A Busy, but Good, Day

This week has been a blur of activity, at home and at work. I won’t say too much about at home, except that the Great Time Crunch is coming to a head, and for a while I’ll have less time than normal, even less than I’ve had the last five months.

Concerning work, I’ve had lots to do. We had two training activities on Tuesday, both involving a guest speaker, which I was responsible for coordinating. One took place off site, an advanced class to a combined group of those I was responsible for and more that another person was responsible for. Then I went back to the main office and the speaker gave a basic class on the same topic, risk management, to a whole other group. Then I rushed back to the other meeting to make a half hour presentation on a topic.

On Wednesday I went back to the offsite meeting (continuing with the smaller group) to hear a particular topic. I’m glad I did, as it was the presentation of a problem  we are having related to one particular group. I listened, helped (I think) by my comments to clarify the problem  as it was being presented and to drill into the proposed solution with three options. No decision was made, but I was glad I went, listened, and contributed, because…

…today I was able to help someone come up with what looks like a good solution to the problem. I was able to contribute in a meaningful way. Will this proposal be the right solution to the problem? Don’t know, but it looks good. But whether it works or not, being part of the problem-solving team felt good. It felt good in part because no one asked me to be on the team. I simply decided I most likely had ideas to share if I knew what the problem was. I went out of my way to try to be part of the solution. And that felt good.

In the brown bag class I taught last week, “How to Recession-Proof Your Career”, I said you do that by increasing your value to the company year over year, even month over month. I think I did that today, this week. Yes, it was exhausting, especially when combined with the busyness at home. But it was satisfying, very satisfying.

The Time Crunch Deepens

Monday morning at work I began tackling my to-do list. It was a written to-do list for a change, since, when I got to work that day I realized just how much I had to do, and knew I wouldn’t get it done if I didn’t have a plan.

The list was long, and I felt a great weight of pressure. This week we were to have training events on four days, Tuesday through Friday. The one on Tuesday was more of a software demonstration, but it was of software I have an interest in, and if the company is to buy it it will be on my recommendation. So it was something I scheduled, planned, and attended. Then, Monday in our Leadership meeting, as we discussed the one day Leadership Development training scheduled for next Tuesday, it became obvious that we would have to have a more focused meeting on the subject. So I scheduled and planned that, adding it to Tuesday.

Then, it seemed, the salesmen came out of the woodwork on Monday, contacting me, saying they would be in the area this week and wanting to meet with me. Late in the day I received an e-mail from one of our department heads, saying a construction specification I wrote last December needed two additions to it due to changes in the project and oh it’s under construction so it’s needed quickly.

In the midst of this, I was thinking of all I have to do at home. Some weeks ago I made a good start on my income taxes, but then let it go by the wayside. So those were due. I had fallen almost two weeks behind on keeping our family finances and budget up to date. That’s not bad compared to past years, but this year I’ve been trying hard to keep them up to date on a weekly basis. Almost a week’s worth of mail had piled up. I have received the book cover art and font work from two people, for Daddy-Daughter Day, and so need to go about putting a book cover together from them—if I even can. This is different from past covers. And, of course, there’s the normal stock trading work I have to do each evening if we are ever going to start making money consistently from it. And, decluttering our house is weighing heavily on my mind right now. I go home from an office that’s a mess to a house that’s mess. The office mess is my own, and I certainly have a share in the house mess.

So at work on Monday I wrote a to-do list for home. It wasn’t real long, but it had each of those items from the previous paragraph, plus a couple more, with days of the week next to them. Stock trading work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Decluttering work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Income taxes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Family finances on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; no, just on Monday for that, as I’m not that far behind. Notably absent is any writing work, including on the poetry book.

And, at home, just as at work, I’ve been working the to-do list. I got finances up to date on Monday, along with some decluttering and stock work. I dusted off the taxes spreadsheet on Tuesday, and made a huge dent in completing them, to the point where I can probably finish the Federal on Wednesday. I did some stock work every day, enough to keep on top of our accounts and current trades and place a couple of new ones.

Today will be another busy day at work, as I try to complete preparation for my presentation tomorrow, do final organization for the vendor lunch and learn today, do some organization on Friday’s lunch and learn, and maybe, perhaps, a little decluttering in my office. One of these days I hope to have enough time to remember what it was like to be a writer.

A Pleasant, Snowy Day

I should have written yesterday.

The weather forecast was for a wintery mix changing over to snow. It was a constantly changing forecast. First it was to hit Tuesday evening and give us 5 inches of snow. Then it went to Tuesday/Wednesday midnight and 2-4 inches of snow. Then it went to Wednesday morning and 1-3 inches of snow. All this change in the forecast happened in a 12 hour window on Tuesday. I went home Tuesday night not knowing if I would be able to get to work on Wednesday or not. So I brought some work home: a 1-inch thick pile of guide specifications that needed editing. But I parked my pickup up the hill, in case I decided to go to work in the morning.

Tuesday night, at bedtime, I set my alarm for the usual time. The forecast said rain through the night, changing over to the wintery mix around 7 a.m., and to snow around 1 p.m.  I got up at six, showered and dressed for work (in my black “dress” jeans). I checked the weather sources: no change in the forecast overnight. Then I went out with the dog to see what conditions were. This is not our dog; we are dog-sitting for neighbors who had a quick trip out of town for a funeral. Rocky and I walked up to his house, and then beyond. A very light rain was falling, quite cold against the face, but when we passed my pickup I saw the windshield was frozen over. I left Rocky inside his house, to allow him a couple of hours in familiar territory, walked home, and made the executive decision I wasn’t going to work.

Back inside I completed Bible reading and prayer, caught up on Facebook and let the world know where I’d be for the day, then went to The Dungeon around 8 a.m. By this time the rain had changed to sleet. By 11 a.m. it was snowing—hard, big flakes. I sat in The Dungeon, computer open to stock charts, portfolio list, and social media/e-mail, and began editing the specs. Through the window I saw the winter wonderland arrive.

Also open on the computer was a Word document, a family memoir I started a week or two ago. I looked at it a little, making a tweak here and there. It’s very early in this document. I’m trying to figure out family dynamics in my dad’s family, actually in his parents’ and grandparents’ families, to determine the influences that shaped him and his siblings and, hence, me and my siblings and cousins. I would say, however, I spent less than 15 minutes on this.

All day I alternated between specs and computer. By 3:30 p.m., with only a short break for lunch, I had made a major dent in the spec pile, had made one stock trade, read all e-mails, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. At this point I went upstairs and decided to go for a walk. The temperature was plummeting, down to around 25 by this time, and light snow was still falling. So I bundled up, told Rocky he couldn’t come, and walked up to the highway, about 0.65 miles away. The snow over the sleet gave good traction on our street. Then on the next two the City had plowed, knocking the snow away but leaving a lot of the sleet. The whole way I found that I had no problems with footing. The sleet was nothing like ice. I could walk fine whether it was on the snow or on the sleet or on the nearly-cleared pavement.

I walked at a good clip, probably around 22 minutes per mile, though I didn’t use a stopwatch. The entire way I saw no cars, no other humans. At the highway I stopped and stood for a minute or so. The businesses across the street seemed to be closed. Even though the highway was in good shape, no vehicles appeared. When I got home I took Rocky out for a walk around the circle. He seemed unfazed by the snow, either that on the ground or that still falling.

Back home I fortified myself with nuked coffee, went to my chair, picked up my Nook, and soon fell asleep. I love to sleep in this chair. No, it’s not real comfortable, but it seems like the place to sleep. Ten or fifteen minutes later I was awake, ready to…do something. Read some blogs, ate supper, watched some news, and put on a Harry Potter movie. At that point I multi-tasked, picking my Nook up again and doing some genealogy research into the families I mentioned earlier. I re-registered for the LDS genealogy site (at least I think I was registered before), and found lots of good information. I took notes, having no way to print anything from my Nook.

This took me up to after 11:00 p.m., at which time I took Rocky for a walk, and hit the sack. We had less accumulation than I’d hoped for, about 2 inches of snow on top of almost 1 inch of sleet. Possibly I should have gone to work. Since we didn’t have ice, even Old Blue Leaf probably would have found good traction. But I had a good day. I’ll charge half of it to the company, half to vacation.

And I didn’t even work on any creative writing projects, all day. If you don’t count my reading in the letters of Thomas Carlyle as research for a future writing project.

Current Writing Projects

The Great Time Crunch continues to constrain me, cutting off much of what would otherwise be writing time. A number of projects are on hold. Nevertheless, writing continues. Here’s what’s still active.

Daddy-Daughter Day: My poetry book, finished (sort of) since 2006, is about to be published! Yes, I finally found an artist for the cover. She completed her work in late February, subject to a few tweaks. I formatted the book for print about a week ago. Right now I’m waiting on another man to create the font for the cover. He showed me a draft of that this morning, so I might have it tonight or tomorrow. I’m planning on taking the artwork, add the font to it, and creating both the e-book and print book covers using G.I.M.P. When formatted the book runs 75 pages, or 77 pages with a couple of blank sheets in the back. I knuckled down last week and completed one additional poem for it, one that had eluded me for several years. I don’t know how good it is, but it fits in. If I had to guess, right now, I’d say the book will be available for sale around March 20, just in time for Spring. And, those who have followed this blog or looked forward to this book, will recognize that I’ve changed the title, based on comments I solicited (and some I didn’t).

Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West: This is a labor-of-love kind of book. Seth Cheney was my wife’s paternal great-grandfather. Family lore says he went west as a teenager in the California Gold Rush, dropped out of sight for 30 years, and shows up in the Texas Panhandle and southwest Kansas, where he married and settled down and raised his family. Research has filled in a lot of those 30 years, and more discoveries are being made. In 2006 I put together this book and “published” it on the company printing equipment. Now, in preparation for a family reunion this summer, I’m hoping to expand the book and properly publish it. I have started on the task. Recent discoveries have resulted in the need for a new chapter, which I have begun writing in manuscript. I have also begun the difficult task of combining separate files into one, which will also involve extensive formatting. I hope to have this available at Amazon by July 1, but no promises.

The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 2: I have a fan at work who wants me to work on this. I’m about half-way through the fourth chapter of this, or almost 25% done with it. I haven’t worked on it since last July. I have most of the book planned out. Just last week this fan got after me for not working on it. I suppose I’ll begin using noon hours to get it done.

“Sierra Kilo Bravo”: This is the third short story in my series on Sharon Williams Fonseca, unconventional CIA agent. I began this in manuscript, probably 1,000 words so far, but nothing typed yet. I estimate it will be a 6,000 to 8,000 word story. My best guess is that I’ll get to this sometime during the summer.

That’s about it, except for some stories about my family, which I began working on in January and now stands at 1,537 words. I have no idea how long this will be or when, if ever, it will be finished. Two Thomas Carlyle projects remain on the shelf, as does the last short story in my Danny Tompkins series. All projects for another day.

Facebook Political Posts

candy-store-ebook-finalLast night I was involved in a political dispute on Facebook. A friend from high school, who I haven’t seen in almost 45 year but with whom I’ve reconnected on FB, posted a political cartoon. In the first frame was FDR with the caption “Social Security”. In the second frame was LBJ with the caption “Medicare/Medicaid”. In the third frame was President Obama with the caption “Health Care Reform”. In the fourth frame was a battered and bruised elephant under the name “Republicans” with the caption “Opposed Each”.

I know from prior posts that this man is on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me, so I should have let this go. But instead I posted the following.

How’s that Social Security working out for us? Soon will be bankrupt. “Soon” as in measured by generations. It won’t be long till, like Greece, we will run out of O.P.M.

To which he replied:

Working out fine for me thank you! Medicare has provided me with the ongoing care I require for my cancer treatments. Please- just refuse to take the money and benefits if you feel that way….just try and cool it with the hyperbole. Better yet: just stay off my page. I don’t watch FOX so your opinions are mostly odious to me.

I didn’t read his whole reply. I stopped after the first two sentences; more on that later. Two others then came on and said more or less the same thing about being very happy they were receiving these benefits and believing all these government programs are working just fine. To which I replied:

Maybe it’s time to take a longer view than just ourselves. Yeah, when I start collectng something when I retire I’ll thank my children for paying for my retirement and healthcare. Just as I hope my dad thanked me. But some day we will either run out of other people’s money or other people’s will, and it will all collapse. Look beyind what’s best for you.

This failure of baby boomers to take the long view is one of the things I discussed in my book The Candy Store Generation: How the Baby Boomers Are Screwing Up America. Well, this post brought this response:

As long as you paid into it, you have every right to collect

To which I replied:

Not really. The government used my money to provide a subsistence level retirement to my parents and grandparents. They put nothing away for my retirement. That’s why it’s called “Social” Security (as in socialist), not capitalist security.

By “they” I meant the government and its program, not my ancestors. A couple of people replied to that, including one who said:

…make up your mind… A capitalist believes in survival of the fittest… A very selfish way of living. (In that regard) they don’t really care about “the longer view”

To which I replied:

Not true. A retirement security program that involves a combination of support for prior generations with a personal account is the right way to go. You look at corporate America which fails to look beyond the next quarter and you have a company that will fail in 10 years. The smart capitalist takes the long view first, the short view second.

It was at that point that I went back and re-read the thread, and noticed that the person on whose timeline we were writing had asked me not to post there. Shame on me for not fully reading his post. So at this point I posted:

———, I missed your earlier comment. I will henceforth stay off your timeline. Say the word and I’ll delete my posts.

That’s the last post in the thread at this point. The host hasn’t come back and responded to my offer, or to any of the posts other than the first one.

Personally I don’t think my original post was hyperbole. We will most certainly run out of other people’s money at some point, as Greece is learning, and as other European countries are learning. I don’t see any hyperbole in that. Obviously my friend posted the cartoon, not for critical discussion, but for providing evidence of his own views. That’s fine. His timeline, his purposes. Now that I know, I won’t be posting to his timeline again.

I think instead I will go herd some cats, which should be a far easier task than what I originally set out to do.


Crisp, Cold, Windy, and Snowing

I drove to church this morning alone, my wife being down in the back after driving home yesterday.  Snow flurries were forecast, and sure enough they started to fall as I was walking across the parking lot and into the church. When the worship surface was over an hour and 30 minutes later, the flurries were coming down pretty good. An hour later when I left Life Group, same thing.

This is the first snow I’ve seen this season. I was gone last Sunday-Monday when it snowed 2 to 3 inches. It was still on the ground when I returned Thursday, but nicely off the road. It was good to see it on the ground, but would have been better had I been able to be out in it.

As I type this, I’m looking out the windows of The Dungeon, our walk-out basement. I see the flakes falling, the snow on the ground down in the hollow behind the house, and on the un-raked leaves in the back yard. It’s a pretty picture.

Well, I didn’t have much to say. I enjoyed the cold have the hot church and classroom. I enjoyed the snow. Now have to head over to the other monitor and do some work.

Back in the Saddle—Hopefully

After five days of traveling to a conference, and presenting a paper (twice) at it, I’m back at work, back at home, batching it right now. It’s time for me to get back in the writing saddle.

The busyness of life continues unabated. However, somehow, I need to find a way to do all that I must do and to write as well. This weekend I’ll work on that.

Part of being back in the saddle is writing for and posting to this blog. In fact, I think that is my top priority. My other blog, An Arrow Through the Air, will remain dormant for the time being. Whether I ever start it up again, or just post to this blog, is something I have to determine. For now, I’m going to try to establish a regular schedule of writing here.

Meanwhile, the only real writing project on tap for now is my poetry book, Father Daughter Day. An artist is just about finished with illustrating the cover. She expects to finish today or tomorrow. So, my plans are to format the book for print this weekend, and to try to format it for an e-book and see how it does. I’m not really sure that poetry will display all that well where the text size (and thus the need to line wrap) is adjustable. But I’ll try it and see. I also have one more poem I’d like to write for it. I’ve started on it three or four times, but, lacking inspiration, abandoned those attempts. Thus it’s necessary to turn to perspiration and get the thing done if I’m ever going to, or decide if the book is complete without it, and just go to publishing.

So, stay tuned for more blog posts. I’ll let you know when FDD is out.

Four Years of Self-Publishing

Dastodd coverFebruary 13, 2011, my first self-published item went up for sale. It’s a short story, “Mom’s Letter”, a fictional piece which has autobiographical elements to it. It was a practice piece. When I made the decision to self-publish, I figured my first novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant, would be first. But it wasn’t quite ready, I wanted to get something published, I had the short story ready from work-shopping and a contest submittal, so I self-published it to practice the mechanics of the self-publishing platforms at Amazon and Smashwords. It went live on Amazon four years ago today.

Kindle Cover - DLA 3Then I thought it would be good to do a book-length item, but I still wasn’t quite ready to put up my novel. What else to do? I decided I could put together fairly quickly my historical-political book, Documenting America: Lessons from the United States’ Historical Documents. So I did that, and it went live for sale in May 2011. Later in the year I managed to get out a paperback version of it.

Eventually I published that novel. Then another. Then another. Then a novella. Then another novel. Along the way I added more short stories, and an essay, and three more non-fiction books. By the middle of 2014 I had 17 items published, six of which were print and e-books, the rest e-books only.

Cover - Corrected 2011-06I won’t say it’s been a wild ride, but it has resembled a roller coaster at times. Get a day with a sale and my spirits rise. A week with two sales and I’m really high. The come the months with one or two sales, or none, and I’m in the dumps. Just when sales seem to be increasing, Amazon changes something, and what few sales I have dry up like a tumbleweed.

Several things I’ve learned through this. I discovered I really don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn and promoting myself. This is a disaster for a self-published author. Then, I really hate the process of making covers, doing the graphic arts work. I have no talent in the graphic arts. I’ve done some of my covers. They probably aren’t very good and should be replaced with ones professionally done.  But then, I really enjoy the formatting process, both of e-books and print books. Except for the cover, I think I do okay with formatting. And, I enjoy editing my own work, something that most writers say they don’t enjoy.

Last, I have no idea what the future holds, but I know the busyness of life can sure sap what little writing time a person has. I have one completed project—a poetry book from years ago. An artist is working on a cover for it now. If she finishes it, I’ll publish the book within a month. It was done in 2006 and has been sitting, waiting for the right time. I have four other works started, all temporarily abandoned, waiting to see if life will turn in my favor any time soon. I’m purposely suppressing ideas as they come to be. No point in aggregating ideas for works that most likely will never be written.

Hopefully, this will all turn around in a year. Life will grant me time to write again, and I’ll get those four works done and many more. Meanwhile, I seem to be stuck on 345 sales of 17 items over 48 months.

Movie Review: Unbroken

Last weekend, that is nine days ago, Lynda and I went to see our first movie of 2015. Two movies that came out over Christmas that I wanted to see were Unbroken, and the one about breaking the German code in WW2, which may have been named Enigma. By January 23rd I figured both of those would be gone, and we’d have to wait for them to hit television. However, Unbroken was still there at a nearby cinema. We went, to celebrate our anniversary a day early.

I was surprised to find the theater quite crowded. This is a movie that has been out for at least a month, for which the ads quit running around Christmas. Most movies will be gone by then, or will be on their last weeks, showing to a handful of people. But this theater was crowded enough that we couldn’t get as good seats as we like. Clearly this movie has legs.

It did not disappoint us. It’s the story of the son of Italian immigrants in California, Louis Zamperini. To keep him from going the way of a delinquent, he is steered in the direction of running track. He worked hard at it and became good—good enough to make the 1936 US Olympic team, and to be the highest American finisher in the 5000 meters. He said that Olympics was only a warm up for the next one, scheduled to be held in Tokyo in 1940.

But World War 2 got in the way. Zamperini wound up in the air corps (Army air, I think). The movie showed him continuing to train between missions. Only two missions were shown: a bombing run and a rescue mission. This latter one went awry when the plane crashed due to mechanical failure. Only three of the crew survived the crash, and one of those died during their time in life rafts.

The movie does an excellent job chronicling their time at sea, from catching fish to worrying about circling sharks to being shot at by a Japanese plane. After 47 days in rubber life rafts the two fliers are rescued—by Japanese forces, not American. The rest of the film chronicles Zamperini’s time in Japanese captivity, which lasts till the end of the war. The man who headed up two of the camps he was in was a particularly cruel captor, who was particularly hard on Zamperini. They are released from the camp when the war ends. A poignant denouement indicated that Zamperini was able to forgive his captors, seeing most of them after the war.

Everything about the movie was excellent. The acting was superb, the photography great. The parts of Zamperini’s life chosen for the story were excellent. One could sense the trials he went through, and how he was able to triumph over his circumstances and come through the ordeals unbroken in spirit, with his mind and body strong enough to be fully healed and lead a normal American life after the war. It’s hard to find fault with any aspect of Unbroken.

I don’t know how long this will be in the theater, but it was still there this weekend. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to. It will be hard to not be moved by Louie Zamperini’s story.

Author | Engineer