Merlin, Oregon

By | September 3, 2017

Our grand adventure came to a conclusion at the grandparents’ home in Merlin, Oregon. Here we had just a couple of days to relax before the final drive home. I honestly can’t remember much beyond what the photos preserve (one year’s memory blends into the next), but I’m sure it was relaxing and enjoyable. As always, my dad had yet another building project to show me. I probably read some, and the kids played with their cousins. This first photo is of them playing one of my childhood games that I never liked: Life.

I took my camera out for some pictures of the kids playing in the pool. When my parents were looking to buy a retirement home ten years ago, they did not want a pool. In the Lord’s providence, it’s been a great way to get the grandkids over, and my parents often enjoy cooling off themselves.

There’s some kind of game where one kid out of the pool calls out colors and then tries to catch the others as they race away.

I believe that this is practice for the coming Olympics trials for synchronized diving.

This next one is not yet an Olympic sport.

My parents do have their own well on the property, but the display you see on the right is decorative only. In the center are some of the gardens they have planted.

I guess this is what you would call point-blank range.

To wrap it up, I would note a few other activities that we did while driving some 7,000 miles. As a family, we memorized Isaiah 11-12. We also listened to a number of audio books, including One Hundred Cupboards and half of its sequel (at which time we all agreed to drop it; it probably would have been less confusing if we were reading it). We listened to Harry Potter, Book One, though nearly all of us have read it. On our drive home, we listened to The Green Ember. At points along the way, I listened to the first half of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.

Thanks for traveling along with us! We had a wonderful trip with so much variety. Soon we plan to make a photo book to remember our time together.

Crater Lake

By | August 31, 2017

At the last minute we decided to swing by Crater Lake on our drive from the campsite to my parents’ house. Our family previously visited in 2009 and we thought it was time for a return visit. We learned, however, that late June is not a good time to visit, as many roads and some of the visitor areas are closed because of snow. The trade-off for this restricted access was, of course, the snow.

We begin with a glimpse of the intense blue waters through the trees.

And now the view opens up and we can see nearly the entire caldera.

Here’s a big boy and a little boy, walking in the snow. Jonathan has not seen much of this fluffy powder.

If you tilt your head a bit to the south, you can see more of the snow on the banks of the lake.

We wanted to take a pose of the kids at the same place we did 8 years ago, but unfortunately the area was closed for construction. So we took this instead.

And we end with one final shot of the kids playing. We did not spend much time here, but it was worth the drive to see such spectacular beauty.

Lake of the Woods

By | August 28, 2017

From Yellowstone we headed west across Idaho, stopping to visit our old IBEX friends Randy and Phyllis at their home near Boise. On our westward trek in 2009, we visited them at their mountain cabin, and this time they hosted us in their home near the church where Randy pastors. We had a wonderful visit with them.

We then continued our drive to southern Oregon, arriving after dark at a campsite at Lake of the Woods. My parents were already set up and my brother’s family came in the next day. For some reason, most likely laziness, I don’t seem to have taken my camera out of the bag the entire time. Fortunately Kelli took a whole raft of photos, and the ones below are from her camera.

The theme of our camping this year seemed to be hammocks, as the kids spent a lot of time resting playing in them.

That’s Mark hanging upside down.

For those trying to keep count, there were 9 cousins on hand.

We ate really well. I didn’t do any of the cooking. One of those sentences is unnecessary. A cousin celebrated his birthday with cupcakes.

These two have the best times together. They’re essentially inseparable, and one of the reasons we’ve worked hard for our families to spend time together each summer.

Bethany is good with kids, including her youngest cousin.

After driving thousands of miles, I think my chief contribution to the campout was eating and reading.

The kids went out to the water, but it was cold enough that they didn’t stay in for long.

And here’s a final one of more of our crew gathered around the campfire. Everyone had a great time!


Yellowstone, Day 2

By | August 23, 2017

[I cannot believe that it has been 20 days since I left us at Yellowstone. It’s been day after day of running out of time. Three of those days were particularly happy, as Kelli and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by retracing part of our honeymoon along the California coast. Now I’m in danger of the summer ending before our vacation does. We are very close to the end, and I will do my best to wrap it up before the end of the month.]

The famous attraction of Yellowstone is Old Faithful. We went there first and had the dubious distinction of being in the Visitor’s Center when it was closed down for a gas leak. According to rangers I overheard, such a closure is extremely rare. Fortunately Old Faithful was not closed down and she blew at just the right time.

Before the eruption

During the eruption

I’m not sure if we have enough photos of the eruption.

Then we wandered around and did some “junior ranger” activities with the two youngest. That took long enough that we were around when Old Faithful blew again. Just to make sure we got it, everyone took more photos.

Swearing in of the junior rangers

After this we headed out to visit some of the other thermal features. My memory has dimmed a bit on some details in the now two months that has passed, but my impression is just as strong as ever: it was impressive. I would that I enjoyed more the beautiful colors of these various hot springs, pools, and geysers than I did the expulsion of water high into the air. I have many photos, but I have selected three.

Selfie training with Bethany

A swimming hole?

I’d say these colors are not natural, but I guess they are…

I enjoyed this day very much.

On the way out we saw some deer grazing by the river. Unfortunately we never saw the famous bears of Yellowstone. Next time!

Mountains, river, trees, deer. Pretty much where I want to spend my entire summer.

Yellowstone, Day 1

By | August 3, 2017

I think our family has been to dozens of national parks, but “Yellowstone” was only a myth to us until we drove in from Cody on this cool June morning. Strangely enough, I really knew nothing about the place before our visit besides the existence of “Old Faithful.” We planned to spend two days, knowing that that would not be enough, but also mindful that the grandparents wouldn’t be happy if we never made it to our next stop.

On the first day, our essential goal was to drive from our hotel outside the park on the east side to our hotel outside the park on the west side. (Hotels outside the park are outrageously expensive; inside the park they are completely booked and obscenely expensive.) I figured we would see some good things on the way, and then on our second day we would visit what we missed.

We started at the entrance and paid Uncle Sam his $30 entrance fee. 

We had previously passed by a moose visible from the highway, but we didn’t stop (not knowing that we would not see another one). We did stop when we saw the bighorn sheep monitoring the traffic.

I did take pictures of the sheep themselves, but since you can find those easily on the internet, I decided to share one showing how close our family was to these creatures who have curved horns but who are not ibex.

Then we went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is really nothing like the Arizona one, but it certainly has a beauty of its own.

It is beautiful, but despite the isolated appearance above, you’re actually dodging hundreds of tourists all trying to take the same photo.

I wasn’t sure if you’d like the photo with the kids or without the kids better, so you get both.

As we continued, we saw both snow and hot springs. The kids in the above photo were wearing jackets, indicating that it must have been chilly. But we spent a good part of the rest of the day walking through thermal features. First, the snow photo:

And then a thermal feature:

And here we have two hot items in one photo:

That’s a thermal feature behind my wife, if you couldn’t recognize it. And that photo is what is known elsewhere as a “selfie.” I’ve never had much luck pointing my Nikon at me, but now that I have a phone, I thought I would give it a try. Before long, I suppose I’ll be blasting social media with selfies of me everywhere doing everything. That’s what everyone cares about, right?

I took lots and lots of pictures of cool thermal features. This is the last one I’ll show you, until tomorrow.

By the way, I’m not exactly sure who “you” are. I ran into an old student last week. We hadn’t seen each other or been in touch in more than 10 years. She told me she was reading these posts about our family vacation. I had no idea. I assume my mom is reading along, but she hasn’t mentioned it, so I’m not really sure. The only other person I know of is Roberta. So the “you” here may indeed be a singular “you.”

Here’s one last photo for the day, taken on an extended walk we did around the Norris Geyser Basin. We almost didn’t get in here because the entrance had a roadblock. But a minute after we were forced to keep driving past it, I did a U-turn to go back. At just the moment we returned, the park ranger was removing the barricade. Another ranger later told us that they block the entrance when parking fills up because they don’t have a parking lot monitor because Congress cut their funding. I’m supposed to write my congressman. OK. Seems like the $30 fee x 4.2 million annual visitors (/ people per car) could pay for a parking attendant for a very splendid region full of geysers. Apparently not.

And one more, because I said this area was beautiful, but I didn’t show you very much.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Old Faithful, but as you’ll see, I enjoyed the other nearby attractions much more.

West, West, West

By | July 30, 2017

When we left Kelli’s parents, we began a long two-day drive west toward Yellowstone. Along the way we saw a couple of friends and some beautiful scenery. Our first stop was in Iowa to see a college roommate of Kelli’s. They were close in college but had not seen each other since then. They had a great time catching up!Then it was back in the car for more driving. Here’s a glimpse inside…

As we neared South Dakota, Mark got in touch with our friend Lauren and she drove up from her home to meet us for dinner at Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls. Lauren recently graduated from TMU and she was with us in Turkey and Greece earlier this year. And she is off to study at JUC next month!

Lauren proposed we spend the rest of the evening at Falls Park. That was a great suggestion!

On the next day we drove through South Dakota and a big rainstorm. We drove right past the exit for Mount Rushmore (but we’ve been there before) in an effort to get to our hotel before it was too late. As we came closer to Yellowstone, we passed through some beautiful Wyoming scenery.

Kelli liked our hotel where we spent the night in Cody, Wyoming. Here’s a photo of the lobby.

We covered 1,200 miles in these two days and were ready to visit Yellowstone the next day for the first time!

Conference in Michigan

By | July 27, 2017

Once the family was safely settled in Rockford, I jumped in the van and headed back east toward Michigan. On the way, I picked up my friend and partner A.D. Riddle and we drove on to Holland, Michigan. We were invited to the first conference of the Institute of Biblical Context with a generous offer of a table for the photo collections of The fact that the conference theme was “Jesus in His Context” and our brand-new collection consists of photos illustrating the Gospels made this a wonderful fit. I might also add that the timing of this conference landed perfectly where it needed to in order to fit our inflexible vacation dates.

On the first morning, A.D. and I set up our table. It was larger than tables we have had at previous conferences, plus they didn’t charge us for carpet, electricity, or the use of a dolly (as at those other wretched union-controlled ones!). I thought our display looked pretty good! But would the attendees be interested?

That first afternoon was pretty slow. It did start off with an immediate sale to a gentleman who has taken many photos of biblical sites himself and who always purchases our latest collections. Over the next couple of days he and I ate together several times and were able to share stories of our travels in the Middle East. He also gave me an amazing gift that will benefit future photo collections.

The focus of our display was the Gospels volumes in the new Photo Companion to the Bible series. We finished this just in time for the conference! (It is not yet online yet, but I am working to get that in place in the next few weeks.)

On the morning of the second day, one of the conference organizers gave the collection the most glowing endorsement I have ever heard in my 17 years of selling photos. It was amazing. (And there is a backstory that makes it more amazing, but I can only tell you that in person.) The result: at least one guy walked out of the conference hall to buy it immediately. And for the rest of the conference, we had a steady stream of visitors before and after the sessions. We ended up selling out of all of the Gospels volumes we brought, and we had a healthy list of orders to ship. It was far beyond my expectations. For the launch of a new series that is both ambitious and costly, we were very encouraged.

On the second afternoon, our partner Steven Anderson drove over from his home in Grand Rapids to pick us up for a tour of the city. For many years I have written “Grand Rapids” on countless bibliographic entries, and yet this was my first time to visit the city of Christian book publishers.

We went first to Baker Book House, an impressive bookstore for both new and used books. If I didn’t have so many unread books already, this would have been very tempting. Then we went to the headquarters of Zondervan (a division now of HarperCollins) where we met a lady I’ve worked with for ten years in providing photos for Zondervan’s books. It was good to meet her in person for the first time, and she gave us an enjoyable tour through the offices, including a stop in the Sr. Vice President’s office. Unfortunately I failed to take a photo of our little group there.

After this we went to two more bookstores, passing by several Christian colleges and seminaries along the way. Then Steven took us to his home, where we enjoyed meeting his parents, touring the garden, and eating some delicious pie.

I might say a word about Steven here. We traveled through the PhD program at Dallas together, sharing much in common in our more conservative approaches to the Bible. About a year after I graduated and moved to California, we met up again and began talking about working together. Within a month, we had hit upon the idea of the Photo Companion to the Bible. Steven did all of the initial work in developing the collection, and he continues to be the primary content creator as we move forward with illustrating other books in the Bible. Without his interest, knowledge, and availability, the collection would still be a nice idea in my head.

Because of this conference in Michigan, the three of us who did most of the work in the Gospels collection were together for the first time.

I should add a comment about A.D. We first “met” when he visited back in 2002 or so and sent me an email. Since that time, he has been invaluable in helping me with everything. I’ve said before that A.D. can do everything related to I can do and more. He also contributed all of the photos for the Lebanon volume and many of the photos in the Central and Eastern Turkey volume. When he’s not working for me or taking care of his family or fixing his car, he is writing the last school paper of his life (a dissertation).

The conference was a success in every way I can think, and I am very grateful to the Lord for how he prepared so many things in advance.

Rockford, Illinois

By | July 19, 2017

Our time in Rockford was the centerpiece of the trip, and we spent more time here than anywhere else (though I alone disappeared for a few days, which I will explain in the next post). There were lots of adventures, many of which were not photographed (by Kelli or me) and so are largely ignored here.

I mentioned last time that we visited Kelli’s aunt on the way to Rockford, but I didn’t share a picture.

The next day Kelli’s brother drove down from Minnesota and before the weekend was out, we all went to Culver’s, a regular favorite for us when we come to town.

On Sunday morning, Bethany and Grandpa helped to lead worship in church. That was a first time for Bethany and she did great!

The kids went on quite a few fishing trips with Grandpa, and they also enjoyed walking the dog with him.

They threw a graduation party for the older boys.

Everyone was happy when Kelli’s sister drove over from Iowa for a visit.

Here we are all gathered around the dinner table.

And I’ll close with this shot that Kelli took of Jonathan playing with his Legos.

Everyone had a great week!


Creation Museum

By | July 16, 2017

We visited the Creation Museum back in 2010 or so, and though we usually try to visit new places, everyone had such good memories of our previous visit that we decided to return. And we are all glad that we did. While we returned to familiar sections, we also had time to visit parts of the museum that we didn’t see last time or that have been constructed more recently. We easily filled the 6 hours that we had.

We started at the Planetarium, but I don’t have any pictures of us reclined way back in the dark looking at a (very cool!) movie on the ceiling.

We walked out of that and were pulled into the dinosaur exhibit. The museum has many reconstructions of various kinds of these large lizards.

We also returned to the primary exhibit that begins with Creation and continues through the Fall, Noah, and beyond. We took a number of photos here, but I’ll just share the one we took of the kids in the Garden of Eden.

We spent a good bit of time walking around the (newer?) garden areas. It was a pleasant day and we enjoyed looking at the various plants and trees and water features.


That led to the petting zoo, which was new for us. The kids could buy food out of a dispenser and feed the goats and other creatures.

They had some strange animals here, including a zonkey (front) and a zorse (back). The zonkey’s mom was a donkey and its dad was a zebra. The zorse was a cross between a zebra and a horse.

Kelli and I each took more photos on this day than on any other day of the trip so far (and perhaps more than all previous days put together), which by itself says something of the value of the visit. I’ll just wrap up here with three photos from the (new?) insect exhibit. I’ve never been a bug guy, but looking at these displays makes me want to reconsider.

We pulled out at 3 o’clock, ready for about a 6-hour drive to Kelli’s parents in Illinois. Along the way we changed our plans and detoured so we could visit Kelli’s aunt. With an hour time change in our favor, we safely arrived at the grandparents’ house before our carriage turned into a pumpkin.


July 13

By | July 13, 2017

Ten years ago today, our lives changed. For many years (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008), it was my habit to post here on the anniversary of what I refer to as my “exile.” I’ve recently decided that that’s inappropriate, as the true exile from Israel didn’t allow regular return visits. Nonetheless, I feel a real sense of loss that I don’t think has diminished in the past 3,653 days. This day then serves for me as a marker of that loss.

I do not mope around, living in regret. My typical answer when someone asks (and they still do) about not living in Israel is that the Lord has given me a good work here. And I believe that. So perhaps it’s worth reflecting on some of the good works in these past ten years, now with a sense of perspective on some things that I didn’t have before.

  • My years in Dallas were incredibly rich in learning the Bible. This is something I benefit from personally every day, in addition to its value in the classroom.
  • The courses I teach at Master’s are a dream. I don’t think they could be better if I made the schedule myself. I not only teach through the whole Bible every year, I teach classes on Isaiah, Psalms, and Genesis. Those classes are so good that I jokingly say that what was once my favorite class (History of Ancient Israel) is now my least favorite class.
  • Our children are getting good educations. This comes in different forms and not all with the same consistency. I’m not sure how we would have made it in this area had we stayed in Israel. But the Lord has provided for us abundantly in this area in the past ten years.
  • Our marriage is solid. We are coming up on a milestone, and we reflected tonight that we’ve spent just about half of our married life in Israel and now half in the US. It’s probably fair to say that our relationship has been strongest in the past ten years.
  • The Lord has blessed us all with good health. We do not take this for granted.
  • We have enjoyed wonderful church families, both in Texas and now here. Many friends have and continue to bless us and enrich our lives and our love for our Lord. Our children have been well taught and the older ones have a manifest zeal for the Lord.

I have much to be thankful for. The Lord has blessed us these last ten years, even if I would have written the script a bit differently.