Eat, Drink, and Be Merry – For Tomorrow We Die

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I suppose the real title should be: Eat (Ice Cream), Drink (Lots of water), and Be Merry for Tomorrow We Die(t).

Tonight was a special night as my family celebrated not one but two glorious moments.

Yes, that’s right, tomorrow is my lovely bride’s birthday. 27 beautiful years of gracing this planet.

But that’s not all. (Oh no.) You see, in just a few short days my wife will also be giving birth to our second son and to all of the chaos that ensues with a newborn. Therefore, my oldest will no longer be a loner on his branch in the family tree.

Needless to say, tonight was a cause for celebration. In honor of both occasions, I forced everyone in the family (all three of us) to eat the largest banana split this little town in the Central Valley of California has to offer.

Grandpa Jim’s.

There is this quaint little candyshoppe/soda fountain/ice cream parlor that has long defined my home town. It is a staple of my city, just as country music and nascar might define some city in the south. (Okay, those kind of define my city, too) Anyway, this wonderful place was the site of our revelries this eve, and I thought it fit to use the occasion to explain my absent presence on wordpress for the past couple of weeks.

As stated above, the first and foremost reason is the impending arrival of our newest miracle of life. This has brought the utmost chaos and work to our lives unseen in these parts for quite some time.

Second, and more occupationally, my students started state testing this week. For all you teachers out there, you smell what I’m cooking. (For all those non-teachers, its more or less a charred, rotting piece of salmon.)

Third, and more excitingly, I have been in preparations for my upcoming release of my first novel. I have been working closely with my cover designer trying to craft the perfect image, reorganizing the format of the text so it will actually fit into createspace’s requirements as well as smashword’s, and making sure the editing is all worked out.

You might have seen some of my posts about it. You’ll probably receive these more often as the release date approaches. Just a simple reminder. Plus, I’m thinking of giving a free trial purchase for the first week of the novel’s release. Just for those of you out there with commitment issues.

Anyway, I hope to get back into normalcy after the baby has arrived and continue my riveting posts. (See what I did there?)

Until then,

Peace and Long Reads.

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The 5th Dimension and more!

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singularity_dynvision

This post is slightly delayed and I do so apologize. I have been tied up with parent conferences (or for any other teachers out there: the 5th Dimension) for the past week or so.

Oh, I’m sorry. When I said 5th Dimension, were you thinking of these guys?220px-5th_Dimension_1969

That probably would have been more exciting. Sorry.

No, conferences,  I must say, are such an interesting concept. They are the same virtually every time. I sit across from one of my students and his/her parents to discuss behavior and grades. Everytime I do one of these I encounter 1 of 3 types of students.

Student Type 1: The Interpreter

I work at a school with quite a large population of English Learners whose parents speak little to no English. Now, whenever I have a conference with these students, they typically translate for me. At first I was skeptical about using the sudents for fear that they would repeat whatever they wanted, but I have come to find that these students relate my words quite faithfully, even the difficult students. Usually the parents smile and nod and are away within a few minutes. Quite a painless operation. 

Student Type 2: The Reformer

This student is the one who sits with his/her parent and get grilled for their behavior or grades. They take the verbal punishment and vow to change. They look their parents in the eyes and promise to come in early to turn in missing work or serve detention. And they do.

For a week.

Then their behavior reverts back to the way it was pre-conference. I never hear from the parents during the year, nor can I get a return phone call or email.

Student Type 3: The Faithful

This student comes to conferences knowing full well what is going to be said for it has been said time and time again. Either they are the top students who are constantly praised or the most difficult who are constantly warned. Parents don’t say much. They nod their head and move on quickly to another teacher.

article-new_ehow_images_a07_is_9m_activities-parentteacher-conferences-800x800

Conferences are definitely the 5th Dimension. Something beyond this world that can be counted on time after time to waste time. There exists only the rare occasions where something different comes out of these exchanges, but they are few and very far between.

Anyway, time for the weekly update.

 These conferences have pre-occupied my time, and I have not stuck to my workout routine mostly since I’ve been getting home at 8 pm and crashing an hour later.

Speaking of which, I need to give my shoutout to LMarie for her comment with a great link and great ideas on a new workout routine.

SHOUT OUT TO LMARIE!!!!

I have not started a new one, partly due to conferences, but mostly due to a larger problem that I constantly struggle with. I have always struggled with it. It is the one thing that keeps me from moving forward.

The problem is that when my routine gets messed up, even in the slightest, I tend to get completely discombobulated and defeated. Such as the case has been since Easter.

I had a week off from normalcy and saw my exercise slipping. Then my eating habits started going with it. Then I went back to work and didn’t reset everything. Then I spent time in the 5th Dimension, and here I am on the brink of giving up entirely.

I don’t want to give up.

I don’t want to fail, again.

I don’t want to stay in this current routine.

But I also don’t want to start over from the beginning.

So I’m struggling. I’m struggling the same laziness and poor eating habits that got me here.

Now, I want change. I want to find victory. I want to defeat my weight and have power over it. So, I’m going to push on. No matter what I have to do, I’m going to find my routine again. I’m going find myself weighing less and achieving my goals. I am going to win. And by the grace of God, I am going to do it.

By the Grace of God.

Exercise 2: Character Dimensions

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glassessbook

Today I am bringing to you one of the lessons from the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by David Maass. This book is chock full of amazing ways to refine your manuscript and give your story that extra je ne sais quoi. I’m enjoying this book so much that I thought I would show you all a little bit of the work I have been doing.

(And maybe, while shamelessly plugging his book, Mr. Maass will inadvertently discover this blog, see that I am giving him free advertisement, become interested in my book, and advertise it unto the world. . . .Well a guy can dream, can’t he?)

Today’s lesson is about giving your protagonist conflicting sides to make them more dimensional and, in turn, making them more realistic. Now, I felt pretty confident that my protagonist was already quite multidimensional. Then I read this section from the book:

“How many sides of your current protagonist do you reveal? I know what you are thinking: My hero is multidimensional. Me hero is complex! But let me ask you: Is he complex and multidimensional only in your mind, or actually on the page?”

Ouch.

That forced me to take a step back and re-assess. I knew my hero could be multidimensional, but perhaps I needed to do a little more work. I was ready to accept Mr. Maass’ help.

Step 1: What is my protagonist’s defining quality?

This step was easy. I had already decided this way back when when I had first planned the novel: Idealist. I wanted Landon, my hero, to be an idealist. (Kind of like Luke Skywalker was in “A New Hope”.) Done.

Step 2: What is the opposite of that trait?

Easy again. Realist.

Step 3: Write a paragraph in which your protagonist demonstrates that trait.

Hmmm. Okay, now we got a problem. What part of the story should I use for context? Should it be in the beginning so readers can begin to see the depth of the character early on? or Should I give readers a few chapters to get used to one side of Landon’s character before I show them a new one? I began to get caught up in trying to write the perfect paragraph.

Finally, I decided to stop thinking and just start writing. I told myself to just take what comes out and fix it later.This is the God-awful paragraph that I wrote in 5 minutes:

“Landon saw the world around him. He understood Gavin’s words to be true. Life was not perfect. The world was a dark cruel place, as much as he didn’t want to believe it. So he understood why Gavin had done what he did. Survival of the fittest was the truth of the world.”

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Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 with a different character trait.

I did and again this is the horrible first draft I came up with:

1. Optimist

2. Pessimist

3. “Of course he wasn’t here, he thought. No one ever really cared about him. His parents didn’t want him. His uncle never wanted him. This world didn’t even seem to want him.”

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Now these paragraphs definitely needs work, but I wanted to share with you that after having just done one of the exercises, I feel so much freer about who my protagonist is and where I can take him.

Eventually, I decided that the competed first paragraph could be added about halfway through the novel while the second could be placed towards the beginning. I even began plans for more qualities and more moments to show these qualities.

So far, I am only a few exercises into the book, but already I can tell you that it is a great tool for writers. I am beginning to see this as essential an understand why C.H. Griffin boasted so highly of it.

If any of you writers out there feel like you could use any help at all with your story, I highly suggest getting this workbook. It truly can change your manuscript into a breakout novel.

Now, I’m just praying it does for mine! 🙂

How God Ruined My Life

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(Courtesy: History Channel)

(Courtesy: History Channel)

The life I am living is not the life I wanted.

I had dreams, aspirations, intentions for where I thought my life should go. I knew what I wanted and how I was going to get it. When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about the kids I have. I didn’t dream about the woman I am married to. I didn’t dream about the job I have.

No.

These things didn’t even breach my consciousness.

I was a young man coming into my own. I was 18 and fearless. I was ready to take on the world. I left home in search of glory and riches. (read: headed to college). My goal was simple, graduate and become a rocket scientist who works for NASA.

I had no doubts about the path I had chosen. I loved math. There was a thrill I received from spending hours solving problems. Math was my strongest subject. In nearly 15 years of school I never once had a problem I could not understand.

I loved science. There was a peace I got from understanding the world through my senses. I spent countless hours immersing myself in Science Fiction stories believing I could be the nerd to make these realities.

It was only a matter of time.

6 years.

6 years to be exact.

(Give or take a few.)

But it only took 6 months. Within 6 months that was all ruined. And I have God to blame.

(Or thank)

You see, God was trying to destroy those dreams of mine. He was hurtling figurative bolts of lightning at me setting fire to everything I thought precious all the while trying to rouse me from my slumber.

Apparently, he had other plans.

Early on in my collegiate career, I stumbled into a couple of young men in their early twenties on the verge of completing their own collegiate lives. They were seminary students with a purpose. They were on the lookout for someone to host a forum in his/her room once a week. These men were prepared.

They had a DVD and everything.

Their names were Billy and Delvin.

And I, believing everything happens for a reason and having grown up in the church, thought it sounded interesting. I agreed. We decided to meet every Monday. My task was to invite as many people as I could.

The first night we had 2 people. The second week we had 3 people. And over the first semester the forum steadily grew. By the last night we were squeezing 22 people into a teeny-weeny dorm room.

I got to know Billy and Delvin. They spoke to me about the Bible and God more than anyone else ever had. They got me to open the Bible. They made me begin to think about the Bible and God being more than just a Sunday thing.

Now, understand, I called myself a Christian. I espoused thoughts which resonated with a Biblical toll. I even spoke with authority on what the Bible said. (All the while having never read a single page.)

And I was beginning to see my hypocrisy.

Here, God was manuevering like a Navy Seal under cover of night into my life. He was setting me up for the destruction. Slowly and methodically, He was weakening the struts and supports of my life. Just waiting.

(Courtesy: Pensacola News Journal)

(Courtesy: Pensacola News Journal)

The next semester came, and Billy and Delvin left for bigger and brighter things. I began to embed myself deeper into my goals. I registered for three engineering classes: Calculus 2, Mechanics and Heat 1, and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE)101. I was ready. I was excited.

I was not prepared.

Calculus 2 was taught by an elderly man with a penchant for saying “idear”. Mechanics and Heat 1 was taught by a barely coherent old German Physicist. MAE 101 was taught by a young stud straight out of college. Each class was a nightmare.

One by one I found myself lost in an alien world.

Mechanics and Heat was the first to fall. After my first failed test and a tutoring session, I was concerned but ready to right the ship. I confidently strode into the professor’s office and eagerly retook his test. I used the shortcuts I had been taught and breezed through the test in less than 2o minutes. Handing back the test, I knew everything was going to be all right.

Quickly, he scanned the exam with his red pen, making quick jots here and there. Then he handed it back to me. I had gotten an extra 2 points. Still an F.

The deadline to drop was 3 weeks away, but I didn’t waste any time. I promptly did so.

God Sampsoned the first pillar.

316E-Image Samson Tumbling Pillars

Next was MAE 101.

Now understand that I spent 4 years, 4 YEARS, taking Autocad (a computerized architecture program) as my elective in High School. I was a master at the program. I developed 3-D waterparks and dream houses with ease.

But for some reason, I couldn’t even figure out how to extract a circle into a cylinder. Nothing I tried to do made sense. There was no explanation. I simply could not do it. The best analogy I can make is a professional pitcher in baseball being traded to a new team and all of a sudden he has lost the ability to even throw the ball.

I struggled for weeks just trying to make the simplest of images. Finally, I was fed up. A week after dropping Mechanics and Heat, I dropped MAE 101.

God Davided the second Goliath.

(Courtesy: beyondhollywood.com)

(Courtesy: beyondhollywood.com)

Then came Calculus 2.

There I was sitting in Calc 2, my night class, awaiting the results from my first exam. I had already dropped the other two classes, and I was just hoping to make it through the third.

The old man at the front of the room grabbed the stack sitting on the desk and began calling names. One by one bodies passed by receiving their scores. Finally, he called my name. Slowly, I trudged up to the desk knowing how difficult the class had been up to this point.

I’d like to say that when I received my test I was surprised, but really, I wasn’t. I guess I knew it was coming. I mean the semester had gone so wrong up until that point. What did I expect to change?

I stared down at the large, red, semi-circle on the top of the page and began to wonder why. I flipped through a few pages and fathomed that the simple answer was, I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t understanding the material. I was failing for the first time in my life. And it was all happening my first year of college.

The world spun beneath my feet. I held on to a desk to steady myself. But I couldn’t stay any longer. I needed to get out. I needed air. Hastily, I strode from the room out in the cold night air and didn’t stop until I reached my empty dorm room. I fell on my bed unsure of what to do.

I looked across the room and saw the Bible sitting on my desk. I hadn’t touched the thing since before Christmas Break, but something inside me willed me to open it. What was read has been forgotten by me, but I recall feeling an overwhelming sense that I was not where I was supposed to be.

I tried to ignore it and stick with Calc 2 through the semester, but a few weeks later it became evident that I was not going to pass. A second exam rendered an F, and I knew I had to drop. I was two weeks past the drop date, so the F stuck.

God Joshuaed the last Jericho.

jericho

I went to my room that night and fell on my knees sobbing. This confident, 18 year old, young man defeated by college and unsure of what to do could do nothing else. I felt as though I had no more hope. My dreams were slipping away. My future was tangbile no more. All I could think to do was pray.

So I did.

I prayed for help. I prayed for guidance. I prayed for my future. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

When I was done, the old feeling resurfaced. I was not where I was supposed to be. This time I thought I should listen to it. I began to pray again asking for understanding of this feeling. At that time, the only image I could think about was an empty classroom. I didn’t understand.

I stood up and remembered that I had a history test the next day. The history class was the only one that semester I did well at. When the other classes felt like a foreign language, I felt at ease with this one.

And as I began to think about this dichotomy an epiphany occured to me. An empty classroom and history. They just seemed to fit perfectly. That was what I was suppsed to do. Learn history and teach.

God Crucified my life.

(Courtesy: morethings.com)

(Courtesy: morethings.com)

I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t know where I was going to go. I didn’t even know if it was what I wanted, but for some reason I was being told I needed to be a teacher.

So, I began to pray in earnest about what it meant and what I was supposed to do, and, little by little, I began to figure out that God wanted me to go home.

He began to reveal to me that I had never asked Him what He wanted for my life. He had always planned for me to be a teacher, but I was unwilling. He had to ruin my life.

Now that I look back on that fateful year, a few realities hit me.

First, the woman I married would never have become my wife had I never moved back. (That story is for another post.) My dreams for a wife infintely paled in comparison to the amazing and wonderful woman God intended for me. I would have missed out if God had not ruined my life.

Second, the children the Lord has blessed me with I would have never known had He not ruined my life. I would not have understood the depth of love He has for us and the cost to God for eternal slavation without the experience of being a father.

Third, I would probably not even have a job right now if he hadn’t ruined my life. NASA is going through quite a bit of turmoil and changes right now. Shuttles are being mothballed. The Orion Project is having setbacks. They are downsizing.

God knew what He was doing.

So, what can I say, but praise Him for ruining my life. Had He never stepped in, had He never gotten a hold of me, had He never ruined my life, I would not enjoy the boundless blessings of the beautful wife, the wonderful children, and the interesting, to say the least, career that I do today.

The life I am living is not the life I wanted. It is far better than anything I could have dreamed.

Week 4: Beleaguered and Bedridden

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Image

Okay, so perhaps the title is a bit of a misnomer, but hey, it sounded catchy. Plus, it’s kind of how I’ve been feeling this past week.

I started back to work this week after a wonderfully busy Spring Break. I didn’t get much running in during the break, and, to be quite frank, I ate more than my fair share’s worth of bad food. I mean, come on, my son is only 2. He doesn’t need ALL of that chocolate, right? Right?

Anyway, this week at work was rather hectic. We have state testing coming up, and I had to get ready for my evaluation. Now, usually when I get back to work from a break I tend to get at least a sore throat from just getting used to speaking so much, but not this week.

No.

I got my customary sore throat, plus some tummy issues and headaches all week. Whether it was due to stress, the bad food, or a combination of the two, only the Sick Fairy knows. (In case you were wondering, she’s the Tooth Fairy’s cousin. She tends to come around during winter but she does make other cameos throughout the year. Such as last week in my house.) 

Anywho, I’m finally coming into the clear of everything, but needless to say,  I did not get to run at all this week.

Very upsetting as you can imagine. BUT! I was inspired to rethink my weight loss plan. See, if you remember, I started running with some profound wisdom from my lovely bride. I still like the idea. I still hold to it every time my foot hits the pavement and every time I want to quit. 

But I just felt like there has to be something more. Some hole that needs to be filled to complete this weight loss puzzle. I think I figured it out, but I don’t quite know how to implement my idea.

And that is where you, my faithful friends, come in!

I’ve decided that I want to include some sort of weight training into my regimen.  But I am in desperate need of some good, and preferably short, weight training programs I can do along with the running. Now, before you get all excited and whip out your Encyclopedia of Awesome Weight Training Stuff, I have a few limitations. 

First: I only have these to work with:

Image

In case you can’t tell, the small weights are 2.5 lbs each, and the large weights are 7.5 lbs each. I can mix and match however I need to, but it is all I have for the moment.

and Second: I don’t have a lot of time. (I know I sound like I’m complaining, but I really am hoping for something that can be done within 30 minutes to an hour.)  I leave for work at 5:30am and return home around 6:00pm. I do my runs around 8:00pm which is after my son goes to bed. I try to do this 3 times a week.

I’m really excited to add something to my routine and I am positive you guys have something that will work for me. Plus, just think of how great you will feel knowing you helped me succeed in my goals. I mean, I can’t think of any compensation better than that. Can you? Yeah, see, didn’t think so. (Shh. Quit throwing out the money card….) Okay what the heck, I might just give you a shout out to add to the amazing feeling you will have. 

 

Or a cookie.

 

Okay, probably not a cookie. Those are unhealthy anyway. . .

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