Bagging leaves, and a book is born!

This afternoon I raked and bagged eight bags of autumn leaves—using biodegradable bags, of course. I stopped with eight, because eight is all the curb can contain—and that’s two rows of four bags, no less. Besides, eight bags was about as much as my lower back and my allergies would tolerate.

Mrs. Dim makes my job a little easier. When she clears her yard of leaves, she also blows the leaves in my yard several feet away from the property line. As a result, I hardly need to rake at all; I can just scoop the leaves into the bags, and the job is quickly done.

When I had finished the eight bags, I went inside, cleaned up, changed clothes, and submitted a book to Kindle and Amazon. From their point of view, it’s my latest book, but I actually wrote it in 2002. Because it is satire, I’ve been reluctant to put it out there. When I first wrote it, I had a few copies made at the local printer and shared them with family and friends. I even brought one to a writing workshop in 2003. A pastor who was there read it and giggled over every page. “You have to get this published, J.,” he told me. Well, finally, after all these years, I have followed his advice.

The premise of the book is that a congregation, called FirstChurch, was trying to figure out why they were not as successful as the other churches whose advice they were following. They noticed one difference: the successful congregations had pastors who had written books about the church. So they asked their pastor to write a book. Desperate for material, he gathered material from the various organizations in FirstChurch and sent them to be published, reasoning that showing how to do it is as helpful as telling how to do it.

Here is my blurb for the book cover: “This is not just another book telling you how to make your church grow. Instead of telling, this book shows you what to do. With the help of Salvageable, Pastor Scribble has collected reports and letters and minutes from various organizations in FirstChurch. Together, they tell the story of a place where, as their motto says, ‘The Church comes first.’ Not everyone appreciates satire. This book might not be for you. But if you want a few chuckles over the quirks and oddities in the life of a typical American congregation, this book might be exactly what you are seeking.”

The point of the satire is not to mock any Christians I have known. Instead, the book portrays a mindset of a congregation, one that other bloggers have labeled Churchian. “The Church comes first” says it all. Obsessed with organizational structure and knowing that they need to bring in new members, the leaders of FirstChurch have lost sight of why the Church exists and why they have a mission to bring in new members.

Here is a sample of what the book contains:

NOTICE TO ALL FIRSTCHURCH MEMBERS:

It has come to our attention that some of our members are parking in the three spaces clearly labeled “Visitor Parking.” Because some of our members have recently joined FirstChurch, we are willing to consider this an “honest mistake” for now. Please remember that these three spaces are meant for visitors to the congregation, not for our members. After all, we want to be known throughout the community as a friendly congregation. If members continue to park in these spaces on Sunday morning, action will be taken to remove them from the congregation. Thank you very much.

Your friends at FirstChurch

The Kindle version, when available, will cost three dollars; the print version will cost six dollars. I recommend the print version for two reasons: I was able to use a different font for each organization, something that Kindle does not allow; and I was able to add a running joke regarding, “This page is intentionally left blank,” which would not have made sense on Kindle. I will add links to this post when the book is available. J.

 

Untitled post about new printer

As part of the Mayan apocalypse in October 2012, our family desktop computer failed, followed a few days later by the printer. Of course we had no choice but to replace them both, even with expensive car repairs already on our credit cards. I am still using the same computer today, although at seven years old it’s a bit slow on the Internet and does not always behave properly. But over the past several months the printer has been failing, and I finally replaced it with a new printer last night.

The failure was in the mechanism that draws paper into the printer. The printer repeatedly reported a paper jam, even though the paper was inserted properly. We got through the summer and into autumn using a procedure of rattling the stack of paper, then unplugging and replugging the power cable and computer cable on the back of the printer. Sometimes that process would work the first time; sometimes it required a repetition or two. Sometimes the printer worked without any phony paper jam report. But the problem was increasing, and finally I had had enough.

The new printer cost only $49 at Walmart. But money is only part of the problem, especially when it comes to lingering effects of the Mayan apocalypse. I bought the same brand of printer that I was replacing, hoping that I would be able to use the same cords. The computer cord turned out to be usable, but the power cord attachment is completely different. So I had to spend more than five minutes identifying the printer power cord among all those going into the power strip, unplugging and removing that cord, and then snaking the new power cord behind the computer to the power strip.

Next, I had to get the printer working, following very sketchy instructions. Those instructions detailed the working of the lights and buttons on the panel, but neglected to tell me the location of the power button. I had to find that button myself. It was clear where the paper goes in and where the paper comes out, but it took some experimenting to find exactly what panel has to be extended, and how far, for the paper to feed properly. Then I had to reinsert the ink cartridges, because I had only set them into place, and they required a firm push to be installed correctly. Once that was accomplished, the printer was kind enough to print a page giving me some information about its wireless functions.

But I wanted to be able to print from the desktop computer, and that required an app called a driver. Manufacturers used to put that app on a compact disk that came with the printer, but now they prefer that the user downloads the app. I made the mistake of trying to find that app through the computer’s capabilities Things were going fine until the computer asked me to choose the new printer from a list of printers. My new printer was not on the list. But an option was offered to update the list of printers through a Windows app, and I selected that option.

How many printers do you suppose have hit the market over the last several years? The correct answer must be in the hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. All I can report is that it took my seven-year-old computer twenty minutes to update its list of printers… and my new printer still wasn’t on its list.

I backed out of that procedure and asked Google for help. Google sent me to the proper page on the web site of the printer’s manufacturer to download the driver. It still took another fifteen minutes before I had a working printer, but I was able to print five pages before I had even completed the installation process.

As part of the installation process, the computer was urging me to activate an app in the printer that would automatically order new print cartridges to be sent to me in the mail when the ink supply is getting low. Assuming that I would have to pay by credit card for the privilege, I backed out of that process. The option remains, and I’m sure to get reminders that I still haven’t finished setting up the app. That’s fine with me. Keep reminding me to do something I don’t want to do, and I can keep on ignoring you.

Insert snappy conclusion and publish. J.

My ongoing apocalypse

There should be a limit to the duration of apocalypses. The Mayan apocalypse, which I calculated to have begun on October 10, 2012, should have expired today. Instead, the Mayan apocalypse is still going strong.

After I came home from work, my daughter informed me that water was dripping from the laundry room ceiling. I went down and looked and, indeed, water was dripping from the laundry room ceiling. I tried to guess what item upstairs was leaking, but I did not succeed. There are two bathrooms roughly over the laundry room, containing a bathtub, a shower stall, two toilets, and three sinks. I checked under the sinks and saw no water, so that left the other four possible sources.

My first guess was the wax seal under the toilet. I replaced one of those before, and it was not a fun job. Since I didn’t know for sure that was the problem—nor which toilet—I decided to call a professional. I expected to make an appointment for someone to come in the morning, but the firm I called said they could send someone this evening.

The plumber arrived. He looked at the dripping water. He explored the bathrooms, checking under the sinks. Then he said, with an apologetic smile, “I’m going to have to cut a hole in the ceiling to see where the water is coming from. Sorry—I won’t be able to fix it afterward. You’ll have to bring someone else in.” I gave permission for the hole, and he brought in his ladder, his flashlight, and his saw. Taking out a big panel of sheetrock, he was able to look up and see that somewhere in the pipes above was a leak, but he still wasn’t sure where.

When this house was built (roughly 1980), the designers didn’t consider the possibility that a plumber might ever need to work on its fixtures. Since the two bathrooms share a wall, they brought the pipes up through the wall and left no access to them. So the plumber and I had to empty the cabinet under the sink that is across from the wall to the bathtub. Then he cut a hole in the sheetrock there. As he was cutting, he said, “I know I found the leak—this sheetrock’s wet.” He had to enlarge the hole twice, but he finally located the leaking pipe.

As is always the case with this house, he did not have the kind of fitting he needed for this repair. So he had to run out to the hardware store for the part. Every professional who has come to fix something in this house has needed to go somewhere for extra parts; it seems as though every feature of the house is eccentric. The dishwasher is not under the sink; it is around the cabinet corner from the sink. When a new dishwasher was installed, the installers had to run out for a longer line. The kitchen was designed for a drop-in oven and stove. Hardly anyone makes those any more, and the few that can be found are more expensive—even double the same size oven in a standard model. We were blessed with an installer who was able and willing to cut out the extra boards so a standard oven could go into the space.

He got the part installed and checked to see that everything was working properly. I had to pay him, of course, and I’ll have to pay someone else to fix the holes he made. But that’s one thing about an apocalypse—nobody ever said they would be cheap. J.

A new man from head to toe

I have a radio in my car. I like to hear music while I’m driving. The station I’ve chosen plays songs from the last forty years. I’d like the station even more if it expanded the selection to the last sixty or seventy years, but I enjoy most of the songs it plays. Their DJs chatter a bit too much for my tastes, but on the other hand the music is free.

Of course nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay the costs of running a radio station, and that someone consists of sponsors. In between the songs I like are advertisements trying to make me discontent with my life. They seek to create a need that they then can satisfy by selling me their product. Our national economy depends heavily upon this creation of needs and desires, along with the sale of items to meet those needs and satisfy those desires.

So the radio sponsors want to remake me from head to toe. One warns me of hair loss and promises to stop and reverse the loss of my hair. Another offers to improve my hearing so I will know what I’ve been missing. A third offers eye surgery so I will no longer need glasses or contacts. A dentist’s office offers me a better smile, assuring me that people who smile more are happier and live longer. Yet another sponsor offers to remove pockets of fat, leaving me looking younger and fitter. Still another criticizes my wardrobe, promising to interview me about the clothing I like and send packages of clothing to my home—I only have to pay for what I like; I can send the rest back at no cost. Finally, one sponsor assumes that I am miserable because of foot pain; this sponsor says my life can be fuller and happier if I buy foot supports at their store.

I’m glad that these services exist for people who want them and need them. We all need dentists, and a few people need foot supports. But on the whole, I’m content with my body. I know that Christian stewardship includes caring for the body God created. I keep it clean, eat properly, and try to get enough exercise. But no radio ad is going to persuade me to spend money to reverse my hair loss, fix my eyes, or fill my closet with a whole new wardrobe. I accept the way I look. So far as I know, my appearance does not frighten animals or small children. So I think I’ll keep my money until I spend it on things that matter more to me.

After all, I only get to use this body for a lifetime. Some day it will be dead and buried, and I won’t be using it any more. After that a Day will come when it will rise, healed of all its problems, and then I will have it forever. It will be new from head to toe, and in the new creation nothing will ever go wrong with this body.

So I do not need to envy the full head of hair other men sport, nor their 20-20 vision, nor their fancy clothes. The Bible tells us not to covet. Advertisers have different ideas about coveting, but my confidence is in the Lord, who promises me a brand-new resurrected body at no cost to myself. J.

The Times: they are a-changin’

 

Sixteen years ago (plus a few weeks), my family and I moved into the house where we live today. I arrived alone one Sunday—the others were staying with friends until the truck arrived with our stuff. I had a sleeping bag, a coffee maker, and a few other things I would need. I ran out to the store and bought I few things I had forgotten I would need—including a coffee mug—and made myself at home in the nearly empty house.

Early in the morning, when I was half-asleep and half-awake—for who can sleep soundly in new surroundings?—I heard a car stop outside the house. Somebody threw something at the house and then drove away. I wondered about that event as I drowsed, but when I was awake and dressed, I found a copy of the local newspaper lying on the front steps.

That morning, I phoned the circulation number of that newspaper, told them that the previous owners had moved, but I wanted to receive the daily newspaper. I gave them a credit card number, and for the past sixteen years I have had a newspaper to read each morning. There were a few days when delivery failed to happen because of ice and snow, but otherwise I’ve been able to eat breakfast and sip my coffee and read the world news, national news, local news, sports items, human interest items, comics, and opinion pieces at my leisure.

The newspaper is a mild luxury—rates rose to the point that I’ve been paying roughly a dollar a day to receive the news printed on paper. But I’ve read newspapers ever since I was a little boy and my father brought the afternoon paper home each day and picked up two different Sunday papers each week. When I was in college, my friends and I split the cost of a subscription and shared the daily paper. Rarely have I been without a newspaper to read each morning—generally only on vacations, and even then I sometimes was able to get access to a newspaper.

This morning, a note was included with my morning paper. The carrier is no longer going to deliver to some subscribers on her route. I assume that, since I received the note, I am one of the subscribers who will be dropped.

The newspaper is making a transition to becoming purely electronic and digital. The editors expect to keep charging a dollar a day for people to read the daily news on their phones and other devices. I am not going to be one of those digital readers. I already pay for an internet connection, and I can get news and sports information and even comics for no additional charge online. The newspaper office is closed today, but tomorrow I am phoning circulation, canceling my subscription, and asking for a refund of any outstanding balance.

For years the decline of the newspaper has been predicted, announced, and considered. The newspaper I’ve received for the last sixteen years is imitating many more famous newspapers in making this transition to a digital format. Many other newspapers have gone out of business. I suspect this newspaper will go out of business soon; I don’t think many of their loyal readers are going to pay a dollar a day for information already available online.

Change happens, whether we like it or not. I’m not really complaining—after all, I am sharing this news in a digital format. But I will miss that morning read, and getting the news off a computer screen will not be the same. It may take a while for me to adjust to this new way of life. J.

With apologies to Lerner & Loewe…

If ever I would leave you
It wouldn’t be in Walmart.
Seeing you in Walmart
I never would go.
Your cart filled with clothing,
Groceries, hardware, and shoes,
They all cost more money
Than I care to lose!

 

But if I’d ever leave you,
It couldn’t be in Target.
How I’d leave in Target
I never will know.
I’ve seen how you sparkle
When sales nip the air.
I know you in Target
And it’s quite a scare.

 

And could I leave you
Spending merrily while at Sears?
With a credit bill
That will not be paid for years?

 

If ever I would leave you,
How could it be in Penney’s?
Knowing how the pennies add up to a lot?
Oh, no! not in Penney’s
Target, Walmart, or Sears!
No, never could I leave you, my dear!

Must be March Madness

Most Sunday mornings find me in a small congregation south of town. When I say “small,” I mean that a good Sunday has an attendance in the low double digits. But the congregation survives for two reasons: their preacher is a part-time pastor who has a full-time job downtown (benefits such as health insurance included); and the congregation rents out the building when they aren’t using it. On Friday nights Alcoholics Anonymous meets there, and on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons a Spanish-speaking congregation of a different denomination has services and classes there.

When I arrived this morning, I saw that the power company was doing repairs down the road, and they had parked their trailer with equipment and parts on the church parking lot, taking up about four spaces. That seemed rather thoughtless, what with it being Sunday and all, but we worked around it.

Then, when we got inside, we saw that the other congregation’s praise band had forgotten to put away their equipment after practicing on Saturday. They’ve left a few things out from time to time, but never the entire set-up. So three of us got busy and packed away all their instruments and equipment in the side room where they belong, and our service still started on time.

We decided that the cause of all this equipment in our way must be March Madness.

This afternoon a U-Haul van stopped in front of the house. Soon an Amazon deliveryman was carrying three boxes to the door—a small one, a medium one, and a large one. When I met him at the door, he warned me they were heavy; and they were heavy. Together they contained twenty copies of my novel, I Remember Amy, which has just been published.

They are huge, about 450 pages, and when I opened one I saw why. When I submitted the text, I inadvertently had left it double-spaced. Remember, I wrote the first draft seven years ago. I had double-spaced it then to print a copy and edit it by hand. So now I have a simple novel that, from the outside, looks like it ought to rival War and Peace. I was able, this afternoon, to correct the spacing and resubmit the text, cutting the size of the book in half. I also dropped the price to twelve dollars. (The Kindle version is still four dollars.) But the first people to receive free copies of the book will no doubt be daunted by its size. Honestly, I’ve seen phone books smaller than this edition of the novel.

So, that’s my March Madness story for this morning. I hope each of you is doing well and that all your teams are winning. J.

Messing with time

I wasn’t going to write about the Daylight Saving Time change this month—I’ve said all that I need to say about it in the past. But Julie at cookiecrumbstoliveby has written an excellent post which inspires me to share something that happened yesterday in Bible class. Be sure to read Julie’s post. And if you want to know what I have said in the past about Daylight Saving Time, I know WordPress will provide links at the bottom of this post.

Our class has been working through the book of Isaiah the past few weeks—sometimes one chapter a week, sometimes two, occasionally three. This month we hit the historical chapters in the middle of the book. So yesterday we were studying Isaiah 38, in which Hezekiah is sick and is told that he will die of his illness. He turns his face to the wall and prays, and God hears the king’s prayer and responds with grace, granting him fifteen more years to live and to rule God’s people. As a sign that God will keep this promise, he has the shadow on the stairs of the Temple move backwards, indicating that the sun has shifted miraculously in the sky.

Not one of us could resist linking that miracle to Daylight Saving Time.

We had other important themes to discuss, including the Old Testament view of Death and Sheol, which is much darker than the New Testament’s promise of Paradise, and including the entire idea of prayer. God announces Hezekiah’s death, then appears to change his mind because of the king’s prayer. Does a completely wise and all-knowing God change his mind because of our prayers? Isn’t God unchanging? C.S. Lewis was quoted as saying that, through prayer, God invites us to become his partners, just as he invites farmers to be his partners in providing daily bread through their planting and harvesting. We talked about the love of God, that he is always with us and always wants to hear from us. Thinking how often we ignore his gracious presence and don’t say a word to him, we wandered into considering the times that we are with people we love and we act as if they aren’t there. For many of us, the issue was driving. If we are focused on driving, we might not be ready to carry on a conversation in the car, even if the other person in the car is a husband or wife or son or daughter. (When I pick up my daughter from her fast food job at the mall, she has a lot to say, and sometimes I’m not so ready to listen—I’m driving, and especially if it’s dark and raining, I need to focus on my driving.) But God is never so busy running the universe that he cannot listen to our prayers. And Isaiah 38 shows that he is able to “change his mind”—which is not really a change in the Lord who is the same yesterday and today and forever, but which is a living part of the relationship he has with us, in which he delights to receive our prayers and to respond to them as a loving Father.

Even when we have the temerity to mess with time, which is God’s invention. J.

Where the grass is greener

I know that many of you are still looking out your windows and seeing snow on the ground, but today I began my outdoor spring cleaning, which consists largely of raking and bagging leaves. I raked and bagged a few leaves back in October and November, but I allowed others to remain through the winter, giving the lawn a natural blanket of protection and fertilization.

It was a pleasant afternoon to be outside. Other people in the neighborhood were not working outdoors with their loud power tools, so I was able to enjoy the songs of the birds and the shush of the leaves being pulled by my rake. In addition, I got a good hour and twenty minutes of exercise, good for the heart and the muscles, although my lower back will be sore for the rest of the day. Raking in the spring requires more effort than raking in the fall. The leaves have settled into the grass, and it takes some work to dislodge them. But springtime raking gives the lawn a nice combing, which is healthy for the grass.

My neighbor, Mrs. Dim, has a horror of fallen leaves. Scarcely a day has passed that she has not been moving leaves away with her loud leaf blower. She also is horrified by wildflowers, which she calls weeds. Her lawn has been treated to destroy dandelions, clover, violets, and other native flora. I, on the other hand, delight in the spots of color that nature and its Creator provide. In a week or two we will have thousands of tiny pinkish purple flowers springing up in the lawn. They will provide a colorful spectacle for two or three weeks before disappearing again into the grass. After them will come the daisy fleabane.

About half the lawns in the neighborhood have the earlier flowers. But I seem to be the only homeowner who permits the daisy fleabane. I find it to be a beautiful wildflower, but Mrs. Dim does not agree. A few years ago, she even called a city official to take a look at my patch of wildflowers. He said that they are cool.

When Mrs. Dim removes leaves, she makes a lot of noise. She also puts them into plastic bags for the city to haul away. When her grandchildren have reached her current age, her leaves will still be sitting in a dump, encased in plastic, doing nobody any good. My leaves go into paper bags, designed to join the leaves in decomposing and enriching the soil. After benefiting my lawn over the winter, they will be of use elsewhere in the near future.

Ironically, Mrs. Dim’s tended lawn of one hundred percent grass is still dormant, a bland shade of tan or pale yellow. But where my grass has been protected, it is already green. For the next few days, the grass will actually be greener on my side of the fence. Take that, Mrs. Dim! J.

Rumor control, continued

After I posted about Facebook this morning, some new information came to me which needs to be added to the previous post:

  • The name “Facebook,” said backwards, sounds like, “Kubsafe.”
  • Kubsafe was a goat-headed god worshiped by some of the indigenous people of West Africa, as well as by some of their descendants in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • It is said that if a person walks into a dark room, faces a mirror, and says the name of Kubsafe three times in a row without pausing, the face of the god will appear in the mirror. Under certain circumstances, that figure in the mirror may try to harm the person who has invoked him.
  • People of a certain age (or a certain level of maturity), having read this information, will try that very experiment tonight.

You have been warned. J.