Monday’s Musings: No Time

I’m not the first to make this observation and I won’t be the last. But this is what I’m musing about today: Before mankind had so many time-saving inventions, it seems we had more time.

Before convenience foods, when women cooked everything from scratch on a woodstove, families had time to eat dinner together. Breakfast, too. But now, we’re too busy.

We have cars to take us great distances quickly and efficiently, but we seldom find the time to stay home.

You know how historians get their information about famous people long deceased? One trove of accurate information often available is the letters they wrote in which they expressed their opinions, dispensed advice, shared their hopes and fears, or described their experiences. These were almost always written by hand in the flickering light of a candle, with a pen (or quill) dipped in ink. How many of these priceless vignettes of real life do we moderns produce, despite having more convenient means to do so?

You say our electronic record is more comprehensive and durable? I don’t know the future, but I don’t buy the idea that anything electronic is permanent. And does anyone think TV and movies accurately portray our world?

There was a time when people sat on their front porches in the evening and talked. When people paid a call instead of picking up the phone and making one. When grown children had time to tend to their elderly parents.

Yes, I know: it takes money to live, and we have to work. But all these new things contribute vastly to the expense. In our family, we pay DirecTV $80 every month. Eighty dollars — every month — for the privilege of turning our brains to jelly. That doesn’t include the cost of the TV itself, the electricity it uses, or our Netflix subscription. What do you spend on your phone and internet services, not to mention the hardware? Before people had cars, they didn’t have car payments, nor insurance or service and repair bills, nor any of the other myriad auto-related expenses that pick our pockets.

When we used our muscles instead of automatic machines, it may have taken longer to get the job done (though not necessarily); however, the labor allowed us to use our bodies the way they were intended, thus eliminating the need for expensive gym memberships. Incorporating a work-out in our everyday activities was, in the long run, more efficient and cost-effective than the way most people do things now.

I’m not lamenting “the good old days,” because in many ways, they weren’t all that good. Besides which, when we keep looking back, we’ll likely trip over something.

I’m merely observing how these improvements enable us to more efficiently lose sight of what’s important.


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Saturday SitRep

I’ve been home for over a week now, and it feels pretty nice. (Insert contented sigh here.) Be it ever so humble, and all that.

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten back to my writing. I’m less happy to report that I haven’t been as productive as I’d like–nor as I should!–but I’m getting back into it after my long break. Hoping I’ll eke out a space this weekend to do some real writing at last.

Meanwhile, Craig’s been doing some work around the house. Which is great! But all too often he enlists my help, which is the main reason I haven’t been writing as diligently as I’d like. ‘Nuff said on that subject.

Bottom line: I’m settled in at last and all’s well. Sooner or later I’ll get this flea-bitten book written.

Oh, one more thing: Craig and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary this past Thursday. And believe it or not, we’re still happy. In fact, we’ve actually signed on for yet another year. Crazy, huh?

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Thursday’s Thoughts: A Higher Court

I’m thinking today about a book I read last week: A Higher Court by John L. Betcher.

It’s been about a year since I entered the world of Twitter. I swore it would never happen, but it did, giving credence to the adage Never say never.

But this isn’t about Twitter. It’s about a book written by someone I met on Twitter through the Independent Author Network, an organization of self-published and small-press authors. One of his books, A Higher Court, sounded intriguing, so several months ago I decided to buy it for my Kindle. I finally got around to reading it last week.

It’s a story about a trial attorney who’s called to serve on a jury charged with deciding a highly unusual case: Does God exist, or is it all a lie?

A couple of things drew me to this book. For one, having been a legal assistant for thirty years, I like stories about attorneys and the law; it’s something I can relate to. But mostly, of course, the issue to be decided is near and dear to me.

Mr. Betcher writes with competence and skill, and the book displayed none of the irritating technical and editorial problems that too often plague “indie” books. Most importantly, the author did an excellent job of presenting the evidence. He gave both sides equal time and equal thought. He laid it out objectively, not ridiculing any argument but allowing the jury (or, in actuality, the reader) to consider each point on its merits.

And that’s important. People tend to get worked up about this subject, and I’ve seen more than one discussion degenerate into a juvenile-minded melee of insult slinging. I’d intended to share with you just such a conversation I had on Twitter this past summer, but the other party has blocked me from his account and I’m no longer able to access his tweets on the subject.

He initially replied with scorn to a blog post I wrote about God. I no longer have his exact words, but they were derogatory. I agreed to discuss the matter provided it all remained civil. Through a series of ultra-brief back-and-forths (Twitter exchanges are limited to 140 characters, including spaces), he made a number of ill-informed and/or blatantly false statements, including but not limited to: the whole Bible has been proven wrong by every reputable expert; science has indisputably proven evolution and debunked the existence of God; all scientists are on the same page about this, with no controversy in the academic community on this score; any scientist who claims to believe in God is not really a scientist. I asked his sources for these statements, saying I’d like to learn more. His reply was, “Try reading a book. Any book. Take a college course. The proof is everywhere.” When I shared some titles I’ve found informative, he commenced to call me foul names. After I thanked him for his gracious and edifying conversation, he blocked me, which is why I can’t quote him verbatim here.

That wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed this sort of pseudo-academic diatribe, and it won’t be the last. That’s one reason I appreciated the calm discussion presented in this book. Though some of the characters expressed strong emotions, no one interrupted the flow of the conversation or prevented the witnesses from having their say (because the judge was there with his gavel at ready, maintaining order). Nor did the author try to tell the reader what to believe. Careful to differentiate between facts and conclusions, he laid out the evidence and and allowed the reader to decide what to conclude from the facts.

Nevertheless, I experienced mixed feelings while reading it. Though I very much appreciated the careful and fair-minded presentation of the evidence, I wasn’t wild about the story. The thin, unlikely plot seemed contrived, much like a clumsy easel nailed together to display a masterful painting.

Perhaps this bothered me because, as a writer, I’ve learned that story is the backbone of a work of fiction. It’s bad form to use a shaky plot as a pulpit; if we want to get a point across, we should craft a story that’s solid enough to carry it.

The flimsy story disappointed me. But I kept reading because the testimony was riveting and thought provoking.

The end, however, almost redeemed the whole thing. Without giving too away much, a character suffering brain injury thought he was hand-writing an account of the trial; but what others read was just one sentence repeated over and over, page after page: God loves you.

Whatever we think of Mr. Betcher’s story—and whatever we conclude from the evidence presented—the heavens declare the glory of God and the universe demonstrates His handiwork. No one’s forcing us to accept it, and we can’t expect to fully understand it. But nothing can change the facts. God loves us.

Thank you, Mr. Betcher, for taking the time to share this vital testimony with the world. It’s worth a serious look no matter what sort of easel it stands on.

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Monday’s Musings: The Last Jalapeno

It seems like the space of time between spring planting and autumn’s garden clean-up gets shorter every year.

Sometimes, due to weather conditions, the season actually is shorter. Like this year, for instance. Dry conditions in the early summer stunted our peppers; they grew, but didn’t blossom. Once the rains found us and the plants started producing, it was almost too late. The tomatoes and other things didn’t fare so badly; we ate fresh tomatoes from early July up to the first part of October. But the jalapeno season was late coming and flew past with alarming speed.

Personally, I’m not a fan of hot foods, but Craig is addicted to capsaicin, the chemical compound in hot peppers that makes your mouth burn. He’s always loved hot foods, but his dependence on them intensified after our oldest daughter gave him a bottle of Melinda’s Naga Jolokia sauce for Christmas in 2010. It’s made from the naga bhut jolokia chili pepper, also called ghost pepper or cobra chili. Boasting over 1 million Scoville heat units (SHU), it’s said to be the hottest in the world. (In comparison, jalapenos run between 3000 and 8000 SHU.) Others, like the Trinidadian scorpion pepper, claim to be hotter. But let’s not quibble. Hot is hot. I don’t care which is the scorchiest; they’re all too hot for me.

In less than a month, the level in Craig’s jolokia sauce was getting low, and we went on the hunt for more. Couldn’t find any locally, so we ordered a case from the manufacturer. I’m not kidding. He loves it that much. The bottle in the picture is the last one in the case, and we’ve broken into a new case that we recently ordered.

Meanwhile, though he no longer finds jalapenos hot enough to satisfy, he still enjoys the flavor. As you can see from the first picture in this post, we canned a few this summer for eating with his nachos (which he’ll liberally sprinkle with Melinda’s sauce) throughout the year. But one of our favorite ways to use the jalapenos can only be done when they’re fresh: pizza poppers. Even I eat them.

Years ago, a friend (hi, Maxine!) gave us a recipe for pepper poppers, and we’ve adapted it to its present form. We made the last batch of the year a couple days ago. It’ll be a long time until we can make them again, so we’re savoring them.

In case you’re wondering: yes, we have tried making them from store-bought peppers. But they’re just not the same. When you’re used to the best, nothing less satisfies.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to try it. (The picture shows them before baking; when they come out of the oven, they’re a little browner.)

1-1/2 lb. jalapeno peppers — cut them in half lengthwise and remove seeds.

Mix: 8 oz. cream cheese (softened) – 8 oz. (2 cups) shredded Mozarella cheese – 2 oz. pepperoni, finely diced – 1/4 t. chili powder – 1/4 t. granulated garlic

Stuff the hollowed-out peppers with the cheese mixture. Press them, cheese-side down, into fine breadcrumbs to coat them evenly. Lay them on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve drizzled with warm pizza sauce.

Note: Since Craig can’t eat wheat gluten, I use gluten-free breadcrumbs. (First I make the bread; then I dry it and process it in a blender.)

Also: since these aren’t hot enough for him anymore, I sprinkle the cavity of some of them with a high-powered cayenne (70,000 SHU) powder before filling with the cheese. I sprinkle the tops of the super-hot ones with paprika so I can tell the difference.

These are best eaten fresh, as they tend to get a little soggy when they’re warmed over. But the recipe makes too much to eat all at once, so we live with the soggy. We have a few left from the batch in the picture. When we eat the last ones, we’ll officially go into mourning.

Thus goes the last jalapeno. Down the hatch!

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Saturday SitRep

Yesterday, some 2 weeks after I called my internet service provider to report our connection problems, we got a phone call from the company. They said they’d be sending a service tech out to give us some new equipment.

Turns out they’d been working on the problem all this time (contrary to appearances). Who knew? I honestly didn’t figure they cared.

As promised, however, the representative arrived a short time later, removed all the old equipment, and installed new both inside and out. It’s a whole different system now; they’ve even changed the transmission equipment on the tower.

And so far, it’s working! After struggling with intermittent service for months, I am cautiously optimistic.

This past week, we spent Monday through Thursday in Maple Heights with Craig’s mom. It seemed she was well enough for us to come home Thursday afternoon, but she’s still not as strong as any of us would like. We may spend a day with her now and then over the next couple of weeks, but I don’t expect to have to be there a week at a time.

A couple of my friends contacted me in response to my last post, fearing I was ready to call an end to my writing projects present and future. Rest assured, I don’t see that happening. Circumstances have required me to pull up and take a break;  nearing the end of this hiatus, I’m rethinking my course. I still intend to keep writing, but am open to making a detour or changing direction if the Lord calls me to do something different. Until I get some clear leading, I’ll keep on the course I started.

I’m writing this Friday evening and will schedule it to publish on Saturday. Hubby’s watching TV (Yukon Men), and it’s distracting me. After this post goes up, I’ll have to read it and see what I wrote.

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Following

No matter how independent we consider ourselves, we all follow something — a philosophy, religion, or school of thought — and we’re always in pursuit of something — comfort, notoriety, pleasure, financial security, love, etc.

Some time after being lifted from the black hole of depression by the touch of the Great Physician in 1972, I realized I wanted to follow Him in every aspect of my life, and I made that my primary pursuit.

Easy to say, but not so simple to do. One of the most difficult things is seeing where He’s going in order to follow Him there. You hear people say, “The Lord led me to do such-and-such,” and I’ve said the same thing myself. But how does a person know this? It’s easy to lose sight of His lead car in the snarled traffic of life.

I contemplate this frequently, but especially so over the past few weeks.

A person who doesn’t acknowledge the existence of God, or who might accept the idea of a spiritual force of some sort but doesn’t believe we can have personal interaction with it, honestly can’t understand how this works. I can see how such a person would think this whole topic ridiculous.

But for those who do know God, His leading is a very real thing. The tough part is discerning His leading from our own desires. “Follow your heart” is the worst advice ever dispensed. As God said through the prophet in Jeremiah 17:9, the human heart is deceitful, desperately wicked, and unknowable. That’s not the sort of entity a wise person follows! So how can a sincere Christ-follower know when it’s the Spirit of God speaking, and when it’s his own deceitful heart?

The first criterion, of course, is if the “feeling” compels us to do something that goes against the clear teaching of the Bible. God will never contradict Himself, so (for example) if we feel drawn into an adulterous relationship, we can be certain it’s our self/flesh compelling us rather than the Holy Spirit. But not everything is so cut and dried. How can we know, definitively, Who or what is calling to us?

I’m not sure there’s any one answer to the question. God knows each of us intimately, and He operates in the way for us personally and for our particular situation. Sometimes He speaks gently, sometimes we need a swift kick in the pants. In one case, circumstances might confirm the rightness of our decision, and in other situations we must wait a long time to see things fall into place. Occasionally a person “just knows” immediately what she must do, and other times she must pray about it for days or weeks before she’s sure.

My personality is as non-confrontive as water, so I’m inclined to take the path of least resistance. If I feel led to a particular action, I’ll pray about it, make a decision based upon my understanding of God’s will as expressed in the Bible as well as practical considerations, and then move forward, allowing circumstances to confirm I’m on the right course. I continue to pray about it, remaining open to the Spirit’s urging as to when to continue and when to take a different route, and thus go with the flow. God doesn’t always work that way in my life, but for the most part, this “water” method has stood me in good stead.

Beware the guilt trip, however, which can send us on a detour. Somebody asks us to help him out, take on a responsibility, or attend an event, and makes us feel that if we don’t agree, we’re shirking our Christian duty. God convicts us of sin when we’re truly in error, but He never uses guilt to motivate us; that’s the devil’s tool. It’s important to analyze what’s compelling us to action.

Months ago, I believed I should start writing the fourth and final book in the Gateway to Gannah series, then move on to something else. I thought I knew how the series should wrap up, and I was confident one more book would complete it neatly. I also assumed I’d be writing fiction the rest of my life.

But from the time I started writing this book, I’ve run into roadblocks. The recent flood of family issues requiring my attention has kept me away from my WIP for weeks. Is this God’s way of redirecting me? Is it time to put Gannah behind me? Or is this a test of my persistence? Perhaps it’s just a delay; maybe the Lord wants me to complete the book, but to take it in a different direction from what I’d originally planned. It’s even possible my fiction-writing career should end after the release of the third book in the series.

As I write this, it appears the flood is receding and I might soon have the opportunity to get back to writing again. So I’m praying for direction.

I’m confident He’ll lead me along the path He wants me to follow, just as He has all along. But as of now, I have no definitive answers as to what that path will be.

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Monday’s Musings

Still flying high after Saturday’s wedding.

Still having trouble with my internet connection at home (which is why I never got my Saturday Situation Report posted). It hasn’t worked properly for a month now. The provider says they’re experiencing interference and are working on fixing it. Since I can’t use it much of the time, I’m seriously considering canceling it altogether. Why keep paying for service that only works once in a while?

I’m back at my mother-in-law’s again this week (who has no internet service either; I’m writing this at the public library). Permanent arrangements will have to be made soon, because we can’t keep doing this!

This past month will go down on record (in my memory if nowhere else) as being one of the most interesting of my life. But there’s too much swirling around in my mind to write an intelligible post, so this jumble will have to do for now. Maybe something will congeal for Thursday.

I’ve been asked by two writers’ blogs with a pretty good readership to be a regular contributor. I’d love to do it, because it would get my name out there and help with present and future book sales. But with my constant traveling lately, and the aforementioned spotty internet connection, I hesitate to commit myself. Not to mention the fact that I don’t know what I’d write about! I’ve let them both know I’ll give them my decision next month.

Put it off until next month. That’s my solution for getting through October. I wonder how I’ll handle November? Probably save it for after Christmas!

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