Category Archives: Travels Around the World

The Making of Maracas…and Joyful Noises!

Have you ever wondered where maracas come from, our how they’re made?  Or, why they seem to be such an integral part of Latin music? I brought my first set home from Mexico nearly 50 years ago, and they’ve been an integral part of our family making “joyful noises” ever since, charming the children and grand kids from youngest years because they are like giant rattles!Without even thinking about it, I’ve taken them for granted and subconsciously assumed they were carved from wood or made from plastic. It wasn’t until we were in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica last January
that I learned the story of maracas. Maracas are really made out of the fruit of the Crescentia tree (calabash tree), and they are common throughout southern Mexico, Central, and South America.Crescentia trees can grow in the tropical wild up to 35 feet tall
(although this one, at the Hotel Villa Lapas, is a young garden cultivar).The fruits, known as calabashes, are full of soft, pulpy material which is used for treating respiratory problems, but the hard, thin shells have several uses: as scoops, containers, and happiest of all—as musical instruments!Typically, a wooden handle is inserted into the base of the mature, dried calabash, and the seeds are left inside to rattle!I’m always inspired both by the creativity of God and the ingenuity of man.It makes me stop to ponder:
*What am I really made out of?
*Are there even more ways that I can creatively serve God and man?Thank you, Lord, for ripening us, plucking us, plugging up the holes in our lives, painting us, and allowing us to become instruments of service and joyful praise!I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord,
the King
” (Psalm 98:6 . . . and don’t forget the maracas!)

 

Crossing the Arctic Circle on the Koningsdam

Although I’ve never been deep-sea fishing, Alan and I have definitely been sailing on the deep blue sea, and not always when it was sunny and bright!  Our scariest adventures have been during big cruises . . . once trying to outrun a hurricane in the Caribbean, and once hiding behind the Hawaiian Islands in an effort to avoid too much damage to the ship.  In both instances, the ships and passengers all survived, although Alan was sicker than a dog both times and couldn’t eat for a few days until the soup stopped sliding off the tables. Another memorable trip was rounding Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America. That was breathtaking, because the wind was so strong it took our breath away and we could hardly stand on the deck (only 3% exaggeration). However, that day was also breathtaking because we saw a rainbow arching over the Beagle Channel as we made our way from Ushuaia around the horn.At the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, Alan and I were standing on terra firma celebrating a beautiful spring afternoon, so it wasn’t the least bit frightening, although still awe-inspiring and unforgettable for us. With these memories bolstering our courage, we looked forward to crossing the Arctic Circle on our cruise with Holland America’s Koningsdam, although I will admit to having some visions of the Titanic going down as we stood dreamily on deck in Iceland’s Isafjordur Harbor the night before our crossing.  Our captain was Werner Timmers, a Dutchman who had served over 30 years with Holland America, and we had heard him talk about his career. He said that over the course of his years as captain, he’d experienced almost everything! Low points included a man overboard, losing an anchor, and facing a storm with 80-foot waves. The fact that Captain Timmers had weathered such a terrible storm and survived gave me a sense of confidence that he could probably pilot us safely through the icy, possibly treacherous waters ahead, so after our usual bedtime prayers,  Alan and I went to sleep, knowing there wasn’t anything else we could do to help! As it turned out, the crossing was smooth and uneventful, and we woke up the next morning in a cloud of foggy sunshine.    As the fog cleared, I could tell that we’d arrived safely at our new harbor . . .                            a beautiful, new land full of promise and adventure.             Alan and I are also on an adventure in our personal lives. Are you? We’re heading to a faraway land called “heaven,” and we’re going to have to cross some very deep water to get there. I don’t know if the crossing will be choppy and frightening . . . if we’ll see a rainbow of hope or have to weather huge storms.As we embark on this journey, it’s reassuring to know that we have a pilot, Jesus, who has experienced both life—and death—and can lead us safely to heaven. Captain Timmers piloted us to our port in the North Sea, but only Jesus Christ can bring us safely into heaven’s harbor, and I know it will also be a fantastically beautiful land, full of unbelievably wonderful love, joy, peace . . . and adventure! Are you trying to pilot your own ship? Have you lost your anchor? Are you facing storms that could shipwreck you emotionally and spiritually? I hope you are trusting Jesus to guide you safely to  heaven’s haven of rest!

The Haven of Rest
(—Henry L. Gilmore, 1890, public domain)

  1. My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea,
    So burdened with sin and distressed,
    Till I heard a sweet voice, saying, “Make Me your choice,”
    And I entered the Haven of Rest!

    • Refrain:
      I’ve anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest,
      I’ll sail the wide seas no more;
      The tempest may sweep over wild, stormy, deep,
      In Jesus I’m safe evermore.
  2. I yielded myself to His tender embrace,
    In faith taking hold of the Word,
    My fetters fell off, and I anchored my soul;
    The Haven of Rest is my Lord.
  3. The song of my soul, since the Lord made me whole,
    Has been the old story so blest,
    Of Jesus, who’ll save whosoever will have
    A home in the Haven of Rest.
  4. How precious the thought that we all may recline,
    Like John, the beloved so blest,
    On Jesus’ strong arm, where no tempest can harm,
    Secure in the Haven of Rest.
  5. Oh, come to the Savior, He patiently waits
    To save by His power divine;
    Come, anchor your soul in the Haven of Rest,
    And say, “My Beloved is mine.”

    Jesus taught us in John 14:1-6 “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    (All photos taken during our cruise of the North Seas on the Koningsdam except for the three taken in South America and South Africa.)

Have You Launched Out into the Deep? Are You Okay, or Are You Adrift?

Sometimes we “launch out into the deep,” not because we’ve been called by Jesus to go with him, but simply because we’re passionate about something.  This was true for Richard Sharp and Tami Ashcraft, who decided to sail more than 4,000 miles from Tahiti to San Diego in September of 1983.  In this terrifying true adventure, memorialized in 2018 as the movie Adrift, we learn what happened to the young couple. I don’t want to entirely ruin the story by telling you everything about the ending (so skip this if you don’t want to know whether or not they survived), but the movie is super impacting! Just three weeks into their voyage, they were caught in Hurricane Raymond, a monstrous storm that churned across the ocean with winds up to 140 mph, creating 40-foot waves. On October 12, Richard (who was ten years older and a more experienced sailor), told Tami to go below deck and take a break, but while she was below deck, the yacht capsized, and Tami was knocked unconscious. The remainder of the movie describes the horrendous 41-day saga of being adrift at sea, trying to get back to land and civilization, hoping for rescue . . . being bypassed . . . feeling utterly lost and abandoned . . .                                      and finally being found and rescued! There’s something profoundly effective in vicariously suffering through harrowing life experiences via films. Do you know what I mean? We can gain wisdom and compassion simply by empathizing with the victories and defeats of fellow human beings. I could almost feel my face sunburning and imagined savoring the indescribable succulence of an apple after almost 6 weeks of surviving on tiny rations of canned food and peanut butter. Experiences (even vicarious ones) like being Adrift in the vast Pacific, thousands of miles from home, cause me to search my soul. Am I sitting placidly on shore avoiding work (and responsibility), or have I launched out into the deep with my Savior? What about you? Have you launched out into the deep with Jesus . . . or have you headed out into deep waters due to some passion and now find yourself adrift, feeling lost, abandoned, and afraid for your life?Whether we’re called to go or driven by our personal passions, surviving a life-threatening trauma changes us forever. But, thankfully, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Rather than ending her sailing career, Tami became a wiser, better sailor, and she’s still sailing today. Tami  likens her tragic boating experience to being in a car crash: Most people keep riding in cars even after they’ve been in a serious accident. If you fall off a horse, get up and keep riding, right? Her example is most inspiring!   Tami did not sense it was the Holy Spirit leading her on her painful journey back to land, but she definitely felt an inner voice guiding her. Personally, based on Matthew 5:44-46, I believe the Lord was intervening in her life to draw her to himself, but you can come to your own conclusions. Regardless of her situation, I know the Lord will guide us if we ask him, whether or not we’ve launched out into the deep in response to his prompting or we’ve headed out on our own and are now adrift. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or adrift, please reach out to God for help because,The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him . . .We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! (Daniel 9:9,18b-19a, NIV). If you ask him for help, I know he will!

Hidden Treasury of Religious Art at Scrovegni Chapel…Lost in Padua

The baby was due Wednesday, and Michael predicted that it might be a photo finish between Baby Cakes and me as to who would arrive first. We had a “Plan B” in place while I was in transit from America just in case the baby came and Michael couldn’t meet me at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport. However, Mike was there smiling when I emerged from the baggage claim area. That was Friday.  By Saturday, Grace was more ready than ever to deliver, but Baby was unwilling to participate in a premiere showing, so Michael valiantly offered to take care of their four kids so Grace and I could visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, about a 40-minute drive from home. “Intrepid” is perhaps a modest understatement of Grace’s enthusiasm for life, and she’d really been wanting to visit this acclaimed masterpiece of Western Art before they left Italy, so we decided to take our (a?) big chance and go. Having GPS is one of the world’s finest exploration conveniences…when it works. The first time Alan and I visited Venice (about fifteen years ago), our GPS kept telling us to exit off the highway where there was no exit (all new construction), and we had a terrible time finding our way to our hotel. That particular terror was in the back of my mind when Michael warned us that the GPS wouldn’t really bring us to the right spot. He said we’d have to cross the Brenta River, so that we did. Then, our GPS said we were just three minutes from the chapel, but it didn’t seem able to direct us further, so we found a parking space (which is definitely a driver’s pot of gold  in this area of Padua) and began to walk. Many Italians know a little English, but few with enough facility to actually give adequate directions, and we quickly became completely disoriented on the twisty streets. I should have thought to take photos on my camera every time we turned a corner, but I didn’t. For future reference, if you’re traveling and unsure of where you’re going, take photos, and record where you’ve parked your car on your phone’s GPS if you have a smart phone. This works great for recording trail maps, too!At one point, we saw a young, professional-looking woman and approached her, thinking at last we’d get help. She’d never even heard of the Scrovegni Chapel (aka Cappella degli Scrovegni in Italian) and wondered if it might be downtown. After bumbling about like the blind leading the blind for half an hour, we finally found the chapel, which is part of the “Museo Civico of Padua.” Whew! The Scrovegni Chapel is filled with frescoes painted by Giotto in 1305 and is the forerunner to the exquisite works that Michelangelo painted two centuries later in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Although it’s virtually unknown relative to the world-famous Sistine Chapel, people do come from all over the world to visit, and we were give a twenty-minute slot with a small group in a carefully temperature and humidity-controlled environment to view the life of Christ as depicted in this chapel. (If you’re going to visit, reservations ahead are almost mandatory! We were late, but they graciously allowed us in with the next group. Thank you, Italy!)One of the most famous scenes is Joseph kissing Mary at their wedding. I was told that this is the “first kiss” ever depicted in Western Art (perhaps the world?).The Museo Civico of Padua is filled with literally thousands of pieces of artwork.                       They even have their own Pieta, by Antonio Bonazza.Grace and I spent hours marveling at all the gorgeous religious art, and it made us all the more amazed that so many people within a few blocks of this world-class treasury seemed to have no knowledge of its existence. How could that be? Did we fail to ask the right questions? Use the right words? It reminded me of my son Jonathan trying to find an evangelical church in Germany. He lacked the vocabulary to explain what he was looking for and so stumbled around for a long time before he found a very vibrant congregation of spiritually-minded believers.                 (Thankfully, he did, because that’s where he met his wife!) At any rate, we spent a glorious day standing in reverential awe of God as we experienced this beautiful chapel/museum hidden away in the heart of Italy.I fear that all too often Americans (myself included) fail to help others find their way to Christ. It’s easy to be like those busy Italians who lived and worked outside the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel but were oblivious to its existence. They never visited, had no clue what was inside, and couldn’t tell anyone how to get there…yet people from all over the world are seeking.  Can we open our eyes to the gospel message, believe it, receive it, and share it with others? 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 4:6-7).

(P.S.—The end of this story will have to be told next time. Do you think we found our way back to the car? Before Grace went into labor?  Tune in next week… 🙂  )

Over the Rainbow Pan-Fried Trout

We used to live in Marquette, Michigan, on forty acres in the woods, where you could pull a rainbow or brown trout out of our pond for dinner (if you knew what you were doing, which we didn’t, but our friend, George Sokoly, did).  Michigan has 12,000 miles of trout stream along approximately 1,400 trout streams, and 190 of them are open year around, so trout season never ends here! The Au Sable, Manistee, Pere Marquette, and Muskegon Rivers—all fabled for great trout fishing— are within a few hours of our home even here in Grand Rapids, although we also live on a little spring-fed lake that theoretically has trout. (For the record, we’ve never caught one here either! 😦 ) However, even though we’re terrible fishermen (“God made fishies to live!” was Alan’s wail as a small boy observing fishing near his Upper Peninsula home),  we do love to eat fish, and trout is one of the sweetest-tasting, most delicate and delicious fish you’ll ever eat, so when it’s offered on a menu, we often order it.  Alan said his rainbow trout from the mountain streams of Nepal last fall was his favorite dinner from that entire trip. On our recent cruise of the North Sea, we had some excellent trout dishes, including rainbow trout in Reykjavik, Iceland that was so fresh it must have been in school earlier that morning! So, I decided to write about trout today, even though for those of you who are old hands at fishing, I know you’ll say, “I already knew that!”

Simply the Best Rainbow Trout

Are you ready for this? The fact of the matter is that the best fish are the freshest fish, flash-fried in hot butter on a griddle or in cast-iron skillet (or over a fire!).Wash the fillets, brush a light coating of flour on both sides, and fry them skin-side up for 3 minutes in hot butter (browned but not burned). Flip them over (carefully, so they don’t break apart), and cook them for three more minutes, sprinkling them with salt, butter, and seasoning salt to taste. (I use Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, but whatever you like works). If you’ve not overcooked your trout, it will be tender, flaky, and moist. Serve it up immediately with some fruits and veggies. If you like tartar sauce and lemon, that’s fine, but if your fish is really fresh, it can stand alone on its own fins!

P.S.—Have you noticed that in life (like cooking), many things are complicated, but sometimes the best way is to apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? In most of the scriptures, “simple” is equated with “ignorant” and given a negative connotation, but there is one verse that tells us to be “simple,” and in this case, it’s a good thing: “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19). When it comes to exploring evil, God actually wants us to avoid learning about it. Do friends tease you because you’re so “naive” or inexperienced? I used to get teased a lot. One girl friend alleged that on my honeymoon I’d probably make chocolate fudge because I wouldn’t know what else to do. Keep life pure..and “simple.”

Castles in the Clouds and A Castle in a Cave

When you were young, did you imagine meandering into castles built amongst billowing cumulus clouds in the sky?  I did.  When our children were very little, one of their favorite books was named
From Castles in the Clouds,  and when I visited Michael and Grace last summer, I couldn’t help but think of  how their home reminded me of a magical castle floating on a cloud,  although it’s really a villa built into a mountainside in Italy.  I’m not exactly sure how they found this enchanted villa,  but I am sure it was in answer to our prayers for “just the perfect” place to live.  It was constructed in 1690, is on the national register of historic places,  and the count who owns it had three requirements if they wanted to rent:  They had to be rich,  they had to be romantic,  and they had to be strong. (There are 51 steps from the kitchen to the garage!)  I’m not sure if an army dentist qualifies as rich,  but they are certainly romantic and strong. . . and the count must have liked them,  because he came down in price so they could afford it. Although it’s really just a villa set near vineyards where Galileo used to star gaze, there’s such a grandeur about it that it really does remind me of a little castle! Every door has bolts and locks to secure it like a fortress. There are aged lamps with cobwebs way high up that remind me
of Disney’s Haunted Mansion! There are trap doors  and secret passageways,  and even one room that conjures up images of serving as a dungeon at one time. The ceiling in the ballroom is painted with ethereal frescoes, and some of the doors and walls are adorned with colorful murals
painted by the count’s wife, who is an artist. There are beautiful woodland gardens and pathways, and lots of little castley touches, like gargoyles under the roof tops.Nevertheless, if it’s a “castle,” it’s not a castle built on the clouds.
It’s a castle carved into a mountain and rooted firmly to the earth. In fact, this villa has its very own secret cave for playing and getting cool.
(Its was 98°F. some days!)Everywhere I could see evidences of just how difficult it must have been to carve this castle out of rock. As children, we dream and imagine, but building a good life takes a lifetime of hard work,and it’s a never-ending process. I don’t think any of us will ever live in a castle built in the clouds, But by God’s grace, if “every man’s home is his castle,” then each of us has the potential to live in a little castle here on earth, built into the side of a mountain. (And, to me that Mountain is God, our heavenly Father)! We may not get everything we imagine,
but we often get so much more than we need! Michael and Grace’s castle in a cave has been “just perfect” for them these past three years, but yesterday they moved out…off on a new assignment! How about you and me? Have you built a little castle in a cave dug into the side of the Mountain? I have. Are you ready for a new assignment?  I’m very content, but just like Michael and Grace, I want to be ready to ship out and move on whenever my Lord calls, to wherever my Lord leads!  Because, thankfully, this world is not our final resting place! Someday, if we are saved by faith in Christ,
we’ll be called from this life to the next,not to live in a castle in the clouds, but to our Father’s home in heaven.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).When Michael was little, his favorite song was “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I taught it to his kids, and we sang it every night when I was taking care of them, so  I thought it would make the perfect ending (for a new beginning):

  1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
    And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
    When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

    • Refrain:
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
    And the glory of His resurrection share;
    When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
    Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
    Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
    (—James M. Black, 1893, Public Domain)  God bless my kids, and may God bless us all as we adventure forth!

 

Meringues: Fun and Fancy

While I was helping out with Michael’s family when their new baby was born this summer, my two oldest grand daughters were really interested in cooking with me, and in particular, they’d tried to make meringues but couldn’t get them to turn out right. They were either burned or gooey. So, we worked together and made some that turned out just lovely! After leaving their home, Alan and I went for a three-week cruise, and meringues were part of many dessert options (like this one, called “Mixed Berries Pavlova”), so I decided they are popular with everybody these days and worth writing up.  I think the secret to success is more sugar than you’d think (to help them keep their shape) and a longer, lower baking temperature than is often prescribed to help them keep from browning or burning (or at least a lower temperature than was prescribed in the kids’ cookbook).

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Meringues

Preparations:
1.  Preheat oven to 275°F
2. Grease large baking sheet with shortening and sprinkle with sifted flour or line with parchment paper
3.  Cut small opening into bottom edge of a gallon zip lock bag and insert a fluted cake-decorating tip.  Ingredients:
1. In a large mixing bowl, add:
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2. Beat until soft peaks form
3. Then, slowly add
2.75 cups granulated white sugar, beating until stiff peaks form Shaping:
You can spoon out the meringues, but I think they’re a lot prettier fluted. To flute them, carefully fill the zip lock bag with the mixture and seal. Then, shape the meringues into little 1.5″ rounds with peaks on top Baking:
The trick with baking is to cook them slowly at a low heat so that they harden but don’t turn brown. This is best achieved by popping them straight into an oven preheated to 275°F. and baking them for 2 hours, then shutting off the heat, leaving them to continue drying in the oven overnight. It would be good to check them after an hour and a half, just to make sure they aren’t browning. In the morning, carefully scrape them off the cookie sheet and store them in an airtight container. Humidity or any type of moisture can make them sticky, just like cotton candy.

How sweet are thy words unto my taste!
yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
” (Psalm 119:103).