Christmas Dinner

Every year in the past I have roasted turkey for Christmas, serving a “traditional” Christmas dinner to our international guests.  Perhaps traditional American or traditional European would be more accurate.  Most of my guests have been from India or East Asia and turkey and the fixings are not at all traditional there. 

This year, I decided to forget tradition and go for celebration.   (I cannot cook a Christmas dinner without European foods, I simply won’t cook the traditional ones.) That’s right, for celebration, I’ll concentrate on color and taste,  Red and green and other celebratory colors, and spices and chocolate. 

Instead of turkey, we’ll have turkey/spinach/carrot/mushroom lasagna with an Alfredo sauce.  I will cook the boneless turkey breast in my slow cooker with onion and sage and shred it for the lasagna. 

And how about an Asian inspired vegetarian dish?  Fried red curry tofu will provide protein and color. 

These main dishes will be accompanied by bright green peas, roasted red carrots on a bed of yellow squash, and other vegetables, either roasted or otherwise prepared to make the best use of their color. 

To finish, everyone likes chocolate, so Molten Chocolate cakes are in order, along with a more healthful (and French) Apple Tart-Tatin.

What will you have for Christmas?  Would you like to make some of the dishes I am making?  I’m happy to share my recipes.

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(This was sent to my clients in 2004.  Some things bear repeating.)

In 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln announced a day of Thanksgiving with these words:

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

So, today, I thank God for our country and our blessings, but also want to thank you for paying me to do what I find so enjoyable, for always be gracious in the midst of computer problems, for allowing me to take as long as I need to fix what needs to be fixed, for putting up with me on those days when the words don't come out clearly, for all that you do that makes my job so much fun:  Thank YOU!!!

And when your computer causes you problems, before I get there, consider this:  Reverend Billy Graham writes of theologian Matthew Henry who at an old age was mugged on the street corner. That night, Henry wrote in his diary, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” (Billy Graham, Unto the Hills (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 411.) In the same spirit, when things go wrong with your computer or the way you use it, be thankful that you have a computer, thankful that this thing does not happen frequently, thankful that a computer is really such a small part of life (it really is!), and thankful that you are not the one who has to fix the problem! 

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Getting Started

Someone asked me how to start writing.  Here are some tips:

  • Make the time.  Every day, if you can.  If you can’t manage some spare time every day, take time whenever you can.
  • Use your preferred writing medium:  computer or paper and start writing whatever is in your mind or heart. 
  • Write anything.  Write everything.  Don’t stop until you’re ready. 
  • Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation; you can take care of that later when you edit.
  • When an idea strikes, wherever you are, jot it down so you can use it later.
  • A good book to get you started might be Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  Easy to read with some good suggestions.

Remember, it’s not how well you start; it’s how well you finish.  So start in whatever way works for you and then work at it until you finish.  I tend to write fairly complete first drafts, but my novel may be in it’s 20th rewrite! 

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Multi-Media Publishing

Desk at Rustproof Records

When I was in college, the notebook or the typewriter was the medium used to write term papers.  Multi-media meant combining one or more medium with another.  That meant, for example, gluing or taping pictures to the written document or combining the projection of still photographic images with music.  During and post-college I produced multi-media “slide shows” which were individual projected images accompanied by a sound track. 

Very soon after this, the personal computer became available, and soon after that the internet.

Today, multi-media means much more than it did during my college days.  When I or another blogger or any online source publishes text, we can combine those words with music, video, pictures, etc.  I like simple presentations, so in many ways I despise today’s multi-media.  When I  am reading, I don’t want to be distracted by other media.  Websites that automatically play music don’t stay long in my browser.  When I click on a newspaper article, I don’t want to see moving animation unless it is directly connected to the article.  Much of today’s multi-media takes the form of advertising which I particularly wish to avoid.

I recently read an article from the New Yorker.  I found it interesting, but lengthy, so I printed it to read later.  Although the piece was interesting, it referred to embedded video which I could not view in the printout.  I printed a newspaper article about spiders for my files. It had two illustrations.  However they were presented as an animated slide show, so only one of the illustrations appeared in the print out; not the one I particularly wanted.  In each case, I was left wanting.

What does this mean?  Have we become a paperless society?  Future news and information will be read on devices like the Kindle or the Fire or any tablet or phone or computer that pulls video, still images, and music from the web to your device.  Is this better or worse or indifferent.

Let’s start with better.  Never a cognitive morning reader, I found a better way to read the poem: have a professional read it to me.  I always have trouble with some punctuation marks: semi-colons and long dashes.  I was able to find a site that not only made it clear, but read sentences so I could hear the difference.  Graphics, video, and audio files all add to our understanding.

Now for the worse.  I’m tired of being bombarded with pictures and music that add nothing to the text or detract from it.  Some of these are ads; some are simply irrelevant to the text.  You have all heard the webpage that has “stupid” music playing in the background, or the page with pictures that have nothing to do with the article or blog you are reading.  That is one reason why my blog posts contain few pictures.

As for the indifferent, this is more a perspective of the reader/listener than the web designer.  After awhile we learn to tune out all but the most obnoxious tunes, pictures, and videos.  Or if one site annoys, we’ll find what we want on another.

So, embrace the multi-media that improves your experience and when you do think about what life would be like without it and give thanks for these small, but significant advances in technology.

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Electronic Note Taking


When you visit any website, Amazon, a blog, a journal, any website, you might want to take notes on what you find there.  I take notes on information relating to my novels and short stories, my business, recipes, and other matters.  In the past I have recommended Microsoft One Note and have used it extensively.  The time has come to make a new recommendation.

First, let me explain why I have moved away from Microsoft One Note. Microsoft has put One Note in the place where Apple computers once lived:  in the land of non-compatibility.  In the past, if you wanted to play a certain game or use a certain app on a Mac, you couldn’t.   But Apple has gained wisdom while Microsoft’s petty attitude of superiority is costing it a loyal customer.  Simply consider one Apple app:  ITunes.  You can use it on a Mac or on a PC or on your smartphone.  Now consider the equivalent Microsoft app:  Windows Media Player.  You can use it on a PC or on your smartphone, but only if it is a Windows smartphone.  Get the picture?

The same thing holds true for One Note.  You can use it on a PC or on a Windows smartphone or an IPhone, but not on an Android phone, and certainly not Blackberry or Palm.  What if you want to use a PC, an Android phone, and an Ipad?  Say goodbye to One Note and hello to EvernoteEvernote works on almost every smartphone, tablet, and with Mac, PC, Android, Blackberry, and Palm. 

What are the functional differences between One Note and Evernote?  I set up Evernote on my Windows 7 PC and imported my notes from One Note.  All my notes from all my folders imported into a single notebook in Evernote.  However they were tagged with the name of their folder (Recipes, Cabin, Journal, etc.) so it was a simple matter to set up Evernote notebooks with those names and move the notes to the appropriate notebook. 

I used One Note mainly for saving web clippings.  I copied an article of interest to me and pasted it into Evernote.  It worked as seamlessly as One Note and looked better.  Like Amazon’s Kindle, Evernote give you an email address to let you send notes directly to Evernote.  I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a good idea.  I can then forward an interesting email to that email address and have it saved in Evernote.  Cool.  Evernote stores your notes online, so you can access them from any computer.  Finally, Evernote is free for a basic account, which is all I and most people need.  If you want the Premium Account it only costs $5 month or $45/year. 

What else can you do with Evernote?  You can share your note by emailing it or posting it on Twitter or Facebook.  I emailed one to myself to test it and I received the body of the note in the body of the email.  I haven’t yet tried posting to Twitter or Facebook, but I expect it will work as seamlessly.

Is there any reason to continue using One Note?  I haven’t found one.  If you have, please let me know.

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A Whisper of Peace: A Review

A Whisper of Peace is a novel which takes place predominately in the 19th century Alaskan wilderness.  Of all the new novels by Christian authors I have read this year, this one was the most well-crafted and well-written.

A Whisper of Peace is the story of three people who are searching for peace in their lives.  Clay, the son of a pastor ministering to Paiutes, has left his home in the Oklahoma Territory.  Armed with high expectations of following in his father’s footsteps, he tries, with little success, to start a successful church among the Athabascan natives of Alaska.  His half-sister, Vivian, joins him to get a fresh start from the secret which haunts her past.  The first Athabascan Clay and Vivian  meet is Lizzie.  Deserted by her Caucasian father and an outcast from her tribe, she seeks peace through reconciliation with her grandparents and finding her father in San Francisco. Clay and Vivian try to heal a generational rift between Lizzie, and her grandparents, an action which puts Clay and Vivian at odds with the very people they want to help and creates a dilemma between helping the one and helping the many. 

These three characters find their lives taking turns that they had not expected.  Vivian finds that her secret is not as she had believed.  She changes her life to reflect her new perspective.  Lizzie discovers her life objective changed; She changes, too.  Clay realizes that church is not what he thinks it is--a brief note from his father and he immediately feels better.  Predictably Clay and Lizzie fall in love.  You will have to read the book for yourself to find out what happens.

I enjoyed the author’s depictions of wilderness life:  canoeing, hunting, snaring, and fishing, and her description of tribal culture. (You can learn more about the Athabascan people here.) I also enjoyed the two child characters that were links between Lizzie and the missionaries and her Athabascan people.  I found most characters’ physical descriptions believable. 

I have only two complaints about the book.  First, I couldn’t generate any particular like or dislike for any of the characters.  Clay and Lizzie both have clear-cut goals and a strong determination to achieve their goals.  Vivian doesn’t know what she wants.  I wanted to find some point of identification with the characters, but their problems seemed so easily handled.  Indeed, some major problems arise, then without further comment, they disappear.  One example is a head injury which debilitates Clay until all at once it is no longer an issue.  The heavy internal issues that the characters wrestle with don’t seem to consume them as they would a real person.  At the end, the novel skips ahead two years and shows all the characters perfectly happy. 

My other complaint, and it may be related to the first one, is that the book seems old.  Not old in the sense of a timeless classic, but old in the sense that it tries to communicate to someone living in another time period, I’m just not sure where.  I recently reviewed a novel that contained a “chaste kiss;”  For a love story, this novel has no kiss at all and little passion.

Sure, Clay shows great passion for what he wants to do for God, but little passion for anyone or anything else.  Indeed, his passion for Lizzie, the woman he loves, comes only in fits and spurts and he shows very little care for his step-sister Vivian. I want an author to make me feel what the characters feel and these characters feel very little. 

That being said, this is the most well-written new Christian novel I have read this year.  There were no glaring spelling or grammar errors.  If you want to read a book purely for entertainment and to get a small glimpse of 19th century frontier life, pick this up.  But if you want to enter the world of people who lead deep lives that resonate into the 21st century, find another novel. 


I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

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Ebooks and Their Readers

At a past writer’s conference, one of the presenters gave a talk on the ontology of books.  His main point seemed to be that the ebook was a failure. It was a failure because it did not give the emotional satisfaction of a book.  It was a failure because an ebook cost as much or more to produce than a book.  He spoke about the printing industry and the emotional bond he had with his father through his father’s library.

At the time, I partially agreed.  I had no knowledge of the printing industry and how it compared to ebook production and his statements seemed reasonable.  My personal experience with my Kindle was a love/hate experience, but the love slightly outweighed the hate.  Sure the Kindle was expensive, needed to be charged, could be broken, and did not have the tactile feel of a book.  But I did find it convenient to carry.  I am usually reading several books at a time and don’t’ always know which one I will feel like reading in a particular situation.  It is also convenient not to have to move the book light every time I turn a page.  Yes, I read at night in bed.

As I have used it over the years, however, I have found the benefits to outweigh the detriments.  The Kindle is great for notes.  I don’t carry a notebook when I read; I lose notebooks.  Nor do I carry a highlighter or post-its.  The Kindle lets me mark passages and refer to them later.  If I have forgotten to mark a passage, I can do a search.  The search function is very useful when I review a book.  I can easily count the number of times an author has used a word or term.  And when I am ready to write my review, I can go back through my pages of notes and pick out quotes to use in the review.  My notes give me a link back to their location in the book so I can check context.

What don’t I like?  Sure, the battery lasts a long, long time, but I dread the day when I pick it up to write a review and it says “low battery.”   If that does happen, I can go to and find my notes, but not link to the context.  Kindle for PC or Mac or Smartphone lets you sync with your computer or phone.  You can find your notes and link to the context.  For some books this does not work at all.  If you, as I do, acquire some of your books from a source other than Amazon, you may not be able to see your notes anywhere but your Kindle.  (*Some of the publishers I review for have their own download link for review copies.)

Library books are available for the Kindle but they are limited.  I had been hoping that borrowing with the Kindle would provide a better experience than the library.  I don’t usually borrow library books, because I have trouble returning them by the due date.  EBooks can be borrowed for two weeks only.  That short time really doesn’t bother me because there are so few books available that I would want to read.

As a writer, I keep track of the publishing industry.  The latest figures show eBooks outselling paper books.  And why not?  An eBook is instantly accessible, never smells musty, never becomes damaged.  It’s a different method of reading but the words and thoughts are the same.  Whether you prefer paper or eBook is up to you.  I’ll push to have my novels published in both forms, but will read them on my Kindle.  They were composed on a computer; why not read them on an electronic device?  Let me know what you think about eBooks and Ereaders.  Are you using them?  Do you love or hate them?

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The Soul Reader By Gerard D. Webster: A Review

The Soul Reader: A Novel of Suspense
The Soul Reader has a name.  No it’s not simply the name of the book but also the description of the protagonist, Ward McNulty, who has the power (but only in sufficient light) to discern a person’s spiritual state.  Like any good hero, however, he fails to recognize his own failings. . . until the middle of the book.

This novel begins as a perilous adventure to discover the mastermind behind a series of murders.  McNulty, a journalist, has hit bottom: jobless, homeless, and crippled, when his erstwhile girlfriend, Carrie, hands him a book deal partnership where his investigative journalism skills come to the fore in their quest to expose the mastermind behind the murders of members of a large commercial fraud, including the murder of McNulty’s father.  The story unfolds with the involvement of a retired police detective, a member of the FBI, a Colombian saint, and an Italian businessman.  And let’s not forget to throw in the assassin with no identity other than “Culebra,” until the middle of the book.

Yes, it’s the middle of the book where the loose ends start to be tied while the novel falls apart.  First, let me state that if you are a traditional Roman Catholic, this novel may enthrall you.  But for other readers, it is a mess.  Disturbing news reports of McNulty’s demise cause McNulty’s mother and wannabe girlfriend to sit together and recite the rosary.  It calms them. Then McNulty, in the midst of danger, starts to say the hours, decades, or centuries. I’m not sure which, because I have no idea what any of it means.  To top it all off, I find my first textual error: a misspelled word.

You might think I am anti-Roman Catholic.  I’ll leave that to your perception.  I thoroughly enjoyed and recommended a novel where the lead character was a Roman Catholic “sister,”  and have great respect for other Roman Catholic authors including Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Muggeridge, Walker Percy, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Thomas Merton.  What made “The Passion of Mary-Margaret,” a contemporary Roman Catholic novel, readable, was the simple and clear explanations of Roman Catholicisms.  And that is where The Soul Reader completely fails.

And now I must digress.  The two women find comfort in repeating “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”  They repeat it over and over.  I have been to Roman Catholic funerals and seen and heard this.  Why not pray scripture?  Perhaps one of the Psalms?  From my perspective, reciting those words over and over is no different from reciting any word or words for meditation reasons.  Whether the word be Om or Jesus or Holy Mary, such repetition may be designed only to clear the mind for meditation.   If a Christian is in distress, as I believed these women were, why wouldn’t they call on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith?  Why wouldn’t they tell him how they feel?  Why wouldn’t they use an appropriate Psalm?  I often pray Psalm 121 or Psalm 139 in my distress.   One of the women says that she thinks of Psalm 61 while she is reciting the rosary, but that’s as far as it goes.  The Psalms are all directed to God in joy or distress or thanksgiving.  It seems to me, that if we’re calling on God is our distress, we’re going to want to directly entreat God as did our examples in the Bible,  and not call on the mother of Jesus, a practice nowhere mentioned in the Bible.   

But, digression aside, let’s return to the text.  It is in the center of the novel where I became aware of Culebra’s identity before any of the novel’s characters knew his identity, and where I began to see the secret behind the Italian businessman.  At this point, I wondered if I even wanted to read through to the end.  I have read so many bad novels by Christian authors in the past year; I would love to be proven wrong about a book that started with so much promise.

Did it prove me wrong in the end?  Partially.  There were a couple of twists I hadn’t anticipated.  There were also a couple of misspelled words, bad placement of the word “only,” one word used for its opposite meaning, and an office pulled out of thin air.  I was also irritated by the 28 times the author used the word “feature” instead of “face” or spiritual “state” or “condition.”  The author used the word “basically” three times in a single paragraph.  He used the word animal magnetism only once but once is too often in any writing.  I also found problems with simile and comparison.  Perhaps I am too literal, but does this work on any level? 

. . . as insensitive to the feelings of others as a buzzard would be to the feelings of roadkill.

Or how about this comparison?

Mercy was more foreign than Mercury. . .

No, there was no science fiction or space travel in this novel and no consideration of the night sky.

This Soul Reader was a good start for this author.  With a good editor, he could lose the middle and the very end and add some real passion and emotion rather than a “chaste kiss,” He might then have a book full of exciting moments.  As the book stands, however, only a Roman Catholic reader might truly enjoy it. 

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

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When I Wanted to Quit the Church

Have you ever wanted to quit church?  Perhaps you never started.  Here is the story of why I wanted to quit church and why I ended up staying.

Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. 

Fourth grade had been the worst year.  New school, new city, no friends.  Even though I loved the quiet area where we lived, I felt like I was drifting through life, like I was being done to rather than doing.  I wasn’t yet old enough to see the light ahead. 

Following fourth grade, fifth grade was the worst year of my life.  New school, new city, no friends, and a densely populated area.  Life was horrible at home and I only wanted to hide under my desk at school.  My walk from school took me past a library.  I hid in my room and read books.

After fifth grade, sixth grade was the worst year of my life.  Same school, same city, no friends.  I grew my hair long and continued to cart home as many library books as I could carry.  In school I hid behind my long hair and at home I hid in the books I read.    

But seventh grade was the worst of all.  Same city, new school, no friends; it was the other changes that brought new lows.  I no longer passed a library on my walk to school and I was expected to go to school dances and participate in school  and church activities. 

The high points:  I had a poem published in the school paper and I met a friend.  It wasn’t a particularly good poem and we were friends for all of the wrong reasons.  We were the kind of friends who never spent the night at each other’s house.  So what made us friends?  We were the ones who didn’t fit in.  We went to dances and agreed not to dance so neither of us could feel bad that we weren’t asked.  We went out for cheerleading knowing that we both would fail.  This friendship of avoidance and failure ended when I left that school after two years. 

The low point:  my search for meaning.  I was enrolled in catechism classes that year.  They were taught by the pastor of the church.  I loved church.  I loved the music, the liturgy.  It was a place of safety and security.  The one place with the promise of “all is well and all will be well.”  My heart leapt with the words of the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) which we sang as a sort of chant. 

We praise thee, O God :
    we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
    the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
    the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
    continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
    Lord God of Sabaoth*;

Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
    of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee. . .

But the same man who led that church couldn’t be bothered with the questions of pre-teen girl  searching for meaning.  I don’t remember what I asked; nor do I remember the response.  I only remember that his response ridiculed me in front of the others in that catechism class.   I begged my mother to let me drop out, but she refused.  I begged to stay home from church, but she refused that, also. 

I finished the class and to this day remember only these words:  “I will fear and love God,” a phrase that appropriately states the ambiguity of faith.  But I had no room for ambiguity in my life; fear overwhelmed love.  I finished that class without asking any more questions, donned the white robe, and was subsequently accepted into the church, a church that was no longer safe and secure.  A church of hypocrisy and fear.  

And yet, I knew there was something more. Somewhere. 

Now an adult,  I know that all churches are filled with the same types of people we find anywhere else:  the broken narcissists, the depressed hypocrites, the maudlin pundits.  (Yes, I had to throw them in to lighten this dire non-diatribe.)  But the churches I respect most are those where the people realize their own lack and look to Jesus, where they acknowledge that we live in a stasis between what is and what should be, and where none of us is bigger than God. 

Yes, I said “we” and “us.” I cannot leave the church because, as it hobbles along, its crutch is Jesus and that’s the same secure aid I need in my life.  And the people hobbling with me are the ones I need to be with in my worst of times and my best.

But I will never stop searching; not for the best church or the best people, but for the best life lived in Christ in his church.  I want to stand in the church of the here and the yet to come, the church of the crumpled and crushed, the church of the damaged and destroyed, the church without pretension.  As part of that church, I am part of something bigger and more important than an Ohio State Football game and its fickle fans (no pun intended.).  As part of that church, my life has greater purpose than I could have ever envisioned.

Church is the place of the holy ones of God who are called together through wars and hardship, wins and losses, struggles and pain, to lie prostrate, kneel, or stand and worship the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Here is where I join the saints, angels, and martyrs to shout, sing or whimper, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Here is where “the saints go marching in” and I do, do, do “want to be in that number.”

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call
Some say this world of trouble,
Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.
Oh When the new world is revealed
Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Does your heart cry to be in that number?  Do you feel outcast, rejected?  As I was writing this, I happened upon a video that may say it better.  And no, going back to church doesn’t have to happen on September 18, December 25, or any other propitious date.  Whenever you go, it is the right time. 

If you are looking for a church like the one in the video or the one that I want, don’t be afraid to ask me for a recommendation.  Here are two I recommend:  Vineyard Church of Columbus, Vineyard Chillicothe.  And there are many others.  Please leave a comment and let me know whether your pain kept you from church or brought you to church. 

I leave you with a lighter song from the early 1980’s.

*Sabaoth is the Anglicizing of the Latinizing of the Greek of the Hebrew word for “armies.”

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Camping in Georgia by D. Harkness

Camping in Georgia

The darkest dark of moonless night
around that Georgia lake
the tent went up by car headlight
the poles, the nylon, and the stakes

Happy to be safe inside
we touched, we kissed, and more
the night was warm and as we drowsed
the water lapped the shore

But terrors of the night abound
which ears and flesh invade
and unseen creepy crawly things
a camper's nightmare preys

Just a dream I knew it was
until I felt it there
and in the light I knew it true
creepy crawly in my hair

First love, now rape
in every crevice every pore
ants within and on my skin
ants covering the floor

Grabbing cover; To the showers!
No quiet sleep that night
the car seat was the bed of choice
until the first daylight.

The brightest bright of Georgia day
showed truly where we faltered
the entire lakeside was their home
the ants thought we were squatters!

The moral of this story strange
is not what you might expect
for only in that one state park
did ants arrive unchecked.
So never set the tent by dark
and never in that Georgia park
where ants control entire tracts
and danger lurks behind your back.

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The Scroll by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky (A review)

The Scroll: A Novel
The Scroll is a novel in which many of the characters are archaeologists.  Lest you immediately think of the dull painstaking removal of ancient dust by means of a small paintbrush, these archaeologists get right to business using the latest technology and reluctantly blowing holes in standard archeological practice, while avoiding having holes blown in themselves. 

Dr. David Chambers is the lead archaeologist, ready to change archeological and life direction until called back to Israel by his mentor, Abram Ben-Judah, to lead a group looking for treasure places described by a copper scroll discovered in the Qumran area.  The novel gives the reader a taste of current archeological method including the difficulty in deciphering ancient text and location when spelling, iconography, and geography have changed or disappeared in time.   We are also introduced to new methods of surveying beneath the earth’s surface for long buried evidence.

The story is a straightforward archaeological mystery,  intertwined with a volatile political situation.  There is love and death and subterfuge, but this novel cannot be described as suspenseful or romantic.  Although the character of David Chambers is multi-faceted, the other characters appeared one-dimensional.  I was left wishing for more danger, more action, more emotion, and better characterization.  I was wishing for anything to make me feel something for the characters.  If this novel is made into a movie, I definitely want to see it. 

The Scroll is an easy read for a summer beach or a winter fire, especially if you are interested in Biblical archeology. 

I received this book free from the publisher.  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.

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Unpacking Creative Speculative Non-Fiction

When I plan a vacation, my first thought is the box of books.  Which can I finish?  Which will inspire me?  Which will propel me forward in life?  I stare at the piles of books and the corrugated box.  I want to include everything and nothing.  I want the selected few, but I don’t know which fall into that category.  Should I take the books waiting to be reviewed or the ones I didn’t finish last year or the year before or the year before that?   

This year, I became wise.  I took one fiction book

Valley of Bones (Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy)



one book of creative non-fiction 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America


an academic book I have been reading 

On the Reliability of the Old Testament

and my Kindle which contains my Bible and other books.


So how did I do with the reading?  I never picked up Valley of Bones.  I never picked up On the Reliability of the Old Testament.  I completely finished The Devil in the White City.  And I read a few out of print short stories on my Kindle.

The Devil in the White City is a work of creative non-fiction.  I am not completely convinced that this genre should even exist.  Creative non-fiction is factual writing mixed with “what could have happened.”  Now, if you take this to its extreme, it is historical fiction.  Historical fiction is a fictional story set in a historical period.  Could it have happened?  Maybe. 

The Devil in the White City is a true story set in a historical period with what may or may not be fictional elements.  I am writing a series of novels about the Prophet Elijah.  What we know about him would not fill a single book.  However I have set his story in its historical time and included elements of modern thought, technology, clothing, etc.  How would I have to modify my novel to make it creative non-fiction?  I could take out the modern elements, thought, and place names.  What then?  The characters I invented could have existed.  There is no evidence for or against their existence.  The action I wrote could have taken place.  There is no evidence for or against it. 

Others have told me that my fiction is speculative fiction.  How about creative speculative non-fiction?  If I include footnotes will that make my novel non-fiction? 

And what is true?  If we add what might have been and call it “creative” is it still true?  And if it is not true, can it be called “non-fiction.”  I have always believed that the untrue was fiction.  Have we so blurred the lines of demarcation that we no longer call what is true, non-fiction?

There is a writers conference in the spring on narrative non-fiction.  If I attend will they answer my questions?

What do you think about all of this?

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Authors that Disappoint: A Review of Two Books

I recently had the opportunity to read two novels:  one by a best-selling Christian author I have long known and read, the other by an author I had never heard of.  The first book is One Step Away by Eric Wilson; the second, Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann.

These novels are set in the current time, in recognizable places in the United States.  What both novels also share is unexpected poor writing.  Let me qualify the remarks that follow by noting that One Step Away was in paper book format, Indelible in Kindle format.

Both books suffer from grammar and punctuation errors.  The first is homonym confusion.  Homonyms are words that sound alike or similar but have different meanings.  For example, you can pique someone’s interest, but you cannot peak their interest.  That was an actual example of homonym confusion from Indelible.  Other words were simply wrong and I suspect the author consulted a thesaurus rather than a dictionary.  Among these are canted which is never something done with a neck as the author states and a word not used at all in this time; spewed which is poured out of something, not as the author used it for rocks sliding away from a trail runner.  And two characters drive their hands; one into dense clay which is an acceptable use, one into water, which is not.  One Step Away contained missing words. 

The worst offender, Indelible, contained hyphenated words that should not be hyphenated and  individual words that should be hyphenated left unhyphenated.  Some paragraphs were indented; some weren’t.   Some phrases were in a much larger font than the rest of the book.   Some words were combined which should have been spaced.  Finally, the letter “r” or “S” in a different font was inserted sporadically. 

One Step Away contained characters that acted out of character, creating unbelievable characters and a predictable plot.  Indelible had characters with silly names and a predictable plot.  Indelible used at least one unbelievable metaphor (eg. disturbed leaves in a rocky mountain stream compared to goldfish—which would never be found in a cold Colorado creek) and other descriptive terms pulled inappropriately from other disciplines (eg. segue, a musical term).  Possibly Indelible’s most inexcusable error was to use bits of the the epic poem, Paradise Lost, pulled out of context to drive a subplot.   

To be fair, Indelible ‘s author had greater dexterity in describing scenes and places than did the author of One Step Away.  But I found myself racing to the end of both books merely to be done with them.  Do authors realize how much grammatical errors distract from their writing?  Have publishers stopped editing?  What more can I say about these books?  If you want to read a well-written novel, stay away from both of them.


I was provided a free review copy of Indelible by the publisher for the purpose of this review.  I purchased my copy of One Step Away.

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My Review of Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

Surprised by Oxford encompasses Carolyn Weber’s first year of graduate studies in literature at Oxford University. From this Canadian native’s mishaps with British busses, to the memorable professors, colorful students, and descriptions of student life at Oxford, there is never a boring chapter. Weber shows us her search for a true life course, rather than her coursework. From time to time the linear pattern based on the sessions at Oxford, digresses to reveal her less than perfect childhood, but never to the point of self-indulgence. Brief glimpses of her family show a selfish and absentee father, balanced by a tight-knit family of mother, sister, and brother. From the time she arrives at Oxford, Carolyn “Caro” Weber’s world view is confronted by the literature she reads and by her fellow students and professors. Reluctantly she sees her life change in a way she had never imagined.

Now, before I continue I must state that I don’t read memoirs. Why would I want someone else’s memories when I cannot fully appreciate my own? I would not have read this one were it not for the word Oxford in the title. Oxford summons for me all the mystery of cloistered halls inhabited with the characters and spirits of, among others, C. S. Lewis, (“and now the bridge is breaking. . .”); J.R.R. Tolkien (“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”); Thomas Hobbes (Appetite, with an opinion of attaining, is called hope; the same, without such opinion, despair.”); John Locke (“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”); and John Donne (“More than kisses, letters mingle souls.”) How could I refuse such a book, if it would, only in snatches, put me in the presence of such as these. I love Oxford for the writers it has nourished, who have then nourished me.

But, on to the book. I fully expected to hate it as a memoir, but the more I read the more I wanted to read. I soaked up every quote at the beginning of each chapter and the quotes within, quotes from U2 and the Beatles to poets, poets, and more poets. I found myself laughing at her mishaps and cringing at her pain. When I finished reading, I found myself wanting to stand in Oxford with her. I wanted to eavesdrop on her conversations. I wanted to know her friends. Beyond every pain and the paradox, she found joy. And when it all came to a close, it became a small love story within a larger love story that overcame the author’s doubts as she learned to live with paradox and promise. It very much reminded me in some intangible way of Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis.

Surprised by Oxford makes you want to stop and listen; to ask questions along with the author, the same questions she was asking. Why does God let babies die? Why do horrible things happen if there is a loving God? Why are people so evil? Why does everyone else have it all together and I can’t seem to catch up? How does Christian faith work in real life, in academia? These are questions I have asked, and some that I ask still.

Surprised by Oxford is a book written by a writer who loves the English language and shows it. She uses British terms and spelling but never without an explanation. Some other reviewers found this to be a problem, but I enjoyed experiencing Oxford life, Briticisms and all. I recently read another memoir by another literature grad student and found it so dull I could barely finish it. Surprised by Oxford

  Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
is in a different class, one that instead of dragging the reader down, lifts the reader up and inspires the reader to ask questions. If you wonder whether Jesus is for you, this is the book you should read. If you love literature, this is a book for you. If you want Jesus and literature, this is the book.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com 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.

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What Makes A Book Great?

First, let me talk about what makes a book bad.  Bad is a broad category but I was pulled into it recently when an author I liked moved to a different publisher and then released a new book which appeared to be of a different genre than he had used previously.  I was excited to read where he was headed now, but the book was disappointing.  Errors kept stopping me.  Missing words, wrong words, words repeated too frequently and used inappropriately.  Each one brought the flow of the text to a halt and forced me to consider what happened.  I decided that the move to a new publisher came with a sub-standard editor.  Editors are supposed to catch those sorts of things before the book is released.  Next, the book was a type of mystery.  I thought I knew from the start the identity of the evil-doer, but I hoped I was wrong.  We all want to be surprised.  The end was a disappointment because I was right.  I don’t put a lot of thought into reading fiction, so only poor writing could have caused this.  Finally, I found the characters so unrealistic that I could not believe in the story.  What do I mean by that?  It is the author’s task to create an environment where we can believe what is happening.  This author failed to do that.  I really liked his last series of books, so I will not mention his name here.  Everyone has a flop at some point and I hope this will be his only one.

Next, I’ll move on to books that are memorable for one or more reasons.  A contemporary author who has created some of the most memorable scenes for me is Ted Dekker.  No, he is not what I would consider a great writer, but there are places in his books, where I need to stop.  Not because of poor word choice or bad editing, but because he has described something so transcendent that I don’t want to forget it.  That makes him an author whose books I remember and refer to in years to come.  Not all of his books do that for me, but certainly his Circle Trilogy did.

Black/Red/White (The Circle Trilogy 1-3)

Other authors cause me to question life as I view it.  Madeleine L’Engle has singularly done that for me since childhood.  Any one of her books, at some time of my life, has pushed me into places I needed to go and restored me from the depths.  I have read every one of her books, many of them more than once.  She is the writer whose writings I most want to emulate.  My only regret is that I never met her in person. 

Annie Dillard is another writer who has made a difference in my life.  The first time I picked up one of her books, I could not get through it because I was stopped short by a scene she depicted.  It moved me so greatly that I could not continue.  In the years since that time I have tried to find that same scene and failed.  Did that scene exist or did something she wrote create an image in my mind that was different from her words?  I don’t know the answer.  Her use of language is something I try to emulate.  She paints pictures with words.  It is my goal to read all of her books in my lifetime.  I am grateful she hasn’t written many because her books take time to read and ponder.

Flannery O’Connor wrote letters, book reviews, short stories, and novels.  I own her collected works because it includes her novels, short stories, and letters.  Flannery wrote many letters by typewriter to readers and other writers and friends.  She used carbon paper to keep a copy for herself.  I find her letters easier to read than her novels and short stories which have given me images that cannot leave me. 

What books move you?

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(a reflection on Gustav Courbet’s Burial at Onan and his exchange of romanticism for realism)

The corpse: clay-molded

tint and timbre of living being,

gaspless, tearless, hidden,

like life’s mourners stolid, lifeless

obscuring thoughts of self-demise.


The priest alone cradles hope

but repetitious, death fatigues

like the Christ of the crucifix

A cruel staccato rat-a-tat-tat

until, in our numbness,

we give up our own souls

to the pit


And one kneeling at the grave looks up.

Is that all you have:

dirt and dust and soul in the sky?

No tear for loss,

only the book and crucifix

and another who dies as we.


Even the dog looks away

but you, your darkened tones

speak your melancholy melody

Orphaned, distanced,

darkness is all you know.

Your heart bangs shut

in violent storm

Scattered shadows locked within

a heart that will not see.


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A Poem Inspired by My Review of WITH

Prepositional Truth

(Prepositions are insignificant words that we are unable to exorcise from the English language.)

of, in, by

What do I

desire, fear, battle


to, for, with

One who holds

complete, secure


at, down, from

spirit rub spirit

flesh press flesh


over, under, against

evil, famine, drought

sickness, ruin, death


between, above, before

time and space

expand eternity.


Of the Father,

In the Son,

By the Spirit


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With by Skye Jethani

I was initially disappointed with With.  At first glance it was another one of those one-word titled manuscripts that are a fluff of common facts and anecdotal yarns spun in a way to tickle the minds of those blind to the emperor’s new clothes and designed to land on the bestseller’s list. Malcolm Gladwell did it with Outliers and Blink. And now Skye Jethani, is doing it with With, taking one-word titles to a new low by using a preposition, one of the English language’s lowliest parts of speech containing only a singular meaning. If it seems as though I’m tired of one-word book titles, you have it right. However, my initial reservations were blown to pieces by the time I reached the halfway point in the book. Despite his overuse of prepositions, Jethani has crafted an expose worth reading. Jethani confronts the comfortable mindsets of believers and non-believers in Jesus, exposing those mindsets as deficient to satisfy our deepest longings and relieve our deepest fears. Drawn from his experiences as a pastor and his research into current events, Jethani points to four attitudes that deprive us of intimacy with God and fail to relieve our fears.

Jethani’s four approaches to life are named, defined, and expounded in the first five chapters using personal anecdotes, observations from his life and ministry, and quotes from contemporary literature. Life Over God, the easiest to of the concepts to understand, is life lived apart from God; God is not part of the picture of daily living. Life Under God, is the second least difficult to understand. Commonly termed “legalism”, it is the belief that adhering strictly to a set of rules will provide blessing from God.

The next two approaches hit closer to home. The person living Life From God views God as a means to an end, perhaps not overtly, but holding an interior view that God’s gifts, His blessings, are more valuable than relationship with Him. Here, Jethani discusses consumerism and its contained spiritual lie, but his most valuable illustration is the wayward son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. There we see the son valuing his inheritance and his way of life over relationship with his father. Indeed, don’t we all sometimes feel that our relationship with God just doesn’t cut it and we’ll go out to eat, enjoy a movie, or indulge in some other pleasure to fill the void, while feeling secure in our salvation?

Finally, Life For God, is a life lived for the mission, the life-purpose, rather than for the One who created your life. It is a life lived for the purpose and authentication provided by accomplishing the mission or goal, rather than remaining in relationship with God and letting Him provide our value. The most poignant story Jethani related in this chapter is his encounter with Christian students at a Christian college who believed that God was disappointed with them because of their struggles. They weren’t living up to God’s standards; They felt that they had failed God. As I continued to read this chapter, I suddenly felt like I had gained understanding of the preceding chapters.

Everyone, everywhere, at some time, stands with their soul’s arms and feet stuck in one or all of these non-relational positions, like a cruel game of Twister, never able to reach the goal because the goal changes with each turn of the wheel. That’s exactly what I’ve found life to be like with a God who is spirit, interpreted by imperfect humans. I’m writing here about myself and the preachers in my life, from my parents to my friends to the ones in the pulpit. What God wants is relationship and we want it too, except we get scared and fall back to our fall-back positions which end up being one or more of these mindsets, Life For God, Life From God, Life Under God, or Life Over God, where we become users of God instead of people who value God. What is the solution? How do we move from these destructive attitudes to the faith and assurance we desire?

The lastl four chapters of With tell us the value and method of living Life With God, a Life With Faith, a Life With Hope, and a Life With Love. Life With God teaches us to treasure, unite with, and experience God. How do we do this? First, we must learn to practice prayer as communion with the Father, in constant connection with Him, even if no words are exchanged. Examples from the life of Mother Theresa and Billy Graham show how they prayed in just this way.

A Life With Faith is a life without fear. It is trusting surrender to the One who holds us. Not cited in this book, the 2nd Chapter of Acts song “Nobody Can Take My Life Away” (from the album Rejoice) illustrates this for me. “Nobody can take my life away, because I gave my life to You.” It’s that simple: we surrender our lives in trust and He holds our lives securely against all forces and foes and turns a dangerous world into a safe one. Jethani presents a modern example of this: the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose trust in God enabled him to walk into the dark places free from fear for himself or his wife and children.

Life With Faith is extremely important because it influences our entire vision of the world around us. With sobering words, Jethani writes: “An unaltered vision of the word means most other elements of the Christian life will fail to make sense to us as well.” The Christian life as Jesus posited it will seem unrealistic, impossible, and foolish.

Why is it so difficult for self-identified Christians to believe, let alone obey, [everything that] Jesus said? Well, if they still see the world as a fundamentally dangerous place in which their well-being is in constant jeopardy, then the call to love your enemy, give freely, and not worry can only be dismissed as ludicrous.
It is only when we live with God and come to experientially know his goodness and love that the shadows break and these commands begin to make sense. If I am eternally safe in the care of my Good Shepherd, and I come to see the world as a safe place, then I am set free from my fears. I am free to give rather than hoard. I am free to enjoy each day rather than worry. I am free to forgive others rather than retaliate against them. And I am even free to love the person determined to harm me.
In Life With Hope, Jethani discusses our search for meaning and significance and how we seek to satisfy ourselves with external constructs such as our career, our family, or deriving order and meaning from religion or morality. But they all may fall like a house cards as the squalls of life blow through our lives upsetting our careful constructs. We attain meaning and significance from God, not from what we do for God.
Are you married? Then engage your marriage with God and learn to love your spouse as God has loved you. Are you single? Then be single with God and devote yourself to him. Are you a mechanic? Then commune with God in your work and repair cars as an act of devotion to him. Are you an office worker? Then welcome Christ to your desk as you serve your employer. . . In other words, the fullness of Christian life can be lived anywhere, in any circumstance, because God is with us. No condition of life is more honorable than another, because nothing God does lacks value.
Jethani gives us the moving example of the African slaves brought in chains to our country, and specifically of a slave in Maryland called “Praying Jacob.” No one had worse circumstances than the slaves, but more hope in Jesus. As Praying Jacob said to his owner, “I have two masters—Master Jesus in heaven and Master Saunders on earth. I have a soul and a body; the body belongs to you, but my soul belongs to Jesus.” Jethani advises us to encourage our hope through regular corporate worship and snatched moments during the day when we can commune with God.

Life With Love starts with love that quelled a prison riot and focuses on filling ourselves with God’s love by practicing silence and solitude that we might more fully commune with God. God’s love binds us to him in a way that lets us see Him as He is and to see ourselves as we truly are: Beloved of the Creator.

At the end of the book are two short appendices. The first, Communing With God, contains some practical exercises and references. The second contains group study questions. And finally, the notes. My constant quibble with end notes is the inability to easily find them while reading. Because they are labeled only by chapter number and not name, you must first locate the chapter you are in, find its number, then the note. How difficult would it have been to include the chapter name in the notes?

If you, like me, abhor one-word book titles, get over it and take a look at With by Skye Jethani. Ignore the prepositional title and chapters and the difficult beginning and read it to the end for a look at renewed community with God and others, renewed faith, renewed hope, and renewed love.

NOTE:  the publisher has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review.  I am glad they did; I might not have read it otherwise.
With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

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Free (or almost free) Tools

For your pictures:  Ever take a picture and when you looked at it later, there was a fire hydrant or a satellite dish or a billboard that marred the beauty?  InPaint is a small free program which lets you remove unwanted objects.  I first experimented with removing a satellite dish that is on the lawn of my vacation cabin.  No, I didn’t post it that way on the website, I just wanted to see if I could do it.  And I could.  It worked perfectly.  The picture on the left is the “before” picture.  The new dish is on the roof; the old one is on the ground.  In the second picture, I have removed the one on the ground, because I plan to remove the actual dish in the near future.


cabin 042cabin 042inpaint

InPaint picks color values in the area around the object you are removing and fills the space with those values.  It works well where it is a simple background such as the grass and drive in this picture.  It did not work as successfully to remove a large blue and white ice chest from a picture of the kitchen where very different color values surrounded the ice chest, from the white of the sunlit window to the red, orange, green curtains to the brown table and chairs to the counter in another shade of brown—you get the picture.  So for simple changes, InPaint is a simple program to use and works well.  For more complex changes, spending time with Photoshop is the only answer.  As for me, I’ll just reshoot the picture that showed the ice chest and make sure before I do that there are no unwanted objects visible.

For education and organization:  MobileNoter is a note taking app that works on IPad, IPhone, and Android devices.  It will let you take written or typed notes which you can then sync to the web or to Microsoft OneNote on your computer.  I use OneNote extensively for research and non-publishable writing (journaling, recipe notes, etc.)  Here’s a screen shot of some of my OneNote open to my research for my novel about Elijah.  It’s like a file folder full of pages that I can easily search, copy, email, sync to the web. . . you get the idea.  It is what I consider the most useful Microsoft productivity program.image

For efficiency:  Fences is a useful and free program which separates your desktop clutter into useful categories.  Here are screenshots which give you examples.  The free version works fine for most people, so give it a try.

For fun and education:  Stellarium is a free planetarium for your computer.  You can learn more about the stars you see outside your window.  If you have wanted to explore the heavens, this is a good place to start.  You’ll need to take a little time to set it up after you download it, but once you do, you only need to click on it to see what’s going on in the sky near your locale. 

With the exception of MobileNoter, these are all programs, I have tried and used successfully.  All of them work with Windows 7, Vista, and XP; some also work with Mac.  Try them out and make your computer efficient, educational, and fun. 

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Turn Back Time

Many people believe that using the built-in system restore program in Microsoft Windows will restore their computer to an earlier time when all worked well.  However, what system restore does is restore only your Windows system files.  Anything else that has lost, changed, or destroyed will not be restored.  Would you like a program that restores everything to a particular point in time?  Did you ever permanently delete a file or email or something personal to you and right away wish you hadn’t?  Have you ever done something and then wanted to go back and undo it, but you can’t?   RestoreIT is a low cost program (under $40, but contact me for discounts) which takes snapshots of your computer and can restore everything on your computer to a particular date and time. Unlike the restore program built into Windows which only restores Windows’ own system files, RestoreIT restores EVERYTHING, even things you may not want restored to a previous date or time. I tested it by deleting an email, a picture I did not care about, and changing a Windows system file. I set RestoreIT to take a snapshot every 15 minutes (yes, I’m paranoid, one hour or more is fine for most people.) Later that day, I returned and used RestoreIT. It successfully restored the email, the picture I had permanently deleted, and the system file I had renamed. I checked RestoreIT for the load it placed on my system resources. It used a nominal amount of system resources and ran unnoticed in the background. WARNING: RestoreIT does not retrieve one file; it changes your whole system. So, use it with care only to remove the effects of a recent mistake.

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Time Outside of Time—In White Space of Life

On my walk this morning, with my IPod cranked to drown out the traffic sounds, I heard greetings in the musical pauses.  Some were planned pauses when I pushed “pause” as someone approached.  Others were pauses in musical phrasing or between songs.  What did I hear?  Nothing of substance.  A “good morning” or “hello” or “hi.” But after the second one, my mind leaped (when I’m caffeinated it roams in leaps and bounds) to a correlation between musical phrasing, marginal white space, and kairos. 

Are you confused yet?  That’s the beauty of a disorganized mind.  Utter confusion.  So I’ll define by example.  What do you hear/see/feel between the notes?  This morning before my walk I had almost finished reading Revelation.  During my walk I listened to this song (here are the words if you don’t want to listen) and it took me to that time and place described in that chapter of Revelation, even though it was not directly related, and suddenly, in the pauses, I was there with the saints and angels around the throne.  Now, that isn’t usually what happens.  Usually, it’s more mundane.  Today was special.

When you read, what do you hear/see/feel between the lines?  I judge books on how well they are written and how well they move between the lines.  I recently read a book which taught me something I didn’t know before.  But what was between the lines?  Nada, nothing.  A book that moves between the lines, strikes you at the heart level.  It makes you sit up and pay attention.  It plants something in your mind that will not leave you.  I rarely read poetry, but the title of this poem and the words that followed struck me in this way:  between the lines.  Every Riven Thing.  Why did it affect me this way.  I think it’s because the poet put so much between the lines.  This poem is not at the beginning of the book with the same name, but in the middle, just as it was an experience of the poet’s in the middle of suffering.  I’m not suffering, but it affected me between the lines.

Every Riven Thing: Poems

What is in this white space of life where we live between the lines and the notes?  That’s where kairos and chronos come in.  These are two Greek words which help us define time.  Chronos is clock time.  Tick-tock, second by second, it passes through our lives.  Kairos is that time outside of clock time where a minute may seem like an hour or an hour may seem like a minute.  It is the aha! moment, the light in the darkness, the explosions of grace and beauty which interrupt our lives.  How do you get it?  You can’t.  It comes unbidden, unexplained, and unexpected.  Your only participation is to be aware of it and to grasp it.  Not a grasp that you would use to catch a grackle, but a tender grasp that shows your awareness of the moment and your willingness to follow.

I thought about titling this “Between the Lines” but that was too visual. I thought about “In the Pauses” but that was too aural.  I thought about “The Kairos and the Chronos” but that was too esoteric.  Time Outside of Time more clearly defines what happens in the musical pauses or the white area of writing where our lives change just a little.  It also describes Kairos, our life spaces where we become most human and most aware as we experience time outside of time.

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Writing in Darkness


Have you ever felt darkness descend when you were midway through a creative endeavor.  One book which is helpful in understanding this is:

The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life
This is a thick and thorough book which encompasses all aspects of creative expression but primarily focuses on writing. Each chapter contains a guide to help you integrate what is presented.  I found the book to be a useful tool in reentering the creative life.  Chapter 8, in particular, answered many questions I was being asked and also asking for myself. Here is my redaction of its major points along with some of my comments.

Chapter 8. The beauty and Danger of a Creative Life: Why the Wonder Brings Darkness with It

1. The Darkness that Accompanies Revelation

a. There is a shadow side to your gifts. Truth always has a cutting edge. Every revelation brings some darkness with it. It’s important that you learn how that darkness affects you.

b. Nothing can be more dark and frightening than what the soul discovers when yet another layer of the self is pulled back.

2. Do Artists Have to Suffer In Order to Produce Good Art?

a. You are bound to suffer and the only question is how to deal with it. When you create art, you are fighting spiritual battles. And as you fight spiritual battles, you may find creative gifts that you did not know you have. One nourishes the other.

b. You need creative formation: An intentional working with your creative gifts so that your entire being is nourished.

c. Some people who are brave enough and compelled enough to explore their creativity get into trouble and don’t have the help they need. Others who are spiritually centered and understand what their gifts might stir up, don’t develop their gifts because they are afraid of facing the shadows.

d. When we allow God to cradle us as we grow, we can become the creative people we were meant to be. We can follow our gifts to the center of our soul, and we can face the difficult things that wait for us there. We can navigate the darkness and we can nourish our gifts.

3. Common Sources of Darkness

a. Isolation—we need it, but it can drain us. Make a point to spend time with people who are good for you and good for your work. It may be a weekly coffee break or an afternoon walk once a month. Or you and your friend might check in by email before you start work. Think creatively. I see a counselor when needed and have another friend who I can say anything to. We can be a support for each other with emails and meetings between the time the group meets. Or if there’s something we can do on that one Saturday that will nourish us more, let me know.

b. Rejection—You will get it and it will cause you pain. Remember that the person who rejects something about your work, is not rejecting the entire work, nor is that person rejecting past or future works. You need to learn to accept that some people simply will not like what you are doing. You aren’t writing for them; You are writing for the people it helps and enlightens.

c. Energy Depletion—Writing takes a lot of energy. Many full-time writers write for only 4 hours each day. You might spend other time during the day in writing-related activities, but most don’t write for more than 4 hours. If you have another job, then you will have less energy to write. Accept that the healthy creative life takes a lot of energy and that you will need to rest. Just expect to get tired, because you are working hard. Get tired, rest, and then work some more.

d. Anxiety—Most artists greatly underestimate how much anxiety affects them. Anxiety is an important component of creativity because it provides tension and energy and sharpens your senses. Just as you should welcome healthy fear, welcome healthy anxiety. It’s an indication that some unfinished business or an unnamed fear is lurking. Figure it out. Write it out in your journal. (Mine are notes to my counselor—some I give him, some I don’t). Talk to a friend. Pray.

e. Exploration—when your work pushes boundaries and reworks standard definitions, you encounter tension and discomfort. Sometimes you just want to do something cliché and dull rather than enter the discomfort. Sometimes you’d rather not have to think and struggle. Play with exploration and learn to shift out of it. Write something simple: outline your story, write a plot synopsis, etc.

f. Occupational Wear and Tear—Your writing will wear you down like any work does. It will wear down your soul. When you feel worn, that is usually an indication that you have been working and something good should come of it. Take time to care for yourself, whatever brings you joy and energy. I hike and rest and pray and read novels and short stories and essays and go to art shows and watch movies. . . pick what makes you feel energized.

g. Increased sensitivity—You will become super-sensitive to life in order to notice what others miss and to develop what other may ignore or consider unimportant. The longer you work at your creative gifts, the more sensitive you become. This is good for you and your writing. Pay attention to the things that really disturb and bother you and allow appropriate recovery time.

4. The Balance that is Illusion

a. Balance is generally impossible. The spiritual creative life has its seasons and they are often sloppy and unpredictable.

b. Imbalance Results from Neglected Relationships. You are going to have to neglect people because writing is done in solitude. Others will neglect you, also. Don’t sweat the occasional neglect. However, when you neglect someone important consistently, you relegate an important relationship to a place of unimportance. You need to determine your commitment levels. I have 3 important commitments: My husband, my business, and my writing. Sometimes one of the gets neglected for the other, but I try to set boundaries and not make a habit of neglect. I neglected my writing for about 1.5 months due to Christmas. I could not work, spend time with my husband and get the Christmas stuff done and still write. That was OK, because I could come back to it in January. You need to figure out who you are and what is important to you and set boundaries accordingly.

c. Imbalance results from impulsive shifts. An example: If I had quit working to work full-time on my novel, that would be an impulsive shift. You need to not follow your callings haphazardly. Don’t try to do too much, too fast. Because you are changing one aspect of your life, don’t assume that the other aspects need to change also. Don’t dispose of other parts of your life because of the tension caused within yourself.

d. Balance is not necessarily safety. Sometimes you will take risks and sometimes you will play it safe. In the grand scheme of your life, if you are making wise decisions, acting out of love and vision, the balance will be there. But the balance often looks like imbalance in the day-to-day life that we live.

e. Balance is not necessarily consistency. It doesn’t mean we will be calm. When you write, you become a hero to someone and heroes deal with depression, oppression, poverty and failure.

I hope this summary has been helpful for fellow artists who must contend with and embrace their creative darkness.

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