Intruder Alert

In an earlier post on my website I detailed a PIC microcontroller project that allowed me to capture information about a variety of RF security system sensors I have.  In this post I have taken the information I collected for a cheap 433-MHz motion detector I bought on ebay and turned it into a usable circuit.  In addition to the PIC, I use an RF receiver module and a solid state voice recorder/player.  All of the parts, including the motion detector, cost less than $15 total so you can have some cheap fun with this project.

Hardware

Motion

The motion detector module I used looks like the picture above.  It uses a 12 volt battery and has an extendable whip antenna.  The RF signal it puts out is strong enough that I didn’t even have to add an antenna to my RF receiver board for use in my house.  I used a sensor logger circuit (detailed in another project on my website) to determine the sync and bit times for the sensor as well as the actual data bytes.  The sensor outputs 24 bits (3 bytes) of data and each sensor has a different pattern.  There is also one stop bit.  The sync time turned out to be 10ms and the bit times were about 320us and 970us.  I verified this with a second sensor and also by capturing the RF receiver output on my oscilloscope.  There are many examples online that detail how to capture this information using a PC audio card.

RXB6 Front

The RF receiver module I prefer is a super heterodyne receiver called the RXB6.  It has much better range than the cheaper receivers that commonly get paired with an RF transmitter module.  In fact, when I was trying to buy a few extra RF transmitters I ended up buying them with the cheap receivers for less than 60 cents a set from a USA seller.  I’ve kept the bad receivers for now but will likely never use them.

ISD1820 Module

The sound recorder/player module is commonly listed as ISD1820.  That’s actually the chip part number but it’s also the module designation.  The particular version I bought is shown in the picture but pretty much all of them work the same.  It’s convenient to have the push buttons on the module so you can do the recording and verify the playback before embedding it into your circuit.  These modules are typically set up for a maximum of 10 seconds of recording but the manual shows how to modify them for shorter or longer times.  The maximum time is 20 seconds but the tradeoff is lower quality.  It’s probably not a problem for simple voice messages.  I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the recording.

Motion Detector

The schematic is shown above.  The sound modules are often advertised as being able to run on 5 volts but the recommended range for the chip is 2.7-4.5 volts.  Just to be safe I’ve added a cheap 3.3 volt regulator (LM1117) to drive the sound module.  That also means that the play trigger from the PIC needs to be reduced in voltage so a simple resistor voltage divider is used.  The resistor values are not critical.  Just try to get the ratio of values to about 2:3.

Software

There are some defines in the first part of the software that may need adjustment for your application.  There are defines for the sync time (in milliseconds) and the 0/1 bit times.  The bit times are actually for the OFF part of each bit because that is how the software does the measurement.  The bit times are not in milliseconds but are the expected count for the upper half of Timer1.  Each count in TMR1H represents 128 microseconds based on the 8-MHz clock frequency of the PIC.  This simplification works because the shorter bit time will always exceed 256 microseconds but never exceed 384 microseconds.  Likewise, the longer bit time will always exceed 896 microseconds but never exceed 1024 microseconds.  Again, this is based on measurements I made for my sensors.  Yours may be different.  Another set of defines is included to represent the byte values transmitted by the sensor.  These will be different for your sensor.

The software uses the 16-bit Timer1 to measure the sensor bit durations by counting only during the low level part of each bit.  That meant that I needed to use the T1G (Timer1 Gate) input of the PIC.  I also wanted to check on the pulse counts when they completed so I used the INT (external interrupt) input and set it to trigger on a rising edge.  Each bit (including the stop bit) always starts with a rising edge.  The bit value (0/1) is determined by the duration of the high part of each bit but we actually measure the low part because we also want to measure the low level time between data messages for the sync.

The interrupt handler is triggered by the rising edge of each bit.  At that point the upper half of Timer1 is read.  If the Synced flag is not yet set, then the software determines if we have measured a sync pulse.  The math is easy because all we do is round up (add 4) and then right shift three times (divide by 8).  That gives us the integer number of milliseconds.  If the value matches our required sync time then the Synced flag gets set.  That allows us to skip directly to the bit measurement part of the code for subsequent interrupts.  If a bit time matches, then it is packed into RF_Byte and the Bit_Found flag gets set.  If a bit time doesn’t match then everything previously collected is discarded and we wait for a new sync pulse.

After the return from an interrupt, the main part of the software checks the Bit_Found flag to determine if it needs to take action.  If a complete byte has been received then the software checks the value against the expected value for the sensor.  That is done by calling a simple lookup table with the indices for the table being the variable Byte_Count.  If a byte doesn’t match, then everything is discarded and we wait for a new sync pulse.  If all three bytes have been received and match, then the software sends a high-level pulse to trigger the sound module.  An Alarm LED is also turned on and remains on until power is cycled.  The reason I added that is to facilitate testing and as an event memory.  That way I can position the sensor and receiver at different locations and verify successful operation without having to use a second person to listen for the sound.  I can also test sensor locations to make sure that heater/cooler air flow or one of our cats doesn’t cause a false trigger.  That’s it for this project.  be sure to check out my other projects on my website: boomerrules.com

Motion Detector

Murder Most Fluffy

A call came in on my cell phone and I almost let the answering service pick it up.  I was, after all, in the middle of a stake-out.  To be honest, it was actually a spy job for the wife of a middle-aged sleaze bag who was busy popping his secretary at the old Do-Drop-Inn Motel.  I figured I already had enough photos, but the wife had money, and another night’s work meant a badly needed C-note.  I stared at the phone until the fifth chirp, and then picked it up.

The call was from Jack Mahoney, my one and only friend at the Creston police department.  He was at the scene of what looked like a murder and said that the victim had my business card tacked to the wall by his phone.  He added that I might as well show up and volunteer information, otherwise Lieutenant Bratton would have me hauled in later.  I knew he was right, so I packed up my camera gear and headed toward the address he had given me.

I hadn’t told Jack at the time, but I already knew who the stiff was.  I had a pretty good guess when he first called, but the address he had given me confirmed my suspicions.  After all, there weren’t too many guys in town who would have had my business card unless they had fished them out of the ‘free meal drawing’ bowl at the local Burger King.  There were even fewer who were candidates for murder.  Frankly, until now, I hadn’t really considered Irving French  one of those candidates.  I guess I should have taken him a little more seriously.

The first, and last time, that I had seen Irving French alive was after the initial phone conversation I had with him.  It was a typical day at the office for me – I was leaning back in my chair with my feet on the desk, and waiting for some beautiful dame in distress to glide through my door.  The phone jangled like a windup alarm clock and I placed a bet with myself as to who it was.  The odds were pretty heavy that it was either a bill collector or a salesman, but I tried my luck anyway.

The guy on the line sounded almost apologetic, and definitely nervous.  As he talked, I tried to picture the face that went with the voice.  I had him pegged as a fairly small, middle-aged man, with non-descript features.  Of course that description would fit about 80% of my clients, with most of the rest of them being alimony-seeking women.  As usual, I didn’t pay a lot of attention until after I had a chance to give him the spiel about what it would cost.  I figured no sense in exerting myself until I was sure I was on the payroll.  I gave him the usual price per day, plus expenses bit and got ready to wait while he mulled it over.  I didn’t even have time to catch my breath before he agreed, and then asked me to meet him in front of the lion’s cage at the city zoo.  He said it was one of the few places he felt safe.  I figured he was a little wacko, but what the hell.  Never judge money-paying clients too harshly I always say.

It was still fairly early in the morning when I got to the zoo and, being a weekday, there weren’t a lot of people in the place.  It wouldn’t have mattered much, though, because I could have spotted Irving in a crowd.  He’s standing with his back to the Lion’s cage, hands on the railing, glancing nervously from side to side.  He looks pretty much as I pictured him, though I hadn’t figured on the electric blue, hand-tied bowtie.  I show him my laminated I.D. and offer a hand.  He apparently misunderstands the gesture, because the next thing I know he pulls out a wad of cash and sticks it into my outstretched paw.  Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I slip it into my coat pocket and nod toward a nearby park bench.

Though he acts awfully jittery, it doesn’t take long for him to spit out his story.  The first part sounds pretty familiar, what with the parts about being followed, and fearing for his life.  The next part gets a little bizarre though when I ask if he has any idea about who might be threatening him.  He pauses, leans slightly toward me, and says point blank that it is a rabbit.  I try not to smile or bust out laughing, what with him being so serious and all.  Besides, I like the feel of his dough in my pocket.  It takes a bit for me to recover, but then I go into my usual line of questioning.  The more we talk, though, the more I feel like this guy has memorized every minute of “Harvey”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and the killer rabbit scene from the old Monty Python movie.  I ask if anyone else has seen the ‘perpetrator’, and get the expected answer.  Seems that it waits until he is alone to show up.  I suggest that maybe a big dog might be a solution, but he says that he tried it and that the dog ran off after the first encounter.  I’m thinking of telling him to speak softly and carry a big carrot, but stifle it.  Instead, I tell him, as straight as I can, that I will start looking into it immediately.

I’m still thinking about the conversation as I pull into the apartment building parking lot.  In spite of myself, I feel a little twinge of guilt for this one.  Its not like I brushed off his story completely.  I figured maybe someone human was trying to spook him with the rabbit gag, so I did some checking into his background.  After a couple of days I had to admit that this might be the one person in this country that no one could say they truly liked or disliked.  He had no immediate family, no girlfriend, no boyfriend, no enemies.  He went to work, in a little office, in a big company, and didn’t socialize with his co-workers.  A picture like that made me wonder if he might be in the witness protection program, but even that didn’t pan out.  I finally had to conclude that the most threatening thing in his life was an overactive imagination.

Spotting an open parking spot, I swing the old sedan in and shut off the engine.  Jack meets me at the police line and escorts me to Irving’s apartment.  Along the way I tell him that, yes, the victim was a client, and yes he felt like he was in danger.  I also tell him that the client didn’t go to the police because he wasn’t sure they would believe his story.  As we enter the apartment I see that there must have been a hell of a fight.  Jack sees the look on my face and explains that it was the noise that caused the neighbors to call the police in the first place.  We walk to where the body is neatly chalklined, and I bend down to get a better look at the damage.  In spite of the blood and lacerations, I can clearly identify the face as Irving’s.  Jack says that it looks as if someone has taken the claw end of a hammer to him, but I can’t shake the picture of large, rectangular, buck teeth.  Jack mentions that the physical evidence guys found what looks like animal fur under his fingernails.  I stand up, mumble something about Irving’s dog, then head for the door.

* * * * *

A few nights later I get a call from Jack and he tells me that I can pick up a copy of the police report at the station.  Now I don’t like going to the station voluntarily, but I’m curious as to what the official police slant is.  When I arrive, the desk sergeant scowls in my direction, then hands me a sealed document envelope with my name on it.  I figure I’d be pressing my luck if I read the report where he could see me, so I head back down the stairwell.  Stopping just inside the exit door, I tear open the envelope and pull out the report.  My fingers fly through the pages like refugees from an Evelyn Wood seminar as I search for some rational explanation.  Frustrated, I toss the report into a trash basket and step out into the thick night air.  As I had expected, the coroner bailed out and listed the cause of death as ‘massive physical trauma of unknown origin’.  For my money, though, it was clear that poor old Irving died of the bite of the hare that dogged him.

The Search for Intelligent Life

I have always had a pretty firm belief that not only does life exist elsewhere in the universe, but that somewhere there are sentient life forms.  I have to admit, though, that I’m getting a little impatient waiting for unimpeachable evidence.  My belief was somewhat buoyed when NASA scientists reported that they had found evidence that indicated that primitive life may have existed on Mars billions of years ago.  The evidence they presented was based on analysis of microscopic fossilized remains within a rock.  Unfortunately, the biggest leap of scientific faith in this revelation was that the rock, found on Earth, originated on Mars.  It sort of reminds me of the “Far Side” cartoon that illustrates the theory that dinosaur remains are really just the “chicken” bones cast off by groups of giant aliens who stopped by Earth for a picnic.

 
Many scientists have claimed for years that the universe has no shortage of life form friendly planets (a.k.a. ‘M’ class planets to Star Trekkers).  This, plus the improbable odds that Earth is the only one of these places where life has flourished, form the basis for many people’s belief in extra-terrestrial life.  In a long-time quest to find support for this belief, scientists with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project have been scanning the heavens with huge radio telescopes for traces of signals that appear to be purposely generated by some intelligent life form.  It is rumored that a first contact claim was recently filed by a SETI scientist, but that it was dismissed by the rest of the scientific community because the received signal sounded vaguely like country music.

 
Perhaps venting his own frustration, Enrico Fermi once asked a simple question that has since come to be known as Fermi’s Paradox : “If life is common in the universe, why haven’t they shown up on Earth yet?”  In response, many scientists have postulated theories to address the paradox and  three of them are summarized here.  The first I call the “We’re number one!  We’re number one!” theory.  The second I call the “E.T. phone home” theory.  The third I call the “Noah’s Ark” theory.  Now it’s time for you to make the call.

1.  We are the first or one of the first intelligent life forms to evolve anywhere in the galaxy. In support of this theory, it is estimated that as many as 50 billion species have come and gone since life started on the Earth, yet only the humans have acquired technology.  If dolphins are so smart, how come they didn’t invent the Thigh Master?

2.  Space travel is difficult, expensive, and time consuming so we are more likely to receive radio contact than a direct visit. This theory was offered by, big surprise, a SETI scientist.  A corollary to this theory might be that the aliens got lost and the most male-like alien is too macho to stop and ask for directions.

3.  Earth is considered by other intelligent life forms to be a nature preserve and they have chosen not to interfere with our development. Perhaps wars, plagues, and natural disasters are their ways of “thinning the herd”.  Then again, maybe we are more like a farm than a nature preserve.

All of this theorizing aside, perhaps the most intriguing question is the one that typically remains unasked: “Why are we searching so hard for other intelligent life forms?”.  Not only are we searching hard for extra-terrestrial life, we even seem to personify the behavior of terrestrial animals such as apes and dolphins.  The answer to this question most certainly varies from person to person.

 
For many people it may be a conscious or unconscious search for God.  In that light, manned expeditions may be the modern equivalent of the building of the tower of Babel.  Consider that in the vast majority of stories about aliens, they are generally portrayed as having far superior physical, mental, and/or technological capabilities.  Fortunately, we Earthlings almost always figure out how to defeat the “bad” aliens.  Even on “Star Trek”, where we occasionally get to see beings less advanced than us, the crew still encounters beings like “Q” who are so advanced as to appear god-like.

 
Another possible explanation, and one that could even include the search for God, is that there is some sort of genetic loneliness that drives us in our quest.  Cavemen probably had better things to worry about at the time, but maybe the yearning has been there all along.  Perhaps, then, our more recent scientific enlightenment and self-realization simply brought it to the surface of our collective consciousness.  Maybe we, as a species, feel like we are trapped on a desert island (nature preserve?).  Are space probes then the equivalent of a note in a bottle that we cast out to drift on a vast sea of stars, hoping against all odds that “someone” will find it and rescue us?

 
As a final thought, consider the interesting contrast put forth in Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series.  Asimov portrays Earth as the mother planet, humans as the only sentient life forms, and “aliens” as descendants of ancient human colonies.  Maybe Asimov is right.  Maybe in all of our searching we will only find ourselves.  Is that “New Age” thinking or what?

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

 

Every one of us is living a piece of history.  In many cases we don’t realize the impact of it until much later.  In my case, history began as one of the first Baby Boomers after World War II.  My father died the month after I was born and my mother re-married three years later.  My step-father served during World War II but was one of the rare individuals who spent his entire time stateside.  I was alive during the Korean War but was too young to know it, so my first real contact with the impact of war came in the late 1960’s.  I’d like to share a bit of that history with you now.

 

When I was in high school I played some basketball.  The star of the Varsity team was a year ahead of me and, as a member of the Junior Varsity, I sometimes got to scrimmage against him.  He had it all in high school, including the cheerleader girl friend.  But college wasn’t for him so he ended up being drafted into the Army and dying in the jungles of Viet Nam.  That came as a shock to me but nearly destroyed his younger brother who had been a teammate of mine.

 

Then there was my friend and classmate Bill.  Bill had a crush on a girl at another school and he enlisted me to help him pen love letters to her.  I didn’t know her name but, as fate would have it, I ended up meeting her at a mutual friend’s wedding.  Sometime after we became an item I found out who she was and she found out who had actually penned those letters.  I lost her when I left to serve in the military and that hurt me deeply.  But it wasn’t until my 10-year high school reunion that I found out that my friend Bill had paid a much larger price for his service.

 

These are the stories that I know about and there are thousands of others like them from every war our country has fought.  Some are stories of courage.  Some are stories of fear.  Some are stories of commitment to principle.  And some are stories of disillusionment.  But every one of them has this is common: they are all stories of personal sacrifice.  And that is what we focus on this weekend as we honor those who gave their lives in service to our country.

 

Sometime ago I was talking on the phone to my 96 year old grandmother.  During our conversation grandma said that she was flying down to Wisconsin to visit some relatives over the Decoration Day weekend.  Now I’ve got three college degrees and grandma didn’t complete her High School education until she was in her 80’s but I had to admit that I didn’t know what Decoration Day was.  Finally, sensing my confusion, grandma said she meant Memorial Day.  Now I may choose to wallow in my ignorance a lot of the time, but I figured that if I was going to talk about Memorial Day then I better find out how Decoration Day and Memorial Day came to be.

 

What I found out was that Decoration Day started in the years following the Civil War.  The first known celebrations began in various places as early as 1866.  Then, in 1868 General John A. Logan, the leader of a group of former military men, officially designated a day of observance for the purpose of decorating the graves of comrades who had died during the Civil War.  During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery and then 5000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.  After World War I, the observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars.  Finally, in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

 

Something else I wasn’t aware of was the scope of what Memorial Day observes in terms of the specific wars and the numbers of casualties.  It starts with the Revolutionary War which lasted from 1775 to 1783.  Between 4000 and 5000 American lives were lost.  Next was the War of 1812 which lasted from 1812 to 1815.  Approximately 2000 American lives were lost.  Then came the Civil War.  In the four years from 1861 to 1865 an estimated 620,000 lives were lost between the two sides.  The Spanish American War only lasted from April to August of 1898 but 5462 lives were lost – 90% of them to disease.  Then came the war to end all wars, World War I.  It lasted from 1914 to 1918 and 112,000 American lives were lost.  The worldwide casualty count was estimated to be 10 million.  Since World War I didn’t prove to be the war to end all wars we had World War II.  The American involvement in World War II was from 1941 to 1945 and 405,000 lives were lost.  The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953 and 54,200 American lives were lost.  Immediately after that we began what later became known as the Vietnam War.  It covered the years 1954 to 1975 at a cost of 109,000 American lives.  Finally, at least at this point, we have the Persian Gulf War.  It lasted nine months during 1990 and 1991 and 148 American lives were lost.  Pretty grim statistics.  But, we say, that is the cost of maintaining our freedom and our way of life.

 

When I was a kid growing up in the 50’s, I used to proudly think that we Americans had never lost a war.  That is, unless you were on the wrong side of the Civil War.  But that was in a time before I knew that the Korean War was not supported by the general population.  That it was, in fact not called a war but a police action.  And it was before I knew that we only fought to a draw.  And it was also well before the turbulent times of the 60’s when the police action started in 1954 became the War in Vietnam that finally ended in a North Vietnamese victory.  Finally, it was in a time when I thought that soldiers were heroes.  And I had no way of comprehending that the veterans of both of those wars would return to something far removed from the parades, celebrations, and yellow ribbons that marked the return of those before them and those after them.

 

I served in the military for four years during the height of the Vietnam War.  But I was smart and, in spite of the long waiting list, I was able to enlist in the Air Force in order to avoid being drafted.  Being drafted meant a high probability of going to Vietnam and that was in the days before you could hope for a high lottery number in the draft.  I knew that I didn’t want to go to Vietnam but I also had thoughts during basic training that, if sent, it would be the honorable thing to do.  Within two years my attitude changed about how honorable it was and I began to oppose the politics that were driving our involvement.  I wasn’t a Christian at the time, so instead of praying, I just hoped that I would never be put into a position where I would have to decide between my sense of duty and my conscience.  I may have been selfish in wanting to avoid the problem, but I also had sincere empathy for those who had faced that decision.

 

So, you may be asking, how does any of this affect our lives as Christians?  Well, as I worked on putting this together I really struggled with that.  I thought about how the Old Testament is filled with wars that I don’t understand.  I thought about how David put down a stick, his shepherd’s staff, and gained a great victory for the Hebrews by using a stone to slay Goliath.  I thought about how memorable events were often marked by placing piles of stones at the place where they occurred.  And I thought about scenes like Abraham, marching to the Lord’s orders, to a place where he would sacrifice his only son.  How his son carried the sticks that would provide the sacrificial fire and how Abraham built an altar out of stones.  But, in spite of my desire to find some clever pattern in the Bible, it really only came down to one thing.  For me, the sticks represent the cross where Jesus sacrificed his life for us.  The stones represent the tombstone that was rolled away to reveal his power over death.  And with those sticks and stones we claim victory, in Jesus’ name, in the war for our eternity.

 

When General George Washington bid farewell to his troops he told them to return home and to live free, for their freedom had been bought for a price – the lives of those who had died in the war.  As we observe this Memorial Day I would like to offer my heart felt respect for those who gave their lives in service to our country – either because of, or in spite of, the politics that drove their sacrifice.  I hope that you will do the same.  When Jesus bid farewell to his “troops” he reminded them that eternal freedom was theirs because he had paid the price with his life.  Then he told them to share that freedom with all nations.  I pray that you will do the same.

 

Please remember that the freedom we enjoy in this country cost many human lives and is fragile in nature.  But the freedom we enjoy with Jesus costs us nothing and lasts forever.

Saying Goodbye To Mom

It was one of those days that they really do make picture postcards out of – a nearly perfect slice of sunshine that warms the soul without overheating the body.  It was October 10, 1999 and our small group was gathered in a rented boat as Captain Mike guided us into the Pacific Ocean just off of San Diego, California.

As we cruised through the harbor, we caught glimpses of seals crowded together on each of the channel buoys with seagulls standing watch on a perch above them.  Hundreds of sea birds soared and swooped and occasionally dove into the water as we passed.  Some pelicans glided like prehistoric birds of prey barely above the water while others posed like statues on dock pilings.  We motored on, leaving in our shallow wake an eclectic armada of watercraft that ranged in size from a two person fishing boat to the massive gray hulk of a Navy aircraft carrier.   We picked up speed after leaving the harbor and, as the boat skipped across the top of the water, bursts of spray along the side glistened with tiny rainbows.

Captain Mike shut down the engines after we reached an uninhabited patch of ocean and we sat there and awkwardly began to share our memories.   We passed around photos and listened as Grandma added vivid color to what had been faded black and white.  She also managed to restore beauty to a poor one-eyed Teddy Bear who had most of his fur loved off by a little girl over 70 years before.  During a quiet moment, I saw a butterfly winging its way past the side of the boat.  It was a surprising sight because we were a couple of miles from land but the butterfly appeared to be unconcerned as it continued in a straight line for a distant island.  It reminded me of a poem I had written several years before – a creased copy of which was the one personal item that Mom included in the envelope of writings she left for me.  Mary later said that she felt that the butterfly was a sign of Mom’s presence – and who am I to argue?  After all, I know from personal experience that God sometimes works in mysterious ways.

When the time came for our final goodbye we stood at the side of the boat, each with a hand on the bag that contained the ashes, and slowly poured them into the ocean.  The water, which had been almost black in color, was transformed into a beautiful shade of green as the ashes, like a gentle cloud suspended just below the surface, drifted slowly toward the open sea.  Mary tossed a rose onto the water and we stood in silence for a few minutes until the cloud was out of sight.  Goodbye Mom, we love you.

 

 

Goose

This morning I want to tell you a true story.  A couple of years ago, a friend of mine from church bought a place out in the country.  On the property was a small pond and in the middle of the pond he noticed a goose.  No one had lived there for several months so my friend thought that the goose would eventually leave after they moved in.  Instead, the goose stayed on so eventually he gave it a name.  He called it “Goose”.  Now Goose was kind of a confused critter.  It seems that he didn’t quite know that he was a goose.  For instance, when the deer would come around in the evening Goose would get out of the pond and not only follow the deer around, but he would also kind of act like them.  If they got something to eat, then he would get something to eat.  If they got something to drink, then he would get something to drink.  When they left, he went back to the pond.  But it wasn’t just the deer that Goose would try to act like.  He did the same thing when the turkeys came around.  Goose definitely had an identity problem.

 

One day my friend’s wife was at the feed store and saw a few baby ducks that were left over from Easter.  She couldn’t stand to think of them as being orphaned so she bought them and brought them home to put in the pond.  She wasn’t sure how Goose would react to having to share the pond with the ducks but the most amazing thing happened.  Instead of Goose being jealous of the ducks or trying to act like them he immediately started acting like their parent.  He would round them up if they wandered off and if someone he didn’t know came toward them, then Goose would herd the ducks into the pond and away from possible danger.

 

One evening, my friend heard a lot of squawking and commotion so he looked out his window.  The loud squawking was coming from Goose as he raced toward the pond, followed closely by the ducks.  Back where they had been was a bobcat.  Goose had sensed the bobcat in time to head back toward the safety of the pond but one of the ducks was a little slow and got caught.  When Goose heard the cries of the captured duck he stopped, turned around, lowered his head like geese do when they get riled up, and charged back toward the bobcat.  Well the bobcat was so surprised to see this that he let go of the duck.  But that wasn’t good enough for Goose.  He kept charging and rammed right into the stunned bobcat.  Fur and feathers were flying as my friend ran out toward them.  The bobcat ran off when he saw my friend coming but the damage had been done.  Goose was badly injured and only lasted a couple more days.

 

There are two morals that we can get from this story.  The first is that Jesus is kind of like Goose because instead of abandoning us to the claws of our sin he gave his life to save us.  The second moral is that sometimes we are like Goose.  We go around not knowing quite who we are or what our purpose in life should be.  But life is full of opportunities to care for someone else.  Maybe it’s just a small thing like helping someone carry their plate to the table when they have their hands full.  The point is that we are doing it for someone other than ourselves.  And in that way I think we find a little bit of what God wants all of us to be.

The Goldfish Experience

I was sitting and enjoying some quiet reading time when my peripheral vision detected the outline of what appeared to be a translucent version of the bouncing ball from the old ‘Mitch Miller Show’.

“Look what I won, Daddy!”

As I looked up from my book I came face to face with a small plastic bag, filled with water.  The face on the far side of the bag belonged to my young daughter.  The face inside of the bag looked like a very small version of the one that Jonah must have seen just before being ingested.  From my perspective the view was almost as unnerving.

The bag and its occupant began bouncing as my daughter hopped from foot to foot.  “It’s a goldfish, Daddy, and I won him at the Fourth of July pool party!”

Recovering some of my composure I made a mental note to not renew my membership at the community pool.

At this point my daughter stopped her bouncing which, I’m sure, made the fish happy.  Unfortunately, however, the bouncing stopped because my daughter was now looking unhappy.

“I know I can’t keep him, can I?”

In similar situations, some people come all unglued.  After all, they think, how can you snatch away joy from the heart of your precious offspring?  I, on the other hand, have very little problem saying no.  I first weigh the facts at hand and then make a rational decision.  In this particular case, as every adult knows, the odds are about even that the fish will die soon after you have invested 50 or 60 dollars in the necessary accessories for it.  If the fish doesn’t die of natural causes in a short time, then it usually dies of neglect at the hands of the very kid who swore that they would carefully feed it and clean its bowl.  A third likely prospect, in our house, is that one of our cats will eventually crack the combination to the fish vault and sample the delights of domestic sushi.  In any case, the odds were that the fish would soon be riding the old toilet bowl express to fishy heaven.  Even so, I hated to break her heart so I decided to try the logical approach.

“But sweetheart, I don’t think we even have anything to put him in.  Besides, we don’t have any fish food, or a net, or any of that other stuff we need.”  I sat back like F. Lee Bailey after a closing argument and waited for her to come to the right decision.

She screwed up her face for a moment as she pondered the self-evident truth of my words, then broke out with a smile.  “Mommy has a big bowl in the garage that we can use, and we can get fish stuff at K-mart, and…”

I took a deep breath.

“…Kelly can teach me how to take care of him, and I can take him to school for show and tell, and….”

I started feeling a brain cramp coming on.

“…and, and, well, I just really want to keep him.”

Realizing that adult logic was useless, I decided to change to my ‘Father Knows Best’ mode.  As I tried to set my face into a classic Robert Young pose, I could see a small puddle forming on the lower lids of my daughter’s eyes.

“…I, ah, well, I guess we could try it.”  Jeez, I thought, who said that?

“Oh thank you Daddy!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Then off to the garage she ran, cats and furniture scattering in all directions.

Together we carefully cleaned up the old terrarium bowl, and then poured the contents of the plastic fish bag into it.  Next we added enough water to provide a semi-spacious home for the fish, and then set the bowl on top of a dresser in her room.  She looked at it for about thirty seconds, then headed out the door to find more entertaining activity.  I shuffled back to my recliner a defeated man.

About an hour later I took a snack break and decided to check on ‘Goldie’.  As I opened the door to my daughter’s bedroom, I could sense an unsettling stillness.  Sure enough, as I slowly approached the bowl, I found ‘Goldie’ in a still life pose of the classic Australian crawl position.  As I toted the bowl and its deceased occupant to the bathroom, I tried to distance myself by pretending that I was the person in charge of cleaning up road kill.  I also wondered, just for a moment, what size toilet it would take to handle a flattened raccoon.

Once again, I cleaned out the bowl and set it back on the shelf in the garage.  I hadn’t had much time to ponder the words I would use to break the news to my daughter when she came flying back into the house.  Fortunately, I thought, at least she hadn’t brought home some of her little friends to show off her new pet.

She whirled to a halt when she saw my worried parent look.

“Honey,” I began, “I’m afraid that I have some bad news.”

She looked up at me for a moment, then said “my fish died, didn’t he?”

I tried, in vain, to think of some comforting words.  “Yes, I’m afraid he did.  And I guess I don’t know why.”

She placed a reassuring hand on my arm.  “That’s o.k., Daddy.  Other kids’ fish have died too.  Maybe the fish store gave us a bunch of sick fish.

She tossed her pigtails back and shrugged her shoulders.  “Or maybe the fish just didn’t like being in such a small bowl after getting to swim in the big pool.”

I was in a bit of a fog, and thankful that she was taking it all so well.  Just then, the last of her words filtered through, and an incredulous look forced its way onto my face.  “The fish were swimming in the big pool?”

“Yeah,” she said.  “The lifeguards put them in the pool, and we all swam around catching them.”

As I slumped back into my recliner I felt just a small amount of relief that the mystery of Goldie’s demise was solved and that the facts showed my daughter and I to be blameless.  I also realized that none of the lifeguards was a biology major.