10 Ways to Avoid Friends & Family This Holiday Season

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and obligatory gatherings of distant relatives and former friends. Yes, the holidays are upon us.

So what do you do when you get invited to a holiday gathering that it would please you to avoid? Here are ten ideas:

  1. Get a seasonal job that requires you to work all the time. The upside of this plan is that you get a few extra dollars to spend on Lego sets for yourself. The downside is that you’ll be working so much, you won’t have time to assemble said Lego sets. Also, there are very few places that require you to work on Christmas. Consider becoming a doctor or a gas station attendant.
  2. Have a baby. Seriously, you can blame anything on the fact that you are sleep-deprived or concerned for the newborn’s welfare and no one can question you. Of course, this one would have required a bit of planning in order to time it right.
  3. Claim that you already have a holiday gathering happening that day. As long as you keep your social circles separate, no one will find out the truth. But be sure to maintain radio silence during the event in question, lest it come to light that you never had plans in the first place.
  4. Move far away from everyone you know or like. Clean and simple.
  5. Have an embarrassing injury that lands you in the hospital during the duration of the gathering. The injury should be the type where potential visitors will understand that you’d rather have a bit of privacy than surprise guests.
  6. Change your religion frequently. If no one can remember which holidays you celebrate, they’ll avoid inviting you so as not to offend you. And if they still invite you, just claim that you don’t celebrate that one.
  7. Witness a crime. If you can make it into the Witness Protection Program, you are obligated by law to have no contact with family or friends.
  8. Western Michigan University Distinguished Alumni and actor Tim Allen was only selling drugs to avoid a holiday party. Probably.

    Western Michigan University Distinguished Alumni and actor Tim Allen was only selling drugs to avoid a holiday party. Probably.

    Commit a crime. Why stand around waiting for someone to commit a crime when you can take the matter into your own hands? Jail is just as good a reason for missing awkward parties as the Witness Protection Program.

  9. Develop very specific allergies. “Are there going to be peanuts or people who might have touched a dog, cat, or chinchilla at this party? Oh, there are? Darn! If I come, I could die. I wouldn’t want that on your conscience.”
  10. Abandon personal hygiene. No one is going to invite you to a party if you smell like Death’s pet skunk. Plus you’ll save time and money by not bathing. Easy!

And there you have it. Merry Christmas!

Unless you recently changed your religion. In which case, Happy Whatever!

An Impressive Force of Will

For Independence Day this year, we visited the extended part of my wife’s side of the family. Her closest cousin, Allison, was up from North Carolina and it had been a while since my wife had seen her. Allison and her husband have two kids, the youngest of which (a daughter) is only a little older than our oldest daughter, and though they are similar in age, they could not be more different in personality.

From the moment we got to the get-together, Allison’s daughter assailed us with “why?” questions. Inquisitiveness is nothing new to us. Our own daughter’s first words were, “what’s that?”. But the difference between the questions is that “why?” can lead to more questions of “why?” while “what’s that” is usually answered by a single word or phrase.

After the line of questioning started getting awkward (“Why was that baby made?”), we were able to move her attention onto our oldest daughter by suggesting that they play together. Our oldest daughter is terribly shy and unused to other children, so it came as quite a shock with her slightly older second-cousin grabbed her hand and started leading her toward the screened in gazebo nearby to play.

My wife’s sister, who was in the gazebo at the time, told us that the second cousin’s version of playing was telling our daughter what she was and was not allowed to do.

“You can sit now.”

“You can read this book.”

“You can’t sit there. You have to sit here.”

And so on.

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My oldest, on the right, is watching carefully to see what is expected of her in this “hand-holding” ritual.

And for the first half hour or so, our daughter hesitantly obeyed. Everywhere they went, they held hands. Well, our daughter had her hand held whether she wanted it or not. I think she was intimidated by her second-cousin’s impressive force of will. Heck, I was intimidated by the child. But then a funny thing happened. The hand-holding started being mutual. The direction they went started being decided upon by my daughter a bit more. And she finally lost her “deer in the headlights” look and started smiling.

It was one of her first out-of-her-comfort-zone experiences, and she went from uncomfortable to enjoying it in less time than I thought she would. I am pretty proud of her.

It is funny to see how people react in those out-of-comfort-zone experiences. My wife usually stays very quiet and follows the leader for a good long while. My comfort zone is unusually large, so I don’t get to experience this very often, but when I do, it doesn’t usually take me long to adapt. It is funny how my oldest exhibited both behaviors.

What is your natural reaction to being forced from your comfort zone? How long does it take you to adjust?

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4 Ways to Make Time

RelojDespertadorThere aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things that you want to do.

  1. Hire a Substitute – Teacher aren’t the only ones who can get subs, you know. Just find someone who looks more or less like you and pay them to do your job for the day. Even better, see if they are willing to do your job for less than you make. That way, you can take off all the time you want and STILL make money! Just don’t let management find out that you are overpaid and/or not working, since they might just cut out the middleman (you).
  2. Stop Doing Housework – You know what takes less time than vacuuming, doing the dishes, and cleaning the toilet? NOT vacuuming, doing the dishes, and cleaning the toilet. Sure, you’ll live in squalor and there’s always the chance of creditors taking your house away, but every reward has its risks.
  3. Sleep Less – Let’s face it. People waste a third of their lives on sleep. Invest heavily in caffeine, friend, because sleep is one of the hardest addictions to break. Of course, there’s a good chance that after three days without so much as a nap, you’ll be criminally insane. Just channel that insanity into a productive form so you can do the things you want to do, only better.
  4. Abandon Family & Friends – It’s time to go into Hermit Mode. People love spending time with you because you are funny, smart, and attractive, but you need to know when to say no. Sure, you will probably lose friends and anger those who love you most, but that’s okay, right? I mean, you have your all-important time to do whatever it is you wanted to do. That makes it okay, right?

So there you have it. All the time in the world. Do all four things and you’ll be amazed at all the time you were wasting! You won’t even have to try smarter approaches like re-prioritizing!

As always, thanks for spending your precious time reading my blog.

Birthday Gift Report 2012

I had a wonderful 30th birthday.

I took the day off to spend with my family. We got to sleep in (and with a one-month old, this was a miracle in itself). We went out to a wonderful lunch at On The Border. I had my best day ever on my blog (104, just saying). And I got a pile of wonderful gifts, courtesy of my wife and my extended family.

Let me offer a disclaimer to the rest of this post. The best part of my birthday was being able to spend it with family. The gifts are all wonderful, but mean less than a toot to me in comparison to that. I just don’t want anyone thinking that I’m being braggy about my new stuff or that my priorities are messed up.

Okay, now you can look at my awesome gifts.

Here’s the rundown.

On Writing by Stephen King – Many writer’s have talked about how influential this book has been on their lives as writers. I look forward to finding out what all the fuss is about.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin – The second in the Song of Ice and Fire series following A Game of Thrones. By the way, the book discussion for A Game of Thrones is happening this Thursday. Drop me a note if you are planning on coming and haven’t told me yet.

While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut – I didn’t even know that this book existed, and Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. While Mortals Sleep is a collection of his previously unpublished short fiction. I’m only about 80 pages in so far, but I have no idea why this was not published until now. I’ll do a full book review later though.

Cuisenart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Coffee Mill – If you are going to get a coffee grinder, a burr grinder is the way to go. It is the best way to have uniformly ground coffee beans for use in making any kind of coffee.

Black Crema Coffee Press by Bodum – This is an 8-cup french press to go with my coffee grinder. I’ve been spending too much time and money by going out for coffee when I could be staying at home for writing nights. This is the perfect way to fuel my caffeine-driven writing fests.

Meijer Organics Whole Bean Coffee – To use in the grinder and the french press. Pure Arabica beans means a smoother, less acidic cup of joe. Good stuff.

Homestead Cobs-a-Twirl Squirrel Feeder – My wife knows how every year I put a squirrel feeder on my birthday list and every year I don’t get one. Well, I didn’t put it on my list this year, but this is the year that I got it. I have it installed already, but so far, the squirrels seem wary of it. Anyway, I can’t wait to watch them figure out how to get the corn from the feeder. The box says it is fun for squirrels, but I am inclined to believe that the only one getting any fun out of this contraption is me.

Biggby Gift Card – For those nights when I want to go out for my very favorite coffee drink, Biggby’s Frozen Mint Mocha. Oh man, they are good.

On The Border Gift Card (not pictured) – Already used it and took advantage of the fact that I am on the OTB email list and get special deals for my birthday. My wife and I got free queso and a free dessert and the gift card covered the rest of our meal.

I could not have asked for a nicer birthday, nor a nicer set of gifts. I can’t wait to read all of my new books and report to you my thoughts. Thanks again to all of you who wished me a happy birthday on here or on my Facebook page. All of your wishes came true.

Back to School | It Begins…

Today is the first day of the online course that I spoke of earlier. To save you the click, I’ve enrolled in a free online course offered by the University of Michigan through Coursera entitled “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World“. After reading the course syllabus, I’m pretty excited to get started.

That said, this is also my first full week back at work after taking a week of paternity time to help out with my newest daughter. I’ve forgotten just how busy life can seem when you are getting less sleep. Fortunately, my wife is encouraging me to go back to sleep in the middle of the night when the newest one needs to eat. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the true difficulty of having two kids doesn’t come from the youngest one (who mostly just sleeps and eats and poops and wakes you up in the middle of the night), but from the oldest one (who is running all over pulling out the toys and things that you just put away probably because you just put things away and she sees that as an affront to her toddler feng shui).

Anyway, now that the time has come to do the online course, I’m wondering if I will be able to give it my all, when I am also trying to give my all to my wife, my family, my work, and my writing (including this blog). I’m a big guy, but I don’t know if I’ll be big enough to divide into that many directions.

This is just a worry I have. I’ve done difficult things before and have come out the stronger for it. I’m probably just quibbling here, but if you think of it, offer up a prayer on my behalf that I’ll be able to take care of my responsibilities and not lose my mind in the process of pursuing my creative outlets.

Two Days or Less

In two days or less, my wife and I will be officially adding one to the number of people who occupy rooms in our household.

We are obviously very excited, but in any crunch time you also think of the things that you are not going to accomplish before the main event happens.

For instance, in the next two days, I’m not going to finish my WIP, which means that I’ll need to find (make) time to work on my novel once we have two little mouths to feed and four little hands to keep from harassing the dog.

I’m not going to build the cool book lamps that I thought about building in the next two days.

I’m not going to design and build the toy chest that my oldest daughter needs. Her toys are everywhere, just everywhere. Not that having a toy chest would help much because she likes her toys to be everywhere anyway. I’m just saying, it isn’t going to happen.

I may not even get a chance to finish writing out my thoughts on my friend’s manuscript even though I’ve had if for months (sorry Bob).

Knowing that certain things are not going to be done on my schedule can cause me to act in one of two ways. Either I can freak out and try to accomplish all of my wants or I can accept the disparity and try to plan how I will accomplish them in light of my future additional responsibilities.

Yesterday, I wrote about how I’ve felt grown-up ever since I got married, but I realize that I still have room to mature. I think accepting my limitations and planning accordingly is part of that process.

8 Questions | Meet Roger Colby from Writing is Hard Work

Roger Colby & J.R.R. Tolkien

Today’s post is an interview that I did with fellow blogger and writer, Roger Colby of Writing is Hard Work. If you aren’t following Roger’s blog yet, check it out. If you don’t know where to start, I really enjoyed his recent post on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ten Tips for Writers.

Anyway, on to the interview!

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1. How did you get into writing?

As a teen I felt kind of like an outcast, so I didn’t really have too many close friends.  I wasn’t a social butterfly, so I spent a lot of time reading.  During my sophomore year in high school I took a creative writing course that changed my life.  I found out that there was something I could do that made people hang on my every word.  Although I was capable of straight “A’s” this was the first class to which I gave everything.  I have been writing in one way or another ever since.  I wrote short stories up until about 4 years ago.  I have a massive collection of these short stories, and many of them are bursting at the seams to become novels.

2. As an English teacher, what is the one thing that you want all of your students to learn above all else?

I want my students to learn how to think for themselves, know why they think it and have evidence for those thoughts.  Too many students are told by a well meaning teacher: “Just write whatever you feel.  It’s ok.  Just write.”  This breeds idiocy.  When students enter my classroom they must support their opinions with fact.  I do not give out knowledge, they find it.

3. What fills your creativity well?

Believe it or not it has never really run dry.  I think there must be a synapse in there that is made from that adamantium Wolverine claw metal.  However, I do find that time alone with a book or time alone on a walk along my road (I live in the country) usually causes my brain to start churning out ideas.  I then have to write them all down in a little notebook or on my iPhone.  I quickly forget them otherwise.

4. How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I have four great children and a wife who is awesome.  I also teach full time, administrate an alternative education program and am active in my local church.  I have to budget out my time.  Time management is probably a writer’s most important tool.  I have about two hours for writing a day scheduled.  I have an hour in the morning scheduled for blogging and another hour scheduled for social networking.  I schedule weekends mostly for the kids and dating my wife.  I must write 1000 words a day, whether or not the writing is absolute garbage.  I also have a wife who understands how important writing is to me.  She is a huge part of my writing flame.

5. Why did you pursue the self-publishing route instead of the traditional publishing model?

I have sent my stuff off for years.  I have published a few things over the years in small local magazines, but nothing that could make it through the glass ceiling of the national publications.  I have a drawer full and a deleted sector of my hard drive full of rejection letters.  Most of them are automated and I know that they didn’t even look at my material.  I became very cynical about the publishing industry when they published Twilight.  That book is a total rag.  It is full of errors, plot holes, and general bad writing.  I scraped together a bunch of money ($2000) and published my first novel through Outskirts Press, a fleecing agency for the uninformed.  After discovering Amazon Createspace and Kindle, Nook and Smashwords, I realized that I could use blogging and social media to help me get more readers and publish for next to nothing.  Self publishing gives me an avenue to get all of this writing down the pipeline so that it is not sitting around on my desktop like the trained dog no one will ever see perform.

6. What are you doing as a self-published author to promote your books?

As stated above, I am blogging regularly, using Facebook and Twitter to network and interact with people who may be potential readers.  I am using a marketing strategy that is somewhat experimental.  The self-published book series “Wool” reached the best seller list because A) the writing is good B) he offered his novel in digital installments which were free and C) he build buzz through blogging and social media.  I am not expecting my book to be a best seller, but I am doing everything to help it along that I can.  It is a lot of work, but worth it if I can at least sell 100 copies (the best case scenario for a self published author).

7. What advice to you have for people considering self-publishing?

Do it.  However, before you go uploading your tome to the internet you might want to consider a few things: 1) Write well. Amazon, at last estimate, had almost 1 million digital books in their library.  Many of these (or I should say most) are people who are not really writers who are lazy and do not care to clean up their grammar or spelling or type-os and are absolutely embarrassing the market.  2) Get an editor.  Find a professional editor and then PAY them to edit your text.  3) Find a writer’s group.  There are writers groups in your area that probably meet at the local library or somewhere.  Get plugged in to that group and have them critique your work.  LISTEN to their critique.  You are not God’s gift to the publishing world.  Be humble.  Take your lumps.  Become a better writer.

8. What do you want people to know about you aside from your writing?

I am an avid fanboy.  I have a full-on, screen accurate Ghostbusters costume, a custom Mandalorian costume, and a 1940’s Captain America costume complete with metal shield.  I do charity events to raise money for Spencer Children’s Hospital and the MDA.  I do this with a local group of fanboys and girls (www.jediokc.com) and geek out with them on a regular basis.  I also consider myself a “world” Christian in that I am absolutely against the “Americanized” version of Christianity that is used as a mule by politicians and is a weekend hobby for most people and a poor representation of what Christianity is meant to be.  I have been to China for 5 weeks, and other missions efforts, and have seen Christianity as it is practiced in other countries.  If only American Christians had the guts that Chinese Christians had, this would be a better world.

I am a cliché.

I admit it. I write in coffee shops. But I refuse to admit that I do it so people will look at me and think that I am cool for being a writer who writes in coffee shops. I know that people are really thinking, “Wow, I didn’t think people actually did that.”

Well I do. And here are my reasons why:

I have a lovely wife and daughter at home with whom I would rather spend time. Seriously, I love my family. If given the choice, I would choose spending time with them over just about anything. (“Why are you choosing to write then?” you ask. Sometimes I wonder myself, but there are stories in my head that need to get out, lest I go crazy).

I need some noise around me but not directly involving me. I can focus best when I have a bit of ambient noise like music, or traffic, or chairs scraping the floor, or the susurrus of quiet conversation.

I do not see the chores that need to be done from the coffee shop. Dishes, laundry, and making the bed are very hard to do when I am not home. They are all good things to do, but good things don’t like to leave room for potentially great things (Listen to me acting like my writing is a great thing! Such audacity!). I am forced to focus on my writing when it is the only activity available away from home.

I like tasty coffee drinks that I do nothing to prepare except order. And though I know that my wife loves me enough to prepare me tasty coffee drinks, I do not want to ask her to do that. I also like to tell myself that I am stimulating my local economy.

I have come to terms with the fact that I am a cliché. But if you like my reasons and decide to try it for yourself, you may want to ease into it. Here are a few ideas of the top of my head to avoid looking like a cliché coffee shop writer: sit in a dark corner, dress in a non-writerly way (maybe full football gear?), shout out gamer terminology at random (Noobz!), and anytime someone gets close enough to see your screen, alt-tab it to a Google search for “How not to intimidate your friends with how cool you are.”

Anyway, thanks for reading.

My Grandpa was Full of Little Jokes | Memorial Day 2012

I wrote this back in 2008 after my grandpa died. He was a serviceman in the US Navy during WWII. In the spirit of Memorial Day, I wanted to share this and remember him and his service, both to our country and to his family.

God bless you Norman Mosey.

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My grandpa always used to read the obituary section. He said that if he didn’t see his name there, he knew that he wasn’t dead. It was one of his little jokes.

He was full of little jokes.

When I would ask for a half glass of orange juice, he would ask which half I wanted filled.
“The top half,” I would reply, at which time he would fill my glass full. I always complained that I only wanted a half glass. It took me about twenty years to figure out that in order to fill the top half, the bottom half had to be filled first.

It didn’t take much to amuse him.

I spent a week with my grandparents during one summer vacation when I was eleven or twelve. I discovered that they didn’t do much, or at least, they didn’t do much of what I thought was fun at the time. But the week was not without its entertainment.
Without speaking a word, my grandpa invented a little game while lounging in the sun in his armchair. Sun filtered in through the window and was reflected by his watch onto various surfaces in the living room. I soon noticed that the reflected light was deliberately moving from item to item. From where I sat, I too could reflect the sunlight, and so our nameless game was born. It was a simple game of chasing his reflection around the room. It was possibly the most fun I had that week.

I guess it doesn’t take much to amuse me either.

I heard the story once of how my grandparents met. My grandpa was in the Navy. My grandmother and her sister took part in a morale-boosting program that wrote letters to servicemen. It was my grandmother’s sister who wrote to grandfather. What they said to each other, I’ll never know, but when my grandpa expressed a desire to meet, my shy grandmother’s sister sent my grandma in her stead. And the rest was history.
They had five children; two boys and three girls.
I heard my grandma asked once why he never said “I love you.”
“I told you when we got married,” he replied. “I’ll let to know if anything changes.”

He wasn’t a man who said what he felt.

By the time I met him, my grandpa only had nine and one third fingers. For the longest time, I assumed that the missing two-thirds of his tenth digit were victims of the Second World War. I asked him once if this was the case and he confirmed it.
A few years back, I found out the truth. He had accidentally pinched his finger in the door of a car and it was safer to amputate than deal with infection.

My grandpa wasn’t always honest, but he was always good for a smile.

He died today as he was clearing the snow from his driveway atop his tractor, “Big Johnny.” The tractor was in the road when a car came around the corner and cut the tractor in two and my grandpa into more pieces. The other driver walked away.
My grandparents were two days away from their sixty-second anniversary. I guess my grandpa never changed his mind about loving my grandma.
We won’t be able to play simple games anymore, or lie to each other about the scars that we bear. And soon his obituary will be in the newspaper and he won’t be there to read it.

Maybe that means that he’s not really dead.