Saturday, January 12, 2019

Darke County Update #3

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following could possibly be true.] [Or not.]

Best place for free exercise in Greenville is our large indoor mall. It’s got miles and miles of aisles. In fact, I’ll bet one lap around the inside is probably close to 3.1 miles—the equivalent of a 5k. Only problem is if you jog instead of walk you run the risk of bowling over shoppers. Besides, you’ll probably get stuck behind some little old lady with a slow cart. But still—it’s indoors and a lot nicer than running out in the weather.

Wait a minute, you object. Greenville doesn’t have an indoor shopping mall!

Sure it does. Right across the street from Krogers. If you squint your eyes just right, it sort of looks like one. If you squint a little harder, the sign kind of looks like “Mallmart” if you use just a tad of imagination. And it surely has the same outdoor features: massive parking lot with all the spaces near the entrance already taken, cars prowling around racing each other for spots recently abandoned by shoppers leaving, the obligatory eighteen-wheelers idling on the perimeter, an occasional pickup truck camper staying in the same place for two weeks.

And then on the inside, just think of the different departments as individual little stores. When you think about it, hard enough, it’s just like an indoor mall. Big enough for one, certainly.

Yeah, well, if it’s a mall where's the food court?

Cookie aisle, of course.

So anyway, I was at Mallmart doin’ my laps when I ran into Wilson. Literally. I was trying to jog the straight stretch between the Hunting Store and the Shoe Store. Poor Wilson popped out from the Seasonal Aisle and I sort of knocked him over, his cart over, and some guy I didn’t know. Bread and milk went flying, but thankfully the milk didn’t burst open. The stranger’s fall was broken by Wilson’s five loaves of bread—good for him. Not so good for the bread. Sorta flattened it.

Anyway, after apologizing profusely and picking up the stranger (who was more than a little agitated at me, not sure why) and getting Wilson set back on his feet, I tried to make a joke: “Fancy running into you here, Wilson.” He didn’t laugh, just kinda glared at me as he picked up his squashed bread. “So, what’s with all the bread and milk?” I asked.

“Snow storm coming,” he grumbled.

“You planning on eating all five loaves by yourself?” Wilson is a confirmed life-long bachelor. Tends to the cantankerous side, which could explain his single sojourn.

“Just want to be ready,” he muttered as he retrieved the four gallon jugs of milk.

“The forecast is for flurries, Wilson. I don’t think you’re gonna get snowed in.”

“You never know. So what are you getting ready for, the Olympics?” he asked sarcastically, eyeing my running shoes.

“Nah. The Ansonia Firecracker,” I answered.

“That’s six months away, genius. Don’t you think you could wait a month or two and run outside when the weather’s better, rather than knocking people over in here?”

“Just want to be ready,” I said, winking at him. “Well, I’d better, you know,  run along.”

“Maybe you oughta walk,” he said over his shoulder as he pushed his cart toward the snow shovel store in Mallmart..

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Darke County Update #2

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following are probably true]

Took the car to Splash & Dash on Saturday (not my Dakota—that whole truck would probably disappear right down the drain if I ever dared wash it). Drove away feeling wonderful--like I’d had a shower. Might have something to do with the fact that several of the windows weren’t closed all the way.

If there is another town on planet Earth, other than Greenville, that has a Splash & Dash car wash, I surely don’t know what it might be. Never seen one before I moved here. Haven’t seen one anywhere else since. Love it. It’s another advantage to living in Greenville, and you can add it to last week’s list of local cultural attractions: we have the world’s greatest car wash.

But I’m not talking about dirty cars this week. Want to talk about signs. I always figured the whole point of signs was to communicate something—and if I’m not mistaken, the whole point of communicatin' is to communicate. If you get my drift.

Ever seen this sign? 

Now what exactly does it communicate? Says that I need to limit my Dakota to 20 mph during restricted hours (which in principle is no great problem, seeing as how the last time I exceeded 20 in that wonderful truck was when I got out and pushed). But I’m curious. What hours are restricted? Am I supposed to know? Did I miss this lecture during driver’s education? Well, that's probably an unfair question.  My driver’s ed had more to do with whether I was drivin' a two-horse or four-horse team, and the proper way to park at a hitching rail.

Anyway, do those restricted hours change during a two-hour delay? Or during the summer? Or on Saturday?

How about this sign?

When children are present? What does that mean? What if they are a hundred yards away in the playground—does that count as present? Does present mean when they are sitting in the building? Does present include when two kids are strolling down the sidewalk on Sunday afternoon? And if they're not present at that point, what are they? Absent?

Does present mean when the traveling-all-scholastic nerf-ball team is unloading from the buses at midnight after their return from Columbus, where they just won the state championship?

Only good thing about these signs is that I’m thinkin’ so hard, trying to figure out what they mean, that I have to slow down anyway. I can’t think and drive at the same time. Leastwise, that’s what my wife tells me.

Seems like somewhere (else, not Greenville) I remember seeing signs that say, “Speed Limit 20 when lights are flashing.” Now that would probably do the trick. I think even I could figure that one out.

Ever seen this sign north of Walmart?

Speed limit 35? 

Why? Ain’t nothing there but fields!

Now this here is my favorite speed-limit sign. It’s located on northbound Greenville-Celina Road just north of the flashing yellow light.

There’s no sign there!, you object.

Um-hmm. That’s why I like it.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Darke County Update #1

[Editor's note: some portions of the following are probably true.]

Wasn’t from anywhere till I moved here, mostly because I was from everywhere. Moved around a mite. Now I’m from somewhere and have been for fifteen years. Admittedly, it’s a somewhere that’s nowhere as far much of the world is concerned. Greenville is typically a waypoint, not a destination, on most people’s GPS. But Greenville’s fine by me. It’s home.

Fellow was showing me around ‘fore I moved into town. Said there was no place in Greenville more than five minutes from any other place in Greenville. Sounded to me like he was apologizing, but I took it as one of its selling points. I don’t like big. Far as I am concerned, Dayton can stay thirty minutes south. Don’t want it here.

As far as culture goes, we’ve got Memorial Hall, the Darke County Courthouse, a great library, and the finest traffic circle this side of the state line. And where else will you find the birthplace of Lowell Thomas, the shootin’ range of Annie Oakley, and a Maid Rite all in one little town? Okay, Thomas was born in Woodington, but it’s real close. A hair more than five minutes away.

Speaking of Thomas, did you know he moved to Victor, Colorado when he was eight, and spent some time there as a gold miner? And did you also know that the whole mining district around Victor—which includes Cripple Creek—is still producing gold to this day? Been thinking about following in young Lowell’s footsteps. But I digress.

So I was sitting in my trusty Dodge Dakota at the stoplight at Aldi’s. For about two hours. Or so it seemed.
That is the slowest stoplight in Darke County—which is quite a feat, I might add. I was trying to make a left from Shawnee and head north. Decided to turn off the truck to save gas while I was waitin’ on the light, when it finally turned green. Somebody had to wake up the driver behind me. Fell asleep waiting on that light.

Traffic in Greenville is never much of a problem. Might have five cars or so build up at the light at McDonalds during the height of rush hour. More of a problem are the folks who persistently refuse to use the middle turn lane for their left turns, and instead come to a full stop in the traffic lane, waiting for a golden invitation to turn left. Wonder what they think that middle lane is for?

And then there’s Jezebel. That’s what I call the light at Krogers. Always turns red when I approach it, even when there’s no one on the side street. Always turns red. Doesn’t matter time of day or night. Doesn’t stay red long, just long enough to get its two cents in, I suppose.

Greenville is now on the green-energy map. We have acquired three lovely wind turbines. Whirlpool says those turbines are there to power the factory, but I have a different theory. The green folks have never allowed City Hall to control the goose situation at City Park, geese being more important than people after all. So the wise folks at City Hall approved those wind turbines, as long as they were placed in the main goose flyway. Figured that it might cut down on the population a mite. The greens couldn’t hardly argue with wind turbines, them being green energy and all. Kind of placed ‘em in a catch-22. That’s my theory anyway.

One last thing. Heard rumors that when Mr. Brown turned on his Christmas lights this year, the generator on turbine #2 went up in smoke. Don’t know if it’s true, and I reckon they fixed it. My lights still dim, though, when he turns on his display. Gotta love those lights. It’s the only part of Greenville visible from the International Space Station. Kinda puts us on the map. We are definitely somewhere.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Review of Story Craft, by John R. Erickson

Erickson is the author of the popular Hank the Cowdog books, of which I have read none. Yet. Now I want to. I became aware of Story Craft on the pages of World Magazine, and added it to my Christmas wish list, a wish happily fulfilled.

Part One is a fascinating memoir, detailing Erickson’s journey of becoming a writer. He developed a highly disciplined approach to writing daily, stuck with it through over a thousand rejections and some number of (still) unpublished novels, and finally found success submitting stories to magazines. Erickson then decided to self-publish in the days before print-on-demand and Createspace. What I drew from this section of the book is how unlikely it is that I will ever see financial success as an author. Those are just the cold, hard facts of the publishing world. This would have discouraged me—except for Part Two.

“Faith, Culture, and the Craft of Writing” is the title and subject matter of Part Two. This is the best part of the book. Erickson approaches culture, writing, and art from a straightforward, unadorned West Texas philosophical perspective. He examines what makes good art good (beauty, structure, content, justice, and often humor) and anchors his thinking in the Christian worldview. He is decidedly opinionated (and admits it), but I find his opinions decidedly biblical. It was in Part Two that I heard most clearly the call to keep writing, no matter whether I am ever “successful” at getting published. This section of the book contains tremendous encouragement for the Christian artist to be true to the call, the vocation, without getting overly caught up in the reception of his work—or lack thereof. Erickson’s basic message is that if God has gifted you to write, then write.

Erickson offers twenty specific tips on writing in Part Three, some of which you’ve heard before (don’t use too many adverbs, don’t write in the passive voice), some of which are practical (have a skill that will support you), and some of which are a plea for preserving the culture (don’t write anything that will shame your mother).

This is an excellent and encouraging book for aspiring writers. The most valuable part is his philosophy on art and culture expressed in the second section of the book. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of Priceless Jewel, by John Marshall with Marilyn Marshall

There are some things we cannot know apart from experiencing them. Among them is what it is like to be seriously chronically ill, or to be the caregiver of one who is. John and Marilyn Marshall’s book, Priceless Jewel, cracks open the door to give us an inside look at two lives and a marriage in which grievous suffering—for decades—was the order of the day.

In addition to the physical pain, the book explores the spiritual agony of the sufferer wondering why (“Lord, why are you doing this?”), what (“Lord, what do you want me to do in the midst of this?”), how long (“Lord, when will this trial come to an end?”), and the other questions and doubts that plague a faithful believer when encountering pain most of us can’t even imagine. As readers, we get to observe how genuine faith is buttressed by Scripture, loving friends, a faithful church, and competent, caring members of the medical community.

The major sections of the book are organized around Paul’s formula in 1 Corinthians 13:13: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Each chapter contains citations from rich resources such as Streams in the Desert, Amy Carmichael, Puritan writers, and other giants of the faith. The Marshalls’ writing is crisp and engaging. While the book belongs in the genre of personal memoir, it’s truly an excellent theology of suffering set in the real-world story of a two lovers who had to wrestle with the consequences of an increasingly confined and painful life.

Much of the book was taken from Marilyn’s journal. She recorded not just the physical struggles but the deeper spiritual wrestling matches that occurred as she experienced serious physical illness without any certain diagnosis. Her struggles were exacerbated by laymen and sometimes even medical professionals who advised her that it was “all in her head.” By the time the primary diagnosis of lupus was nailed down (after several decades of suffering), she was experiencing a cascade of concomitant diseases and prescription drug reactions. In her journal Marilyn gives full voice to her struggles with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, and the supremacy of faith. John provides us with the viewpoint of a caregiver who must live caught between the demands of employment, care of the house, preparing meals, and the intensity and heartache of ministering to the one he dearly loves even while he watches her gradually crushed in the slow-motion train-wreck of her illnesses.

Amid the severe trials she maintained a steady faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God and was committed to sharing the joy of Christ with everyone who crossed her path. Marilyn was a true missionary, not to souls in some dark rain forest but to white- and blue-gowned professionals in bright, pristine, antiseptic halls. As the book records, Christ touched dozens of lives through her witness.

Thankfully, few of us will experience or even know someone who suffers a situation as extreme as Marilyn Marshall’s. But most of us do know people doing battle with chronic illness, either as victim or caregiver. This book will be both a comfort and a challenge to those who are caught in the grip of God’s severe mercy. Five stars—highly recommended.

[Full disclosure: I am a friend of the author.]

Saturday, October 13, 2018

My Garbage disposal is indisposed

[Editor's Note: The following story is true. Mostly true. Okay, somewhat-but-not-too-greatly embellished. Names have been changed to protect the incompetent.  Any resemblance to someone you know is purely accidental. No garbage disposals were harmed in the following account. Well, not too much, anyway.]

"What is that?" you ask.


No, really, it’s an award-winning photograph looking down the maw of my voracious garbage disposal. Only I haven’t really won any awards with the picture. I keep hoping Better Homes and Gardens will see it.

Anyway, my garbage disposal is indisposed, is no longer voracious, and therefore I am, well, disposing of it. In a moment of inexplicable madness, I decided to do the job myself. I never learn. 

It doesn’t help my confidence when Step #1 tells me to use a qualified installer. Oh well. At least one-twentieth of the instructions are in English—surely this can’t be too hard! I can do this, even if it does have seventy-four steps and a release of legal liability I need to sign. No sweat.  

I convince myself that the hardest part of the task will be getting to the disposal. The valuable contents under my kitchen sink would probably fill two Mayflower moving vans. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little—the contents aren’t really that valuable.

Anyway, I am psyching myself up for this job. I want to see how long it takes me, so I’m setting the calendar app on my phone to time myself. Not sure whether I should choose the “week” display or the “month” display. I’m optimistic, so I’ll choose “week.” Ready, set GO!

Oh, brother. The first problem is Mandy. As I’m trying to unload the contents under the sink into a spare 40’ shipping container on the driveway, Mandy wants to explore. Under the sink. Go away, cat!

I removed enough glass vases to stock a flower shop well into the 22nd century. Some of those vases were big enough to plant a large sapling in. If you need any glass vases, give me a call. I’ll pay you to take ‘em.

There were enough cleaning supplies under there to sanitize Love Canal. Oh, wait, most of you probably aren’t old enough to get that reference. Never mind.

When I finally wheeled away the stuff that was stored under my sink I had enough room to chase down the little troll that lives under there. I boxed his ears and told him to go live in the basement drain. 

Wait, sorry, overactive imagination. There is no troll under my sink. But there are probably a few orcs under there. . . .

As I get deeper into this complex job, the number of tools on the jobsite grows. I later discovered that I didn't need the shovel. But I have a feeling I might need the crowbar. For . . . something.

See this little guy right here. He’s crucial for the job. He’s also a little life-threatening, especially if you happen to be a certified jack-leg (which I am). You see, there’s this little collar that holds your disposal up to the bottom of the sink. The little funny-shaped wrench is what you use to turn the collar and release the disposal.

I figured that after sitting there disposing of garbage since the 1960’s, that little collar would be frozen solid. So I wormed around, contorting my 6’2” frame into a space designed for one of the Seven Dwarfs, put that wrench on that collar and applied some real potatoes to it (you know, like enough to open a file drawer). That baby's got to be frozen solid.

Nope. That ol' garbage disposal came down like a satellite reentering the earth’s atmosphere. I wasn't ready for it. It crashed into the (rotten) cabinet floor and I was sure it would keep going all the way into the basement, and crush the poor troll (who by this time, had wisely relocated to where he thought he would be out of harm’s way). (Guess again, sucker!)

Anyway, glad it didn't hit me on the way down. Whew! After playing dodge-ball with the old disposal, I discovered this in the new disposal's box. Wish I'd seen it earlier.

Finally, got the flotsam and jetsam cleaned up. Discovered a significant fact in cleanup: did you know that when you’ve disconnected all the plumbing under your double sink, and then run some water to assist with cleanup, that water doesn’t go where you think it’s gonna go—even if you run it into the side that didn’t have the indisposed disposal?

After cleaning up the mess and having survived heavy fallen objects and other artifacts of ineptitude, I am finally ready to install the new disposal.  I look at my timer. Good! The calendar page hasn’t flipped yet! We're still in the same week! After shooing Mandy off the instructions I dive in. Hmm. I wonder what plumber’s putty is?

Finally get most all the pieces parts in their proper place (I am ignoring the ones remaining—obviously the manufacturer must have shipped spares). It is now time for the big moment. Somehow I need to lift this ninety-pound disposal with only one hand while laying on my back and using the other hand to guide it into place, while I use my OTHER hand to tighten the little ringy thing that keeps the whole assembly from falling on me (like a satellite reentering—you remember). This is the other place where that funny little wrench comes into play.

Wait. I’ve just got two hands, and neither (nor both together) can lift this boat anchor into place whilst on my back.

Houston, we have a problem.

This requires some thought.

The final solution (disturbing phrase, that) was to wedge myself under the cabinet with the disposal resting on my knee (glad I’ve been running—plenty of strength there), and leverage it up with my knee while my two hands guide the beast into place and turn that bloomin' collar, desperately trying to prevent the monster from duplicating the reentry descent of the old one.

It worked. Whew. The disposal is secure.

Now for the electrical. This I can do, no problem, as soon as I figure out why some wires are white and the others black. Do opposites attract? Or is it birds of a feather? Oh whatever! Just hook ‘em up and worry about color later . . .  

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, interspersed with multiple trips to Lowes, a few calls to my psychiatrist, and totally redoing the plumbing under the sink, I finish the task. Probably not in record time, though. Doesn't matter. My disposal disposes. That's what counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Finally figured it out

Yes. This. This is who I am. This is what I do.

Art of any lasting value honestly explores the profound enigma of the human condition and the questions that influence our lives and our destinies. This is the type of writing that honest authors strive to produce.
Rage against mediocrity.
Imbue your fiction with truth.
We are artists. We are writers—slightly neurotic and probably addicted to coffee, late nights, sunsets, laughter, tears, and heartache. Creativity is our drug. We lose ourselves in the smell of old books. We’re bewildered by how we can live in a world this full of glory and grief and not be awestruck by every moment. And we write stories to help wake people up before they fall asleep for good.

[Steven James, Story Trumps Structure, p 244]

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Discovering a fresh loss

When a loved one dies, it isn’t possible to immediately assess all that has been lost. Sometimes it takes years to realize all that I am missing when someone close passes away.

If that person is a Christian, you know you haven’t lost them—they’ve just been promoted to God’s presence, where one day you too will be if you know Christ as Savior. You’ve not lost them but you no longer have access to them, and all that they were and all that they did and all that they meant is has been pulled away from you and carried off. Relocated. Out of sight. For a time.

Certainly they left a blessed legacy, but they themselves are gone.

You can’t sit down and have a cup of coffee with a legacy. You can’t hug a legacy, or shake hands with a memory. The loss is real.

I discovered a fresh loss yesterday. Tom Perry was (is!) my brother-in-law. He was (is!) the husband of my wife’s identical twin, Diane. Tom went to be with Jesus on June 21st of this year. It was unexpected—a shock.

Yesterday I sent out the first two chapters of my next book to my beta-readers. Tom was one of my beta-readers. He would read with a very positive, yet critical eye. Although he could pick out a typo readily, Tom wasn’t into grammar and syntax. He could spot stuff that didn’t belong. A character acting out of character. A plot point that stretched credibility.

And he could provide positive suggestions, nuances or scenes I hadn’t thought of. And he was always very encouraging. A great beta-reader. A great friend and brother-in-law.

I discovered a fresh loss yesterday. Yes, it is a selfish thing, my loss. Trivial in the overall scheme of things. Perhaps. But a loss, nonetheless.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Crunch-Munch Experience!

So, the doorbell rings while I'm unloading the dishwasher. [Yes, I actually do know how to do that. And I can load it back up, too!] I open the door to find Mailman Rich walking back down my driveway, and a big box from Amazon on my doorstep, along with some mail.

[If your mail is like mine, the vast majority is junk. Please note that's not Rich's fault.]

[As a side note: were you aware that a land mass approximately the size of California is clear cut every day to produce those all-important privacy notices, credit-card solicitations, and political advertisements?]

[Okay, I just made that statistic up. Don't quote me or I'll send you a privacy notice. But back to the point . . .]

So, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a big box from Amazon. "Doris, did you order anything from Amazon? No? Neither did I. What's this?"

"Open it," she says. So I did. And oh, my, my my!

Someone saw my Facebook post about having exhausted my Crunch Munch supply--some wonderful, merciful, generous person. [And I really don't know who!]

[Honest, I didn't order it for myself!]

Here's the best part: it came with strict instructions printed on the case. Instructions I intend to fully comply with:

 Inside the carton was this wonderful sight:

Twelve boxes! Let's see, if my calculations are correct, in order to fully comply with the strict instructions, I'll be needing to eat a box a week in order to finish them by December 1.


But how do you know they're not for Doris?, you ask.  Ha! Easy answer. My name was on the shipping label. But I will share. Thankfully, she's not quite the fan I am. [Oops. Did I really say that?]

This wonderful gift might require me to start running a little more faithfully each week, lest I begin wearing the stuff around my waist.

To my unknown benefactor: many, many thanks! This is going to fuel many late nights writing Outlander Chronicles: Icarus! [With coffee, of course.]

[Hmm. Wonder if I can work Crunch Munch into the story?]

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: Zach Eswine's Spurgeon's Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

This is cherry-picking Spurgeon at his very best!

The term “cherry-picking” is often used pejoratively—I don’t use it that way here. Zach Eswine has mined Spurgeon’s sermons with the sort of care for detail a private investigator might employ in evaluating a target’s email. Spurgeon was both a sufferer of depression as well as a comforter of the depressed: he knows well of what he speaks. As Eswine demonstrates, the nineteenth-century “prince of preachers” provided a treasure-trove of wisdom regarding depression.

Like Spurgeon’s own experience of depression, Eswine’s book is for two audiences: counselors and the depressed, as is made clear from its organization. Part One has to do with understanding the dark pit of depression. Sufferers will find that they are reading an author who understands their despair. Eswine’s use of metaphor and his commentary on the Scripture’s use of metaphor turns his writing into a thing of sensitive beauty, although counselors might itch for him to get from description to prescription (an impatience the author warns us about).

Part Two, “Learning How to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression,” contains almost as many cautions for those seeking to help the depressed as it does positive directions for soul care. Chapter 7, “Helps that Harm” illustrates things not to do when caring for the depressed.

Eswine provides good advice for weary souls who find themselves in the black night of despair in Part Three: “Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.” In his chapter “Natural Helps” the author makes a case for the judicious use of medicine, as well as other remedies such as laughter and times of rest. His chapter on suicide is gentle but firm.

This is an eminently usable volume: it is accessible to the average reader, it is full of excellent advice, heavily footnoted for those who wish to do extra study, and it’s brief (only 143 pages). It’s the sort of thing you can give a counselee or read yourself as a counselor. Eswine has done the world of Biblical Counseling a favor with this book; I recommend it highly. Five stars.