Tag Archives: prose

On birthdays, memories, and top 5 lists

This past week I celebrated another birthday.  It was a milestone, being number 55. This year events coincided that made the day just a day.   My wife recently had back surgery and is recovering at home (doing well, but still has pain).  My eldest son is busy with work projects and a new baby.  My youngest son lives elsewhere and had to work (though he did call and we had a great conversation).  Good friends had other family obligations or were traveling.  I worked all day.  In fact, this is one memory of my birthday that will go down as being one of the most unremarkable.  For that alone, I will probably always remember it.

I will count the small kindnesses/gestures along the way:  The balloons shared by coworkers who recently turned 55 this month and like to tease each other about who is older.  We now have a special club – and I will always get used balloons because of it.  The blueberry pie made for me by a family friend who was looking in on my wife as she recuperates.  The phone call from my youngest son to wish me a happy birthday. The adorable phone call from my parents singing “happy birthday” in different keys.  Note:  My parents are career musicians and are never off-key.  Greetings shared on social media (FB) from friends and family – far and wide- hoping that I had the greatest day – the best day.   Yet, it was just a day, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.

I reflected on past birthdays  and wondered what made a day the best day – the greatest day.  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I did dredge up some good memories of birthdays.

  1.  On my eleventh birthday, I received my first vinyl album as a gift from my parents.  It was Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles.  I had recently been introduced to their non-mop-top music by a school friend, and was immediately smitten with the lyrical genius of John Lennon on I am the Walrus.  It would be the first of many vinyl albums I would receive on my birthdays/Christmases.
  2.  On my 13th birthday, I had a sleepover party with 8 friends. I think this was my first and only sleepover birthday party. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers, played badminton, wiffle-ball and touch football, then roamed around the neighborhood after dark – playing  ghost in the graveyard.
  3. On my 27th birthday, I received my PhD.
  4. For my 40th birthday,  my wife purchased third base line tickets to a AAA baseball game in our city.  We went with some dear friends (one each of our children share a birthday) we had recently reconnected with.
  5.  On my 50th birthday, I was traveling in Germany with my eldest son and my father.  We were in Nuremburg on that day and visited Coburg Castle.  Facebook likes to remind me of that day every year and I smile.

There are memories of other birthdays,  but all the things that make days special are there in that list: meaningful gifts and gestures, landmark events, good food and fellowship, and exciting adventures in new places.

They are still just days – though,  and I hope you have a great one.




Dispatching the Doldrums

It is time to clear the cobwebs and write about anything.  Blog writing for me is  a way for me to exercise my creative skills and (bravely) share what I’m writing.  Every now and again, I like to share what I’m thinking/doing/reading/listening to/watching.


A week ago, I just finished watching Band of Brothers on Amazon, which was based on the book of similar name by Stephen E. Ambrose.   I  know I’m a little behind ( it first aired on HBO in 2001).  But, I didn’t subscribe to HBO then, and never invested in DVDs of the miniseries.  Wow.  An incredibly well-done set of vignettes from the history of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during WWII in Europe.  It was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – it has much the same feel as Saving Private Ryan.  Each episode centers around a different event and focuses on a different character’s perspective.  My favorite episode involved the Battle of Bastogne, and told the story from the perspective of Doc Roe, the company’s medic.  He displayed courage and a singular ability to keep going in bone chilling cold under relentless bombardment, while keeping the men is his company in fighting shape and providing care to the wounded.  The scenes are graphic and the emotion is raw.  The miniseries drives home the point, that in war- there is no rest.  Even when you think you may get a weekend leave, something happens to call the company back into the fray.  After battles, you move on to the next line.


I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader and one who is prone to start multiple books to find one that captures my interest.  Right now, I think have five books in various stages of reading.  Most recently, I started reading Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant. It is a true tale, a collection of tales actually, of a British travel writer (Grant) and his girlfriend after they decide to buy an old plantation home in heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Stories of Southern tradition, along with the tenuous combination of gentility, race and class, are told without judgement – but with a keen perception of the relationships involved.  This book is a great look into this forgotten region of the country.  Truth be told – I am related to people who grew up in this area of Mississippi, and am very familiar with the themes of this book.  The Delta is a both a wasteland and a land of riches.


I have eclectic music tastes.  I will listen to almost any genre, depending on my mood and as long as it is well done.  In recent years, I have become interested in Americana/folk styles.  I like the realness of it and how it can impact you emotionally.  With that in mind, I want to recommend music by a friend.  I met Mark Currey in high school, when we both attended a Gifted/Talented Summer Camp.  We were in the choral program, and were introduced to many different genres of music in the program.  We were encouraged to be creative in our free time, and it was obvious that Mark was a songwriter even then. I wrote in my journal in my free time- ain’t life funny.  We weren’t best friends, but we got along well. After that summer, we parted ways (like most everyone does), only to reconnect many years later via FaceBook.  I found out he had recorded an album, his first, in 2017.  The classic story of the Late Bloomer – I can relate.  His record, Tarrant County, is part Country, part Americana – and I encourage you to give it a listen. Mark has a very warm vocal style (he’s a tenor), and his lyrics are real storytelling.  You can download it at the either of the links above, or you can find it on streaming services.   There are some really nice musical moments, some thought provoking lyrics, but never overdone.  You might find something you like.

Thanks for reading.





The Garden

I don’t normally write prose, much less attempt stories. But, some weeks ago I had an inspiration to write this one down. I don’t know if you call it a short story or flash fiction. Perhaps someone can help me define it. I wondered what to do with it, and finally just decided to post it here. I hope you enjoy the story. It was fun to write, and one of the easiest things I’ve written in some time.


Edward stood in the center of a plaza, unsure of how he got there. People were quickly moving to his left and right, and music blared from a nearby loudspeaker. He could smell cooking onions and garlic. Looking around, he noticed a number of tents and kiosks; all of them were dedicated to a different food presentation. He began to listen intently to the voices around him, mostly talking in low murmurs. Conversations about the spiciness of the curry chicken, a woman needed to return home to let out her dog, two men discussing the results of a basketball tournament.

Edward immersed his senses in the scene and slowly stepped ahead. Two steps into his stroll, a woman’s voice interrupted the music –
“Edward, I want to turn about and walk twenty paces to the path at the edge of the square.”

He looked around, immediately noticing that no one else in the crowded plaza appeared to hear the voice. Edward looked up at the sky.

“Twenty paces,” the woman repeated.

He stepped off the twenty paces, counting to himself. Finding himself at the edge of the plaza, there was a pathway that led into a courtyard. Past the courtyard was a glass building. People were still milling about the plaza, but none seemed to notice him pass by.

He turned to a man wearing a blue cap and asked him about the building just beyond the courtyard. The man smiled and then walked past to greet a woman and child moving towards them. The man hadn’t heard, or even seen Edward there.
Suddenly, everything went dark. Edward blinked his eyes and when he opened them, he was lying on a table. He focused on the ceiling above him. He thought about moving, but remembered that he could not. The same woman’s voice spoke again -but not to him.

“That was a good proof of concept. Tomorrow, we’ll need to insert him into a interactive simulation. Something that will offer choices for him to make. Have the scenario outline on my desk before the end of the day.”

“Yes, Doctor Woodrow,” came the reply.

Edward listened as others moved around him. No one spoke directly to him. There were sounds of activity and electronic beeps. A few minutes passed, then his gurney moved on its own, out of the room. Gliding along some rail system, Edward moved through quiet, well-lit hallways and finally ended his journey under a clear plastic dome.

The music started, first quietly in his mind, then it washed over his entire body. Edward did what he had always done – at least all he remembered- he fell asleep.

Dr. Eve Woodrow walked quickly to her office from the study suite. In her mind, she was going over the details from the last session. The subject had already shown great independence in the simulation scenario, as if there was already a familiarity with the power of the mind. This likely meant that they would have to accelerate the testing to phase II, which would involve interaction and influence through more direct means within the simulation.

She opened the door to her office and removed her headset.
Someone with that kind of psychic awareness is rare. The pre-study team recognized this ability in the test subject, but had no indication that he possessed such comfort -and skill- in the use of mental projection.
She sat at her desk, then quickly turned to pull her study notebook from stack of books on the credenza behind her. The printer beside her whirred to life. Opening her notes, she skipped to the next available page, and began entering her observations from the morning session.

…The subject was highly engaged in the marketplace scenario. He was most interested in questioning presented avatars about the location and their presence there. The boundaries of the scenario were not sufficient to contain his conscious presence, as he quickly noticed and probed the edge of the marketplace framework.

The printer beeped. She glanced over and noticed a sheet in the output bin. She was expecting notes from the laboratory team, and reached over to grab the sheet. Finishing her thoughts in the notebook, Eve looked at the printer output page.

It contained only two words. The Garden.

Eve looked at both sides of the sheet of paper, confused over the words “The Garden”, but nothing else on the page. She switched off the printer, then powered it up again. Turning her attention to other files on her desk, she examined the project milestones summary. The funding for phase II was contingent on a successful demonstration to the Sponsor and they were due to visit next week.

The printer whirred again, then spit out another batch of papers. The papers consisted of the familiar cover page of the Wilkes Institute and the scenario criteria she had requested from the study team. She skimmed over each page, then stopped on the last page.

Printed in the center of the page was a request. I want to see the garden.

The music started softly – barely perceptible at first. Edward could sense it, but couldn’t hear it yet. Then it progressed in volume until he could hear rhythmic pulse of different tones, moving in scales or intervals – sometimes chordal structures.

The music had a soothing effect. He supposed that’s why they used it. It did relax his mind, but he didn’t always allow it to overwhelm him. Sometimes, like now, he watched the melody move. The gaps in the tonal phrase- the rests and pauses -were openings. The notes’ sounds were somehow bent, but smooth and level . He could almost “walk” on them like pave stones.

He learned some time ago that if he wedged his thoughts into the gaps between notes of the melody he could move with the sound. Better yet, he found that he could travel upstream of the sound. And in doing so, his mind traveled into places that no one dreamed of visiting. He became part of the infrastructure delivering the music: the wiring, the junctions, anything connected.
Edward’s body lay there immobile, almost lifeless, yet his mind was over twenty yards away in the circuitry of the facility sound system. He could feel himself smile.

Traveling into the realm of sound and light was exhilarating. Exploring was all he had at the moment. He had been part of this study for several years, since the accident that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. He had once been on staff at the Institute in the laboratory maintenance department. His “gift” was largely unknown. He listened to music all the time, and constantly had headphones or earbuds with him to tune out interferences. He lost himself in music, but that was all contained within himself. This was different. He must have always had this ability, but never exerted it in this way.

The different scenarios that the team had presented taught him something different about his ability. In his downtime, his exploration of the building infrastructure was also educational. He learned where the relays were. He found the power grid. He discovered the communications portals, the phones, the computers, the printers.

The printers.

He sought a specific junction and wedged his weight into the signal. In his mind he said it, and it must have been spoken. Two words:
The Garden.

In his subconscious mind, Edward must have known why he said those two words, but his logical thought process questioned it immediately. His memory of the previous afternoon’s scenario certainly was still fresh, but he could have said anything. He recalled his vision of the garden adjacent to the square that he explored. It appeared to be endless. The programmers had obviously made it look endless, as the visual would make the world of his scenario more realistic. The depth of the graphic was ingrained in his mind.

He spoke again.
I want to see the garden.

Eve sat in her chair, confounded by the page in front of her.
This was not a printer malfunction. The statement – the demand- was a clear concise sentence. Further, it was plain to her where it had originated.
Edward Adams, test subject number 11014.

She opened her computer log-in, and typed her credentials. After a few short moments, she was in the Institute’s Resource Inventory Program. She did a search of test subject names, and found it. She opened his file folder, selected all content and clicked print.

After a few moments, she gathered the pages into a folder, logged out, and was about to stand and leave, when Dr. Terry Eamon walked in.
Dr Eamon was the director of operations for Eve’s division at the Research Facility.

“I understand today’s scenario was cut short,” he said.

“Yes,” she replied, “The test subject began probing the boundaries of the simulation. I didn’t think any more observation was necessary, so I concluded the work and asked the team simulators to develop a new scenario for tomorrow.”
“Please remember that we need to have a suitable progress report to share with the Sponsor by the end of this week. That includes a demonstration of the test subject’s interaction with a scenario.”

“The report will be on your desk by Wednesday afternoon.” Eve was totally preoccupied with her previous thoughts. “Now if you’ll excuse…”

“I don’t need to remind you of the importance of this project. Our board is watching this very carefully, and its success could mean the creation of a new area of research for us. The Sponsor is very keen on this one as well. They are ready to drop five years worth of funding on us if we prove the concept.”

“No, you don’t need to remind me Terry. I’m certainly aware of this project’s high profile. Now, I need to discuss tomorrow’s scenario with the project team. Can we continue this later?”

Without waiting for the reply, she grabbed her file folders, a pen, and walked to the door. Eamon followed her, continuing his programmatic excellence sermon. She was not listening.

Further down the hall, she split off to the study suites.

Eve quickly entered the study suite in the Institute’s north wing. The wing was laid out in an octagon. There were rooms along each of the eight sides and a central control station in the center. The station computer screens were all dark, as no studies were going on at the moment. She sat down at a workstation and logged on, bringing up the facility monitoring program.

Typing in the information on subject 11014, she waited a moment, then the screen opened. There was a live feed of the holding room where subject 11014 was currently sleeping. An ongoing readout of vital signs flashed at the bottom the screen.

Eve clicked on the vitals window and it maximized.

When entering any test protocol, a test subject is fitted with an internal device to monitor any stress effects and ensure the individual’s well-being. In this case, it was a small capsule injected into the test subject which monitored all critical body functions: heart rate, pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and brain activity. She clicked on the historical data – the system backed up data every quarter hour to ensure continuity.

Eve looked at the screen rather incredulously. She saw the past hour of monitoring data – heart rate, pulse, temperature and blood pressure all normal. The brain activity had a brief glitch, flatlined, then ramped off scale. That was not the type of response seen for a resting test subject.
Outside, the wind was picking up and rain was starting to fall. A storm was moving in from off-shore.

Eve logged out of the computer program and stared at the screen. On the screen she saw the flashing text message, only the facility texting program was not open.

Dr Woodrow, this is Edward Adams.

She hesitated then reached for the keyboard – unsure if this was the thing to do- and typed, what is happening?

They exchanged single phrase texts for a few minutes. Edward described the sensation of his transference as “life-like”, in that he felt fully engaged in the resonances and signals around him. The music had been an avenue for escape, literally, since the regular signals originated from a point to which he could move psychically. It was a significant mental respite from the struggle of his condition, not being able to physically move.

The wind blew more fiercely outside the window, a quick burst of lightning – and the facility power blinked and shut down.

Eve sat in darkness for a moment, then the emergency power flickered and stabilized the critical systems. Edward had not responded.

Edward was focusing very hard on communicating. He exerted great effort just to communicate three or four words. In doing so, his attention was drawn away from everything else. Normally, he was aware of the energy and pulsations around his own.

When the lightning strike hit, there was momentary pulse and then a great surge of energy. Edward wasn’t prepared for this. His thoughts began to spread out, and he felt inanimate – unusual since this whole experience had been the exact opposite. It was if he had been washed out to sea by a large tidal wave, all the while being thinned and diluted. The energy pulse dissipated almost as quickly as it had arrived and then there was nothing. Edward could sense remnants of energy around him, but his own consciousness was feeble and fading.

This must be what death feels like.

There was a quick pulse of energy that coursed by him, and then a few seconds later another. Edward waited and then lunged with his last conscious thought. He suddenly was himself again – the whole of his being was reformed after being torn apart. He wondered about the energy pulses. There were no other signals that he could detect, and he was fully intact – well, at least his consciousness was fully intact.

Behind him, he felt another energy source appearing. It had regular pulses at first, then a flow of energy trailing after it. It was music. He recognized the way the energy flowed. He jumped into the stream of energy and followed it back its source.

Eve was stunned by the sudden strike and darkness. When the emergency power came back on, she sat quietly for a few seconds, until she noticed that the computer station had not rebooted.

These computers must not be on the critical systems line, she thought aloud.
She darted her head under the desk and found what she was looking for – a battery backup supply unit. She pressed the reboot button and heard the tell-tale whirring sound of the computer.

Facing the screen again, it was obvious that computer systems were not online due to the lightning strike. There was only a blank screen with a dos prompt.
Without a source of signal, Edward cannot move around, she surmised.

Thinking quickly, she typed in the ping function at the prompt to send a signal to the remote location data server. A split second later she received a verification. She typed a repetitive ping command, and the signal was sent out over and over indefinitely -until she needed to stop it.

Looking around, she needed a better solution to help Edward. He was likely trapped inside the computer. No power and no intranet meant no incoming or outgoing signals. The ping command would offer a life-line of sorts to bring him to the workstation, but it was only temporary.

She opened the desk drawer and rummaged til she found a patch cord. Grabbing her smart phone, she plugged it into the computer. Working in the dos directory of the computer she scanned the screen and typed in the search command for her phone’s directory.

“Where is it?” She muttered aloud.
She clicked on the file, and typed in the command.

The sound came on. The initial sounds of the groove of Night Fever, by the Bee Gees played.

Hopefully, this would provide a path for Edward.

Edward did not realize where he had ended up. The surroundings were somehow more confined, yet significantly more interacting. There were pulses and signals were all around him, but packaged away from him. He could reach and touch any number of energy streams if he wanted to, but they seemed infinitely far away.

Eve pick up her phone and looked intently at the screen, half hoping to see his face pop on facetime or at least see a text. She could try communicating, but with what? She opened her texting program and texted her own cell number.
Are you there? She smiled as she sent it. Texting herself.

Edward was amazed at all of the different avenues that he could take. He had never been presented with so many choices. It was daunting. The signal came quickly through the other noise.

Are you there? Where am I?

He found the origin of the question, and answered. Yes, I’m here.
Eve quickly texted her explanation of occurrences: the lightning strike, the power outage, her rapid plan to recover him. The flurry of information continued to flow.

Edward was silent, then asked, What about me…I mean, my body? Where am I?

Eve had not thought about that. She was so cognizant of his presence, that she forgot that he – his body- was laying in the adjacent room. She stood and walked over to the viewing glass for Edward’s suite. The room was dark, except for the monitoring equipment and life support systems. All of these were on emergency power. The heart and lung monitoring systems showed normal. The brain function scans were faint and weak, probably due to Edward’s interaction with the lightning strike and now his significant separation (electronically speaking) from his body. When the brain function becomes this weak, there is a very real danger of him slipping into a coma.

“I can’t put you back there – not right now anyway. There is a real danger that your body could go into a comatose state. You might not be able to revive it.”

What is going to happen to me?

“I’m not sure, I think you are OK for now where you are – wherever that is. Give me some time to brainstorm something.”

Eve grabbed her stack of folders and her phone, and quickly left the suite.

Eve settled into her office. The rain was still falling hard. She could hear the rush of wind and water against the window. The trees in the courtyard were shaking and swaying in the storm. They all seemed to move in unison.
The emergency lighting gave everything a dim glow.

She glanced over and tapped her cell phone switch. The screen flashed on. It still had 65 percent battery life and the music app was still running. She picked it up and mindlessly placed it in the wireless charging cradle.

Oh. yes she thought out loud, no power.

Edward was fine for now – she thought- but she had to figure out a better long-term solution. His body lay in a coma in the study suite. His conscience was …. what, floating around inside her cell phone. And worse yet, even if she returned him to his body, he was never going to walk again. That seemed a cruel fate.

There had to be a better solution.

Eve rummaged through her desk drawers until she found a pen light. She clicked it and saw that it worked.

She had a thought.

Turning to her filing cabinet, she opened the bottom drawer and pulled the file marked “Resonance Papers.” She thumbed through the stack of copied journal articles until she found the one that she remembered.

A Case for Resonant Communication in Plant Fibers by Insects

Eve had done her dissertation research on resonance signals in natural environments. As all good doctoral students did, she photocopied and filed every paper relevant to her field, and was loathe to give them up – even after 5 years.

As she read the paper in the pen light-assisted darkness, a plan began to form in her mind. She jotted some items on a note pad.

Taking a deep breath, she picked up her phone and texted Edward.

She told him everything.

She told him how is body had slipped into a coma and returning him would be dangerous to this, whatever this was, form of his consciousness. How she was conflicted over returning his conscious ‘spirit’ (for lack of a better word) to a shell of a body that would never walk again. Even though he had an incredible gift that was getting stronger every day, and that gift would likely keep him motivated, she couldn’t bring herself to committing him to that existence. There had to be a better way.

Eve briefly explained her idea.

By transmitting the music from my cell phone through a probe, the resonance will set up vibration patterns in an appropriate host. Studies have shown that plants can transmit resonances introduced from insects up to several hundred feet. If we introduce the signal that has you in it, you should be able to move freely within the cell structure of the plant-as long as there is a latent resonance.

Edward thought about her idea. He was not in much of a position to argue against it. He had been trapped in his motionless body for too long, and this offered some opportunity to go even beyond what he had learned to do in an electronic world. While offering a certain freedom, it was still confining. He remembered trees and plants- how they seemed to always worked in conjunction with each other. The wind moved each leaf or branch, and groups of trees seemed to move in unison. Plants played host to a myriad of small creatures that when moving from branch to stem, moving from leaf to leaf, all left an imprint of a sound – however small.

Yes was his answer.

Eve began to gather the items she would need. She put some cables, a small signal amplifier, and a resonance probe in a box. Grabbing her cell phone, she walked out of her office and down the hall to the courtyard door. Through the large windows, she could see that the rain had stopped. There were still rumbles of thunder in the distance and an occasional flash. The storm had moved on.

Walking out into the courtyard, she felt the chill of the night just past the storm. There was still a slight drizzle. In the center of the courtyard, there was a spruce tree with a landscaped space encircling it – containing a number of different flowering and green leafy plants. She crouched next to the area and began assembling her device.

She inserted the probe into the soil immediately next to a large hostas, and connected the cables to the amplifier. Swiping her phone screen, she opened her music app and touched the play icon. The screen menu read The Weight by The Band. She supposed the type of music didn’t really matter, but somehow that song seemed appropriate for the moment. She reached over to the amplifier and slowly increased the dial.

Edward waited.

The stillness of this world inside electronics was unlike stillness of life in his memory. In life, stillness wasn’t ever completely still. There was always something, a breeze, a fly, the sound of breathing. Here, everything was nothing, until it was something. Total and complete deadness – followed by an immersion into life. That was how this began. There were a couple of quick perturbations, then a steady pace of signals that enveloped him.
He followed along. He moved with the steady pace of the music’s signal, it was an easy pace to keep.

Edward suddenly found himself in a different environment. Edward assumed that he had made the transference into a plant. The surroundings in man-made electronics were stark and cold – the pulsation of the signals was all there was. Now, in addition to Eve’s music soundtrack signal, there was something else. He sensed something warmer and much more interactive.

It felt familiar, yet unlike any interaction he could remember. It was as if he were totally immersed into an ongoing conversation for which he knew the beginning and the direction it was headed. All of the different reverberations were accessible. They were responsive and they were old: Ancient echos that continued from past storms. Voices from old souls. Vibrations from breezes. Slight perturbations from beetles walking on stems. They were both ever-present and changing. And they were infinite.

The next morning, Eve awoke to the buzzing sound of her phone.

“Hello?” It was the facility director on the other end.

“Eve, I’ve just been informed that subject 11014 passed away during the night. I wanted to inform you. I’m certain this impacts your future study plans. In fact we need to discuss that as soon as you arrive today. You are coming in?”

“Edward Adams,” she spoke.


“His name… was Edward Adams.”
“Ok then, Adams…” his voice trailed off into irrelevant details that Eve ignored. After agreeing to meet him, she hung up the phone.

She turned in her resignation the next day. The funding client had decided to withdraw from the program to pursue other goals. That left Eve with no funding support, and with no prospects for her research, she felt the need to move on. The investigation into Edward Adam’s death revealed his death was due to natural causes, and Eve was cleared of any malfeasance.

Eve took a position with a small electronics firm in a nearby town. The pay wasn’t great, but she was able to come and go as she pleased. She took her lunch breaks in the town square, and could be found with her headphones underneath a large oak tree. Nobody seemed to notice the small tablet and signal amplifier, or the probe inserted into the ground next to the root.

….annnd, put the load right on me.

Books and Thoughts

If you’ve happened upon this post – Thanks for visiting. Normally, I post poetry because this is a convenient outlet for expression.

If you’ll indulge me, I don’t feel much like writing poetry today, so I think I’ll just write…

Books I’ve read/am reading

I just finished An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I bought this second-hand on my birthday over a year ago. It is an ambitious novel, and the premise is intriguing – to tell the story of a crime from multiple points of view. The story is filled with twists, perspectives, unreliable narrators, and Dickensian description and dialogue – this aspect which made it difficult for me to engage (which is why it took me so long to finish it). The ending was worth the effort. And in thinking back on how the story was told and the details that the author integrated into each account of the tale, the work was well done.

As I tend to read books in batches to find one that latches my interest, the next book I finish could be among these: A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin, A Killing Term, by Robyn Sheffield, Bloodline, by James Rollins, or The Shack, by William Paul Young. My reading interests are diverse. 🙂

What to do about Confederate Statues

I find the debate of what to do about statues to confederate civil war icons (note I did not say heroes) and symbols both troubling and cathartic. I will state upfront that I am a southerner, born and raised, though I have live much of my adult life in the midwest. During my childhood, I was enamoured with the romantic view of the south (Antebellum plantations, the Lost Cause, Civil War history). As a young reader, one of my favorite books was the Robert E. Lee biography in the “Who was” juvenile biography series ( along with JFK and The Wright Brothers!). My continued experience and education has helped shape a more well-rounded view of these events. I still have an interest in Civil War history and writers of that period, but do not hold such a romantic view of the South’s intentions and reasons for seceding. Nevertheless, I consider it an important part of our country’s heritage and growth.

Statues are reminders of history and should be contextual in their placement. I think it is impossible to not have statues of some of these figures of history, even if they were on the wrong side of the Civil War. Exclude those explicitly guilty of war crimes (You don’t see statues of Nazi leaders-and rightfully so- for this reason). Statues of Robert E. Lee and others are appropriate in certain locations – war cemeteries, battlefields, museums – but less so in other places – every deep south courthouse or public park (what is the historical significance?). I don’t understand why there are statues to Lee in Montana or Ohio. There is common sense that could be applied by local governments. Confederate flags should not be on display at public buildings, but are appropriate symbology at confederate battlefields and cemeteries (It’s probably OK at NASCAR races, too, because I don’t want to antagonize THAT many people) 🙂

What is troubling is the amount of time being given to extreme viewpoints and attempts to legitimize them, when their only goal is to disrupt peaceful discussion and incite hate and violence. Further, they have taken the iconography of confederate civil war symbols and combined it with the message and symbology of nazism and white supremacy. This is not American, nor does it reflect the context of our history. They don’t get to abduct this part of our history and manipulate it for their ends. Our nation was founded on principles of compromise and civil discourse. There are differences of opinion, and there are cracks in the foundation because we are human. These groups don’t get to weasel in between the cracks and put up walls to divide us. As Americans, we should not stand for hate or divisiveness. We’ve already fought over that and learned good, albeit painful lessons.

American history is rife with right and wrong, and lessons to learn. And too often, I think we place our 21st century perspective on events of the past without first seeking to understand the past. What is most important is how well the history is recorded. I see history as way to learn (as a society) from mistakes as well as point to moments of success together. Is there equal balance in books and essays and can the information be taught to succeeding generations so they have a good perspective of the issues of the past, the philosophy of the era, and what was learned from it. We should never aspire to go back to the way things were, but we need to shoulder our history and learn from it ways to improve moving forward. As long as we have books, and we teach and discuss the historical subjects openly and without bias, our history won’t vanish (as some of our fear-mongering ‘leaders’ have implied). Statues without stories give us nothing to keep the historical perspective and invite bias. Bias invites extremism and silos of isolation (people who think like ‘we’ do), along with walls and media outlets that fuel and inflame. And if we continue to build walls around (literally and figuratively), all we will accomplish is division. Abraham Lincoln had something to say about divided houses.

We are all engaged in telling the story of America much in the way I tried to describe the book I just finished. There are events that are observed and experienced by different people who bring different perspectives. The different stories can be skewed by personal motives, some are unreliable and others rooted in fact. America is still a young country by global standards. Yet, we fight battles as old as civilization itself – and it is important to remember -prejudice and hate have no place in our discourse. Don’t be fooled by prejudice disguised as patriotism – Our history defines our path very clearly on this.


I have a confession.

I like jello.

It’s simple consistency and the ability to hold different flavors makes it the perfect dessert. Strawberry, lemon, cherry…lime is my favorite -by far. Green jello. It is easy to make: Just add warm water, mix, and let it set. It can be served up in little dessert cups, in larger pans and then cut into slabs or cubes. This delicacy is unique. It holds form. You can depend on it…mostly…to be the same every time you make it, only becoming distasteful when it is stale.

I recognize that this love for jello goes back to my childhood. During my hospital stays for various surgeries, the food was never a favorite – it was not consistent – nor was it the easiest to eat at the time. I don’t really remember the meals, but I remember the jello. Cool and soft, flavored, and easy to eat.

It is also versatile. You can mix it with other things to contribute that flavor. Mix with whipped white topping giving a fluffy fruit flavoring. Or mixed with fruit itself. Or as shots with liqueur. I’m not as much of a fan of jello salads, perhaps I feel the other ingredients overwhelm the flavor in the jello itself…which is funny, because gelatin is really only a medium to hold things together. The fact that jello is flavored is a bonus, I suppose.

I seem to appreciate that bonus, so I don’t really care for the desserts that “contain” jello.

When we eat at our favorite chinese buffet restaurant (the one that plays smooth jazz), I always check out the jello dessert on the salad table. My son looks at me with doubt, and says “You know you are always disappointed that the jello is stale.” This is true. Jello that is “old” develops that toughened layer on top where it has dried out over time. This ruins the trifecta of form, flavor, and texture. Nine times out of ten, I am disappointed. But I keep trying the jello. I’m persistent like that.

They don’t serve lime-flavored, though.

lime jello
I recognize that my use of the term ‘jello’ may be implying that I endorse a particular product of gelatin dessert. Jello has become such a ubiquitous product that it’s identification is similar to kleenex ~tissue, coke~carbonated beverage, etc.

I am working at it

Please forgive me if my poetry wanes a bit over the next “while.” I feel as if NaPoWriMo 2015 exhausted me. For a writer who generally lets things stew a bit before committing them to characters, 31 poems in a row takes it out of you. I don’t know how the poem-a-day folks do it. You could tell by the end of April, I was grasping and relying on simple forms to get me over the line. They might turn into bigger things someday.

Further, I’ve got a lot of life juggling going on right now. The good news is…I’m back to work. YAY! After 9 months of slogging away in the job market (it is no picnic), I received a job offer from where I least expected…and wasn’t even considering- my former employer. I am very grateful and hopeful for a better direction than my previous position offered. I am excited about learning new things. It’s a little weird going back to work at a place from which you were dismissed. Even if the reasons are business/budget/headcount-related – getting let go is painful. But, it is going to be fine.

Just to keep in the habit of writing, I thought I’d post a bit about my unemployment “by the numbers.”

9 months unemployed
which translates to 276 days
1 remodeled/refloored bathroom
3 painted rooms
1 repainted front door
23 donations made to charity via closet and basement cleaning
70 Beanie Babies donated to worthy causes
24 loaves of bread baked
15 new recipes attempted
4 batches of salsa made and consumed
3 batches of green tomato salsa made and consumed
3 batches of tomato sauce made and consumed
1 book of poetry assembled and self-published
> 200 jobs applied for
7 different versions of my resume’
2 site interviews
1 online video interview (weird experience)
7 multiple phone interviews
150 loads of laundry completed
26 VHS home movies copied to digital format
3 seasons of Rat Patrol watched
4 seasons of Warehouse 13 watched
4 weeks employment at a Home Improvement Store
81 blog posts (including 31 days of NaPoWriMo)

I think it was a productive time, though filled with doubt and stress at times. I definitely felt the support of friends and family, especially my wife and two sons.

So, if you are going through something like this: Stay busy, putter, focus on what matters, give yourself some time to grieve and move on, allow yourself some fun, learn something new, don’t give up.

Good things happen all the time.

Popcorn thoughts of kindness

I’ve been doing a bunch of bits and pieces of things over the past week, I feel very scattered. I haven’t really had time to sit down and write much. This is OK. Life happens. I do have a lot on my mind these days.

I had some blogworthy tidbits I wanted to jot down, but they were not worthy of single posts…kind of like kernels of popcorn that presented themselves.

National Poetry Writing Month is just around the corner. I last participated in 2013 (I think). I proudly completed the entire month for the first time. Well, I’m committing to do it again in 2015. It’s a good way to stretch your poetry legs, gets some things written down, try new forms, and shake out the dust. If you are a poet, and are participating, let me know. So we’ll see how this goes.

A reminder, my very first chapter book Accidental Songs is available on Amazon. I self-published this collection. I invite you to check it out, purchase it 🙂

Spring is getting its claws in the seasonal change, judging from the number of robins that I’ve seen recently, the rapid changes in weather that are apparent, and my allergies ramping up. I’m looking forward to the green landscape though.

I happened to read this quote in my twitter feed this week,

“We’re all smart, distinguish yourself by being kind.”

This was posted in a twitter account entitled “ShitAcademicsSay”. I don’t know the origin of the quote, and have been looking for it’s primary source. The original context apparently has to do with academic publishing and review, but I see it as a more universal restatement of the golden rule. I like it.

I heard Nat King Cole’s version of Smile a few weeks ago. The music by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954. It was a mantra for a few days in the bleakness of winter. I love how a verse, a song, a quote, or even a picture can present a moment of beauty and relief.

That’s it. Popcorn’s done.

Incongruence, or How to Make a Salad

It was Friday.

A cold snowy day. My wife was home from work, sick with a cold and I was the dutiful caregiver – supplying her with ice cold drinks and extra blankets.

We decided that we wanted salads for lunch. My wife’s favorite salad is a Sante Fe style salad, with chicken, lots of crunchy tortilla strips and usually ranch dressing.

Luckily, I had cooked half of a package of chicken tenders two nights before (when I made a chicken pot pie), but seasoned with a homemade taco seasoning – comprised of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, red pepper and cumin. These days, I am intrigued by the opportunity to play with the spices we have in our cabinet. Sure, it is more difficult than just using a packaged taco seasoning, but it appeals to the scientist in me.

Anyway, I had cooked those chicken tenders on Wednesday night. They were looking for something useful to do. I cut them into small chunks, and set them aside.

I pulled out a bag of Romaine lettuce. Now, you may ask, why didn’t you use a whole head of lettuce? Fewer things in the kitchen bore me more than chopping and cleaning a head of lettuce. This is interesting, because I will prep and cut onion, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumber…even carrots, just about any vegetable. Lettuce bores me.

I poured the precut salad mix into a bowl and inspected it for undesirable components, rinsed it, and moved on. I chopped two Roma tomatoes (see comment above) and added to the lettuce. I grabbed a handful of grated monterey jack/cheddar cheese – this is about a cup – and mixed it into the salad bowl. Finally, I tossed in another handful-and-a-half of tortilla strips.

For the dressing, I mixed 2 parts of Country French with 1 part Chipotle Ranch and stirred. This gives the “right” combination of sweet and spicy. Flavor chemistry is an interesting subject. The Country French sweetness is detected by a combination of receptor proteins in the roof of the mouth and the back of the tongue. These receptors synapse with the glossopharyngeal nerve and the chorda tympani, which means the signals are transferred up the center of the neck as well as along the sides of the skull, through the inner ear.

Spicy flavors, on the other hand, are detected by the VR1 receptors in the mouth. What is interesting is that they are designed to detect heat, such that we don’t consume hot food that will burn our mouths. The detection of capsaicin (the chemical in most peppers) is accidental, but activates the “heat” response of the VR1 receptors.

I poured the dressing over the salad mixture and tossed liberally to coat the lettuce, cheese, tortilla strips and tomatoes. At this point, I heated the chicken in the microwave for about 90 seconds.

To serve, I scooped out a serving (or two) of the salad mixture onto a plate, then topped it with the warm taco chicken. What you get is a delicious, yet incongruous, mixture of ingredients.

Crunchy, yet smooth
sweet, yet spicy
vegetable, yet chicken-y
warm, and cold

Serves 3 to 4 people, was eaten by 2.

So, in summary:

5 or 6 chicken breast tenders, cooked with taco seasoning or similar spices, then chopped
1 bag Romaine Salad
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Monterey Jack/Cheddar grated cheese
1 1/2 cup thin tortilla strips
2/3 cup Country French Dressing
1/3 cup Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Soundtrack for making the salad:
Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers Band
Smile – Nat King Cole

Climb the mountain

So by now, (if you enjoy pop culture events) you either watched Lady Gaga’s performance at the Academy Awards live or caught up with it on the internet. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to go find a link and listen.

I am not necessarily surprised by the talent she displayed in performing selections from The Sound of Music. I knew she was super-talented. I’m not a big fan of her pop persona, though I recognize her talent and abilities as being among the leaders in her industry. No, what amazed me was the solid…Solid….versatility she displayed in performing not only the Julie Andrews part of the catalogue with sensitivity and confidence, but also Climb Every Mountain … which is written for a dramatic soprano and requires different vocal skills and range.

She nailed it.

If you watch her facial expressions during her (well-deserved) standing ovation, there is a flash of disbelief on her face. It is almost as if she couldn’t believe that she had done that.

The question that popped in my head after watching that was, “Why the schtick?”

With all that talent, and considerable versatility, she has ability beyond what most of the viewing audience realized. So why did she/does she cling to this pop persona of hers? Or better yet, why did she develop it in the first place?

The answer to that is frighteningly simple…image sells.

In the entertainment industry, there is no shortage of talent, pretty faces, and even versatility. If you want to set yourself apart, you need to create an image that people will remember. History shows this again and again. The Beatles clean cut business suit image, fashioned by Brian Epstein, was designed to appeal to older record executives and wary parents who thought Rock & Roll was a passing fad. The KISS make-up and rock image was designed to give people a visual memory of a heavy metal band when there were a lot of other bands around. Madonna’s image seemed to be fashioned to keep people talking about the entertainment – when (albeit early in her career) her singing skills were limited. It seems as if Gaga’s flamboyant stage presence was designed to keep people talking – as if her talents wouldn’t be good enough to be remembered on their own.

I think she just blew that out of the water. It will be interesting to see how she moves forward and if she simply lets her talent and ability do the entertaining.

If there is a takeaway from this, it is to never underestimate your abilities. Always keep yourself grounded in something you do well and love doing. If you keep working and applying your skills to the things that you love most, there will come a moment, a pinnacle where you perform to your very best. At that moment, you will break through into something you never anticipated… and a manufactured image is rendered irrelevant.

Passion for what you do is the best marketing strategy.

What’s on the horizon?

I’ve always liked horizons.

They hold a lot of picturesque beauty. Whether it’s a mountain range, a sunset on the plains, the moon rising over a cityscape, a thunderstorm over the ocean…you get the picture. And that’s it, isn’t it? The picture – the still life of what is most beautiful in our day or on our journey, the horizon is a promise of something good. We wonder what is there, and how long it will take us to arrive.

I went for a walk one afternoon this past week. The weather was reasonable (for January) and I felt a bit of cabin fever, so I set out on a quick walk on the bike path that weaves through our township. I noticed as I was walking, that my head was always down, looking at the ground just ahead of my step. This was out of necessity, as the winter condition of the path is not good – it’s muddy, and there is a lot of goose poop. We are on the migratory pattern of a multigenerational gaggle and they make a huge mess along the common areas in my neighborhood. Anyway – with my head down- I couldn’t really tell where I was going, I was only focused on where my next step would fall. I trusted that I knew where I was going and I would end up back at my house. But the truth is, if I never looked at the horizon to get a bearing on where I was, or where I was going, I could have ended up in Pennsylvania (it might have taken 2 or 3 days, and I would be incredibly stubborn for not ever getting a reality check on my location).

There is something of a life lesson in this. While going through our daily routine, we tend to focus on the details and tasks – the places where our feet fall to avoid the goose turds and the mud puddles. If we never look up to see a horizon – to view where we want to go and give vision to a dream- some day we’ll stop and look around and realize we have no idea how we got to where we are. There is no memory of places along the way, only memories of steps and missteps, avoiding puddles, and hopping over fresh goose-shit.

I am vowing to look up more at the horizon and to enjoy the view. I might end up with a little more mud on my shoes, but the view will be worth it.

Do you stop to look at the horizon, or are you always trying to avoid the goose-poop?

Bavarian Alps, Germany May 2014

Bavarian Alps, Germany, May 2014