I've moved to another two blogs, one on writing, and one on general stuff like this one. Please come visit! MY NEW BLOGS:

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, Everyone

Gee, I had trouble thinking about what to write about on new year's eve day. I decided to start off with a common song that's often sung at the stroke of midnight: Auld Lang Syne. I found a short history of this song, part of a longer article, here. This was written by Stephen Lynch of the Orange County Register on December 31, 1999, and I hope I'm not violating rights here -- the article IS old and available easily on the web.

Mr. Lynch writes:

Auld Lang Syne means "old long since" and is adapted from a traditional Scottish folk tune. The basic words date to at least 1711, though some scholars say it was mentioned as early as 1677. Scottish poet Robert Burns is credited with first publishing it, in the mid-1790s, and, researchers say, smoothing out some of the verses and changing the melody.

The song recalls the days gone by and says we will always remember them. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?" it asks. No, the chorus replies: "For auld lang syne (for times gone by), we'll tak (drink) a cup o' kindness yet."

As for the other lyrics, Verse 2 refers to friends at separate places (or pubs), drinking to each other. Verses 3 and 4 talk about a long journey to find that friend, running "about the braes" (hillsides), and "pou'd the gowans fine" (pulled the pretty daisies), and getting tired doing so ("wander'd mony a weary fit," or "a weary foot" depending on the version). It continues with wading streams ("paidl'd in the burn"), from dusk until dinnertime, but even then, broad ("braid") seas roar between them.

But finally, in the last verse, the friends find each other. And they "tak a right guid-willie waught" ("drink a goodwill drink") for times gone by.


Here is the song:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

Chorus (repeated between stanzas):
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stoop
And surely I'll be mine
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes
And pou'd the gowans fine
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot
Sin' auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn
Frae mornin' sun till dine
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

And here's a hand, my trusty fiere
And gi'e's a hand o' thine
And we'll tak a right good willy waught
For auld lang syne.


For me, I am saddened by the fast passage of time, and new year's eve day just seems to emphasize this. My kids tease me about being "old" and living with Truman or even Hoover, but you know, when those gentlemen were president life for everyone felt real and immediate, just as it does now. Watching movies from the eighties I'm surprised at how dated things seem, and how old the actors look now. I remember going to the theater when these movies were brand new.

2008 has been a pretty good year for me, although with great sadness intertwined. Maybe it's always like this, but then why do we have a sense of something better, richer, happier? Hmm, theological ponderings for another day. The point is to trust and pray. Keep striving, keep pushing forward. Learn from the past, treasure it, but don't stay there however tempting it may be. You never know what's in store.

Disjointed? I'm sorry; I'm writing this late at night tonight. Happy new year, my dear friends.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Feast

I remember reading a long time ago that eating lentils gives you good luck for the new year. Well, I don't believe in luck, but lentils are still pretty good! I try to make this meal every New Year's Eve.

What are some of your traditions, if any? I'd love to hear!


Lentil Soup

3 or 4 chicken breasts -- I cook boneless breasts in a pressure cooker until the meat is quite tender, then shred it.

about 4 cups dried lentils

about 16 cups chicken broth, divided

1 1/2 cups chopped onions -- I cheat to use a frozen bag of chopped onions. You can saute these in olive oil if you want.

1-2 cans (11 oz each) condensed tomato soup

2-3 cans (15 oz each) diced tomatoes

16 oz fresh spinach, or 1 bag frozen chopped spinach (NOTE: use the fresh spinach if you can -- it's really good!)


Rinse lentils in collander, then in saucepan cover them with water or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let them simmer awhile until they're soft (1-2 hours). Add onions and simmer for awhile. Add broth as needed. Mix in chicken, tomato soup, and diced tomatoes. Lastly, add spinach, but don't cook for a long time with the spinach. You can serve this the same day, or let it go till tomorrow. BTW making soup is just throwing stuff in the pot, so if you have some nice-looking sweet potatoes or carrots or celery or whatever, just add 'em in! Season with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, or whatever. This soup freezes well.


Hot Biscuits

best served with butter and jam

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
scant cup milk (or about 1/3 cup dried milk plus water)

Mix together, adding flour as needed to make thick dough. Knead until smooth, roll out, and cut. Reroll scraps and cut again -- you know the drill. Bake at 425F until lightly browned.


Key Lime Pie

OK, it's not REALLY key lime, but this pie is reminiscent! Very easy and impressive.

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs or about 5-6 graham crackers, crushed
1/4 cup sugar
3/8 cup oil

Mix together and press into bottom of pie pan


2 whole eggs
2 (14 oz) cans sweetened condensed milk (fat-free or regular)
4 oz lime juice
4 oz lemon juice
1 container Cool Whip, defrosted

Mix eggs, milk, and lemon/lime juice -- pour into prepared pan. Bake 350F about 15 minutes or until a light glaze forms. Cool in refrigerator for a few minutes, then spread Cool Whip on top. Store in refrigerator.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Goal Setting for the New Year

Well, it's that time of the year again. Goals are a mixed bag: on the one hand, they give you something to shoot for, yet on the other, sometimes they're just something to make you feel guilty. Every year I like to set just a few, very specific, goals, realistic things that I commit myself to. For 2008, for example, my goal was to have a published book by the end of the year. And here it is!

So, how do you set goals? This is my usual routine:

First, I figure out what I want my life to look like next year. Nothing elaborate, but one or two basic things. The best goals are those with a realistic, specific outcome; for example, for 2009 I want to complete drafts of two manuscripts. Don't set your goal outcome to be something beyond your control e.g. to win that award -- instead make it that you will meet all deadlines, and work X amount of time, and produce Y output, to enter the contest.

Next, break the goal down: all of the steps that will be necessary to complete this goal. Then, divide the steps up into 12 months. Determine how much output on a weekly basis you need to do in order to meet this goal.

Some helpful tips to keeping goals are:

1. make sure this is a goal you REALLY want, not something that you think you *should* do but you won't stick with.

2. This is the most important step. If you do nothing else, do this one:


3. keep a log in a notebook or on the computer that you write in weekly or preferably more often. Write down how you've met your output for the week, other problems that have cropped up, and how you'll need to manage them -- all the notes to help keep you on track.

4. Remind yourself why it's important to accomplish this goal. Write it down periodically.

5. Every time you've met a weekly or small goal, take a moment to tell yourself you did a good job! If it's something bigger, maybe you can go out to dinner or watch a movie or do something else for fun.

6. If possible, find an accountability partner who will (nicely) ask you how you're doing.

So, what are some of your goals? Have you met your goals in the past? How did you do it?

~happy new year, my dear friends~

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas

Hi Everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas celebration, and you keep Christmas in your hearts the rest of the year through.

This poem was posted on Lydia's blog here, and she kindly gave me permission to repost it on my blog. While it may be read as a pretribulation *rapture* -- something I don't believe will happen -- it emphasizes the suddenness with which Jesus will appear. In that spirit, I hope you find this poem as interesting as I did. Thanks, Lydia!


(author unknown)

'Twas the night before Jesus came and all through the house
Not a creature was praying, not one in the house.
Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care
In hopes that Jesus would not come there.

The children were dressing to crawl into bed.
Not once ever kneeling or bowing a head.
And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap
Was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.

When out of the East there arose such a clatter.
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But angels proclaiming that Jesus was here.
With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray
I knew in a moment this must be THE DAY!

The light of His face made me cover my head
It was Jesus! returning just like He had said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.

In the Book of Life which He held in His hand
Was written the name of every saved man.
He spoke not a word as He searched for my name;
When He said "it's not here" my head hung in shame.

The people whose names had been written with love
He gathered to take to His Father above.
With those who were ready He rose without a sound.
While all the rest were left standing around.

I fell to my knees, but it was too late;
I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight;
Oh, if only I had been ready tonight.

In the words of this poem the meaning is clear;
The coming of Jesus is drawing near.
There's only one life and when comes the last call
We'll find that the Bible was true after all!

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Didn't Forget :-)

Another post will be up tomorrow. I wanted yesterday's Christmas post to stay up one more day.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Gift

Because it is such a joyful holiday, this can be a difficult time of year if you are missing someone or mourning losses. However, whoever you are, you have at least one Christmas gift: God's Christmas gift.

I often like to ask people what a Christian believes? Many people answer "A Christian believes in God," but really many non-Christians do also-- for example Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and people without any faith at all.

So, what does a Christian believe that is unique?

The kernel of the Christian message can be found in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)

A Christian believes that God is so Holy that there is nothing that anyone can do to ever be good enough to be with Him. To be reconciled, God sent Jesus, His only Son, God, man, of one being with the Father although also separate (The Trinitarian doctrine that no one can completely understand in this life; I won't go into this here). Jesus lived a perfect life, and died as the perfect Passover lamb for the ultimate sacrifice. A clear, entertaining, fun, 3 minute video that explains this concept of grace is here.

If a person acknowledges that he is unable to be "good enough" for God's standards, and accepts Jesus' death and resurrection as a substitutionary provision, he WILL be reconciled with God, which means he will be with Him forever, on earth now and in Heaven for all eternity. This is the only way to be reconciled with God (John 14:6: Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV))

I came to my faith as a skeptic who didn't want to believe in God, and after almost a year of study and piecing many bits of evidence together, was blown away by the strength of the case for the resurrection.

God ardently wants you. He loves you more than you can understand. All you have to do is accept His Christmas gift, Jesus. Your life in one way will be easier because He will now always walk with you, and in another way will be harder because you will change, and grow, and conform to the likeness of Christ. But the difficulties, even the rejections or other problems from becoming a Christian, are so outweighed by the good it isn't even worth comparing (Romans 8:18).

I saw a billboard last year that I love:


God is love. Don't turn away from Him.


Note: As I'm writing this I did a little googling, and found a good site that probably explains "becoming a Christian" better here. BTW this particular site is Baptist, I am now Lutheran;the differences in denominations are interesting but not essential to the core belief of Jesus as Savior and Lord.There are many other sites on what a Christian believes or how to become a Christian as well; just do a google search. For brevity and clarity on this blog entry, I left out some Bible references but I'm delighted to cite chapter and verse if you write me to ask.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

This is one of my favorite carols. I first heard it as an adult, during a difficult period of my life, and it stuck with me. Hope.

The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1864, a few months before General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote many lyric poems including Paul Revere's Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was born in Maine, attended Bowdoin College (that of a favorite Civil War hero of mine, Joshua Chamberlain), and in 1854 moved to Cambridge Massachusetts.

Longfellow and his wife, Fanny, had six children. In 1861 while Fanny was preserving locks of her children's hair, her dress caught fire and she died of burns the next day. Longfellow, while trying to save her, was also burned. He mourned her death until the day he died.

I liked this video of the carol, featuring the music of MercyMe. It juxtaposes despair and hope, our only hope, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The fourth and fifth stanzas, referring specifically to the Civil War, are usually omitted.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

(stanza usually omitted)

Then from each black accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

(stanza usually omitted)

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


This past Sunday at sundown was the start of the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah.

The story goes like this: A few centuries before the birth of Jesus, Israel was occupied by the Greeks. During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in 167 BCE, Antiochus ordered the Jewish Temple to be the site of an altar to the god Zeus, and defiled it by sacrificing a pig. The Jews, led by the priest Mattathias and his five sons (Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah), led a rebellion and liberated the Temple. Judah "The Hammer" (Yehuda Hamakabi, or Judas Maccabeus), took over leadership of the rebellion when his father died. Judah cleansed the Temple and built a new altar. Inside the Temple was a menorah, a seven-branched candlestick, that burned continuously. Only enough consecrated oil was found to burn for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight -- enough time to prepare fresh oil. A miracle was therefore declared, and an 8 day festival was celebrated. The story is found in the Talmud.

Hanukkah, the *Festival of Lights*, is celebrated by an 8-candle menorah. One candle for each night is lit with the shamash, the attendant candle. Then, the family sings Hanukkah hymns (Haneirot Halalu and/or Maoz Tzur), recites the Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer that praise and thank HaShem for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few...the wicked into the hands of the righteous."

The family dines on fried foods -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts) -- to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted. A popular game is playing with the dreidel, a spinning top with four Hebrew letters that stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there." Hanukkah gelt, gifts or money, are given to children. It is a joyous and happy time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Cookies

I went through my recipes this weekend to pick out a few favorites. I'll include some recipes over the next few days. What are your favorites? Post a comment -- I'll put your recipe up also.



1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
halved pecans

Cream butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sift together and add flour, baking powder, and salt. Drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheet, and center a pecan half on each cookie. Bake 350F about 10 minutes or until done.



8 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (to stabilize egg whites)
2 tsp almond extract
2 2/3 cups sugar

Use a metal or glass bowl, and make sure your bowl and beaters are grease-free before you begin. Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and almond extract until foamy. Add sugar one tablespoon at a time, beating on high until sugar dissolves and meringue forms stiff peaks. The meringue should hold a trench that you cut into it, and if you turn the bowl upside down they won't fall out. Don't overbeat. Drop by teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheets (you can line sheet with aluminum foil). Bake 250F about 30 minutes or until golden. Let them cool and dry out if they don't come off the tray easily.

My daughter likes to crunch up candycanes and add these instead of some of the sugar (and eliminate the almond extract). Personally, I think you get a better flavor using peppermint extract instead of almond, and if you like add a little red food coloring.


No-Bake Oatmeal Cookies

Line your cookie trays with waxed paper, and get your ingredients ready before you begin, because this recipe moves quickly.

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup (8 tablespoons) cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed (dark)
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp salt

Bring to a boil for 2 1/2 minutes exactly.

1/2 cup butter/margarine (1 stick)
1 tsp vanilla

Add without stirring

3 cups oatmeal, either quick or old-fashioned

Stir in oatmeal.

Drop quickly by teaspoons onto waxed paper-lined cookie sheets. The mixture will cool and harden quickly.



Saturday, December 20, 2008

Last Minute Contest for Giveaways

Deadline is tomorrow, December 21st, so you want to scoot over here quickly!

Tina Anne Forkner is hosting a contest with some great CDs and books for giveaway. You enter by commenting on her blog, and there are extra credit entries. Here is her description from her website, or travel directly by clicking here.



I am so excited that my agent has given me a whole box of amazing products to give away to one lucky person! This is a short contest, so get the word out! Leave your comments or email me by Sunday, December 21st!

Update: Receive Five Extra Entries if you post about this contest on your own blog and leave the link here. *AND Just a note that you can also enter by emailing me directly or by leaving your comments on my Facebook page or my Cafe Mom page. Some of you already have! *

New Prize Expansion Update: my publisher has generously donated a box of books! See the books included, in addition to the great CDs below.

The Gift Package Includes:

Amy Grant CD - The Christmas Collection
Travis Cottrell CD - Ring The Bells
Travis Cottrell CD - Found
Point of Grace CD - Tennessee Christmas
Point of Grace CD - How You Live Deluxe Edition
Michael W. Smith CD - It’s a Wonderful Christmas
Tina Ann Forkner - My novel, Ruby Among Us
New Book Additions to the Grand Prize!
God Gave Us Christmas, Lisa T. Bergren
My Mother’s Wish, Jerry Camery-Hoggatt
Bon Appetit, by Sandra Byrd
Sister Chicks Go Brit!, by Robin Jones Gunn

2nd Prize
The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, Beth Patillo
When Zeffie Got a Clue, Peggy Darty
Ruby Among Us, Tina Ann Forkner
The Busy Mom’s Devotional, by Lisa T. Bergren

3rd Prize
Cyndere’s Midnight, Jeffrey Overstreet
Boo Humbug, Rene Gutteridge
A Mile in My Flip-Flops, by Melody Carlson

Runner Up
101 Cups of Water, by c.d. baker

Here are the Rules:
(Note: If you live outside of the United States or Canada and happen to win the prize, we’ll ship to any United States address you choose.)

1) Leave a comment and be sure it links back to your email information or that you leave your email in the comment.

2) Five Extra Entries - If you have given to a charitable cause in 2008.

3) Two Extra Entries - If you buy a copy of Ruby Among Us in December. You are on the honor system here.

4) One Extra Entry - If you have ever purchased a copy of Ruby Among Us.

5) One Extra Entry - If you have purchased ANY book during the month of December.

6) One Extra Entry - If you have purchased any CD by one of the artists mentioned in this giveaway during the year 2008.

7) One Extra Entry - If you have ever checked Ruby Among Us out from the library.

One Extra Entry - If you have ever read Ruby Among Us at all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let Me Hold You Longer

Let Me Hold You Longer
a poem
by Karen Kingsbury

Long ago you came to me, a miracle of firsts;
First smiles and teeth and baby steps, a sunbeam on the burst.
But one day you will move away and leave to me your past
And I will be left thinking of a lifetime of your lasts.

The last time that I held a bottle to your baby lips
The last time that I lifted you and held you on my hip,
The last night when you woke up crying,
Needing to be walked,
When last you crawled up with your blanket
Wanting to be rocked.

The last time when you ran to me still small enough to hold
The last time when you said you'd marry me when you grew old.

Precious simple moments and bright flashes from your past
Would I have held on longer if I'd known they were your last?
Our last adventure to the park, your final midday nap
The last time when you wore your favorite faded baseball cap.

Your last few hours of kindergarten, last days of first grade,
Your last at bat in Little League, last colored picture made.
I never said goodbye to all your yesterdays long past
So what about tomorrow? Will I recognize your lasts?

The last time that you catch a frog in that old backyard pond
The last that you ran barefoot across our fresh-cut lawn
Silly, scattered moments and bright flashes from your past
I keep on taking pictures, never quite sure of your last.

The last time that I comb your hair or stop a pillow fight,
The last time that I tuck you in and pray with you at night.
The last time when we cuddled with a book just me and you,
The last time you jump in our bed and sleep between us two.

The last piano lesson, the last vacation to the lake
Your last few weeks of middle school, last soccer goal you make.
I look ahead and dream of days that haven't come to pass
But as I do I sometimes miss today's sweet precious lasts.

The last time that I help you with a math or spelling test
The last time when I shout that "Yes! Your room is still a mess!"
The last time that you need me for a ride from here to there
The last time that you spend the night with your old tattered bear.

My life keeps moving faster, stealing precious days that pass
I want to hold on longer, want to recognize your lasts.
The last thing that you need my help with, details of a dance,
And the last time that you asked me for advice about romance.

The last time that you talked to me about your hopes and dreams
The last time that you wear a jersey for your high school team.
I've watched you grow and barely noticed seasons as they pass
If I could freeze the hands of time, I'd hold onto your lasts.

For come some bright fall morning, you'll be going far away
College life will beckon in a brilliant sort of way
One last hug, one last goodbye, one quick and hurried kiss,
One last time to understand just how much you'll be missed.

I'll watch you leave and think how fast our time together passed
So let me hold on longer, God, to every precious last.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Music on the Radio

I hear the music on the radio.

The radio speakers disturb the molecules of air in an outgoing pattern, and soon the disturbed air reaches me. When I am in its path, the molecules of air push against my tympanic membrane, the ear drum, back and forth. On the other side of the tympanic membrane those three smallest bones, whimsically shaped like a hammer, anvil, and stirrup, fit together in an intricate interlocking shape. They gently tap, tap, tap at the membrane on the other side of the middle ear leading to the inner ear, the eliptical window, one of the two little windows of the cochlea. The other window, the oval window, gives enough flexibility to allow the fluid inside the cochlea to move.

To the north of the inner ear there are three hoop-like structures, the semicircular canals, that regulate my balance. Inside that section are otoliths, tiny crystals, that fall onto a floor spiked with nerves that feed directional information to my brain. In the brain the nerves for balance run close to the areas regulating nausea, which is why I sometimes feel sick if my position has been manipulated on the tilt-a-whirl at the carnival.

The south side of the inner ear is spun like a snail shell, around, around, larger to smaller, the cochlea. It's filled with a viscous fluid that flows gently over the cochlear membrane. If you could unwind the cochlea you might better see in your mind's eye the plush carpet of nerves spread along the structure. The ends of the nerves look like little hairs embedded into the fluid. The cochlear fluid moves very particularly according to how the little bones tap tapped on the window, stimulating precise hair cells of the cochlear membrane and causing those, and only those, neurons to fire. The neuronal signals travel into the region of the brain under the skull just on the other side of the ear: the temporal lobe. The brain interprets the firing of the nerves, digital to analog, and sends those signals on to the brain's processing centers, and so on, and so forth.

And so, I hear the music on the radio. I know it, and I smile.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

At Seventeen

Today I wanted to share a song I ran across, Janis Ian's *At Seventeen*. Do you remember this one? It's a little before my time but somehow I still found it as a kid.

I think many or most people feel *not good enough* at some point. As someone who's been here, not only as a kid but adult as well, I just wanted to reflect that it's important to be kind to people -- you don't know what a smile or sympathetic word may mean to them.

By Janis Ian

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth...

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say "come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen...

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said: "Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve"
The rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly...

So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen...

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me...

We all play the game, and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say: "Come, dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen...

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Lesson from Three Stories

There are three stories that are considered classics and yet have always irritated me. Watching one of them this weekend (guess which?), I think I understand why, and there's a lesson in them for improving one's writing. Here they are:

1. Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. Yes, I know this is a ballet and one goes for the dancing not the story, but I can't help being a curmudgeon. (BTW I love the dancing...) Very quickly, at a Christmas party Clara is given a nutcracker that her brother promptly breaks. After midnight Clara dreams she sees the mouse king and Nutcracker fighting -- through her heroic slipper-throwing she dispatches the mouse king and breaks the spell on her beloved Nutcracker, who is really a handsome prince (of course). The prince takes her to the Kingdom of the Sweets where he and Clara hold court over all the dancing subjects in the kingdom who celebrate the prince's return and Clara's bravery. The end.

2. Alice in Wonderland (Disney's movie, 1951). Yes, I know Lewis Carroll wrote this novel as a veiled political commentary of Britain in 1865, but the movie makes no sense. I hated it even as a kid. Alice is bored, then sees a white rabbit with a watch and the nonsense begins. I basically learned from this movie not to eat or drink strange things lying around: Alice shrinks or grows tall, talks to disappearing cats, attends bizarre tea parties, rumbles with the Queen of Hearts ("Off with her head!") and basically has a confusing time of it before waking and realizing it was all a dream. The end.

3. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming's 1939 movie). Yes, I know this extravaganza broke a lot of ground, including the use of Technicolor and Judy Garland's song *Over the Rainbow*, had a fabulous set and cast of many, won many awards, and is considered a classic, but what can I say? Dorothy on her way home from rescuing her dog is caught up in a tornado and dropped in the land of Oz. She's chased by the Wicked Witch of the West (love Margaret Hamilton), wears ruby slippers, and wanders through the country picking up assorted companions to find the Wizard of Oz so he can send her home. I'm still trying to figure out her line at the end that goes something like, "I learned that when I go looking for my heart's desire, I don't have to go farther than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never lost it in the first place." Huh?? The end.

Does anyone see what the common problem in these stories might be? Anyone? Anyone?

I think the reason these stories don't work well as stories is that they don't have a point. In all three, the main character goes on a journey, but comes back exactly the same as before. Well, Dorothy in Oz DOES have a character arc, but it's an obvious one: She basically learns that it's good to be home. This is like saying that the grass is green. Do I CARE about what happens to Clara, Alice, or Dorothy? Not really.

So, in light of this, how might one make a story gripping? How might one cause the reader or viewer to identify with the protagonist?

Answer: There must be a common element within the protagonist with which your reader or viewer identifies. By this I'm not talking about statistical data (white male, 30s, lives in Chicago, day trader), but rather, what the protagonist desires in the story, the point through which the character arc traverses.

Let's do another example: Rocky, a classic film that I just love love love! But wait a moment. I detest boxing; I can't stand the violence, crowds, yelling, smoke, etc. etc. I'm not an Italian man. I don't live in Philadelphia. I don't go to bars, or have friends who trash their houses with a baseball bat when they're angry. I don't punch raw meat. I DO love dogs, so I could see myself with the Boxer, Budkins (I think), that Adrienne gives Rocky at one point, but that's about it. Oh, and the music is great.

But surely this isn't enough to keep me watching. What I love about this movie is Rocky's determination to make something of himself: he doesn't want to be "just another bum from the neighborhood." Gee, I can definitely identify with this! I know that this is a hard thing to accomplish. I watch Rocky's hearbreaking struggle: he's pushed down at every turn, but somehow through a lucky break and some very hard work, he's able to claw himself up to prominence. He doesn't even win the final fight; just that even so he has indeed become a Somebody through hard work and determination.

Rocky's character arc parallels the arc I wish for my own life. He fights; I fight. He's knocked down; I'm knocked down. He makes progress; well, maybe I can make progress too! There's some hope!

The reader or viewer must deeply care about your protagonist. To do this, there must be a deep abiding drive in your protagonist that your reader or viewer can identify with, and root for, and hope to see victorious. If your hero can do it, the reader or viewer thinks, then maybe so can I.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yet Another Fun Website That Helps Others Too

Bluesky left the following comment for my blog entry A Fun Website that Helps Others Too

"Another great charity site is It donates money to children in need through World Vision."

This site also tests your vocabulary. I gave it a try, and it's pretty cool! You earn a quarter of a cent for each question you get right -- the words are easier to start with too, which made me feel a little smarter :-) (I'm not the word genius I think some of you others are -- just ask Avily with her word game Wednesdays).

You can check out this site here

Thanks, Bluesky!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Put Your Best Stuff Up Front

When I coach writing, we do a lot of examination of first drafts to make them better. An exchange might go something like this:

Writer: I want to put this scene a bit further back.

Me: Why? It's great where it is!

Writer: Well, it's a flashy scene...

Me: Yes, that's why it's great. You've really developed your action well, and the characters move also. And it fits with this stage of the story.

Writer: But if this comes up front, will the reader feel like there should be more scenes like this one?

Or a variant of this conversation thereof.


My advice is always, always, put your best stuff up front. Don't hold anything in reserve.

The writer often feels (even if not articulated) that he or she isn't capable of writing at this high level of quality throughout the whole manuscript. And in a sense this may be true, but there is a wonderful technique called cutting and pasting that's so easy. Simply go through your manuscript and cut the bad stuff, put all the good stuff end to end, then fill in the holes.

To fill in the holes?

The bigger hurdle for the writer often is the sense of inadequacy: I was lucky with this one scene, but I CAN'T do this again!

Yes you can. Have faith in yourself. If you use up all of your good stuff, you're going to HAVE to come up with something else, something just as good. And you will. Many studies have shown that the best way to become skilled in an area is, surprise, doing it. So keep writing, even if it stinks, and when something's good, copy it and paste it in your end-to-end file. You'll be amazed at how this file begins to grow into a gripping story.

Put your best stuff up front, and then trust that you can produce more. And you know what? You will!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I've Been Tagged!

Rosslyn has tagged me! I need to put down seven random facts about myself. You already know I'm married with two kids, so I'll keep the facts solely about me. OK, here are a few I thought of:

1. When I was a kid I used to ride a unicycle to get around the city, since I could take it with me on public transportation. The 24 inch wheels are better for going places; the 20 inch wheels are better for tricks. I learned to ride backwards a little, but needed a wide space to practice in. And no, I never learned to juggle :-)

2. I taught myself to play guitar. In high school I used to play and sing every day, but not for a long time now. I still play piano though. In college I made good money perfoming flute for weddings and graduations.

3. I'm fashion-challenged. The only things that are important for me about clothing are that it's not too tight, not too loose, and it's a nice color. My favorite colors are red or orange, green, brown, and black. Turquoise or teal are also OK.

4. Numbers stick in my brain -- I can dial a telephone number and remember it a week later. Names and faces, on the other hand, are challenging -- I get my DIH (deer in headlights) look when someone says "hi" to me out of context at the grocery store.

5. Everyone is happier if I don't go camping. I've never been. I never will of my own volition. There's a reason God invented mattresses and hot showers.

6. I am sensitive to noise, and carry earplugs in my purse at all times. When I need to wear them, my hair covers my ears so no one knows. I also don't function well outside during the day without sunglasses.

7. And one more...I long to see dear friends in Heaven.

OK, now I have to tag more friends. Hmm, I need to choose people who will appreciate this. In alphabetical order, how about:

Avily -- But Travis got to her before me! Curse you, Red Baron!
Brenda Susan

I need to write to all of you, so expect the *official invitation* soon... Beware...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Let Go!

This *letter to an insurance company* gets passed around quite a bit. Have a great day!


In response to your request for additional information in block number 3 of the accident reporting form, I put "poor planning" as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more fully and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident I was working alone on the roof of a new six story building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had about 500 lbs. of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at ground level, I went up on the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the brick into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 lbs. of brick. You will note in block number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 lbs. Due to my surprise at being jerked from the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley.

Fortunately, by that time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 50 lbs. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the 2 fractured ankles and the lacerations of my legs and lower body.

The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks, and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in some pain, unable to stand and watching the empty barrel six stories above me, I again lost my presence of mind.

I let go of the rope...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Spinning Wheel Safety

In the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is a princess charmed from birth. Her parents invite fairies in the kingdom to a party, and the fairies give her wonderful gifts: beauty beyond compare, a sweet disposition, a singing voice that sounds like an angel's, and so forth.

Right before the last gift is given, the party is crashed by the wicked (always wicked) fairy who wasn't invited. The wicked fairy then gives her gift: On Aurora's 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle, and die. Cackling, the wicked fairy exits the hall.

The final fairy explains that she cannot take away the spell, but she can soften it: Aurora, instead of dying, will fall into a deep sleep until the enchantment is dissolved.

Aurora's father is understandably not pleased with this turn of events, and gives the order that all spinning wheels must be destroyed: no spinning wheels in the kingdom. You know the rest of the story -- On Aurora's 16th birthday the wicked fairy sets up a room in the castle tower, and entices Aurora to visit. She is spinning, and Aurora who has never seen a spinning wheel, touches the spindle and...

Well, you know.

I know this is a fairy tale, but it always annoys me. Why, says I, didn't the King (Aurora's father) simply teach Aurora spinning wheel safety? Aurora, listen. This is a spinning wheel. They are very dangerous for you because of this enchantment that was put on you when you were a baby. Don't ever touch one, especially not this pointy thing here. Don't be fooled, my dear.

Then again, I shouldn't be so hard on dear old Dad; after all, don't we all live our lives this way? There is a danger of which we may be vaguely aware, either for ourselves or for others, but we'd rather banish any thought of that danger, and therefore stay acutely vulnerable because acutely unprepared.

One of the scariest passages in the Bible to me is when Jesus describes the final judgment:

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." (Matt 7:21-23 NASB)

I read out of this passage that many people may THINK they're OK, when in fact they're not. I know many people who seem disinterested in talking about what happens after you die.

Have you thought about this? Are there even any reliable places to get answers?

I was amazed as I investigated the historic circumstances surrounding Jesus' death --> the evidence, small pieces that had to be hunted and meticulously fitted together, amazingly demonstrated to my satisfaction that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Therefore what he said was reliable, and so on and so forth. This took me a year to investigate, and the final results blew me away.

Think about these things: don't be like Aurora's father.

Monday, December 8, 2008

We Have a Winner!

Everyone, thanks so much for entering the contest for my sister's writing book! (the book I was going to give to her, not the one she wrote, since she hasn't written any :-) It was great to hear from so many people.

Well, I have a winner. Let me explain the determination:

On last Monday's (12/1/08) post, I set up the rule that one comment per blog entry would be eligible for the drawing. I would enter each comment/name into a bowl, and randomly draw someone out.

When I'd tallied all of the names on my sheet of paper and put ticks next to each name for the number of comments, I found that there were a total of 40 comments. The next step was to give each comment a unique number from 1 to 40. You can see the list of names and unique numbers at the bottom of this blog entry.

The list of names goes from most recent blog entry to oldest. I started at the top of each blog entry, so the list of names isn't quite reverse-chronological, and then I counted each comment given by each name sequentially and assigned a number. Yes, if I were doing this experiment absolutely correctly I would have randomized the comments to then assign a number, but this is truly a pain, my dear readers. I figured my procedure was random enough.

Next, when it actually came down to it I didn't want to physically write 40 numbers on scraps of paper and put them in a bowl. Instead I went to a random number generator here and instructed it to pick a number between 1 and 40, inclusive. The generator gave me number 7. This is one of Sarah's numbers, so congratulations Sarah!

But wait, there's more!

I STILL have 9 extra ARCs that will deplete my stock -- but since some people indicated an interest in reading the ARC as much as the Truby writing book, I decided to award a multiple second prize. What the heck, right? Back to the random number generator. The numbers generated were 31, 14, 39, 38, 20, 13, 20, 29, 1. I had to run the generator one more time, since 20 occurred twice. This number was 4.

Therefore, the second-prize winners of these ARCs are:

Lynn (31)
Jessica (14)
Chi (39)
Dmarks (38)
Billy (20)
Inspire (13)
Avily (29)
Joanne (1)
Ruth (4)

OK, I have emails for everyone but Jessica. Jessica, I'll leave a comment on your blog, but get in touch, OK? Everyone else, I'll write you directly -- I need addys to send the books out. I'll be sending by media mail which is cheap, but very slow at this time of year.

To everyone, thanks for participating. The book will be available on amazon by February if not before, so check back!

This contest turned into a bigger deal than I thought :-) But I for one loved it. Thank you, everyone!


Joanne (2 comments) unique numbers 1, 2

Ruth (3 comments) unique numbers 3, 4, 5

Sarah (6 comments) unique numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Inspire (2 comments) unique numbers 12, 13

Jessica (1 comment) unique number 14

Gwen (1 comment) unique number 15

Lydia (3 comments) unique numbers 16, 17, 18

Billy (2 comments) unique numbers 19, 20

Alison (2 comments) unique numbers 21, 22

Philangelus (2 comments) unique numbers 23, 24

Rosslyn (2 comments) unique numbers 25, 26

Avily (4 comments) unique numbers 27, 28, 29, 30

Lynn (3 comments) unique numbers 31, 32, 33

Travis (1 comment) unique number 34

Brenda Susan (2 comments) unique numbers 35, 36

Julie (1 comment) unique number 37

Dmarks (1 comment) unique number 38

Chi (1 comment) unique number 39

Nancy (1 comment) unique number 40

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Writing with Focus

When you are reading about a complex or new subject, it can be hard to know where to keep your attention. For any subject there are the core facts and mechanisms, and then there are the extra factoids that explore a portion of the subject in more detail or are simply grace notes. One way I think of learning is like a closet: you can dump a lot of facts into a jumble, or you can organize them like one of those California things: shoes in the back, pants and ties or dresses color-coordinated, shirts on the low hanger near the front, shelves with drawers to organize the miscellany so you never lose ANYTHING! (BTW, don't you envy people who can do that? But then again, you'd probably have Adrian Monk's hangups, so it might not be worth it...)

Writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, is a way for you to communicate with your reader. When I critique writing, I sometimes find the writer has SPLAT! dumped a lot of facts on me in no particular order. (This has happened to me twice in the last two days; hence it dwells in my mind right now). I have to read quite a few paragraphs to finally understand what the person is trying to say. Sometimes I never do, since the writer has left out critical information.

What do you want to say? Can you say the core of your communication in five words? Can you put your ideas into a reasonable order?

This is a short entry today -- I'd just like to ask you to have pity on your readers as you write. Lead them through your ideas simply, easily. Start by explaining the overall purpose, then move to the details. This blog has leaned more on nonfiction, but there are ways to do this in fiction as well. Hmm, another subject for me to write about...

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Hot Issue

Isaiah 53 is perhaps the most striking messianic passage of the old testament. I had some fun this morning googling Orthodox Jewish responses to this passage: as many of you probably know, a number of Jewish commentaries interpret this passage as referring to the nation of Israel, not an individual person. I found an anti-missionary blog post that was scholarly and well-written here. Man, am I out of my league with some of these arguments!

Still, I believe, along with Martin Luther and the translators of the Old Testament Septugaint* into the common language of the people, that the Scriptures can be read and the simple message of salvation understood by anyone. There are, to be sure, layers upon layers upon layers of organization and information in the Scriptures, but the necessary knowledge is easily unearthed in one verse:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (NKJV)

*The Septugaint (LXX) was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible translated in the 2nd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy (285-247 BC) The LLX translation was used by the Jewish culture in the first century AD, when Jesus lived. This translation was also found in the Qumran cache of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Isaiah lived about 800 years before the birth of Christ. This passage, along with the rest of the OT, was translated into Greek 200 years before the birth of Christ. Read Isaiah's passage in an unbiased fashion to see if this sounds like a nation, or an individual. (NOTE: I do not know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, but there are many translations of the Bible from the original languages into modern English, and they ALL agree the correct translation is to present this passage using the pronoun *He.* )

Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.

Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53, NASB

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Presidential Pardon

With some snarky speculation in the press of how President Obama might be able to pardon George Walker Bush for unspecified crimes, I thought of another story I'd heard about a presidential pardon.

This one happened back in 1829, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The court brief can be found here. The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall.

In December 1829, two men -- George Wilson and James Porter -- committed armed hold-ups in Pennsylvania of trains carrying federal payrolls, and were convicted in May 1830 of robbery, obstructing the mail, and "wounding" persons in the process. They were both sentenced to death, execution to be carried out on July 2nd.

James Porter was duly hanged. However, George Wilson had some influential friends who wrote to the president pleading for mercy, and before the execution date President Jackson issued a formal pardon. In Jackson's pardon, the charges resulting in Wilson's death sentence were completely dropped, and Wilson would have to serve only a prison term of twenty years for his other crimes.

Surprisingly, Wilson refused the pardon.

Since this had never happened before, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether someone could indeed refuse a presidential pardon. Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the court's decision: "A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives to it. George Wilson has refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die."

Wilson's execution was therefore carried out.

The principle behind this decision was simple: in order to be valid, the pardon must be accepted. The person accepting the pardon therefore is implicitly admitting guilt and the need to be forgiven. My thought is that perhaps this is why Wilson never accepted the pardon: he maintained his innocence, although from my understanding of the case, there was little doubt of his guilt.

There are all sorts of theological and other inferences that may be drawn from this story, but I prefer to leave this to you, my dear readers -- and I look forward to reading what you might think!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I like Dogs Better Than Cats

The Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!


The Cat's Diary

Day 983 of My Captivity

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Bastards!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released, and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now ...


shamelessly lifted from after a post on Leo's blog at

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Fun Website that Helps Others Too

Here is a Win-Win website that I hope you try! It's called Here's how you play:

You're presented with a vocabulary word and four possible definitions. Click on the correct definition, and you are then given another word. And so on. Each correct answer is worth 20 grains of rice.

How much do you need to play? Well, according to the site, there are approximately 48 grains of rice in a gram, and a rough rule of thumb is that one person needs approximately 400 grams of rice (mixed with other foods) per day for sustenance. This works out to 400 grams x 48 grains/gram = 19,200 grains of rice per day. If you're earning 20 grains per correct answer, you *only* need to answer 960 questions right to feed one person for one day!

OK, you probably won't get to do that many problems, but that's OK. You, along with thousands of others all playing, can still make a significant dent in world hunger while improving your vocabulary :-)

The rice is earned like this (from the FAQs on the website): When you play the game, sponsor banners appear on the bottom of your screen. The money generated by these banners is then used to buy the rice. So by playing, you generate the money that pays for the rice donated to hungry people...FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is simply a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. While it is not a registered non-profit organization, FreeRice is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Program to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Program directly.

These vocabulary words are hard! Many weren't even in my pocket Merriam-Webster I keep near my computer (I'm not above cheating here :-) The program is good too, because if you get a word wrong it will reappear in a few more questions, allowing you to remember what it was.

The site is now adding other categories such as geography, math, and languages, but I haven't tried those yet. Still, it's fun to play, and heck, you're helping others AND improving your mind at the same time! Sounds pretty good to me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Book Giveaway!

I am a writing book junkie, constantly searching for REALLY GOOD BOOKS to learn more about story construction or story writing. Every year I buy two or so *best of the best* that I've run across for my sister for the holidays, who is laboring to create a novel in between taking care of a husband and toddler.

One of the books I selected for her this year it turns out she already has -- so here I am with a beautiful new book, fresh from amazon, that I've found is extremely helpful! I've been reading this book while sitting at my computer, and answering the writing exercises and questions, and have discovered (internal) angles of my story I hadn't thought of before. It's certainly a good read, albeit intense.

Here's the deal:

Since it's December 1st, we'll call this a Christmas contest. I don't want any big deal thing, so let's do it that each comment between today (Dec 1st) and Saturday (Dec 6) becomes eligible (one comment per person per day) for the grand book drawing that I'll hold on Sunday. Winner is selected by random drawing -- I'll put all comments/names in a bowl and draw one out. Comments can be about that day's topic, current events, topics you'd like me to write about, saying hello, whatever.

But wait, there's more!

I have a few ARCs still left. For the winner of the drawing, if you would also like a copy of my own book A Lever Long Enough (either for yourself or for a holiday present) let me know and I'll autograph it and send it on. These are *limited editions*, advance reader copies, but otherwise it's the same book that will be released on January 12 on amazon. Retail price for Lever will be $15.95, so this is quite a deal! (providing you like the story, of course :-)

OK everyone, happy start of Christmas season.

~enjoy the carols, my dear friend~

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Poem: Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers

by: Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835)

HE breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods against a stormy sky
Their giant branches tossed;

And the heavy night hung dark,
The hills and waters o'er,
When a band of exiles moored their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted came;
Not with the roll of the stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear;
They shook the depths of the desert gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard, and the sea;
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free.

The ocean eagle soared
From his nest by the white wave's foam;
And the rocking pines of the forest roared--
This was their welcome home.

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst the pilgrim band:
Why had they come to wither there,
Away from their childhood's land?

There was woman's fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love's truth;
There was manhood's brow, serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?
They sought a faith's pure shrine!

Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod;
They have left unstained what there they found --
Freedom to worship God.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Cab Ride

This was sent to me by email. I thought it was a good story.

Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving! Did you make a list of all of the things you're thankful for?


The Cab Ride

So I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated."

"Oh, you're such a good boy," she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long."

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Phil 4:4, NASB)

During the early 1600s the Puritans (so named because they wanted to restore Christianity to its "ancient purity") relocated from England to Holland, before deciding they would sail to the New World to establish their own colony where they could worship in peace and without secular pressures and temptations.

They sailed from Holland back to England, and were joined by farmers and tradesmen. On September 16th, 1620, the small Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers seeking a new life in America. (The Mayflower originally had 90 passengers, but when a second ship the Speedwell couldn't sail, 12 of those passengers were added).

On November 19, 1620, the land of the new world was first sighted. Two days later the ship anchored in Provincetown Bay, Massachusetts, far north of the Virginia colonies for which they had been aiming.

Although the passengers debated going south, they finally decided to stay where they were for the winter. Before setting foot on the shore, on November 21st, 1620 (November 11th according to the Julian Calendar, 10 days behind the Gregorian Calendar), 41 of the Pilgrims and other colonists signed the Mayflower Compact that read:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread* Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

*Note: The "dread sovereign" referred to in the document uses the archaic definition of "dread," meaning awe and reverence (for the King), not fear.

Scouting parties identified Plymouth as a place to settle, and on December 30th 1620 the pilgrims disembarked here. Governor William Bradford, describing the first landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth that December, writes:

Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth.... What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men--and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. The season it was winter, sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?

The settlers built log huts. Weakened by the long journey, cold, lack of food, and disease, nearly half of the settlers died that first winter. They buried their dead at night so the Indians wouldn't observe their weakness.

In March of 1621, an Indian named Samoset who knew a few English words visited and then introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, an Indian who had lived in England. Squanto brought corn, and taught the pilgrims how to adapt to the new environment.

In the autumn of 1621 Governor William Bradford set aside a day for public Thanksgiving to God in gratitude for the blessings already received. Chief Massosoit was invited, and brought 60 braves, 5 dressed deer, a dozen wild turkeys and popcorn.

On this day, we are hopefully fortunate enough to sit in our warm homes surrounded by dear ones and enjoying a groaning table full of food. Let us not forget the great blessings and privileges we have and perhaps take as a matter of course. Make a list. Here are a few things I'm grateful for:

God, life, family and dear friends (both here and gone), and the opportunities to pursue dreams

As I read this over, I'm suddenly realizing the things I'm grateful for are the values set forth in the Constitution -- wow, what inspired geniuses they were who set up this country, starting from the Mayflower Compact on up.

I'd love comments to hear what you are grateful for, and how you celebrate Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Divorce

A little irreverent, but pretty funny :-) If you're traveling, have a safe trip!


A man in Jacksonville calls his son in San Diego the day before Thanksgiving and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough."

"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the father says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Denver and tell her."

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced," she shouts, "I'll take care of this,"

She calls Jacksonville immediately, and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "they're both coming for Thanksgiving, and they're paying their own way."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Hero's Mirror

In writing your story, what is your protagonist most afraid of as he pursues the story goal? A useful technique to make his fear larger and more tangible to the reader or viewer is to use a mirror.

The mirror character often acts as an antagonist (not necessarily the primary antagonist) in the story to *block* the hero from reaching his goal, meaning that the hero has constant run-ins with the mirror. But who is this character?

The mirror character is, or used to be, very similar to the protagonist, and faced the same dilemma or moral choice or fear that the hero is facing now. The difference: the mirror made the WRONG choice, and therefore shows what life will be like to the hero if he isn't able to handle this problem correctly.

Two very powerful mirrors are used by JRR Tolkien in his genius work The Lord of the Rings. As a very quick explanation in case you're not familiar with the series, the stories center around THE ONE RING as a representation of absolute power, forged by the ultimate evil called Sauron. A number of creatures, both good and bad, pursue the ring. The ring has fallen into the hands of a humble hobbit named Frodo who must carry it through dangerous lands to destroy it where it had been created, the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo is assisted by many including Samwise Gamgee and Strider.

Mirror #1: Aragorn and Isildur:

Aragorn (Strider) is the rightful heir of Gondor. He is afraid to claim the kingship because he is afraid to be corrupted by the power that it represents, and his fear is mirrored through his ancestor Isildur. Isildur was seduced by the One Ring before he could destroy it, and set into play a traumatic series of events that last many generations.

Mirror #2: Frodo and Smeagol (Gollum):

Frodo is the ringbearer until he can destroy it. He is afraid of the strong seductive power of the ring, seductive because it promises ultimate individual power to the bearer. His fear is mirrored through Smeagol (Gollum), a ruined hobbit once very similar to Frodo, who long ago found the ring and hoarded it inside the mountains. After losing the ring, Smeagol (Gollum) acts nothing so much as a drug addict trying to regain his prize, alternately helping and harming Frodo and Sam as they inexorably travel towards Mount Doom. He ultimately plots (and almost succeeds) to kill Frodo to regain the ring.

These mirrors work together in the story: Aragorn must regain the power although he is afraid, Frodo must relinquish the power although he is tempted.

While designing your story, consider whether you might be able to use a mirror. This powerful technique can add strong resonance and demonstrate your theme in a clear, tangible way.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pumpkin Pie

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving recipes or traditions? Here's one of ours that my 12 year old son proudly makes himself. I'm sure many of you already have this recipe, but it's so good and so easy that I figured what the heck? (I actually make this quite often, not just for Thanksgiving).

Top with whipped cream, Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream, and it makes a great dessert. I even let the kids eat this for breakfast when we have it; it's probably better for them than waffles or some of the cereals.

BTW I have never mastered the pie crust, although I can make one that's *OK* There's a secret to MY pies, though: Two words: GRAHAM CRACKERS.



In a 9" pie plate, combine about 1 to 1 1/4 cups crushed graham crackers (about 10 square or 5 double crackers), 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4-3/8 cup oil. Mix well and press along the bottom and walls of the plate. You can buy the graham crackers already crushed, or put them in a (sturdy) zippie bag and crush them with something -- my kids when they were little used to love this! It ruins the bag, though :-(


Preheat oven to 425F

2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Mix these together until smooth. Add:

15 oz (1 can) pumpkin
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix again until smooth. Pour into prepared pie plate.

Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, then turn down heat in oven to 350F and bake 45 more minutes (or until toothpick comes out clean).

Cool, refrigerate, you're set!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Comforting Verse

I came upon this verse, Psalm 56:8.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Knife Lady

Not too long ago, in the afternoon while I was wiping down the kitchen counter before picking up the kids, my friend Leslie called.

"Amy," she said. "There's a girl here, Kathy, who's working her way through school by selling knives from XX company. Would you be willing for her to come over and show you her products? You don't have to buy anything."

I sighed, but since Leslie was a friend I said sure. Next week Kathy appeared at my door with a suitcase full of fancy knives, and a briefcase full of blank invoices just waiting to be filled out.

Let me just say that I didn't enjoy the experience. It took about two hours -- precious hours -- that I basically had to participate in an infomercial. First Kathy showed me a big photo album of pictures of her with her family, at school, and at the knife store in New York state where she'd visited. Then, she explained to me the anatomy of a knife (actually, of all the things this was moderately interesting to me; the length of the tongue in the handle, the types of metals and tempering used, types of serrations -- it's a real science!). Then we did some practical applications, and she proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that my knives were completely inferior to hers.

I tried to engage her in conversation several times, but no, she always veered directly back to her spiel. The worst part, though, was at the end when she asked me to name three or four friends *who prepared meals.* I came up with names -- who doesn't need a knife in the kitchen SOMETIME, after all -- and she immediately said, "While I pack these supplies, why don't you call them and see if they might like to learn about these knives?" Based on the context there was a lot of pressure, and I actually found myself walking across the kitchen to the phone before a dreadful thought occurred to me.

"Are you a friend of Leslie's?" I asked.

Kathy hemmed and hawed. "Not really. I met her during a presentation like this."

I sure didn't want to subject my friends to sitting through this also. After all, I'd done it as a favor to Leslie, which turned out not to be a favor after all (still have to talk to that girl...)

The most irritating thing to me after this experience was the realization that despite the *personal* approach of Kathy with her sales, to her I was simply meat.

Thinking back, I found it interesting to analyze Kathy's sales tactics. It was a close setting, and Kathy immediately tried to establish intimacy by showing pictures of her life. The knife lecture set the stage for the utter proof of NEED -- my knives don't work, I NEED new knives! Immediately the solution is provided -- Kathy has these beautiful knives, which ones do you NEED. I looked through, said this one was nice, and she immediately whipped out an invoice and started filling it out! No price mentioned -- but believe me, the price was steep. The pressure was crushing.

I kept telling her, No. I hadn't had trouble with my knives before now, as inferior as they might be. I didn't NEED new ones. And pennies are hard to come by.

Say it again. No. I don't NEED it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Outer and the Inner

How does one design a story, whether a novel or a screenplay? I like to think of each story as actually TWO stories, an outer and an inner. The outer story shows the actions that occur in the story, just as if a camera were following them: first the hero goes to this place, he talks with so-and-so, then he hops on his motorcycle, and so forth. The inner story, on the other hand, describes an emotional problem within the hero, and how this problem is solved.

Yes, it is possible to write a story with only an outer narrative, but no matter how flashy this story might be, it will melt away as soon as it's finished. Agatha Christie Books come to mind; so does the terribly expensive movie Cat in the Hat or (for the most part; it had a rudimentary inner story) Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull --> these stories evaporate as soon as they are finished.

I do some coaching with writers for creating and developing their stories. One way to develop a story is first to figure out the THEME you want to explore, and put it in one succinct sentence. Some examples might be:

Great love overcomes even death: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Longing for something outside the self leads to the realization that the answer has been within the self all along: Baum's The Wizard of Oz

Willingness to relinquish absolute power leads to preservation: Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring

Perpetration of a great wrong leads to a great revenge taken by the victim: Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

The story then grows from this theme. Find a line of comparison that highlights the theme (such as rich/poor), and think of scenarios through which the theme might be played. Then, imagine characters who might act in these scenarios.

Designing a story is an enormously complex process, and there is no *A-->B-->C* type of rule book. However, the theme is in many ways the engine of your story. After all, movies and novels are today's myths, and people tell myths to relay truths about the human animal. It's great to have a *shock and awe* plot, but it will fall flat if you don't have an underlying change in the character, reflecting the theme!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The House of Glass

Have you ever heard of the Glass House, also called the Johnson House? This structure was designed, then built, in 1949 by Philip Johnson on his 47 acre estate in Connecticut. The only enclosed space is the bathroom, hidden inside a brick cylinder. Mr. Johnson lived, then died here in January 2005, and the house has since become a National Landmark as a tribute to modern architecture with its use of geometry, proportion, and especially the effects of transparency and reflection.

Sometimes I think about living in this house that Mr. Johnson built, and to say the thought makes me uncomfortable is a gross understatement. The exposure of it to me would be unbearable -- I'm the kid, after all, who hung a blanket over her window so I could feel alone and safe. (Fortunately for my family I've outgrown this practice, although I still feel more comfortable if the curtains are drawn at night :-)

This house draws a metaphor for me, though, about a way this present life might be viewed. First, imagine you suddenly materialize in that glass house at night with no vision at all of what is outside -- if anything -- imagine you do not even know if something IS outside this small world. If all of the lights inside the house are blazing, you will see nothing of the outdoors because the windows will reflect the light, and you will see only reflections of the room. However, if you turn the lights down, and turn your sight to the walls and not the distractions inside the room, you will begin to see the moon, the dark shapes of trees, even stars reflecting on water outside the window. It won't be clear, of course, but you can definitely say that an adjacent environment exists, and a little about what it looks like.

Now, imagine that our present life is like living in that house at night. We can be easily distracted by things of this world, by the blazing lights inside, that reflect the room and shield any knowledge of the next world. But as the lights are dimmed through hardship and negative circumstances, it becomes possible for the next world to become more apparent.

My dear friends, don't be too distracted by the reflections of the windows. Instead, when the lights are turned down, welcome their dimming if you can, but if you can or no, always, always, strive to look beyond the glass walls.