Can’t Get Excited

Can’t get excited about blogging.

Can’t get excited about Christmas.

Can’t get excited about work.

Can’t get excited about writing.

Can’t get excited about life in general.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take to snap me out of this. I know I will. It might have to wait till after Christmas. I don’t know why, but I’ve never warmed up to Christmas. We are way past the days of Christmas busyness, with the kids gone. Maybe it’s the incredibly gaudy commercialism of the holiday. But I can almost say I can’t stand Christmas. It’s not quite that bad, but it’s close.

In the last week writing has taken a back seat to busyness of tasks and weariness of mind. The tasks are not yet done. I replaced two old computers with laptops, for which I already have extra monitors. But, even though I bought docking stations for the monitors, I can’t figure out how to get them connected. Everything is connected, but how do I get the computer to know the monitors are there? I guess I’ll figure it out. But until I do I can’t decommission the old computers. With that hanging over me, I don’t feel like doing much of anything.

So, I’ll make this blog post, listen to a little doo-wop, and head upstairs for reading. Hopefully I’ll be able to write some day soon.

Wisdom From Dad – A Peck of Dirt

About 1934
About 1934

Wisdom from My Dad – A Peck Of Dirt

My dad, Norman Todd, was a smart man. No, he didn’t have a great education. He quit public school after eighth grade, which was sort of a standard for many people around 1930. He went to work for “Old Man Angel” in East Providence, Rhode Island, as a farm hand. He worked the five weekdays and a half day on Saturday, and for this he got “a dollar a day plus my dinner” (by which he meant lunch). I’ll talk more about that in a future edition of Wisdom From My Dad.

He didn’t stay out of school, however. He entered a trade school to learn the trade of a linotype operator. When he finished, he started work at this trade, and worked at it till his forced early retirement at age 60, interrupted only by his time in the army during World War 2.

As I said, though only moderately well educated, Dad was smart. He had these sayings he used to say. One of them was “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you croak.”

I never asked him to elaborate on that. And I’m not sure whether this was one of those things he said to be witty, or if he really believed it. But I see in it a lot of wisdom. A lot of people will recoil at the idea of eating a peck of dirt. For those who don’t know, a peck is two gallons (eight quarts). Unless you’re an unsupervised and adventurous kid playing in mud puddles, you’re going to ingest this dirt grain by grain over the years. A lot of food goes in, along with a little dirt. You don’t notice the dirt.

So, is there any wisdom in Dad’s saying? Do you actually have to eat a peck of dirt before you can hang up your cares in this world and move on to the next?

To me, it means you have to live life. Don’t shrink back and be a wallflower. Don’t let others run your life. It might also mean don’t avoid things in life that are messy. Not everything you need or want comes in a pretty box with a bow on it. Sometimes you must get your hands dirty to accomplish anything.

I wonder if it also can be taken literally. Not everything you eat or drink is pure. Some of it has dirt on it. Eat it anyway. The dirt and a few germs will make you stronger. We have a tendency now to try to make our personal environment as sterile as possible. In a noon hour class yesterday I watched a man go to adjust the thermostat when several people complained about the temperature in the room. He took a key from his pocket and tapped the thermostat key. I thought that was odd. Then I remembered this is a guy who touches nothing in a bathroom without a paper towel covering his hand. When he washes his hands he turns the water on full blast for a minute or more, scouring his hand until the last germ he might have encountered has reached a distant sewer. He fears picking up a germ on the thermostat button, so he won’t touch it directly. Of course, no germs would be transferred from the button to the key to his pocket and later to his hand.

Can we totally avoid germs in our lives? I don’t think so. Should we take reasonable efforts to avoid contacting germs? Yes, for sure. Should we take extreme measures to avoid contacting germs? I think, for the normal person with normally functioning immune system, germ avoidance can indeed be taken to an extreme. Take in a few germs; build up some anti-bodies; keep stressing that immune system to help it grow stronger; get your hands dirty; live a long life.

Thanks, Dad, for this bit of wisdom.

Friendships, Faith, and Politics

Henry Higgins said it well in My Fair Lady, when advising Eliza Doolittle on how to conduct herself in public. Concerning conversation, he said, “Stick to the weather and your health.” Others have said this in the negative: “Don’t talk about politics and religion.”

Wise words, perhaps. Yet, here in the U.S.A. we have just been through the most divisive presidential election I can remember. From lewd on-tape, off-camera remarks to chants of “lock her up” to questionable F.B.I. actions to baskets of deplorables, we have been at each other’s throats for the last twelve months, or actually longer than that.

Not everyone has been saying rancorous things, but many have. It hasn’t been confined to one side. Both have gone into the mud-slinging business, despite some promising to wage a high-road campaign. Such is the nature of politics when a people govern themselves. I’d rather have it that way as a consequence of choosing who will lead us than have leaders forced upon us by an outside power, or even by an inside power who doesn’t take our views into account. Self-determination, flawed as it is, is better than the opposite.

So where to we go from here? Approximately 121 million people voted (or maybe that number will be a little higher once all absentee votes are counted). Many eligible voters didn’t vote, either at all or for president, instead voting only for other offices and issues. That’s down something like 5 million voters from our 2012 presidential vote. Most commentators think that’s because the two major party candidates were unlovable people. I concur with that. I also note another difference. In 2012 every state and D.C. the winning candidate won a majority of the votes in that state. In 2016, the highest vote getter in each state got only a plurality. Third party candidates siphoned off a significant number of votes.

This lack of enthusiasm for the candidates is understandable, but is not reflected in what we see in the aftermath of the election. Racists and others with unhealthy beliefs are sending out messages of hate. Many are fearful that social changes from the last ten to thirty (or even fifty) years are going to be rolled back under the new administration. As a consequence, they are protesting the result of the election. Some really bad people are piggybacking on them, and are rioting, looting and destroying the businesses in their neighborhoods, in many cases the business of people who agree with the protesters.

One side says “Suck it up; you lost.” Another side says, “We’re terrified of what new era may be ushered in.” Still others say “Let’s all just chill out for a while.” A few people are saying wise words. I’m hoping to add to those wise words here.

I have heard two things recently that sum up very well what I believe should happen now. One was from “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe. I never watched that show, and became familiar with Rowe mainly from his TV commercials and guest appearances. Embedded in a much longer commentary of this this last week was this statement: “Who tosses away a friendship over an election?” Wise words. They echo what Thomas Jefferson said some two centuries ago: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause of withdrawing from a friend.” Again, these are wise words. And, they were echos from John Wesley from a few decades before Jefferson: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side.” Also wise words.

In worship service yesterday morning, our pastor, Mark Snodgrass, continued in his sermon series “Restored”. This series concerns dealing with the news. He has pulled items from the news over the weeks as representative of where our society is. He could not, of course, ignore the election. He had spoken about it in an earlier message of the series, but felt compelled to say something more. After talking some of the things I did earlier in this post, he gave us a wise, wise statement: “Jesus did not call the church to reflect the lesser evil; he called us to reflect the greatest amount of love.” [loose quote]

What a great statement. It picks up from where Rowe, Jefferson, and Wesley ended, and takes us much, much further. It’s up to the church to: understand what caused people to vote the way they did, regardless of whether we agree with them or not; understand how people are feeling now; to treat all with love.

I would take this a step further. Our Life Group is currently in a study of 1st and 2nd Timothy, a study I developed titled “Entrusted To My Care”,  This comes from 1st Timothy 6:20. In the first lesson I asked, “Who is entrusted to your care?” The answer I got back from the class was “everyone”. “Everyone?” I asked. They reaffirmed their answer. I explored this further with them, and they were adamant: 7 billion people are entrusted to our care, to my care.

That means that those who are protesting in the streets are entrusted to my care. Those who are sending vile messages either through graffiti or online are entrusted to my care.

Of course, I haven’t met all those 7 billion people, and am unlikely to do so in the time I have left on earth. I’m also unlikely to meet the protesters or the hate spewers. Yet, they are entrusted to my care. Taking my pastor’s words to heart, I know I need to reflect the greatest amount of love, and in so doing show them what care I can.

God help me as I try to do so.

Bread and Boxes

My time is very limited these days, almost all of my own making. I’m working hot and heavy on my novel, Preserve The Revelation. Over the weekend I added slightly more than 5,500 words to it. That exceeded my three-day goal of 5,000 words, so that was good. I was writing a difficult part, where a character dies, and another, closely associated character must carry on. But I’m through the worst of that. The worst going forward is I really haven’t planned out this next section very well, so I may find writing it quite laborious.

Two other writing tasks I’m working on is my chronological composition bibliography of Thomas Carlyle, and further study with writing intentions into my harmony of the gospels, specifically the Resurrection account. When I finished up my latest round of revisions, intended to be my last, in June, I did a little search for references I might add to the resurrection account. I found a couple, which led me to doing some writing on an auxiliary document last week and on the weekend. And some reading on it. This is perhaps totally unnecessary, but it’s something I want to do, something that gives me satisfaction.

Saturday saw me doing the typical chores around our house. I moved a large bookcase from the garage to the basement, to help close-in the temporary bedroom we’ve set up there. I loaded the shelves with Christmas decorations and who knows what all was in the boxes I placed. I now know I need to put a light back there, and will do so next weekend, or I might hire an electrician to do it, as I have a couple of other things I need for one to do.

Sunday was fairly restful. I wasn’t scheduled to teach Life Group, though I always prepare to since my co-teacher (on alternating weeks) is a veterinarian and can be called out at any time), but late on Saturday I received a text from him, saying his on-call weekends had switched and he would be on call Sunday. That meant I did have to prepare to teach. I did that by getting up early Sunday morning (thought in fact I had been preparing during the week). He didn’t get called in, and so he taught; I participated as a student. I napped in the sunroom after church, though not for long before I headed to The Dungeon for my writing.

In the evening we felt the 5.0 earthquake that hit Cushing Oklahoma, about 200 miles from us. That was minor excitement. We got pizza instead of having to prepare food, which was good. I pulled out a writing book to read, since I’ve finished all other books and was ready for something new and since I hadn’t read a writing book in a couple of years at least. But for some reason a wave of tiredness washed over me. I’ve learned not to fight it, so I set my book aside, slouched a little in my easy chair, laid my head against the back, and dozed. Maybe for an hour all together. I woke up about 10:15 p.m. to find a different tv program on.

At that point I tried reading a little more, discovered I couldn’t, so went to the kitchen to prepare for the week. I washed a few dished that needed washing, then packed my breakfasts for the week and my lunch for Monday. Yes, I eat breakfast at work. I leave the house at 6:30 a.m. so as to miss traffic, and have a quiet time at work to read the Bible, pray, and do miscellaneous things (such as write this blog post). I did all of that, finishing right around 11:00 p.m.

At that point I headed to bed. I no sooner laid my head down when I realized I had forgot to put bread for my breakfasts in my food bag. I had done the same thing last week, and got to work and had a boiled egg, slice of ham, slice of cheese, and no bread. I debated getting up to add that, but decided instead to say, “Add bread to my food bag” over and over till I fell asleep, hoping I’d remember it in the morning.

Another unfinished task that crossed my mind as I was trying to lock in remembering the bread was that, during the yard sale last weekend, I moved many empty boxes out of the garage and strewed them on the side of the house or under trees nearby. Lynda reminded me on Sunday that those needed to be brought in. I figured I’d better do them in the morning before going to work, so I started to lock that task in by saying to myself, “Remember the boxes, remember the bread.”

I’m happy to say that this morning I remembered both. I put five slices of bread in two baggies and put them in my food bag. As I left the house through the garage I brought in the boxes and put them where they needed to be, at least temporarily. The need to do that was emphasized to me when I hear on the radio that rain is probable today. These  tasks, and one other within the house, made me about eight minutes late, caused me to be behind two slow moving truck, and then in a long, long line of vehicles heading in to Bentonville. So I was at work late. Alas.

However, so long as I crowd writing into my life, so long as I have so many other obligations that can’t be shunted aside, I will have to compromise somewhere. Driving in heavier traffic was this morning’s compromise. Who knows what it will be for the rest of the day, or tomorrow, or the next day?

Oh, and sorry for missing to post something here last Friday. Too many tasks, something had to give.

Recovering From The Weekend

As I was not too long ago, I’m again a day late with my blog post. It’s not for lack of something to write. Indeed, I have a choice of topics and ideas. Some things I’m not quite ready to write a post on, though, if I needed to, I could break out a short, introductory post, and leave the bulk of it till I’m ready. Other things I’m ready to write on.

So why didn’t I write yesterday? Sheer tiredness and brain weariness. This last weekend we had a yard sale, the one we were supposed to have any time after August 2015 when my mother-in-law came to live with us. We didn’t get it done last fall, and I was too busy this spring with many projects to do it. A summer yard sale works in this part of the world, but not as well as spring or fall.

So, about two months ago I decided I would get it done in October. All I needed to complete before that was the flower bed in the front yard. I completed that in early October. My wife was gone to Oklahoma City for an extended stay helping with grandkids, and my mother-in-law was gone for months visiting in her home town. I got much done during those two weeks, both inside and outside the house, and still more in the three weeks it was just me and the mother-in-law here.

Projects completed, and a visit to OKC out of the way, I began yard sale prep in earnest. My wife returned on Oct 23, and I said we were having the sale Oct 28-29. She didn’t think we could get it done, but I showed her how much I had done, and said we would proceed with it. So we did. Was it a success? I had set only modest goals: sell one box of the old books; sell the old porch swing, old suitcases (from 1981), unused air purifier and dehumidifier, and a box of farm junk left over from the 2009 sale when my mother-in-law first downsized, from a house to an apartment. Oh, I also set a $ goal of $200.

I’m happy to say that each of those goals was met. We netted around $220, and each of the items mentioned in the previous paragraph are gone—sold! I think more of the stuff selling was ours, rather than the mother-in-law’s, but it’s gone, never to take up space in the garage or basement again. However, I have to say that meeting all goals seems to be almost a wasted effort. When we brought things back in the garage, we have just as many tables set up, just as many items we don’t need but don’t feel clear to throw out, and we still can’t get a car in it. And, it was a lot a lot of work for a lousy $220.

Some other benefits were achieved. We found a set of salad plates that were not to be sold. In getting ready for the yard sale I was able to fully clean the storeroom. We had contact with some neighbors and near neighbors we rarely see. I expended a lot of energy, perhaps lost a little weight, which is a good thing even if I didn’t have my annual physical tomorrow.

But I ended the days exhausted. Sunday wasn’t all that restful, as I had to teach adult Life Group, made my Saturday run to Wal-Mart on Sunday, and did some good writing on my novel-in-progress. I had to do most of the work on the sale, as my wife woke up with back spasms on Friday, and wasn’t any better on Saturday (or on Sunday for that matter, though improved some by Monday), but I expected that. I took an extra pain pill or two each day, kept going, got lots of steps in, and then slept well.

But, Monday came, and the rush of adrenalin that comes from a sale was gone, and the tiredness set in. I probably didn’t earn my pay yesterday, though looking back I did get some good things done, including a couple of difficult tasks that involved using a website so changed from what I’m used to it might as well have been a new site. At home in the evening I got supper ready (just leftovers from the roast I cooked Sunday—oh, yeah, that was another energy-sapping thing). After eating I balanced the checkbook, then went to The Dungeon. Stock trading accounting took over a half hour, as there was much to do with it, then I wrote. I only added 625 or so words to Preserve The Revelation, but I crossed another thousand threshold, which was satisfying.

Hopefully today my energy has returned. Just being able to write this blog post is a good sign. Future posts will hopefully get back to my writing career and life lessons. Stay tuned.

Yard Sale Today

I’m not making much of a post today, as we are having a yard sale. Back in early 2009 my mother-in-law moved from her house to a nearby apartment. We had a sale then, getting rid of most of the furniture she didn’t need/we didn’t want. But we put several boxes on the shelf. Then, in March 2014 she went to live in an independent living retirement apartment, smaller, and she didn’t need as much. Several of her things came to our house; some to the basement; some to the garage.

The, in August 2015 it was determined she couldn’t live alone any more. It was either assisted living (more than $4000 a month) or move in with us. We had her move in with us. We sold off some of her things, but most of it went into the garage, a little going to the basement.

Our plans all along were to have a sale, adding a fair amount of our own stuff. But other things got in the way. All winter I was reclaiming the back yard from the forest. All spring and summer I was trying to spiff up both the back yard and front yard. Then there was finishing the flower bed so we’ll have someplace to plant next year, and clean up the basement storeroom. I had a number of reasons for doing that, including finding and moving things to the garage for the sale.

That stuff all being done, while the wife was out of town helping our daughter’s family with the new baby, I began moving stuff to the garage, and arranging for tables, and arranging stuff on tables. It’s now or never for this sale.

So, today and tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, the sale is ON. We live in a somewhat remote place, and to be honest I don’t expect a lot of traffic. If we can sell some of the stuff I’ll be happy. I’ll take a bunch more to thrift stores, while we’re in the mood to declutter and reduce our overall amount of stuff, accumulated in almost 41 years of marriage. And, what my mother-in-law accumulated in 91 years.

So, I wrote nothing last night, as I was making preparations. I’ll write nothing tonight. Maybe I’ll get to do a little Friday night, but we’ll see. I suspect that Saturday I’ll be too tired to write, but again we’ll see.

I’ll be back Monday, and will report in on how we did.

Restored: We the People

Our pastor, Mark Snodgrass, started a new sermon series last Sunday. It’s titled “Restored”, and the first sermon in the series was titled “Restored: We the People”. His text was Matthew 7:1-6, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says we should not judge others, or we too should be judged. Then there’s the bit about the speck in your brother’s eye and the blank in your own.  The series, he said, would be about current events.

It wasn’t terribly long ago when Mark addressed current events, i.e. the election season, saying he has been asked many times by various organizations if he will distribute their voting guides in our church. He then said, “So long as I’m your pastor, the only voting guide I’m going to give you is this,” holding up his Bible. I thought that was very good.

To start this sermon, he took the Sunday edition of our local newspaper, and read various headlines. He then got back to the idea of not judging, or rather judge, but know why, and that you are going to be judged the same way. Some key phrases he said, some of which are paraphrased:

  • The government can write a check, but it can’t create a community.
  • Restoration begins with me not you…with us not them.
  • the world is too complex to parse it into red or blue.
  • the Church must become a community of truth, beauty, and goodness.
  • I’m less concerned that abortion become illegal than that it become unconscionable. [paraphrased]

This is good advice, good leadership. I’m going to do my best to put it into practice. Although, I may still give an opinion or two about the election.

Writing and Publishing


Publishing and writing tasks have been proceeding apace. No, that’s passive construction. Let me rephrase. I’ve been able to spend a decent amount of time on writing and publishing tasks of late, with some positive results. No, I’m not where I’d hoped I’d be, not even where I’d planned to be. But I’ve made progress, and that will have to suffice.

I’ve been able to spend time every day working on Preserve The Revelation either writing or researching. Yesterday I added over 2,000 words, and my word count is somewhere around 23,700, I think (my count is at home; I’m writing this at work). If I’m correct that it will take about 90,000 words to tell this story, that means I’m about 26% done. Is that good news, or bad news? If I average 500 words a day, I’ll be done in 133 days (very doable), around the end of March 2017. That seems like a long time from now. If I can bump that up to 750 words a day (doable), I’ll be done in mid-January. If I can do a little better and average 1,000 words a day (a stretch based on all that the world expects me to do), I could be done just before Christmas this year. That sounds so much better. It’s what I need to shoot for.

Apart from that, I continue to work on Thomas Carlyle: A Chronological Composition Bibliography, or whatever exact title I eventually give it. Why? I’m not sure, except I can’t let it go. Most days I spend a little time on it, rarely more than thirty minutes. I’m looking through Carlyle’s letters for references to his publications, checking reference materials for the same, reading a few works by or about Carlyle, and typing/reprinting as I have enough changes to warrant doing so. I have no schedule for completing this. I’m past the most difficult years of Carlyle’s literary life, it seems to me, so maybe this will go fast henceforth. I still have significant editing to do in the years 1823-1832. Right now I’m in 1836-37 and moving forward. I’ll edit those earlier years later.

In late August or early September I wrote a poem for an anthology and submitted it. I found out this morning that the anthology fell through. I still have the poem, a villanelle, that perhaps I’ll do something with. It’s submissions season for many literary journals. What the heck, might as well submit it and see what happens. I’ve written one other poem since, a tanka, that needs some work.

As far as publishing tasks, in September I published the fourth short story in my series Sharon Williams Fonseca: Unconventional CIA Agent. Titled “Hotel, Whiskey, Papa: Sharon Williams Fonseca in Salzburg”, I’ve had one sale of it, no reviews. That’s about par for the course. I had a mere nine sales in 3rd Quarter 2016, and zero sales so far in the 4th Quarter. Since I added to the series, I republished the first three books in the series to include the reference to the new one. All of this was on Amazon. I haven’t done the same on Smashwords yet.

The other publishing task was getting into print my baseball novel, In Front Of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I was ready with the interior of the book in August, but have had trouble finding a cover designer who could work me into their busy schedules. I plugged along at doing it myself, and finally, with some help from a man in our office, got it done last Friday. The full cover “wrap” is at the start of this post. I uploaded the book the same day, and within six hours had word back from CreateSpace that it met their criteria. I accessed the online proof, and saw only one place that needed a slight tweak in format. I then tried to order a proof copy, but, somehow I hit the wrong button, and the book was published! This was last Saturday. There was one change I wanted to make to the title page, but figured I’d do this after viewing the proof. Oh, well, I’ll republish it with the correction before too long.

One other item of significance was a contest I ran, through my Facebook timeline, to give away copies of my poetry book, Daddy-Daughter Day. Contestants had to guess the name of my [then soon-to-be-born] latest grandson, which would begin with E, as have the names of his brothers and sister. I allowed two guesses. Seven people got it right. The books have been ordered (it’s only available in print) and should be here Thursday. My hope is that somewhere among these seven will be people who will like the book and leave a review on Amazon and other sites. We’ll see.

So, I’m busy and productive, if not productive enough. Alas, the day job and life in general get in the way of full writing productivity.

A Time Crunch is Coming

My mother-in-law, with Elijah, five days old
My mother-in-law, with Elijah, five days old

This past weekend I went to Oklahoma City to see my new grandson. My mother-in-law went with me, and had a couple of hours with her four great-grandchildren, then I took her to her step-daughters for her to stay the remainder of the weekend. It would have been a bit of a challenge for her to function with three noisy children all around her. I’ll add a couple of pictures to this post.

Esther with Elijah and Elise, previously the baby of the family
Esther with Elijah and Elise, previously the baby of the family

So, I did little writing Friday through Sunday. That evening, after getting home, I managed to bang out a few words on Preserve The Revelation. Last night was the same thing. I think my two-day production was close to 500 words, which was to be my one-day goal. But, I had to go to the store after work, and I’m playing catch-up from the weekend trip, so I didn’t feel that I could dedicate much time to writing. I did sit and plan the next couple of chapter, reading in Revelation for research.

At the “Between The Lines” blog today of Books & Such literary agency, the issue of time logjams was the subject of the post. I wrote and posted a comment, telling of my own current logjam. Here’s what I said was in it.

– find whatever it is that’s dead in my garage and is causing a big stink. That would be easy, except…
– …with the garage full of things, waiting for that garage sale, I need to make a major effort in getting ready for that.
– finish the front yard flower bed project. I’m two hours of work away from that. I think.
– ongoing: be the primary caregiver for my 91 year old mother-in-law while my wife is out of town, helping our daughter’s family following the birth of their fourth child.
– either figure out cover design with G.I.M.P. or find a designer who can do quick work on the cover of my first baseball novel; it would be nice to get the print version out before the Cubs win the World Series. E-book is already published.
– ongoing: finances and filing. Will I ever catch up?
– ongoing: participating in my wife’s home business
– start preparing for the family to come for Thanksgiving; yes, it takes that long.
– ongoing: this pesky day job.
– If time allows, add 500 words a day to my novel-in-progress.

That pretty well sums it up. I don’t think I need to write more than that. The time crunch has caused my blog regularity to suffer. I’ve missed my normal days for the last two posts. You can see “Update blog” isn’t even on the logjam list, so far is it down.

A better day is coming. “All in God’s timing,” as was stated on the blog.

Author | Engineer