Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Link Arms Across the Planet

I am constantly amazed that, out of all the periods of time when I could have been born and lived on Planet Earth, this is the particular moment when God chose to place me here.

Think about it. Any of us could have been born in the dark ages, in some godforsaken hovel in primitive Europe at a time when the Bubonic Plague was raging. Or in Northern Africa during the height of the slave trade. In China during the Communist Revolution. Or a Jew in Germany during World War II.

Sputnik 1 in orbit (artist's depiction)
But no, here I am in the lovely and wonderful Pacific Northwest of the U.S. My own birth was almost simultaneous with the birth of the space age (the first manmade object, Sputnik I, was lifted into orbit 6 short months after I was born, and the first human, Yuri Gagarin, went into space when I was just 4.) I had no sooner entered the workforce when the Internet became a thing, and I was even privileged to be one of its first pioneers in the nonprofit space, back in 1997.

Guy Kawasaki himself (the social media pioneer and one of the principles of Apple) told me about Twitter when it was just newly birthed, and I got in on that marvelous new phenomenon when it was just a few months old.

So one of the things I've also been privileged to witness is the evaporation of national borders which has occurred, if metaphorically, with the dawn of the Internet and social media age. My Aunt Dorothy, my mom's oldest sister, left for the mission field in deepest, darkest Africa (Niger, one of the world's poorest countries) when she was in her early 20s, and worked there for about 50 years. In addition to being a nurse, she is a gifted linguist and translated Scripture into local dialects. My brother and I operated a typesetting business in Southern California in the late 1980s, and she would slow-boat handwritten translations to us from Africa; we would meticulously type up galleys of Scripture using a font negative that we had modified by hand, then slowboat them back to her for proofreading. The process took several years but ultimately produced a version of the New Testament in the local language she was working in.

Today, on the other hand, just a few short years later, I check my smart phone when I wake up in the morning and I usually have several messages from friends in Africa. It is evening where they are, and we often chat for awhile before I officially start my day (and they end theirs).

Boaz (top row, center) and the orphans of Ttamu.
One of those friends I met several years ago. He is a young man named Boaz, and lives in Mityana, Uganda. He has a passion from the Lord to help rescue children who have been orphaned in the AIDS epidemic, and in his late 20s runs an orphanage with 28 beds. He employs a schoolteacher/helper with the kids and several volunteers, and together they seek to raise up these disadvantaged boys and girls, ages 6 through 17, in the hope and knowledge and grace of our Savior. It's a marvelous ministry, but it is VERY hand-to-mouth. They are always praying for where their next meal will come from, or how they will replace worn mosquito nets, or where they will find money to buy badly needed medicine to combat yellow fever, malaria, or tooth decay. Theirs is truly a life lived on the knife's edge of faith.

Mandy and Gracia in May 2006.
One of the huge blessings in my life has been the privilege of sponsoring a number of kids in various countries. My wife and I are not wealthy (by American standards), but we are well off enough to be able to tithe to our church and also contribute to a variety of international and domestic causes. Our first sponsored child was with World Vision in Haiti, and then for a long time we were able to sponsor a girl named Gracia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My daughter and I even got to spend a day with Gracia and her family in 2006. Next came a little boy, in the Congo's Ubangi Province, an AIDS orphan sponsored through the Evangelical Free Church of America's TouchGlobal mission; and then another girl in the Congo. And then Moses.

That's right, we're sponsoring Moses! Not the one in the little ark made of reeds, hidden in bulrushes, but his namesake, an 11-year-old boy in Boaz's orphanage in Mityana. Here's his photo and basic information, at left.

I've worked with a team of others here in the U.S. to help establish a sponsorship program for Ttamu (the orphanage in Mityana), and by God's grace more than half of the children are now sponsored at $35 per month. This has provided hitherto undreamt-of resources for Boaz and his team -- to be able to prepare healthy food for the children and ensure they have good bedding to sleep on; to get them uniforms and supplies for school; to purchase firewood to cook on; and to be able to provide important medicines or health care when they are sick. What a privilege it is for us here in the U.S., who have so much, to be able to participate in the lives of people in such great need in a place as faraway as Uganda!

Jesus said (in Luke 6:38), "For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." He spoke in the context of giving ourselves away, of loving others. If we love others with a large heart, then our generosity will be rewarded with largeness of blessing from God. This isn't speaking of financial blessing, which is the least of the various kind of blessings that exist. God blesses us with peace, with tranquility, with a sense of joy in the fulfillment of His purposes for us. Do you want to be blessed? Be sure your heart is big enough to give generously.

I'm grateful for the opportunities this day and age affords to partner in ministry with brothers and sisters in Christ, like Boaz and his team, in Africa and across the planet. And I would like to challenge you to consider joining me! $35 a month is less than many people pay for the privilege of enjoying an occasional latte at Starbuck's. And yet it can mean fullness of life for an orphan child in a place like Mityana, Uganda.

As a companion piece ot today's blog, I've prepared a Buzzfeed article displaying the photos and basic details about 13 children at Ttamu who are yet to be sponsored. Please pray over these photos, and if you would like to help, click here. Also reply and provide me with the name of the child you would like to sponsor. And I'll make sure it happens!

You will be able to correspond with the child and invest more of your life in them, as well as receive regular updates of their progress. So please take a moment and click on this Buzzfeed link:

Together we can link arms across the planet and demonstrate Christ's love for all children everywhere!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

'Mushroom Worker's Lung' ... Apparently It's Real

If you've been following my exploits so far this spring you are fully aware that I have Mushroom Fever. That's not a disease, per se, unless you consider an obsession a disease. It's just that I've just learned to love and enjoy hunting for wild edible mushrooms in the beautiful Pacific Northwest (PNW), previously in the fall (for Chanterelles and many more varieties) and more recently in the spring (for Morels).

The culprit: Pleurotus ostreatus
(Oyster mushrooms) pinning
from a straw log which used to
live in our "Upper Room."
Because there is a long winter season inserted between the two here in the PNW, with no wild mushrooms growing outdoors, I decided to feed my obsession by beginning the cultivation of edible mushrooms indoors. We have an attic room which we've used as a bachelor studio and home theater, and are currently also using as a work-out room, wine cellar, and now a mushroom-growing laboratory. I started this winter by growing Pearl Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and also crimini and portobello mushrooms (which are the same organism, crimini just the underdeveloped version and portobello the fully mature adult fruit).

I'd been doing this for some time in what we called "The Upper Room" and getting fairly good at it, I think, when my wife began to complain about allergy-like symptoms every time she worked out there ... congestion, low-grade fever, etc. She asked me if I would search the internet to see if there were any possible negative side effects from growing oyster mushrooms. "Yah, sure, honey," I said, convinced it was just her usual allergies combined with the fact that I was enjoying growing mushrooms indoors so much and therefore needed to be reigned in a bit. Seriously, I thought how could she possibly be allergic to being in the same room with an Oyster mushroom, if eating them didn't bother her in the slightest? I did intend to do a search but didn't jump on it very quickly.

So of course she grew tired of waiting for me to do it, and did a little "Let me Google that for you" research on her own. And lo and behold, she turned up quite a substantial number of case reports and other documentation online of the severely allergic effects that the spores of Pleurotus ostreatus apparently have on many people:

And that's just a start.

Here's a fascinating article talking about how prolifically Pleurotus ostreatus produces spores ... a single large mushroom cap can eject, the article says, 100 million spores per hour! The estimate of the number of spores in a cubic meter of "clean, country air" where some Oysters might grow is therefore 10,000. The article concludes, "You can now buy the Oyster Mushroom in supermarkets.   It grows quite nicely in commercial mushroom houses.  As the mushrooms reach maturity, the level of  spores in the atmosphere of the mushroom house must be incredible."

By the way, mushrooms eject such a prolific amount of spores for precisely the same reason a human male creates such a large number of sperm. If it's any comfort to my wife, the article says only about 1 in a billion spores are estimated to survive the environment they are ejected into. (Roughly 10 hours' worth of work for a mature Pleurotus ostreatus cap, by my calculations. Not too bad. It took my wife and I several years to create two marvelous kids.)

Needless to say, I've now moved my straw log mushroom growing operation outdoors, next to my maple nursery logs. (Actually, it's doing better than I thought out there ... although I am a little concerned about what will happen if we get a heat wave this summer.)

I also have learned, once again, to apologetically recite the very humbling mantra: "Yes, dear, you were right. Once again." Note to self: The wife is always right.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Weekend Mushroom Hunting Report: The Elusive Black Morel

Just wanted to give a quick report of our first hard-core spring mushroom hunt. My son Nathan and I spent the weekend (Friday-early Sunday) in the mountains just south and slightly east of the Blewett Pass area in eastern Washington, hunting for the elusive black morel.

Our spacious free basecamp site
on Williams Creek.
We arrived early Friday afternoon and found a lovely base camp spot at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground on Williams Creek near the historic gold mining town of Liberty, Washington (just a mile east of the 97 on Liberty Road). The sites were spacious, well lined with trees, plentiful, and best of all free for the first 14 days. We had good walking access to a clean pit latrine and the sites had good firepits with steel cooking grates, and most had picnic tables. You had to bring in your own water and haul out your own trash. A small price to pay.

Our site was directly across the trail from an old gold mine, well posted with claim and no trespassing signs. In fact, our only complaint was a crazy woodpecker that began rat-a-tat-tatting on a corrugated tin claim sign about 5:30 each morning. What an alarm clock!

A tinpecker used this to
wake us up at 5:30 a.m.
The sign was full of bullet holes, so you could tell other campers had experienced the same frustration with this confused tinpecker.

After setting up camp we launched in Nathan's new fourwheel-drive Toyota pickup. Our first stop was at about the 3,500-foot level in a burn area near the forest service road. Terrain was steep but accessible, and we were encouraged to find our first five morels within the first 10 minutes, less than a hundred yards from the road. (No, I'm not going to give you an exact location!)

Black morels gathered during the
first day of our hunt.
So we anticipated better things to come. But alas, two more hours of hunting in this same stretch of forest yielded only one more morel (growing in a the hole formerly occupied by a burned tree which had collapsed). But it was huge.

Beautiful view of snow-laden
mountains from the Forest Service
access road.
We then started heading uphill toward more of the burn areas. Some ninety-odd wildfires plagued this area in the fall of 2012, and morels are known to grow in year-or-two-old burn areas. We looked at several other spots with no success. When we arrived at about the 5400 foot level we were on a high ridge which looked quite dangerous due to a large volume of loose shale which had showered the narrow track during frequent landslides. And we were also into snow at this point. But we gave it the college try and hunted once more in a burn area, but found no mushrooms at all. We decided it was still too cool that high for morels, and returned to base camp.

Black morels, tri-tip, asparagus and
mashed potatoes — quite possibly
the best meal I've ever had.
The evening's meal was fantastic -- we had two large tri-tip steaks, asparagas, and mashed potatoes, grilled together in cast iron over a campfire of smoky maple wood, well seasoned (which we brought with us). We sliced our 6 black morels and grilled them with shallots, sea salt and cracked pepper, and reduced with a nice sweet tawny port. Mixed with the gravy from the tri-tip, this made for a truly unforgettable meal. Nathan is an extremely skilled cook and despite a downpour of rain during the preparation, we ate like kings and retired in comfort. (I really want to write a blog about how to camp in style!)

We anticipated our next day's hunt, which we hit hard and early (thanks to our tinpecker alarm clock) after a fortifying breakfast, would be lovely and would restock our mushroom supply. We hunted all day long, mostly at lower elevations. We basically hunted fruitlessly all the way from Liberty, down to the high desert north of Ellensburg, before looping back around on the 97 and returning for a late lunch. We then picked up the hunt again, returning to our original spot in desperation, as it was the only place in about 10 hours of hunting we'd seen any morels.

During this time we also talked to a number of other morel hunters we encountered, including one couple which resided in a remote cabin at the 4,000-foot level and was climbing a steep road up to it in an ATV.  Everyone confirmed that their luck was as bad as ours had been, and the local couple blamed a relative lack of moisture in the area. (Some years, they said the morels were so plentiful you could pick them while walking alongside the forest service roads, without even going far into the forests and climbing the steep slopes, which is hard work indeed.) But not this year.

And the forest ranger had forewarned us with a similar warning that she was receiving very few find reports, either from the professional collectors or the amateurs like us.

So in a way this is encouraging. We plan to return to our "spot" at a time when the mushrooms are heavy, hopefully next spring.

Most of the other amateur hunters we talked to had found only a handful, a half dozen or a dozen, just as we had.

So, Saturday afternoon we found only one more (smallish) morel, pictured here, which we were able to bring home to prove we actually found something. Plus I found about five impressive Gyromitra montana (a false morel, pictured below) growing in a suspicious, spider-webby animal hole of some sort. (I'm reading up about their edibility on various websites, which disagree on the topic. I may these in very small quantities somtime this week. I'll let you know if I survive. Gyromitra shrooms supposedly taste like morels but contain a small amount of toxin which is supposed to evaporate out if you cook them well enough. And I'll cook the heck out of mine, I can assure you. Also, the G. montana are the variety which is supposed to be the most edible of the lot.)

Gyromitra montana mushrooms
deep within a she-lob lair.
We slept great on Saturday night, despite the disappointing day's hunt. (Tromping for hours through steeply forested burn slopes is a good way to work up an appetite and ensure exhaustion!) In fact, I even slept through the tinpecker alarm clock on Sunday morning.

After breaking camp we headed north to the lovely town of Leavenworth and enjoyed a pint of raspberry wheat ale at the new-ish Icycle Brewery facility there. Then it was home to clean off the charcoal-y grime of two days of mushroom hunting amidst haunting burned-out pine forests.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. If the Cle Elum Forestry ranger tells me the morels are "on," you can expect me up on the ridge in about three hours. Hopefully next time I'll bring back enough to share with friends.