Saturday, April 30, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 30: A Weird Quirk Of Mine

Town Sign, Place Name Sign, Final, Off, Finish, ShieldWe made it! Day 30 of 30 has arrived. Hard to believe how quickly it went. I've had a blast and I hope you've enjoyed it too. I hope you've gotten to know me a little better. Some of you may feel like you know me a lot better than you wanted to. At any rate, my last assignment is to write about a weird quirk of mine. I'm not sure I'm that quirky a guy. I mean I don't refuse to step on cracks or count my steps when I walk or do any of those things. But I guess there is one thing I do that's kind of quirky.

Steam Train, Locomotive, Ancient, Train, Old, TransportI make noises. I don't mean I make rude noises after eating too much fiber. Everybody does that, right? No, I mean I do sound effects. And the weird and quirky part is that I don't even realize I'm doing them half the time until someone gives me an odd look. Another odd thing about them is that I never learned to do them. I just realized one day my mouth made these noises. I can whistle like a bird and do other whistling sounds. I've actually fooled people into thinking there was a bird in the room. I can also roll my tongue and make an odd sound that I can only describe as being similar to a train whistle. Finally, I can make a noise that I call the 50-pound bumble bee. It involves sucking in air and I just can't even explain how it works.

Another quirky thing I do is write books. It must be somewhat quirky to do that, right? I mean, not everybody does that, so it's kind of sort of quirky. If you enjoy reading my blogs and haven't tried any of my books yet, I hope you will. If you aren't already a member of my mailing list, you can get a free download of my first book, Harsh Prey, by joining. The form is just over there to the right. All you need to do is put your email in and then you'll receive a confirmation email (if you don't get it, check your spam) that you'll need to answer. That's so no one can just put in a random email address as a joke. Plus, if you sign up by May 7, you'll be in the running for one of two signed copies of my third book, In The Shadow. And you'll hear about publication dates first, as well as receive occasional gifts and discounts. I hope you'll consider it.

Sorry for the crass commercialism there at the end. It was, admittedly, kind of a "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine." kind of moment. But hey, I'm an author. Trying to get you to buy our books is part of our quirky charm.

Friday, April 29, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 29: My Favorite Comfort Food

It's day 29! The end is in sight! You get a whole week off after tomorrow before you hear from me again with another blog entry. Or you could say it's a whole week before you get to read another blog entry from me. It's all a matter of perspective. Today's assignment is to write about my favorite comfort food. This was an easy one and everyone in my family, at least the Stephens side, will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Pasta, Noodles, Plate, Eat, Lunch, Noodle Dish, Italian
These aren't my mom's noodles,
but I don't have an actual pictures of
those. They're always gone before
anyone can take a picture.
Every year in the fall and sometimes other times of the year, but rarely, my mom makes her noodles. They are similar to what some people call dumplings, but not at all like what I think of as dumplings, which are softer and round. These are noodles in either chicken or, best, turkey gravy. They are quite possibly the best food known to humanity. They're so good that they are a bit like crack. I've been known to knock small children out of the way to get seconds of them.

Come fall, when we start exchanging messages on Facebook about the Stephens family Christmas reunion, one of the first questions asked every single year is, "Is Aunt Nancy bringing her noodles?" She used to run out, so she just kept making more and more to the point that she brings a great vat of them every year. And people line up to take home extras.

Rolls, Baked, Golden Brown, Hot, Crust, BreadWhy are they so good? I have no idea. I've seen her make them and the ingredients are just the basics. She has no secret thing she adds into either the noodles themselves or the gravy. And I've tried noodles made using the exact same recipe by other people that just aren't as good. I guess it's just something magical about my mom that makes them the best comfort food I've ever eaten.

By the way, the best way to eat them is poured over mashed potatoes. The perfect bite has some turkey, some mashed potatoes and some noodles. And then you sop up the gravy after you're finished with homemade hot rolls slathered in butter. If that ain't comfort, I don't know what is.

Cake, Cheesecake, Eat, Plate, Fork, Dessert, PastriesA pretty close second is cheesecake with me. It's my favorite dessert most of the year. I'll eat it plain or with practically any kind of topping. In the fall, though, pumpkin pie and the pumpkin pie Blizzard from DQ take its place.

So what's your favorite comfort food?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 28: Top Things On My Bucket List

On day 28 of my blog challenge, I am assigned the task of choosing the top items on my bucket list. This one's kind of tricky because I'm pretty content. There are things I would like to do, but not too many that I just feel like I need to do them before I die. But I guess there are a few things I'd like to do a lot. Here they are:

Ireland, Cliff, Waterscape, Beach, Tilt-Shift*Travel to Ireland  And I don't mean take a two week vacation. I'd like to spend at least a few months there. Take a long walking tour. Long enough to see the touristy stuff and then two or three months longer. I want to stay long enough to have wee bit of the brogue when I finally come home. Maybe I'll fall in love with a lovely redheaded Irish lass and just stay. Either way, I'd like to take a short detour and see London as well.

*Attend the Michael Buble Christmas Special  I've already seen him live (though I was sick as a dog and missed part of his finale because I was ralphing up my dinner). So I'd like to see him without the regurgitation. And he just seems to be this generation's Mr. Christmas. His specials are that perfect combination of old time schmaltz and beautiful holiday music. And since it's usually recorded in NYC, I can see all the beautiful decorations. Assuming it's even recorded at Christmas time. Maybe I'll see the beautiful colors of the trees in Central Park. I don't care. Either one would make me happy.

*Make my living as an author  I would be more than happy to be a million seller, but I'd settle for writing books that sell in the thousands. Enough to be independent and not have to do anything else but write. Of course, that'll happen either way when I retire from teaching, but if I'm going to live in Ireland for three or four months and then visit London, I might need to do this as more than a hobby. Last year when I did my taxes and figured up income and expenses, I basically broke even. That's not exactly what I'm going for.

You know what? I think that's it. Like I said, I'm a pretty happy guy. I have a great place to live and friends and family that love me just the way I am and two jobs that give me immense satisfaction. To top it all off, I don't owe anybody a dime and have enough money to put some away every month. So what more could I want? Oh, I know! I'd like to have six pack abs instead of this keg I'm carrying around. Yeah, I'll do that right after I get back from Ireland.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 27: The Last Time I Cried

Baby, Tears, Small Child, Sad, Cry, Scream, EmotionWe're really in the homestretch now. Day 27. It will soon be May. Today's assignment is to talk about the last time I cried. Folks who know me would probably joke that the answer would be, "What time is it?"  I'm a crybaby. I own that. And it's why the narrator of my books is too. If you want to guarantee it, just play any one of about a dozen songs from Les Miz. So I don't have to go far back to think of the last time I wept.

It was Sunday. Sunday evening to be precise. I had done all the work my brain wanted to do for the day, so I was channel surfing when I came across a segment of 60 Minutes called "Gold Star Parents." As I watched the segment, the lump was forming, and by the end, I was full-on crying. It just was so sad and hard to watch at times.

Star, Gold, Christmas, DecorationGold Star parents isn't some organization for really good parents. It's a gathering for parents of children who have lost their lives in war. Every year, there's a reunion at a former hotel that's been converted to a living memorial in San Francisco. It's put on by Blue Star Parents to honor and hopefully bring comfort to Gold Star parents.

For those of you who don't already know, the terms Blue Star and Gold Star refer to banners that would be hung in windows of families who had a member overseas in a war. This tradition started in World War I. Every blue star denoted a loved one who was currently serving and each gold star stood for a loved one who had lost his or her life in the war. So Gold Star parents are parents whose child has died.

Flag, America, Usa, States, Independence, UnitedThe segment contained interviews with many parents whose children were gone who talked of the fact that their lives had changed in ways no one could fully understand except someone who had gone through the exact same thing. Other interviews were with Blue Star parents who felt the need to provide this program to try to bring some element of peace and healing to their comrades who had sacrificed just that little bit more than they had been required to. But perhaps the most poignant interview was with a retired general who had served in Viet Nam. He told of his experience of going to talk to the parents of a man who had died under his command. He said that he was too young and immature to realize that, while he needed to hurry away from this awkward situation, what those parents really needed was to talk to him about their son. It was their way of keeping him alive.

Navy, Ceremony, Memorial, Sorrow, Fallen, FuneralIt's hard for me, someone who, at age 52, has never had to say goodbye forever to anyone close to me, not even a parent, to imagine the heartbreaking sacrifice of losing a son or a daughter in such a way. As I sat and watched from the comfort of my chair, I wept. I wept in abject sadness for these brave families who have endured more than I can even imagine. And I wept in gratitude that, for reasons I can't fathom, God has never put me through anything like this. Maybe I'm not as strong as they are. Maybe no one is until they have to be. But for whatever reason, these folks have been asked to make the ultimate sacrifice a parent can make--to live to bury their child. I salute them.

If you would like to see the segment, click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 26: What Makes Me Feel Better, Always

It's day 26 of my challenge and today's topic is something that always makes me feel better. No, that's the topic. Something that makes me feel better. There are actually a few answers to this one. So I'll tell you all of the ones I can think of.

Person, Clinic, Cross, Religion, Sunset, Human, GodFirst is my relationship with God. I started to say my faith, but that's the beauty of Christianity that makes it different than any other religion. It's actually not a religion or a system of requirements. It's a relationship. All I have to do is acknowledge that I'm sinful and fall short of perfection and accept that Christ died for all my sins. When I'm struggling with my self-worth, all I have to do is remember that the God of all creation loved me enough to do that. Then I feel better.

Shadow, Beach, Thoughts, Sand, By Sunsets, Ocean
Second is hugs. If I'm struggling, a good warm hug from a loved one really makes all the difference in the world. On Saturday, I got to see a special young lady who is a former student of mine. She's extremely special to me and I hadn't seen her, for all intents and purposes, since last summer. It felt so good to hug her after not getting to see her for so long (I miss you already Sam). And I have friends at church who just seem to know when I need a hug. A well-timed hug is just the best. It's saying I love you, only with arms instead of words.

Clef, Music, Lines, Notenblatt, Treble Clef, TonkunstThird is music. Specifically, Michael Buble music. If I'm tired or discouraged at school, all I have to do is blast some Buble and I'm feeling good. Actually, "Feelin' Good" is one of my favorites of his. Another that I really like is "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You." It's a cover of the James Taylor tune, but it's a completely different song the way my friend Michael sings it. It's got a real drive to it, like it's being pushed along by a well stoked steam engine. "Stardust Melody" is just like butter it's so smooth. But none of these compare to "Home", which is my favorite song of all time.

Here's Michael singing one of my favorites. I linked "Home" in a previous post, so I chose "Stardust Melody."

So what makes you feel better every time?

Monday, April 25, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 25: Talk About A Piece of Art I Have

It's day 25 of my challenge. Today's assignment is to talk about a piece of art I love. I should start by saying that I don't actually own any real original art. I do have some posters of great art works. And the one that immediately leapt to mind was one that I love so much that I have a poster of it hanging on my bedroom wall and on my classroom wall. It's Van Gogh's Starry Night

I don't know exactly what it was that attracted me to this painting. I like Van Gogh's work in general, but none compare to this one. The swirling stars remind me of an ocean in the sky. His brush technique (and I should say I am not by any stretch an art expert) give me a real sense of movement. Another feature I'm drawn to is the church in the village. It seems to stand over all the other buildings. I find myself staring at it all the time. 

I was excited to actually get to see the real painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I must admit I didn't even know it was there until I stumbled upon it right after spending a great deal of time in front of Monet's Water Lilies. I stood, mouth agape, in front of it for at least fifteen minutes and I have to say that no reproduction can do justice to the original. It was simply breathtaking. 

Connected with that is one of my favorite songs, Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Don McLean. It didn't make my top ten, but it's definitely in the top twenty. Here's a video of McLean singing the song with visuals of several of Van Gogh's paintings. 

It's also one of the most parodied paintings of all time. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 24: My Best Physical Feature

Baby, Boy, Child, Kid, Bald, Cute
This amount and thickness of hair
looks so much cuter on a baby than
it does on me. 
I can definitely see the finish line now. Less than a week until my blog challenge is complete. Today's topic is much less uncomfortable than yesterday's but it's not exactly a fun one. It's to tell my best physical feature. Frankly, I don't think I have any great physical features. I've always been heavy except for a few years when I ran seriously, so it's definitely not my physique. I have nearly no hair anymore. I started having my dad's high forehead at a pretty young age, but now all that's on top of my head is little more than downy fuzz. I do have really nice thick hair on the back of my head, though. Speaking of my head, mine looks an awful lot like a balloon. When I have pictures taken with friends or my students, the first thing that strikes me is that my head looks gigantic next to everyone else's.

Alien, Martian, Green, Monster, Mouth, Shrek, TrollBut I guess I have to come up with something positive to say about myself. I mean, I don't look like a bridge troll, exactly. I have been told that I have attractive eyes. They are blue with little flecks of gold in them.  A number of people have commented on them over the years. So I guess that's a good feature.

But I think my best physical feature is my arms. And I don't mean my arms are super attractive. If I were to wear a tank top, no one would be wowed by my gun show. No, what I mean is that my arms are open. I give really good hugs to the people I love and to people who need them. I try really hard to be compassionate and loving. One of the ways I do that is by being a hugger.

Dancers, Dance, Hug, Friends, FriendshipI have had a lot of students whose only experience of a father figure has been a bad one. I try, in my small way, to fill that void for a short while for these kids. One of my students drew a picture of me (it was really quite well done) in which I'm holding a #1 Dad coffee mug. I was puzzled by that and asked why it didn't say #1 teacher. The student's answer made feel really good. He said that he felt like I was the unofficial class dad. I'm not trying to replace these kids' fathers. I'm just trying to show them that there are men who won't leave them or neglect them or abuse them. Men who will listen and cry with them and worry over them and hug them when they need it and, yes, call them to task when they need it, but in a way that doesn't make them feel like nothing. I like to know my students have learned from me, but when I get a note from a student at the end of the year that says he or she felt safe in my room and that I didn't just teach them about literature but about life, I've done my job.

So what's your best physical feature?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 23: A Hard Time In My Life

It's day 23--only a week left after this post. Today's topic is a real change of pace. The assignments over the last several days have been fun and mostly lighthearted. Today, though, I am asked to talk about a hard time in my life.

Broken Heart, Love, Loss, Heartbroken, HeartbreakWithout question, the hardest time in my life was when my wife and I got divorced. Actually, to be completely accurate, the few years before the legal divorce and the time we finally decided we were going to get divorced were the hardest. Things take so long with the court system that by the time the papers were actually signed and everything was finalized, things were a lot better. But I'll talk about that in a minute.

I don't want to get too personal and I won't speak ill of my ex-wife. She had and has a lot on her plate emotionally and physically and I'm not sure I could say I would have been able to do anything differently than she did if I were in her shoes. Be that as it may, though, there was a point where I found that I just couldn't go on with life the way it was. We were, at best, tense roommates who basically took turns using the public areas of the house. But I couldn't say the words. I couldn't pick up and move out. Looking back, I think the only thing that was stopping me was that I hated the idea of divorce. I actually had concluded that I could learn to be miserable the rest of my life and that I would just be her roommate and caretaker.

Time, Clock, Farewell, Say Goodbye, Divided, Time OfBut she saved me from it. She asked for the separation and then filed for the divorce. It was then that the emotional and spiritual avalanche hit. I felt like the biggest failure and the most unworthy person on the planet. I turned into a zombie. I went to work, I came home, and anything else I had to be forced to do. I had this fantasy that I was handling it really well and that my students didn't know anything was wrong, but that was shattered one day when a former student stopped by unexpectedly after school. We sat and chatted for a bit before she uncomfortably asked if something was going on. I asked why she thought something was going on, to which she replied that a friend who was in my class asked her why Mr. Stephens was so sad all the time. That was a real wakeup call for me.

And the other thing that pulled me out of the pit of despair (intentional reference to The Princess Bride) was my Sunday School class at my church. Specifically, our teacher, Randy Halterman and his wife Suzanne, Keith and Jennifer Schoenhut, Jonathan and Maria Delgado, and Joe and Brenda Bolian actively supported me through this time. I really question where I would be without them. Keith, who also went through an ugly divorce in years past, and I found immediately that we were brothers. God brought him into my life at exactly the right time. The Schoenhuts, Delgados, and I are a big family now and I just love them to death. They've made me feel worthy of love again.

That was my hardest time. I hope it wasn't too much of a downer.

Friday, April 22, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 22: My Pet Peeves

On day 22 of my challenge, I am to talk about pet peeves. I have quite a collection, but they all fall under the heading of thoughtlessness. People not taking the time to think about how their actions or inactions affect others. I hate to admit it, but they are all also driving related. This stuff is the top of my list. And I'm not talking about lots of traffic or people changing lanes in front of me. Those things are just going to happen and there's no use in getting upset about that. I'm talking about times when people are just plain not thinking and it makes life difficult.

Stop Sign, Attention, Stop, Warning, Danger, Road Sign The first one that just kills me is when people don't use four-way stops correctly. I can see it coming. I'm approaching a four-way and I can see a car already stopped there, the driver looking at me. I pull up and they try to wave me through. By doing this, they've wasted their time and mine. So I've gotten to the point where I just freeze. I sit and stare at them until they finally go. At a four-way stop, you stop and if no one else has stopped, you just go. You don't need to wait until the other slots are filled. JUST GO! 

Traffic Lights, Red Light, Red, Light, Traffic SignalA related issue is people who stop and wave you across when you're trying to turn, only there's no one behind them for a mile. If you would just go ahead and pass through, I could make my turn more quickly than I have with your "help." JUST GO! 

And finally, I really want to throat punch people who sit at red lights in a right-turn-only lane with no traffic coming and don't turn right. I don't know about other states, but it's been legal to turn right on red for about as long as there have been cars. This isn't a new law that not everyone has heard about yet. JUST GO!

Accident, Car Accident, Crash, Vehicle, Automobile
Another pet peeve that's an actual safety issue,and one that we really have problems with in my hometown of Parkersburg, WV is running red lights. There's an intersection downtown where the green light going one direction is extremely short because so few cars come from that direction. If everyone is paying attention and moves quickly, there's barely enough time for three cars to make it through. I've been at that intersection, especially around the holidays, when so many people run red lights that literally no one makes it through that green light before it turns. And that's not an exceptional situation. On more than one occasion, I've witnessed people run red lights so late after the light changed that they went through after someone from the other direction has already made it through the intersection. I've literally seen people weave in between cars.  And it seems like at least once a week that there's a news story about someone who is seriously hurt or killed by someone who ran a red light. I don't know if it happens more than usual here, but I can't imagine it getting much worse. To top it all off, I regularly see people do it right in front of a police car, yet I've never in all of my years of driving in Parkersburg, seen a cop pull over someone for running a red light. Until they do, I fear it's just going to keep getting worse. JUST DON'T GO!

So there you are. My pet peeves. What are yours?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 21: My 10 Favorite Songs

Here we are in the final third of my challenge. The last few days have been really fun for me. Today's is no exception. My assignment was to pick my ten favorite songs. This was fun, but it was also a challenge. I had way more than ten to start with, but I decided that I would narrow things down a bit by choosing only one or, at most, two of certain genres of songs or only one from a particular singer. I could make a top ten list just from Michael Buble or just Christmas music. But I chose not to do that. So now, without further ado, here are my top 10. But first, a bit more ado. This is my top 10. Nobody is allowed to tell me it's wrong. Okay, now no more ado. Here they are in no particular order:

1. "Simple Gifts" I love the original Shaker hymn by Joseph Beckett and I love the way the WVU marching band does it too. But I think my favorite is probably from cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the ethereal singer Alison Krauss.

2. "Fanfare For The Common Man" by Aaron Copland  I don't even know how to describe how this song makes me feel. It's beyond description. You just have to hear it. 

3. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, and John Denver  It probably seems too stereotypical for a West Virginian to pick this, but most of us will tell you it's basically in our DNA. I chose this version as a cheat because it indirectly involves one of my favorite groups, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who, interestingly enough, were being pitched the song when John Denver decided he just had to record it. 

4. "American Pie" by Don McLean  Such a powerful anthem about the era of music that may be the greatest of all time. 

5. "The Prayer" by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sayger  I'm not sure I've heard a version I didn't like, but the two best, as far as I'm concerned are close between Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli's version and Josh Groban and Charlotte Church's. I really like Josh Groban and Charlotte Church's voice is just heartbreakingly beautiful in this song. As an interesting aside, these four singers have sung this song in almost every combination possible. Both men have sung it with both women and Groban and Bocelli even sang it together. 

6. "House at Pooh Corner" by Kenny Loggins  I already put two versions of this song up for an earlier post, so I won't post it again. This song just speaks to my childhood so much. 

7. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane  I love this song mainly because of its fascinating history. If you don't know it, Google it sometime. It's actually two different songs, the original a sad one and the revised a happy one. When I was younger I liked the happy, but as I've gotten older, I've found more of an affinity for the more emotionally honest original. Besides, how can you go wrong with Judy Garland? 

8. "The Christmas Song" by Mel Torme and Robert Wells  This one's a nice counterpoint to the last song. I chose a version with the lesser known opening lines. This is by Mel Torme himself, aka the Velvet Fog. 

9. "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schonberg I easily could have chosen every single song from this powerful show, but this one just barely beats out "A Little Fall of Rain." The version I've chosen is by the original (and best) English-language Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson. Another fun bit of trivia: Wilkinson, much too old to reprise his role for the movie version starring Hugh Jackman, played the role of the bishop who saves Valjean at the beginning of the story. 

10. "Home" by Michael Buble, Amy S. Foster and Alan Chang  This song is my favorite for a lot of reasons. It takes me back to my golden year as a teacher. It was the year I won the Milken and my last year with my best teacher friend Dan Daniel and a year where I had a group of students who were the greatest complete collection of people I've ever taught. They were just special in a lot of ways and I miss them. Well, that and Michael Buble is DA MAN! And by the way, no other version of this song is okay. Blake Shelton's version should be burned at the stake. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 20: Something I Miss

It's day 20--hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! This month is really flying by. Today's assignment is to talk about something I miss. This one was a pretty easy one for me. An answer popped right into my head as soon as I read the topic. I miss my youth.

Heart, Herzchen, Love, Romance, Luck, Valentine'S DayI don't mean I miss being a kid, although I do miss many parts of my childhood. No, I don't mean anything like that. Everybody can look back on those things we wish we could change, often having to do with someone of the opposite sex. Sure, I wish I'd had the guts to tell Renee Oldham I liked her in junior high and I wish I hadn't been such a thoughtless jerk with Tammy Serra and screwed up my relationship with the woman who really may have been the love of my life. But those things are past and those experiences make me who I am today. So, no regrets in that sense.

No, what I miss is my physical youth. One of my favorite movie quotations is from one of my favorite movies, It's a Wonderful Life. There's a scene toward the beginning when a young George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) are coming home from a hilariously disastrous dance. Things get romantic and instead of kissing Mary, George just acts like a dumb boy. Suddenly, an older gentleman who's been watching the whole scene from his front porch, says he should kiss her instead of talking her to death. George continues to act stupid. Finally, in exasperation, the man says, "Ah, youth is wasted on the wrong people."

Street Marathon, Running, Competitors, MarathonThat's exactly what I mean. I'm at a point in my life where I like myself and I am enjoying my family and friends and what I'm doing and where I'm going in life. The problem is that my body is just getting so creaky that I can't fully enjoy it. I would love to train to run in the Parkersburg Half Marathon, but my knee just won't let me. Same with playing on my church's softball team or volleyball team. And I'd love to stay up late sometimes and sleep in on weekends, but if I don't get to bed by ten, I'm restless all night and if I try to sleep in, my knees and hips bother me so even if I was up late, I'm awake early. And God forbid I have some pizza or a nice bowl of chili. There just isn't enough acid reducer to fix that.

Softball, Cleats, Sports, SeamI just miss a time when my body didn't dictate what I do so much of the time. I feel like spiritually and mentally, I'm in the best shape of my life, but my body is falling apart. And back when my body was in a little better shape, my mind and spirit hadn't caught up yet and I didn't appreciate what I had enough to take care of it.

But I bet I'm not alone in this. I imagine this an issue that's been contemplated since Adam threw out his back digging potatoes for Eve's and his 50th anniversary dinner (Note for the biblically uninformed--that's not really in there.). I guess the best I can do is maximize my body's ability to keep up by getting enough sleep and some exercise and eat right as much as I can stand to.

So what do you miss?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 19: Where Do I See Myself in Ten Years?

It's day 19 already! How can this month be going by so quickly? Before I know it, I'll be saying tearful goodbyes to my seniors. But I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. I want to enjoy the time I have with them. In the meantime, today I'm assigned to talk about where I see myself in ten years. It's funny, but when I was in my teens, ten years seemed like forever. Now, though, it feels like it's just around the corner. A mere decade. I'll be well into my 7th by then. So I better hurry if I'm going to get where I want to be. 

Sky, Blue Sky, Nature, Coconut Tree, Tree, BirdsFirst of all, I see myself retired or about to retire from my primary money-making job, teaching. I'll be 62 and eligible for retirement by age 60, but I may have to hold out a couple of extra years to keep adding to my retirement funds. If that is true, I'll have to renew my National Board Certification one more time, but I have to start that process a couple of years ahead anyway, so I'll probably do it either way. Assuming I'm already retired, I would like to think I'll have the money to spend at least part of every winter somewhere warm, like South Carolina or Florida, or maybe I'll just drive my eldest adoptive daughter Jenna insane and visit her in NOLA until she's ready to kick me out. 

Type, Typewriter, Font, Writing, Author, Book, Read
The whole when part of retirement hinges on another element of where I see myself in ten years, which is my writing career. I want very badly to be able to be a full-time working writer, meaning I want to be able to make a living wage and be able to retire from teaching without really needing the money. So I hope I can be selling books steadily. I don't need to be a million seller; I just want to be able to sell enough to make a useful amount of money. Don't misunderstand--I'm not against the million seller thing, but I don't need it. I also wouldn't mind making money writing in other venues, like ClutchMOV. 

Kissing Couple, Man, Feet, Boots, Snow, SunsetThe part of my future that's really unclear to me is a relationship. I've had friends ask me about setting me up on dates, but I've hesitated. I have such a full life, but there are times when I miss the companionship of a relationship. That special person I can share my hopes and fears and just cuddle with while watching a movie. I honestly don't know where I'll be in terms of that. I still feel really young and feel like, if I found the right woman, I'm young enough to enjoy several years of marriage before I die, but I fear I'm also getting so selfish with my time that I may not ever let it happen. I just don't know. I guess I'll just do what I should anyway and leave it in God's hands. 

So there you go. My life in ten years. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if I look back on this in 2026 and laugh. Or at least I hope I don't cry. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 18: My Worst Habit

It's day 18 of my challenge! Almost 2/3 of the way to the end! Today's topic is another one that I struggle with because there are too many to choose from. I have lots of bad habits. Which one to choose as my worst? It's a poser. The vast majority fall under the broad heading of wasting time, though.
Tv, Look, Football, Watch Tv, Gawk, Entertainment
One bad habit I have is watching too much television. I've really worked on this lately and have succeeded in not turning it on when I get home from school. On those days, I really feel like I'm more productive. I read or write or grade papers--something that I would end up having to do eventually anyway, but when I do them as soon as I get home, I won't have to do them later in a big rush. I'm really working on doing appointment watching. There are a few shows I enjoy every week, and two series I'm trying to watch on Netflix, so my goal is to only turn on the TV when there's a specific show I want to watch rather than sit and surf through the channels for hours at a time. Key word being try. Success eludes me sometimes, but not all times.

Drawing, Monitor, Search, Surf, Internet, To FindAnother is absently surfing the web. I go on for a specific reason and even tell myself that I'm doing things to help me be a better writer, like pinning things, or I'm increasing my online presence, like posting stuff on Facebook or Twitter, but the reality is that the time it takes to do all that legitimate stuff is minimal. Maybe a half hour at the outside. And yet, I occasionally find myself on there for hours at a time. There are things I can do online that are more conducive to actually helping myself become a better writer and/or sell more books, like reading author blogs and listening to podcasts on growing my tribe, but that's not what I'm doing.

Europe, Street View, StatueI also tend to sit still too much. I'm inert. In addition to not exercising enough, I just spend too much time in my desk chair, either at work or home, or lying on my bed (see the too much TV thing to understand that). I need to go for more walks and lift more heavy things. And I really just need to be on my feet more. I feel certain my lack of movement is contributing greatly to my inability to lose weight despite the fact that I am eating less and what I am eating is more healthy than before.

Sloth, Tree, Forest, Animal, Mammal, Wildlife, JungleSo after writing all this, I've figured out that my worst habit is laziness. I am, to quote the great Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski, a lazy, lazy man. If I don't choose consciously to be active at something productive, I can go entire days without moving. Or if I do move, I do things that require little to no effort, mentally or physically. If I believed in former lives, I would be convinced I was a sloth at some point. But the fact that this is my tendency is not an excuse. I am not a sloth. I can choose to be more. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a walk. But not a very long one.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 17: What Am I Afraid Of?

It's day 17 of my blog challenge. I'm moving along quite well. Today's assignment is an interesting one: of what am I afraid? The list is quite extensive of things I am kind of afraid of. I guess I'm a 'fraidy cat, as we used to say when I was a kid. But there are a few things of which I'm really afraid. Here they are:

    Harold Lloyd, Clock Building, City, Danger, Stunt

  • Heights  Several years ago, some friends and I paid to climb to the top of a lighthouse at the Outer Banks. I knew I wouldn't love it, but I had no idea how terrifying it would be. I got maybe halfway up and came as close as I have ever come to having a panic attack. My heart felt like it was going to burst and I flop-sweated and my breathing became so rapid that I thought I might actually pass out. The ironic thing is that if there had been an elevator to the top, even a glass elevator, I could have gone right up and stood at the railing without any discomfort. It's the climbing and the stairs that just stupefy me with fear.

Alone, Big, Boat, Deserted, Expanse, Great, Isolated
  • Drowning in deep water  I don't particularly relish dying by any method, but the idea of being stranded in deep water, far away from land, and slowly losing strength and slipping under the water, only to still be alive until I give up and my lungs fill with water is just an awful way to go.

    Hospital, Bed, Nurse

  • Getting old and dying alone and forgotten  I'm not afraid of dying at all. I have no question about where I'm going after I die. But the idea of living alone and having  no one who cares about me or is with me as I die is just the saddest thing I can think of in this life. I can die in peace if I die surrounded by loved ones.

So what are you afraid of?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 16: My Favorite Childhood Book

Map of Pooh's woods
I'm officially in the second half of my 30 day blog challenge. Today's topic is a fun one, but it's another that forces me to make a choice from too many things. I'm asked to choose my favorite childhood book. There are so many. I loved all the Little House books. And I was part of a book club in which I got a book about every month. I loved all of those. Two I remember in particular were Clifford Gets Hatched by Norman Bridwell and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. They are both about finding yourself and learning that you are worth something and people love you. Sadly, I can't find any record online of the Clifford book ever existing, but I know for a fact that it does.

The real original stuffed animals that
inspired the stories.
But I would have to say my favorite book as a child was a collection of Winnie the Pooh Stories. I loved Pooh so much. Heck, I still do. Beyond the books, I loved watching him on TV. Things weren't the same back when I was little. You couldn't go on the interwebz and watch anything anytime you want. Getting to see Pooh and Tigger and Rabbit and Kanga and Roo and Eeyore and Christopher Robin was a rare treat then. As much as I love Pooh, I think my favorite character was Eeyore. I remember a story in which Eeyore loses his tale and the whole gang helps him find it. I love that he had a gloomy outlook on the world but everyone still loved him and included him in everything they did.
These are the exact reels
I had.

Another fun memory I have of Pooh is a series of View-Master reels I had. If you never played with a View-Master, your childhood was, to put it bluntly, not as good as mine. The pictures felt so bright and tangible that I could swear I could reach out and touch them.

My last fun memory of Pooh is the wonderful song, "House at Pooh Corner." It was written by Kenny Loggins, but was first recorded by one of my all-time favorite bands, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Their rendition is much more raucous and playful than Loggins' which sounds almost like a lullaby. I'll let you decide for yourself. Here's the Dirt Band version:

And here's the Loggins version: 

Friday, April 15, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 15: My Dream Job

It's day 15! It's all downhill from here. Today's assignment is to talk about my dream job. Let me see--what would my dream job be?

I know! My dream job would be being a writer! I love my kids, but I really do want to be a full-time author. I don't care if I make a million dollars. I just would love to support myself with my books. So my job would involve getting up and writing every single day. I'd write every morning until lunch time and then do writing-related work in the afternoons and weekends, like signings and readings and talking with bookstore owners and book clubs and organizations. When that wasn't going on,  I'd be working on my online presence.

Home Office, Workstation, Office, Business, NotebookI would love to branch out and try another genre, like straight literary fiction, but between school and my other writing job, I just don't feel like I have the mental energy or time to try anything too new. The Shalan books are fun, but they don't take great mental gymnastics. At least I don't feel like they do. I mean, I know the characters so well. Harry and Dee are real people to me. And not just real people. Real people that I know better than any actually real people. So when I put them in a situation, it's not that hard to figure out how they'll deal with it. Creating a whole new world of characters is something that sounds attractive but time- and brain-consuming. And I have such a limited supply of both.

In the meantime, I already have a pretty darn dreamy job. I get to fall in love with a new crop of kids every year and then send them off to college, for which I haven't had to pay a penny. And I do enjoy teaching. It's the outside-of-the-classroom parts that aren't as fun. That and the having to show up for work every day, even when I want to sit at my computer and pound out another chapter. But I am sure that when I leave the classroom for good, I'll miss loving on those kids every year.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 14: Timeline of my day

I'm up to day 14--nearly halfway there! Today's topic is kind of matter-of-fact, much like yesterday's. My assigned topic is to give a timeline of my day.

Smartphone, Android Os, Samsung, Galaxy S, Cellphone5:30am: The alarm on my phone goes off. My alarm tone is the Charlie Brown theme by Vince Guaraldi. It's calm and jazzy and cool and doesn't scream me awake like a regular alarm tone.
5:31: Turn on my computer, then go turn on the coffee pot. I don't lie in bed after my alarm goes off. I'm a morning person.
5:35: Open my email and read my morning devotions. Then, after getting a cup of coffee, I read and respond to the rest of my emails and check all my author-y type websites, like this one. I generally do these a day ahead and schedule them to go live at 5am, so that when I open this, I use my mailing list software to send out the email notification. Then I share it on all my social media outlets. After I finish that, I check the news and then my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts.
Bake, Board, Bread, Breakfast, Brown, Butter, Buttered6:30: Breakfast. It's usually a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, a banana, and coffee. I will often watch the news and/or sports while I'm eating.
6:45: Shower and get ready.
7:05: Leave for work.
7:30: Today I have a meeting with the Senior Cabinet. We'll be discussing fundraisers and senior shirts.
8:00--9:45: Classes
9:45: Planning period. Today is Thursday, so I meet with the other senior English teachers.
10:40-12:15: Classes
12:15--12:55: Lunch. I eat at my desk. There's a group of kids who eat in here too. They are a lot of fun.
12:55-3:20: Classes
3:30: Head home and have a snack. Usually an apple and an orange. Read or nap. Today, it's go over my lesson for tonight.
5:30ish: Dinner
6:30: Tonight is small group at the Delgados. This is my week to teach. We're in the book of James.
Bed, Sleep, Meditate, Meditation, Relaxation, Tired8:30: Home. Usually TV for a little bit.
9:30: Bed

Well, there you go. My day all laid out for you. Hope you don't use this to stalk me or anything. If that's what you're planning, everything I just wrote is a lie.