Thursday, October 29, 2009

May be M.I.A. for a bit

I've had quite a writing streak lately and have been trying to think of a new subject to blog about. I've gotten where I quite enjoy the process. A friend recently shared with me about NaNoWriMo. Are you blinking and wondering about that like I was when she first mentioned it? Well, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it's an organization that encourages writers, and those that want to be writers, to simply write more. They picked November as a month to encourage all those that love putting together words to completely purge themselves from Nov. 1- Nov. 31. The goal is to write a novel, fiction, consisting of 50,000 words in that one month time. They encourage those to not use previous story lines or partial stories already in the works. It must be from the start of the process to the very end in the month of November.

If you sign up with the organization, you make it more official and it becomes more of a psychological commitment to finish. The website said last year 120,000 signed up and 20,000 completed their 50,000 words. The goal is not an award-winning book. It is simply to put down 50,000 words. It seems that most writers tend to be perfectionists and in our desire for our stories to be good, we tend to obsess on words, grammar, structure, plot, etc., to the point that many never actually finish their stories. Getting past those insipid writing blocks is also a universal issue. So NaNoWriMo encourages that we are not to worry about whether the story is living up to our expectations or think it's good. Even bad, 50,000 words is an accomplishment.

Now, when I heard about NaNoWriMo, I was impressed, but didn't consider doing it myself as I don't write fiction. I have never had much luck at coming up with sustaining plot ideas. I took Journalism all through high school and was the editor in my senior year, so true, fact-filled stories are much more comfortable and easy for me. I even struggled in my college creative writing class. I simply wasn't wordy enough. But yesterday, three days before NaNoWriMo begins, my friend talked enough to have me wondering if this is something I could really do. I decided I would give it a whirl but do it more on my own, and not to expect a 50,000 goal but perhaps 30,000. I could be happy with that. Then I would plan to do it up right next year. But, my friend, being my friend, is pushy. Very, very pushy. So this morning I made if official. Signed up and everything. I still don't know if I have a story in me. And if I do happen to find one, can I stretch it to novel length? I guess we'll all find out. So, if you don't see me during November, you'll know I'm not hanging up my "pen", so to speak. In fact, I really can't imagine not blogging anymore. Surely I'll have something to talk about. And I may need the distraction to get my head out of the great story that I'm obsessing about. Maybe I'll just give everyone an update of how I'm doing, how it's going. Wish me luck, cross your fingers, say a prayer, whatever you feel led to send my way. I'll appreciate it all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Daddy

I would like to tell you about a very important man in my life. My father, or as I always called him, Daddy. I'm 50 yrs old, so I'm no "little" Daddy's girl but will always be Daddy's girl. I'm convinced there was a whole side to him I didn't know. A side that was part of his younger years, I'm sure. The family name is York. And there are definite personality traits and characteristics that come with that moniker. He had three younger brothers and most of them were quite the storytellers. They grew up in the 50's in a small Missouri town and if half of the stories I heard were true, then the York boys sure were a force of nature to contend with. And that image doesn't really fly with the Daddy I knew. That's how I know there was another side to him. He had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the day. That, alone, had to have come with some expectations that may shock this daughter of his.

One family trait that was bound to have been the cause of a major change in his life was a short fuse and impulsive action while mad. One night, he was playing his trombone in a company band when a director informed the trombone section that their slides must slide in the same direction, like the bows in the violin section. Anyone with any musical knowledge knows that a slide's position goes in coralation with the note being played. If there are two or three trombone parts, then there would be two or three different slide positions, not working in tandem. My father's infamous reactionary anger, packed up his trombone, along with some others and they left to cruise around town for the remainder of the evening. That night they met a carload of girls, one being my mother. After three months of seeing each other nearly nightly, they married, a little tidbit they kept as quiet as possible to their teenage daughter in hopes that she wouldn't think that she could quickly meet and marry. I've never been convinced that my parents were to be each other's life mate, but they stuck it out and made it almost 53 years.

Daddy was a quiet, hard-working man but as stubborn and opinionated as they come, a common trait not only of Yorks but of Missourians. He started out as a draftsman and ended up in the oil industry, drawing plans for many of the huge oil fields around the east and south, as well as in the Virgin Islands. He became an expert in stress analysis and was a go-to guy for many even from other companies. He would often go head-to-head with the "big wigs" because he was right and he knew it. My dad only had an associates degree of schooling but he had more common sense and real-life problem-solving than most people put togethter. And he was kinda proud of himself for it. He ended his career at Boeing. He didn't work on airplanes, he designed buildings, heating/air systems and drainage systems for building that housed thousands and thousands of people. He was a strange combination of working his 8 hrs/day and protecting his personal time as well as anyone can in these times, and truly loving what he did and the respect he had from those in his industry.

Daddy died this past May 7. As with the rest of the family, he struggled with heart problems, but in the end it was cancer that killed him. Around the age of 50, he had his first major heart-attack and had a quadruple-bypass. He was pretty disciplined and changed his diet and started walking religiously. A natural high cholesterol was always working against him. Poor guy, he loved to eat. He used to drive by Dairy Queens and act like the car had a mind of its own and it was turning in against his will. And if he ever did stop, it was nothing less than a banana split. Except for the joy in a typical 5 year old's eyes when eating such treats, no one thoroughly enjoyed such treats like Daddy did.

As far as the kind of father he was for me, he wasn't perfect, as most aren't. As I've mentioned, he grew up the oldest of all boys. He wanted a girl when I came along. And he loved his little girl. He was so proud of me and it showed in his face. I started playing piano at an early age and he wanted me to excel. He didn't always know what to do with a child, much less a girl. When I became a teenager, he became much more awkward toward me. The nightly kiss goodnight ceased. A uncharacteristicly crude joke about girls and their time of the month that embarrassed me to death also created some distance between us. But I was always so much more like my father than my mother. I would spend time with him in the garage handing him tools as he worked on cars and we'd talk about this and that, nothing terribly important. But it kept me out of the kitchen with my mother, which would always end up in some sort of fight in very quick order. Needless to say, I eventually had to teach myself how to cook. And I'm quite the "gearhead" as some of my old friends used to say. Among the very few times I talked to my dad about deep things to me in the moment, I recall him reassuring me that boys "date girls that do but marry those that don't." He also shared with me once that one of the boys that was pursuing me at the time wasn't impressing him in the least either. It seemed the only person he impressed was my mother. After Daddy told me that, I promptly broke up with him.

There is much I cannot put words to about Daddy. He did the best he could at all things and at all times. If he had a real fault in the end, it was that he shouldered everything inside. He had a faith of little words, but showed it in his desire to reach out to co-workers in hard times. He was a strong believer in a home- cooked meal being comforting. He worked hard at avoiding conflict in areas he had no power to change and held on to the hope that God still answers prayer. I think he questioned that a bit in the end, but doubt is an important part of one's faith and I know he was rewarded with his mansion in the sky and I'll see him again there.

"A Climate for Change"

Katharine Hayhoe is a Christian scientist and her husband Andrew Farley is a college professor, linguist and pastor. Together they make a great team in this timely book. Scientists really can be, and many are, Christians. God didn’t make smart, intelligent and scientific minds just for the “other side”. And I am the center target audience for their book, “A Climate for Change”. Growing up in the 70’s, I can still recall the first time I heard the word “recycle” and the beginning of the annual Earth Day observation. This is Christian scientists’ explanation, and look, at a volatile subject these days, global-warming. As they point out, this subject has fallen into a red state vs. blue state arena of politics. And it needs to be de-politicized.

If we are true Christians, we are not afraid to look at all the facts of any given subject. There is always room for doubt. C.S. Lewis said, “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” Doubt is very much a part of our faith. Whether we let it manage our faith or our faith manages our doubt, is the question. We are more susceptible to doubt when we stay isolated and uninformed. If we limit ourselves to a mindset without looking at the options we develop wrong perceptions and those will always lead us to wrong conclusions. Hayhoe and Farley do an excellent job of making what could seem like a science class easily understood, complete with graphs and figures, that I’m sure will help those that are more visual learners to understand. They explain the differences between natural occurrences and those created by humans. They are concise and organized in their presentation.

I did not expect to be totally converted in my doubt of this subject by the time I finished reading it, but it did point me to a word we should all be familiar with, Christian or not. Stewardship. God gave us a wonder planet to live on. And we have some very clear evidence, by many that are not bought and paid for by a political party, that it needs some help. Hayhoe and Farley do conclude with some very real and easy solutions that you and I, and our children, can do. The key is to get everyone on board and understand the facts. And this is a great book for understanding those facts. Being open-minded is not a sin.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Death by Garlic?

I cannot get a certain stupid story out of my head that I read about yesterday on our local newspaper website. The title made it sound mildly humorous and piqued my interest. I might should add that I have a fairly large streak of enjoying sarcasm and irony. And I don't know if it's just society in general, or just the people in this area I am now living, but it seems like people never cease to amaze me with their idiotic behavior.

This story took place recently in an office in an upscale area of town. It was lunchtime and, for untold reasons, one co-worker had warmed up their lunch and was sitting in their cubicle to eat it. The story does not explain if their usual routine was to eat as they work or not, but for whatever reason, this person chose to eat at their desk. The story also does not say exactly what food or dish this person was about to enjoy. But, apparently, the aroma was offensive to a co-worker whose cubicle was nearby. They had apparently "discussed" their offended nose with this person before and this day's aroma was the hair that broke said nose, I suppose. They were "armed" with a can of aerosol disinfectant and came over, or around, the wall and proceeded to spray this disinfectant in the face of the offender. As I read this little fluff story and was shaking my head at some people's unreasonable intolerance, my eyes fell to some of the comments left by other readers. I was surprised to find that some people seem to feel extremely passionate about some food odors! Apparently, the unglued co-worker is not the only person to be easily angered by foods such as garlic. There were many battle-ready with other commenters on the subject. Interesting, too, that these same people had the time to sit on the website and have comebacks to everyones disapproval of their previous posts and convince everyone just how right they are in their intolerance of someone's lunch. It was their smackdown.

I can't help but wonder at the increase in people that seemingly need to take such vehement stands over such trivial matters as someone else's lunch because it offends them. Apparently, it doesn't take much to offend many these days. I think in some people's attempt to make all things fair and equal, it seems that many are more in it for the fairness as it affects themselves and not others.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The Search for God and Guinness"

What a privilege it's been to read Stephen Mansfield's "The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World". I was especially intrigued by the title and it was immediately a must read for me. The respect that Mansfield gives the history of the Guinness family is quite apparent as he gives account of the lineage from the first Arthur Guinness through each generation, the apparent heirs along the way and how each made their mark in making the brand "Guinness" into what it is today. He tells the story of the God-given talents given to many in the family that resulted in three main categories of Guinnesses, the Brewing Guinnesses, the Banking Guinnesses and the Guinnesses for God. He also provides a very good overview of how beer was accepted and its purpose through the ages in accordance with religious views of the times.

I truly loved this book. Having grown up in a small denomination that embraced the Prohibition, my own views of alcohol use has evolved slowly, albeit it has evolved. I loved the time travel through religious views through the ages and how beer and alcohol was part of the culture and easily accepted as a healthy choice and necessary choice, in many cases. The religious overview was very helpful and held my attention. The only problem I had in reading this book was keeping straight which generation accomplished which milestones and accomplishments due to family names being passed down from fathers to sons. But I certainly don't blame Mansfield for my confusion.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in history, business practices and how one person's faith and integrity has built a brand and a family that is still highly revered two hundred fifty years later. If you are like I was, open your mind and consider something that is bigger than your box. You'll be so glad you did.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being Politically Correct Without Getting Dirty

Ok, I have a burr under my saddle this morning. I shouldn't be too surprised at where the current feed-the-hungry campaign "Come Together" came from, but I come on people! Macy's is sponsoring the newest feel-good campaign and it's getting a lot of publicity and boosts from news sources such as "Good Morning America". The idea is to throw nice dinner parties, inviting friends and instead of bringing the guests the usual bottle of wine or hostess gift, donating money by "buying" meals for the hungry. The goal is 10,000,000 meals. Macy's is matching the donations to work toward this goal.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against donating to the hungry, at all. Most of us are only one check away from being in the same predicament as millions of others now. The economic times have been a tragedy for many families. And I have absolutely nothing against Macy's. But let's look quickly at Macy's financial shape right now. In December of 2008 they had 856 stores after purchasing the May's chain. They have closed many so far this year, but they are still strapped with real estate. Their consumers have diminished since the economy has hit hard times. Their clientele has either lost their jobs like many others or they are simply tightening their belts and making the most of less. Their profit margins have sunk into the negative. In December, 2008, their debt totalled $9.8 billion dollars. So the problem Macy's has is how to put their brand in front of the public minus the stigma of a high-end store and look like a community-minded, philanthropic entity with what we perceive them to have. They are appealing to the enlightened shopper.

But what would happen if instead of going to the trouble and expense of throwing a dinner party, sitting down and filling our stomachs with great food that has been peddled by the Food Network's finest, you invited all your guest to meet down at the local food bank or soup kitchen and help serve the same people you are so ready to help with your money donations? Do you think all of your friends would be so ready to do that? Some would. But I'm sure you would get many excuses of other commitments that stand in their way of helping. But you can have their money. Just don't make them get their hands dirty, or spend their time doing things they are uncomfortable facing or with people they don't feel comfortable rubbing shoulders with. Donating money is so much easier and we can pat ourselves on the back for being so helpful.

Again, don't get me wrong. I have shopped at Macy's in the past and I love Macy's. It's been years since shopping there, simply because for us, it's more economical to shop elsewhere. And I love dinner parties with friends where good food and conversation rules the evening. But let's call a spade and spade. Let's not dress up a national tragedy in pretty clothes and throw money at it and then feel like we've done a great thing. If Macy's wants and needs good PR, dress the homeless for interviews or give your employees time off for community service hours. Throw great sales, have special events to bring the customers through your doors. There are still people willing to pay for quality products and excellent service. It just may come in smaller increments for awhile. Sometimes we all have to make the tough decisions to make it through.

As for us, the public, I encourage all of us to get more real and get more involved. Millions of families need our help to get through these hard times. They look just like us. They lived just like us. We don't need gimmicks. And we don't need the pats on our own backs for helping. Let's get in there and work together. Let's feed the hungry, clothe those needing jobs and kids going to school and stop looking for ways to make yourself seem like such a fine person. Just do it and you will seem like a fine person in many eyes that just may not know how to say thank you.