Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The New Year

Some people look to the end of a new year and the start of another as a time of new beginnings.  To them, the new year holds infinite possibilites to correct mistakes of the past and move forward into new ventures.  I've never really followed that philosophy.  The difference between December 31st and January 1st is only one day.

This year, I get it.  With everything that's happened, 2014--especially the latter half--has been the worst year of my life.  I want to erase it from my memory.  I'm done with 2014.  I don't know what 2015 has in store for me, but whatever it is it cannot be worse than 2014.

I'm usually a nostalgic person.  I tend to look back on the past with rose-colored glasses and to focus only on the good things.  Not this year.  I'm staying up until 12:01 a.m. so that I can wave 2014 goodbye and tell it to get lost.

Here's to the future!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Year's Resolution--The End

It's not quite the end of the year but I've managed to accomplish my goal for the year!  I have completed 20 books this year!  In my youth that would have been no problem, a feat easily accomplished during the summer months.  But now as an adult, time is a scarce commidity so I feel very proud of myself.  If you want to check out the other books I've read, you can go here and here.

Four Boots is a book by Jeff Alt chronicling his journey with his wife along the John Muir Trail (JMT).  I fell in love with the idea of thru hiking the JMT this summer during the all too brief six weeks that I had off when Destree and I got a chance to take a few camping trips and a good hike.

Jeff started planning the trip for just himself witth no real purpose in mind--he just wanted to hike.  All of that changed when his brother-in-law committed suicide.  The simple hike turned into an opportunity to raise awareness for depression and to try and take away the stigma associated with it.

The book follows the pair day by day, as an experienced backpacker and his novice wife grieve for their loss as they take in the wonder around them.  Jeff shares their highs and lows, the triumphs and challenges as they make their way along the 221 mile trail.  In the end, they honor the life of a man taken too soon, have their own personal triumphs, and grow closer as a couple.

Reading Four Boots really cemented my desire to hike the JMT, and to do it while I'm still young.  My 26th birthday just passed.  (Backpacking gear would be awesome, in case you were wondering.  Or if you don't want to do that, the ads on my blog are there for a reason)  I've decided that I want to do the trail by the time I'm 30.  That gives me just a few short years to get my butt in shape and get on the trail.  Destree and I will be hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim in 2015 (more to come on that soon) which will help, but we certainly have more work to do to hike the JMT in one go.

Beowulf is considered the first true piece of English Literature.  There may have been others before it, but none have survived.  Heck, even Beowulf barely survived.  It's a work that's groaned about as high school English teachers tell their pupils to read it, but I think it's a blast to read.  One day I'm going to take the time to learn enough Old English (Anglo Saxon) to read Beowulf in its original language.

I love medieval literature because of the larger than life characters that populate it.  You have figures like Beowulf, Sigmund and Eigil whose exploits continue to influence and inspire modern authors.  Beowulf is so grandiose that I can't help but love it.

Beowulf is the ultimate hero's saga.  He travels far from home with a small band of warriors to do battle with an ancient monster, Grendel.  He rips Grendel's arm off and the creature dies.  All seems well until it's mother comes seeking vengeance.  She falls at the hands of Beowulf as well.  Beowulf leaves the kingdom a rich and honored man, his fame only growing.  Fast forward many years and Beowulf has become king in his own right and a dragon is terrorizing his people.  He takes a group of warriors with him to fight the beast, but he is the only one with the courage to fight.  Eventually one man comes to help the king, but Beowulf is mortally wounded while slaying the dragon.  It may sound like so many modern fantasy stories, but that's because it's the original work.

The other thing I find about Beowulf and other medieval epics is the blending of Christian and pagan elements.  The story of Beowulf is obviously one with pagan origins, probably dating to a time before the Angles, Saxons and Jutes journeyed from their Teutonic homelands to the British Isles, but they were an oral people.  It wasn't until their lands were "Christianized" that they were really introduced to writing by the Catholic educated priests.  So what we have with Beowulf is a Christian spin on a pagan work.  It shows the elements of paganism that still prevailed in England at the time.  It's a different way to look at the spread of Christianity, and I find it fascinating.

Just like Beowulf, Willa Cather's Death Comes to the Archbishop is another book that I've read before (though the similarities end there).  It was required reading in high school, and I think I was the only one who enjoyed it.

Recently, I was trying to figure out which book to pick up next, and oddly enough I was in a mood for a western.  I don't really own many westerns.  I have a book on Custer's Last Stand, but I was looking for a quicker, easier read.  So I settled on rereading Cather's novel--the first real novel I've read in quite some time.

The story centers on a French priest who has been serving in Ohio but is transferred to the Southwest.  America had just made great territorial gains and Manifest Destiny was in full swing.  The church saw it as an opportunity to reach the native peoples of these areas so they created a new Diocese for this French priest.  The book chronicles his interactions and efforts to bring the church to Native Americans and Mexicans while getting rid of any abusive, corrupt local priests.  Overall it's a fun look back into America's westward expansion from a more religious standpoint.

A War of Gifts is a novella penned by Orson Scott Card set during the events of Ender's Game.  The story focuses on a boy named Zeck.  His father is an abusive, tyrannical preacher who Zeck follows wholeheartedly.  Zeck's father preached pacifism, so Zeck refuses to fight at Battle School.

He feels that he is being singled out because of his extreme religious views, though all forms of religious expression are banned.  So when he sees two Dutch boys participating in a Sinterklaas tradition, he complains.  When that gets him nowhere he incites students of other religions to express their beliefs.  He turns a war of gifts into a divisive struggle between the students.  In typical Ender fashion, Ender comes in and saves the day by helping Zeck to realize his father's faults.  Zeck is still an outsider but he's a healthier child.

It's not the best work in the series but it was enjoyable.  I don't think I've read anything by Orson Scott Card that I haven't enjoyed.  Read the other books in the series first, but if you want another glimpse into the Ender's Battle School days, then pick up A War of Gifts.

Nearly every year since I was born, my Uncle Jeff gets me at least one book for Christmas.  In that entire time, I don't think I've received one bad one from him.  He was the one who got me into Ender's Game years before there were talks of a movie.  It was because of him that I fell in love with Asimov.  He initiated my fascination of Lovecraftian horror.  Without fail, whatever he gets me is gold.  So I have no idea why I wait so long sometimes to read what he gets me.

A year or two ago he gave me Kurt Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect.  I had heard of Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5) and knew that he had a dark, satirical wit.  Again, no idea why I didn't read Armageadon in Retrospect sooner.

It is a collection of short stories about war, humanity, and how we as humans react to overwhelming atrocities.  Drawing from his experience as a soldier and prisoner of war in World War II, Vonnegut relays the horrific realities that man committed against man.  If everyone were to read his gripping accounts of what people saw and experienced during WWII, I think there would be less intolerance and more peace in the world.  I think the final lines of Wailing Shall Be In All Streets best sums up his poignant view on war--and is a great outlook on life, too.  "We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the World's gnerations to come.  That is how everyone should feel about every city on Earth."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Holidays

So, I'm Christian.  During this time of the year I tell people "Merry Christmas."  But if they tell me "Happy Holidays," I'll tell it back to them.  Honestly, it doesn't affect me if someone prefers one or the other.  And if you want to tell me to have a happy Hanukkah," well good for you.  If you want to tell me to have a solemn Ramadan, I hope you have the same.  If you tell me to have a crazy Kwanza, you too (even though I still don't really know what all that entails).  And if you tell me to have a great Winter Solstice I will, and not just cuz it's my birthday.

What's my point?  I think people need to unbunch their panties when it comes to being so Nazi about they wish a good season upon someone's life.  So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Solemn Ramadan, Crazy Kwanza, Great Winter Solstice, and whatever else may be important to you this time of year.

Yes, I understand that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of the Christ child in the tumultuous Middle East some 2,000 years ago.  But someone wishing me a "Happy Holidays" doesn't change how I celebrate and commemorate that momentous occasion.  After all, some of the most famous symbols of Christmas (the tree, Santa) heavily borrow from Teutonic paganism.  So why should someone saying "Happy Holidays" offend me?

Okay.  My rant is done.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Writing Stuff

Like so many who try their hands at writing, I started out with the dream of writing a best selling novel.  From a young age, that was the focus of any fictitious writing I set to paper.  But writing something that long can be difficulty.  It takes time and a lot of planning.  Very few people are able to sit down and pound out a halfway decent novel without first plotting out characters, setting, scenes, conflict and much more.  It's too easy to get distracted in the details or to surrender in the face of such a daunting task.

I never gave up on the idea of writing a novel, but I found myself focusing on shorter fiction.  I was able to complete a piece in a matter of days instead of having a barely started manuscript sitting around and gathering dust.

It's been about five years since I made that switch and in that time I've penned over two dozen pieces along with several scenes that can and will fit into novel ideas that I have.  As I'm reading through a book written to help writers plan and outline a book, I've realized the strengths and weaknesses that have come about from writing exclusively short works.

When you're confined to a few hundred or a few thousand words you have very little room for character development.  The characters you create don't have to possess much depth.  An undeveloped character will surprise the reader because they do not know what to expect out of him/her yet.  That can get old quickly in a novel-length work, but is perfectly acceptable in a short work.

Instead, the focus of a short piece of fiction is usually on the story itself.  Originality and surprise drive the reader to devour the story.  I feel that I've done a good job learning to craft a gripping plot, at least for a short work.  I may have to do a little work to adapt what I've learned to a longer piece, but the underlying ideas are the same.

What I feel weakest at, however, is character development.  In a short story, a single plot point is enough to drive a character for a few thousand words.  But for fifty or a hundred thousand words--you need someone more complex.  As I'm planning out the novel, I'm realizing how simple my characters are.  What drives them?  They are who they are for a reason, but what exactly are those reasons?

As I've asked myself these questions and I begin to explore them, I've began to add extra layers to each character.  I'm not finished yet, but it's a start.  And doing it now, before I've written the bulk of the novel, I'm saving myself so much hassle.  I'd have to rip up and rewrite a lot if I waited longer in the writing process.

I've also been realizing that my dialogue is a weak point.  My characters talk the way that I write.  That's wrong.  People rarely talk the way they write, and each character is different.  They each have their own unique voice, and I'm stifling them by making their dialogue indistinguishable from every other character.

When it comes to setting, I feel that I'm hit and miss.  Sometimes I do an okay job and other times I fail to draw the reader into the page.  I picture the surroundings in my mind and focus on moving the story along and forget some of the minor settings.  Do they matter?  Do add to the overall story or are they superfluous and occasionally distracting?  I'm not sure.

I am learning a lot by going through this book.  It's helping me to grow in my writing abilities and I'm only a fraction of the way through.  I recently finished the first draft of a short story (a hair over 5,000 words) that is loosely connected to the novel I'm writing.  As I go through some of the writing exercises I'm using this short work as practice.  I'm eager to go through and give it an edit, but I want to wait and read more before I make my first edit.  It'll take a while before it's truly finished, but at least it'll better (I hope).

I'm really excited for this literary journey that I'm on.  The goal is to have the first draft of the novel completed by this time next year.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Kriz-nan

I wrote this a few years ago and dug it up this past week.   Enjoy.



    The warm noisy inn was a pleasant respite from the cold cheerless path that had been the tree travelers’ only companion for far too long.  The heat emanating from the hearth called to them, but they needed ale, rooms, and hot food first.  They located the busy bar-maid and got her attention.
    Kriz-nan, the bearded barbarian from the north told her “We need three warm beds, three hot meals to fill our stomachs, and three tankards of your best beer to wash the food down.”
    She turned her head and shouted, “Toog, get these three beds and something to eat and drink on the double!”  He face returned to look at the travelers.  “And who might we be, wandering around these parts?  A dwarf, a wild-man, and a--” but before she could guess the identity of the final member of the trio, Kriz-nan interrupted her.
    “I’m no dwarf!”  He puffed up his chest before continuing, “I am Kriz-nan the Barbarian!”
    “Barbarian, huh?” the bar-maid replied.  “You look too short.  You’re about dwarf height.”
    “Oh, well, that’s because my shins are missing.  You see, I was fighting this dragon once, and he had this razor sharp tail.  I was distracted because I was helping some children escape the clutches of this evil dragon, when it caught me off guard and cut my feet off.  While I was down, it took a second swipe at me and cut of everything I had below my knees.  He thought I was helpless and grabbed me with his claws,” Kriz-nan was using wild hand gestures at this point, “and went to eat me.  But I was just playing the part of a nearly dead victim.  I thrust my sword up through the roof of his mouth and into that tiny brain of his.  I was able to sew my feet back with his sinews, but alas, I could not find my shins.  It’s the dragon’s fault that I look like a dwarf.”
    “And did you know,” interjected Danalgorn, son of Edagorn, before the bar-maid could tell them that she really didn’t care about any of what they were telling her, “that the word ‘dragon’ actually has its roots in the word ‘drakein,’ which means to see clearly.  And while I am certainly a man and I know that my appearance may seem to be wild, I am no wild man of the woods!  I am Danalgorn, son of Edagorn, a ranger who has come from the east.  Speaking of the east, did you know that--”
    The barmaid cut him off.  “Whatever it is, I can tell you right now that no, I do not know it.  Nor do I care.:  She turned to Marco, the final member of the trio.  “And who might you be, because whatever I’d guess, I know I’d be wrong and corrected.  So just spit out your whole life story so I can get back to work!”
    “Oh,” Marco said in his usual quiet voice, making the bar-maid strain her ears to hear.  “I’m just Marco the nearsighted hobbit archer.”
    “An archer, huh?  Never would have guessed it.  I would have thought a nose like that would make it hard to shoot properly.”
    Marco murmured a few names at the bar-maid that would have had all three of them kicked out of the inn if she’d have heard them.
    “What was that?  Couldn’t hear you above all this ruckus.”  She swept her arms around the whole room.
    “Oh, nothing,” he replied.  “Just that my nose does get in the way sometimes.”
    But before any more could be said, Toog returned to show them to their rooms.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Origins

Christmas.  Unless you're Ebenezer Scrooge, it's probably your favorite time of the year.  But how did Christmas as we know it come to exist?  What is it called Christmas?  Why is it celebrated on December 25th if we have no idea when Jesus was born?  Why do we exchange gifts?  Why is there an overweight old guy in Coca-Cola colors breaking and entering to give us presents and fill our stockings?  Why the heck is there a tree decorated with tinsel, lights and ornaments sitting in our living room?  It sounds like a tradition cooked up by a drunk frat house, not a sober family tradition to celebrate the birth of a Jewish Messiah 2,000 years ago in the tumultuous Middle East.

I like asking questions like those above.  I actually want to spend time next year researching many of the origins of Christmas traditions, particularly the pagan ones.  I think it will be fun to write and I hope it will be fun to read.  So if you're looking to shower me with gifts this season, I wouldn't argue for some reference material for the book.

So why is it called Christmas in the first place?  Christmas is a compound English word with roots going back over a thousand years.  Our current English word Christmas comes from the Middle English word Cristemasse.  And Cristemasse itself is a derivative of the Old English Crīstesmæsse , a word first recorded in 1038.  Crīst is an Old English translation of the Greek word Khrīstos(Χριστός--which we English speakers know as "Christ"), which comes from the Hebrew word Māšîaḥ(מָשִׁיחַ--which we English speakers know as Messiah) which means "anointed one."  The word mæsse comes from the Latin word missa.   Missa means "dismissal" and comes from the Latin phrase "Ite, missa est" which translates to "Go; it is the dismissal."  Over time the term missa (and later mass) came to denote the entire Eucharist service in the Roman Catholic Church.  So Christmas basically means "Christ's Mass," or a church service to celebrate God's anointed one.

But what about alternative name for Christmas?  How did "Xmas" come about?  Was it really done by baby-eating athiests to secularize a sacred Christian holiday?  No.

While it may now be used by people who want to take Christ out of Christmas or who are too lazy to type out all nine letters of the word, Xmas has it's roots in antiquity.  The initial letter of the Greek word Khrīstos (Χριστός) is chi (X).  So "Xmas" does keep "Christ" in Christmas.  And no, that's not some malarkey someone concocted to give legitimacy to "Xmas."  In Middle English we see Χρ̄es masse where "Χρ̄" is an abbreviation for Χριστός.

But Christmas has been known by other names throughout history.  The Anglo-Saxons typically referred to Christmas as "midwinter" for obvious reasons, though occasionally it was known as Nātiuiteð.  The word Nātiuiteð comes from the Latin nātīvitās, which is where we English speakers get the word Nativity.  Both the Old English Nātiuiteð and the Latin nātīvitās mean "birth."  In Old English the word Gēola--or Yule to our 21st century eyes--referred to time in December and January.  Over time it became nearly synonomous with the Christian celebration of Christmas.  The word "Noel" or "Nowell" entered English towards the end of the 14th century from the Norman aristocracy.  The Old French word noël or naël, words themselves derived from the Latin nātālis (diēs) "(day) of birth".

There you have it, a fun little lesson on the Etymology of Christmas and a few Christmas-related words.  Hoping to have a few more articles of this kind this month.  It's early in the season, but Merry Christmas!



Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Eulogy

Well crap.  Thanksgiving afternoon this world lost a great man.  He was a husband, a father and a friend to many.  He was taken too soon.  I mourn his loss but I'm grateful that the pain is over and that he's in heaven partying it up with Jesus.  Daniel Byron "Maus" McNary was a great man.

I remember the first time I met Maus.  It was my first Sunday attending Hope Christian Church.  I had interviewed for the position of youth pastor.  I was supposed to attend the church one Sunday incognito to get a feel for it.  Good plan, but it didn't work out.

After the service there was a very gregarious guy who recognized that I was a visitor.  He peppered me with questions, genuinely trying to get to know me.  He asked about how I'd heard about the church--I couldn't lie in church, could I?  So much for going incognito.  I made a great friend that day.

I remember so many Monday night Bible studies were after the host kicked us out we stood standing outside until midnight talking.  Talking about the Bible, about history, about comic books, about movies, about music--whatever struck our fancy that night.

Maus and his family helped me through some tough times and low points in my life.  I'm a bit of an introvert.  I have a difficult time forming and maintaining relationships with people, and they reached out to me.  They invited me to their weekly family get-togethers.  I was going through a period of burnout in ministry and of depression.  They took me in and made me a part of their family.  They helped me keep my sanity and stay grounded.

His selflessness stands out as his most endearing quality.  He's always been so outgoing and concerned for others.  One of the last times I saw him he was in the hospital.  At the time and my wife and I were going through some very rocky times.  Before I could ask about him, Maus asked me how we were doing.  Before I could pray for him, Maus asked me to come over to his bed so he and Ronett could lay hands on me and pray for my marriage.  That act of selfless kindness has touched me more than anything else. 

He was a great man, and I miss him.


Ronett, my thoughts and prayers are with you and the girls.  I am here for you, whatever you need.

I want end this with a quote from another friend who was taken before his time:  "We were created, redeemed and sustained by God.  He did all the work.  We were created for His glory and for His pleasure.  So how can we be mad at Him for calling one of us home?" - Jonathan Booker

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Writing Exercises

I've been focusing recently on writing fiction.  I've written a few short stories in the past couple of weeks but my main goal is to write a novel.  I've been slowly going through a book that's supposed to help the writing process along.  I haven't done much work on the novel itself.  Instead it's taken me through exercises designed to get the creative juices flowing.  And it's been working.

I've finished four pieces of short fiction in the past two weeks, and I've been able to look at the characters in those pieces and give them more dimension.  I'm not rushing my novel; instead I'm taking the time to think my characters out more.  That should help me to write more developed characters from the beginning.

One exercise the book had me do was to choose a character from a list, a character trait, and a situation for the character to react to.  I chose a germaphobic celebrity chef who has a baby left on his front porch.  I had fun with the exercise, so I spent a few minutes jazzing up the initial draft and decided to share it.  Enjoy.


     "Cooking with Ricardo" had been on a three week hiatus.  Ricardo Milan wanted to return to work, but there were too many germs there.  Everyone touched everything on the set, and no one cleaned up after themselves.  It was disgusting.  Ricardo hadn't always been like this, but recent events made him realize how dirty the world really was.
  Ricardo's brother was a doctor with a heart for the underprivileged.  As soon as news broke about the Ebola Epidemic in western Africa, he joined the Red Cross in treating the victims.  And now his brother, a father of three, was dead.  It didn't matter to Ricardo that his brother had been killed in a bus accident, he associated his death with Ebola.  And now he was a germaphobe.
Now that his eyes had been opened to the dangers around him, it was hard for Ricardo to go anywhere.  Cooking, once his favorite joy, was now a tedious chore.  There were few foods he trusted anymore, and what he did trust he cleaned meticulously.
This morning he'd decided on an omelette of organic egg whites, spinach, mushrooms and a diced tomato.  He'd just sat down to eat the hot meal coupled with a mug of green tea when Ricardo heard a faint crying.  He looked around but there were no children in his house.  He must be hearing things.  A few bites later the crying had gotten louder so Ricardo got up to investigate.
All other worries disappeared from Ricardo's mind when he found the source of the noise.  Someone had left an infant on his doorstep.  And not just any infant, but a screaming, crying and peeing baby.  What was he supposed to do?
There was no one around for miles; that's why he'd built the house here.  It would take a while for anyone to come, even if he called child protective services or even the police--the police!  He needed to call 911!
Ricardo rushed inside and got halfway to the kitchen before he realized he left the baby outside.  He couldn't do that.  He ran back outside and picked up the basket it was laying in--how cliche.  He quickly carried it inside and looked for a place to set it down, but where?
Yesterday the cleaners had come and it would be another five days before they came again.  Wherever he set the child, that area would have to be quarantined until the cleaners returned.  But he liked his whole house  He didn't want to give any part of it up.  SHould he just take the baby to the back yard?  It should be fine out there--no, it (he didn't even know if it was a boy or girl yet) was a human child.  He couldn't leave it outside in the elements.  He'd have to suck it up.
Finally, Ricardo settled on a spare room not too far from the kitchen.  He set the basket down, went into the bathroom and spent five minutes sanitizing himself.  Once he was satisfied that he was truly clean, he found his cellphone and called 911.  Ricardo relayed his story to the dispatcher as quickly as he could.  She made sure the child was fine and thanked him for taking care of the child and assured him that the authorities would be there.
"We have to coordinate with CPS so that our officers can conduct an investigation in conjunction with CPS.  We should have responders out to you in an hour or two."
"But, but--" Ricardo stuttered.  Two hours?  He couldn't have a germy, poopy baby in his house that long.
"The child isn't in need of urgent medical attention, is it?"
"No, but--"
"Then it'll be a while before we can get everyone out there.  Thank you sir and have a great day."  The line went dead.
Ricardo slowly walked to his recliner and sank into the plush cushions and buried his head in his hands, oblivious to everything else around him.  He would have to get the cleaners out here today to sanitize his place.  THey' need to air it out and disinfect everything.  It would take days for Ricardo to feel clean.  And who knew how long it would be before he got the sounds of crying out of his ears...the crying!  The baby was crying!
He momentarily forgot all his worries and rushed to the room that housed the baby.  It was still in the basket.  Against all his phobias, Ricardo reached down to pick the child up and comfort it.  But as his hands were inches from the baby, he stopped suddenly.
Oh, dear God in Heaven, the smell!  The diaper was fuller now.  What had it eaten to produced something so foul?  But more importantly, was he really going to change the diaper?  He had undershirts he could use as a makeshift diaper--he'd have to toss the shirt after, of course--and he could find some wipes that would work.  But could he actually do the deed?
The baby continued to cry.  He didn't have much of a choice, did he?  Ricardo grabbed a shirt, grabbed sanitary wipes,rolled up his sleeves, and undid the diaper.
"So you're a boy."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Health

Health.  It's kind of  a big deal.  Thousands of pastors preach about spiritual health from the pulpit every Sunday morning.  Bookstores tout entire sections devoted to gurus on physical health and wellness.  But why are the two separated?

First Corinthians 6:19 tells us that our bodies are God's temple.  If we Christians claim to believe the Bible, why are there so many overweight pastors?  Why do such a small percentage take this to heart?  I once heard someone claim that obesity is the largest unspoken sin in the American church today.  I'd have to agree.

I'm not trying to criticize the church or pastors, but there is a problem and it shouldn't be ignored like it is.  Of course I've looked in the mirror and realized that I'm a tad overweight.  I've lost some weight recently, but I've plateaued recently.  I definitely need to step up my efforts.

I've decided to make health--not just spiritual, not just physical, not just mental, but every aspect--more iportant than it has been to me before.  I'm tired of just surviving as a person.  I want to thrive.  And in order to do that I need to get healthy.  It' won't be quick and it won't be easy.  But thankfully I'm not alone in this.  Destree and I are walking this path together.

One task we are undertaking is a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon with the ministry of Revelation Wellness sometime next September.  We don't have an exact date yet, but we have some registration fees coming up and we'll need to raise some money (Reading between the lines, we're going to hit everyone we know up for donations.  Twice.  And as far as our registration fees go, I don't have ads on my blog for nothing (; ).

In the next year I'm going to get myself to Pena Adobe, Rockville Hills and Lynch Canyon as often as I can to get my butt in shape.  It'll be tough but good.  And after the Grand Canyon, on to the John Muir trail!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Writing Endeavors

I've dreamed of writing a novel since I was a child.  I've had a plethora of ideas in that time period in a variety of different genres.  I've started to write so many books whose pages have been misplaced, files have been deleted, and ideas that have been axed.  The hardest loss was a sci-fi novel that I was over 10,000 words into writing the book and I lost the flash drive I had it saved on.  I had put so much work into what was lost that I never tried to restart it.  Since then I make sure I have back up copies of everything I write.

In the past few years I've moved into writing short fiction.  I've really enjoyed working with shorter pieces--I can focus on a smaller section of a larger story and have fun flushing out characters, story, or whatever I'm focusing on in that particular piece.

Anyone who takes a look at my library knows that I'm a huge fan of fantasy.  My fascination started out with C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Rowling as a young child, and was fed later in life by Robert Jordan, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart, Robert E. Howard, and many others.  I have aspired to create my own memorable world in the same way that the greats have.

Nine years ago I had an idea and a sketch.  The idea didn't have much substance but it was a launching point for a fantasy series.  I've worked on things off and on, writing and erasing, typing and deleting.  I've got a decent start on a lot of different books in a series, but I haven't been able to finish anything.  Until now.

It's only a short story but it's something.  It's the start of a larger world.  And by this time next year I should have a novel finished.  But for now I have some editing to do. I've sent it out to a few friends for critique before I start editing it.  I never turn down an extra set of eyes, so if anyone wants to lend a hand, let me know.  I appreciate any help.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Writing

Two weeks ago I started a book entitle 90 Days To Your Novel by Sarah Domet.  Essentially the book is a guide designed to get you into the habit of writing daily then focusing on some of the mechanics of good writing before it takes you through outlining, planning scenes, characterization, dialogue, and more planning of scenes.

I have over a dozen different ideas for novels floating around in my mind (plus a few for non-fiction works as well) but I always seem to have a difficult time developing them into a complete first draft.  I've tried many times, done outlines, written scenes, but I always stall out.  It doesn't matter what I do, I always stall out.  So when I saw the book I decided to pick it up and give it go.

Since I'm two weeks into this foray, I should be on day 14 of my 90 day task, right?  Wrong.  I'm on day three.  And probably will be until tomorrow.  But hey, progress is progress, right?  Maybe by day 180 I'll be done.  One can hope.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Marathon!

Yesterday I had the privilege of being able to do a nice little movie marathon at the theater.  Got a chance to watch the new Left Behind, Dracula Untold, and The Judge.  Here are my brief thoughts on each.

Let me start this off by saying I'm a bad Christian.  I never read any of the books, nor have I seen the original movies.  (Pause to let the shock set in.)  Because of that, I had no bias going into the movie, except for the fact that it stars Nicolas Cage.


  1. Overall, it wasn't a bad movie.  I've seen better, I've seen worse.  Some of the acting was a bit cheesy but for a movie that bills good ol' Nic Cage as the star, no surprises there.  A few things perplexed me while watching the movie, such as why there were random explosions throughout the movie, why a driver-less bus is able to continue along the road for probably an hour before it comes careening down from an overpass, stuff like that.  At least half of the films 16 million dollar budget must have gone to pointless carnage because someone watched too many Michael Bay movies.


Was Left Behind worth my time?  It was.  Nothing spectacular about the movie, but a fun viewing nonetheless.  On a side note, after I got home and was talking to Destree about the movie, she told me how in the books there were a lot of explosions to symbolize fire raining down from heaven.  I guess that makes sense for how they did it in the movie...if you don't think about it too hard.

Next up was Dracula Untold.  This is probably the thousandth Dracula movie that been made.  I'm not a huge fan of vampire movies (unless it involves Wesley Snipes or Hugh Jackman killing off large quantities of them) so I didn't walk into the movie expecting to be wowed.

Dracula untold was a fresh take on the origin of one of the original Gothic monsters.  They brought together a keen meshing of history and supernatural.  Luke Evans was brilliant in the titular role and was able to make the audience truly empathize with him.  It was a very entertaining flick.  I won't rush out to buy it when it's released, but I'll pick it up if it's on sale.

Finishing out the night was The Judge.  All the previews show is Robert Downey Jr. as a high profile defense attorney who only represents guilty clients because they're the only ones who can afford him.  In stark contrast is Downey's father, a man who has presided for years as a judge in Downey's hometown.  From the trailers it is obvious the two are estranged and it is only the death of Downey's mother that brings him home.

On the surface alone it sounds like a great movie.  But there is much more to the story.  I don't want to spoil anything but it is a very intense movie, compounded further by several real life parallels for myself.  Out of the three I saw yesterday, The Judge was certainly the best film.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Year's Resolution: Part Deux

Back in January I made a commitment to myself to 1-2 books a month with the ultimate goal of reading 20 books this year.  I wish I could pledge  read more, but life gets in the way.  So far I've finished 15 books, though I don't know if I have the concentration to finish another five books this year, though I will give it my all.

Undaunted Courage:  Following my completion of the biography on Theodore Roosevelt, I grabbed Stephen E. Ambrose's memoir on one of the greatest American explorers in U.S. history: Meriwether Lewis.  The book chronicles his entire life, though it understandably spends its main focus on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Reading through the book, it was hard to wrap my mind around that fact that these men were the first westerners to see so much of the western United States.  They saw it unadulterated, a state that changed in just a few short years as news of their discoveries fueled migrations west.  They knew almost nothing about the territories they traveled to.  Lewis and Clark were some of the last people to explore a truly unknown area while being completely out of contact with home.  They were truly some of the greatest explorers.

Reading Undaunted Courage gave me a greater appreciation for the early pioneers.  It's given me a desire to traverse the Lewis and Clark trail myself.  It also induced me to pick up some more salt pork.  Healthy?  Of course not.  Tasty?  You bet.1qq

Daniel Boone:  This was a smaller book and admittedly written to a younger audience.  I nearly put the book down once I realized the teenage audience in mind, but I decided to deal with it, a decision that I was reward for.  While the writing style is simplistic the information is gives regarding one of early America's greatest pioneers is in-depth.

It gave me a new viewpoint on pre-Revolutionary life in America as it told the story of a young Daniel Boone growing up amongst all the pre-war tensions.  Even as a child, Daniel Boone was constantly forging ahead to new frontiers and as soon as he got the chance he crossed the Appalachian Mountains and led a group of settlers.  This is where he spent much of his time during the Revolutionary War, at times defending the settlement against attacks from the British or their Amerindian allies.

Despite its short length and younger target audience, the book was packed full of information on one of America's greatest frontiersmen.  Daniel Boone was a man who lived more by the time he reached adulthood than most people today live in their entire lifetime.

Anatomy of Violence:  This has been one of the most eye opening books I've ever read.  I like to recommend books to people when I can, so occasionally one book may be drowned out by another.  Don't let that happen here.  I believe everyone should read this book.

Without getting too much into the science behind it all, the conclusion that the author draws is the the problem of violence has no single cause.  Environment does not solely influence an individual to become a violent criminal.  But neither is biochemistry.  Instead it's a complex web between your early life experiences such as abuse, nutrition, and head trauma mixed with a wide variety of genetic factors.  Even when all of these environmental, social, neurological and biochemical factors mix to create the perfect storm, that doesn't automatically mean that an individual will become a violent offender, but it does mean that such a person should seek help to help insulate against it.

I believe that every parent, every voter, everybody who has the ability to read and comprehend words on a page should read this book.  The sociological implications this presents is something that I believe everyone should be aware of.

Physics of the Future:  This is a very insightful piece by one of the leading physicists of our day, Michio Kaku.  He explores the future of several branches of science (and how they affect our lives) for the next hundred years, breaking a timeline down into thirty year chunks and examining what is likely to happen during each period.

He focuses on computers, artificial intelligence, medicine, nanotechnology, space travel, energy, wealth, and planetary civilization.  His predictions are very thought provoking.  He acknowledges that they are merely predictions, but as a physicist himself who conducted dozens if not hundreds of interviews with leading scientists in their respective fields, I think it's safe to say that there are some pretty good ideas in the book.

This is definitely one I'll read a few times throughout my life.  Not just to see how accurate Dr. Kaku's predictions are, but to look forward to the future myself and help make educated guesses as to which new technologies to adopt and which to ignore.  Physics of the Future was fun and fascinating, giving me a glimpse of the world that I will grow old in.

Hyperspace:  Another book by Michio Kaku, Hyperspace explores the quest for a unified theory of everything.  He begins the book by chronicling the past few centuries of mathematics and physics and outlining some of the major theories.  Presenting a brief timeline of physics, he shows how one generation of physicists builds upon the theories of the last, using what works and trashing what doesn't, which eventually leads us to Superstring Theory.  It was a fascinating look at higher level physics and a good summary for the lay reader.

How We Got The Bible: This is not the first time I've read Neil R. Lightfoot's informative history of how the Bible gained its current form.  I was inspired to reread it after a conversation in a class on the New Testament that I used to teach.

I'll admit the book is a little dry (which takes a lot coming from me) but it is jammed full of details chronicling the preservation of the Holy Scriptures starting from ancient times and leading up to the rediscovery of ancient Greek manuscripts and a brief history of English translations of the Bible.  Again, the book is a little dry yet it is very riveting.  I think every Christian should read it so they have an understanding of how the Holy Scriptures came to be.

Born To Run:  This book was a blast.  Writer and amateur runner Christopher McDougall went to the doctor to find out why he was in pain.  This began a journey that led him to the deserts of Mexico and the elusive Tarahumara--an Indian tribe of super runners.

Throughout it all, McDougall traces the history of running injuries which are suspiciously almost non-existent until the advent of the modern running shoe.  All of the supposed support that these offer weaken some of our key muscles and we leave ourselves open to serious injury.

The Tarahumara run for fun.  They run with simple sandals and spend their entire lives running.  And they are almost free from injuries.  I'm not a runner nor will I ever be, but I do like walking and hiking.  It makes me stop and think that not all of the innovations of the modern world are really helpful for the way our bodies have been designed.  Simplicity certainly has its benefits.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Bucket List

As I've been reflecting on my life the past few months I've started to realize what is important.  I spent a lot of time focusing on just money.  Money allows you to buy more things, so why not?  I now see the falacy in that logic

Of course the people around you are of the utmost importance, but aside from people I think that experiences are more valuable and longer lasting than just "stuff."  That doesn't mean stuff is bad because they can certainly help make lifelong memories.  But I think the focus should be more towards experiences and away from the acclimation of more "stuff."

With that being said, here is my Bucket List:

Own property and build my own place (no matter how small)

Backpack the entirety of the John Muir Trail in one trip

Backpack across Europe for a year (or longer)

Have a book published

Hike down and up the Grand Canyon

Visit every state

Drive the entirety of all highways and freeways in California

Get under 200 pounds and maintain the weight

Visit every continent

Go skydiving

Visit Glacier National Park before it disappears

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What I've been learning

This is a bit of a follow up to my last post.  I've been learning a bit over the past few months.  They've been long painful lessons that I don't particularly enjoy learning, but I know that I need to.

The first lesson was one on selfishness.  I can be kind of an egocentric narcissist.  (Just to give you an idea I pay so that my email address is chris@chrisdhall.com.)  It's always been (or at least I thought that it should be) the Chris show.

It started when I was younger and realized that I was smarter than most kids around me.  While I never admitted it, a guiding thought in the back of my mind said that if I'm smarter then I'm better.  And that's when my ego was born.

Since my earlier years my ego has tamed some and I haven't thought that I was a better human being merely because I was more intelligent than someone else, but the over-inflated ego has remained.  It's all about me.

That erroneous idea infected all areas of my life--including my marriage.  I put my needs first instead of our needs.  I put my wants, my desires at the top of the list.  Everything else came second.  That doesn't lead to a healthy marriage.

So God has been working in me through that, to show me that life is not about me, it's about everyone.  There are seven billion people on this planet, and they're just as important as I am.  He's showing me that if I want to live a fulfilling life then I cannot focus on me.  That doesn't mean I treat myself like crap and that I don't matter, it just means that I need to keep things in a healthy perspective and put the needs of those around me ahead of my own--especially those of my wife and daughter.

The other word that the Lord has been imparting upon me is submission.  It ties in directly with selfishness.  Since I've viewed life as all about me it seems natural that I wouldn't want to submit to God.  It's my plan for my life because I know what's best for me.

But recently things have happened in my life that are out of my control.  For the first time in my life I feel truly helpless.  Man is that humbling.  I keep wishing and praying for control, but it doesn't come.  Nor will the control come, methinks.  I'm realizing how out of my control it is and how purely in God's hands my life is.  So I'm doing everything I can to submit to Him and let Him take control.

To be honest, this process sucks.  I hate it.  But I'm surrounded by friends and family who are supporting me through it all and I am truly greatful for all of you.

I am grasping onto Isaiah 43:1-3 "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Wow.  This has been more open than I thought it would be.  Again, I thank you all for taking the time to be a part of my life and read through this.  I continue to ask for your prayers and your support.  Have a blessed day!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Me

Let's be honest, I'm not the most open person on the planet.  If you were to ask me how I'm doing on one of the greatest days of my life I'd respond by saying that I'm doing really well and leave it at that.  If you asked me on the worst day of my life, I'd probably tell you that I'm doing okay or that I'm hanging in there.

I don't know why but I've always had a difficult time opening up to others.  I'm an introvert and I'm very closed off unless I know you exceedingly well.  And even then I can easily be closed off.

It is an issue that I'm working on changing, but it's taking time.  More time than I would have thought but it does feel good to have friends again.  It feels healthy.

Without going into details, I ask for prayers from all of my family and friends out there (or anyone who happens across my blog).  Life gets complicated and rough.  You make poor choices and realize the idiocy of your actions only as you see their full ramifications.  It is humbling as the storm tears you down to your roots.

But the light in the darkness is that you're able to build yourself back up again and get rid of all the crap that has accumulated in your life that has masquerades as important and necessary.  That is what I'm attempting to do at the moment.

It is a daily struggle.  I find myself crying out the Lord daily, asking Him to make everything better.  The way that it should be.  But He doesn't.  It's a growing experience for me.  I like to think that I've done all the growing and changing that I need to and things will be put right tomorrow, but I know that's not true.  I don't know how much more there is--I hope I'm nearing the end of this but I cannot be sure.  All I know is that I cannot keep living the way that I have.  Change is inevitable and necessary.  I grudgingly embrace the change and pain that precedes it in hope that everything will be better than ever before in the end.  Lord please let that end come soon!

I ask, I beg, and I beseech all of you who are reading this to keep me lifted up in your prayers.  There is so much going on and I apologize for the vagueness of it all, but please pray for the God of Heaven to grab and heal everything.

I thank you all for taking the time to read this and for keeping me in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Million Dollar Idea

I've had an idea floating around for a while, but I haven't done much with it.  Then, on the eve of my returning to work, I was hit with fresh vision, passion and motivation.  It couldn't have happened when I had more time to dedicate to the initial planning and education.  But I guess that's life.  You're either void of tasks to complete or you're overwhelmed.

So here's my idea.  I want to start an online literary magazine for sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories and art.

It'll be free (eventually I may have ads so that I can pay contributors in the future), come out twice a month, and have an EPIC name (I'm thinking Fuzzy Redbeard).

So what are your thoughts?

Monday, May 5, 2014

New Year's Resolution

I've never been one to keep New Year's Resolutions, so I never make them.  This year I decided to keep one.  I made this decision about halfway through January, so I don't know if it really counts as a New Year's Resolution or not but who cares.  It's a goal that I'm going to keep and I'm going to follow.


I will finish 1-2 books a month.

I used to be a rather voracious reader, but in the past few years I've been busy and I haven't made the time to read.  I feel that I've been suffering intellectually because of it, and I think my lack of reading has zapped my drive to write.  But I'm correcting those problems.

And I'm also working on branching out from my typical selection of reading material.  I've pigeonholed myself into a narrow category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Religious, and Medieval (or older) Literature.  I want expand my knowledge, my interests, and my writing abilities.  And to do that I need I need to bury my nose in a wide variety of books.

So far, I've finished a few and I'm working on more.

Comic Sagas and Tales:  One of my favorite forms of literature are the Icelandic Sagas of the 13th and 14th centuries.  They were a prototype of the European novel.  In some aspects of writing they are quite simplistic yet in others they are complex.

The sagas and tales in this collection (the third such that I've read) were written towards the end of the saga age and are more satirical and shine a light on the downsides of the glorified saga age.

Long story short, the sagas are about medieval action and adventure.  They've served as a source for Tolkien and other writers of Epic High Fantasy.  I don't think everyone would enjoy them, but I think they're a blast.

Youth Ministry 3.0:  I've done youth ministry in different churches with different dynamics.  Currently Destree and I help out with the youth at our church (New Hope) here in Vacaville.  I read the book about four and a half years ago when it first came out, but it was at the tail end of a very rough period of service in ministry.

Essentially the author argues that the way we are doing youth ministry now is outdated and inefficient, which I would agree with.  Very little has changed in the how things are done from when I was a student, but the mindset culture of adolescence has changed since I was that age.  The author argues that students need affinity, contextualization, and ultimately a shared journey for the gospel to take root in a radical way.  So how can we share in the journey with students?  That is the question.  It's something I'm pondering and still trying to live out.

Which President Shot a Man?:  This was a bargain book that I picked up and Barnes and Noble right after Christmas and it was a blast.  The book is a collection of trivia about our presidents, everything from their personal lives, political lives, spouses, children, pets, and much more.  I can only remember a few factoids from the book (Which president shot a man?  Andrew Jackson.  Which president had a parrot who was kicked out of a funeral for cursing?  Andrew Jackson.), but what it did was place within me a desire to learn more about the men who have led America.  Since then I've picked up biographies on Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

Erasing Hell:  This is a wonderful book in which Francis Chan tackles the tough question of Hell.  He argues from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources written during the same era that when Christ and others spoke of Hell they were not referring to figurative state but an actual place.

Unfortunately in this day and age we can easily gloss over Hell and instead focus on "happier" subjects.  We'll still teach morality and serving Christ but rarely touch on Hell because Hellfire and Brimstone have such negative connotations.  Hell shouldn't be the only thing we preach and teach, but it was a part of Christ's message and it needs to be part of ours.  If we truly believe the Bible, then we cannot ignore Hell and the fact that those who do not know Christ will end up there, separated from God for eternity.

Unfinished Tales:  Unfinished Tales is a collection of stories by J. R. R. Tolkien in his Middle-Earth legendarium.  Most of what is contained  there is told, or at least mentioned, in The Silmarillion or the appendices to the Lord of the Rings.  Its stories are by no means polished final copies.  Instead they are works in progress, a climes into the mind and writing process of a literary genius.

Part of what makes Lord of the Rings and other fantasy epics so entertaining is the feeling that there is so much back story behind every action, and it's that back story that Unfinished Tales explores.  It's not as expansive as The Silmarillion, but it's a good, fun read for anyone who enjoys Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt:  The first biography I picked up after my interest in American History was rekindled was one on Theodore Roosevelt.  He was a man of many trades and passions.  Through his politics Roosevelt guided America into the twentieth century.  His focus was firmly on the future while he constantly looked at the past, pondering every decision through the eyes of Lincoln, his political hero.

Roosevelt lived a life that seems almost legendary.  Whatever task he put his mind to, he accomplished.  He became a military man, an able politician serving in various levels of government, a businessman, a cowboy, a rancher, a hunter and a conservationalist.  He truly exemplifies what the American dream was a century ago.

The Forgotten History of America:  Most of the focus in an American History classroom is on the mid-eighteenth century onwards, but there are centuries of European history before that.  That is what The Forgotten History of America covers.  Starting with the first Europeans to cross Texas, the founding of St. Augustine, early conflicts between the English and native populations, and the French and Indian War.  By no means was this exhaustive, but it provides a good survey of the centuries of conflict leading up to the founding of America.

Into the Wild:  I had a difficult time putting this book down.  It is the story of Chris McCandless, a young man from an affluent Virginian family who gives up everything for a life on the road.  After graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1990 he surrendered his $24,000 savings account to a charity, sundered the strained ties he had with his parents and assumed the life of a vagabond.  Through journals, letters, postcards and first-hand accounts the author traces young McCandless's two years of travels through Mexico, the U.S.A. and Canada before finally hiking into the Alaskan bush in late April 1992.  In late August several hikers stumbled upon his decomposing remains.  He had died approximately two weeks before.

McCandless certainly could have planned better--he entered the wilderness with dangerously low amounts of food, no map, and no compass.  Had he been better prepared he would have likely walked out of the wilderness with the epiphany he was looking for.

Without romantacizing him, it took a lot of courage for McCandless to spend two years of his life off the grid in a minimalist lifestyle, especially for one who had an easy life ahead of him.  Reading Into the Wild has strengthened my own wanderlust.  If only there was a way to take my library with me...

As the year goes on, I'll keep this list updated   It's been just over two months, so I hope that everyone else is doing well with their New Year's Resolutions!