Monday, February 23, 2015

Police warn the suspect is armed & dangerous & dressed all in white. (#PoetryMonday*)

A random brown leaf feigning sentience
skips mockingly alongside as
I shovel laboriously
and then blows on.

Snow was once a plaything.
Now it's a potential murder weapon.

The white flakes were welcomed
as they transformed the
green and muddied earth into
a giant white tabula rasa.

Mused by Dylan Thomas I recall snow that
“was not only shaken from white wash buckets
down the sky,
it came shawling out of the ground
and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands
and bodies of the trees;
snow grew overnight....”

Imagination made it an alien landscape.
A white planet of sweet dread and possibility.
A delightful drifting dessert.

We burrowed like arctic ferrets,
our stocking caps poking up like cherries
topping glistening yards of sweet cream icing,
marked by magical paths, random designs,
outlines of games and constellations,
secret caves carved by snow gnomes.

When it was packable we built forts,
then fought white hot holy wars
fraught with glee. Joy our aim
as boredom was vanquished.

In winter, white was the color of fun,
the sign of schools closed and minds afire,
the sure bet that Christmas
and Jack Frost birthdays
would be wishes abundantly fulfilled.
There would be sleds!

We stayed out playing, freezing, turning
as blue as the sky when the clouds
parted briefly, then the stars shone signaling
the end of malleable snow as evening cooled
everything to a hard crust.

We went in and thawed, dreaming of tomorrow.
Hoping for more snow. Caring not a whit for
bird-chirped spring or soft-boiled summer.


we wake,

check our phones before
even peeking out windows.

Snow is Death’s emissary, Death’s
soft stealth tool.

A multi-effectual snare. A trap without teeth.

We could slip, fall, become stuck in its soft
quicksand grip and die, sucked into the frozen
tundra, becoming a human popsicle,
literally licked by Death.

Or, shoveling an escape path, dreaming of flights
to warmer climes, succumb to a snow
stress induced heart attack in a fit
of cabin fever. Oh! Angina!

Found later in our driveway, clutching our chest,
dressed in Bermuda shorts and a poofy down parka,
the police and neighbors look on, shaking their heads
knowingly, mumbling under their visible breath,
“It could’ve been any one of us. There’s just been
so much snow this year. Just so much.
Only so much.”

Instead, my foot finds ice, my ankle twists, I fall
folded but unbruised, rise again, alive in pain,
crippled, star eyed and teared.

The wind carries Death’s mocking chuckles
rattling the curled dead leaves
dangling in the frozen trees,
a rustling knell.

Later, limping up the walk, I stop, turn with my back
to the white covered lawn,
fall backwards,
imagining it in slow motion but moving dizzyingly quick,
arms outstretched,
sticking out my tongue, mocking Death,
whispering “Neener! Neener!”
inches of frozen fluff embracing me gently,
more or less,
I fan my splayed limbs lying on the cold ground,
then rise again, slowly, with effort and hard breathing,
but unharmed,
leaving behind an impression
of an angel taking flight in the snow.

Take that cold Death!
Not yet!
             Not yet,
I supplicate.

Or, so I imagine as
I take up my shovel,
and walk, lame, into the warm
beckoning house.

Death waits outside. Shivering.
Skulking. Shrouded in white.
Fearing spring’s melting approach
but eyeing the promise
of summer beaches and
the possibilities of undertow.

For now, he scythes over fields of snow,
an icy garden mottled with a smattering of
leftover shriveled leaves.

I sit inside, ignoring what’s out,
eating my dinner mockingly,
blowing my soup cool.

  * It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

  This one is long but I kind of like it. How about you? How are you doing during this very cold winter? Does this poem capture some of your feelings about the season? Let me know what you
’re thinking in the comments!

This poem is included in this collection:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

10 rules for saving face & avoiding a Facebook faux pas

(Originally posted May 4, 2011;
reposted here with minor edits
& some updates)

I was initially reluctant to get on Facebook, but now am an avid (although sometimes aggravated) user. I try to be thoughtful in what I post and how I comment on others’ posts. I wish everyone would be as thoughtful and careful.

Among my pet peeves – and I have many – are the ways some people, in my opinion, abuse Facebook. So here are a few rules I’d like to suggest.

1. Keep your comment(s) related to the post to which it is attached. If you want to address an unrelated topic with the poster, message them via their inbox or chat. And if you want to communicate with someone who has commented, do it on their page or inbox them.

2. Make your comment short and to the point. Use your own Notes to share treatises, diatribes, and expound on your soap-box issues. In many cases, it’s best to just keep your quirky ideas to yourself.

3. Avoid daisy-chaining your comments. This is related to #2. If you can’t express yourself within the limitations of one comment box, then just be quiet. No one wants to read a book on Facebook.
Caveat to #2 & #3. Sometimes a longer comment may be called for, but this should be the exception. First, craft your response using Word. This will help you avoid spelling errors. Second, edit and rewrite it down as much as possible. Third, copy and paste it into the appropriate comment box.It’s hard enough to write a short comment directly in the comment box, long ones are impossible!  Fourth, check it one more time before making the post live.
Tip: Use two keys to create paragraph breaks! Use Shift+Enter to create a paragraph within a comment without posting it. Using only Enter posts the comment.

4. Match the tone of your comment to the tone of the Post. If the post is humorous, keep your comment light. If the posting is serious, don’t crack wise in your comment. If you’re not sure if the post is humorous or serious, then don’t comment.

5. Don’t start a fight in public on their page. If you thoroughly disagree with what someone has posted, be very careful how you respond. Don’t be insulting or abusive. Perhaps the best response is to hide that specific post so it doesn’t show up in your feed, and then inbox the person if you really need to get something off your chest. But be careful with your inbox message, too.

6. Eliminate foul language! Keep in mind that your posts can be read by a variety of people, young and old, who may be offended by foul, gutter language. Current or potential employers can find your posts. Do not use foul or abusive language on Facebook, in blogs, or anywhere else on the Internet. It will come back to haunt you. And it really isn’t cute or clever at all.

7. Avoid mixing drinking and commenting! Don’t, under any circumstances, comment when you’re not sober. Just as it’s dangerous to drive when you’re drunk, it’s just as dangerous to your reputation and character to post stupid rants on Facebook while drunk. It’s even more tragic if you’re angry and drunk. Just turn off the computer and watch TV or go to bed.
Tip: You can edit most of your posts and comments. On posts, look for the little down arrow (v) located on the top right. Click it to reveal the menu. On comments, hover your mouse over the comment and look for the pencil icon that will appear on the right side. Click it to reveal the menu.

8. Be civil. Yes, this is a free country, you are entitled to your opinions, and political correctness can be maddening. Still, as it always has been, civility is the better way to go. Avoid being intentionally insulting to people and their beliefs. There really is no need and it just makes you come across like a jerk.

9. Don’t post angry. Step away from the computer and take a breath. Just as when we're confronted with a heated situation face-to-face, take some time to cool down and rethink the situation before commenting. If you’ve posted something in anger and realize later that you have offended or crossed a line, you can delete the post. But, you can’t make those who have read it forget it. The best response is sometimes no response.

10. Before commenting on a shared link, read the linked item! If someone posts an article, read the article before you like it or comment to ensure you really do like it and that your comment is relevant and appropriate.
These are just a few rules. I could probably come up with more.

Such as, if you’re going to be on Facebook, learn how to use Facebook.  There are plenty of useful tips right within Facebook in the Help section.

In fact, you can search right from the search box at the top of the page and find answers to just about any question you have about how to use Facebook.

There are also a variety of good books that explain all the ins and outs of Facebook in simple, clear terms. Get one and keep it next to your computer.

Oh, and be sure to use good grammar.

And of course, check your spelling.

Okay, maybe I should stop now.

Just remember, above all, be civil.

Relevant link:

What are your Facebook or general social media pet peeves? Have you ever embarrassed yourself on social media? Do you hate or love social media? What are some tips you can offer for behaving on social media? Share (nicely) in the comments!

Monday, February 16, 2015

God shed his grace (#PoetryMonday*)

On this Presidents Day,
we look to our founding fathers,
builders of our nation,
paragons of the Republic,
dispensers of freedom and dreams,
to provide historic doorbuster deals
for the essentials of American life,
computers, cars, and flat screen TVs.
Of thee we sing.

  * It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

  When I was a kid, we celebrated Lincoln's birthday and Washington's birthday separately. While their images were used to promote sales we still held a sense of respect for who they were and what they did. Now? It seems all that has been lost. What do you think? How do you view or celebrate Presidents Day?

Here is a link for more information on the day and former presidents:

This poem is included in this collection:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Brief Review: The flaws that bind, or, Looking for love in all the messy places

In 2003, Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz was published and slowly crept up to bestseller status over the next few years. Blue was different from most Christian books at the time, employing a shoot-straight-from-the-hip style with a slightly irreverent and a tad snarky tone.

It was hip, funny, insightful, and a good read. I liked it.

Miller let fly a couple more books before his next notable release in 2009 with the odd title, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. The tone of this one was more staid and how-to and I didn’t enjoy it as much.

Frankly, as a writer, I’d be content to produce one well-selling book that was well received. But publishers aren’t content with that idea. They tend to insist writers produce additional titles, especially when one does well.

It took a tad over five years, but Miller’s new one is titled Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. I like it better than A Million Miles, but not as much as Blue, which is not to say that it’s a bad book. Just different.

Writers write about what they know and what they know is essentially what they are experiencing. Miller was in a developing relationship that culminated in marriage. Aha! Material for a book!

I’ve got a feeling that women are going to like this new book a lot more than men and a lot of men are going to get copies as gifts on Valentine’s Day and beyond. That could be a good thing if the guys read the book. I think the primary audience are those who are under 40, in a relationship or want to be, and especially if you’re planning to get married.

The book is about relationships and centers heavily on Miller’s romance with his now wife, Betsy. In fact, at times, it feels a little voyeurish, like peeking in a window watching a couple dance. But then, that’s the aim of the book.

Frankly, it seems that anyone who gets close to Miller ends up in the book. Be warned!

The tone is very conversational. Miller is an excellent writer. I’ve seen comments from others who read the book in a single sitting. Not me.

The book felt a little cloying at times and I could only take it in small bites. Again, I’m not saying it’s a bad book. It’s just that it’s not a book for everyone, and some books connect with us because of where we are in our own lives at the time we read them.

As a kid, I read and fell in love with Henry Gregor Felsen’s books, Crash Club and Hot Rod. I picked one up again recently and read only little before I had to stop. The writing was crisp but dated. They’re still good books, just not for me right now.

That’s kind of how I feel about Scary Close. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, especially Miller’s most ardent fans. And maybe even my wife if she chooses to read the book. That’s cool.

Even Miller admitted some of what he had to say was a bit much even for him: “[W]riting this book is difficult for me, not because it’s a particularly hard book to write, but because I get tired of talking about my feelings all the time.”

See what I mean about the women liking this one more than the guys? You know what I’m saying.

In his poem “Searching”, Billy Collins reveals,
I recall someone once admitting
that all he remembered of Anna Karenina
was something about a picnic basket,

and now, after consuming a book
devoted to the subject of Barcelona--
its people, its history, its complex architecture--

all I remember is the mention
of an albino gorilla, the inhabitant of a park
where the Citadel of the Bourbons once stood.
For me, the more memorable parts of Miller’s new book -- my albino gorilla if you will -- were those places where he talks about being a writer. Like, “The downside of being a writer is you get plenty of time to overthink your life.” Although I’m not sure that’s possible.

The section where he acknowledges that his writing had become “too careful” and thus yielding the more business-like tone of A Million Miles, also resonated. I like the kind of manifesto he developed to help him free up the writing in his books and on his blogs:
I am willing to sound dumb.
I am willing to be wrong.
I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool.
I am willing to express a theory.
I am willing to admit I’m afraid.
I’m willing to contradict something I’ve said before.
I’m willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one.
I’m willing to apologize.
I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human.
These are excellent challenges for any writer to keep in mind.

This is not a how-to book. You will not find anything remotely close to “10 Easy Steps To Better Loving.” But, you will find good tips and lived-out examples that may contribute to improving your relationships.

Overall, Scary Close is a good story about growing close through giving and receiving grace in an often graceless world.

As Miller states, “We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”

I wouldn’t recommend this book for a small group study, except perhaps a very small group of two, if you follow me. Again, there will be those who disagree. So be it.

But I do recommend Scary Close for those who enjoy a good casual read on a cold winter’s night, and want to better understand how our flaws and grace can work together to bring us closer to the ones we love.

That’s worth the price of any book.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Agree? Disagree? How many of Miller’s books have you read? What are you favorites? Least favorite? Are you a fan ofDonald Miller? Are there books on relationships you would recommend to others? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My life is becoming a basket case

(Originally posted October 27, 2011;
reposted here with minor edits)

Something’s happening here. What it is involves numerous containers made from woven plant fibers.

These are called baskets, and they have proliferated in nearly every room of the house.

It started innocently enough. A pile of semi-related stuff would form and, voila, suddenly there it was all gathered up tidily together in a basket. Lovely.

While for some the mantra of the day is, “There’s an app for that!” My wife’s is, “I’ve got just the basket for that!”

These woven containers are on shelves, on the floor, and even hang on the wall. Some are heart shaped. Most are rounds, oblongs, or rectangles. And they are of multiple sizes.

They hold cards, food, trash, clothing, and more.

Items I kept on a nightstand near the bed are now neatly tucked away in a small heart-shaped basket. A reedy reminder of my wife’s love.

On one side of the bathroom sink is a manly metal basket with my items in it, and on the other side is a larger, natural and more pretty basket with her stuff.

We have baskets that act as trash cans and one that is a clothes hamper. Although, for some reason, larger woven containers, while they look just like big baskets, are usually referred to as wicker. This is a code I don’t understand. A basket by any other name is wicker? Whatever.

I’m really not too opposed to all these baskets being woven into the fabric of our life.

The organization they offer appeals to my own sense of orderliness; a place for everything and everything in its place.

I think I inherited my own bent toward tidiness and order from my German parents. Oh, wait, my parents weren’t German. Guess it’s just my slight case of OCD. Although my dad did rigorously maintain a very neat pegboard of tools that I was only too happy to rearrange, usually by not putting them back where he had had them.

God forbid that any of my tools end up in a basket! That would be a basket too far.

Otherwise, I’m okay with the basketizing of our home. I have to admit, though, there are a couple that have no clear purpose as far as I can tell. But I do know better than to try to move them.

As a kid, I remember my mom having a sewing basket – I think – and maybe a couple more.  She did have these plastic boxes with lots of little plastic drawers she kept her sewing stuff in. Dad favored empty coffee cans.

But baskets are good things.

They’ve played important roles in biblical history. Moses was set sailing on the Nile in a basket. The crippled man was lowered through a roof to be placed before Jesus for healing. Twelve baskets were used to collect left over bread after thousands were fed from only a couple of loaves. And Paul’s life was saved through his being lowered out a window in a basket.

So I cannot begrudge baskets in my home. They do fit into the “green” lifestyle trend making us cutting edge in that regard.

There are many baskets-in-waiting in the basement that I know will eventually make their way upstairs. They’re stacked down there like little viney aliens. And I swear they’re reproducing.

My wife reminds me that you can never have too many baskets. I can't complain. I say the same thing about books.

She’s been talking about how we need to make plans for our deaths. I wonder if they have a basket for that? It does rhyme. But I’ll need one bigger than a handbasket because I’m not going there, if you know what I mean.

What kinds of containers for item collection and organization dot your house? What are your preferences? And can anyone tell my what I meant by that near the end sentence “It does ryhme”? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!