Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Memory: Wrapping Paper

So many blog posts over so many years, it's hard to remember what I've written about and what I haven't. In terms of Christmas memories, it would be fairly easy to go back through a listing of my posts and check. However, that sounds like work, and today, though I'm at my day job, work doesn't appeal to me. So, I'm just going to give this memory. I'm fairly certain I haven't shared that here before. That memory is...


What about wrapping paper, you ask? What makes it a special Christmas memory?

From as far back as I can remember, which was probably when I was 5 or 6 years old, we were taught to unwrap gifts in a way that the wrapping paper could be reused. And this was strictly enforced by my parents, especially Dad, though Mom never contradicted him. I'm sure that in the years before I can remember, when I was 2, 3, 4 years old, I probably tore into the presents and shredded the wrapping paper. I'm sure my siblings did that in their younger years.

But my memories are of very carefully unwrapping gifts. Before taking too much time oohing and aahing over the gift, each of us would stretch out the paper, fold the tape down to the back of the paper, then fold the paper into a reasonably sized square or rectangle. We would set the paper aside, in a growing stack. Then and only then did we take a lot of time with whatever gift it was we opened.

After all gifts were opened, Dad took our piles of paper down to the basement, and put them on a certain shelf, where the Christmas decorations were stored. All year, as we kids would play in the basement, we would see the paper on the shelf, but never touch it. Next year when it came time to wrap Christmas gifts, the consolidated pile of used paper was brought upstairs. As we had a gift to wrap, we would go to the pile and choose an appropriately-sized piece, and wrap our gift. Usually we would have to trim the paper a little smaller because, no matter how hard we had tried to be careful the previous year, we would always tear the paper. The torn part would be trimmed, and a new gift wrapped in the old paper and placed under the tree.

It got to the point where we would recognize paper, and remember what had been wrapped in it previously. "Oh, I remember this piece! Last year that sweater from Aunt Bernie was in this." As you can imagine, we rarely had to buy new wrapping paper. And, the rule was we shouldn't take a piece of a new roll (assuming a new roll was available) so long as a used piece would do the job.

I'll chalk this up to my parents' Depression-era mentality. Born in 1916 and 1918, they finished their education, came of age, and entered the work force in the heart of the Great Depression. Dad, more than Mom, was fearful of the next depression, and lived just about every day as if he were still in the last one. Nothing that might have residual value was discarded. When bread became stale or moldy, we took it to Roger Williams Park and fed the ducks. Deadfall apples from the tree were used for applesauce or given away for the same purpose. Nothing was wasted. Wrapping paper, that frivolous material whose only purpose was to conceal a gift for a day or a few weeks, fell into that category.

Year by year, the pieces of paper shrunk from trimming, being suitable for smaller and smaller gifts. Eventually a piece would be too small to justify saving, even for Norman Todd, the depression-era man, and into the trash it would go. If it was a piece we remembered especially well, it was almost as sad to see it go as when a toy would break beyond repair and have to be discarded.

And, just as pieces of wrapping paper shrunk, so did the Christmas celebration. The first Christmas after Mom died, when we kids were 15-13-11, we did our gift opening on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day, and that became the new tradition. By this time we were giving each other record albums. Rather than wrap them and put them under the tree, we would find an appropriately-sized piece of used paper, go back to our bedrooms, find the album where we had hidden it, loosely fold the paper around it without using tape, and present it to our sibling. And so a new tradition was born. Not as dramatic as wrapped gifts under the tree, or as difficult to unwrap and get at the gift, but the pieces of wrapping paper started lasting longer.

Just as the wrapping paper shrunk from year to year, so did Christmas traditions. This is one that didn't survive my childhood into my adult years and my family. I tried to get the kids to unwrap carefully, but I didn't succeed. Plus, storing old wrapping paper takes space, which we didn't always have. Actually, I believe they open the gifts carefully, not shredding the paper, but I'm not sure they save it. And the grandkids are too young to be instructed to unwrap with care. A gift awaits, and that darned paper is preventing them from getting to it and using it. So off comes the paper, to be wadded up and put in the trash.

Traditions fade, families break apart and new families form, and life goes on. But memories stay. This one stays with me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Literary Criticism and Me

I’ve written about literary criticism before, and about I have problems with it. Some years ago I had an exchange at the Absolute Write forums about this. The other person said, “Literary criticism, and critical theory, are ways of reading texts that are interpretive, rather than evaluative. One way of thinking of criticism is to look at it as a reader attempting to find personal meaning in a text, to discover how, and why, a text (a poem, a song, a novel, a letter, an advertisement) does or does not "work" for that reader.”

For many years I critiqued poems at four different Internet poetry sites. I figure I’ve critiqued more than 1,000 poems. A couple of sites have become defunct (one at least lost to hackers), and if I never copied or printed my critiques on those I’ve lost them. So be it. I did a lot of critiquing.
However, literary criticism escapes my understanding. “Interpretive, rather than evaluative” this more knowledgeable person said. I’m not sure what to do with that. Interpret what the author said, but don’t evaluate it. I don’t know how to separate the two. This is probably what got me afoul of so many English classes in my school years.

I’m just about finished reading a small literary criticism about Thomas Carlyle. It’s written by a University of Kansas professor, the cobbled notes of a class he taught. The book is Thomas Carlyle, a Study of His Literary Apprenticeship, 1814-1831, by William Savage Johnson (1911). Johnson shows how the various parts of Carlyle’s philosophy and doctrine began appearing in his early works, though they were not fully articulated until later works. I think this is the second time to read this. I think I began it once before and abandoned it. It’s only 73 pages, and right now I’m on page 64, so less than 10 pages to go.
I imagine I’ll finish it, but I’m not enjoying it. Perhaps Johnson is too deep for me. Or perhaps literary criticism, as practiced by thems that do it, is beyond me.

All of which is causing me to rethink my currently-shelved Carlyle projects, and wonder if instead I need to just trash them. The one I was farthest along with was a study of his short book Chartism. This was to include: background of the conditions in Britain that caused him to write the book; selections from letters before and after writing and publication; the book itself, with my editor’s notes added to help a 21st century American audience to understand it; all the reviews (that I can find) that came out around the time of publication; various reviews and interpretations of the work right up to the present era. Some of these would require release of copyright to include them in my book. I also figured on including an essay or two of mine (yet to be written) of my own literary criticism of the work.
However, based on what I now know of literary criticism, I think this is a dead project. I’m not saying I will never resurrect it, and at this stage I’m not discarding all notes and deleting all files. But I’ll have to get a whole lot of writing, intellectual, and publishing mojo back before I’ll tackle this again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Blessed is the Man

Blessed is the man:
  • who has no bucket list;
  • who has learned to be content with his circumstances, yet who takes responsibility for improving them;
  • who does not need thrills, especially ever increasing thrills, to find meaning or satisfaction in life;
  • who loves his country and community and seeks to improve them by serving them;
  • who seeks to provide daily bread for himself and his family, to the best of his strength, gifts, and talents; and when he can do that helps out some others who can't;
  • who wakes up one morning and realizes, "This is my life, for the rest of my life," and realizes that's okay, he can live with that.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Christmas Shopping Trek

Ten days since I posted. That's a long time. During the last 24 hours lots of ideas passed through my head of what to write about. I could write about the good family Thanksgiving just finished (except for the leftovers still to be consumed). I could write about the good Life Group lesson series we are now in, based on the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.

Health, wealth, writing, leisure are all candidates. However, based on a post in our high school class Facebook page, I've decided on this Christmas memory: shopping in downtown Providence. We did that several times a year, always once during the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Almost certainly it was a Saturday, and probably an afternoon affair. Dad would have worked Friday night and so would have slept Saturday morning. So right after lunch we'd pack the car and drive downtown.

At this time, say in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Providence had passed its peak and was a city in decline. The population peaked around 400,000 in the 1950 census, and dropped sharply in the next 20 to 30 years, till by 1980 it was perhaps under 200,000. The migration to the suburbs was on, and Providence seems to have been hit harder than other cities. However, the decline was not evident at first. For a while those who had moved out still came to downtown Providence for major shopping. In, say, 1958, when I would turn seven shortly after Christmas, until 1963, after which Mom would have been too sick to do a major downtown walking tour, downtown Providence still thrived, and we went there for a major shopping trip each Christmas.

I don't remember whether RI route 10 was built or not. If so we would take that and get off at West Exchange Street. We might park on the street and feed the meter, or we more likely park in Municipal Parking Lot, right below the state capitol. Before Route 10 was built we would have driven north on Reservoir till it joined with Elmwood, and continued on that till it joined with Broad. That would take us right through downtown until we arrived at the municipal lot. A landmark was the Round-topped Church. We knew when we saw that we had arrived at downtown.

Turning from the capitol, downtown stood before us. Store after store in multistory buildings with common wall construction. It seems we had to walk about a block to get to the first store we went in, Cherry & Webb. The layout of Providence streets is a fading memory. I remember Westminster and Weybosset in addition to West Exchange. Beyond that I don't remember all that much.

Now, don't ask me how I remember all this. It was a long time ago, most likely last done as a complete family in 1963, maybe even 1962. I remember one or two trips to downtown Providence after Mom died in 1965, but for specific items in specific stores. My memory was that the first store we stopped in began with a "C". Beyond that I had no specific memory other than that we always seemed to go in City Hall Hardware. Not remembering exactly where each store was, and what was closest to the Municipal Parking Lot, I figured that must have been it. Then, about a year ago at one of the Cranston memory pages I'm a member of, someone mentioned Cherry & Webb as a downtown Providence story, and I immediately knew that was the one.

From Cherry & Webb it was on to other stores: the aforementioned City Hall Hardware, Shepherds, and, if strength and time allowed, the more distance Outlet Department Store. I'm sure that in between these were other stores, specialty shops that demanded we go in. Each store had display windows, all dressed up for Christmas. Inside the stores were garland-decked counters, aisles stuffed with shoppers, Christmas trees in various places. The air outside was always crisp and invigorating. Inside would be hot, and we buttoned and unbuttoned our coats many times. Each department store would have its Santa Claus with a long line of kids waiting to see him.

My favorite store was Shepherds. Someone says it as on Westminster Street, and I suppose that's right. There was the Shepherd's clock mounted on a post on the sidewalk in front of the store on Westminster. Inside was everything I described before. I remember the dark wood everywhere, and how rich this made me feel. Aisle after aisle, rack after rack of clothing, shelf after shelf of housewares. Riding the escalators. Leaving with more things to carry.

I know a couple of times we went to The Arcade. This was a prototype of the indoor shopping mall, built perhaps 80 years earlier than the larger suburban ones. This was a quaint little building, having much less bustle than the department stores. I don't know why we went in there, or what we bought, but it is a memory I have. Years later, when I was in college (or perhaps late high school), I remember going downtown and to the Arcade and buying a book there as a present for my grandparents: a book on New England birds.

It was probably dark, or nearly so, by the time we headed back to the car. I imagine we three kids were complaining about having to carry so much. Then it was home, most likely along the city streets rather than the highway, so that we could look at the lights along the way. Home for our Saturday traditional meal of hot dogs & beans & potato chips, eaten in front of the television. Then Edward and I went downstairs with Dad to shine our shoes for the morrow, then our weekly baths and bed. If we were lucky the evening was capped off by Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Yup, good memories of Christmas past. Distant, yet good. Something my wife never experienced growing up in a town of 1,800 people. Something my kids never experienced in their formative years. But I had it, from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And I'll keep that memory, pull it out once in a while, dust it off, maybe bring something to mind I hadn't thought of for times measured in decades or half-centuries.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thinking About Song Lyrics

We go to sleep at night with something on for noise. This might be an audio book (Lynda's preference when she's reading one) or the variety music station on the radio (my choice all the time). Right now, since Lynda's between audio books, we have the radio on. We keep it low. When the furnace comes on (or the AC in warm weather) you can barely hear it. When the HVAC unit is off, it's still pretty low, but if you happen to be awake, you'll hear what's playing or being said.

This station we have on is a mixture of oldies and newer songs, trending toward slow songs and what could be called easy listening. Absent are the hard rock, acid rock, rap, and most of the "peppy" songs. Not that they are all ballads, but they definitely tend to the quieter, slower songs.

I recognize and know well most of the oldies they play; and I'm learning a number of newer songs, including some newer artists. If I had to guess I'd say the Carpenters are played more than any other artist. Next is Willie Nelson. I don't see a third favorite after that, unless it's either Michael Buble or Colbie Callat. Both of them are okay, though Colbie can be tiring at times. The Carpenters are always good. The less said about Willie Nelson the better. As often as not, when one of his starts when I'm in the car, I turn to another station.

One favorite artist I learned of from this station is Katie Melua. Maybe four years ago I heard her song "Nine Million Bicycles", and liked it. Slowly over time I heard other of her songs on this station, and came to like them all. I looked her up, learned about her circumstances and career, and liked her even more.

Another song that I heard first on this station is "Perhaps Love", a song written by John Denver and recorded by him with Placido Domingo. I find it quite enjoyable, and consider it a plus whenever I happen to hear it. Well, Tuesday night I did. I woke up in the middle of the might, maybe around 4:00 a.m. The furnace wasn't running, and I heard that song start on the radio and stayed awake through the end. So that was an excellent time to wake up. Then, this morning on the way to work, a song started for which I couldn't place the song. It was "Nine Million Bicycles", but it had been so long since I've heard it I had forgotten the musical intro. So I heard both of these songs a day apart, and that helped the days to be good days.

This got me to thinking about song lyrics. What makes these songs "tick" for me? Is it the lyrics? The tunes? The combo of the two? And that led me to think of this blog and what to write about and, well, since I've dabbled in song lyrics a little over of the course of my poetic endeavors, I thought perhaps discussing the lyrics of those songs would be a good thing.

So, that's what I'm going to do, probably in the next two posts, but for sure over the next two weeks. I'm at work as I write this and it's time to be heading home. This evening, time allowing, I'll edit in links to where the lyrics can be seen and to where the songs can be heard. That will give anyone interested a chance to read and hear the songs before my next couple of posts come.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Threshing Wheat in a Winepress

What a great Sunday it was among God's people! Cold temperatures outside, warm hearts inside. As always we went to first service, starting at 9:30 a.m. Last week the sanctuary was cold, due to a furnace going out. Today it was comfortable.

For worship choruses we sang songs that I knew. The worship leader didn't introduce a new song to us this week. So that was good. Pastor Mark then continued his sermon series, Imperfectly Perfect. This has focused on a number of people from the Old Testament, people who were imperfect in their character and circumstances, yet who God used in mighty ways. This week it was Gideon, one of the judges if Israel.

His story is told in Judges 6-8. His story is well known, yet I find it difficult to call to mind many of the details. He is best known for "putting out a fleece," asking God to reveal his will by the condition of the fleece as opposed to the ground it sat on all night. Some people feel that Gideon did wrong by doing this, since God had already revealed His will to Gideon. Regardless, many Christians "put out fleeces" to hope to better understand God's will.

But Gideon's story starts before that. In Judges chapter 6 the Midianites had control over Israel. They were warriors, and pretty much rampaged through Israel. The Jews were fairly scattered, with towns and farms in the hills, and some in the plains, all with no central government or organization. Midianites would raid anywhere in Israel and pretty much take whatever they want. The Israelites "prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds." Pastor Mark pointed out the significance of of the following statement from Judges 6:11
...Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites."
I had never thought of this before. You don't thresh wheat in a winepress; you thresh wheat on a threshing floor. I've seen one of those, in Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where an 1837 New England community was recreated. The barn is built with doors on each end. When the wheat is brought in someone stands in the passageway in the barn, and tosses the wheat up, letting it hit the floor as it comes down. Then he picks it up with the pitchfork and does it again. As he picks it up and releases it, any breeze blowing through the two doors will cause the chaff to blow away and the wheat to fall back to the floor. To make this work, you need a floor in a place where wind is available.

In contrast, a winepress was low to the ground probably in a pit of some sort. Wind wasn't a factor in how grapes were turned to wine after harvest. So the Jews might hew one out of rock, down in a pit. This was a safe place for Gideon to thresh his wheat. If it wasn't the season for grapes, the Midianites wouldn't be looking there when they made their raids. While it would be a lot of work, threshing wheat without the wind to blow away the chaff. It could be done, it would be safe, and Gideon could remain hidden.

Mark said this had theological significance. Gideon was showing himself to be scared of the Midianites. He was also showing himself to have a small God. Rather than thresh out in the open, and trust God to keep him safe, he hid down in the winepress. Yet, this was the man that God called to be a judge of Israel and to lead them in battle against the enemy.

I have to confess at never having noticed this significance before. The idea that a winepress was down in a hollow while a threshing floor was up in the open went right over my head all the previous times I read this. It has me thinking, whether I have been guilty of threshing wheat in a winepress. I'm going to look through my current endeavors in life and evaluate all of them relative to this concept. Why hide your work in a winepress when God is able to help you be safe on the threshing floor, out in the open? Yes, I'll be going through my life and see what I should change.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Training Exercise

Yesterday was my normal day to post, but I was extremely busy, both at work and at home after work, and, well, I didn't get it done. So sue me.

What was tying me up, you ask? At work I have been intensely conducting a training operation this week, one that involved me almost full time. It's the third (and maybe last) in a series of picking apart projects that went bad in some way. The examples came from my days as contracts city engineer for the City of Centerton, Arkansas. I pull out the aspect of the project that was bad, give it to those in the company who have registered as wanting to participate, and work with them over the week to solve the problem.

Last Friday I sent out the e-mail to the company, saying that this week we would hold that exercise to begin on Monday, and anyone who wanted to participate would have to register with me. Slowly people started to. By Monday noon, the time I picked to start it, I had 12 participants. This grew to 18 by the next day, then shrank back to 15 as workload got the best of three. And actually, two others didn't have a lot of participation.

At noon Monday everyone received an e-mail from me with a packet of information. Construction of the project was complete and it was about to go to the City Council for final plat approval. But it had been passed along by the Planning Commission two weeks before with contingencies, and one of those contingencies still hadn't been met. The City hadn't received copies of the tests of the newly constructed asphalt pavement. No tests in hand, and no statement from the "project manager" that the pavement met minimum standards, no approval by the City Council.

The next e-mail they received was from the construction contractor, passing along the asphalt tests, with no explanation or apology for their lateness. The participants had to take those asphalt tests and figure out if the asphalt was good or bad. Included in their original materials was a copy of the asphalt paving specification, which included the minimum standards for construction. The tests showed that it didn't meet the minimum standards. Nine out of nine tests failed; three of those were close to the standard, while six were way below standard.

At this point the participants have to pass these along to the "city engineer." But before they could, they received an e-mail from their client, the "developer," who is unhappy about the late tests and tells the participant that the project better pass at the City Council meeting on Friday or he'd hold them responsible for any losses he incurred. So with failing asphalt pavement on one side, and an angry and impatient client on the other, the participant has to decide what to do.

I had a little fun with this, as you can tell by the names I chose for the parts I played.
  • Riley Straight, City Engineer, All American City
  • Klaus E. "Bubba" Nuff, owner of Klaus E. Nuff Construction, NLC
  • Will E. Nilley, an engineering troubleshooter hired by Nuff to "help" in the situation
  • Jack Slacker, owner of Slacker Development, the developer
And then the e-mails started flying. Nilley was brought in on the project, and fired off letters and e-mails to convince the participants that the pavement was actually good, we just have to do some more tests and throw out the originals, and let's use this non-destructive testing method. Sure, it's not normally used for acceptance but it will work good in this situation. Nilley buries bad news in his letters and e-mails, and the participants had to read very closely to realize it.

I copied the manager of our design center with the e-mails, at his request, and he said he had over 140 e-mails about this. I didn't copy him on the first 20 or so, and I'm sure I missed a few along the way. I haven't counted mine yet, but I'd say it must have been close to 200 e-mails, taking up four identities and corresponding with 15 participants. Thursday morning I put together a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the best and worst e-mails from participants, aggregating five batches of pavement tests into a series of growing spreadsheets, and coming up with solutions. By the time we got to the noon hour class on Thursday I was exhausted.

The class went well. Two participants had their department schedule a conflict and weren't there. But others came who weren't participants to hear the discussion. As the class went on I was rockin' and rollin', as the saying goes. I explained exactly what went wrong with the pavement (they had all figured out the manner in which it had failed), and showed how the only solution was to tear it out and do it over. I helped them to see how they could best serve their client and the citizens of All American City by directing Nuff Construction to tear out the pavement. And I showed them (I hope they got it) how they could make themselves a hero to their client in doing so. At the end of the hour class, I invited the V.P. who attended to say a few things, and he did, echoing our mantra of client service, and how what I was telling them was correct. At least, I think that's what he said. I'm not sure I followed all that closely, as tired as I was.

Then, at home, there was supper to eat and daughters and grandchildren to have a rambling phone call with an stock market business to conduct. Suddenly it was 11:00 p.m., and, well, I didn't get this written and posted. But here it is now. That was my day and week.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

An Interesting Scene in Exodus

What a great day at church today, worshiping and studying with God's people. It was my regular week to teach Life Group, and I did a lesson on prayer, one that I developed myself. I had planned to write this blog about that lesson. However, our pastor's sermon today was quite good, and I think I'll write about it instead.

His text was Exodus 33:1-11. This is a passage I've read before—many times, in fact. It's a passage that follows one of my favorites in scripture, the ending of Chapter 32, where Moses intercedes with God on behalf of the Israelites. It's an incredible story on prayer. But possibly I've skimmed over the beginning of Chapter 33 before, because as I listened to it being read today, it seemed fresh, new. God tells Moses to leave that place and go to the land God promised to the patriarchs. But, God says He won't go with them, because of how the Israelites are: stiff-necked and prone to disobedience.

Moses goes outside the camp to the Tent of Meeting, a tent he had set up where anyone could go and meet with God. Joshua, Moses' young assistant, was constantly at this tent. Moses goes there to plead with God to go with them, to not send them on without his presence.

Pastor Mark Snodgrass did a great job breaking down this scripture and using it to present some action items for us. He focused on the ornaments the people wore, ornaments that resembled those the Egyptians wore in idol worship. In verse 5 God tells them to take off their ornaments—the appearance of idol worship—and He would decide what to do with the people. The Israelites complied, Moses pleaded, and the God's presence would go with the Israelites.

I simple passage, but foundational for all that goes next. I don't know that I have any deep thoughts about it. I will be reading and meditating on it for the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How My Predictions Worked Out

My last post was my election predictions. With this post, I examine how I did. In a word: I was correct in my direction, but not in the magnitude of the move.

I first said:
The Republican party already controls the House of Representatives, 233 to 199, with three vacancies. I predict the Republicans will maintain control and will extend their majority to around 246 to 185.

This they did. The current count at Real Clear Politics is 243 Republicans, 179 Democrats, with 13 seats not yet decided. Of the ones I could find data for, the Republican candidate was in the lead in five. That would bring the total to 248 for them. If so, I was very, very close with this.

Next I said:
When the election is over the Republicans will have won 52 [Senate] seats...the Republican caucus will be 55 members....

As of right now, the number are 52 Republicans, 45 Democrats, with three not yet decided. Of those three, two seem to favor the Republicans, which would bring the total to 54-45 (plus one Independent). So, again, I was close, predicting the direction but not the magnitude of the move. It was stronger for the Republicans than I predicted.

Then I said"

...what percentage of Americans will be governed by which party...it will be darn close to a 50-50 split, regardless of the number of states involved...the margins in these elections will generally be closer than in 2010....

Here I was off. With a couple of races still to be decided (in states with small populations), it appears the split will be 60% of the population with Republican governors, 40% with Democratic governors. The two that shifted this were Florida and Illinois (and to some extent Massachusetts), which went Republican when I figured they would stay Democratic. So I was off on this one.

And last I said:

As to state legislatures...the status quo will prevail...no legislature to change majorities.

Data on these races is probably still coming in, but the Washington Post reports this:

"Before Election Day, the GOP controlled 59 of 98 partisan legislative chambers across the country. On Tuesday, preliminary results showed Republicans had won control of both the Nevada Assembly and Senate, the Colorado Senate and state House chambers in Minnesota, New Mexico, Maine, West Virginia and New Hampshire. That would give the party control of 67 chambers, five more than their previous record in the modern era, set after special elections in 2011 and 2012."
So, once again, I missed this part of the election decision by voters. I didn't see, in polling data or in any type of public outcry, a movement toward the Republican Party at this level. I'm trying to assess for myself what this means going forward. In my book The Candy Store Generation I said I was waiting for The Had Enough Generation to rise up and wrest control from the idiots who lead my generation, the Baby Boomers. I wonder if maybe we are seeing the beginning of that.

Should I hang up my whiteboard, and quit making election predictions? It's fun to do, but a little risky. Not that I really have anything on the line by taking that risk.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election Predictions

After having had so much success predicting the outcomes of elections, I should retire from the business. I suspect it can only go downhill from here. But perhaps that is a cowardly thing to do.

I didn't follow what was going on all that closely for quite a while, being rather tired of politics and being occupied with a number of other things, but in the last month I have. With political commercials dominating television and radio, it's difficult to just tune it out. So, here goes.

The big enchilada in this election is control of Congress. The Republican party already controls the House of Representatives, 233 to 199, with three vacancies. I predict the Republicans will maintain control and will extend their majority to around 246 to 194.

In the Senate, where currently the Democratic party holds a 53 to 45 majority, with the two independent senators caucusing with the Democrat, it's clear the Republicans are going to make gains. How much? Will they take control? The polls suggest they will. I've been watching the polls for the possibility of overstatement—that is, of sensing movement in one direction and overstating the amount of that movement. I've seen that often in the past. This year, however, I don't see it. The polls have been steadily favoring the Republican senate candidates, without much movement. The exception to that is Iowa, where the latest poll predicts too much movement toward the Republican candidate. I think she's going to win there, but not by the margins the last poll suggest. So I think the polls of the Real Clear Politics website have it about right. When the election is over the Republicans will have won 52 seats. Moreover, by the time all elections and runoffs are settled, I believe the Republican caucus will be 55 members, as one senator will change parties and one or two independents will caucus with the Republicans.

I'm not following the governor races all that closely. The polls suggest the Republicans will control more governorships after the election than before. That may be true, but I generally look at gubernatorial elections from the perspective of what percentage of Americans will be governed by which party. My sense is that, after this election, it will be darn close to a 50-50 split, regardless of the number of states involved. But, I also believe the margins in these elections will generally be closer than in 2010 (the last year that involves these states).

As to state legislatures, I really have no data on which to base a prediction. The absence of news, and of an issue or personality to drive voters in a direction, leaves me to believe the status quo will prevail. In other words, I expect no legislature to change majorities. Those currently governed by Democrats will stay so; same for Republicans. Where there is mixed government, you might see one party win the other house in their state. It will actually be in the state races where any type of groundswell that would suggest something for future elections will take place. If you see movement in either party's total share of all the state legislature positions, this may indicate a sense of the electorate going into 2016 and beyond.

Well, that's my view from fly-over country. Maybe on Thursday I'll post how I did.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Searching for a Topic

Once again, this week, ideas for blog posts have passed through my mind without capture. But that doesn't mean I'm without a topic for today. I have at least two in mind as I start this.

One relates to something I'm working on at my day job. Next March I'll present a brown bag class in the office with the title "How to Recession-Proof Your Career". I've already started working on it, and several items from it would seem to make good blog posts. The other relates to our Life Group at church. We finished our "Jesus is Lord" study on October 19th, and we didn't have Life Groups on Oct 26th due to having a special service. We are supposed to start a new series this Sunday, November 2. The problem is neither I nor my co-teacher have a clue as to what to teach next. A request of the class on the 19th as to what they would want to study brought dead air, with the exception of maybe one of the shorter books of the Bible.

So, what to do? I was actually thinking of doing a series on prayer. The book The Circle Maker has been highly recommended, and I was thinking on using that. However, upon looking into it more closely, I'm concerned that it's actually not all that biblically based. Maybe it will work, maybe not. I meant to go to a bookstore and pick up a copy, but haven't yet had the opportunity.

An alternative method of studying prayer came to my mind over the last couple of days. Actually, two alternate series. One would take a fair amount of time to prepare lessons, the other very little time. I wonder which one I'd select if it were up to me. I hope I can convince my co-teacher on going that way. I'll try to contact him today.

Meanwhile, I think I'll write a few posts based on this class I'm preparing for work. I can see several that I could pull out as stand-alone posts. Enough to keep my busy for a while.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Post 900: On Accomplishment

As you'll know if you've read this blog or my other one, I'm in a Time Crunch. I put that in capital letters because it is the daddy of all time crunches. It's so much of a crunch that I can't see my way clear to do any writing. In an odd half hour here and there I do some research for a future project, the type of research that can be done in 30 minutes chunks of time. And to some extent I'm keeping up with my blogs. Beyond that, I don't foresee any writing for the next four months.

Yet, I have to say, I'm not without accomplishments during this time. This is my 900th post on this blog. That's not bad. I started it in late 2007, just under seven years ago, so that's an average of around 115 posts a year. I'm pleased with that accomplishment. Someday I hope someone will be interested in reading them all, seeing what the last seven years of my life have been like, and perhaps be impressed. Or, maybe not.

Another accomplishment of late has been better productivity in my engineering career. Most of the things I do are self-starting type stuff, and I've had trouble starting things. Recently though I've started several things. I have in-house classes planned clear up to December 2015. In the next four months I'll be teaching classes I've never taught before, which means I'll have to prepare notes, study the material, plan a presentation, and build a PowerPoint file for each. Three more things to put into my resume.

The main cause of the Time Crunch has also resulted in accomplishment. Lynda and I are in a stock trading education program. Part of that is having a mentor, having conference calls with him, and doing a bunch of homework. I'm pleased to say I've been keeping up with the homework, even out-pacing my wife with it. It's enjoyable to a degree. Whether or not it will make us more successful trading stocks I don't know, but I think it will. It's a quality program, unlike so many I've evaluated over the years. At least it's keeping me busy, and accomplishing things.

And today, I had a minor accomplishment: I paid the bills. We stayed home from church today. I'm nursing a mild cold, and Lynda was nursing a moderately severe headache. After morning devotions I grabbed accumulated mail from the kitchen table, went through it all, and paid all bills that were due, one not due till Nov 13. I sorted through things and discarded a bunch of junk mail. I have a few more things to go through, but overall I'm pleased with what I got done.

So three cheers for accomplishment. Of course, I'd rather these accomplishments be writing related, but perhaps that will come again in time.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Post Ideas Lost

As my regular readers will know, I missed my regular posting day last Sunday. I have no excuse except busyness. Our new stock trading education program is taking an incredible amount of time, essentially every evening, almost all hours, and lots of time on the weekends. To some extent this will pass, though I don't see a lot of time opening up for a while.

Having missed Sunday, I began planning for today's post. Several ideas came to mind, over the last few days. Unfortunately I didn't write them down, and just as quickly they passed through my mind back into the atmosphere. They were good ideas, and would have made good posts. Alas, they are now making the same impact an arrow through the air makes to the air around it.

This week I plan to do a better job of actually capturing those ideas. I'll post this coming Sunday, and will get back on a regular schedule. I have lots to write about. I just need to organize my time and mind better.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Political Off-Year

They say this is an election year, but an "off-year" election. That is, a president is not being elected, so interest in the election is expected to be less, with voter turnout lower than it would be in a presidential election year. That's the way it's always been in American elections.

Last election I published The Candy Store Generation. I had this out in July, and made predictions for the November elections. Those predictions were amazingly accurate: exact for president, exact for the House, off a little for the Senate. I had actually made accurate predictions in 2004, and in most years when I looked at the situation and thought it through.

I believe I was able to do this, beating such pundits as Karl Rove and Dick Morris, and the whole crew at MSNBC, because I predicted with my head and not my heart, and because I accurately considered what my own generation was like and how they would vote. I was listening to the world around me, taking in data from whatever sources were available, and making a decision of what I thought would happen, not what I wanted to happen. It seems that too many of the talking heads on news channels and talk radio predict with their hearts. They want a certain something to happen, and based on that they self-filter the data to prove what they want. They may be doing this subconsciously, but I suspect a lot of it is purposeful, hoping to move public opinion to what they want to happen.

So what about this election? What's going to happen? I actually haven't been following it close enough to make a prediction. I'm looking at data now, especially polling data. What I've noticed in the past that, when a political trend is rapidly developing, the polls tend to shift quickly and excessively toward that trend. Then, a short while later, the polls swing back to correctly measure baseline public opinion. It's as if people are caught up in the news and tell the pollster what the news is telling them, but later think better of it and return to the position they've always had. In a slower trend, it seems to me that the polls are more likely to be correct. I could give several examples showing both of these, but won't take up space with it.

At present the news for the administration and the nation is all bad. Multiple problems, foreign and domestic, beset the Obama administration. Congress seems mostly ineffective and lazy. A slowly growing economy, growth that is not expanding the employed labor force in any significant way, is mitigating some of the problems. If anything, Americans seem somewhat more apathetic than normal. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to assess this data, but my best guess is that the polls are over-predicting, by a small amount, the dissatisfaction of the electorate.

I thought about issuing a new edition of The Candy Store Generation to include a short chapter on what I think will happen this election. That would be risky, but I should have done that. It's too late to do that now, but not too late to make predictions and post them here. I'm still not quite ready to do that, but may do so before the election is here.

No promises, but stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Weekends Are For Rest?

That's what we're told, right? Weekends are for rest, and leisure. For the Christian (devout or cultural), Sunday is meant to be a day of rest. We sometimes substitute a day of leisure for a day of rest. Of course, a person who works all week with their mind might find the mind most rested by partaking in rigorous physical activity. A person who works all week at a physical job might need to rest their body and engage their mind during the weekend.

Well, how can I report on the stewardship of my weekend? I'm not sure it was all that restful. On Saturday I was up reasonably early. The first hour is somewhat of a blur. I went to The Dungeon, but don't remember accomplishing very much. After that it was a combination of clean-up in the house and stock trading work. It was a rainy day, and outside work was impossible. Lynda and I watched two stock trading webinars, one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon. This is part of our assignment on the new stock trading education program we are in. We had much more than that to do, but that was what we could accomplish. We also had to work on setting up an account with the brokerage arm of the educational service we're in. This took much longer than expected, but we got it done. However, something still seemed wrong, as we couldn't access the many features we were supposed to. Time required that we put this off. Plus, we figured it would mean a call to their tech service, which isn't open on the weekends.

Another major task was to clean the kitchen table. This becomes a dumping ground for all kinds of things: mail until it's gone through; mail we don't know what to do with; Lynda's mom's papers waiting to be filed; piles of receipts waiting to be filed; sometimes food items or dishes from a meal eaten there; and countless other things. I had said Friday that we really needed to clean that. So Saturday morning I decided I'd do my part. I went through all the mail, and was able to get rid of most of it. I went through Esther's papers and discarded or neatly piled those still needing attention. Lynda went through her stuff as well. I won't say it's perfect, but it is definitely much cleaner than it was. Less than an hour of additional work and we could use it for a family meal.

Next, since Lynda was planning to leave for Oklahoma City on Sunday (for a while it might have been Saturday, but lack of progress toward that goal made Sunday the day), preparations for that was part of our Saturday work. That, and other cleaning needed around the house.

Around 2:00 p.m. I made our weekly Wal-Mart grocery and prescription run. That took an hour, plus more including putting things away. That evening Lynda had a meal in mind to fix, different than the one I was planning on, but a good one. I helped her with it and we had a nice combo dish for the meal. Meanwhile I had to begin preparing to teach Life Group on Sunday. I had 40 pages (27 catch-up; 13 this week) to read in the book we're studying, and then a lesson to prepare from it. I read it, and found that this week's chapter fed into a lesson that took less time to prepare than average. That brought us through the evening, and off to bed.

Sunday was busy with prep for church and Life Group, church, teaching Life Group, and helping Lynda find things, pack, load, and get on the road. She did so at 2:45 p.m., at which time I went to The Dungeon. I first pulled up the brokerage account. They asked me to provide a little more information for my profile. Once I did that, and tried to access all those features, I was able to. One task down! I took an hour to learn their platform, and to customize it for comfort of the eyes and for some things our mentor wants us to have on it. Then it was time for stock chart study. I had about 100 charts to try to get through by 8:00 p.m. Monday evening. I worked diligently at it for a while, though being unfamiliar with this new system of evaluating stock charts, I reviewed them in both the new system and the one I've been using. A couple of hours and I had 33 charts reviewed, and my mind was mush. Clearly I wasn't going to finish that evening. Also, Sunday was my day to blog here, but I wasn't going to be able to do that either.

So I said the heck with it. I needed to take the rest of the evening off. Rather than pull out the good food from the night before, I ate junk and watched Sunday night football. Not content with just watching, I pulled out the Nook, and between plays I resumed my research into the letters of Thomas Carlyle, identifying on a list whether they have references to the compositions he was working on. I did that between plays, so obviously it wasn't done very efficiently. But I managed to get through a couple of dozen letters.

Then, at 10:30 p.m. or so Lynda called from OKC, wanting to discuss some things about this new trading program and what our mentor expects. We talked through that, though it required me to return to The Dungeon and pull up certain things. We spent half an hour or so on that, then it was back upstairs to see forecasts of the severe weather expected in the night, and off to bed.

To sum it up: My body doesn't feel properly rested due to lack of an exertion outlet due to the rain, and my mind doesn't feel properly rested due to few opportunities to disengage it over the weekend. However, I was refreshed by the excellent worship and study with God's people, and with the reading in our study book. Looking ahead, may next weekend provide proper rest and rejuvenation for body and mind, added to that for soul and spirit.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Nothing to Write

Today is my day to post to this blog. Unfortunately I have nothing to write. We've been expecting rain since around noon, but then they changed the forecast to say we wouldn't get any till around 9:00 p.m. this evening. It finally started a few minutes ago, just in time for me to walk out to the car without a jacket. That's okay. Clothes, skin, and hair all dry without being damaged. Hopefully I'll be able to keep my papers from becoming wet.

Today I spoke to the engineering seminar class at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. This is a weekly, 1 hour class that features practicing engineers coming in to talk about a significant project. Back in August the call came in to me to try and set something up to support this professor and his class. I wanted someone else to do this, but got exactly zero responses to my e-mail, so I did it. Actually, I got one response to my e-mail: on Tuesday of this week—just a little late. I talked about the engineering challenges with the Crystal Bridges Museum, focusing more on the flood control issues than anything else.

The class had around 30 people attend. I knew two of them: students who interned with us this past summer. Actually, I knew an older man who attended. He's a practicing civil engineer in Fayetteville, where the U of A is. I recognized him, but couldn't remember his name. He came up after the program and introduced himself, and I recalled where our paths had crossed before, perhaps 8 years ago.

Tonight Lynda and I will participate in another live training webinar for stock and options trading. Following recommendations from this service, I placed a trade this morning that would go up in a down market. It gained close to 20% in the sharp downturn today. Had I not been on a conference call when the market opened, I could have made even more. I got in after 9:15 instead of at 8:30.

Other stock trading training will consume a lot of time over the next week, and even up to six month's time, as we work through this training. I'm hoping the time commitment will taper off some after the first two weeks, but we'll see. People who know about this have asked me when I'll write. I tell them I don't expect to write anything for the next 6 months. Should an hour or two a week present itself for writing, and should I have sufficient brain power left to actually work on something, my order of writing work will be:

- prepare Father Daughter Day for publication and publish it
- research my next Thomas Carlyle book, and begin working on the essay I'll include in it
- get back on my civil war book in the Documenting America series.

I should probably look to short stories, given that I'll have so little time, but that would mean beginning another project rather than working on a present one, and I don't think my head would stay together if I had another project to do.

Well, the rain has stopped; it's time to go home and see about supper and webinars and dream about leisure. Not much of a post, I know, but it's what I got today.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Any Compromise between JIT and FTT?

The extreme deadlines I've been under at work, coupled with being very busy at home, have caused me to think about deadlines, how they are set, and how they are dealt with. Tuesday-Wednesday I worked on a project with an urgent deadline. I put in some extra hours and turned it over to CADD people to complete, and I think it's going out on time. Thursday I was given a construction specification to write, with great panic on the faces and in the demeanor of the two men who brought it to me. It turned out to be much less work than either of them thought, and I had it done at the end of the day with barely any extra time.

But this got me thinking about two ways of planning your schedule. My dad's way was to build in what he called "flat tire time." That is, wherever he wanted to go, with a sensitive deadline, he wanted to leave early enough time to be able to change a tire if he got a flat en-route. In 18 years of riding to church with him, or being the driver once I had my license, we never once had a flat tire. Two miles on a main road with light Sunday morning traffic, sometimes picking up old Charlie Kenyon at the bus stop to save him the fare. Always there way ahead of time, with time to sit and pray or otherwise contemplate why we were there.

The alternative is what modern industry calls the "just in time" schedule. If church starts at 9:30, and the drive should take you 18 minutes under normal conditions, leave the house at 9:12 and you'll get there on time, if all things hold to the average. Poor Charlie will have to take the bus. No, actually, he'll have caught the bus long before you whiz by at 5 miles over the speed limit. If anything isn't average, you have no margin for error, and are likely to be a little late close to half the time.

I must confess to being a FTT person. JIT throws me for a loop and gets me overly stressed out. If I have a deadline, say on Thursday, to have everything ready to give to the client Friday morning, I'd rather work my extra hours on Wednesday (or even Tuesday) rather than on Thursday, giving myself flat tire time. Alas, the dominant culture at my company is built around JIT, and I can't do anything to change it. Many things in my personal life seem also to be built around JIT, with no hope of changing it either.

Where is the compromise point? If the drive takes 18 minutes, and changing a tire would take, let's say, 15 minutes, that says you should leave 33 minutes before the event. Or, actually, since you'll have to wash your hands once you get there, before you enter the event, that's more like 35 or 40 minutes ahead. If everything goes well, you'll be there 20 minutes early. Lots of contemplation time. Most of the time that won't be needed.

But, surely some amount of margin in needed. Planning to get there 10 minutes ahead of time gives you margin to account for a wreck on the highway that slows you down, or for rainfall that slows you down. Or, if you plan for 10 minutes of margin, and you're getting ready to leave and can't find your cell phone, you have time to track it down and you can still make your engagement on time. That's margin. That's what I like.

I wish I knew how to make that happen. If anyone knows, I'd appreciate you leaving me a comment about it. Meanwhile, I can only control my own behavior, give myself margin, and use that margin to contemplate when things go according to average.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Your Failure to Plan

The last two days at work, and now today, the modern adage "Your failure to plan is not my emergency" reared up in the office. Tuesday they (i.e. someone with the emergency) and said they needed my help urgently on a somewhat large and very complex project designed in our Dallas office. Actually, the man may have come by my desk Monday evening late and made the request. Tuesday I started on it, working more of the day. It turned out to be the need for a end of the project quality control check. The project manager had quit, the department head was taking on that role, and it had to go out. There was some confusion about what the deadlines were, and a few hours were lost therefore.

I spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday working on the project check, including some overtime (unpaid, of course) on Tuesday. I did my check, though to be honest the complexity of the project required I spend at least 4, maybe 8 hours I didn't have on it. I met with those producing the work, and all's right with the world. Today I've had three minor questions about it, all easily dispatched.

So today, the VP of Production comes to my office around 8:30 a.m. He said another department, one here in Bentonville, was in a jam, and they needed my help urgently. They needed a construction specification put together for a street project in nearby Rogers. The project is being advertised Sunday, and they are still working on the drawings and haven't started the spec. But, this one was extremely simple, as it's really just to do some of the preliminary right-of-way clearing, not construct the street; that will come later. So I asked for a set of the drawings so that I'd know what I was specifying. It's now 1:00 p.m. I still don't have the drawings. I have been able to do a lot of work on the spec, however, just based on the description of the work included. If I get the drawings in the next hour, I should be able to complete the project without staying much past my normal quitting time.

That's important, because, I'm on a vacation tomorrow (Friday) and Monday. I'll be in Branson, with Lynda, meeting my half-sister, who I just learned about in the last 45 days. Our rooms are already booked and paid for, as is her flight. This is a vacation I can't give up for the company.

So all the work I had planned on doing this week has not happened. I'm speaking at a class at the University of Arkansas on Tuesday afternoon, and figured I'd put my presentation together today. Alas, I don't think that will happen. I did manage to find the time to do some scheduling of some training sessions. Perhaps I'll find a little time to work on that presentation.

So, here I am, under the gun, as always seems to happen when I announce vacation time. Next time I should just not show up on those days and call in. If I do that, most likely no one will miss me.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Two Wishes

I have a couple of different things I could write about today. Hard to pick between them. We had a great time at our meeting with God's people this morning, in worship and then in Life Group. God spoke through our pastor, Mark Snodgrass, with a spot-on message that spoke to me, and, I think, to many others.

In Life Group we studied the same topic. I did not feel good about it yesterday and this morning as I prepared to teach. I felt that it was going to be a weak lesson. But Pastor Mark's powerful sermon, and our people being ready to talk about it, it turned out to be a good lesson and discussion.

Follow that by a good lunch at Concordia (a retirement place) with Lynda and her mother, now stuffed with ribs and chicken casserole, followed by a short nap to an NFL football game, and I'm reading to write. Rather than go into length about the message and lesson, however, I think instead I'll post a couple of items that have been on my mind the last few days. Wishes, actually; things that I believe will make the world a better place.

I wish we had more people who observed the place where they are, saw needs that needed to be met, and, without thought of compensation or recognition, took it upon themselves to fill those needs.

I wish more people simply did their job, fully and cheerfully; even a job that's mundane or difficult. Strive to find something better, of course, but do the work you have in hand.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Some Very Busy Days

Today is my normal day to blog here at An Arrow Through the Air. Yet, today is the third of four incredibly busy days, and the time to blog just isn't there. We have just completed a major training event at work. I was the facilitator/organizer, not the trainer or trainee. I had much to do to get ready for it, and things to do during it. This was followed by a minor training event this afternoon for some of the same people. Again, I was just the facilitator, and didn't have to sit in on all of it, but I did have some responsibilities for it.

Add to that on Tuesday, near the end of the work day, I had a project dumped on me for quality control checking. It was supposed to go out the end of the day today, and I stayed late last night working on it. Then today I found out that yesterday afternoon they sent out the part I checked last night and today. I still have more of it to do, but, given that it's already gone out, I think I'll back off and check it more leisurely.

So, aside from the prior two paragraphs, I have no blog today. See you all Sunday.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jesus is Lord, Revisited

Our Life Group lessons continue in the series "Jesus Is Lord", from the pastor's sermon series and the book of that name by Dr. Frank Moore. This wasn't my week to teach, but my co-teacher was off picking up continuing educational units this weekend, so I taught.

I must confess, however, that I'm wondering if we'll run out of material before we run out of series, which is supposed to last another three or four weeks. I haven't read ahead in the book. This week we are to read chapters 5 and 6 and base the lesson on them next Sunday. This week I'm not going to wait until the last minute, and maybe I'll be able to put together a better lesson for next week, which will be my regular week to teach.

Today we looked at the New Testament word for lord, which is kyrios. In the Greek Old Testament, the words Yahweh and Adonai are both translated kyrios. In the New Testament, kyrios is used 717 times, the vast majority of them referring to God and Jesus. A few times they refer to the master of the slaves, or the master of the estate. A few other times they are clearly used as a term of respect, such as early mentions of them when Jesus was considered merely a respected rabbi, not the Son of God.

We took time to look at a few instances of when people made a sudden realization of who Jesus was, and how he was something/someone much more than met the eye:

  • Nathaniel's statement that Jesus was the Son of God
  • The people of Nain, when Jesus raised the widow's son out of his coffin
  • Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, in Caesarea-Philippi.
  • Mary's various statements or actions that showed her acceptance of Jesus' lordship

Okay, so we didn't have time to get to the last one. But the others we did. It was interesting that in only one of those examples did the word "Lord" appear, and it wasn't stated by the participants in the story, but by Luke as the narrator.

I don't have a lot more to say about this. I felt somewhat unprepared to teach, and I imagine my delivery reflected that. Hopefully next week will be better, especially if I don't get sick the Friday before teaching, and thus feel less than optimum during my main Saturday preparation time.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reading Sherlock Holmes

Somehow, in all my youthful reading, I missed Sherlock Holmes. I read one of the short stories, I think, while I was in high school, but nothing more. In my adult years, perhaps ten years ago, I bought a paperback volume of Sherlock Holmes stories at a used bookstore. Read two short stories in it and laid it aside.

A few years ago I read about the Norton Publishing version of the "Sherlock Holmes Canon", as they called it. It was in three volumes, with the stories extensively collated and footnoted. I believe, though I'm not sure, the stories were put in chronological order in which they would have taken place, not when they were written or published. A. Conan Doyle did a lot of backtracking in the stories. In 1904 he published some of Holmes' cases that were earlier in Holmes' career than were the ones he published in 1894.  Reading about this set got me interested in Holmes. The Norton books were much too expensive, so I waited. Barnes & Noble came out with a two volume hardback set, minus all the footnoting and ordering. When it went on the remainders table, I bought it.

That was a year or two ago. Recently Lynda and I finished our the series we were reading aloud in and were ready for something else. I suggested Holmes, and she agreed. She's always liked crime books and mysteries. We are now well into the series. Of the four Holmes novels, we've read the first three: A Study in Scarlett, The Sign of the Four, and Hound of the Baskervilles, and two volumes of the short stories and are well into the third. The B&N books are arranged chronologically by date of publication.

So how am I enjoying them? Hmmm, perhaps not as much as I'd hoped, but that's mainly due to the language use. These stories are only 120 years old, yet the English language has changed, as has practice of writing. Some things that readers would turn away from in disgust these days are practiced regularly by Doyle. For example, he constantly repeats the first and last names of people in dialog and speaker tags. That's a no-no drilled into us by writing instructors. He tends to fixate on words. One example is "singular," a word that has gone out of fashion today. He will say, "He was a singular man." Meaning, I guess, he was unique. Actually, in the context it's not always clear exactly what the word singular means. I can see why it's gone out of fashion. One use of it wouldn't be too bad, but when you read three stories in three days and "singular" is in them six or eight times, you notice.

We find we can't read these every day, as we did with our previous series. We read a story one day, and take a day or two break. The writing style is what slows us down, not the story contents. The plots show Doyle's genius. Each of the stories we've read so far is quite unique—dare I say singular? Doyle mixes up the kind of cases. They aren't all murder mysteries. Sometimes they turn out not to be crimes at all, but instead an accident, or something unintentional.

We will persevere in this. Only six more stories in this volume, two more volumes of short stories (as originally published), and one more novel to go—a short-ish one at that. I suspect I'll have another post or two on Sherlock Holmes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paper, Paper Everywhere

Last Friday, faced with a weekend, and wondering what to do, I weighed my options. Writing was high on the list. I had just taken five days off from writing. Maybe it was time to get back to it. Or, with the weather forecast to be nice, and with my knee somewhat improved, perhaps I should go outside on Saturday and get back to cutting up the wood from the late spring tree topping. That would be both exercise and productivity. It would depend, of course, on how well my knee felt Saturday morning.

Then I thought about the piles and piles of paper I have seemingly everywhere in the house. Most of it is downstairs, in The Dungeon, or perhaps tucked away in file cabinets—out is sight, but in mind as a drawer full of paper. On the floor of The Dungeon were several piles of unfinished projects. In a tray on the work table were months and months of financial papers to be filed. Elsewhere on the work table were lots of writing papers, crying out for attention.

So Friday I made the decision that the weekend would primarily be one of tending to long-neglected papers. A little wood sawing if possible, but mainly papers. Saturday morning dawned with the temperature at 49, and cloudy, but no rain. Perfect for outside work. Except my knee seemed much worse than the last couple of days. I made the command decision to forego outside work. I went to my reading chair and fell asleep. An hour later I woke up when Lynda got up. Before long I was heading downstairs to The Dungeon.

I decided to tackle the bills filing first. I hadn't done much filing at all in 2014, and what I had done was quite random. Enough bills had piled up that I first took an hour to sort them and put them chronologically. Then I began filing. The utilities were easy, so I started with them. I decided that, since this was a major filing effort, I would take the time to make sure everything was in the right order, and to cull through the files to get rid of some of the older items, say more than three years old. From the utilities I went to the mortgage, then to miscellaneous repairs, then to a few oddball items. I was then ready to tackle medical records.

I've never been satisfied with the filing of medical records. It's becoming more critical now that we're older and have more records to keep track of. So I took a little time to brainstorm and think about how to file them. I decided on a way to change them up a bit, and did so for 2014. Whether I go back and reorganize prior years I'm not sure. The medical records took a long time, especially since my file drawer was over-stuffed, and I needed to move some things to archive storage. I did that, and the medical records were complete and back where they belonged. Somewhere along the way I took a quick break for lunch.

That left our stock trading papers, writing papers, and some tax papers of ours and of my mother-in-law. The stock papers were most important. I took a lot of time with those, as they must be sorted into three accounts, and then filed under three or four different tabs. Keeping them in correct chronological order is important. So that all took some time, but I finished it. Well, except for later when I found a few that were in a place I hadn't seen. They are now resting in the filing tray, waiting on my next time. I shifted to the tax papers. I really only had a few of mine, and took care of them quickly. For my m-i-l's, I decided to do a major culling of older ones to free up file drawer space. So anything older than 2009 I threw a lot of stuff out.

By the end of the day, I felt really good about what I had accomplished. My back hurt, probably more than if I'd spent the time sawing logs. The Dungeon didn't look all that much better, because of the writing papers. That would be a Sunday task, I decided, and called it quits.

Sunday, after church, eating with Lynda's mom, and a short nap (not more than 1/2 hour), I get after the writing papers. It was a major task. Some time ago I was in a writing seminar with David Morrell (author of First Blood, creator of Rambo). He said to save all your drafts of you books, box them up along with research papers, correspondence, whatever, and set them aside for eventual donation to wherever you donate your writing papers in the future. I had done this with Doctor Luke's Assistant, my first novel, and had a file drawer full of them. With later books I had been less careful at saving drafts, because I saw exactly how much space DLA drafts had taken.

I made the decision that most likely no institution is going to want my donated papers, and the drafts would have to go. So I got to work with sorting, bagging for recycling, and filing. Three hours later I was amazed at what I had accomplished. Four plastic grocery bags sat on the stairs, full of old office paper, waiting to be carried up and put in the garage for recycling. Forty of fifty pounds of paper. A stack 18 inches high. And almost all other writing papers were in a file somewhere. Some of those may find themselves part of a future culling, but for now they are out of the way.

I don't know that The Dungeon looks a whole lot better. Maybe a little. I still have a couple of piles of things I didn't get to. These are, I think, mostly printouts of books/articles for reference, or maybe something I critiqued for someone. I think half of it is for discards, and half is for filing in a retrievable manner. I also have a pile of file folders and manila envelopes on the floor of the storage room, freed up for other use now that they no longer hold the DLA drafts. Tonight I'll have to sort them and do the discard/storage thing again.

All in all, this was a good effort. A couple of more hours on the last piles, putting the tax forms back in the drawer, and a little rearranging, and I'll have a more efficient and more usable work space. I don't know when I'll get back to writing, but for now, I think the time spent away from it has been well spent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Moments Weigh Against a Lifetime

It’s one of my favorite quotes, probably because I know it to be true. Pamela Tudsbury, troubled daughter of a media star, says that to Victor Henry in Herman Wouk’s wonderful novel The Winds of War. She’s in love with Victor, though he’s a married man and twenty years older than her. She tells him of her love, and offers to settle on being his mistress. He refuses. But she is undaunted, and bides her time.

They are in London, during the Blitz, when Pamela declares herself. She is in the British military at that time, and almost goes AWOL just to be with Henry while he’s there on special assignment. Finally, over the phone, he tells her she has a job to do and go do it. She agrees. They chat for a few minutes about their couple of weeks of casually being together. Finally Pamela says, “Some moments weight against a lifetime, don’t they?” That may be an approximate quote, as I’m writing this at work and don’t have the book with me.

Yes, some moments weight against a lifetime. The deaths of my parents, marriage, birth of children. The major news events I’ve lived through. Other special events, good or bad. The day I met my Lord and Savior. One such day was September 1, 2014. Not because that was the 75th anniversary of the start of World War 2, but because it was the day it was confirmed that I have a previously unknown half-sister.

Yes, you read that right. This has been brewing in my life since August 11. I’m not going to go into full details here, but as a result of DNA testing that some New York cousins had done a few years ago, and that this half-sister had done more recently, this has all come about.

It turns out my mother had her in 1945, four plus years before she and my dad were married, about five years before my other sister was born. Mom was unwed and pregnant. She had moved back to Providence RI from Boston MA and probably found out there, but went to Worcester MA to have the baby. The information on the birth certificate matched my mother’s info, except for a bogus last name—but it was a last name of her step-grandfather and grandmother. I was contacted about this by the cousin (who I already knew), and then my half-sister and I talked. I agreed to DNA tests. The results of those tests came back on September 1, confirming that we are half-siblings.
Her name is Deborah Burnham Harris (Burnham being her adopted name). She has two children, four (almost five) grandchildren. But except for those, her only close family was two adopted brothers, neither of whom had children, from whom she’s somewhat drifted away in her adult years. Now, she’s part of a larger sibling group, her children are part of a first cousin group, and her grandchildren are part of a second cousin group.

We have made plans to meet soon, sooner than we might have expected at first. The photo shows my mother on the left and Deb on the right, at a similar age. I see a strong resemblance, as do most people I’ve shown it to, though others have told me they don’t see it. Judge for yourself.

So yes, Pamela, I agree. Some moment do weigh against a lifetime. I've experienced another one.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Jesus is Lord

Well, I'm a day late with this post. Had a good afternoon of writing on my current non-fiction work-in-progress yesterday, and didn't feel like stopping. Then, when I was done with that and still had some time left in The Dungeon, I decided to do some genealogy work rather than fulfill my blog obligations.

Yesterday our pastor started a new sermon series with Life Groups studying the same material. Titled "Jesus is Lord", this looks at exactly what that phrase means for Christians today. It was the earliest of the Christian creeds, as told in Romans 10:9:
That if you confess with your mouth "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So as early as 20 years after Jesus died, this is what the church was saying. The study we're doing is based on a book with the title Jesus Is Lord, by Dr. Frank Moore. Lynda and I knew him in Kansas City close to 40 years ago, when we lived there and he attended seminary. We haven't seen him in all these years, so it was good to come across a book by him. It was also good to see him in he video that accompanied the study.

 I find that I've run out of time for writing this morning, in my pre-work, personal hour in my office. I'll have to continue and add to this. Or, maybe this post will have to suffice for this week, and I'll just add to it week by week. We'll see.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Living In The Past

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I spend much of my time in the past. Reading history will do that. Studying genealogy will expand it. Reading Romantic and Victorian Era writers will exacerbate it. When I get home at night my mind is geared towards times no closer than 50 years ago.

Last night I hosted an on-line, back-to-school party for my high school class. This was held at our class Facebook page (which I created). 25 people showed up, with about 15 of those contributing posts. That's out of a group membership of 106 out of a class of 725. So not a great attendance, but I think all who posted had a good time. We came from two different junior high schools to the same high school, so there was lots of cross-town rivalry stuff going on. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the eve of our starting junior high (not really; we started the Wednesday after Labor Day, which in 1964 was Sept 8; but seeing as how today is the Wednesday after Labor Day, it was an anniversary of sorts).

That took a lot of time last night. As group creator and host, I felt I had to be there and contribute. By the end of the evening we had over 300 posts. Those who didn't contribute will some day stop in the page and see what we all said.

Then, I've been beta-reading/editing the memoir of a cousin of mine—a memoir of childhood. At least the first part is. I've read up to the teen years. I believe the latter half moves into the adult years, but for now it's all about events more than 50 years in the past. I know the people mentioned. I know some of the circumstances which this cousin has shared with me. But the details are new. I'm enjoying my reading; and I enjoy editing. Tonight I can spend enough time on it that I'll either finish it or get close.

My current reading has been of old works. I just finished my second reading of Thomas Carlyle's Chartism, in preparation for a publishing a book on the subject. Lynda and I, in our reading aloud, are reading through the Sherlock Holmes canon. So my reading is of things old. When I'm not reading those, I'm reading my Bible. Talk about old. Next, however, is a couple of magazines I bought last time I was in Barnes & Noble, so I'll be shifting to reading something modern. Plus I have some articles to read in a back-issue of a literary magazine, from several years back. Maybe this reading will tug me into the future.

The other thing that causes me to dwell in the past is my genealogy work. Ever since I've been writing creatively, genealogy has taken a backseat. Every now and then, when a relative contacts me, or I sense an urge, I do a little work on it. That's what's happened recently. Yesterday I took time to prepare two new family group sheets, based on new information, and to edit the one for my family. Two of these three are to present accurate information to a newly found relative; the other information about that relative. This reminded me of how much work I have to do. My genealogy notebooks are a mess. I have unproven information in them that is speculative enough that I need to trash it. I have trial family charts that I later updated, but haven't discarded the older versions. I need to spend hours doing nothing but that.

Then, the last month or so I've spent time with old photographs. I may have mentioned before that my house has become the accumulation point for old photographs from both my and my wife's families. We have them in boxes and bins. Some are labeled, some are not. None are inventoried. These go back to our great-grandparents, in some cases older than that. They are for five or six family branches. Some I know I have, but haven't seen them for years. Add to this are all the photographs Lynda and I have taken over the years. They are scattered throughout the house: in dresser drawers, in boxes, in albums that are incomplete and mostly not labeled.

Oh how I want to inventory our photos! Put them in a database that will: identify the photo and who or what is in it; identify who took it; indicate if a negative is available, and if so where the negative is; indicate the family branch it came from; identify or speculate on the date the photo was taken; state where the photo is in the house, including which album if it's in an album. Unfortunately, that task is so huge I don't think I'll get there this side of retirement, and perhaps not for twenty years into retirement, should I live so long.

So, right now I have my feet firmly planted in the past. Writing tasks await me. Writing is a current activity, though of course my Civil War book is of a past activity. Hopefully I'll come back to the present sometime soon. But for now, I'm enjoying my time machine.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Multi-Step Change

Last Sunday I wrote about the Life Group lesson I taught, and how an itinerant preacher, Apollos, was helped by laymen Aquila and Priscilla. In that post I mentioned that I was only writing about half of the lesson I taught, and that in a future post I'd write about the rest of the lesson. That future is here.

Paul mostly avoided the city of Ephesus in his second missionary journey. He stopped there, it being a major metropolis of the time, and a trans-shipment port. He left Aquila and Priscilla there, took a little time to go up to the synagogue and reason with the Jews, then continued on his way back to Antioch in Syria, from whence he had departed a few years before.

Later he set out again, on his third missionary journey. His overland route took him to Ephesus. This time the first place we see him go to isn't the synagogue, but rather the church. He comes upon a group of about twelve Christians, and learns that they haven't been told the full story about Jesus. In fact, they only know about the baptism of John the Baptist. They don't appear to have heard that people were baptized into Jesus' name (not John's name), and that there was a further baptism, that of the Holy Spirit, which was available to the believers.

As I taught this last week, right on the heels of Aquila and Priscilla explaining all of this to Apollos—in Ephesus—it sounded comical to be reading it again in the same chapter of scripture. Some in the class snickered at it. I used this to say, "If Aquila and Priscilla were doing their job at spreading the gospel, and discipling new believers, how could the church possibly not understand this?" My thought was to be provocative. The way Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul to Ephesus, then remained there as he journeyed on, seemed to me to be an intent for them to be lay evangelists, and to plant the church in Ephesus. Maybe they were setting up tent-making franchises at the same time. But Paul seems to have put them in charge of spreading the gospel in Ephesus. They helped Apollos there. What went wrong with the rest of the church under their leadership?

The class was smart, however, and quickly said that the church at that time consisted of home churches, not a centrally organized body. This congregation of twelve men may not even have been touched by Aquila and Priscilla. They may have started from outreach by a congregation started by someone who were under Aquila's and Priscilla's teaching, and were thus three times removed from the lay evangelists. The full teaching hadn't reached them yet.

Fortunately, Paul arrived at the right time, when he could correct the not-quite-correct behavior and beliefs. Good news for these twelve men, for the church in Ephesus, and for us who now read the story.

We are through with this story. Today my co-teacher taught from Acts 26. Next week we start a new, all-church study, titled "Jesus is Lord", from a book by that name. I'm looking forward to it, and to having one more week off from teaching!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rain Today

Weather forecasters say we're supposed to get rain today. Although, the heavy storms that, last night at bed time, stretched from Wichita to Oklahoma City and beyond, seem to have dissipated by this morning's radar. Right now it looks like a weak system that may or may not make it here with rain.

Sure enough, I just checked he forecast, and the chance of rain has been reduced since last night. Maybe we'll get some, maybe we won't. If we do, it's likely to be a lot less than at first predicted. At least, that's the way things look at 7:42 a.m. at my desk in my office in Bentonville, Arkansas.

This post will be a bunch of miscellaneous thoughts, the things running through my mind at the moment. I'm thinking of making a stock trade today, a one week option play on U.S. Steel. I ran the numbers a little while ago, and it looks good. Of course, I'll need to see how the market opens and what happens with the price before I place the order. Last night I read some in the Battle of Shiloh battle reports. Read one from a subordinate general on the Union side, but it was hard to follow what he meant without a battlefield map in front of me. Last night Lynda and I also listened to a stock trading webinar, a live one. It was good, but will take some more study before we can implement anything from it. So for now I'll keep going with what's working fairly well for me.

Yesterday was a busy day at work. I was asked to help out on two projects, which consumed most of the hours in the day. One was where a resident next to a large project which I served as contract city engineer on in Centerton has sent a letter with a bunch of questions on the drainage report. I checked the report, done by the company who now serves as regular contract city engineer (so they couldn't check their own work). I spent some hours looking back at the report, comparing it to the resident's questions, and formulating responses. This will take more time today. I'm enjoying it; it's a reminder of the type of work that once consumed half my work hours.

Just before 5:00 p.m. a man came to me with a question on a site lighting specification. I suggested to him how to handle the situation. He was back in my office a little after 5:00, still struggling with how much he needed to change the specification, which wasn't meeting the needs of the project. I pulled that guide spec up on my computer, and together we edited it, taking ten minutes to do so. He left with a nearly completed spec and his project in a position where he could send it out before the end of the day.

One negative of the day was how my knee is hurting. I don't remember if I posted it or not. About five or six weeks ago I quit taking my rheumatoid arthritis medicine because of how I became nauseous and frequently threw up in the days following when I took my weekly pills. The nausea stopped, but as the medicine worked its way out of my body the pain in my right knee came back. This isn't actually rheumatoid there; rather joint deterioration. A knee replacement awaits me somewhere in the future. But so long as the medicine was controlling the pain, the surgery was a long way off. After quitting the medicine the knee got progressively worse, until last week I could barely walk. I went to see my rheumatologist—actually his nurse—last Wednesday and was shown how to give myself the medicine by injection. I took a dose. Friday I puked twice.

So maybe the medicine does that to me even if I don't put it directly into my stomach. I've been taking up to six Aleve a day, which seems to have done nothing for the pain. I took my second injection on Wednesday. So far I've been okay. Had some nauseous feeling last night, but it passed fairly quickly as I walked it off around the house. Right now I'm feeling slightly nauseous. I'll have to get up and walk around the building here in a moment. In anticipation of this, I've been eating less over the last few days, trying to empty my stomach. The reason this medicine is causing that is because one of my diabetes meds, Byetta, delays the emptying of the stomach as a means of controlling blood sugar. So my stomach stays fuller than it should. Then when the methotrexate hits it, boom: vomit.

So, I'm still in the experimental stage with the injections. If I get through today without vomiting, I'll feel good about it. The pain in my knee may be marginally less. Or maybe that's wishful thinking, feeling what I'm hoping for. But for sure the reduced eating has helped in the weight loss department. Today I weighed-in at a 22 year low. I had kind of stalled at weight loss. Now I'm losing again. My blood sugar has been well under control. If I can just get my knee working properly, all will be right with the world once again. The strange thing, none of my joints that are bothered by rheumatoid have started hurting. So it's all very strange indeed.

Well, enough ramblings for one day, a day late from when I was supposed to post. Too busy yesterday, no gumption.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Not Changed Enough

Yesterday was my regular day for posting here. Given that I missed posting Thursday (being out of town and without a convenient computer), it was important that I post yesterday. I had the time. my only definite plan for other writing was to type a chapter, already written in manuscript, in Documenting America, Civil War Edition. I finished that before 3:00 p.m., giving me two to three hours of my normal Sunday time in The Dungeon to write and publish a post. Yet I didn't do so. Why?

Instead I decided to do more work on DA-CWE. I located source documents, copied them, and placed them in the book file. I made minor corrective edits on them, not the substantive, extracting edits I'll have to do. I discovered one document is not available on-line, so I'll have to type it. All of this is good work, work that needs to be done if I'm ever going to finish the book, but yesterday wasn't an essential day to do that, especially since I had an important blog post to write.

My problem wasn't knowing what to write. I'd considered writing a post about recent health issues, but rejected that for a post about our Life Group lesson yesterday. This was my week to teach. My co-teacher and I continue our summer ad hoc series on lived changed by the Resurrection. We have this week and next week left in that, then we move into a more structured curriculum, an all-church study. Last week Marion taught from Paul's time in Athens as described in Acts 17. The next chapter is about his time in Corinth. I decided to skip this and go instead to a series of events centering on Ephesus.

I titled the lesson "Changed by the Resurrection, but Not Changed Enough". I based this on things described in Acts chapters 18 and 19. To fully describe this would take much too long a post, so I'll just cover the first story, beginning with the back story.

Paul comes to Corinth, without Timothy and Silas, who he has sent back to check on the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2), and reasons with the Jews in the synagogue. He sought out Aquila, a Jew from Pontus who had just come from Rome. From Pontus to Rome to Corinth. This Jew gets around. Paul sought him and his wife Priscilla out because they were tentmakers, as Paul was. It appears Paul needed funds, and since he knew the tent-making trade, he went to a fellow Jewish tentmaker for work.

In the next scene in the lesson, after a year and a half in Corinth, Paul sails for home, taking Aquila and Priscilla with him. They stop at Ephesus, where Aquila and Priscilla stay while Paul sails on, after reasoning with the Jews in the synagogue and promising to come back. So now, for Aquila (and maybe Priscilla), it's Pontus to Rome to Corinth to Ephesus. Maybe he was setting up tent-making franchises among the Jews of the Diaspora! The most important part of the story, however, is how they are able to help Apollos. A second, precursor part of the story isn't even mentioned.

Apollos appears to have been an itinerant preacher, or maybe a supply pastor. He's a Jew from Alexandria, a learned man, trained in the Jewish scriptures, and an effective speaker. He's also a believer in Jesus Christ, and that's Who he preaches. But, he lacks something. He baptizes new converts into John's baptism, not Jesus' baptism or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Aquila and Priscilla see this lack, reach out to him, and explain "the way of God more adequately" This turned Apollos' ministry around. Already educated, knowledgeable in Christian ways, now he has the full picture. He goes to Achaia (where Corinth is), armed with letters of recommendation to the old companions of Aquila and Priscilla. That's a great story, even if that's all there is to it.

But there's something Acts doesn't tell us. In Acts 18:2, Aquila is a Jew in Corinth from Pontus via Rome. Paul's coming to Corinth was the first Christian influence in Corinth, so far as we know. In that verse Aquila is not described as a Jewish believer, but simply as a Jew. It appears he is not a Christian, and may not even have heard the Christian message. At the end of Paul's eighteen month stay in Corinth, he is not explicitly described as a believer, but apparently he was, for he and his wife are able to explain Christianity more adequately to the preacher.

It's at this point that I wish we had a fuller story in the Bible, that being the conversion of Aquila and Priscilla. I can see Paul, at work in the tent-making shop. If he sang and prayed in the Philippian jail at midnight, while wounded and in chains, what might he do at work at his trade, while making money? Aquila and Priscilla must have heard plenty, and seen Paul's life. They must have been converted and discipled during this time. They thought they were hiring a worker. Instead they were opening the way for themselves to gain eternal life. I would love to have the story of their conversion.

So here, in this story, we hear of laymen helping a clergyman "up his game." All are working together for expanding the kingdom of God. I like that.

Stay tuned for the rest of this story, in a future post, not too far in the future.