this was even more scrumptious, and with a little practice, I think I’ve re-created a worthy facsimile thereof !

Rhubarb and Black Cherry Crumble
(serves 8-12, depending on how much ice cream you add!)

Start with 5  stalks of fresh, bright red rhubarb. Wash them, and cut off the ends. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces and spread them into the bottom of an 9X12″ baking dish.Add 1  15-16-ounce can black cherries with the juice.In a separate dish, thoroughly cream together:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter (or margarine).
Next, mix in by hand:
1.33 cups flourSpread this mixture evenly over the fruit. It will be a little lumpy, but that’s okay!Bake in the oven at 350°F. for 45 minutes or until bubbly and turning slightly golden brown on top. (Don’t over bake it!)Serve it hot (or at least warm) with a big scoop of ice cream. Even my grand children loved this one, so you know it’s sweet and gooey! 🙂

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever.”
1 Chronicles 16:34.

 

 

See It, Touch It, Hold It…Including Snappy the Alligator?!

During the first Christmas my oldest was able to toddle around, he kept asking for permission to “see” then “touch” then “hold” the Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately, he was too young to hold an ornament for very long before it would fall, and if I wasn’t right there to catch the bulb, it would break.

So, in our home, the line went, “See it? Hold it? Touch it? Break it!”
But, don’t we all love to get our hands on things we’re curious about?I think we all have a fascination with holding things that fill us with awe—whether it’s a shiny Christmas ornament or an exotic living creature. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what can be touched and what to avoid! In Tunisia, the zookeeper seemed fearless and knew just how to hold a scorpion while the scorpion held on tight to a pack of cigarettes, but none of us dared try! He also knew how to handle a deadly sidewinder… but nobody wanted to try that one, either! Of course, some critters seem more cuddly,
and those we’d like to touch as well as see. In fact, when it comes to camels, I like to ride them too! A well trained camel can take you for a pleasant ride down the streets in India. A well-trained elephant will let you pet him in the jungles of Nepal, or let you go for a ride (only with his mahout aboard, however!) Baby elephants are something else, though!  They’re 250-pound characters who love to push you around if they can!!I only dared touch this little playmate while he was distracted by someone else! Many creatures look almost irresistibly cuddly, like these monkeys,  but monkeys are pickpockets with nasty bites, so I’ve been trained to keep my distance lest I lose my camera…or worse! Over the years, I’ve been able to see and hold many different creatures,  but on our trip through the Panama Canal,
I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy.  Snappy has been handled by this park ranger since his birth,
and he’s quite friendly…as long as you don’t put your face next to his mouth.

Alligators have a brain about as big as a pea, so most of what they do is instinctive. Nevertheless, we were back in America, so I figured they wouldn’t let us hold him unless it was relatively safe, and when they asked who would like to hold Snappy, I volunteered. Yes, being in America, they made it quite safe! Although the ranger hadn’t forewarned us, he put a big strap around Snappy’s mouth to keep him quiet. He was totally docile and let me hold him by his soft underbelly. Holding living creatures touches something deep inside me…a trust given to me to hold without hurting…not to break…and hopefully not to get hurt either. As we go through life, I hope we continue learning what is safe and what is not…       and just how close we can get to others without asking for trouble!    But I hope we keep exploring and trying to connect,  not only with critters,  but with people! There’s a huge world out there full of people who’ve never heard the good news that Jesus came to set us free from sin and give us eternal life!                       Can we hold them so gently that we don’t hurt them?

Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).

A Good Name

On every cruise, there are a number of sea days where you have time to kick back, relax, and soak up the sunshine and sea breezes. One such morning, after working out, we splashed in the pool and then decided to parboil in a jacuzzi before lunch. Almost everybody on a cruise is in vacation mode, cheerful, talkative, and inquisitive, so if you meet another couple, common courtesy includes a greeting and exchanging some light banter around, “Where are you from?” and “What’s your line of work?” This particular morning, a couple joined us in the hot tub, and the wife’s answer included, “We live  about 50 miles south of Chicago,” and “I’m a retired nurse.”

One of my dearest friends, Lizzie, grew up 50 miles south of Chicago and is a nurse, so I followed up with, “Oh! Where did you work?” Long story short, she worked in Kankakee (my friend’s home town) at St. Mary’s, where Lizzie’s father worked and her brother still does work! So, I asked if she ever ran into Lizzie’s brother, which set off an explosion of effusive compliments! He is wonderful. Not only an excellent surgeon, but a good man. “Do you know what I mean? Some doctors do great work—and he and his dad were both gifted surgeons—but the son is a really good person as well.” Good. Good. Good. I think she used that term no fewer than six times, wanted to know all about how I knew him, and in minutes I felt like we were fast friends simply based on our mutual admiration for this “good” man.

Now, I know for a fact that if you asked Dr. Lang if he’s a good man, he’ll tell you that he’s not, because we’ve had that argument. “There is none good but God.” True enough. The rest of us are self-deceived if we think we’re ultimately good and free from defects. I’ve known David for over 50 years, and ya, he’s not perfect, but I totally resonated with this nurse’s endorsement of his reputation for integrity and “goodness.” We will never be perfectly “good,” but we can definitely do “good works” and earn a “good reputation!” Want to? I do!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

P.S.—Jesus Christ was the only person who was ever truly perfect in his goodness, and I’ve also noticed that I become fast friends with others who share a mutual admiration and love for Jesus!

Then saith he [Jesus] to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

Casting Your Net

Monday, I wrote about canoeing where dangers lurked by air, land, and sea, (which hadn’t occurred to me beforehand but seemed to be the case à l’époque)!  (I will say that tourists can do much more dangerous things abroad than would ever be allowed in America, so never assume a tour is really safe just because you can choose to do it…such as hanging out at the edge of Victoria Falls in Africa.)At any rate, it wasn’t until we finished our exploration through the mazes of mangrove tunnels and came out to Lake Cartagena that I began to relax,  and when we were reunited with our English-speaking tour guide, he assured us that he’d not seen a single crocodile in the lake for forty years. Okay… However, there is good fishing in the lake (as attested to by this cormorant),   so at least some birds and one man spend their days fishing on the lake. Our guide poled us over so we could watch the lone fisherman in action.

Apparently he and the cormorant were willing to take the risks, although after hearing about alligators migrating north to Georgia in the U.S. and seeing crocodiles on the shoreline of the Panama Canal not far away, I wasn’t totally convinced it was completely safe.   However, the fisherman was working hard, and he was catching fish and crabs!I felt inspired by his hard work and courage! Jesus calls us to be brave and follow him, promising to make us fishers of men (and crabs?). It’s pretty easy to say, “Ya, but it’s dangerous! I might get killed. (Many do in the 68 countries where Christians are persecuted.) So, should we leave our boats and give up?                                Or, shall we follow Christ and cast our nets?

“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” (Proverbs 22:13)“He [Jesus] saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

So You Want To Paddle Your Own Canoe?

In Cartagena, Columbia, we  had a chance to go canoeing through a mangrove swamp, which I anticipated as being reminiscent of our canoe ride in Nepal last fall down the Narayani River.                    You, know—beautiful day, park-like setting, relatively safe.  Only, this time I was hoping we could paddle our own canoes, because…well, just because it’s good exercise and lots of fun.  I was disappointed to see men lined up to escort us, although I knew it might be a bit tricky trying to pole with a stick; I was used to sitting down with a paddle. Nevertheless, it looked like not all the canoes were attended, so I hopped in one that had no apparent captain, hoping they’d let me try my hand at the helm!     Not so fast! There were strong, capable young men assigned to each craft,                              so I settled back to relax and enjoy the ride…sort of… Being a tropical country, and having seen some crocodiles lounging on the bank just the day before, I quickly realized that it was a great idea to let experts pole,  since if I were just trying to learn, I might land our whole canoe in the water!       I had visions of a crocodile or an alligator jumping out of the water           to bite off somebody’s hand at any moment, and it gave me the creeps!  I tried to ask the young man poling our canoe how dangerous it might be, but he just smiled and shook his head as if to say, “I don’t speak English,” so I kept my hands well inside the canoe, tried to hold very still, and hoped for no crocodiles!

What had we gotten ourselves into? I had failed to research this tour option! 😦 Have you ever been for a ride through a mangrove swamp? In a way, it’s awe-inspiring. Frogs and fish darted through the cloudy water. Iguanas hid among the branches overhanging the passageways, and termite nests, looking like discarded Darth Vader helmets, rested on trees. The air was alive with bird songs, although the songsters were hidden behind tangles of branches and flew off skittishly before I could get any good photos. The only birds large enough to be unsettled by our canoe were great blue herons  and the great white herons, who fished silently along the edges of the byways.  Our canoe was almost as quiet as we glided through the maze of tunnels.
The only sound was our guide dipping his pole in and out of the murky water. I suspect we were all being still to escape notice, but for whatever reason,
I had a lot of time for reflections!

Considering the possibility of a poisonous snake dropping down on us from above, a deadly reptile attacking us from the muddy waters below, or catching malaria or other insect-borne disease from the mosquitoes in the air surrounding us made the whole experience seem a little surreal.  I kept remembering terrifying stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and thought about the horrible fears and dangers that slaves endured while running away from their masters toward freedom, back in the dark, early days of America.  Can you imagine how desperate people must have been to wander through the mangrove swamps in southern Florida in an effort to find freedom?  We were at least dry, sitting in a somewhat protected environment, which I found out later was an old, original dugout canoe made from mahogany! Most importantly, we were being carried along by someone who knew the way  through the tangle of tunnels  and had the strength and experience to get us safely “home” after our wild ride.       How about you? Have you—like me—wanted to paddle your own canoe? Have you been surprised by how much more complicated and potentially dangerous life is than you ever imagined? It’s definitely been much harder for me than I remembered from earlier experiences.             It’s all too easy to get into a situation where it’s not obvious      which is the best way to actually get you where you feel like you need to go! Alan and I are reading a wonderful book by Joe Stowell called Following Christ.       If you’re tired of paddling your own canoe, try following Christ. It’s simple, and following Christ takes the pain and frustration out of trying to find our own way to freedom and happiness. He loves us and will help. Besides, only Jesus has the wisdom and strength to get us safely home to heaven, which is where we’d all really like to end up…right?! Even if you’re not yet sure it exists?? I mean, if a heaven exists, wouldn’t you want to go there?!

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

 

Creating Beauty from Broken Glass

This is the kind of story where the title gives it all away, but I hope you’ll still be  interested in hearing about The Glass Factory in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they make everything out of recycled glass.  The outside of the building is totally unimpressive… the sort of place you’d pass by without a second thought  (unless you wanted to recycle some old glass bottles),  but inside, it’s like a little glass paradise!  The walls and ceilings are aswirl with glass,  and even the floor is studded with mosaics of vibrant inlaid glass. How do they do it? A well trained master craftsman starts with an old bottle
that’s been melted down into a red hot blob. Then the artist adds minerals to give his masterpiece glorious colors. (Notice the spot of red on his glasses? His eye is focused on his work!)
Their heart cried unto the Lord…let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease” (Lamentations 2:18).With the help of an assistant, more melted, recycled glass is added. Next, the master shapes the glass with a huge pair of sharp scissors. He slowly twirls the fiery ball in a heated container
while blowing through the pipe.He shakes and swings the heated glass until it’s stretched to just the right length.He blows very hard until the glass looks like an elongated balloon.  He blows until it’s the size he wants, then he squeezes it with long metal tongs to perfect its shape, shakes it more, then shapes it more. He repeats this process until he’s satisfied that the bottle is just the right size and beautifully balanced.With surgical skill, he flattens the bottom and makes an indention
so it’s stable and will sit flat without tipping over. With his assistant’s aid,
he detaches the rod from the top and holds the bottle from the bottom. So many steps! The glass has to be reheated again in the oven!

One of the most touching things to me was to watch the master wrap his arm with gauze to protect himself from the heat while working on the vase. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).While continuously turning the metal rod to which the glass is attached, he carefully widens the mouth until it’s perfectly round and wide enough to be easily filled. “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10)He performs yet another operation to make the lip of the pitcher for pouring out.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
(Psalm 51:15)                Finally, a graceful handle is attached to make it easier to use.I think everybody who watched the demonstration would love to have been able to buy that exquisite pitcher and take it home with them, but it was still too hot to handle. It literally has to sit for 24-hours cooling down before it can be used. So, of course (as you can probably tell) my mind went wild thinking about all the ways in which The Glass Factory reminds me of the way God works in our lives. Here are a few, but I’ll bet you can think of even more:

*He takes broken lives and turns them into something lovely and useful
*But, not without a lot of work!
*Our hearts have to be melted down first!
*Our Master craftsman keeps us as “the apple” of his eye!
*The process requires assistance from trainees (the body of Christ?).
*We’re not all that glorious in ourselves but need additives to make our lives colorful. (The fruits and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit come to mind.)
* We’d never be anything more than a blob without the Holy Spirit filling us.
*It takes a lot of shaking up, spiritual surgery, filling, shaping, and heat to make us into something useful.
*Because God is compassionate, I believe he must feel the heat when he works!
*When finished, the mature Christian (who’s really never finished in this life!) is a joy to everyone who comes in contact with him.
* After fiery trials, it takes some time before the “vessels” are really serviceable.Are you ready to be made into something even more beautiful than you are to bring blessing to those around you, or would you rather just live for yourself?Or, maybe you’re struggling with the glass ceiling and can’t seem to get where you feel like you need to be getting. God is in the business of taking us to the next level no matter where we’re at…of making us into something more wonderful that we are at present. But, first we have to be humble enough to climb into his recycling bin and let him take charge. Have you done that? If not, would you like to do that?

Has this been true of you? “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Deuteronomy 32:18).

If so, this is God’s offer, not only to you, but to all of us: “Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

 

Never Smile at a Crocodile…Even If You’re in a Big Boat

Have you ever wondered why they say, “Never smile at a crocodile!”? Crocodiles can measure more than 20 feet long and weigh up to 4,400 pounds. Australian crocodiles have the world’s strongest bite, up to 8,000 psi (pounds of pressure per square inch). In the water, it’s alleged they can swim as fast as dolphins, and on land they’ve been known to take down animals as large as cape buffaloes. Crocodiles are extremely aggressive, and humans are on the menu. So…that’s why you should never smile at a crocodile! They’re deadly.                Although I have no penchant for befriending crocodiles,  peering down at them (from the safety of a big bridge) while  they bask in the sun along the Tarcoles River is  a popular tourist attraction in Costa Rica.  Because of the abundant wildlife, if you can put aside your fear  of crocodiles, a cruise down the Tarcoles River is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Alan and I weren’t the first to board, but I noticed that the front seats were still available. Perhaps it was in hopes that if a crocodile attacked our craft, he would be too full after eating those of us in the front seats to want dessert. Whatever the reasons, Alan and I were happy to enjoy front row seating on our adventure! There’d been a torrential downpour that drenched everybody earlier, but late afternoon was beautiful, and the ride was soothing…magnificent even!    We caught sight of a ring-tailed lemur sitting in a tree with his back to us,        and there were herds of Brahman cattle with their faces to us,                                         watching us curiously as we drifted by.     The steep banks of the river were pitted with holes where swallows nested…       as well as all sorts of colorful birds, like this stout little green heron.    In fact, there was a veritable river bank run going on with creatures galore! I’m not sure if it was the highlight or lowlight, but we did see lots of crocodiles.   Although most stayed at a respectable distance, one came over to check us out.         In fact, he came right over to check me out, but I didn’t smile. 😦 Thankfully, he took the hint and left. Really, though, I think he would gladly have eaten me for lunch except the boat was a lot bigger than he was. The afternoon passed all too quickly, and soon it was time to return to the ship. I am thankful that I don’t have to swim in the river of this life without protection!     Anyone who asks can be sheltered by the protective care of God our Father. It really isn’t any safer to swim down the stream of life alone than it would be to swim down the Tarcoles River. (See the crocodile hiding behind that snag?) (This is a close up from the last photo.) In the Bible, we learn that someday “the great dragon…that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” will be cast out (Revelation 12:9), but until that day, we are in need of a refuge, because Satan is even stronger and more deadly than a crocodile.    Thankfully, our day ended with a gorgeous sunset and no further excitement.     Although we were very late, our ship didn’t sail away without us. Praise God!                          Back on the ship, we were able to get clean, dry, warm, and fed!

Want a refuge from the storms and dangers of life? God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psalm 46:1-3).

In John 6, the disciples were in a boat but frightened during a storm at sea and asked Jesus for help. He rescued them, and in that chapter we learn this lesson: “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
(Acts 16:31)