Monday, April 30, 2012

When you ain't the first sled dog...

North of the Arctic Circle was the destination.

North of the Arctic Circle (66.56 degrees N), the sun never rises for 24 continuous hours at least once per year and never sets for 24 continuous hours, at least once per year.  Kiruna, Sweden lies at 67degrees 51' N.

So what do you do at that latitude in a small iron-mining town?  Lots of stuff.  We visited a wooded Church built in 1608.  We visited the Ice Hotel.  We went to a bunch of museums and had a great time.

Pretty tame eh?

Did I mention that we also went dog sledding on virgin snow out of sight of most signs of civilization?  It was a blast.  Dr. Joy L would have loved it!

The huskies were an employer's dream.  They were beautiful, obedient, gentle, and most surprisingly, they LOVED to work!  And, they work for dog food!  (But when you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes!)

Brenda and I were the only two on the trip guided by able Frenchman Remy.  We flew over the clean white snow at an amazing speed out to a reconstruction of a Sami lodge.  As soon as we pulled up, the dogs urinated, then lay down where they stayed quietly.  We had a nice lunch of hot coffee and tea, with the MOST delicious cheese sandwich i have ever tasted toasted over an open fire, then bullars for desert.

As soon as we walked out of the tent, the dogs hopped to their feet as one unit, eager to continue the journey.  It was absolutely white, light, and quiet!

G^d has created a wonderful world full of good things to enjoy.  Unfortunately, in the rush of living I forget that.  But, for this one moment, I feel almost moved to tears that G^d is so gracious!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cookies, and no, not the computer kind! When did cookies become part of computer jargon, so much that...

Brenda has made a LOT of no-bake cookies (chocolate w oatmeal and crunchy peanut butter).  She just told me, "I'm already out of cocoa, and in USA, one box lasts a year!"

When you have limited ingredients, you make what you can make.  And, quite expensively too!  I tiny little bottle of vanilla (2 fl oz) is about $4 US.  Crunchy peanut butter is about $4 for the small jar (all they have).  If you can't find Jiff, then you pay about $6.

Brenda's cookies have been delicious and a big hit!

In the church bazaar yesterday they were selling them at 5kr (about $.75) each!

 As good as those cookies are, the real gift she gives is Service to Others.  In fact that's one little truth that I wish G^D had included in the Bible.  ;)   (See Mk 10:45, Matt 23:11, etc.).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Message is the Massage

Marshall McLuhan was wrong the medium is not the message, the massage is the message.

We have these four wonderful chairs in the basement of the NVC.  They have about 8 massage options.  They don't get tired, you don't have to pay them, and you don't even tip them!  You don't earn them, they are made freely available.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dog Races. Not!

 Several years ago, one of my scientist buddies at NASA went up to Alaska to study the mushers on the Ididarod.  He was crowing about his great adventure when a wisened old scientist said,
 "You're studying the wrong ones son.  it's the dogs that do all the work!"
On March 24th we were supposed to have the Amundson Dog race from Ostersund to Are.

I say "supposed to" becasue it didn't happen.  It didn't happen for one small reason and one large one.

The small reason was that on the 24th of March it was so warm that the ice was too thin on the lake, and much of the snow had temporarily melted.

The BIG reason was, there was a deficit in the sponsorship department.  The Race needed more money than was available.

But I may have those backwards.  Even if there was enough money, the conditions would have probably stopped the race "cold" anyway.

You see, money is seldom the real issue.  I pretty much do what I want to do, and I simply choose how I will spend my money... and my time.  Look at a person's debit card statement (I used to say checking account, but what's that?) and you will learn their priorities.

If someone looked at your statement right now, what would they say about your priorities?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Driving Miss Brendy

Brenda and I had a car for a couple of days!  A friend at church  left for a few days and insisted on loaning me their car.  I have to say, it is a bit disconcerting driving here.  The STOP signs here, so ubiquitous in the USA, are very rare here.

The Swedish driving rule is simple:  every driver cedes the right of way to the car to the right.   Wow!  It seems to actually work.  I have NOT seen a single fender-bender, despite the always-icy roads and the lack of stop signs ( Irecall only seeing a couple.

True there is a good bit less traffic here, speed limits are pretty low, and everyone seems in less of a rush, but I am still impressed.

Strangely, as one who has always championed pedestrian rights, the thing that freaks me (Phil) out most is yielding to pedestrians at every crossing!!

At risk of boring you with constant references to Christianity, consider this principle: yielding to others prevents collisions!  "Each of you should consider others more important than yourself!"

It works w traffic, who knows, it might work with life too!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bone of Contention

 Our speaker today was an expert on physical activity and bone health.  He shared a lot of interesting stuff.  Probably the MOST interesting to me is this:  Bone STRENGTH increases as the 4th power of diameter.  This means that a 2% increase in diameter increases bone strength by 2*2*2*2 or 16 % increase in strength!!!

Yet we measure bone mineral density instead of size!!

"Why?"  I asked (naturally).

"Because it's easier to measure!" was the expected, and realized, reply.

"Aren't there ways to measure bone diameter and combine that with density for a much better view of bone strength?"

So, once again, we are at the mercy of the convenient, the easier, the tradition, the norm.

It's the story of my own life.  I consistently foolishly trade the convenient, the easier, the tradition, the norm, for the really valuable stuff--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  I Peter 1:7.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


As we said when we first moved in, probably our favorite things about this apartment is the view.  Our living room window looks east over Ostersond (East of the Sound), and deliciously at the rising sun.  So, we have had some opportunities to see some nice sunrises.  As you may know, pictures just don’t do justice to the real thing.

And, this is true of a lot of things.  The REAL thing is superior to the picture, or the symbol, or certainly the description.

When John or someone begins to describe heaven, I am fairly certain they can’t do it justice.
Now we see through a glass darkly, but one day…

Monday, April 23, 2012

To Hell with My Wife

Yep, you read that correctly!!

But, of course we are talking about Hell NO  (Hell, Norway).

Our friends, Louise and John suggested that Brenda and I should "go to Hell".  Hell, NO, that is.

Of course, our first response was, "Hell, NO, we won't go."

And of course the road to Hell isn't really paved with good intentions as people always say, the road to Hell is paved pretty much like every other road.  It is a wide road, just as Jesus described it (narrow is the way... but broad is the way... (see Matt 7:13).

So now we have been to Hell and back, and our friends can say they have been, "To Hell with Phil and Brenda!".

Even after being there, I have to ask, " Where the Hell is the sporting goods store?", because we only saw the work-out (trenings) studio.

Hell if I know... anything about the real hell; it's that it is a WHOLE LOT worse than Hell, NO.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Time Zones

I (Phil) have been blessed to travel to a LOT of different time zones.  In my younger days, I scarcely noticed.  We would fly to England, or Germany, or Bermuda, or Iceland, and tour, or run, or whatever we planned, regardless of our circadian clock.    I am not sure how many years ago, but more recently, I have discovered that is NO LONGER true. 

Now my body can detect a 1-hour change in time zone.  My rule of thumb currently is that it takes me about one day per hour of time zone change.

Before daylight savings time, we were 7 hours ahead of Alabama.  DST moves us down to 6 hours. Whoopee, one less day of adjustment...

Then Sweden went to DST and now we are back to 7! 
Being 7 hours ahead has advantages:

  • We get a 7-hour head-start on the USA day.
  •  We can work in "front" of USA.
…and disadvantages.
  • When I am ready to quit work here, my mates back in USA are still generating lots of work emails.
  • Deadlines come 7 hours sooner.

I like the idea of being ahead. I don't like the idea of deadlines at all.  In fact I endeavor to work pretty far ahead on the calendar, so that I avoid the stress of deadlines.

Some stress you can avoid, so why not?  Other stress you can't avoid.

P.S. Quiz
The poor picture of that last employee clock-in timepiece has significance.   It is an import into Sweden from the USA from one of the most widely recognized names in USA business.  It is from... you guess!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Deer in Sweden

Those who know me, know that I love white-tailed deer.  They are peaceful, capable, beautiful creatures... and delicious!

I was thrilled to see deer tracks on the road outside our house, from our first days here.  Over the last 3-4 weeks the tracks have disappeared, but one day a week or so back, we saw the real thing.  Sure enough at about 5:30 in the AM, I looked out and a young deer was walking within about 40 yards of our window.  I ran and got the camera, and here it is in the neighbor's yard (that brown spec in middle of frame):

Not too good eh?

But a few days before that, our pastor's youngest daughter had promised to show us some deer.  She showed us a whole herd of deer!

Deer don't do much, they eat, they sleep, they mate.  Ted Nugent once noted, "In that way, they are a lot like the French."

But G^D created the deer with tremendous instincts.  I never cease to be amazed at the wonders of G^d's creation.

"As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, oh God." (PS 42:1).

L^rd make it so!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bath House

I (Phil) am sitting in a room full of men and women, and none of us is wearing more than  towel!

If you were hoping for pictures, there aren't any.

Mostly I keep my eyes closed, not because of temptation, but because the sweat is pouring into my eyes.

It's about 85C!  How hot is that?  Water boils at 100 C. each degree C is worth 1.8 degrees F, so about 185F!

To make matters worse, an attendant has just put crushed ice on the rocks that are heating the place.

I am sitting on the top row, and heat rises.  When the ice converts to steam, the hot dry air suddenly becomes hot steamy air.  The attendant waves a bath towel, not to cool us but to move the steam over us.

We study sweat in our lab, and I am pretty sure we are sweating at the maximal rate, but the air is so humid that sweat doesn't evaporate, it rolls off to the beautiful raw wood seats.

Sweat is mostly water.  We are mostly water. After this amount of sweating, I thirst.
"Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." Jn 7:38.

Living water is good.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Restaurangs (no, not a typo)

Restaurants are distinctive in every country.  Most countries have a Chinese restaurants.  Most places have Indian eateries.

Food is a big part of every culture.  But, food only gets us so far.

 "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

Now who said that?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seeing the BIGGGGG picture

My (Phil) personality type sees the big picture.  Now, admittedly I don't see details.  I can't do repetitive tedious tasks.  I can't focus on anything very long.

But there are advantages to seeing the Broad Scope of things.  I didn't realize that until the last few days.

Most of us go through life lost in the details.  We go to work, we make plans for holidays, we think about what's for supper.  We distract ourselves with the next toy, or the next treat, or the next pleasure.  And we miss the big thing staring us in the face.

For what doth it profit a man if he win the Nobel prize, and lose his own soul?
For what doth it profit a man to make a zillion dollars, and lose his own soul?
For what doth it profit a man to fill his short life with pleasure, and lose his own soul?

Are, what will a man give for a soul?

What's the big picture?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Day at the Races

 What a discovery!  Just a short hike from our office is a full-fledged horse-racing track.
 Talk about a business with a BIG overhead!  The track is 1 Km around, and it takes constant maintenance.
 The horses and traps and other equipment have to be stored.

 There have to be marshals all over the course, plus a crew at the finish line.  Not to mention the truck used to start some of the races.

 All this, and I was pretty much clueless to what was going one.  Martyn seemed to understand and Jesper could explain all the ends and outs, but I was a loooong way out of my element.

It was a beautiful day, a nice trip, and a cross-cultural experience.  But I remain clueless, except I know, of all the temptations I might face, gambling isn't one.

Hey, at least I have that one area that isn't tempting!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Great Swedish ideas

Probably some of the most useful aspects of travel are what we see done BETTER than is custormary in USA.  

So it is these “ideas of living” that are most interesting.

Here are some things we have seen here that might be very good to import into the USA to the degree that the Swedes do these.
  •  Parks with nice elevated fire pits and free wood!
  • Automated Parking meters. You come to the meter and get a ticket for your car.  Faster, easier for parking services, and takes credit cards!
  • Walking everywhere.
  • Spending time outside, no matter how cold.
  • Locating the sinks outside the restroom (more sanitary, convenient, efficient).
  • Extensive, practical recycling.
  • Shopping streets closed to motor traffic.
  • Signs encouraging cycling.
  • Outdoor fire pits with city-supplied wood.
  •  Different size kronar bills so that even blind people can accurately count money.
  • Triple-paned windows. (Note that Ancient Swedes used double-paned windows with moss as sealant).
  • Fika (nice snacks) after the church service.
  • Liquid Yogurt.
There's a lot we can learn from others, if we just pay attention.

There's a lot we can learn from G^d, if we just pay attention.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

News Flash: British Missionaries Warmly Received in Sweden

Our EFS congregation is hosting some missionaries from.... England.  What?  Missionaries from where?  Received warmly where?

Frog, Tasha, Custy, Simon, Jonathan, Mica, are in from Oxford University.  Frog teaches the others in a Missiology class, and this is the "proof of the pudding" right after the course.

On Saturday, we met them as they arrived from the Airport.  Anna A served us delicious waffles with freshly whipped cream, cloudberries and blueberries.  Delicious.

We took a walk, and Amanda guided us to the local herd of 6 deer.  I got a couple of photos.

On Sunday, we heard our first sermon in English, without a translator, since arriving here.

The group was active in evangelizing all around town, and gave three nights of apologetics lectures.

 Isn't it great that Christ's Love transcends oceans, cultures, languages?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Today's Parable

The only connection with Sweden is that this parable arose from a conversation with my dear friend, Dr. Torgny Smedby.

There once was a professor whose university was eager to recruit the best and brightest undergraduates.  So, when the families of highly-qualified potential students visited, they would send them to chat with professors.
One day a very bright young lady and her family visited the professor and inquired about the nature of the academic instruction there.

The professor beamed with pride and told them about the University’s classes.

“We want our students to learn, grow and apply!” he said enthusiastically.

“Our classes each meet for one or, for the very enthusiastic, two hours each week.  We meet in a large lecture hall that usually has between 100 and 700 students in it.  Everyone hears the same lectures in the same class rooms together.  Each class is made up of both the newest freshman right up to our most senior Ph.D. students, so that everyone shares exactly the same experience.  We only lecture and discourage any participation or any questions.  There is no syllabus nor systematic curriculum.  We give no exams, and best of all we give NO homework!”

Now the potential freshman was the one beaming.

The prof continued, “If your daughter decides to stay beyond her first four years, we’ll teach her the same basic stuff over and over.  Remember, she will be in classes with new freshmen, and we can’t go over their heads with material too challenging!”

The parents were appalled and decided that there must be a better alternative for educating and training their daughter.  Alas, but the only alternative educational approaches were outside the official university!

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Friday, April 13, 2012

For the Birds

I really enjoy seeing the birds here.  So far we have seen:

  • Magpies
  • Mallards
  • Yellow Wagtails
  • Jackdaw crows
  • Canadian geese
  • Eurasian Coots
  • Gulls
It has been surprisingly hard to get any pictures of them.

There is something fascinating about birds.  As a youngster I studied birds whilst recovering from severe burns to my back, which almost killed me.

Birds are fragile creatures, with necessarily light weight (relatively fragile) bones. The fact that they can fly is amazing, launching into flight in a flash, dodging around obstacles and alighting ever so accurately on a small branch, that you would think would be hard to even see while in flight.

There are lots of birds in the world, and how they survive their fragility is impressive.

Yet, Jesus said, every sparrow that falls is noted by G^d, then even more surprisingly he says, "You are worth many sparrows."  I didn't see that one coming!

But it is a great comfort.