Monday, January 27, 2014

My favorite variant of chess is bughouse because it is fast, exciting, and requires good teamwork and partner coordination.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with bughouse, it is basically two players (partners) playing chess against two opponents, and if one partner jumps an opponent's piece, the other partner can place it anywhere on his board on his move.  There are endless possibilities of  what can happen in a bughouse game.
  I am definitely not an expert, but I love to play it at tournaments with other chess players, at home with my family, and online on FICS where I have played 6500+ bughouse games and gradually worked my rating up from the 800s to 1400s.  

Below are a few points which are important for improvement at my level and below, and a few observations on related life-lessons.  

1.  Speed for Survival
Most online bughouse games are played with a time control of 2 0.  3 minutes is considered painfully slow, but it's tolerated; anything slower is out--though 5 minutes is an acceptable time control over-the-board.  This means you play fast or you lose because whichever side has more time can "sit" on one board if one of the players is in trouble.  

Speed tips:  Use a good mouse, not a touchpad.  Mice are a lot faster.  Make sure pre-move is on and use pre-moves to anticipate jumping pieces back, when you are sure of what your opponent will do and what your response will be, and in a time scramble.  Do not use pre-moves in dangerous situations or when fast moves (hovering your piece over the square you're moving to and clicking as soon as your opponent moves) would work just as well and be twice as safe (fast moves can save you from queen blunders caused by pre-moves).
Life lesson: Our lives, just like bughouse games, are short.  Make the most of the time you have; don't waste it.   Get everything important done; fulfill God's calling in your life.  You want your task to be completed when your time on earth is done.  Defeat your opponent the devil, and serve the Lord.  Some people say, "Oh, I'll wait till later to make things right with God."  The clock ticks down, later, later, later.  Then time is up, and they forfeit on time to the devil.  No fun.    

2. Initiative is Essential
Initiative is perhaps the most essential factor in bughouse.  It's usually traded off between the players during the game, but the one who has it in the end is the one who wins.  It is routine to sacrifice major and minor pieces alike to get the initiative (check), because the player who is checking his opponent can often find a checkmate with pieces his partner gives.

Initiative tip: Watch the f2 and f7 squares like a hawk.  They are the most common squares used to attack kings in the opening.  Keep your king well defended, and do your best to make sure your opponent's king is not safe.  If your opponent can't check you, you have a much better chance of gaining the initiative.

Life lesson: Seize the initiative.  Take control of your situation with the help of God, and improve it.  Don't let opportunities slip away.

 3. Good Partners
 Choosing a good partner is necessary, not only to win, but to maintain sanity.  Compatibility is important.  You will learn that some partners compliment your style, and with a compatible partner you can beat higher rated opponents who don't work together as well.  Other partners may be very good in their own right, but so incompatible with you that you couldn't win a game against lower rated opponents if your life depended on it.  Besides over-the-board compatibility, dispositional compatibility is essential.  Some bughouse players have a very unpleasant disposition (to say the least) while others are nice to work with. You suffer and die, or flourish and survive depending on your partner.  Choose carefully!

Life lesson:  Choose your friends, business partners, and spouse wisely.  Ask the Lord to give you wisdom.  Good choices will help you greatly, and bad choices will hinder you tremendously.  
I still have a lot to learn in bughouse; there are a lot of tricks of the trade which only higher rated players can explain.  If any readers are in this category, feel free to comment with additional pointers.  Thanks!

Have fun & Enjoy the game!

Concert at a Potluck

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Recently, my family and I have had concerts at several nursing homes.  We also had the opportunity of singing at a local senior citizens' potluck.  Potluck concerts are one thing I look forward to since the ladies here in Iowa are wonderful cooks.  We brought a couple lemon meringue pies with us as well as our instruments, and after Pastor Z. opened the meeting with a word of prayer, we faced a beautiful array of dishes from which to choose.
Macaroni and Cheese
Chicken and Noodles (delicious!)
Mashed Potato Meatloaf
Chicken 'n Rice (my favorite!)
The whole array of dinner dishes--Lasagna (on the far end) was very filling!
While we were eating, one of the ladies told Papa she was a music teacher and could hear any note that was out of tune--scary!  Most of our audiences are not trained critics and will graciously applaud even when we make mistakes.  In fact, I greatly admire and appreciate the many audiences of elderly people who listened to us when we were younger, not only for enduring our performances but encouraging us to practice and telling us we had potential.  After a meal like this one we had to try our best.  The dessert selection was as fantastic as the main dishes.  There were all sorts of goodies!

The concert went well, and our music teacher friend joked that she had not heard a single mistake--well, maybe one!  We really enjoyed our afternoon and are thankful to the senior citizen's club for inviting us!  

Below is one of my songs, "Down from His Glory," at a concert at one of the nursing homes we love to visit.  I still need some practice to perfect it (any music teachers available to critique?), but the lyrics are beautiful.

Don't Miss the Point

Sunday, January 19, 2014

John 5 tells us the story of a man who had been sick and unable to walk for 38 years.  Jesus asked him "Wilt thou be made whole?"  The man replied, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."  
The man was so focused on the water of the pool which God had used to heal people before, that he had lost sight of who the Healer is.  The water didn't heal, God did.  But when God stood right in front of the man and asked if he wanted to be healed, all the man could think of was the water.  

The man had hardly picked up his bed and started walking when some Pharisees (religious teachers) met him and asked what he was doing violating the law by working (carrying his bed) on the Sabbath day.  Couldn't they realize how wonderful it is that this man was walking and carrying his bed for the first time in nearly forty years!  They too missed the point.

In the chess game above which I used as a demonstration at a chess camp, white just moved his rook to pin the black knight, thinking he would win a piece.  He overlooked that black has a greater threat (mate in 3).  Distracted by a "free" knight, he missed the most important point (keeping his king from being checkmated). 

Often we too are so distracted by the little things that we miss out on the most important things in life.  Sometimes we let the loss or gain of a pawn worry us so much that we miss a checkmate.  Don't fret about the little things.  Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions." 

Jesus also said, "What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his own soul."  Just think, what good would it do you if you jumped your opponent's queen and got all his pawns for free if  your king got checkmated in the process?  Your opponent would be applauded for his brilliant queen sacrifice and onlookers would tell you greed doesn't pay off.  

Faith in Jesus is the most important thing in life; don't let anything distract you from your heavenly calling.  Don't let ostensible answers and solutions keep you from reasoning to the heart of the matter in politics or business, and don't let free pieces distract you from checkmates.  Don't miss the point!


Patience (noun): a very useful quality possessed by fishermen, teachers, brooding hens, dogs stalking rabbits, and the poor souls who have run out of butter and must attempt to make their own butter by shaking cream in a jar.  (The Iowan Redhead's Unabridged Farm Girl Dictionary)

Dog and Rabbit Patience
If you've ever had a farm dog, you've probably seen him/her chase a rabbit.  Rabbits are sprinters (faster than dogs when running in spurts), but dogs are marathon runners (they have more endurance).  Consequently, the rabbit's goal is to make a dash for a wood pile, overturned panel, or the like, which the dog will be too big to fit under.  

The dog then sits beside the wood pile, sometimes barking or trying to dig under it to catch the rabbit.  If the rabbit gets impatient, thirsty, or hungry and leaves before the dog does, it is captured in its attempt to escape and becomes the dog's dinner; if the dog is impatient and leaves before the rabbit makes its attempt, the rabbit lives.  

The dog and rabbit principle is very useful since it works in a lot of games, including chess and ping-pong.  If you persevere and keep on making good moves and hitting the ball back to your opponent, sooner or later he will make a mistake (if you don't first!).  The player with more endurance wins.

Sometimes life may be hard; trials may be hard to endure, but never step out of God's love and protection, because the Devil is there to grab you and make you his slave--his dinner.  Jesus is a merciful Father who cares for you and if you abide in His love He will see you through to glory.

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God."  --Hebrews 12:1=2

Teachers' Patience
I really admire my teachers (my parents who homeschooled me) for their extreme patience.  My papa oftens tells the story of when he first started teaching me the alphabet.
"Bethany," he said, "this letter is A, say A."

 "A," I repeated.

"This letter is B, say B."


This one is C...this is D...this is E."

He thought everything was going well, but he thought he should check to make sure I remembered what he taught me, so he pointed to A and asked "Bethany, do you remember what this letter is?"

"No," I said.

"It's A, say A," Papa replied.  "Do you remember what this letter is (B)?"


And so it went until I finally could remember the letters after the fourth or fifth try.  It worked the same way with the multiplication tables and everything else I had to learn; it had to be inculcated.  I am very blessed to have parents who have lots of love and patience and didn't give up on me!

Be kind to those who are learning, be patient, and encourage them.  Patience is a fruit of the spirit.

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men."  --1 Thessalonians 5:14

Fishermen and Brooding Hen's Patience
It's been a while since I've gone fishing, but I know sooner or later you usually get a bite--the chances are best if you start early!  It's a lot like the person who shakes the cream in the jar, waiting for it to turn into butter.
Our brooding hen Lark sat on her eggs for 3 weeks waiting for them to hatch.  It must seem like an eternity for the poor hen who went for days in a corner of the welding shop without much food or water (we tried to bring her some), but God had a time appointed for her eggs to hatch.  

God also has a time appointed for His return to earth when He will reward the good and punish the evil.  Be patient; Jesus will make everything right when He sits on the Judgment Seat as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

James 5:7-8 says, "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.  Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.  Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."  

Deep Roots

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed; some of the seeds fell by the way side and were eaten by birds, some of the seeds fell on stony ground and immediately started growing, but when the sun came up it was scorched because it had no root, some were choked by thorns, and others fell on good ground and yielded fruit.  

The apostle Paul prayed "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God."  

Are we rooted deeply in the good soil of God's love?  Do we, as the song says, know whom we believe, and are we confident that He is able to keep what we have committed unto Him?

My family and I are avid gardeners, which means we are experienced weed-pullers and there's hardly ever a day in the summer when you won't find us in one of the gardens with warm earth under our fingernails, set out to vanquish our resilient foes: creeping charlie, morning glory, crabgrass, lambsquarters, horseweed, and an occasional thistle (*ouch*!)

Some of the weeds come out easily.  Creeping charlie can almost be rolled up like a carpet, and some of the lambsquarters are actually fun to pull.  But some weeds I have to tug... and tug... and tug...and then when the weed finally comes out and I fall backwards with the weed in hand *kerplunk.*  I have to call a sister to help me uproot other weeds, and when even teamwork fails, we bring out our shovels and start digging!  When my grandparents first moved to their place in the country, it was overgrown so badly that they had to cut down the horseweed with a chainsaw!  Now those weeds had deep roots!

Unfortunately, not all of the good plants in our garden have strong roots.  After a heavy spring rain and wind storm (you've really missed out if you've never seen and heard sheets of rain whipping in the wind across the countryside, hail falling, lightning flashing, and thunder roaring), our sweet corn is often pretty badly beaten and knocked over because it's roots aren't deep enough.

We need to trust in Jesus, and not let the world uproot our faith.  We need to be strong in the Lord and deeply rooted in his Word so that instead of being knocked over when the storms come, we stand firmly in the love of God because we not only have read about our Savior, we know Him.

Interview with Laura Christine Johnson

Saturday, January 11, 2014

One of my favorite photographers is Laura Johnson.  I had the pleasure of meeting Laura and her talented family, the Johnson Strings, at a concert in 2006; and we have been friends ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to an interview for my blog!

Q: How did you first become interested in being a photographer?
A:  I got started in this amazing field of work in December of 2006 when I got my first camera, a tiny point-and-shoot, to take pictures of scenes to draw or paint. Since I wanted to learn to use it well, I started to study photography on my own. After realizing that I enjoyed it even more than drawing or painting, I started learning more about photography for its own sake. It was my favorite hobby for several years before I took the plunge and made it a business. I've learned photography through reading LOTS of books and magazines, toiling through camera manuals, studying over the internet, and taking various photography courses online, going to seminars and workshops, and finally obtaining a certification in portrait photography.

Q: What is your favorite subject to photograph?
A:  People! I love to photograph both families and individuals. 

Q: Do you have a favorite of your photographs?
A: As I once heard from a famous photographer, "It's the one I'll make tomorrow."

Q: What is the most difficult subject to photograph and the most difficult aspect of running a photography business?
A:  Most difficult subject to photograph: a 2-3 year old having a bad day who doesn't want to have his/her picture taken!
Most difficult aspect of running a photography business: Creating a time and cost-efficient workflow. 

Q: What have been the highlights of your work in photography so far?
A: Seeing the look on people's faces when they see the finished portraits...capturing families together forever...creating memories...

Q: Do you have a favorite color?
A: Yes! It's Dark Rose Pink

Q:  What advice would you give a novice photographer or musician who is trying to improve his/her skills?
A: 1. Visit my blog to read photography tips http://laurasphotographyfasttrack.blogspot.com/
2. Practice EVERY day - in both music and photography. Know your instrument and gear inside and out.
3. Listen to great music to get inspired. Watch YouTube to see how famous musicians play.
4. Think about what you like about certain photographs and how to recreate that element. Then actually go out and put that new knowledge to use!

Q:  How many instruments do you know how to play, which is your favorite, and why?
A:  Over the years, I've played 5 instruments. Of those 5, viola and violin are my favorites. Viola because I've played it basically all my life and violin because of its light weight (much less shoulder pain!) and ease of use.

Q:  What do you like most about singing and playing music in concert with your family?
A: I can travel, meet and be involved in so many people's lives and have a chance to tell them about Jesus and how He can change their lives. (I love spending time with my family too!)

Q: What are your other interests or hobbies?
A: Spending time with family and friends, having group discussions, and going on fun adventures while traveling around the U.S.

Q: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?  Tell us about what it means to you.
A: Isaiah 40:28-31.  Our God is so AMAZING! I don't have to worry about doing everything in my own strength. If I did, I'd be petrified!

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Thank you for asking to interview me! It has been a fun experience. To see more of my portrait work, visit my website: http://www.laurachristineportraits.com/
"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?  there is no searching of his understanding.  He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:  But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hebrews 11:23 tells us, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment."  Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the most powerful man in the world at that time, had ordered that all male Israelite children be killed.  Did Moses' parents meekly obey the law of the land and let the government kill their child?  No!  They defied the king's decree.  They knew there is a higher law, the Law of God.  

Many times when we ask why we should or should not do certain things, the only explanation given us is, "It's the law."  In an episode of the Would You Fall for That? show, the staff once dressed authoritatively, placed a divider on a footbridge, and held a sign saying all brunettes had to walk on one side and all blondes on the other side.  Most people obeyed the orders without question.

In an episode of Candid Camera, the staff walked into an elevator with a man and all faced backward, pretty soon the man was facing backward too.  The staff took their hats off and he did the same; he followed every motion everyone else did, trying not to be conspicuous.

People are trained to be conformists.  But just because a government or authority says something is right doesn't make it right.  Just because everyone else does something doesn't mean it's the correct thing to do.  At the Nuremberg trials many Nazis used the excuse "I was just following my superior's orders" to explain the crimes which they committed against humanity.  This excuse was not deemed valid.  Every person is responsible for his or her own actions.  

We were not created just to "follow orders" and do what everyone else is doing.  We must think for ourselves and weigh the laws of man using the ethical scale provided by the Bible, our moral compass.  Evil people (and governments) call evil good and slander the good as evil.  We need to keep our eyes open and be willing to defy ungodly authority and stand up for what is right.

The heroes and heroines of history have not been those who lackadaisically watched the sunset as their principles blew across barren fields like tumbleweed, turning one way and then another with every gust of wind.  The heroes have been those who stood firm in their beliefs, those who would rather die than compromise, and those who lived not for themselves, but for God and posterity.  

Don't be afraid to challenge injustice.  Place your faith in the Word of God (Jesus Christ), defy evil, and even if you are the only one who does, stand up for the truth.     

All Your Cares

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:  Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."  --1 Peter 5:6-7
It takes humility and trust to give all your troubles to God.  Sometimes we think we can handle everything ourselves: "Oh, why bother God?  I can take care of this."  We must realize we need Him.  We need His direction in everything we do.  

God is unimaginably wiser than we are.  He said, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."  If we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He promised to direct our paths.  God wants us to humble ourselves, pray, and seek His face.

Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you.  He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." God doesn't want us to worry or be troubled; He wants to help us and give us peace of mind.  He wants to be our eternal Guide.  He cares for us.

It doesn't matter how big (or small) your problems are; Jesus can help you.  He said, "Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Give the Lord all your worries and cares.  He loves you and will lead you in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

The Only One

Friday, January 3, 2014

I once connected the pieces of a puzzle.  Only one piece was missing, but yet the puzzle was dreadfully incomplete, for that piece was needed to fill the gap.
Your life may be only one small piece of God's creation, but every piece is needed to complete His plan.  Watch for opportunities to bless others and be Christ's light in this dark world.

Every moment has a need and a reason.  Maybe an elderly gentleman needs a friendly smile, maybe the lady at the thrift store needs to be told pink is her color,  maybe a friend needs a word of encouragement.  Don't just leave it to "someone" to brighten their day; be that someone, you may be the only one who can.

How we treat others is a reflection of how we would treat Jesus.  Matthew 25 gives us a glimpse of the Judgment Day when God will divide the righteous from the wicked.  Jesus said to the righteous: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me."  They asked him when this happened, and He told them: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Jesus said even giving someone a glass of cold water has its reward.  You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change someone's world for the better.  Find God's plan for your life today; you are the only one who can fulfill it.  God will bless you as you bless others.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

     Deborah is one of my favorite women of the Bible because her story, found in Judges 4-5, shows a spectacular and unexpected way God used a woman who was wholly and selflessly devoted to Him.

     Deborah's people were slaves; their masters were strong.  Her people had backslidden and chosen new gods.  God chose Deborah to be a prophetess and a judge.  She called Barak and told him the Lord's command to face the enemy and fight for freedom.  Barak told her, "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go."  She did not hesitate; she went with the army.  She had heard from God.  She told Barak, "Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee?"  She knew her God, and she had faith.  God fulfilled his promise and defeated the enemy.  Deborah's people were liberated.

     Today, like Deborah's people, our people are slaves--slaves to sin.  Their masters are hard masters: vanity, immorality, addictions, lies.  Our people have backslidden and chosen new gods: self, money, sports, celebrities, or anything they worship more or give more attention to than the true God.  They must be liberated, and Jesus Christ is the only one who can liberate.  He gave us a command, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."  Evangelism is a call for all.  

We need to encourage others to rise up and fulfill God's high calling in their lives.  Actions, as well as words, are needed.  Deborah didn't just tell Barak to go defeat the enemy; she got up and went with him.  Is your life a shining example of what God can do?  Does the joy of the Lord shine through you as you live wholly devoted to him?  Are you an example of the courageous Christian God has called his children to be?

You may be a student, teacher, musician, chess player, artist, technician, or field laborer, but God has chosen you to be a bright light of His glory in this dark world, an example of the believers, to liberate souls through the power of Jesus Christ from the slavery of sin, and to encourage others to rise up and live the life God has for them.

My prayer today is that you will be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and that you would put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).  I pray as Deborah prayed in Judges 5:31, "Let all thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."  Amen.