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

Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Hug a Baby

1. First, find a baby.


2. Second, be sure that the object you found was indeed a baby by employing classic sniffing techniques.


3. Next you will need to flatten the baby before actually beginning the hugging process.


4. The 'paw slide': Simply slide paws around baby and prepare for possible close-up.


5. Finally, if a camera is present, you will need to execute the difficult and patented 'hug, smile, and lean' so as to achieve the best photo quality.

Friday, January 28, 2011

You Become Who You Wish to Be

I’m dating myself here. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was delighted to find after school a television channel that showed reruns of the original Star Trek series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Yeah, they were cheesy, but to a young girl they were “fascinating.” Along with books and Star Wars, these were my first initiation into ideas of bending reality and alternate worlds. A few years later I was excited to watch Star Trek: Next Generation. This was objectively a better series, with more complex characters and occasionally a truly mind-twisting premise. The cardboard walls and Christmas tree lights were gone. Yes, maybe the Next Generation episodes were sometimes silly, but as in the first series, full of optimism and derring do.
I love to contrast the characters of Spock and Data from the two series. Spock is a Vulcan – a humanoid who prizes logic and rationality more than anything. Spock never showed emotion, at least until the actor complained and the writers built in a half-human side and a few episodes in which he could deliver a larger emotional range.

Data, on the other hand, is the quintessential Pinocchio: an android built by Dr. Noonian Soong who is incapable of experiencing emotion, although he desperately pursues this aim. Among other things Data learns painting, plays poker, and adopts a cat (Spot), but never quite gets it.

Interestingly, I think of Spock as less human-like than Data. Spock, who is human but wishes to be unemotional, is perceived as unemotional. Data, who is without emotions but “desires” to become human, is perceived as human -- although the crew never forget that he is an android, they always interact with him in a human-like way.

Of course, this perception on my part, as the audience, might be due to skillful acting and writing that imbues a limited character with greater depth. But assuming that this is a true observation, I’ve often pondered why this might be. I think it comes down to this: the characters are perceived, not as who they are or even who they see themselves as, but who they desire to be.

This is a powerful thought.

Who are you aiming to be? What do you wish to accomplish? More than many other factors, these goals will define who you are.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writers Write

This 2 word phrase (writers write) has been a biggie for me -- I tend to be unfocused with my writing, especially when the family needs lots of support as THEIR projects become due. I've heard 5,884,219 times that I should write down my goals, and while it helps immensely to list my priorities and do writing charts, I still need to refocus every day to get things done. I think part of the problem is that my important writing projects are so big that there's no sense of closure at the end of the day.

I read a great book over the holiday, Accidental Genius by Mark Levy, that advocates free writing to solve any and all goal-related problems. Free writing is basically the process of writing down your thoughts, thinking aloud on paper rather than letting your ephemeral cogitations slip through your mind and out your ears. There are a few helpful rules that go with this process, such as LOWER YOUR STANDARDS on your writing quality.

Especially after successfully completing the NANO challenge (National Novel Writing Month, for 50,000 words in 30 days) this past November 2010, I've been practicing just writing... writing... writing... I found that doing 2000 words a day, while not trivial, wasn't nearly as difficult as what I'd been afraid it would be.

OK, so here's my somewhat scary thought for myself for the new year: Writers write! I'm a writer. Therefore I write. And while I have been writing and producing quite a bit already, I want to be more focused and deliberate in my output instead of flitting between half-finished ideas. So, for 2011, I'm going to attempt at least 1000 new words of writing per day, five days per week. If I can do this, this ends up being about 260,000 words by December 31st. My writing can be about anything, from finishing a manuscript, to simply talking to myself about the garden. I want to get into the habit of producing words, A LOT of words, and not worrying so much that every blessed one isn't the absolutely best choice.

So you other writers out there, what do you think?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is Here!

The link for more information is here:

The entry period extends from Jan 24th - Feb 6th. Here is the write-up from Amazon:

The 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is Here!

Do you have an unpublished or self-published novel you know readers will love? Enter your novel in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for a chance to win one of two $15,000 publishing contracts with Penguin USA and distribution of your novel on

How the Contest Works

First Round: Amazon editors will review a 300 word Pitch of each entry. The top 1000 entries in each category (2000 total entries) will move on to the second round.

Second Round: The field will be narrowed to 250 entries in each category (500 total entries) by Amazon top customer reviewers from ratings of a 5000 word excerpt.

Quarterfinals: Publishers Weekly reviewers will read the full manuscript of each quarterfinalist, and based on their review scores, the top 50 in each category (100 total entries) will move on to the semifinals.

Semifinals: Penguin USA editors will read the full manuscript and review all accompanying data for each semifinalist and will then select three finalists in each category (six total finalists).

Finals: Amazon customers will vote on the three finalists in each category resulting in two grand prize winners.

Key Dates
Jan. 24th, 2011 @ 12:01 AM EST
Submission period opens

Feb. 6th, 2011 @ 11:59 PM EST
Submission period closes

Feb. 24th, 2011
Round two entrants will be announced

March 22nd, 2011
Quarterfinalists will be announced

April 26th, 2011
Semifinalists will be announced

May 24th, 2011 @ 12:01 AM EST
Finalists will be announced, voting begins

June 3rd, 2011 @ 11:59 PM EST
Voting ends

June 13th, 2011
Grand prize winners will be announced

Friday, January 21, 2011

Free Books for Blog Reviewers

Free Books for Blog Reviewers

For all of you who can never have enough books, you may be interested to learn that some publishers offer free books in exchange for a review on your blog and posted on Amazon etc. I did a google search for Thomas Nelson, Tyndale House, and Bethany, but I’m sure there are more. Sometimes these books are available in e-book format for your Kindle or other e-reader, if you don’t want to accumulate DTBs (dead tree books).

The *rules* seem similar between the publishers, and not difficult. Basically, you are not obligated to read or receive anything. You can request one book at a time, and must write the review before you can request another. You should write an honest review, even if you dislike the book. In your review you must also include the disclaimer that you received the book free in exchange for a review.

Since even these big publishers are willing to give books away for reviews, this indicates that reviews are valuable. Remember that when and if you have your own book published to BEAT THE BUSHES TO GET AS MANY REVIEWS (PREFERABLY FIVE STAR) FOR YOUR BOOK AS POSSIBLE!!!

Here are the websites I found to sign up:




Happy Reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Story of Roger and Elaine

The Story of Roger and Elaine
by Dave Barry

Let’s say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves.

They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: ”Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”

And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Gee, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.

And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is thinking: . . . so that means it was . . . let’s see… February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means . . . lemme check the odometer . . . Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed — even before I sensed it — that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.

And Roger is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a goshdarn garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. Gosh, I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.

And Roger is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty. That’s exactly what they’re gonna say, the scumballs.

And Elaine is thinking: maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a goshdarn warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their…. .

“Roger,” Elaine says aloud.

“What?” says Roger, startled.

“Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have . .Oh God, I feel so…..”

(She breaks down, sobbing.)

“What?” says Roger.

“I’m such a fool,” Elaine sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”

“There’s no horse?” says Roger.

“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Elaine says.

“No!” says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.

“It’s just that . . . It’s that I . . . I need some time,” Elaine says.

(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)

“Yes,” he says.

(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.)

“Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?” she says.

“What way?” says Roger.

“That way about time,” says Elaine.

“Oh,” says Roger. ”Yes.”

Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.

“Thank you, Roger,” she says.

“Thank you,” says Roger.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of.

A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car. But he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.

The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it either.

Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say:

“Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?’

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Kindle 3 Battery

I am an enthusiastic convert to the e-reader, and specifically to the Kindle. (I recognize of course that other readers, like the Nook or the Sony, are probably just as cool since the great factor is the availability of the books). I keep thinking what it would have been like to have had the Kindle as a kid when I easily read a book a day, or even as recently as a year and a half ago, when I was stuck in a hotel room with nothing to read, and the only available help was from the (very) limited gift shop downstairs. I read a terribly boring book for the entire plane ride back, about 6 hours altogether, because I had nothing else.

The Kindle is a dangerous thing for someone like me to have, since books for me are irresistible, like clothing or jewelry or makeup for many other women -- there are never enough. I don't want to even think about how many I've purchased and read, although I'm sure I've paid more for the books than for the device. My husband says that this is all right since I don't spend money on anything else, but still...

My daughter, upon her own request, received a Kindle for her big Christmas present. I'm pleased to see that she's reading for pleasure now, and has even purchased two books on her own. (Since she's on my account, she also has a plethora of reading material to choose from :-) ). I am becoming convinced that we are AT the tipping point for publishing: Soon ebooks will be the standard, and DTBs (dead tree books) the novelty. There is blood in the water right now about which e-reader will become dominant, but we shall see.

I wonder about the computer strokes that track everything we do and buy, and recognize the Kindle book choices as simply another device to "paint a portrait" or keep a record of the person, but oh well. I am who I am. I like fiction (wide variety), science, cooking, religion esp. Christianity, and writing/publishing. I've also read a few biographies and miscellaneous materials on the Kindle: one of my recent purchases is Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air about the 1996 ill-fated Everest climb. I've found a few games. While I am notoriously antipathic to word games like Scrabble, even Kindle can offer a few spatial/logical games such as Minesweeper and Triple Town that can entertain me for an hour at a time (fun for the feeble minded).

My mother was so impressed with my Kindle 2 that I agreed with my dad to sell it to him for $100 so he could give it to her for Christmas. I had seen the new Kindle 3 so I was eager to try the new, slimmer model anyway, and this gave me the perfect excuse. (Mom preferred the Kindle 2 to the Kindle 3 since I could show her exactly how to use it while I was there, and she wouldn't have to learn it from documentation). I was interested and pleased to learn that when I deregistered the Kindle 2 from my account and put it to her account, my books were still findable and accessible on the Kindle 2 although the references in the remote archived account on amazon had vanished. As long as Mom doesn't remove these books from the device, she can enjoy them whenever she wants. Believe me, this was a considerable bonus since, as I mentioned before, I'd made a few (many) purchases.

My biggest question right now with my new Kindle is with the battery life. Amazon trumpets that the Kindle battery can last up to a month if you don't have the connectivity turned on, but I'm finding I need to recharge it after every 4 days or so, even though I connect through the 3G network for only brief periods of time. I don't know why this is? Maybe I keep the Kindle on for a longer period of time than average, since I do use it hard. I use the audible read feature a fair amount so that I can knit while I read. I also have the lighted cover that is powered by the Kindle battery, but still...

I posted battery life as a question on an amazon Kindle loop. Someone suggested that if the Kindle gets into a perpetual loop with indexing books this may drain the battery, but I haven't figured this one out yet. Also, games are energy hogs (I don't play them much unless I'm waiting in the car), and using larger type may use more battery since there are more page changes. I don't use large type but it was an interesting thought. ????

There are a lot of messages that the UNlighted Kindle 3 cover may short out some Kindles, and the Kindle then won't restart or will keep turning off. The battery may also drain in these circumstances. This isn't me, though since I have a lighted cover.

The 4 day battery life is not a problem right now, but since I've only had this device for a few weeks I worry if the problem will progress to the battery not being able to hold a charge. So, I've found a place that sells replacement batteries. Needing to replace the battery assumes, of course, that the current battery is defective or worn, and not draining for the various reasons listed above. Replacing the battery on the Kindle will invalidate the warranty, but from what I understand, when amazon replaces the battery they simply send you a new refurbished unit anyway, not your original unit, and the price is higher than the $30 for the battery. It's also a lot quicker to do it yourself.

I'm thinking about it, but at this point don't think it would be prudent to go ahead. Now, if my battery starts to be able to only hold a charge for a few hours, THEN I'll be more amenable to giving this a go.

Here's a video of how one replaces one's Kindle battery. This place also sells batteries for many other electronic devices, so it may be worth taking a look around if you need anything. Happy Kindling!


Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster

The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster

Charles Foster is an English barrister (lawyer) who debates himself over the evidences for and against Jesus’ resurrection.

I found this book fascinating. Foster has done an exhaustive job of gathering facts in different subject areas such as acceptable source material, manner of death (or lack thereof), burial, empty tomb (or lack thereof), witness testimony, and contemporary circumstances that impinged upon the case evaluation. In different areas he then argues the cases against (X) and for (Y) vital components that could establish or dismiss the idea of resurrection.

I appreciate that Foster draws no conclusions, but lets the reader make up his own mind on the strengths of the arguments. If one starts the study by accepting that the existence of God is a possibility, however remote, some surprising indications for a resurrection appear.

For what it’s worth, I am a skeptic and scientist who came to faith through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. I therefore had a considerable familiarity with this subject before reading this book. My biggest reservation with this book is that learning the outlines of a complex subject through a detailed and thorough exposition can be frustrating for someone not familiar with the area, and I fear that this book may contribute to such a sensation in someone who just wants to know what happened. Mr. Foster dives right in with his arguments without giving the “lay of the land” to orient the reader. For the uninitiated, it may be difficult to tell which facts are the “deal breakers” and which are just “grace notes” on an argument.

Even so, Foster articulately argues both for and against the resurrection. This book is dense and intense reading, but also thought provoking. I agree with the author that the resurrection is a critical issue with which to grapple. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, it doesn’t matter. But if he did, this opens a sequence of inference that lead back to the questions: who is Jesus? And what will you do with this information?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Jewish Wedding Ceremony

In response to my previous blog entry "Mary Did You Know?", Anne Bundy has graciously written this explanation to me of the Jewish Wedding Ceremony especially as practiced during Biblical times.

There were three cups drunk. (1) The first was between the groom's father (or the groom) and the bride's father. They would push their cups to one side to signal that they wished to negotiate. (In modern Bedouin practice, whether wine, other alcohol, or just coffee, cups are pushed to one side during any negotiations.) When an agreement was reached, the cups were (are) brought forward to be drunk. (You'll notice that in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, the betrothal agreement is broken, and the jilted groom-to-be angrily exclaims, "We drank on it!") (2) At the betrothal ceremony, bridegroom and bride share a covenant cup to seal the betrothal. No kissing is done publicly, so this might be compared to our practice of having bride and groom kiss to seal their marriage before witnesses. They are now husband and wife, though there is no exchange of any physical affection before the wedding. (3) At the wedding, bridegroom and bride again share a covenant cup, which is probably an allusion Jesus makes when He says He will not drink from the vine again until He drinks it with us in His Father's Kingdom.

One of the ancient customs was to break sacred vessels after an offering to the Lord was made, so that they could never again be used for a common purpose. I've never actually researched the history of contemporary Jewish weddings smashing the glass covenant cup (I really need to take time for that!), but I strongly suspect it is connected.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mary, Did You Know?

This is a Christmas song I hadn't heard before, at least so that I paid attention to it. When I finally did notice it, I couldn't help meditating on this. Did Mary think through the mind-boggling idea that the baby, who she held in her arms and kissed, was God?

I think she must have. After all, the baby had appeared in the first place in a miraculous way, conceived through the spirit of God and not physically through a man*. But did she know what that would mean, what Jesus-as-God would look like? No. I don't think anyone guessed, before it happened, of the sacrificial death that Jesus would have to undergo in order to satisfy the redemption criteria for God. Deep theological waters, here. A friend of mine (Anne Bundy) once explained that Jesus acted as the bridegroom in the Jewish marriage. (Anne, forgive me if I get this wrong -- and you are so eloquent, I'd love for you to explain this here if you want!). In this system, there was first a betrothal ceremony in which the groom contracted with the bride's father for a price to pay for the bride, and this contract was sealed with the drinking of the cup. The "Last Supper" (the Seder meal, that took place the night before Jesus' execution):

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26: 26-29).

The betrothal was legally binding: the man was now considered married to the woman, although she would live with her father's family while the groom paid the bridal price, then went to prepare the dwelling where they would live.

"My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2-3).

The bridegroom disappeared for about a year while he prepared their new dwelling place. Finally, with no warning, the bridegroom would reappear, usually at night, to take his bride to live with him. The wedding celebration would last for about a week, in which the new union was recognized, and the marriage was consummated.

These traditions of Jewish weddings and sacrificial system are instructive because they are shadows, or representations, of "how things work" in God's economy.

*For those who are skeptical that, for example, a Loving God could create a baby or would sacrifice His own son, well, I didn't make this stuff up -- this is a simplification of theological thought that is detailed and self-consistent. Furthermore, as I've mentioned many times before, I came to my faith as a skeptic through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. I am convinced that Jesus rose from the dead --> what he said was true --> and through a sequence, am convinced that what the Bible says is reliable. You can read through my faith journey HERE.


Mary Did You Know?
lyrics by Mark Lowry
music by Buddy Greene

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Setting Your Goals: An Exercise

I just read an interesting article that said people who write down a goal double or more the chance of accomplishing it. We've all heard to write things down, of course, but maybe it's a chestnut that needs to be revitalized.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke:

How do you eat an elephant?
One piece at a time.

This process works with any large task, from prioritizing goals, to writing a novel or other large piece of work, to anything else you may wish to accomplish in your life. You start with an overview, then keep breaking down the big tasks into smaller and smaller pieces until each task is manageable so that you can make headway.

The first time you do this, it might take you an hour or more to organize your goals to write them down, but it’s time that’s well worth investing. You don’t need to wait until right before New Year’s Eve either – anytime is the right time to focus your life. Also, create a folder on your computer or get a notebook and write on it GOALS in big letters. You’ll want to get into the habit of writing down goals with the date as you think of them, big and small, and you can refer to your notes as you start to take action. Writing down your goals will clarify them in your mind and allow you to take specific, positive actions to accomplish them.

Finding your goals can be a repeated two-step process: first write down all your ideas for something, and then take time to winnow and prioritize. Both processes are essential, and they shouldn’t be done concurrently. This process can get messy after the first stage, but you need enough material to choose the best solutions, not just the quickest ones. If you’re stuck, try free-writing your thoughts (and make sure you WRITE them, not just THINK them). For example, “When I was a kid I wanted to sail around the world, and the idea still appeals to me even though I have many obligations and haven’t sailed in years. Hmm. Do I like the idea more of being on the water, or of visiting exotic places, or of doing something that people are impressed by? I think it’s the idea of being free, and no one being able to catch me. Well, there is the lake nearby and lots of people sail there every weekend; surely I might be able to at least start with this…”

Be open to crazy ideas, then find the realistic kernels hidden within those clouds. Ready?

1. Write down what you want to accomplish in your life. You know the drill: think of what someone might say about you if you died tomorrow or what you’d like them to say differently if you died in seven years, think of what might be on your tombstone, how you might be remembered by important people in your life, and so forth. What sort of legacy do you wish to pass on to the next generation? What are some things you could accomplish that might bring this legacy about? Take time to contemplate your own mortality and what you want to do with your brief time on Earth.

2. Keeping your life goals in mind, what would you like to accomplish in the next five years? Put down anything and everything you can think of, then study this list and choose the most important goals. You may want to divide them into different categories – mind, body, spirit, work, family, personal – then pick the top one or few for each category.

3. For each goal, break it down into two or more steps that need to be taken. Imagine this date next year, and think about the progress that would satisfy you. Be realistic: you’re not going to earn a PhD in a year, but you may investigate schools, take a few prerequisite courses, or sit for the GREs.

4. Break down each year goal into steps. Figure out how much you might realistically do each month on each goal. You may want to concentrate on one for a few months, and then switch, but always have reasonable amounts to do for each month. Choose a concrete endpoint. For example, if you wish to write a novel in a year, your monthly goal might be “produce 20,000 words” rather than “write every day.” The more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to evaluate whether you have actually fulfilled your goal.

5. For each monthly goal, again break it down into four weeks.

6. If you wish, you can break down your weekly goals into day goals.


Once you have your goal list you have a good sense for where you want to aim your efforts. Now comes reality.

A goal sometimes sounds reasonable on paper, but when you start to implement your plan you find it’s not quite so easy. For example, if you want to write that novel in a year and calculated so many words per month will get you there, you may realize after writing for a few days or weeks that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re simply producing many pages of garbage (and/or becoming very good at Spider Solitaire). Step back. Should you outline your story before writing it? Should you read some how-to books, or join a critique group? Should you lower your word output from 1000 words a day to 300? YOU ARE NOT FAILING IF YOU HAVE TO MODIFY OR CUT BACK! As long as you’re doing something, and making progress, you are doing more than most people ever do to fulfill their dreams.

Another technique that many people use is a “to do” list for daily tasks. Some find these helpful, but others find them overbearing and guilt-producing. I like to have only one task on my “to do” list, and once I finish that to add another item and start work on that, but since I need to remember tasks to add to my “to do” list I may be engaged in semantics – a sublist from my true “to do” list. Oh well. Other people swear by using palm pilots, or having computer alarms, or whatever. Play with different organizing tools and tricks, and see if any of these helps you to become more productive. The most critical and basic one, I believe, is simply to write things down no matter which formats you use.

Good luck pursuing your dreams.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Our month of *January* is named after the Roman god, Janus. Janus was the keeper of gates, doors, doorways, and beginnings and endings. He was often worshiped at starting events such as the harvest, planting, marriages, births; and transitional life events such as when a boy was now recognized as a man. A common myth told of Janus causing a hot spring to erupt, thereby foiling an attack against Rome.

Janus is shown as having two faces, one looking forward and one looking backwards. I can't think of a better picture for what we call *ambivalence.* defines ambivalence thus: uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things. Ambivalence comes from the Latin *ambi* meaning *both*, and *valentia* meaning *strength.*

I think ambivalence is a part of being human in a fallen world, and probably most decisions in life incorporate some degree of ambivalence. Even something as normal as eating breakfast can reflect uncertainty: should I eat the egg or the waffle? (or both?) Or just drink orange juice, or go without... I'm hungry, but I want to lose five pounds by summer...

But have you ever been gripped by a strong ambivalence? Something that is a constant fight within you, that doesn't stop? I imagine that all of us have at least one axis somewhere within our psyche that could make us vulnerable to a frozen ambivalence. What college shall I go to? Should I keep this job, or take that one? Should I marry her?

Should I? Can I? May I?

How horrible this is. I've often wondered if this is why people are so drawn to rules in all areas of life, so that these nagging doubts won't come to visit.

Ambivalence comes in different flavors: intellectual, emotional, moral; and many gradations in between. James 1:8 says *A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.* (AKJV) Yes, this ambivalence, no matter the root, is destabilizing.

It's important to know, really know, your values and goals in life so that when you are faced with these choices, you have a better sense of how to decide. Sometimes, though, life throws you a curve ball, and it's hard to know what to do or how to handle a problem. And then, what?

You will not always know the answer. Or maybe, you know the answer, but can't quite make the final step. Sometimes you hang on: you're too drawn even though you know you should move on.

Immobile, unable to go forward, unable to turn back. Just like Janus.

The solution? First, trust. Trust that God will redeem things, somehow, some way. Then, do the right thing, or the best thing within your power to know.

Being human in this fallen world is hard. I think of the film March of the Penguins, with the Antarctic penguins huddled in a circle through a windstorm with -60 degree temperatures and a four month night. I wonder if the angels look at us humans in this world like this: we don't even know how bad it is. We are battered by ambivalence, despite all of our effort to keep it at bay.

I believe though that God values our good choices, and He will make it right, if not in this world, then in the world to come. Sometimes, that is the best that can be said for a bad situation.

What think you, my friends?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

I had trouble thinking about what to write about for my first column of the new year. 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, that I couldn't re-find on the web.

Mr. Stephen Lynch of the Orange County Register 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 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.

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.

Happy new year, to my dear friends both here and gone.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back to the Regularly Scheduled Blogging Schedule

Happy New Year!

Blog vacation is over :-) Stay tuned for the 3x per week entries again, for as long as I can keep up between doing 2 other books and busy children. Starts Monday.

I hope you all are well, my friends.