Category Archives: miscellaneous

Things Useless and Distracting

I was a senior in high school when this eclipse happened. The map says I was in 98% eclipse. I don't remember it as being particularly special.
I was a senior in high school when this eclipse happened. The map says I was in 98% eclipse. I don’t remember it as being particularly special.

The last four to five days have been much taken up with things that I found distracting, and, to some extent, useless.

Oh, I’ve had some important things in my life. Such as work around the house and yard on Saturday. Such as the weekly Wal-Mart run on Saturday. Such as church yesterday, including teaching adult Life Group. I spent a little time on the checkbook, and am pretty well caught up on that (though not on budgeting). Beyond that, truly meaningful things accomplished recently are few and far between.

I view the eclipse that will take place today as something similar. Big deal. We will be at about 92% eclipsed. Based on eclipses I remember from 1970 and 1979, that’s not really enough to get excited about. The amount of sunlight is lessened, and the sky looks eerie. But it doesn’t really get dark. I suspect you have to be at 99% for it to be really dark, to really see the disc of the moon covering the sun.

Our maximum eclipse is at 1:12 p.m. I’ll take my usual noon walk between 12:30 and 1:00. So I’ll be walking as the shadow is getting larger. I might glance up for a quick look just before I go inside. But, anything more? No. It’s just not worth it. One more thing useless and distracting.

Working Through “Things”

It’s been a bad few days, with computer problems, people problems, etc. Spent all yesterday evening trying to work through the computer problems, so I didn’t write a blog post for today.

Nor can I do it this morning. Not a real post. I’ll work through this stuff, and hopefully, by Monday, I’ll be back with a real blog post.

A Whole Lot To Do

Well, I just finished the typical busy weekend. Yard work wasn’t too bad. I cleared the last of the leaves away from the backyard. With grandkids to visit soon, I wanted one less place for snakes to hide. Next weekend I’ll take the leaf blower and clear the stragglers out. In the front yard I sprayed for weeds, and picked up sticks. That’s a never-ending task, as the three large trees in the front yard like to keep me busy.

We made the usual shopping run. My wife came too this week, as she’s wanting to do some new things in the kitchen and wanted to make sure the grocery cart was properly filled. She also bought some herbs to plant, and some larger tomato plants. That will be work for this week.

The waterline in our street was leaking, we noticed when we came back from the store. I could see that it had already been reported (based on markings on the pavement). The repair crew was there in an hour or two, tried the simple repair, which didn’t work, so had to shut the water off. We were without it for five hours, as it turned out to be a very bad line break. It was around 9 in the evening when we got it back. I spent the afternoon doing a lot of filing of financial papers, including culling some old files. The evening was mainly straightening some things up inside, and reading. Thus ended a full day.

Sunday was Life Group (I didn’t have to teach) and church. After lunch I walked 5K, in just over an hour. I felt okay about that, given the hills in our area. That afternoon, Lynda and I went to a couple of stores for some clothes purchases ahead of vacation. I found what I needed, but she didn’t. In the evening I got the checkbook entries up to date (still have to add it), but otherwise mainly read. It was a good way to wind down.

So here it is, Monday morning. Rather than have a sense of accomplishment for what I got done this weekend, I have a feeling of dread of all I have to do today and over the next couple of days. Here’s a partial list:

  • Lab work at the doctor’s office this morning
  • Call in prescriptions
  • Pay company credit card bill
  • Call the IRS about the letter I received from them this weekend, a non-so-good letter
  • Pay the last bill from my procedure in January
  • Double-check on our reservations for Branson, since I’ve never received the confirming e-mail
  • Plant the herbs; figure out a place for the tomatoes
  • Begin the many little things in the house needed to be done before guests come next weekend
  • Get by the store (probably tomorrow) to pick up the prescriptions along with diabetic supplies
  • Order the one item I couldn’t find at the store, and hope it comes within a week, which is when I need it by

That’s enough on the to-do list. I need to get a few of them done before I think through everything that needs to be done. Needless to say, writing is on hold for a while. I’m ready to do the next round of edits in Documenting America: Civil War Edition, but will wait a couple of days to do that. Plus, it’s out with a beta reader, and I’ll want to incorporate his comments when I next work on it. I won’t be messing with stock trading much this week, and maybe not next week either. I won’t be working on much else, writing-wise. The main pages on my website are in desperate need of an overhaul, but I don’t see me getting to that for about a month.

Life is busy. I guess that’s good, though I’d go for a little less busy right now, if I could.

Money and Creativity

I regularly read two publishing industry blogs to keep up with the news and opinions. One is Between The Lines, the blog of the Books & Such Literary Agency. This agency serves the Christian booksellers market, and could be considered closely aligned with the trade (sometimes called traditional) publishing model. Their five agents rotate through the week with a daily post. The other blog I read is The Passive Voice. This is by a lawyer who re-posts and sometimes comments on news from the publishing industry. This blog is closely aligned with the self-publishing model. Both blogs have a community of readers/commenters, and I comment at both blogs from time to time.

Creativity comes in many sizes. Sometimes it even comes inside the box.
Creativity comes in many sizes. Sometimes it even comes inside the box.

Being part of the self-publishing industry, I tend to be more in agreement with TPV than with BtL. I keep reading the latter, however, because I want to keep up with news and trends in the other side of the industry. I’ve tried other blogs, but find BtL as easy to read, and it provides an adequate sampling of what I’m looking for.

So, all that said, I recently read this on the BtL blog:

“The need for money is the bane of art. Oh for the days of good old-fashioned patrons of the arts. Writing for the paycheck is the fastest way to kill a career. Each book needs to be better than the last, if we’re to build over time.”

This irks me. “The need for money is the bane of art.” How? How is commercial viability a bad thing, but whatever is not commercially viable a good thing? Commercial viability (a.k.a. artists making money off their art) indicates people are willing to pay to own or use the art. This, in turn, is a reflection of what society believes is good art. The inability of an artist, by which I mean anyone who does artistic things as a career, which would include writing, to sell his art indicates that society doesn’t believe he’s producing good art. Who is a better judge of what art is good: society, or the artist who produces it?

The writer of that phrase is implying that the need to produce art that society will accept as good and pay for somehow compromises the artist’s creativity. Follow the supposed train of thought by the artist: I need to feed myself and my family. No one’s buying the art that I produce, even though I think it’s good. But they are buying that [genre of book; type of painting; method of sculpture; etc.]. So maybe I should just emulate that artist and produce art I don’t this is good so I can feed my family. I guess I won’t be able to produce the stuff that I think is good but which society apparently doesn’t think is good.

Kids know. Sometimes playing inside the box is better than all those toys outside the box.
Kids know. Sometimes playing inside the box is better than all those toys outside the box.

What’s the solution to this? The original poster said, “Oh for the good old-fashioned patrons of the arts.” Their solution: For the artist to find a source of Other Peoples’ Money, to allow them to produce art they believe is good, even though no one wants it. And this is supposed to free the artist to produce whatever they believe is good. This is supposed to advance the arts, to produce stuff that people think isn’t worth paying for?

I could go many ways with this. Is artistic creativity really stifled by having to produce art that people want to buy? Cannot an artist be creative while staying “inside the box” or “between the lines”, or within the range of commercial viability? I think they can. I’ve said often before that my favorite type of poetry is formal poetry. Give me a sonnet, a ballad, a haiku, or a cinquain any day. Give me those constraints, and I’ll produce something with artistic creativity. Inside-the-box creativity is equally creative as outside-the-box creativity.

It always amazes me that people want to pigeon-hole creativity by saying it can only happen outside the box, and that it can’t happen on the lines. It’s funny that, in wanting the maximum artistic freedom, they say creativity can only happen one way. Once again, I reject that. I believe my creativity is best released by being presented with boundaries, and, since my art is the written word, finding words that do something new and different within the boundaries.

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. Any comments?

Friday Snuck Up On Me

So here it is Friday morning. I’m in my quiet time at work, the hour between 7 and 8 a.m. that I call my time. I get in early to beat the traffic, heat up my breakfast (I bring 5-day’s worth on Monday), grab my first cup of coffee, and then have a quiet time at my desk. I read a chapter in the Bible, and pray, then go through various writer/writing sites on the internet. If I have any stock trades on, I also check the pre-market conditions. Then, I’m ready to start my workday.

Usually I have an idea for a Friday blog post by Tuesday. I think I did get an idea on Tuesday, but didn’t write it down. Then the week became full. Every day I had meetings, and people needing help on projects, and meetings—I guess I already said that. And I had construction specifications to write, something I enjoy doing but which tends to take a fair amount of brain power.

So, I came home every day pretty much exhausted, both of mind and body. I fixed supper (mostly heating up leftover and adding something to it), and then found it hard to concentrate on doing anything. I kept up on paying bills, wrote letters to my two oldest grandsons, and read some each night in my current read, The Greatest Generation. But I spent no time on a blog post, and had no return of the idea from Tuesday, and no new idea germinate.

I also had two after-work functions this week. Wednesday was a Vision Summit at church, related to our current building project and capital campaign. I missed it a couple of Sundays ago, being prepared to teach Life Group only to have no one show, as they were all at the Vision Summit. Then, last night, the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly “Business After Hours” event was at our office, which we also made an open house. Our remodeling is done, we spiffed up the place, and over 100 people came. It was hot and crowded in our break room, where the people and hors d’oerves were. I took a couple of clients on a tour of the office. Ate more than I should have, and got home around 7:00 p.m.

At that point I collapsed in my reading chair for almost an hour, alternately dozing and doing nothing. Went to The Dungeon, but couldn’t concentrate on anything, so came back upstairs to read. Kept looking at weather radar, because a line of storms was coming toward us, out of Oklahoma. Went to bed around 11:15 p.m., after packing my lunch for today. No sooner had I gone to bed than the phone rang. It was an emergency services auto-call (to which we’re subscribed), saying we were in a tornado warning.

And not just one warning, but two overlapping tornado warnings. So I got up, turned on a local TV channel that had gone to all weather reporting, and watched. The storm moved quickly, but radar didn’t show the “hook” pattern that you typically get when tornados form. It was a straight wall coming toward us. The TV news folks said that threat was starting to diminish. At places west of us, the winds were strong, but no one reported actual rotation. Still it’s hard to tell that at night, so I stayed up till 12:15 a.m., till it was clear if we would have to rush to the basement or not. It turned out to be not, a non-event. So I went to bed, fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly till I woke up with a start and checked the bedside clock: 5:57, three minutes before the alarm would go off. I got up and started my day.

Now here I am, it’s time to start my workday, and I still have no idea for a blog post. So I’ll wrap this up, and try to come up with something for my Monday post, instead of random blathering about my week.

Trouble with the Curve

In his sermon yesterday, Pastor Mark Snodgrass started off with a baseball illustration. He said he once had an ambition to become a professional baseball player—until a coach convinced him he didn’t have the talent for that. Mark admitted he had trouble with the curve—and the slider, the knuckleball, the change-up. It was a good opening for his sermon.

I identified with that. I for sure didn’t have any skills for baseball, even at the junior high level. But more than that, I have trouble with the curve. Not the curveball the pitcher throws, but at the curves life throws up.

Last Thursday, I had a curveball thrown at me by life. Took my pick-up into the dealership for routine servicing, as well as to look at a developing problem. I had it there at 7:00 a.m. I was first in. Yet, they didn’t call me until the end of the day, saying they didn’t have it done and wouldn’t that day. Curveball.

Just yesterday, life threw another curve at me, though it was of my own making. I took a walk after lunch, going 2.77  miles at a pretty good clip. Just a minute before getting home I kicked at a stick in the road, to nudge it off the pavement. My foot hit the pavement too hard, refused to go forward, and, since I was kicking while walking, my body kept going when my foot stopped. I tumbled onto the asphalt pavement. I’m okay. A few scrapes, my right knee hurting a little, and minor trauma in my left ankle. Maybe a painful hip and lower back. So the kicking was my fault, but the inability to judge that, and to maintain better balance, was the curve life threw.

I don’t like curves thrown at me. They take me out of my comfort zone. I like routine best. Up at 6 every morning. Shower, shave, dress, grab my lunch and hit the road. Eat a simple breakfast at work. Have my quiet hour at my desk, begin work at 8. Five glorious days of routine every week. Yes, after 43 years it’s getting tiring, but I can do it a little longer.

Curves can be almost anything. A dinner fixed that doesn’t turn out as nice as you’d like. A book sale that turns into a return. A well-planned day that goes askew when a client asks for something you weren’t expecting. A shelf that starts to fall apart because it wasn’t well made in the first place. A plot line in a book that doesn’t seem to work out, and you have no idea how to finish it.

I need to learn to not let the curves get to me. Somehow. I’m not sure how, but somehow.

Taxes Almost Done

Yes, I’m very, very close to having my taxes done. Normally I do them much earlier than this, around the end of February and first of March. But, this year at that time I was working on Preserve The Revelation and “Growing Up Too Fast”, either editing, writing, or publishing. They were done toward the end of March. I needed a break, so didn’t begin them for a few days, maybe around April 3.

I won’t take a long time explaining this. Our taxes are complicated. Our stock trading partnership, my writing sole proprietorship, my work, Lynda’s social security. It makes for lots of forms, and worksheets from the instructions. I have Excel spreadsheets built to do the calculations. All I have to do is come with the W-2, the 1099s, and deductions statements. This year my paperwork was well organized. I also have to check my spreadsheets against the forms and instructions for the tax year, in case something has changed.

I had the Federal done, and began working on the State. My spreadsheet links the State to the Federal, and rounds the Federal amounts to 00 cents, as Arkansas requires. Everything flows quickly from the Federal to the State. But, at the last minute, the State wanted me to attach Federal form 8889. I scrambled, and found that form 8889 is REQUIRED if you have an active Health Savings Account, as I do. I’d never heard of this before, but apparently I should have filed it every year since I had the HSA, about six or seven years. Since my HSA is funded with pre-tax dollars, I have no tax consequences. However, I still have to file it. I had two stressful days learning about and then completing Form 8889. But it’s done.

The status is: My Federal and State forms are done, printed, signed, copies, and mailed. My partnership calcs are done, the forms printed, and signed. All except for one form that I forgot about printing. I couldn’t do it at work today, so I’ll do it at home this evening and mail it all Monday. I also do taxes for my mother-in-law. I did the calcs on them last night, concluded she didn’t owe any taxes, and so decided to set them aside for a couple of days and take a break.

During these last two weeks, engrossed in taxes as I’ve been, I’ve done almost nothing for writing. That should change this weekend.

Still Weary, But Will Write On

My last post, on Feb. 23, was written in Atlanta, Georgia. I was there for a conference, the Environmental Connection 17 conference put on by the International Erosion Control Association. For the first time in years, I didn’t submit a technical paper for presentation. So I was just an attendee, renewing old connections, making new ones, and encouraging one of our younger engineers who did present a paper, his third.

The flights out, via Dallas-Fort Worth, went well. We had a long enough layover in Dallas that it was enjoyable. We got easy transportation to the hotel. The walk from the hotel to the conference center, over two elevated walkways, was just about right. The Wednesday activities were good. Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel gave the keynote address. I went to some technical sessions on things I wasn’t familiar with, and broadened my perspectives. All was well.

But something happened on Wednesday, not at the conference, that wasn’t good. I won’t go into details here. Let’s just say it threw me for a loop. It so affected me I wasn’t able to sleep that night in the hotel. I tossed and turned, and finally got up and read. It was well after 2:00 a.m. when I finally went back to bed, though I’m not sure when I fell asleep.

The next day I made that post. I made it from my company smart phone, the first text-intensive post I’ve made from it. That was something new for me. During the day, the situations that caused me to lose sleep somewhat resolved themselves. By the end of the day, Thursday, I was doing much better emotionally. I blew off the social gatherings at the conference, went back to the hotel, and spent the rest of the day editing my novel in manuscript. I made significant progress on it.

I wish I knew why I let things affect me so. Part of the problem is that I engage in two activities that can put you on the emotional roller coaster. One is writing; the other is stock trading. Stock trading is going well this year. I’ve had a lot more winners that losers, and I’m earning at a rate that I like. Writing is also going okay, though I still get no sales. At this time I’m not ready to put money into advertising, so I’ll likely have low sales.

Once my book is ready and I publish it, I’m sure I’ll get some sales of it, and perhaps of others at the same time. Before I publish it, however, I really need to correct and re-publish Doctor Luke’s Assistant, because it comes before Preserve The Revelation in the series. I made all the corrections to the DLA master file, formatted it for print, uploaded it, and had CreateSpace check it. Alas, it had many formatting errors, all due to lack of recognition (or user error) of inserted section breaks and having the wrong page on the wrong leaf. I was working on that last weekend, but hadn’t finished it. That will be a tomorrow task.

A day-after-tomorrow task will be re-reading PTR in manuscript. I had enough edits on this round, my second round of edits, that I believe I need a third round. This will delay publishing, but I’m having that delay anyway due to the DLA problems. Alas.

One good thing did come of this trip. When I was packing Monday evening and Tuesday morning, I had to decide on what reading matter to bring with me. I have several books on Google Play and on my Nook, so I didn’t need to bring any print book. But at the last minute I stuck in the Civil War volume of the Annals of America. , just in case I wanted to read that. It’s research for my next book, whereas everything on my electronic devices is for family history, research for later books, or recreation. On the first flight I pulled out AoA and read the entire flight. I did the same on the next flight, and in the hotel room the first night. I often have trouble focusing on the entries in this book, but on this trip I didn’t. I was able to focus on each article I read, making marginalia, finding great quotes, and possibly adding to my civil war book. It was a good choice. Not sure why I could focus this time when I’ve had trouble doing so most times, but I’m glad for the result and won’t question it.

Life is an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes I don’t handle it very well. Wednesday was one of those days. I’ve recovered (mostly), and am ready to plow ahead. Hopefully my Friday post will be an author interview. Next Monday, maybe I’ll be able to report good things about DLA and PTR.

Mourning—It Never Gets Easier

Snow is always beautiful, but not always enjoyable. It can be deadly with the right combination of circumstances.
Snow is always beautiful, but not always enjoyable. It can be deadly with the right combination of circumstances.

Feb 10, 1948.  A beautiful, Spring-like day in southwestern Kansas. That evening, three young people headed from Meade to Fowler, adjacent towns between Dodge City and Fowler in Meade County, to attend a dinner among friends. Alas, weather predictions being what they were in 1948, they didn’t know a massive blizzard was just over the horizon. It started snowing while they were eating dinner. Later, around 10 p,m., the three decided to drive the 10 miles back to Meade. They didn’t make it; all three perished in the blizzard.

Saturday just passed was the 69th anniversary of when the first of the bodies was found. I think. Records aren’t clear, memories of things that old are few and fading. Most likely the three died on the 11th, though their bodies might not have been found until the 12th or 13th.

Esther, almost 69 years later.
Esther, almost 69 years later.

Two of those who died are the younger sisters of my mother-in-law, Esther Barnes. I had heard bits and pieces of the story over the years. About 18 months ago I asked Esther if she would talk with me about it, and let me write the story for the Meade Historical Society website. She said yes, and I interviewed her in our house over a couple of days.  It took me a few months to complete and sent to the Historical Society for them to upload. You can read it here. If for some reason that link doesn’t work for you (looks funny to me), try this for the index and click through to the story.

When I interviewed Esther it was 67 years after the event. I knew it would be painful for her, and it was. But she gave me the details she knew about, most of which she heard from someone. She lived in Fowler at the time, newly married and with a 9 month old son. They had no phone, so she only heard about it days later as the news got around.

Two of her three sisters are gone, but she has her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Two of her three sisters are gone, but she has her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Saturday was the 69th anniversary of that event. At the supper table, Esther said, “I still think about the girls,” by which she meant the sisters. Several times during our meal she teared up. 69 years, and still the mourning goes on.

I understand this. It’s been 51 years since my mother’s death, and I still think of her most days, and wonder what life would have been like if she hadn’t had the terrible illnesses and died from them at age 46. It certainly would have been different. Yes, the years have deadened the mourning some, but it’s still there.

I’m not sure there’s really a point to this post. It’s just something that I want to share.

Oh, if you get to the Meade Historical Society site, you’ll notice the article is listed at the “Buzzard of 1948”. I just notice that, and will ask them to fix it. If you read the article there, you’ll find a number of typos and an some awkward formatting. I remember fixing those, so I must have sent them the wrong file, because I remember fixing those items. Just suffer through them. I’ll find the right file and send it for re-uploading.