IMG-20130525-00320Late last month a group of 14 volunteers from Free Christian Church in Andover, MA ventured south to help with the work of Harvest Hands Ministries (www.harvesthandsministries.org). Our hosts were missionaries Terri and Gary Matthewson in New Mexico who are involved in many Christian efforts in the nearby Mexican state of Chihuahua. Over the last 13 years the Church has sent several such teams of volunteers.

The FCC team brought money for supplies along with workers eager to help the desperately poor people that live in this hot, arid part of the world. We were one of several such Church groups which come each year to serve Christ through the work of this ministry. It made me proud to be an American and a Christian to see how many people are willing to take their time and money to help those in need!

The team loaded up supplies in El Paso, TX and then crossed the Rio Grande into Cuidad Juarez, its international sister city. In addition to contributions for building materials, food and supplies, we brought seven hundred pounds each of rice, flour and beans. The food was separated into smaller portions and offered to the poor residents of the area.

Harvest Hands founded and supports Resplandor de Vida Children’s home located on the outskirts of Juarez. Most of our time on this trip was spent supporting this home. Volunteers come for a week or so, put in as much labor as possible and then the facility waits for more money and workers to further the work. This is was my second trip to the mission. My wife Annie, son Ben and daughter Mikaila have all made previous trips.

Resplandor De Vida is in located inside of a walled fortress with high concrete block walls topped by razor wire and a padlocked gate. There is another such compound a short walk away, also was built by Harvest Hands, which is where the mission trip workers stay along with the property caretaker (Santos) and his family. The bible verse on the sign states in English: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart…”

IMG-20130525-00320There are intended to be two children’s dormitories, each housing 25 kids of each male and female. Currently there is one building finished housing 35, with the other still under construction. Completion will be as God provides workers and funds.

Here the children’s basic needs are met as well as special needs on an individual basis (i.e.: psychological and educational). The children are also given spiritual guidance through daily devotions, Wednesday evening church services and daily attendance at a Christian school.

Since this is a children’s home and not an orphanage, the children go to their familial homes on the weekends, returning Sunday evening. During the time when we were not working and the kids were not away at school, there was plenty of time to share the joy of Christ or just joy! We built ramps, played games and bought them new bikes through the generosity of folks back home in Andover, MA.

The facility is run by Joaquin Estupiñan, chosen by Harvest Hands due to his commitment to help children and their families deal with severe poverty. He knows most of the families in the area and has a great reputation for caring and helping when asked. There are extreme cases of neglect, abuse, hunger, despair, and other forms of distress. As part of the community, Joaquin can help as soon as he is made aware of a need.

This people live in quiet desperation, in scorching heat, filth, and with an often corrupt government. Juarez is often listed as one of the most dangerous places in the world. Still, despite the horrible poverty and difficult circumstances, they do what they can to survive…note the sign above which states in English: “Food is sold for pig”.

In addition to regular financial support from Churches throughout the US as well as visiting mission teams, there are also opportunities to support individual children. For a nominal fee Harvest Hands will be able to support an additional child who might otherwise not get to go to school, learn of Christ’s love, or get adequate food and health care. I strongly urge you to either take part in a mission trip, or offer monthly support for a child. We grow stronger as a person each time we support someone in need.

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There are a large number of great places to visit within a day’s drive of the Boston area: north-Vermont, Maine, NH, Canada; south-Cape Cod and the islands, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York City; west-Berkshires, upstate NY.

Because of all the potential journeys but with not enough time, we never made it too far “Down East” Maine. We have visited Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Rockport, and are almost regular visitors to Kennebunkport and Portland, ME- all great areas. But never had we driven the six hours or so to get to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

We had heard great stories about the beauty of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park; but was it worth the travel time? Would it be too cold? Would we be bored with nothing to do there? Summer 2012 it was time to find out!

At first we intended to stay at a wonderful oceanfront campground that was recommended to us: http://koa.com/campgrounds/bar-harbor-oceanside/. But I was not sure that my wife could take camping for a week, so we rented a lovely little cottage in Southwest Harbor, a charming small town on Mt. Desert Island. I would give the name of the rental agent, but we were not too happy with them…

If you have not travelled through some of the nicer destinations in New England, you might be surprised to find out that even small towns often have some amazing food options, and Southwest Harbor did not disappoint. Our location was removed from the constant bustle of Bar Harbor, but still had much to do.

Some of the things we did while on the island: biking around Acadia and up Cadillac Mountain (hard), dinner and drinks, shopping and boating in Bar Harbor, took in an entertaining Improv show, went to a farmer’s market, bought great baked goods from various people selling out of their houses, rode in a lobster boat with my grandson, spent a day rock climbing with my son on cliffs above the ocean (very hard and a little scary but worth it), drove the access road and hiked all around Acadia. We even saw a prettly lame lumberjack show: embarrassingly bad….

My son was happy as fireworks are now legal in Maine so that killed  a couple of nights. We wanted to fly a glider but ran out of time. Read a couple of books, played games, lots of good clean, healthy fun.

At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic coast and is the first place to view the sunrise in the United States in the Fall and Winter months. The panoramic views from the summit are amazing, and this entire area is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.  There is much to do outside, and gourmet food options are endless. But next year we will have the same dilemma: with so many choices and so little time….

Acadia National Park and Mt. Desert Island are strongly recommended!

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The last couple of years I have been after my wife to hike Mt. Washington with me. I had not hiked it since I was a teen and it seemed like a good idea. She, however, did not share my enthusiasm and as a retort, purchased the book “Not Without Peril” for me to read. This book describes in excruciating detail all the people that have died on the mountain in every month of the year.

Most people know that Mt. Washington has some of the worst weather in the world, and that it deserves a great deal of respect. Despite tremendous search and rescue teams,since 1849 there have been 137 deaths among those trying to reach the summit. Each year there are a lot of close calls, serious injuries and typically a few more deaths. The mountain is even listed in a popular blog (www.gearjunkie.com/worlds-10-most-dangerous-mountains) as one of the 10 most dangerous mountains in the world, mostly due to its unpredictable and extreme weather.

According to the Mount Washington Observatory website (www.mountwashington.org), due to the fact that the site is within a day’s drive of 70 million people, the summit receives a quarter million visits per year. Only a relatively small number actually hike; most drive to the top, take a shuttle bus or the Cog Railway. Most who visit the summit each year experience no problems whatsoever. Yet each year several “close calls” accentuate the dangers of the mountain.

Danger and death can occur for many reasons on the mountain, but generally involve ill-prepared hikers, skiers and climbers. Others are just accidents, with injuries sustained by slips, falls, falling ice, rock slides, avalanches, rushing torrents, etc. While the main causes of death are falls, hypthermia and natural causes (men and women of any age not as fit as they thought), people have died from car, carriage, slideboard, railroad and 10 from airplane accidents. Five people died from drowning in raging mountain streams.

You must be in pretty good shape to make this trek, and reasonably well prepared. I found out that another man who was about my age had a heart attack on the same trail the day after we went. He was out with his two daughters; one stayed with him, the other went for help. Sadly he did not make it.

Now I am often accused of not only looking for adventure and challenges that may not befit my age, but looking for partners that I can convince to do them with me. I am no reckless daredevil, but generally feel that I am fit and brave enough to do anything a few levels below Evel Knievel. Luckily my kids mostly share my desire for adventure, and will gladly join me as time and money permit.

Such was a trip in August with my two sons to the summit of Mt. Washington on the Tuckerman Ravine trail. We wanted to go up and down as fast as we could, and scout out the headwall for a possible ski trip there next Spring.

We intended to stay at a high elevation at the Lake of the Clouds Hut but it was full. So we stayed in Joe Dodge Lodge at the base and planned a quick trip up and down. (Joe Dodge Lodge is a pretty nice if spartan place, but don’t get the meal plan unless your palate is broad. There is only one item on the dinner menu and on our night it was fish balls. I could not get my sons to eat it, and the staff would not refund my money so I lost about $85. There are many other great places to eat in Mt. Washington Valley.)

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Although our trip was in August, it was cold and rainy at the base the morning we headed out. After breakfast we signed the registration book and ventured onto the Tuckerman Trail. We were not 15 minutes out when we came upon a group that was heading back in, having decided that it was too miserable and possibly dangerous to continue that day. Having come all that way, we did not intend to quit do to rain and slippery rocks, but were a little more wary.

The lower part of the mountain was not that steep, though it was challenging to walk up the slope on slippery rocks while keeping a good pace. With the ever-present threat of worsening weather on this mountain, there is always a certain motivation to keep moving rapidly.

By the time the first hour was behind us and the headwall was in site, amazingly we were blessed with sunshine which was not in the forecast. When we got to the steeper parts, the rain came back and we had really slowed our pace. I was a little worried about my 14 year old son, since he is not always the most cautious and there are several places where you can fall hundreds of feet.

Happy To be at the Summit!

The terrain at the higher elevations of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is like a rock graveyard, with nothing but large slippery rocks and small rivers of water charging down the mountain. Foggy as it was, we needed the sturdy cairns to mark our way. It is easy to get lost, and had to keep reminding ourselves to focus on these old markers.

It took us three hours to walk up in bad conditions, and about 2.5 hours to hike down. (Soaken wet and cold at the summit, we were tempted to take the shuttle back.) It was a good workout, and by the time we were almost back were were starting to stumble on the slippery rocks. It was a little easier than I remembered, but my muscles let me know I had worked hard for the better part of a week. I could barely walk up stairs for several days.

Since Mt. Washington is also home to the highest number of heavy cloud days per year in the continental US (244 on average), our chances for a panoramic view of the valley was slim. Sure enough, when we got to the top, it was if we were in whiteout snow conditions. We could not see the buildings that were right in front of us due to heavy clouds and fog. I have been to the top when there was a nice view, and it is much better than seeing nothing but fog. Still, it is pretty cool up there when you can’t see anything!

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Summit on a More Typical Day

When my wife sees something new and innovative that she likes, she says: “that is the coolest thing I have ever seen!”. Well King Spa & Sauna in Chicago and Dallas may not be the coolest thing I have ever seen, but it is pretty cool.

Jjim-Jil-Bang spas such as this have become a part of Korean community culture and are popping up in the US. Similar in some ways to Russian Baths, they feature hot and cold baths and saunas that are used to relax and de-stress.

I was recently in Chicago, and was able to spend a few hours at King Spa (www.kingspa.com). Very large and immaculately clean, my visit was thoroughly enjoyable. It is half gender-separate, and half co-ed.

Each man or woman enters the appropriate side into the locker room, where you are expected to immediately take off your shoes and get completely naked. I know this is big in parts of Europe and Asia, but it took a little getting used to. Bathing with so many men, with an occasional young boy bathing next to me: not my favorite thing. As far as nationalities go, I would guess it was about 60% Korean, 20% Eastern European with the balance everyone else.

The workers in the locker room MAKE SURE you wash thoroughly before entering any of the aromatic pools of varying temps. Everything is impeccably clean. I could have also gotten a massage and a body scrub, but I really do not think I would like a male masseuse scrubbing me down: one of those American peculiarities. I did enjoy the steam room before being handed shorts and a top to enter the co-ed area.

Between the two sides, there was a meditation room where some men sleep. Since you get 24 hours for your $25 entrance fee, some people spend the night. If you can sleep on a thin mat with many other people I guess it is a bargain!

Now clothed, I ventured over to the other side where men, women and children of all ages chattered and wandered. There was a large relaxation room with many comfy lounge chairs, televisions and free wifi. I made a mental note to avoid times when kids are present: it is hard to relax with kids are being kids.

I was surprised to find several saunas located in a much larger room. It included the amethyst room, salt room, Fire Sudatorium, charcoal room, among others including an ice room. I, of course, had to try them all! Some too hot, some too cold, some too many people inside, and some just right! Even though the signs say “Be Quiet!”, I found out that there are inconsiderate people in every language…

There is a pretty large Korean restaurant so I ordered a stir fry dinner which was very good. Not really sure what some very spicy vegetable dishes were, but it was enjoyable.

Again, I was foolish to come on a Saturday early evening due to the noise level, but I can see at the right time this would be very enjoyable and relaxing. I did not see any evidence that any of the men were overly friendly, so it certainly is not THAT kind of bathhouse. I just would come again when it is not busy and kids would be at home: like late on a weeknight.

As I get older, but not quite “old”, I feel an ever-increasing need to make a mark, to leave a legacy, and enjoy every moment on this earth to the fullest! God has many purposes for me; some of which I have fulfilled, many I have missed, hopefully many more to come. I mourn the loss of the years I have wasted, and vow to make the most of what I have left.

Where can I help? Where can I go? What can I leave my kids and grandkids?

I am not sure where the phrase YOLO came from, but this is what it means to me:

– Enjoy each and every day as much as possible, striving for new adventures!

– Be efficient and responsible with the time God has given me, knowing that it will end soon.

 – Contribute to our society in some important ways as I feel led.

– Leave a legacy and a good name to my children.

Sliding to a free beer at finish line!

Just leaving the rope loops

The obstacle course/mud race known as the Ruckus Run (www.runruckus.com) had it’s Boston version Saturday, June 16 and Father’s Day June 17, 2012 at the Marshfield Fairgrounds in Massachusetts. Six of my kids and spouses, aged 13 to 31 ran with me on Father’s Day. Purportedly I was the oldest and my son James was the youngest participants of the day. We had the choice of a two mile track of mostly obstacles and mud, or a four mile track that added a long run through the woods and cranberry bogs. Being a competitive family that is always looking for a challenge, we entered the four mile Challenge Course.

The obstacles ranged from mud-filled paths under nets and bridges, to large mud-pools, to wooden barriers and large mounds to climb, to nets and ropes to climb through.  The obstacles made sure that we got a full-body workout and that we were tired, but in a strange way equalized the competition. The runners had to stop and use different muscles; those of us that are not runners got a break as it broke up the course every few hundred yards or so. Women and men under 5′ were at a little disadvantage as some of the barriers were high.

 

Very happy to finish well

Even with the longer run, we all finished between 40 and 60 minutes. While I am not a runner, I can push myself when needed, and I got through it fine. With my kids and grandkids there, we had a great day! It was a beautiful day, and we all had a great deal of fun! Free beer from Harpoon awaited us at the end of our run. We immediately started thinking of competing in similar runs.

There are races like Tough Mudder, Warriors Race,  Zombies, etc. Some are shorter sprints, some are “death races” over multiple days. Some are combative with either zombies or warriors attacking runners near the finish line.

Good workout and ready for beer!

The Spartan series of races (www.spartanrace.com) is interesting and offers a wide range of challenges. We already signed up for the 3+ mile/15 obstacle Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, MA on August 12, 2012. It acts as a qualifier for the 8+ mile/20+ obstacle Super Spartan race. After that comes the 12+ mile/25+ obstacle Spartan Beast race. Finally the Spartan Death race, which purportedly takes more than 48 hours which less than 10% of entrants even finish.

I always wanted to do a long triathlon, or even an ironman. But that would take months of swim training which I do not have time for. These obstacle course challenges are a lot of fun, and they can be tailored to your ability and fitness levels.

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Every year for the past decade or so, I complete a juice fast around the beginning of the year. Each year I drink nothing but water and home-prepared juice for up to three weeks. It may sound daunting and crazy for those that have not done it (understatement), but I find it of tremendous benefit to my health and well-being!
At first I fasted primarily for health and fitness reasons or to jump start an exercise program that I was embarking on. I have fasted to get rid of a bout with candida yeast left over from the poor diet and medications taken in my youth. I have fasted to get rid of fat, and to quickly detoxify.

In recent years, while I still enjoy the health benefits, I primarily fast for spiritual reasons and to clear my head. I want to make wise choices in the coming year and look to God for direction.

In my opinion fasting is a tremendous option for almost everyone, but those among us who are quite ill should get advise from a qualified alternative medicine physician. Fasting can be sheer drudgery or a very pleasant experience; it all depends on your mental attitude. In order to get through it with the most benefit and the least amount of suffering, you need to educate yourself on its benefits and really believe that you are going to feel great when it is done. If you go into it blindly, every day will be hell.

In order to get properly motivated, I spend several hours re-reading about fasting’s benefits from such websites as http://www.rawpeople.com or the hundreds of other good sites that deal with the subject. I scan through some of my books by Dr. Elson Haas and others about the benefits of detoxifying and fasting. I watch Pastor Jentezen Franklin’s (www.jentezenfranklin.org) tv show where he and both of his very large Churches take part in communal spiritual fasts to remind me that God suggested/directed all of us to fast and pray.

As a family we have been trying to eat healthier food and have spent more time this past year researching where the food we eat comes from. For that reason I watched documentaries like Food Inc. and King Corn which give us a somber look into what goes into our food, especially corn and corn products. These essentially blame large industries and government subisdies for creating processed foods that are making us ill and obese. Forks Over Knives attempts to convince us that veganism is the key to health, though I only agree with parts of this premise.

The most appropriate video I found on this subject is Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead! which is the story of an Austrailian man’s quest for health by completing a long juice fast. He is tormented by scaly disease and impending obesity and is desperate for a cure. The story is especially interesting as you can see his health, and appearance improve each week he is on the fast.

Most of us are not that out of shape or have that much fat to lose, but many of us are in poor health because of many years of a poor diet. We have nagging aches and pains, or cloudy thinking. We have allergies that we do not know where they came from. We want to think clearly, or draw closer to God.

If you follow the general rules of juice fasting you WILL get rid of lots of fat and detoxify your body. I encourage all of you no matter what your health and fitness level to consider fasting as a way to jump start your health and your life!