This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Monday, November 30, 2009

No Mo Nano Fo Now

                    "Pencils down. Time to hand in your papers."  That's almost what it felt like--one of those college essay tests where you say some pretty good things and bluff your way through the rest.  But I made it to the end--50,314 words.  I met the proposed challenge but I'm not finished by any means.

          From the beginning I was certain that I could do it.  My plan was to write the novel, keep posting my blog everyday, comment on other blogs on a regular basis, and keep living my life as normally as possible and I pulled it off.  Granted I was at the advantage of not having to go to a full-time job every day and I certainly have to admire anyone was going to work and writing every night (or day).

         This was the challenge that I needed and thanks to my newfound enterprise of blogging I might have never heard of NaNoWriMo.  So call it God directing me or happenstance or what have you, this was a blessing and a real kick in the pants. I have often dreamed of writing a novel, have all sorts of book ideas written in notebooks and floating in my head, and I even once started writing a novel many years ago.  Previously I never had anything driving me.  The NaNo deadline did it.

             Here's what I've done and I would like some opinions about where I can go with this, especially from the Christian writers.  My novel, A DESERT PLACE, has some very Christian themes, however the story is gritty and deals with very bad people.

            The story line is concerned with a modern day Jonah figure who continually runs from God's calling. He becomes involved with a crime syndicate, stealing cars and dealing cocaine. Figuratively speaking he is swallowed by the evil beast of underworld crime until he finally breaks free, but only after a chain of catastrophic consequences.  I have avoided all profanity, but there is considerable drug usage, violence, and not overly graphic sex.

           Briefly, the synopsis of the story is this:  Joe (Jonah) Bloom goes to the remote New Mexico ranch of an old friend where he finds him dead from a bullet to the back.  Left there for Joe is a briefcase filled with cash and a satchel full of papers. Joe must unravel the mystery of who murdered his friend, what are the papers that were left for him, and who is the woman named Rosalita who is to be the recipient of part of the money. During the course of the story Joe reflects back over his past twenty years involved in crime, the entertainment industry, and eventually serving God. Did his friend die because of Joe's past ties with crime?  And when he finds Rosalita what light will she shed on the mystery?

           I explained my strategy of how I would approach the novel in my post of November 2 . I stayed with this strategy for the most part. Since the novel covers a period of thirty years I found it easier since I didn't necessarily have to write the story in a linear fashion. The novel starts in 1998 so I could establish the mystery that would lead to the climax. The majority of the novel is backstory of Joe's history of how he got to where he ended up and how his past is connected to what is happening when we meet Joe. His memory sequence begins in his last year of high school in 1979 and goes up to 1988 when he reaches a point in his life when he believes his problems are behind him. Then we move back to 1998 where the past catches up to him and the story comes to its climactic end.

          This approach didn't necessarily require writing in a linear fashion which in some ways made it easier to just write without planning.  There were several different life episodes over the decade that I wrote about so whenever I would get stuck I would just jump to another episode and write until I got stuck on that one. The disadvantage of jumping about without keeping careful notes and character studies is that at times I made certain errors which I hope I caught, but in the editing process I may find more that I didn't catch.  A few days ago I kind of took the advice that Carrie cited from John Irving about writing the last line first, except I wrote the entire last chapter, which I found helpful because it gave me a better sense of where the entire story was going.  After I had done this I started seeing themes in the story that were more apparent than I had previously seen.  I don't know if I would jump around writing something again, but when writing fast I think it works fairly well.     

           So now I have this novel that needs to be finished and since I've already come this far I think there is a greater likelihood that I will finish it.  Then after that I plan to actually start following through with some of my past projects while continuing to blog away.  You can click here to see an excerpt from my novel and I heartily welcome any critiques that you may have to offer.   

          So what about other NaNo particitpants?  Did you end up with something that you feel is marketable? What are you going to do with your project next?  Do you think you still need to add a lot more to what you've done in order to make it work?

          Also, since I am not very familiar with "Christian fiction", can one get away with gritty topics and how far can one go?  Or am I better off subduing my references to religion and shoot for a more mainstream audience?  Does the "Christian" label restrict and hinder your sales potential? 

         I'm tossing these questions out there because I really want to get educated so I hope some of you can toss me back some helpful answers.

over 3750 words on Saturday-- never did reach my 5000 goal for one day on just the novel

Sunday, November 29, 2009

God Speaks to Us

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (New International Version)

This GOD says: “I am GOD, the one and only. I don’t just talk to myself or mumble under my breath. … I work out in the open, saying what’s right, setting things right… I promise in my own name: Every word out of my mouth does what it says. I never take back what I say.” Isaiah 45:18-23 MSG

Today I want to credit Christy K. Robinson for referring me to the above verses and suggest that you refer to her blog for more on hearing God's voice.

Have a truly blessed day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Living In Limbo

           It's the tween times.  Thanksgiving gone and Christmas coming on fast.  It's a time that always seems kind of weird to me, especially since I haven't been really doing any Christmas shopping over the last several years.  It's a time of counting down and making preparations for the holday.  It's a time of anticipation of seeing loved ones and planning events and it's a bittersweet time of watching yet another year draw close to an end.

           This weekend is the time between when I was frantically trying to stay on the NaNo schedule and the time when the NaNo clock stops and we register our word counts. I'll give you my update of what my experience was like and my thoughts on NaNo on Monday.

         Tomorrow, Sunday, I will briefly return to the topic of hearing God.

          A couple weeks ago I messed up  my schedule and don't know if anybody really noticed.  I was supposed to talk about some really bad movies and one in particular that I had watched.  I'm going to do that this coming Tuesday unless I mess up again.

         Wednesdays always seem to get the best response from readers.  This week my story will be about a singer / songwriter / musician from Phoenix by the name of Forrest Smith.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

        Thursdays have been debatable, er, ah, I mean, well, Thursday is my debate day.  I'm not sure what to make of this approach.  Should I get into deep, controversial topics?  To me that seems to be what debate should be about, but I wonder if it scares people off.  Should I keep it lite?  Or should I get into really serious things?  I'm still debating the issue with myself, but I'm pretty sure I'll have a different debate on Thursday.

        Friday is a day a mystery and for now I'll leave it at that.
        So thanks for staying with me and hope you continue to tune in.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

         I guess you could say that every Friday has been "black Friday" on this blog.  Since I started "Tossing It Out" I have been dealing with darker topics of scary stories, missing persons, and such.  It all started because I was primarily blogging about Halloween at the beginning and the scary type stories just seemed natural for the theme I had begun, not because of any darker nature within me.  I do like a good scary story or a mystery that makes me wonder.

         Today actually is known as "Black Friday".  As we kick off the Christmas shopping season, retailers are desperately hoping to edge into the black on the end of the year profit reports. It's been a bad economic year they say and I'm sure this is pretty scary for the retailers and  us as well.  And the job outlook has also been pretty scary, with no clear indication that in reality it is going to get much better soon.  I've been out of work since the first of the year and so far haven't gotten any bites on my job fishing expeditions. Watching the television news yesterday morning, I saw a story showing people who had camped out overnight waiting in line for a free Thanksgiving meal. Guess I've got to be mighty thankful for the good food that my wife and I and our 20 or so extended family members were able to enjoy for Thanksgiving.

         Actually the concept of Black Friday is pretty scary to me.  Going shopping is scary enough, let alone getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning to do it. Remember the guy that got trampled to death by the mobs rushing into the Walmart sale?  Frantic shoppers driven mad by bargains is worthy of an absolutely frightening horror movie and that's one movie I don't want to be in.

         Thinking about shopping during the Christmas season made me remember an incident that happened when I was very young.  It was probably 1955 or 1956, when I was four or five years old. My family lived in Cleveland, Ohio at the time. My parents took my sister, who was a year younger than I, and me with them to the large May Company department store in order for them to place their order for Christmas cards. My father always looked for very specialized cards so he would look through the special order catalogs to find the specific card theme that he wanted.

          While they looked through the catalogs, I was told to watch my younger sister. I don't recall what I was looking at, but apparently it wasn't my sister because the next thing I knew my parents were frantic and I had no idea what had happened to her. They both started looking up and down aisles calling her name. There was no answer and still no sister.  My father was on the verge of panic, afraid that the worst had happened. Then a store employee directed them to the place where lost children were taken.  We found the room and I was so jealous.  The room was filled with toys and other children all playing happily, oblivious to the idea that they were lost.  There was my sister joyfully at play and having had an adventure that must have been so exciting.  Seeing her there made me wish that it had been me who had been lost instead.

            Yesterday morning I mentioned this story to my mother and we reminisced about it.  She told me about how when she was a teenager she had once gotten lost and had become very afraid.  She and her family had recently moved to a new neighborhood in Morgantown, WV.  A school organization that she belonged to had a Christmas party at a house that was not too far from where my mother lived. After the party it was dark.  My mother began walking home by herself.

          She may have been dwelling upon the evening's events and just wasn't paying attention.  At the party, the students were to give a gift to another student whose name they had drawn prior to the party.  My mother had gotten a very nice give for the one whose name she had.  However, the girl that had my mother's name was sick and not there so  my mother ended up without a gift. She was upset about this and it preoccupied her thinking. After walking for some distance, she realized that she was not sure where she was.  This part of towm consisted of large houses that were close together on hilly streets.One street looked much like the other especially in the dark.  She started feeling panicky and very afraid. Her eyes filled with tears as she continued walking, trying to see something that she remembered. Eventually she did find the right street and found her house.  The entire incident probably didn't take more than thirty minutes, but she said it was one of the scariest things she ever experienced.

             Sometimes we all get irrationally lost in our lives. We might be actually lost in a geographic sense, lost in terms of the path we are taking in our lives, or lost in a spiritual sense. There are many ways that we can feel lost and it often leads to a sense of fear, panic, and despair. But when we are found or we figure out where we are going it's such a relief. 

              Are you a Black Friday shopper?  Have you ever lost someone or been lost?  What is your best advice to someone who finds themself lost?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Time to Talk Turkey

         This being Thanksgiving and all I'll try to avoid any major controversy. Instead of deep issues of debate, today we'll just gobble at each other on the topic of turkey. Now surely there won't be too much thought here, but I know there are some differing opinions about the best way to fix turkey. So here is my question for today:

Is Roasting a turkey in the oven the best way to prepare the bird?

          Now I've never had it fixed any other way so I really can't  say for sure, so I'm just going to argue not from the standpoint from how it tastes and all, but from the practicality.  I've heard it said that deep frying the turkey is the absolute best way to fix it. Supposedly it comes out moister and more flavorful so maybe some of you who swear by that method can confirm that point. My argument against doing it that way starts with the deep fryer equipment.  I don't know what else you could use these big deep fryers for unless you're making massive batches of french fries.  I believe you have to use them outside, so if the weather's good it's not too much of a problem, but if it's really cold I wouldn't want to be outside deep frying a turkey.  But I understand they cook pretty fast by that method and actually if you were standing by all that hot oil you probably wouldn't get that cold.  But I tell you, all that hot oil sounds kind of dangerous to me.

         Also, it's got to use an awful lot of oil. I don't know, but maybe 15 or 20 gallons.  Firstly that seems like an expensive way to cook the turkey.  Do you reuse that oil or do you have to just dump it?  And where do you dump it?  I guess you could clean or filter it or whatever and use it in a car that's been converted to use cooking oil, but how many of us have that?

         Another method I've heard people tout is smoking.  Well, once again you got to have the smoker. Now I can think of a lot of things to smoke.  I love bar-b-que and a smoker would probably be great for that.  But on the other hand don't you have to buy a bunch of special wood like hickory or something?  And doesn't all that smoke contribute to air pollution?  Can you imagine what it would look like if everyone smoked their turkeys on Thanksgiving?  It might smell kind of good but then again it might be hard to breathe.

          I suppose you could do something like boil the turkey, but I guess that might be better if you were making turkey soup. Yeah, throw in a bunch of vegetables then add some rice and you might have some darn good turkey rice soup, but you're not going to have any Thanksgiving dinner.

           No, to my thinking there's no better way to fix that turkey than in the oven.  It may take longer but you can mostly just leave it in the oven and forget about it for a few hours. Well, except for all that turkey cooking smell that starts whetting everybody's appetite.  Of course, I'm not thrilled about the pan you have to clean afterwards, that is if you don't use a disposible pan. Then again, I've had the pan be such a mess I throw it out so I don't have to wash it.

           The oven turkey, if cooked properly, comes out moist and tasty.  And you got to have the oven going anyway for all the casseroles, dressings, pies, and dinner rolls so you might as well be cooking the turkey at the same time.

           So what do you think?  In the oven?  Deep fryer?  Smoker?  Microwave?  What's your choice cooking method for turkey? 


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lonnie Carver: Lifting His Voice in Praise and Thanksgiving

Lonnie Carver, Elder, Pastoral Leadership Council Team,Worship Leader, and Technical Director at Tellico Lake Church in Madisonville, Tennessee

         Playing on the bar band circuit had gotten old for Lonnie Carver long before he became involved in music ministry.  Lonnie had been playing professionally in all sorts of bands since his teenage years. His sonorous baritone voice was well suited to many styles of music and he was always in demand as a frontman. He not only sang well, but also had a charismatic stage presence. But in the tough business of music the unfortunate fact is that the usual venue for bands are the bars and lounges.

         Lonnie Carver was never much of a bar guy. He was outgoing and everybody got along with him, but Lonnie was disillusioned by the honky-tonks filled with cigarette smoke and sad drunks. He had developed an avid fan base that supported his efforts and performances were always well attended. As his career progressed he became noted as a versatile musician who also played saxophone, flute, and guitar and often played backup for many legendary artists as well as touring with his own band.

          Eventually obligations of family made him stay close to home where he continued his music career. He worked various daytime jobs to supplement the music career that he loved so much.  He worked hard and played music constantly, but something was still missing 

         Lonnie Carver is a native of Blount County in beautiful East Tennessee.  Born in Maryville, not far from the Great Smoky Mountains, and raised in the communtiy of Lakemont, he attended Rockford Elementary, Eagleton Junior High and Everett High School. He and his son, Alex, and daughter, Emma, currently live in Maryville. Also living in Maryville is his oldest daughter, Sara Kennedy, along with her husband Chris and their two children Coleman and Jenna. Lonnie accepted Jesus as his savior in 1996 but still struggled with worldliness and mistrust of organized religion. God led him to several churches since that time and blessed him with understanding about what His will is for Lonnie’s life.

         While attending Crossroads Community Church in Maryville, God moved Lonnie to step out of the boat and learn to trust Him only. Through the encouragement and guidance of the leadership at Crossroads, God taught Lonnie to understand and act on his spiritual gifts and encourage others to do the same.

         Lonnie has been a musician/entertainer for nearly 42 years. Traveling the country or working close to home in the music/entertainment industry has given him a unique perspective on the world and its inhabitants. In the spring of 2005 God gave Lonnie a conviction to leave the secular music industry and devote his talents to serving Him in whatever way He desires. In November of 2006, Lonnie was led to inquire of Pastor Tim Heath about the music ministry at Tellico Lake Church. Devine intervention was obviously at work. After prayerful consideration and conversation, it was agreed that God had a role for Lonnie to assume as a part of the TLC team. It is Lonnie’s goal to glorify Our Savior with contemporary as well as traditional praise and worship music. He feels that it is the responsibility of a worship leader to encourage the congregation into genuine and heartfelt praise to God. Most impressive is Lonnie's love for God, His Word, and for people.

Lonnie Carver graciously offered the following interview.

How and when did you get called to do music ministry?

To put an exact time and date is difficult. I believe that God was working on me over several years. Once I made the commitment to use my talent to honor Him, He began to open doors in a very rapid way. In the spring of 2004 I was finally given an opportunity to play with the praise team at the church I was attending. Through a series of circumstances, I began leading worship because no one else was available. This led to playing with the Kermit Easterling Band a contemporary Christian group ( As things progressed it became obvious to me and others around me that God intended for me to step into music ministry on a full time basis.

Why is music in church important?

Music is a universal language. It transcends language barriers and reaches a part of us that cannot be accessed by any other means. The Bible says repeatedly that we should sing with joy to the Lord. It tells us that our voices lifted in praise and thanksgiving are a sweet sound to Him. Regardless of the style of music that a given church uses, if the worshipers are truly worshipping with their hearts they will be drawn closer to God and He will be glorified.

How do you decide what songs to sing each service?

I read the scripture references that our pastor will be using that week. I look for key words or phrases in the scripture that suggest songs. I type these key words into a Bible study program and read all the relevant scripture. I spend time looking over our song list and listening for God’s direction. I trust the Holy Spirit to lead me to the songs that He wants sung at any given service.

How much rehearsal or preparation is needed with the worship team?

I usually start on Monday preparing for our Saturday service. If there are new songs to learn I spend time finding and arranging the songs to suit our praise team makeup. Then I print charts for each player and post them all on our church web page so that anyone can download them. I spend time determining the order of the songs for the worship service and locating any applicable scripture that may be used during the service. Actual rehearsal time is about 2 hours on Thursday evening but the total time that I spend in preparation, including setting up the computer program used for lyric projection, downloading video or sermon illustrations and other technical aspects for the service, is around 6 to 8 hours per week. This does not include prayer and daily study of God’s Word as it relates to our worship service.

Are any of your worship team members professional musicians like you?

No. Our bass player/ guitar player is an old friend that I played professionally with many years ago but he no longer plays on a professional level.

Are there any Christian artists or songwriters that you particularly admire?

Chris Tomlin, Don Moene, Darlene Zschech, Brian Doerksen, Paul Baloche, to name a few.

Some folks like the old traditional hymns—do you have a place for those in your repertoire?

I believe that any song that brings a congregation or individual into the presence of God is worthy of playing. At TLC we use contemporary as well as traditional worship music. The key is that we don’t try to sound like the original artists. We take the song and play it with the instrumentation and voices that we have available and let the Spirit lead as to how we actually do the song.

Were you raised in the church, and if so were you involved in the music?

I was raised in a Methodist Church to the age of 13 but I found the music stale and boring. For many years I refused to sing or even think about “church” music because I was very disillusioned with organized religion.

You have been a professional musician most of you life. How do you reconcile your professional music life with your role as a worship leader?

I recognize now that during all the years I spent entertaining in bars and clubs and concerts God was shaping me into the person I am today. He gave me the talents and abilities and now is blessing me with the opportunity to serve Him with those talents.

Do you think you are now at the point where God wants you to be, or do you think bigger aspirations lie ahead?

As of this writing I am where God wants me and I am very happy and blessed. I also know that this is just a step in a greater plan. I’m excited to think about what God has planned for my life. I know that music will always be a part of it but I think that there are bigger things that He has planned for me.

You can see a Youtube video where Lonnie is playing flute with the Kermit Easterling Band.

          If you are not already a follower of this blog, I would be deeply appreciative if you would show your support by clicking the "Follower" button on the right hand side of the page.  It doesn't cost you a thing, only a couple of minutes to sign up.  I will be having new interviews and stories every Wednesday in the coming weeks. Also, many other topics are covered throughout the rest of the week.  Hope you become a regular visitor to TOSSING IT OUT.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Special Post About a Special Post

I normally have not made a special posting like I'm doing now, but I just read today's post from Stephen T McCarthy's Stuffs and I thought it might be worth checking out for some of you.  He has a unique style of writing that I particularly like and the challenging topic has been pretty well thought out in my opinion. It's a fairly long post so read it when you can devote more than 2 or 3 minutes. The topic deals with "faith" and that's as much as I'll say since I think Stephen said it pretty well. 

And since I'm plugging, I might as well remind you to be sure to check out my post tomorrow about worship leader Lonnie Carver.

Thanks for indulging me -- I won't do it often.

I Yam a Sweet Potato and Other Turkey Day Stuff(ings)

            The other day on the internet my attention was caught by a sweet potato recipe. I thought the accompanying  picture looked kind of weird though because the potatoes were white. As I started reading the article, I learned the the sweet potatoes used in this recipe were called camotes and, according to the writer of the article, yams, which I've always called sweet potatoes, were not really sweet potatoes at all but they were yams. I looked at the can I had bought for Thanksgiving and it said "Sweet Potatoes" and underneath it also said "Candied Yams".  I checked on the internet where I learned that the Dept of Agriculture requires cans labelled as sweet potatoes also be labelled as yams. I don't really care what they're called just so I get what I expect to get.

           When I was growing up Thanksgiving was always simple--for me at least since I was just eating the food and not doing much else. My mother always fixed the same fare that was our tradition that I guess her mother had passed down to my mother. With the turkey and other fixings, we always had oyster dressing and sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top.  For the longest time I had no idea there was any other way to fix these.

         After my siblings and I moved out and started families of our own, we started learning about some of the other traditions that eventially got infused into my mother's  already expansive meals. I never really thought that some people didn't like oysters or that there were other things to put in dressing. Now at the family gatherings my sister-in-law would bring her family's cornbread stuffing. And her version on yams was the ones that were cut up, not mashed, and simmered with pecans and raisins. Nothing ever got replaced, it just got added, which I guess was fine with everybody since we kept needing more food for more people.

        Then the controversies arose about was better, mashed potatoes creamy smooth like I grew up with or lumpy.  I don't care. They all taste good to me so I say make them everyway.  Or green been, brocolli-cheese, or some other kind of casserole?  By now you know me--let's make it a pot luck and everybody bring their favorites and I'll try them all. Into adulthood I started learning about the infinite varieties of things that could be on the Thanksgiving buffet and I welcomed it all.

        My family has now scattered all over the country and now we don't have that big old mix-up like we used to, but new traditions have taken over.  For most of the past twelve years or so, my wife and I have hosted her family at our house and I usually fix most of the dinner.  Her family is from Ecuador so they don't have those traditions I grew up with.  They love the sweet potato and marshmallow casserole that my mother passed on to me.  The mashed potatoes definitely have to be creamy smooth. A big pot of steamed white rice, something my family never had, is one contribution that they have added to the tradition. Oh, and eggnog with brandy--rompope they say in Spanish.  We always had eggnog when I was growing up, but I never thought to add alcohol to it and didn't realize it was a pretty common thing to do.  Brandy in the eggnog?  I wouldn't want to drink too much of it, but it's a nice way to cap off that big Thanksgiving meal.

         However, the oyster dressing still apparently is a tough one for some people.  My wife's family is not much different.  Her father and brothers will eat it, but everyone else is still a bit wary of trying it.  I found another recipe that is really darn good and everybody seems to like it. Instead of oysters, this dressing has sausage and fruit and it is very tasty. But I still make the oyster dressing because it's just one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving dinner.  And it's all the more to add to that Thanksgiving buffet.

         Now I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving.  Heck, I'm looking forward to lunch.  This talk about food has made me hungry.  I can hardly wait for that oyster dressing.  Someday I'm going to try that camote recipe that I found.

         What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes that are traditional for your family?  Have there been any Thanksgiving surprises that were introduced to your family's traditional meal?  Do you also find your Thanksgiving buffet table growing with more new dishes?




Monday, November 23, 2009

Oh No! NaNo

34,607 words!

         That's where I am right now.  I have officially fallen behind, though not terribly so. I am definitely going to have to pick up the pace this week. Last week I got kind of slack at times. And I let other things get in my way.

          One big thing is I'm keeping up with my blog posts, responding to the comments I receive, and commenting on other blogs.  This all amounts to thousands of words. For example, my debate post from last Thursday amounted to over 1200 words, my comment rebuttals (after all this was a debate) probably surpassed 500 words, and additional comments I made on other sites probably passed the 800 word mark. Heck that's 2500 words in one day that I could have written on my novel. But I'm really committed to the blog although I may be putting a little too much depth and research into the daily posts. Maybe I need to lighten up until the end of the month, but I really like to try to shoot for substance and quality.

         Then Wednesday morning I was planning on really putting in my all out effort into the novel. Then my internet went out.  My whole network shut down.  Should have been the prime opportunity to just work on the novel, but I was so concerned about my internet that I spent most of the morning trying to get it going again. That's when I really get frustrated with computers.  I was so worn out after that episode that I really didn't feel like writing that much. I know that  Tamika of The Write Worship got off line and halted her blog all last week--- how did that work for you, Tamika?  I think I would have a hard time doing that move.
         I just kept finding other things to do all week to keep me from the novel.  But I don't think I need to beat myself up too badly.  I guess a lot of us have things we need to do sometimes that we keep finding reasons to postpone.  Often they are very good reasons. However, I think you just have to make yourself do whatever it is you got to do and set some special time aside for the activity.

         And I'm still flying by the seat of my pants.  Still no plot outline, except for a general idea in my head where it's all going.  I think one of the things that is helping me keep up my word count is that I'm skipping around.  Some times I go back to the beginning or to the middle and write on those parts for a while and sometimes I start writing toward the end. I don't really think I'm affecting my continuity in any negative way and this helps me when I get stuck on a certain part of the story.  I just move over to a different part that's easier to write about at that moment.

         So enough of this nearly free form stream of consciousness babbling.  I don't know if I've said anything that helps you, but this is where I am at right now.

          How about you-- NaNo or not:   Do you have an ongoing project?   What's your favorite way to avoid doing what you should be doing?  Could you take a week off from being online like Tamika?  What if you no longer had the internet, period---how badly would that mess up your life?  Am I nuts to be posing complex debate topics that take a lot of time?  Can you believe that Carrie and Stephen humored me with such long comments to my topic with really good answers -- I was humbled to have them spend so much time.  Carrie, if you're still working on the NaNo novel, I'm sorry if I took any of your writing time away from that, but what the heck--writing comments is writing too-- especially comments of substance.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Listening to God

 "Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you". James 4:8

             Over the past several Sundays I have talked about prayer. When we pray we are talking to God. But is it a one-sided conversation?  Are we listening to what God is telling us?  Many times in the Bible we read stories about God speaking directly to his people, but rarely do we hear stories in our age of dramatic encounters such as God speaking through a burning bush. When we do hear people saying that God spoke directly to them we often must weigh the information very carefully before accepting that it is true. Does God still speak to us?  Do we listen if he does?

Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
John 8:47

           God can certainly talk to whomever he pleases, but usually He responds in accordance to our relationship with him.  If we have established a steadfast relationship with God through persistant and faithful prayer, we are knocking upon that door which will be opened to us. God will speak to us, though it likely won't be in audibly direct words. God can speak to us through scripture or through the words of another person. His "voice" my be seen in an event or something we see around us that tells us what we need to know.  When we are truly of God, then we will be able to recognize that which is of God.  We need to open all of our senses in order to know when God is speaking to us.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."              1Kings 19:11-12

          We live in such a noisy world filled with plenty to distract us. With our television, computers, work, socializing, and everything that is in the crazy world around us it's sometimes hard to focus. And so often we are busy, busy, busy. You're going to have a hard time hearing God's voice unless you set aside a time and a place for God. Not many of us are going to be like a prophet of old and fast in the wilderness for forty days, but we can still schedule some daily time for reading and reflecting on God's Word and praying to him. In the stillness of our seclusion it will be easier to hear what God is saying to us.

I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning." Psalm 130:5-6

        As we set aside time for prayer and studying the Bible, we also must learn to be in God's time and learn patience. God will answer you when you are ready to hear. Learning to wait patiently is part of the process of listening to God.  If you are not patient, then you may never learn to be ready to hear and understand God's will for you. In addition, instead of acting rashly on what you think is God speaking, you should act after carefully weighing out what you think you have heard to be sure that it truly is of God and not a product of your desire.

 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'  Jeremiah 33:3

           God wants for you to call on him.  When we have a strong, honest, sincere, and faithful relationship with Him, He will tell us what we need to know. Faith, persistance, stillness, and patience will put our hearts, minds, and souls in the place to listen to God.

 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand"     John 10:27-28

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Turkey and Blog Posts for Thanksgiving

          Hope everyone had a great week. And can you believe Thanksgiving is on Thursday? Don't know why but this year it took me by surprise moreso than other years. Thanksgiving has always been a favorite day for me. This year I don't think my wife and I are going to do things up too big like we've done in past year, but we'll still have a smaller sized traditional dinner.

         The past week was somewhat odd. Perhaps I'm now feeling the pressure from trying to keep up with my NaNo novel.  I'm still at it and keeping up. I'll be providing my insight on Monday's post and talk about what roadblocks and detours I've been encountering and will look forward to hearing about how other writers, as well as in other vocations, deal with the types of things that I'll be talking about.

        Over the past several Sundays I've been doing a series about prayer and talking to God. Tomorrow's post will deal with listening to God.

        Had some fun reaction to my last week's post about toothpaste . This Tuesday I'll be getting in a Thanksgiving spirit with a post about traditional Thanksgiving fare. I'll be hoping to hear about some of your Thanksgiving favorites.

        For my Wednesday interview story I will be profiling Lonnie Carver, a professional musician who branched out into worship ministry and now acts as the worship leader at a Tennessee church. This past week's story about artist Ada Jackson got a very good response from those who left comments.  According to my tracking stats, viewership to the Tossing It Out site tripled on that day. 

        The weird one for the past week was Thursday's debate topic on the Bible in schools . I guess that old adage, “Never discuss religion or politics in polite company” is pretty true.  Not many of you seemed to want to touch that one, although I was pretty impressed by the substantial comment contributions from two favorite bloggers, Carrie Kei Heim Binas and Stephen T. McCarthy . I would encourage you to go check that post and the commentary as well--and certainly feel free to add more comments.  Perhaps this Thursday I'll try to avoid the overly controversial and get silly. Let me know if you think I get off-base with some of my topics.

         Yesterday I had another post about death stories.  They were not morbid stories, just ironic stories. One of the comments on this post was left by psychologist Harris Stern who has an interesting blog called Who Am I? Who Are You?  .  Harris has some interesting posts about death, as well as telling life stories. He also has a website that you may enjoy .

         So what are you doing for Thanksgiving? Do you have a long-standing tradition that you'd like to tell us about?  What was your most unusual Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for?
                   Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sudden Death Departures

           Death is an inconvenient interruption to life, and sometimes it comes most unexpectedly.  The victim of a fatal accident, a murder, or some tragic event is going through the day without knowing that their life is going to be cut short with little or no warning. These deaths take all of us by surprise. Other people go through periods of suffering with death to be the expected outcome. They and we know that death is imminent, yet often when it comes the survivors are left with the mixed feelings of denial and grief and a sense of relief that the person will no longer have to suffer.  No matter what the case, death is an unpleasant event not only because of the ending of a life, but also because death reminds us of our own mortality.

          Most of us are not looking forward to our own death.  And we are saddened when those we love die. We like to think that our or their death will be tidy, painless, and respectful. But sometimes deaths occur in very strange or ironic ways.  Those are the deaths that might make you scratch your head and say That was weird.  In today's post I'm going to look at a few ironic death situations.

Going when you're doing what you love:

         My grandfather, Paul H. Trevillian of Morgantown, WV, was somebody I had really come to admire as I came into adulthood.  I didn't see him very often, but when I did he always made me feel special. In the summer of 1970 I went to visit my grandparents. I was nineteen and had finished my first year at the University of Tennessee. My grandfather was proud of me and took me around town to introduce me to everybody he'd meet.  He seemed to know everybody and they all seemed to like him. I could see that he had this knack of making everybody feel special. 

         Perhaps his affability made him a natural for politics. He was a proud Republican and very active in the local politcal scene. He had his enemies, but that's politics.  For the most part he had a lot of friends. At the time when I was visiting he had been on the City Council for many years and he absolutely loved it. He liked nothing better than to discuss the affairs of the city and find out what people wanted him to do for the city.  Politics and City Council was his passion. At a meeting in early 1972, Paul Trevillian was beginning his speech about installing a traffic signal at a particular intersection. Suddenly he clutched his chest and fell on the spot. He died instantly from a massive heart attack. I don't think he would have wanted his death any other way.

The Show Must Go On:

        Roberta Griffin, actress and wife of magician Ken Griffin, used to enjoy telling tales of life on the Circuit Chautauqua touring stage productions.  This form of entertainment consisted of a broad range of presentations from lectures, fine stage arts, popular theatrical productions, and vaudeville. They were tent shows that travelled to various towns where they would set up and perform a repertoire of presentations. Catering to primarily rural areas, this entertainment lingered on into the 1950's until television essentially took its place. For a working actor a show of this nature could be grueling, but it represented a season of steady paychecks.

        One of the actors who was a regular on many of the circuit tours was a man by the name of Leo Lacey. Leo was a long time fixture on the circuit with a career that went back to vaudeville. He was well-liked in the show business community and popular with audiences with whom he had a reputation as an entertaining actor and comedian. Never failing to entertain, he had superb delivery of his scripted lines, but had an extraordinary knack for ad-libbing and improvisation, which was a skill that was required of  all of the performers.

          As Roberta told the story, one evening as the feature theatrical presentation was in the final act, Leo Lacey made a dramatic display of agony, clutching his chest and then falling to the floor. Accustomed to Leo's frequent antics and attempts to throw off the other actors, the onstate cast began improvising with the unscripted event.  Upon checking the downed actor, the others immediately realized he was actually dead. So as not to spoil the evening's entertainment, all actors carried on with the scene,  deftly covering up the true tragedy that had occurred. One of the actors dragged Leo's lifeless body backstage where it was propped in a corner and everyone continued to work around it.  Due to the professionalism of the cast and crew, the audience never knew the difference.  As far as the audience knew, everything they had seen on stage was exactly as it should have been. After all, as the old adage declares, the show must go on.

           And I can certainly vouch for this.  True professional entertainers live by this rule.  As one who spent many years in the entertainment business,  I can cite numerous examples.  There have been times when I've been so sick that all I could do is lie miserably backstage until it was time to put on my stage face and go out to perform as though nothing were wrong. When you are dedicated and love and believe in what you are doing, you make sacrifices and forget about yourself. Leo Lacey and his fellow actors were pros like that. They knew their audience had come to be entertained and leave with an uplifted spirit. The show couldn't just stop because someone had died. Leo Lacey probably went out the way that suited him best--antother case of going when you're doing what you love.

Careful What You Say:

           Finally, from an undated clipping from my collection (probably around 1972), comes a somewhat ironic story.  Police Sergeant Charles Crocker had been struggling with his weight. The department was cracking down on the issue of overweight police officers and  35 year old Crocker wanted to bring his weight down to 200 pounds.  Six weeks from the date that he was to go on vacation he started on a crash diet. It was a struggle, but he faithfully adhered to his diet.

          A couple of days before his vacation was to begin, he was having breakfast at the counter in a diner with a fellow officer.  The other man was enjoying a hearty breakfast, while Sgt. Crocker settled for a piece of dry wheat toast and a glass of orange juice.  Crocker watched longingly as his partner ate his breakfast. According to Crocker's partner's account. Crocker drank his orange juice and complained, "This diet is killing me." and moments later he toppled off his stool, dead of an apparent heart attack. Here's a good example of being careful what you say.

Last Words (not to sound ominous):

           I've thought about what kind of death I would choose if I had to die. Don't get me wrong-- I hope I live for many, many, many more years as long as I'm relatively healthy and not a burden to anyone. But,just hypothetically speaking, if I absolutely had to die and the method of dying was up to me, I guess I would want to be dropped out of a plane at a high altitude. The fall would be one final thrill ride and would undoubtly be more exciting than, say, drowning or burning alive. But I'm not ready to go yet.  Wait until I've passed 150 years old or so then you can toss me out of the plane.

           Let's face it-- we're all going to die someday. If you could pick, how would you want to go?  Do you know any weird or ironic death stories?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let's Throw the Book at Students

          I really think kids today, and probably for the past twenty to thirty years, have been sadly deprived in the public education they have been receiving. I'm not blaming the teachers for the most part. I do think that most of them are doing the best they can within the boundaries they have been confined.  I am placing blame on the shoulders of misguided school boards, education departments at the state level, the judicial system, parents, and society as a whole. There is a lot of foolishness that is inflicted upon our children by special interests and liberal buffoons that takes the place of quality and relevant education. The most important textbook and literary resource is rarely used in our classrooms.

Here is my debate question for today:

Should the Bible be mandatory course study throughout the entire K - 12  public school curriculum?

       The book commonly referred to as THE HOLY BIBLE is indisputedly the most influential book of Western Culture. I'm sure somebody will dispute this statement and if  that's you then I'll be interested in your evidence as to which book has greater influence.  THE BIBLE  is the best selling book of all time, a fact which is documented by a number of sources. Having possibly sold more than all of the other required or recommended reading books combined is, in my opinion, enough to make it a book that should be not only acknowledged but also studied. The fact that THE BIBLE was the first book to be printed in mass production and  prior to the printing press was widely distributed through copies transcribed by hand also gives this book extraordinary significance. However the main reason for all students in the U.S. to have regular study of THE BIBLE as a requirement is the sheer influence this book has had and continues to have on our culture.

          1.  Literature:  THE BIBLE should be taught as literature and literary influence. The book contains poetry and prose which has been read and appreciated for centuries. And not only has it been read, it has been allluded to with great frequency in literature and literary works have been even based on stories and passages from THE BIBLE. Shakespeare alludes to THE BIBLE over 1600 times in his plays. It would be absurd to relegate biblical allusions such as these to obscure footnotes in literary works when a solid education based on the source would make far more sense. Even from the standpoint of words and idioms, many of these are based on biblical allusions.  When someone says they've met their goliath, what does that mean?  If you are versed in a Bible background you know the answer to that.

       2)  History:   THE BIBLE is history. In some cases there may be some dispute as to its accuracy, but there are many things studied in school that are disputed.  A part of education is looking at opposing viewpoints and coming to rational conclusions as to what is correct. Much of the history presented in THE BIBLE is absolutely accurate and new discoveries continue to be made that authenticate what is presented in biblical historical accounts. As far as presentation, their are interesting approaches taken in THE BIBLE that deserve attention, such the geneologies.
            Perhaps more important is THE BIBLE's influence on history and how the book directly influenced societal mores, political decisions, legal directives, and other ways that made our society go in some of the directions it went. There are so many biblical references used by our Founding Fathers, as well as numerous historically important speeches by great Americans like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others. Without a strong biblical background students have no reference point to understand these allusions other than assuming that another person's footnoted explanations are correct, which is sometimes shaky scholarship to rely upon.

       3). Culture:  Some of Western Civilization's greatest works of music and visual art, as well as the art mediums of popular culture, depict or reference things taken from THE BIBLE.  Granted though much of the U.S. educational system is sadly lackly in exposing students to the great fine arts, it would still  be a good thing to be able to arm them with enough knowledge to recognize what they are seeing when they encounter a work that has something to do with THE BIBLE--it's called being informed, or educated.  Even pop culture such as movies and music frequently incorporates biblical themes and ideas. There are too many to even begin to list, but one that immediately comes to mind the THE DAVINCI CODE.  Solid biblical knowledge can give a modern audience greater critical discernment and more understanding to appreciate works that have these types of references.

        4)  Philosophy and critical thinking:  Rather than focusing on teaching what to think it might be more useful to teach them how to think. Frequently students are indoctrinated or programmed rather than encouraged to examine many facets of a subject matter and make logical deductions. THE BIBLE offers some unique philosophical ideas that are worth studying which opens up many opportunities to develop strong critical thinking skills.

         5)  Ethics:  Students in the U.S. are becoming sadly lacking in good ethical behavior.  Our educational system does not seem to be doing much to change that.  THE BIBLE is about ethics to a great extent, and the ethics portrayed therein are fairly universal.  Many of our nation's laws are based on biblical laws. These biblical laws make good common sense and are worth study and evaluation.  I see nothing but value in teaching students things like stealing and lying are wrong.  There is a real upside to studying ethics in school in every grade.

         Using THE BIBLE as a text and a book of study is important to our students because it has been a touchstone for our nation, our culture, and our society. It should be presented as objectively as possible with no bias in either direction. We have other requirements such as American History and Foreign Language.  One could question the value of these moreso than an ongoing Bible study. Students are given certain novels and other literary works as standard required and recommended fare in English classes. Why those and not THE BIBLE?  I am of a strong opinion that in order to preserve our nation's values, heritage, and culture we should promote THE BIBLE over any other text.  This book represents who we have been and who we are.  I want to keep it that way.

        What about you?  Would you be disturbed if the U.S. education system required a course of study of THE BIBLE throughout the entire educational career of public school students and if so, why?  As long as no particular religious agenda is being pushed, what is the real downside to studying THE BIBLE?  Have I realistically stated the influence of  THE BIBLE upon our society and if not, why does this book seem to be so important? Try to be rational in your argument and please don't pander to anti-Christian stereotyping or religion bashing.  Try to convince me that I'm way off base in my thinking on this or help me prove why I am correct.

        So are you up to a game of catch?  Let's have a good time. I've tossed it out to you, now it's your turn to toss it back.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ada Jackson: Portrait of a Young Artist

          Art is the cumulative result of the artist's talents and life's experiences reflecting a combined vision of the reality of the world in which we live and the world dreamed and imagined. When I look at the work of talented young artist Ada Jackson this is what I see.  In her work, Ada manipulates the motifs of memories with the fanciful and surrealistic to create visual pieces of stark beauty at times, whimsey at others, and always compelling and interesting.

           Ada Jackson was born in the East Tennessee town of Maryville, Tennessee in 1982. Her parents traveled with a theatrcal production which toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada. Her upbringing in the theater scene certainly had a big influence on shaping the way she sees the world. She was on stage at a young age and when she was nine years old she played the lead role in a stage musical based on PINOCCHIO.

         Shortly after this tour, Ada and her family settled in Downey, California at which time Ada's interest in art began to be nurtured.  Having been greatly influenced by her grandfather, artist Frank Pastore from Richmond, Virginia, Ada was encouraged to allow her artistic expression to flourish by some of her school teachers.

        In 2005 Ada moved to Central New Jersey to pursue a career in real estate.  However, her passion to be an artist led her to pursue her dream with conviction. She has gained recognition from her exhibits in New Jersey and started her website, . In her current business Ada creates custom works made from photos and memorabilia provided by her customers as well as her unique paintings.

         Ada took some time to talk to me about her works and dreams.

How would you describe your art?

I would describe my paintings and drawings as abstract expressionistic. I usually like to incorporate photos into my paintings. I feel that I put a lot of myself into my work. Whatever I am feeling at the time, usually comes across in my art.

                                                  Open  Your  Eyes                                                                                                                   This piece was created in support of the World  Hunger Foundation            

What are some of your goals as an artist?

I would eventually like to be known for my original artwork but in the meantime I would like to use my art to make people happy. I use to create unique, thoughtful gifts.

Are there any artists that have inspired you?

I have always loved Vincent Van Gogh but I think my Grandfather, Frank Pastore, has been my biggest inspiration. He and I share the same artisitic style. I didn't even realize how alike our style is until recently.

Blue Emilee

Where is a place that one of artworks you have created would end up that would make you say, “Now I’ve really made it as an artist”?

Definitely somewhere like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But it doesn't take much for me to feel like an artist. It may seem silly but last year I entered a contest at Starbucks where artwork was displayed there for a month. At the end of the month they had an event where they picked the winners of the contest. Proceeds from the event went to the World Hunger Foundation. I ended up winning and someone bought that piece. It felt so great to create a piece of art that inspired people and that helped a good cause. I would have to say that is one of the moments, as small as it was, that made me feel like an artist. (See "Open Your Eyes" above)

Where do you like to go for inspiration?

I don't have a particular place that I go for inspiration. To get inspired, it usually takes an event or special cause to inspire me.

Do you listen to music when you work on your art? If so what do you like to listen to?

It depends on my mood. If I do listen to music it's usually older music like the Beatles or The Doors. I also like to listen to Death Cab for Cutie, Nicole Atkins, The Pogues and Kings of Leon.

Which medium of art do you like to work with the most?

I actually have 3 favorite mediums. Acrylic, charcoal and ink.
                                    Ada at work in her studio

If you could have an art studio anyplace in the world, where would you most like it to be and why?
I have never been there before but I would love it if I had a studio in Oia, Santorini, Greece. The pictures look absolutely amazing and I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to paint and draw.

What is your dream in the field of art? What do you see in your artistic future?

My dream is for people to know my work. Whether it be my original artwork or my collages I just want people to get inspiration from what I do. I see myself continuing to use art as an emotional outlet. If I never reach the level of a Vincent Van Gogh then that's fine with me. I would just like to be able to touch a few people's lives for the good through my art.

Why should people go to your website and commission a work from you?

I feel that people should visit my website because it might give them an idea for a very personal and thoughtful gift. When you order a collage from me, I take your memories, whether they are photos, letters, a child's drawing, and I create a unique piece of art. It is not a digital collage. It is an actual painting that includes your personal mementos. I put a lot of hard work and thought into every collage. You and your loved ones will not be disappointed.
Girl Kissing Her Baby

by Ada Jackson

                                                                                                        "Hope"   Donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

        Try to support the arts and young artists. Be sure to visit Ada's website and keep her in mind if you are looking for a truly unique gift.

         Thank you for visiting TOSSING IT OUT and please come back often. Every Wednesday I present features about interesting people and things they do. Every other day of the week there is a post that hopefully is of interest to you. Tomorrow there will be a new debate topic for discussion so check it out and voice your opinion. And if you haven't done so yet please click on the "Follwers" button on the right hand side of the screen and become a Birdwatcher. I'm trying to reach 100 followers by the end of November--please help me reach that goal.