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Sharing time with my bride is a blessing.  During our busy days I eagerly look for opportunities for us to merge our schedules into fun times together.  Some times I even take her shopping.

Yes, that is a perfectly allowable choice.  It is in the fine print on my “Man Card”.  The explanation is under point 27, subsection 12, footnote 75.

We entered a specialty store.  The exclusive product was women’s accessories.  There might even be a subset of specialty stores that describes this venue better, but I frankly do not know what it is.

My bride made her rounds.  Women have a peculiar shopping technique.  The must bond with the products by tactile interaction.

When a woman touches a product she is sensing something about a possible purchase.  Some just use glancing tips of their fingers.  Others grab and others hug the items.

Then, there are those who hold the product up in the air.  Maybe they are attempting to get different lighting angles to help them make their decision.  Yet, others pat the product as if to assure it that their decision NOT to purchase is not personal.

My eyes widened suddenly.  She was coming to me with several products in hand.  “Yipes! She is going to ask me my opinion.”  I force myself to remain calm and act confident.

She assumes the role of a TV Show Hostess Spokesperson.  In turn she displays one choice, shows me the features, talks about the pros and cons.  I listen, acting as if I am tracking with her.

While uttering a timely “Um” or thoughtful “Ah” I miss the transition to a question.  My “Uh huh” is obviously misplaced. “What?  Oh, I’m sorry.  I was thinking about this one here.”

It is a clumsy recovery.  I have been discovered.  Yes, I am a dolt.  I do not understand colors.

In fact I was getting dizzy staring at the wild patterns and countless colors.  How does anyone know how to describe these items?  For me to give an opinion is like throwing dice and calling out whatever numbers happen to land on top.

Knowing what the numbers mean is the trick.  But, I can’t get past my panic attack that feels like being asked a question by a professor in front of my learned classmates and I haven’t a clue as to the answer.  Now, the sweat starts to pour off of my head.  Help!  I feel nauseous! Really!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3454Our modern air-conditioned bus with luxury seats climbed the road leading to the top of Mt. Carmel.  This was the site of one of the great Old Testament accounts between the prophet Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah.

The gauntlet was thrown.  This would be a showdown to decide who the true God was.  He must show up at the offering of the sacrifice and must do so by fire.

The prophets of Baal and Asherah had their turn first.  They built their alter, sacrificed their bull and called on their deities to respond with fire.  Their worshipful pleas started in the morning and continued through noon.  However, their gods were silent.

Elijah took liberties to urge them to call louder in case their gods were on a long journey or otherwise preoccupied.  Yes, the prophet of the One True God was taunting them.  They exhausted themselves well into the evening.

Israel 2014 IFL 043Finally, Elijah’s turn came.  To make a point he called for his sacrifice to be drenched with water.  He had this done three times.

There is no water source on the top of Mt. Carmel. If his helpers had to go down into the Jezreel Valley to retrieve enough water for this soaking, that alone was a major undertaking.  But, it did not matter.

After a simple prayer that emphasized God’s glory and honor, God answered with fire.  From heaven this flame came.  It consumed the sacrifice, the altar and the water.  It was immediate and complete.

That great encounter took place right where we were standing.  It was a stirring moment to consider that this one of a kind event took place right where we were gathered.  A light wind rustled the leaves and whistled quietly through the rocks.

Israel 2014 IFL 047Each of us had a few moments to sit at the edge of the mountain top and consider our faith in the One True God.  No doubt we all wondered how we would have responded if we were the single representative of God while facing hundreds of prophets who were followers of a false god.  It was not a matter of truth or falsehood but how courageous would we be when surrounded by hundreds of others who opposed to us.

Truthfully, the reality is that one plus God always equals a majority.  However, the emotional confidence to hold strong against the hostile cacophony by others is a formidable challenge.    Always stand with truth no matter how loud or how large the opposition.

photo credit: brucefong photography and cellphone photography

School is now in session.  Today we have a test.  Our subject for this class is spelling. 

Many of you have studied very hard for this exercise and I know that I will be very proud of you.  Do not be anxious.  Just relax and consider the word that I will ask you to spell. 

Don’t over-think yourselves or guess too quickly.  Some of the words may be obvious.  Other terms may be a little more difficult.

You are welcome to ask clarifying questions but they are limited.  You may ask for the word to be pronounced again, which I more than happy to do one additional time.  I will enunciate clearly for you.

Also, you may ask for the origin of the word. I will tell you the best answer from recognized sources in my possession.  But, the answer to the origination question is final and may not be disputed. 

One final help that you may request is for the word to be used in a sentence.  Again, this may only be asked one time so pay very careful attention if you request this helpful clue.  All of these sentences are pre-planned but there is only one usage sentence for each word in today’s spelling contest.

It is now time to begin.  Will everyone please put all materials away so that we can all be confident that our exercise today will be carried out with the greatest care and honestly engaged.  Very good, we are ready to begin.

Based on the earlier lottery, we begin with Kristin Bailey as our first contestant.  Young lady will you please come up to the stage?  Yes, now.  No, you may not bring Oscar with you.  Please leave him with your mother.  That’s it come on up.

Here is your word.  “sale”  Yes, I will repeat it one final time.  Your word is “sale”.  It’s origin is the North Pole.  Yes, in a sentence: “There was big “sale” downtown with all of the shoppers looking for a bargain on Black Friday.”

Now, please spell the word.  “S-A-L-E” No, I’m sorry that is NOT correct.  You are eliminated from the competition.  No, you don’t have an appeal.  No, you did spell the word incorrectly.

The word is spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  Yes, I know it looks like the word S-A-L-E but it is not.  Your wrong so please take your seat.  Hey! Give me back my wallet!  You little crook!  What do you mean you’re going to a SALE!  Give me my credit card back.  Stop making TROUBLE!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photo

At first blush a simple task to buy a flower-pot doesn’t seem challenging.  If the emphasis is on “buy a flower-pot” then it is a piece of cake.  I can do that without any problem.

I am wired to hear a direction, understand it and make it so.  Simple.  My mind hears two important words: “buy” and “flower-pot”.

When I go to the local home improvement store, I check out the pots.  They are arranged from the simple to the sublime.  The simple are the clay pots that are reddish clay in color and have no shiny finish.

To be fair I do scan down the shelf and look at the increasing scale of decorated and glazed pots.  But, my eyes also scan the price tags below each display.  I can’t figure out why these pots with decorations cost two or three times more.

So, I buy a flower-pot as requested.  I am pleased that I stopped in this store for a mere 12.57 minutes to identify the target and take it to the check out counter.  With satisfaction I even pull out of the parking lot with plenty of change.

Yvonne was so kind when she saw my purchases.  I was very proud of fulfilling her request.  But, she looked at the pot, looked at me, looked at the pot and carefully chose her words, “Hmm, these kind of pots are better suited for outside use, Honey.  Didn’t they have anything with color or shape?”

Back at the store I stared at the selection of pots.  I picked each different style up and wondered, “How do I know which one works inside?”  Even though the selection of these size pots were limited I must have picked up each possibility a half of a dozen times. 

Yeah, I’m aesthetically challenged.  My usual reaction when people tell that one color or combination is better than another is, “Really?”  My wardrobe is predominantly black, my pickup truck is white, my motorcycle is black and my bicycle is black.  Hmm, there seems to be a pattern here, eh?

I wasn’t getting any where with reason.  So, I went with my immediate instinctive subjective wild guess.  Then, I held four different colors and also took a wild guess.

At home I waited with deep curiosity.  Yvonne arrived home from work.  She walked into the kitchen and I pointed nervously to my flower-pot choice that took me 37.84 minutes to make.  She loves it!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

There is no question that I love my wife.  I’ll do anything for her.  Shopping with her is proof.

We enter into the department store.  I search to be useful.  My hunting skills kick in from the time the self-closing doors shut solidly behind me, blocking a quick retreat.

Scanning the area like a seasoned man of the woods, I remember key landmarks to insure that I can find our way out when the mission is accomplished.  We entered through the door next to the sun glasses display.  Adjacent is the Men’s Accessories Department; relatively small but still with large signs that I can spot once I get to the right floor.

Casually, I listen to Yvonne when she rehearses what she is looking forward to finding.  I never rush her.  Instead, I have learned over the years that she needs to relax and enjoy the experience of shopping.  My best approach is to find the department that will best provide the objectives of this shopping foray.

I need to concentrate because the affects of the Kryptonite in the construction of all shopping malls is beginning to drain my super powers.  Thankfully, those who built these mega facilities for women to shop designed safe zones for the male species.  There Kryptonite has limited effect. 

Watch for these special places for superpower respite.  Relief from the relentless draining effect is enough to keep a devoted husband from succumbing to the exhausting rays of that dastardly poison.  They are called chairs.

The shopping mission is complete.  Yvonne has successfully acquired her needed garments.  We check out and now my guiding skills are ready for a successful escape.

First on the list of getting-out-of-here is locating the massive transporter.  Some call them escalators.  This always-in-motion unit is a man’s mechanism that expedite his focused objective for expulsion; a way out!

Whenever I discover and utilize the escalators, I know that we are on our way back to fresh air, open skies and air free from the green rays of Krypton.  Steadily the moving stairs gently lower us to the main floor.  Quietly without any rushing or hurrying that only incite panic, I guide us to the exit that once lock us in.

All of my temporary landmarks make our steps true.  There is no diversion.  We reach our objective, push the door open and the fresh air races in diluting the anti-superman gases.  Freedom!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Most people have flash in their lives.  They walk into big buildings, do important things and can look back on a full day with satisfaction.  I admire people who are like that. 

My life isn’t so glamorous.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  My profession is honorable and impactful.  I love what I do.

However, when it comes to our necessary errands, I take on a very modest role.  Off to the store my wonderful wife and I travel.

When we get the perfect parking spot, it’s time for me to take up my role.  I know that it is my assignment.  No one has to remind me.

There are plenty from which to choose.  They are all lined up just inside the front door.  It’s a simple choice, but I make it personal. 

All buggies are not the same.  Each one has a personality.  Like finding your own personal avatar and connecting your chi with it is what this search is all about.

Then, my hands grip the handle bar and swiftly I pull it from the rack.  It responds to my directions and accepts the power that I inject into its wheels.  Together we smoothly move into the foot traffic of the throngs that are entering the store as well.

My ease of motion is a product of years of practice.  Dutifully, I follow Yvonne down one aisle and then another.  Stopping on a dime and then turning dramatically with great agility, I never lose sight of the world’s best shopper.

The view from my buggy is limited.  But, deftly I negotiate narrow aisles made tighter by heavy shopper traffic.  Nevertheless, I clip a corner.  Product falls to the floor. 

It’s time for me to pick up, clean up and straighten out.  Yvonne is disappearing up ahead.  With swiftness and quickness I catch up just in time as she turns to add more vital items to our life of hospitality and cheer for others.

Me and my buggy transport all of our items to check out.  Then, it’s time to find our rig, unload and then return our buggy to the collection point.  Of course we pick up two other abandon and lonely carts for deliver to the parking lot “Return Carts here” location. 

I have done nothing heroic.  Simply I have done my duty.  But, I have done it well.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

There is one store that is not an outdoors specialization retailer that I enjoy visiting.  It is national box store that has a nearby location.  Their selection of products has an appeal to me.

Whoever their buyers are, I have to tip my hat to them.   They have many consistent regular products.  But, they keep their options fresh with new and seasonal products.

When those seasonal items are in, I pay attention.  Also, they have coupon specials that advertise products as lower prices that surpass their normal daily good values.  We do our coupon shopping there when we can.

Over the years of experience, however, I have learned NOT to shop there on Saturdays or Sundays.  It is too crowded.  The holidays are horrendous as well, with the crush of crowds and huge basketful making long lines a common phenomenon.

Since we pastors have Monday off, I like going there on that weekday.  It has proven to be relaxing and free from the massive crowds trying to save by buying in bulk.  We even stick around for a bargain lunch together.  Something changed this past Monday, however. 

We were suspicious when we drove into the parking lot and had to search unusually hard for a parking spot.  People were everywhere pushing carts full of goods, talking with friends and busily loading their cars with recent purchases.  “This is weird to be so busy on a Monday,” I remarked.

Once we located a spot and entered the store the crowds reflected the full parking lot.  We dodged more than one cart so full of goods that the driver couldn’t see over the merchandise.  “Is it Christmas time?” I mused with a smile.

This was a big shopping day for us.  Our list was long.  The cart was full and I carefully negotiated the crowded aisles, not wanting to run anyone over. 

We did have a collision with one woman who was attached to a semi-run-away cart.  She was so embarrassed.  But, we had averted a great disaster by stopping her momentum.

The lines that usually move quickly were clogged up.  Every check stand was at least seven customers deep.  The man in front of us turned and announced, “I’m in the slow line again!” 

Don’t people work on Monday?  This was in the middle of the morning.  I guess they must all be pastors.

photo credit:

Patience is not a stranger to my day.  I have to put on the longsuffering headset many times in my profession.  Whether it is crazy circumstances or unbelievable human frailties, I don patience daily.

Some things in life can’t be changed.  So we wait.  It is futile to get exasperated; it will accomplish very little.

I was thrust into the mode of being challenged by patience today.  Yvonne needed to make a stop at a local variety store this afternoon.  My initial groan was a dead-give-away.

But, I repented and gladly jumped into our vehicle and made the journey to the jam-packed parking lot of the local variety store.  I knew of a few overflow spots and tried to get there.  Cars blocked my path several times.

One driver stopped in the middle of the lane after turning part way into the aisle.  “Are you kidding me?  She’s holding up traffic in three directions!”

That wasn’t the half of it.  The parking spot that she was waiting to claim had two people still loading their purchases into the car.  They had at least a dozen bags left in their shopping cart. 

I was pinned. The four cars behind me couldn’t back up.  Going around her was not an option either since her wide turn was blocking the aisle for opposing traffic. 

She was clearly not going to move.  Every parking space in the visible area was taken, and she was not going to be denied this space.  Several people were honking at her but she would not budge from her perch of determination.

Traffic finely lightened up.  I drove around the roadblock.  Other vehicles followed suit but with their hands on their horns.

Several times we were stuck looking for that rare parking place.  People hovered over potential spots by following shoppers who were leaving the store.  Once they identified the shopper’s vehicle they would territorially mark their place as the next owner of that twenty-foot long piece of asphalt.

Courtesy is gone.  Seething impatience is personified behind each steering wheel.  Human beings are morphed into tenacious space hunters.

I dropped Yvonne off to shop at the front entrance.  Slowly I moved to a parking area next to a fast food eatery, off the real estate of the variety store.  Once she was done with her shopping I saw her text message, we rendezvoused as deftly as a pony express exchange.  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: google image

Our Oregon vacation adventure morphed into a Nevada addendum.  Reno now is our holding spot for several days.  The biggest little city has us filled with a new kind of exploration.

In a matter of a few short minutes we drove from our hotel to an outlet shopping center.  Yvonne’s energy level was rising faster than the thermometer in the desert heat.  I smiled with satisfaction as well.

We were cruising on I-80E.  Off to the north we could see the shopping center called Legend.  Traffic was exiting so we had that instinct that we were at the right place. 

Easily we drifted to the area where we needed to be.  But, another sign caught our eye: Car Wash.  It was time to give our trusty Camry a refreshing bath.

She had grime, dust, bugs and gunk from travelling through three states.  Off-road and interstate miles had given her a coat that needed to be washed off.  Leaves from several flora environmental segments were stuck in cracks and crevices of the car.

Yvonne and I laughed as we emerged from the car wash feeling the joy of being clean!  Our car was now sparkling.  It gave us all a lift in our day.

We parked in the large parking lot of the outlet mall.  The warm desert sun was threatening to ratchet up the temperatures.  It was time to lay out our shopping strategy.

Yvonne headed for the outlet shops.  As she disappeared around the corner, I turned my sights to Scheels.  Many had told me that it was one of the largest outdoor stores in the area. 

The building was large.  When I entered the front door I could see how large.  A ferris wheel was in the center of the store.  That is fun and impressive.

The lower level was filled with all sorts of city and team sports.  Colors, clothing, posters and gear all fit that genre of active lives.  But, there were constant hints for the outdoor enthusiast to keep walking.

Upstairs was my destination.  Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and specialty items filled shelves, displays and counters.  Fun additions like a shooting gallery, indoor archery range and laser guns spiced up the area.

But, the memorable feature was the entry aquarium.  An archway made of plexiglass was filled with game fish.  Huge bass, trout, catfish, panfish and walleye swam around and over me.  I didn’t need to shop, just gaze in wonder.

photo credit: brucefong photography

We have been in San Francisco now for 297 days. It’s beginning to feel like home. But, there’s still plenty to explore.

In fact we discovered a shopping mall that we have never been to since our arrival. Miles-wise it’s not that far from home. Today was a long day and there was reason to look for an escape.

Yvonne and I wandered around our new discovery passing one store after the next. We enjoy window shopping. She is looking for what hits her curiosity at the moment while I’m looking for an outdoor sporting goods store.

On the one hand, my search is usually frustrated. Rarely is there an outdoors sporting goods store attached to a shopping mall. There may not be anything of the sort within driving distance from me.

On the other hand, occasionally we often find several stores that grabbed her interest. She turns in and begins looking for some treasure to embrace. I think that her eyes dilate, pulse quickens and her step is energized into an energetic bounce.

I accompanied her. Then, I did what ever red-blooded American male would do. My sights were set on finding a chair.

In this modern-day other men who were relaxing with me were all doing the same thing. They had their cell phones or PDA’s out and were preoccupied with some kind of data entry or cyberspace interaction. Even with our big thumbs we were able to fill our time while our ladies were prowling the aisles of products.

During my several stops in the sporadic seating areas around this mall I also observed a common phenomenon. While several other men were occupied with their electronic gadgets, many were sound asleep or on the precipice of slumber. Those guys were hilarious to watch.

They were like Bobblehead dolls looking for sponsors. It is shocking that some did not suffer from massive strain from whiplash. This comical gesturing made the children giggle.

None of us men judge our fellow-men. It is not their fault. Even if they start sawing logs we overlook their maleness.

Men in this state are victims of that mysterious alien mineral. It saps the strength of most men. Most know it as Kryptonite.

It is the essential ingredient in the construction of malls. They put it in the flooring, steel reenforcement and sheet rock. We men just don’t stand a chance.

photo credit: google image

During Yvonne’s