Friday, September 29, 2006

Culture: Where to park your retirement money?

Like most people my age, we wonder what shape Social Security will be in by the time we retire.

My guess is that it will still be around when I hit the golden years (as a 1963 child, I'm considered by some to be in the very tail end of the Baby Boom) but for people younger than me, it is possible that by then it will have to be seriously modified to be sustained.

So what to do?

Certainly, as much as possible, I'd advise self-financing your retirement.

If you work is offering a 401k or 403b plan, then by all means sign up and start parking some money in it.

If your work place doesn't offer such things, look into an IRA either a traditional one or a Roth. I'm still learning which one to use under which circumstances. The Roth IRA uses currently taxed dollars which then are tax-free when you draw upon it in retirement. The Traditional IRA uses current untaxed dollars which will be taxed (theoretically at a lower tax rate) when you draw it out in retirement.

If you are a finanical expert reading this blog, have I got the general idea right about the IRAs?

But whatever vehicle you use (401k, 403b, IRA, Roth) you have to decide your asset allocation.

The general concept is that the farther away your retirement is, the greater percentage of your assets should be in aggressive (and risky) items like stocks.

For instance, my current allocation in my 403b is as follows:
35% S&P 500 stock index fund
20% Small cap growth fund
20% International fund
15% Bond fund
10% Money market fund

I decided to compare my allocation with the "experts."

I went to Vanguard Mutual Funds and looked up their Target Retirement Fund 2030.

They are more aggressive than my allocation:
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund - 70.9%
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund - 11.4%
Vanguard European Stock Index Fund - 10.5%
Vanguard Pacific Stock Index Fund - 5.0%
Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund - 2.2%

The people over at American Century have something called Livestrong 2035.

Their allocation is also more aggressive than mine but not as aggressive as Vanguard:
78.45% Stocks (15% international)
21.05% Bonds
0.5% Money Market

In summary, Vanguard has 88% in stock, American Century has 78% in stock and I have 75% in stock.

What would you do?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Non-profit of the month: September 2006 - Stand to Reason

Ever have questions about the Bible?

Or something you don't understand about Christianity?

One of the places I go to for a good discussion about something I'm puzzled by is Stand to Reason.

What is their mission statement? Check it out here. I cut and paste it below:
Stand to Reason trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.
So next time you have an issue you are concerned about or someone raises with you, mouse click over to STR.com and run a search to see what insight they have over there.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sports: Nomar does it again!

Went to my sixth game at Dodger stadium today and it was another dramatic finish! Nomar hit a walk off grand slam to keep the Dodgers in the race in the 5-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Last Monday, Nomar hit a walk-off two-run homer to give the Dodgers an 11-10 victory over the Padres!

There are 6 games left. The Dodgers are 1 1/2 game behind San Diego in the NL West and 1/2 game behind Philadelphia in the wild-card.

Playoff tickets go on sale on Monday.

In 2003, the Dodgers were in the hunt but they were only going to get into the playoffs by winning the NL West and they were playing catch up. It was pretty easy to get playoff tickets. The Dodgers put your money in the bank and collect interest. When the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs, I had to send back my tickets before they would issue a refund. I wonder how much in interest did they make on true believers like me who bought the tickets hoping they would pull it off.

In 2004, the Dodgers lead the NL West (clinching on the 2nd to last game of the season) and put playoff tickets on sale. Between stadium sales and internet sales, all tickets were gone within two hours.

I wonder what will happen tomorrow?

Dear Blog Readers, if your favorite team was in this spot, would you buy tickets?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: How will it all end?

One of the debates in Christian theology is how does the world as we know it come to an end. We all agree that in the end, God's justice will prevail. However, how do we get there?

Joel 3 appears to be one of those passages in the Bible that looks at how it all works out. Its long and its confusing so I'll try to blog through it a little bit at a time.

I'll make the disclaimer right up front: I'm not a theologian. I'm just an ordinary Christian who is trying to understand what the Bible is saying. On 99% of matters, the Bible is pretty clear - what part of the 10 Commandments do I not understand? Or how does my life stack up to the definition of love in I Corinthians 13.

Here goes, the first three verses of Joel 3:

In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will enter into judgment against them
concerning my inheritance, my people Israel,
for they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine
that they might drink.

In Joel 2, we had seen (1) the locusts (or some other great troubles) do damage, (2) the people turn back to God, (3) God blessing the people, (4) the Spirit poured out and then (5) the Day of the Lord.

Question: does this cycle of events repeat itself throughout human history?

The 5th event of this cycle is described in very cataclysmic fashion. So perhaps the events of 1 to 4 are repeated and in the last iteration we finally have step 5?

I'll set aside that question for now because I don't have an answer!

But what is here before us in Joel 3:1-3.

... when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem ...

When is that?

There is debate among Bible scholars as to when the book of Joel was written. Since there is a reference to King Jehoshaphat, the earliest would be when he was king (873–849 B.C.).

Since there is also a statement that suggests Judah and Jerusalem are in a shambles and one day will be restored, there are two possible time points I can think of:
(1) Exile period post 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem but before the restoration under Ezra-Nehemiah which means in some sense this has been fulfilled
(2) Ezra-Nehemiah period and beyond - the restoration of Jerusalem was regarded as somewhat under-whelming compared to its prior glory so Joel may be describing some much grander restoration.

Those who take a literalist approach to this passage would point to 1948 when the nation of Israel was re-established.

Those who take a non-literal approach would say the blessing promised here to Israel has been transfered to the church and will be fulfilled in a spiritual way. St. Peter cited Joel 2 in his sermon in Acts 2 which suggests he believed the pouring out of the Spirit applied to the church and one wonders if St. Peter believed that Joel 3 logically and temporally followed that event?

Again, I can't say I know which explanation is more valid.

What next?

... I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat ...

Alas, there is no Valley of Jehoshaphat in Israel. However, we do know Jehoshaphat means "the LORD judges." We also know that Jehoshaphat was one of the rare good kings. So perhaps the meaning would be similar to "valley of decision" as seen in Joel 3:14.

Indeed, that is what happens there.

... there I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel ...

Why should judgement fall against these people

they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine
that they might drink.

Well deserved. There should be a special place in hell for those who buy and sell children.

Lord, I don't know when this passage will come to fulfillment. It is a sad fact that some of these things happen today. I trust that a time will come when judgment will fall upon those who do such evil. In the meantime, may Christians be at the forefront fighting for justice until your final justice arrives. In the meantime, I don't know how to pray for people who kill people with suicide bombs. But I pray that your Spirit would tell them it is wrong and if they should harden their hearts, I trust that justice will be done to them in this life and in the next. Lord, open my eyes to my own sin so that I may turn to you and ask for mercy, forgiveness and the power to be transformed into Christ-likeness. Amen.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Your sons and daughters will prophesy

Joel 2:28-32 is on the screen in front of me.

To recap, previously, there was the vivid descriptions of the locusts and the damage they leave in their wake. This was followed by calls to repentance. In the passage before this one, we see how the Lord answers and restores what the locusts have eaten.

What happens next?

And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Isn't this a beautiful sight?

We think of prophesy as people predicting the future like a fortune teller. There is some of that but mostly it is about speaking for God.

God is not silent. As part of restoration after repentance, God will pour the Spirit on people such that even though they are of the younger generation, they will speak for God. Additionally, it mentions that both sexes will participate in this outworking of the Spirit. The blessing is then repeated saying both young and old will have visions and dreams. The blessing is repeated again, in this case re-iterating that men and women are mentioned as equal recipients of the Spirit's power.

Look at the structure:
A' Pour out Spirit on all people
B' Sons and daughters will prophecy
C' Old dream dreams
C" Young see visions
B" both men and women
A" Pour out Spirit in those days

That is how poetry often works: saying the same thing in a slightly different way to reinforce the main idea - pouring out the Spirit.

As a brief tangent, in Christianity, there has been a long running controversy on what the role of women should be in the church. Many volumes of books have been written and many presentation given. I've read a few of the discussions on the subject and have had dialogs with people on both sides of the issue. Perhaps, I'll share my perspective on some other occasion. However, I will mention that this passage is often cited by those who support a larger role for women in the church.

Repentance, restoration, pouring out of the Spirit ... what next?

I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.

The astronomical signs are frightening. Literal or figurative?

Don't know. Certainly, when the locusts filled up the sky it seemed quite literal to the people. I'm sure to people who have lived near where a volcano blows up and the air is filled with stuff, it looks like this. Probably even people who have lived near a major brush fire, have seen something like this. In any case, the feeling evoked is that the end of the world as we know it is at hand. Literal or figurative, either way, the Day of the LORD looms.

Interestingly, four out of five occurrence of the phrase "Day of the LORD" is in the future tense in Joel. You can run the search too!

Joel 1:15, the day of the LORD is near
Joel 2:1, the day of the LORD is coming
Joel 2:11, day of the LORD is great
Joel 2:31, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD
Joel 3:14, the day of the LORD is near

The day indeed will be dreadful. But there is still hope.

And everyone who calls
on the name of the LORD will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the LORD has said,
among the survivors
whom the LORD calls.

God's hammer of justice will ultimately fall but not before God exhausts every possible attempt to achieve reconciliation. God's biggest intervention for this purpose is the sending of Jesus.

With this in mind, Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:14-21 cited large portions of this passage in Joel.

Peter probably saw the times he lived in as the years that the locusts had eaten. Jesus came to restore the people. After the restoration, the Spirit is poured out.

Lord, thank you that there is still time. The dreadful day of the LORD remains to come. Until then, the Spirit is being poured out and people speak out for God bringing hope. God help me to confess my sin and repent and ask you for restoration and then ask you for the Spirit to help me speak for you so others will have hope. Looking around the world today it seems so bleak. In places on this planet, the locusts have done their damage. In the lives of too many people there is just ashes. But you remain ready, willing, longing, reaching to restore. God help me to be one of your instruments in that great quest. Amen.

Sports: Dodger Fans are Nervous

1/2 game lead. The Padres who have beaten the Dodgers like a drum all season are in town for four games. A showdown between two wily veterans. It doesn't get any more dramatic than this in baseball.

GO Dodgers!

News: Ford Trims its Workforce

It is a sign of the times. Normally, this kind of news doesn't register with me very much. However, I do happen to drive a Ford Focus. The other day I was driving to the dealership to do routine 20,000 mile maintenance and it seemed odd ... the dealership was closed. The service section was closed. There were no cars in the showroom.

I called the number for the service department and got a voice mail saying the location was closing after all these years and it has been a pleasure to serve all our loyal customers.

Hopefully, all those folks at that dealership will be able to find jobs at other locations or find new careers in other industries.

In my family's car experience, the quality bench mark is what happens around 50,000 miles. Some of the cars we have had in the past, domestic and imports, started to fall apart at that point. However, we have had some champs that blew through that milestone all the way up to 100,000 with little difficulty.

My purchasing of a Ford Focus was based on the reports that American cars were finally improving in quality. So far so good. But I'm looking ahead to that 50,000+ mark and seeing how the car does then. If it performs like a champ, I'll be giving the good word for the Ford Focus!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Culture: Writing to the LA Commission on Human Relations

Subject: Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations Award
Date: September 14, 2006 10:46:30 PM PDT
To: rtoma@hrc.co.la.ca.us, risaacs@innercitylaw.org, afroAmNews@aol.com, scumming@ix.netcom.com, adriandove@hotmail.com
Cc: Mantonovich@lacbos.org, Dknabe@bos.lacounty.gov, Zev@bos.lacounty.gov, Molina@lacbos.org, Yburke@lacbos.org, rtoma@hrc.co.la.ca.us

Dear Los Angeles County Commission:

I have recently been informed that your commission intends to recognize Dr. Maher Hathout of the Muslim Public Affairs Council with an award later this year.

In reading comments for (Daniel Sokatch) and against (David A. Lehrer and Joe R. Hicks) his selection for this award in the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times of September 14, 2006, I feel compelled to express my opinion that you should seriously reconsider your decision.

A search of the LA Times yielded an article by Teresa Watanabe dated September 12 that described the heated public hearing where both sides expressed their views on Dr. Hathout. It would seem to me that an individual that has generated such controversy would be a dubious candidate for receiving a Human Relations award. If the goal of the award is to highlight an individual who has fostered unity amidst our diverse city, how is it possible that he has received such vigorous opposition?

Individuals are entitled to express their opinions. However, in the context of an award for building human relations, I have to be concerned about Dr. Hathout's selection as he has made comments that seem somewhat ambiguous about terrorism that borders on justification. Additionally, though Dr. Hathout's is entitled to be critical of Israel, if he uses rhetoric that is offensive to Jews then I would question his credentials as a bridge builder in human relations.

I look forward to hearing from the newspaper the decision of your commission.

Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns.

Sincerely,

Religion: What is a PC-USA Church Member to Do?

Was listening to Dennis Prager on the radio this morning and he mentioned a report in the Wall Street Journal (I don't have a subscription) that the Presbyterian Church USA's publishing house has released a book with the title, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11. The book is currently the Featured Book on its home page.

The book summary on the web says the author argues that the US Government was complicit in 9/11 and that the USA is the new Roman Empire.

Unbelievable.

I wonder what PC-USA bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Mark D. Roberts will have to say.

I attend a PC-USA church which I am pleased to be a part of. My guess is that most of the congregation if told about such non-sense would be outraged.

What is the typical PC-USA church member to do?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Restore what the locusts have eaten

Am looking at Joel 2:18-27.

Previously, we saw vivid descriptions of the locust swarm that was about to hit the nation. This was followed by a call to return to God. This was the organization of chapter one as well as the beginning part of chapter two.

Here we continue on in chapter two and find the response of God.

Then the LORD became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.


Ever heard of the word, anthropomorphism?

This idea is the habit of humans to give human attributes to the non-human. Some might go so far as to say, humans have created god in his own image. Certainly, those who don't believe in god would spin it that way.

However, if there is a god, then how do we describe that god?

Alas, we have to use human terms however imperfect they may be.

In my journey of faith, the book Disappointment with God helped me more fully grab onto the idea of God as wanting a relationship with us.

Indeed, there are descriptions of God as fiery and angry at sin and evil and injustice. And there are passages like this one where God is seen as compassionate and desiring restoration.

The LORD answered and said to his people,
"Behold, I am sending to you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
a reproach among the nations.

Then the passage briefly switches to what happens to the locusts.

"I will remove the northerner far from you,
and drive him into a parched and desolate land,
his vanguard into the eastern sea,
and his rear guard into the western sea;
the stench and foul smell of him will rise,
for he has done great things.

They are once again personified as an enemy army. Because of the geography of the land of Israel, many invaders would come from the north.

The eastern sea is probably a reference to the Dead Sea and the western sea would obviously be the Mediterranean. These explanations were offered in one of the resource books I've been looking at occasionally as I read through Joel has been Bible Background Commentary - Old Testament". I also have the companion volume for the New Testament.

Joel returns to sharing the positive news of God's blessing returning to the nation as a result of their repentance.

"Fear not, O land;
be glad and rejoice,
for the LORD has done great things!
Fear not, you beasts of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

"Be glad, O children of Zion,
and rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the latter rain, as before.

"The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.

"You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Isn't this a beautiful turn of phrase, I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.

Certainly, in the past few days as we remembered 9/11, sadness draped over many people. Even living here in Los Angeles and not knowing anyone who was lost, I felt the sense of mourning and just didn't have any spring in my step on Monday. I can't imagine what it was like for those who did lose someone.

Yet, I'd like to believe, for all those family and friends, hope rises with the morning and that during the day, new blessings mingle together with sad memories and that at the end of the day, there is satisfaction and gratitude that the mercies of God have ruled the day.

Lord, we have all suffered loss in some way. Yet, in this story, there is restoration. Help me to turn to you with all the broken pieces of my life and give them over to you. I ask that you would restore and re-create as you will the features of my life. Amen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

News: Path to 9/11

There have been many documentaries and dramatizations about the events of 9/11.

The ones I have seen have focused mostly on United flight 93. I've seen some television programs that looked at the timeline of response by the FAA, the military and our political leaders. We would get thumbnail sketches of the terrorists.

In watching Path to 9/11, I think the most striking thing was the picture we get of the terrorists. It is one thing to see their pictures in the paper and a brief blurb about them. It is another thing to see them fleshed out in the dramatic recreation.

Most of the the outcry of about the film has focused on what some view as inaccurate portrayals of the Clinton Administration.

Certainly, factual inaccuracies and excessive dramatic license should be criticized. However, as it were, people are majoring in the minors.

The "heart" of the movie are the terrorist. We see them in their determination. These people are not crazy. They have a view of the world and all their actions are consistent with what they believe. This is something so alien to us that we are at a loss to grasp it.

Most moving to me were the various scenes involving Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. He saw what the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and Usama Bin Laden did and could do. He understood and he hoped his American supporters would come to understand the danger that he faced was going to be faced by all the world.

One non-profit, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is trying to help the rest of the world understand the Muslim world by translating what is being shown on television in the Middle-East.

Be sure to check out their documentary that compiles the Middle East's view of the events of 9/11.

Suffice to say, it was shocking.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Travel: Yosemite 2006 - Tuolumne Meadows, part III

Fishing Tips

Am not a expert fisherman but I have a friend who loves trout fishing. Thus, before setting off to Yosemite, I got his advice for a simple approach to what could be done right out of the backpack.

I got a "pack rod."

I bought a 5'6" rod that broke down into four pieces from Troutlet.com. Specifically, I got this one.

I got a budget reel. If you poke around the Troutlet.com site, you can spend 10x more money!

My fisherman friend recommended 2lb test line from Maxima. He said, trout can see heavier lines and get wary so going with 2lb will improve your chances.

Lastly, I picked up four lures at Sport's Chalet. I used a Rooster Tail but got it snagged after a few casts and lost it! I then tied on the Super Duper. While at Fletcher Lake, Leonard and I caught about four trout with this lure!



Here is one of the little guys we caught and released. We think it was a Brook Trout?

We went to Townsley Lake and continued to cast with the Super Duper and I landed this trout.



Is this a hybrid rainbow-golden trout?

On the light tackle, these trout put up a good fight!

The Super Duper got snagged and was lost.

The following day, we did some fishing at the Lyell Fork. I tied on the Kastmaster with treble hook. After several casts, I got a little too energetic and got it snagged on a tree and lost it!

We were down to our last lure, the Panther Martin spinner. The lure landed six trout and didn't get lost to snags!

I have no idea how to read a stream but I figured I looked for deep pools and cast downstream and retrieved the lure right over the fish. Got several hits this way. I also looked for some fast channels. With my sunglasses on, I noticed some trout darting up the channel I suppose looking for some food floating down. So once again, I cast downstream into the channel and it was amazing to see the trout follow the lure and strike it.

These trout ranged from 5 to 7 inches. The colors on them were vibrant! It was amazing to see the yellow spots and sometimes blue rings around red spots and some had deep orange colored bellies! All good fighters.

Saturday 19 August

We packed up our gear at Fletcher Lake and set out east.

We saw Evelyn Lake and filtered some water there.

Click here for the panorama photo of Evelyn Lake at 10,334 feet.

Besides big lakes and tall mountains, there are colorful flowers to enjoy.



We got to Lyell Canyon where we did some fishing to pass the afternoon which I described above.

For the evening, we enjoyed a campfire as we were below 9600 feet. Fires aren't permitted in higher elevations due to wood scarcity and potential resource damage.



Sunday 20 August

We packed up our stuff and before we took off, I took a few last photos of the waters.



Of course, I had to do a digital panoramic of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Pictures and Panoramics - slow load multiple pictures
Panoramics - slow load 7 large images

Friday, September 08, 2006

Travel: Yosemite 2006 - Tuolumne Meadows, part II

Friday 18 August

Back in the city, I'm usually awake a bit before 7AM because the traffic noise outside my apartment wakes me up.

While in the wilderness, there is no traffic noise!!!

The previous day's hike up to Vogelsang took a lot out of me. However, at night, the wind kicked up so things were flapping around quite a bit and my heart rate and blood pressure was up due to the altitude which also kept me awake much of the night. All of this to say, I didn't get a great night's sleep. Yet, it seems my internal clock still functions!

I poked my head out of the tent and saw beautiful blue skies and the sun peaking over the horizon. I put on my various layers for the cool morning and grabbed my digital camera and made my way to the shore of Fletcher Lake.



After a breakfast of oatmeal bought at Trader Joes, I lay down on a rock and looked at the sky.



Can you see the moon in this picture below?



After the epic 7 mile hike the previous day, we decided it would be a light day today. I knew Vogelsang Lake and Vogelsang Pass would be worth our while after browsing this helpful web page.

Check out the panoramic of Vogelsang Lake by clicking here.

We continued on our way up to the Pass and passed by this marmot.



It sat on the rock so still, we wondered if it was dead! Eventually, it did move assuring us it was alive.

As we hiked up, I couldn't help but notice how many backpackers are senior citizens. I hope that when I reach my retirement years, I'll still be in a healthy enough state to be able to venture out into the mountains like all these folks who clearly love life and the great outdoors.

We got to Vogelsang Pass and this panorama opened up before us.

When experiencing such grandeur and beauty, one can't help but ponder "micro" details about one's life leading to a profound sense of thanksgiving. For instance, I knew that the opportunity to enjoy this amazing place was made possible by traveling with my buddy Leonard. Indeed, some people backpack alone but I would not feel comfortable doing so. Fortunate for me, I have at least one friend who enjoys the outdoors enough to go on this small adventure. Thanks Leonard for making the cross-country flight to make the backcountry hike!

I have to say, my mind also went to "macro" thoughts. If God is viewed as an artist, then God works on a large canvas and yet has the greatest attention to the smallest detail. I wondered: is the artist's satisfaction in the work complete? Or is there a part of the artist who derives some additional pleasure when someone sees the work?

On this day, how many people would pass through Vogelsang Pass and marvel at the view?

How many would think of God the artist as they did so?

We had a leisurely lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gorp snacks. Our version included Trader Joe Nuts, Trader Joe Dried Fruit and M and M candies.

We hiked back toward Vogelsang Lake and here I am with Vogelsang Lake in the background.



During our hike up to Vogelsang the day before, we had run into a day hiker who shared that he went fishing at Townsley Lake which is just above Fletcher Lake. He said it wasn't hard to get to. After lounging around at Fletcher Lake, we decided to go take a look at the lake he touted.

Here is one of the waterfalls from Townsley Lake that drain into Fletcher Lake.



We got over the rocks and the large beautiful lake was in view!



All of the lakes were amazing but this one's size, color and surroundings was probably my favorite. None of the lakes could be fully captured by my digital panoramic shots but it was the best I could do to try to capture the scene to share with everyone. Click here for a view of Townsley!

When I think back at all the beautiful lakes, creeks and meadows, I can't help but think of Psalm 1:3
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.


Part I
Part II
Part III
Pictures and Panoramics - slow load multiple pictures
Panoramics - slow load 7 large images

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Travel: Yosemite 2006 - Tuolumne Meadows, part I

Pictures are toward the bottom if you want to skip the administrative details!

The itinerary

Tuesday 15 August - went to LAX to pick up my buddy. We then drove up to Oakhurst and stayed at the Comfort Inn. Had dinner at Mountain House which is on the 41 near Bass Lake. For information about other services in Oakhurst area, go here.

Wednesday 16 August - got up early and drove to Tuolumne Meadows to see if we can get a campground. We wound up at Yosemite Creek. It is a 5 mile windy road down from the Tioga Road so be prepared! We got our permit and took a quick hike to Dog Lake.

Thursday 17 August - got up early and set off for Vogelsang going south on the Rafferty Creek Trail! We pitched tent near Fletcher Lake.

Friday 18 August- did some light hiking in and around Fletcher Lake. We went up to Vogelsang Lake and Vogelsang Pass. We also went to Townsley Lake.

Saturday 19 August - we set out east and visit Evelyn Lake and then down to Lyell Canyon.

Sunday 20 August - we get up and hike back to civilization going north along the Lyell Canyon trail. We drive down to Oakhurst and take a Jamba Juice break and lunch at Quiznos. We then drove down to Fresno and stayed at the Quality Inn Suites. We had dinner at Stuart Anderson Steak House near Fresno State University.

Monday 21 August - drove back to LA.

The milage

Hike to Dog Lake: starting at the parking lot west of the Wilderness Permit Office, it is about 3 miles round trip starting at 8580 feet and arriving at 9170 feet.

Hike to Fletcher Lake along Rafferty Creek: starting at the Wilderness Permit Office parking lot, it is about 7 miles starting at 8600 feet and arriving at 10,157 feet.

Hikes in the Vogelsang area: from the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp to the Vogelsang Pass, it is about 1.5 miles. The HSC is about 10,130 feet. The pass is about 10,680 feet. Townsley Lake (10,353 feet) is above Fletcher Lake (10,157 feet) and it is less than a mile away. There isn't an officially marked trail but enough people have gone up there that there are several apparent routes up the rocks to get to Townsley.

Hike to Lyell Canyon: From Fletcher Lake, it is about 6.3 miles. Along the way, we passed Evelyn Lake and gained a little bit of elevation. If I'm reading my topo map right, we probably went as high as 10,600 on the route. The junction of the Ireland Lake/Evelyn Lake trail is at 10,410. From that point, it is 2.8 miles down to Lyell Canyon at 8900 feet.

Hike to Toulumne Meadows along Lyell Canyon: about 6.1 miles which is mostly level.

The travelogue with pictures

Tuesday 15 August - Since my friend's flight arrived at LAX around noon, we figured we would pull into Oakhurst in the early evening.

Wednesday 16 August - We got up early and drove to Tuolumne Meadows which is about 2 hours from Oakhurst. The campgrounds at Tuolumne Meadows and Porcupine Flats were filled so we got a site at Yosemite Creek. It is a 5 mile windy road down from the Tioga Road. We set up our stuff and then head back out to Tuolumne Meadows to got our Backcountry Permit and bear canister.

We took a quick hike to Dog Lake.

The route passes alongside the Lembert Dome!



One can't see them in this photo but there are rock climbers on that thing!

We only saw two deer on our trip. This one here ...



The other jumped in front of our car! Fortunately, we hit the brakes fast enough to avoid a collision!

Here is Dog Lake ..



To see a panoramic of the lake click here.

We had burgers for dinner. This would be our final "regular" meal for several days!



Here is the heart of downtown Toulmne Meadows!



We went back to our car camp site at Yosemite Creek.

I made a boo-boo when I ate an apple and put the core in a ziplock bag. Instead of throwing it into the bear resistant trash bin immediately, I left it on the picnic table. I walked to the bathroom and as I was walking back, I saw a bear!!

The bear wandered over to our campsite and started pawing at the ziplock bag. It also slobbered all over my friends camera bag. After much shouting and clapping and banging of pots, the bear headed into the woods.

The bear came back about 30 minutes later. Since it was dark, all we could see was the two eyes glowing in the dark as people shined flashlights at him/her! The temperatures started to go down and we were tired so we went into our tents. Suffice to say the night was periodically interrupted by shouts of BEAR, BEAR, BEAR and the banging of pots and the triggering of car alarms to scare off the bear!

Thursday 17 August - We got up early and set off for Vogelsang going south on the Rafferty Creek Trail!



Four hours into the hike, I was beat. The elevation gain and the 35+ pound backpack was taking its toll. We estimated we still had two more hours to go! An extended rest and some water and snacks and seeing so many senior citizens on the trail got me going again.

Here we are at Tuolumne Pass near the 10,000 feet mark and five hours into our epic hike.



A final rocky stretch with switch backs and we were there!

The picture is of the canvas tent cabins of the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp with Fletcher Peak in the background.



We pitched our tent near Fletcher Lake.

To see a Fletcher Lake panorama, click here.

A few words about Altitude Sickness

10,000 feet is high enough that most people will have some mild symptoms. To get scared out of your mind, be sure to check out this web page from the International Society of Mountain Medicine.

The reality is that the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced at elevation and your body will take steps to compensate. The heart rate and blood pressure goes up to move more blood to get oxygen to your cells. In an effort to raise the red blood cell concentration, your body will urinate more thus dehydration will be a problem unless you drink consistently.

As I tried to go to sleep, it was a little disconcerting initially to hear my heart beat! In addition to hearing it, I noticed its rapidity! I also had a moderate headache. My final symptom was the high altitude cough which was probably a result of dry and dusty air. It is also possible that perhaps there was something that I was mildly allergic to floating around that further irritated my bronchi.

The reason I put into our itinerary the light hike to Dog Lake was to give us nearly one full day of getting used to the higher elevation. Indeed, there are people who drive straight up and start hiking to 10,000 feet immediately. However, I felt as someone who lives life in Los Angeles, elevation 330 feet, it would be a good idea to allow for some acclimatization!

Part I
Part II
Part III
Pictures and Panoramics - slow load multiple pictures
Panoramics - slow load 7 large images

Devotional Thoughts: Sound the Shofar

Checking out Joel 2:12-17 today.

In chapter one, there was a section describing the locusts, Joel 1:2-11 and then a part describing the response Joel 1:13-20. The same appears to be true in Joel chapter two. Joel 2:1-11 described the locusts and now this part in verses 12-17 looked at the response desired by God.

"Even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and have pity
and leave behind a blessing --
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.

God's desire is a whole hearted genuine return on the part of the people.

Sometimes people have a picture of God, especially the God of the Old Testament, as a blood thirsty God.

There is no question that God cares about holiness because God is holy. The tri-fold repetition of holy, holy, holy testifies to the importance to God's holy character.

Thus, indeed, God can and does bring the hammer down at the unholiness that is running about on the earth. Yet, I don't think it is ever without warning. I'm not an Old Testament scholar and know every instance of God executing His judgment. However, it seems that those who wind up under His wrath are usually warned. Judgement was going to fall on Nineveh but God gave them a chance by sending Jonah. The Prophets were sent to warn and in some cases people turned from their sin and were spared and sometimes not.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Let the priests, who minister before the LORD,
weep between the temple porch and the altar.
Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
'Where is their God?' "

The call goes out for fasting and prayer. the call is for everyone, young, old, newlyweds, nursing babies to gather together.

In the modern world, when we see the word trumpet we think of something like this ...



Image source: http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/textt/Trumpet.html.

However, a Jewish trumpet of that time was probably something more like this ...



Image source: http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/texts/Shofar.html

Hear a shofar.

Sound source: http://www.aish.com/hhRosh/hhRoshDefault/Symbolism_of_the_Shofar.asp

Lord, may I hear the call to return to you. And may I sound that call to others. You have not left us unaware of your desire for holiness. You have not left us without provision to make things right with you. You have sent Jesus to restore and it is up to us to choose the path back to you. God help me to follow that path daily and help me to bring others along. Amen.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

LA Scene: Hiking Mt. Baldy

As Angelinos, we see it ... well, when we can see it: Mt. Baldy.

On a clear day, it is the tallest peak we can see. In winter, it is often snow covered. It is part of the whole Southern California appeal: go from a snow covered mountain to the sandy beaches in one day.

For Labor Day weekend, me and a couple of friends decided it was time to hike the famed peak.

We drove on the 210 to Claremont. We got off at the first Clarmont exit and went north (very short distance) to Baseline Road. We headed east on Baseline until we hit Mill Road where we turned left. Mill Road runs through some residential areas. Eventually, we turned right onto Mt. Baldy Road. It is curvy at parts so take your time. We parked at the ski lifts.

The round-trip cost of the lift is $15. People can hike that stretch but it adds 7 miles to the journey. The lift drops you off at Top of the Notch. From there, you walk a bit north and then turn left and follow the hikers up the mountain. Eventually, you hit Devils Backbone Trail and hike to the top of old Baldy.

The route is 3-plus miles with 2200 feet gain. A few spots are steep and narrow so just take it slow. We covered the distance in a bit over 2 hours.

Here are my two buddies next to the plaque for Mt. San Antonio, 10,064 feet.



And of course, the plaque ...



A popular day hike! Click on the image to get a panoramic view.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: The locusts are coming

Am looking at Joel 2:1-11.

Remember the context of the passage, in chapter one, Joel described the locust swarms. This reality hung over their heads. In chapter two, he described the dread they felt knowing what was coming. Also, remember that he was writing in poetic style so imagine the pictures he has created with his words and listen for the sound of it.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble;
For the day of the LORD is coming,
For it is at hand:
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.

If you have ever been hiking you know that you don't want to get caught outside in a thunderstorm where you can get drenched or worse hit by lightening. As you are hiking along and you see the clouds gathering quickly ... its nervous time.

In addition to visualizing the motion picture, listen for the sound of what he described ... a marching army, a crackling fire and trampling horses ...

A people come, great and strong,
The like of whom has never been;
Nor will there ever be any such after them,
Even for many successive generations.
A fire devours before them,
And behind them a flame burns;
The land is like the Garden of Eden before them,
And behind them a desolate wilderness;
Surely nothing shall escape them.
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
And like swift steeds, so they run.
With a noise like chariots
Over mountaintops they leap,
Like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble,
Like a strong people set in battle array.
Before them the people writhe in pain;
All faces are drained of color.
They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like men of war;
Every one marches in formation,
And they do not break ranks.
They do not push one another;
Every one marches in his own column.
Though they lunge between the weapons,
They are not cut down.
They run to and fro in the city,
They run on the wall;
They climb into the houses,
They enter at the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble;
The sun and moon grow dark,
And the stars diminish their brightness.

Frightening.

As urban dweller in 21st Century America, this is completely outside my personal experience. The only time I see bugs is driving in the country side as they splatter onto my window or when I go hiking and the mosquitos envelope us when we stop moving.

That is nothing compared to what is described here: a swarm so massive that the sun and moon is obscured.

The LORD gives voice before His army,
For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible;
Who can endure it?

Joel identified that the LORD (YHWH) was behind the locust swarm.

This is the theological question of the ages: when something bad happens, is God behind it? Is the judgment of God part of the equation?

In the pre-scientific age, if someone were to claim, calamity X is due to God, it was probably believed.

Today, such a claim would be viewed less favorably.

If there is no god then any claim to god being behind locust swarms, earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes would be foolish.

But what if there is a god?

If god is the "deist" clockmaker god who builds the universe and lets it tick away on its own then the existence of disasters would testify to a lousy clockmaker.

If god is in the "theist" mode who builds the universe and periodically intervenes in human affairs then one might argue:
(1) god is not good because god doesn't intervene
(2) god is not powerful enough to intervene - though it would seem strange that god would be powerful enough to create the universe and not be able to intervene.

The existence of evil and suffering is the greatest challenge to the belief in the existence of god. However, some turn that argument on its head and say the very existence of notions of evil and suffering testify to god.

For a detailed discussion check out this item on theodicy. There is a LOT to chew on there and I'm going to have to re-read that item a few times and I'll still not be sure if I know what to believe with precision!

As I sit here at the comfort of my laptop, when disater strikes, I am not going to make any claims of it is or is not God's judgement. Call it a cop out call it what you want, I'm not making that claim. Joel can make that claim because he was a prophet but I'm not.

However, as a Christian, I do believe a day (I don't know when and it may well be after we are all dead) will come when God will judge and on that day, there will be no doubt because it won't be me or some other human agency making the claim it is God's judgement.

On that day, indeed, who can endure it?

We can only endure it if we take a hold of Christ whose sacrifice pays for our sin and whose life covers us in righteousness.

Lord, we live in a world that is in bad shape. Yet, you did not remain idle content to see it fall apart. Instead, you sent Jesus to restore us and the world. While we await your establishing the kingdom in fullness, help me to work where I can to extend your kingdom. Your call is for love and truth. Help me to live that in my life. Help me to be that for others. Help me to fight for justice with humility trusting in your ultimate justice and goodness. Amen.