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FullSizeRenderWhen my alarm clock starts its gentle marimba tune, our bedroom is very dark.  Our human activity kicks in and we share our bathroom to get ready for the day.  Like preprogrammed robots we move about the house with a well-planned and well-rehearsed routine.

While it is still dark outside we load our vehicle and start our 40 minute commute.  We travel down I-10 and join 100,000 other vehicles who are also starting their day.  Our journey is so much easier than so many since the two of us qualify for the High Occupancy Vehicle lane.

All of the vehicles have their headlights on.  At this early hour it is like driving at night.  There are plenty of street lights but having lights on is a safety measure so that others can see us.

But, the night never lasts forever.  Instead, as certain as we are about life’s most important standards and guarantees, a sunrise is going to happen.  When it shows up, it will chase away the darkness as if it was melting butter on a hot pan.

The sky first becomes lighter.  Shades of grey appear as if the sky is being diluted from its pitch black domination. Then, on the horizon there is a beacon of orange light.

Our commute is progressing well while the show on the horizon stage is unfolding.  There is no stopping it now.  Day is on its way.

Grey skies burst into an orange pallet of brilliant color.  Fiery red blazons the horizon.  Rays of yellow blast out from where the sun is moving with deliberate unhurried speed.

When darkness shrouds a spirit to hang with gloom and doom, the light is overpowering.  Hope is restored.  Smiles have a reason to emerge with determination.

Headlights from so many vehicles no longer dominate the scene.  Instead, every driver, even the grumpy ones, have to gaze to the horizon and at least appreciate it if not mentally breaking out into a happy dance.  The Creator who repeats this performance with grand elegance never charges a fee.

Can you imagine?  The most splendid show is absolutely complementary.  Seating is never a problem.

When life gets tough and circumstances get rough, remember how you began your day.  Love the promises and the truths that are wrapped up in the grandeur of that stunning light show.  God did that to remind you that He is real, He is here and His love for us is unending.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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FullSizeRenderAustria is a country with a rich history and filled with a people proud of their nation.  History took a horrible turn for the worst with the rise of the Nazi’s who put an unspeakably ugly grip on the European continent under the brutal demagoguery of Adolf Hitler.  Jews in the nation were persecuted, slaughtered and robbed of their personal possessions.

One of the many families that felt the excruciating oppression of the Nazis were the Altmann’s.  They were torn apart by the Nazi take-over.  As a family, survival meant some stayed behind while others fled for their lives.

While the Altmann’s fled the Nazi took over their home and stole their art treasures.  The portrait of Aunt Adele by Klimt was the center piece.  She was the sparkling painting decked in gold leaf throughout, a thorough masterpiece.

Maria Altmann has aged into her senior years when she discovers that she may have a chance of recovering her family paintings through an intricate series of hearings.  She taps a relative, he is a young inexperienced lawyer.  She trusts him and chases her dream of being reunited with what was once her family’s property.

It is an arduous legal battle. The venue for the grinding litigation starts in Austria, moves to America and finishes with arbitration in Austria.  Justice is ultimately served.

Strong performances by both lead actors drives the story.  Even the supporting roles of the Austrian patriot trying to make amends for his father’s unexplainable choices adds to the story.  The viewer is treated to a long story which is unfolded in a short movie.  It is a true story that makes anyone who is a real human being cheer for the little person.

When a wrong is corrected, then I am riveted to the story.  Set up a Goliath and his brother against a little David and I am paying attention.  Maybe governmental bureaucracy and the smug attitude of arrogant people will always get my goat.

Certainly, this one bright story among so many that are still hoping for redemption makes this victory shine so brightly.  I liked this movie.  In fact I really liked this movie and I am glad that I saw it and I recommend it to you.

Helen Mirren is a favorite. Ryan Reynolds was splendid.  Bruhl and Holmes were great supporting roles.  Now, I would take that opportunity to see the painting for myself if I am ever in the area.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5353Tractors and stadium workers worked the soil that the Rodeo tore through for the last four hours.  It was fun.  The Houston Rodeo made the American pride in every citizen swell to where we were popping buttons.

Now, the announcer re-energize the crowd, “Get ready, folks because Brad Paisley is in the house!”  The thunderous roar reverberated throughout the stadium.   Teenagers to my right screamed with a high shrill while senior citizens to my left applauded vigorously.

Stage hands rolled out the stage on to the Rodeo dirt floor.  Clearly this was masterminded by gifted engineers and rehearsed several times by set-up crews.  Still it was a wonder to behold a rodeo arena transformed into a premier concert stage in a matter of minutes.

The lights of the stadium were dimmed.  A hush fell over the 70,000 fans.  Expectation could be felt all over.IMG_5394

There were musicians on the stage.  It rotated so that everyone in the stadium could sense the pulsation of the Country beat that began to rock the great venue.  A black crew cab pickup truck rolled out on to the floor and drove right up to the stage.

It was not hard to guess what was coming.  Brad Paisley got out the truck, donned his guitar and trotted up to the stage.  The huge ovation was louder than a jet plane that had just delivered a high-profile package.

The concert began with one great Paisley song after the next.  From one great hit to the next the band played whatever modulation was necessary to get into the next key and never wasted a single quarter note between songs.  Paisley was vintage!

His singing was the familiar voice that all of us played over and over on our music machines.  On top of that were the instrumental interludes where his virtuoso guitar skills are becoming legendary.  The energy hit a maximum human effort and never let down.

IMG_5415The rotating stage never paused.  Paisley hopped off and ran to be next to the fans.  People went nuts!

Selfies were popping, hand slapping was firecrackers and hugs were the preferred expression as applause from those too far away thundered with the music.  Security ran along with this Country Western superstar.  The crowds were excited but very respectful.

Then, the climax came with his final song.  The pickup truck rolled up to the stage and Paisley stepped into the bed and rode in the back while waving good-bye to the crowd.  Fireworks exploded and he threw his hat to an adoring fan.

This side of heaven entertainment by gifted people is amazing.  With tens of thousands of excited music lovers, the show is stunning.  Some day heaven will be even greater, I am sure.  In the meantime, “What a show!”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5337Spring Break should be a special time of adventure and relaxation for two hard-working teachers. But, this year my bride is burdened with the preparation of her state certification exam and I was in middle of preparing our federal tax returns.  At least I had an ace in the whole.

For the first time since moving to Houston we were going to the Rodeo.  It is billed as the Largest Rodeo in the world.  This claim is one that I have means or interest in validating.

I just reserved our tickets and looked forward to attending.  My time on the internet got us ready with transportation plans via the shuttle system, free parking and discounts on food.  What I could not plan was the weather.

Rain was the forecast for the day we had tickets to the Rodeo.  The precision of this forecast was amazingly accurate.  It poured on this gathering of folks.

Getting into the stadium was a relief just to get out of the rain and dry off.  We were soaked to the bone and thought that a repeated venture was not too favorably received.  But, the show began and our interest was piqued.

The announcer was in fine form.  He was clearly connecting with people who knew about rodeo.  At the same time, he also formed a bond with all of us newbies.

He introduced a rodeo tradition.  It was the Grand Entry.  All of the participants rode out into the stadium and received a rousing ovation from the crowd.  70,000 people were beginning to fill the seats.

Leading the way into the stadium was a trio of riders.  One queen carried the American flag.  Another the flag of Texas.  Yet a third the Houston Rodeo flag.

Once the great cast of riders reached their spots amid great music and fanfare, the announcer introduced the Invocation.  One of the participants prayed for God’s blessing, His protection and presence and with gratitude thanked God for His wonderful blessings.  He prayed this all in Jesus’ name.

There was no apology, no hesitation, no explanation, no equal time for false religions or any protests.  It was all done in stride.  Faith in the Almighty God was a part of the lives of people at a rodeo.

Then the National Anthem was sung.  Everyone stood.  All of the men removed their hats and caps.  People sang with their hands over their hearts.  There were no protests, complaints or apologies.

God, Country and Family.  These three values are embraced and proudly promoted by the Rodeo constituency.  I like Rodeo!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRender-1This special and favorite topic has found its way in my writings many times.  It is my favorite time of day.  Sunsets are great but if I am forced to choose, I would cast my ballot for a sensational sunrise.

When the morning breaks, long before the sun rises I smile and often mouth my greeting, “Good morning, Lord!”  It is a reminder of grace.  No matter what we failed to do the day before or how we might have messed up or the wrong choices we made, we get a “do-over” with every new day.

When it is time, an agreed departure moment on the clock, my bride and I load into our transportation machine.  It fires up on command and moves at adjusted speeds just like it was designed to do.  Soon we join tens of thousands of other commuters on the asphalt arteries leading into the city.

Darkness fades.  Other vehicles and buildings along the way come into view.  Dawn is upon the city of Houston.FullSizeRender-3

Yet, like so many mornings, the rising sun announces its coming with a warm up act.  The horizon glows as if a massive fire is spreading across the sky.  Brilliant colors mix in perfect harmony not according to fashionistas but according to eternity planned schemes of the spectrum of light.

Yellows, oranges, reds and purple blend into each other.  All during our route into our destinations, the sky is brightening up.  Like the climactic lever controlling the lights on a stage, a masterful performance takes over.

This is not about what is to come.  No one rushes the presentation.  There is no hurry to finish this show.

FullSizeRenderNor is there ever a boredom because of familiarity.  A repeat is never identical.  Shades, shadows and sparkle are always in different proportions.

It is impossible to be bored with something that is new every morning.  The variety defies human understanding and results in human marvel.  Beauty from the hand of the Creator never ceases to stir the wonder of the created.

The sunrise is the beginning of every new day.  Every sunrise is a marvel of God’s creative hand.  Each one is new in shades, combination and sensation.

Capture the soulful joy of every new day with a one-of-a-kind sunrise.  Each one is tailor-made for what the Almighty has customized for the day for everyone who draws breath to live one more day. Bask in His reminder that He starts the day, rules the day and ends the day.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5313No, it is not Chinese.  Yes, it is in Chinese restaurants located in the USA.  No, restaurants in China do not offer these cookies for dessert.

Yet, the iconic fortune cookie makes its way into ethnic lore.  Sometimes it appears in movies.  Iron Man 3 the Mandarin waxes eloquent on the history of this crunchy tasty morsel.

He acknowledges what is generally accepted as true.  The ethnic identity is associated with Chinese.  Yet, few Americans realize that their assumptions bear little influence on the world stage.

The Mandarin reflected, “A true story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese. They sound… Chinese. But they’re actually an American invention. Which is why they’re hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth.”

This monologue was true.  American ingenuity seems to have been at the forefront of this invention.  Originally, the cookie and fortune seem to have Japanese roots. This cookie announcement many say it all: “originated by the Japanese, exploited by the Chinese, consumed by Americans and entertained by all.”

Regardless of the real history of this conversation piece the fortune cookie is fun.  They offer a tasty end to a delicious meal. Further, they bring most people to a cheerful moment as the evening comes to a close.

Recently, I was out with friends.  We all ate a delicious Chinese restaurant.  The evening was delightful.

Our menu was well-balanced.  Chicken, fish, pork and tofu gave us our protein.  Green string beans, carrots and choy gave us our vegetables.

Flavors from Cantonese style foods were delicious. There was a wonderful blend in each of our plates.  Rice and noodles soaked up those taste bud sensations and satisfied every hungry soul at our table.

Without a second thought or expectation fortune cookies were delivered with the final bill.  We were laughing, joking, reminiscing and doing a lot of talking.  Pictures filled the climax of the meal as well.

Then we passed out the fortune cookies.  I opened mine and announced the delightful revelation.  It simply read, “Hallelujah!”

Our gathering of redeemed souls picked up a special enthusiasm.  Everyone wanted a cookie to explore “God’s will” and we all laughed.  Some of the fortunes were philosophical.  A few were nonsensical.

That special one-word declaration of “Hallelujah!” was unmatched. It was short, fun and true all at the same time.  That after all is what a fortune cookie is all about, eh?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

wildlife by Bruce 038February 19 is the start of this year’s Chinese New Year.  Of course everything really unleashes on New Year’s Eve, Wednesday February 18.  The firecrackers and lion dances will signal the beginning of the biggest party of the year.

This is the most important celebration for Chinese families in China and in countries dispersed all around the world.  For many in countries where it is recognized, workers enjoy 8 days off of work.  In the western calendar the dates are February 19 to March 5.

Officially work stops for the first three days of the Spring Festival.  However, practice has evolved into including New Year’s Eve and the following three days as well.  Naturally, the following or closest weekends are included.

Central to the festivities is a family time with relatives and the closest of friends.  This is the holiday when families convene for a feast and reunion.  Multi-generational gatherings are the standard.

It is the year of the goat.  Do not laugh.  The goat is highly regarded among the Chinese, especially ancient Chinese.

This 8th animal from the Chinese Zodiac embodies many wonderful qualities.  Those who are born in the year of the goat are calm, gentle, creative, thoughtful, amicable, persevering, frank and honest.  It is suggested that being born in the year of the goat makes someone most suitable to become pediatrician, actor, teacher, interior designer, musicians and editors.

It is also speculated that these persons are tough on the inside, quiet yet powerful in performance.  While they enjoy quality in the things that they buy they are by no means snobbish or ego-centric.  In fact they are often withdrawn, lost deep in thought.

While there are over 4,000 years behind this tradition, the pathway to real life solutions is not found in country or position.  Earthly wealth is not the key and certainly a life warding off evil spirits leaves a lot to be desired for any kind of personally satisfaction.  Yet, the attempts over the 4,000 years of this celebration reveal a telltale sign.

Everyone wants hope.  But, this appetite is not found in superstition or good luck charms. Instead, real hope can be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is real while so much of the Chinese New Year Celebration is built on human imagination.  Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again so that He could show His victory over death.  Put your faith in Him.  Accept Him as your Savior and you will be blessed.  That will be a real reason to celebrate for eternity.

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRenderMy backyard is relatively unused.  During our first few years as homeowners I have used the backyard a few dozen times.  Most of the time those were spent on our small 8×10 slab where my smoker/grill is parked.

The grassy well-irrigated lawn does not have my foot prints on it much.  Occasionally, I have ventured out there to play around with archery.  But, the range is limited to 20 yards so it is not really adequate to that hobby.

Our gardeners use the yard much more than we do.  Their use is limited to cutting the grass.  Twice we have had them clear out and straighten up our flower beds.

Aesthetic values are first for our yard.  We like looking at it from inside of our house.  Everything is neat, attractive and pleasing to the eye.

Now, make no mistake, I can imagine a more useful backyard. Move us into the country and take down the wall and fencing and we have a positive improvement.  Back up our property line to a massive forest or thousands of acres of undeveloped woods.

Make sure that there are plenty of Oak trees scattered about that will drop innumerable acorns and give the flocks of turkey a place to roost for the night.  Allow for groves of low hanging bushes so that the deer have a place to call home.  Lease enough acres for gentlemen farmers to plant crops that give pheasants good habitat.

Make sure that there are enough ponds scattered to attract waterfowl, sustain several species of warm water fish and give the beavers challenges to build their dams.  Once the dams are built and the lush water grasses flourish, maybe moose will filter into the region.  Allow a few deep ravines to carve out a place for elk to roam.

This is a backyard to thoroughly enjoy.  God’s creation at its best is just outside of my porch will give decades of entertainment.  Living off of the land will not just be a hobby but a choice of life.

On a brisk Autumn day, I could see bundling up, rocking on a chair with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand.  Movement catches my eye.  Slowly, I bring up my binoculars to my line of sight.

A herd of deer are grazing through the woods.  The dominant doe is alert.  Behind the herd is a massive buck looking for love.  I smile and my dream breaks off because it is time to go to work.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4348There is a love affair that many have for the game of baseball.  The diamond, the pitch, the hit, the bunt, the double-play and the stats fuel the imagination.  It is a gathering time for family and friends as well.

This game was special for many.  The Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers were meeting for the second of a three game match-up. It is called the Texas Showdown.

Minute Maid Park was filling up with not just baseball fans but a large gathering of saints from Houston’s First Baptist Church.  Our pastor, Gregg Matte, was scheduled to throw in one of the ceremonial pitches to start the game.  When he was introduced, there was a roar from the crowd.  All of us wearing our blue Houston’s First T-shirts were enjoying our reason for coming to the ball game.

We set aside our popcorn and Cracker Jacks, stood to our feet and applauded our shepherd.  He strolled on to the field holding hands with his daughter, Valerie.  She nearly stole the show with her perfect grade school blond curls and delightful smile.

The national anthem was sung right after that ceremonial pitch.  Houston’s First Baptist Singers took the field and filled the stadium with perfect harmony and stirring words.   Our nation with its countless problems, despondent citizens, world crises needs a large dose of hope and these talented singers gave us a taste of a very good elixir.

Our Astros took to the field with all of the traditions of our national sport.  The Rangers were up to bat first as the visiting team.  They were smarting from the loss they were handed by the Astros the night before.

This night they would have their revenge. They trounced the Astros by a painful margin.  But, that is baseball.

No one wins them all.  When professionals who hit only 250 out of every 1000 pitches are doing well, then disappointments are not uncommon.  Pitchers who can throw a ball over 90 miles an hour and hit within a 12 inch diameter target every time stun the crowd with their talent.

God made everyone of us.  Some sing, some are athletes and other cheer on both while spilling soda and chomping down peanuts.  It is an amazing game for the widest possible audience.

In between innings we visit, laugh at the big screen and let cotton candy melt in our mouths.  Our great country is still pumping out goodness.  The good Lord Almighty is still blessing our Land.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4304The movie theater is a Houston refuge.  When the summer months descend on our city, the temperatures soar.  We have learned to take refuge in places where the air conditioning is always guaranteed.

Sometimes we go to the Mall for a walk.  Hordes of people have the same idea.  There is always plenty of parking.

Other times we do our grocery shopping.   For some reason we linger in the refrigeration area.  Even when we do not have to buy any frozen goods we open a door and pretend to be doing some shopping.

When the legs tire we hold out for the movie theater.  Our Senior status makes it an affordable option.  The air conditioning is always on.

Often the Texas way is to walk into a theater with short sleeves and shorts.  But, it is wise to carry a light jacket or sweater.  Yes, it is so cold that Texans go in to put something on.

This time the lights dimmed and the movie The Hundred Foot Journey was showing.  The plot is the adventure of an Indian family who trying to find a new home after they were burned out from bad people in their home country.  It is the father’s patriarchal extra sense that is leading them.

Their wanderings in search of a new home take them to England, Switzerland and finally to France.  It is the life in the flavor of abundant ingredients that keeps them in a small French village.  There they acquire a neglected restaurant and start their business.

Unfortunately, right across the street, a mere hundred feet away is an upper scale French restaurant.  The widowed owner is famous for her one star establishment.  Competition between the two establishments is the tension in the movie.

The talent of Hassan is finally acknowledged by Madame Mallory through painful admissions marred by arson, open impediments and social friction.  Yet, the melting of the cold feelings is the delight of the story.  Enemies become colleagues.  Colleagues become allies.  Allies become deep friends.

Success puts the spotlight on one.  Those who are left behind settle for the best that they can do.  But, love draws the family back together.

Love fills the kitchen.  Joy comes with the love.  You can taste the delight that climaxes the reunion.

The future is bright.  Laughter and achievement abound.  The third star is aptly deserved and appropriately settles in as part of the blended lives of these who treasure amazing taste.  It is an excellent film.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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