Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Friday, March 24, 2006

Singing Angels

"Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth..." (Luke 15:7) Wednesday night after the evening service, I had the opportunity to lead a young man to the Lord. He's been to several of our events, and has had a lot of questions, but it all finally clicked for him Wednesday night. Keep him in prayer as he begins to walk with the Lord and grow in faith, and keep us in prayer as we begin to teach and disciple him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Land grab!

Construction recently began on the lot beside the church. I've quietly bemoaned (okay, occassionally I've bemoaned it loudly) the fact that the church didn't purchased the property either time it became available (both were before we got here). Now that the church is looking to expand, it sure would be nice to have that property; without it, we'll almost surely have to change locations.

Well, when they started working next door, they surveyed twice, but the property line always looked fishy to us. It didn't look like what we church folk expected from our old survey.

Well, the next door neighbor didn't like the looks of the property line they took across her backyard either. So she hired her own surveyer and checked the line. According to her surveyer, the builders swiped about twenty feet of her backyard. That's an incredible amount of land in NYC. Since the church's property line runs diagonally back, and we know the builders anchored one end at the right spot, they didn't steal as much square footage from us -- but if the next door neighbor's survey is right, they still tried to steal a big chunk of land from us. Twenty feet by, oh, say, thirty feet (in the case of the neighbor), or somewhat less for the church, isn't much in MN or rural VA -- but here, that's enormous, worth thousands, and probaby tens of thousands (I hesitate to say even more, but in some circumstances it would be), in property value.

The neighbor has a stop work order out, has signed on a lawyer, and is ready to fight tooth and nail for her land, or to at least make the company buy it from her. Now we've got to decide what the church will do.

Not there yet

Not at the point of being able to write consistently good fiction on demand, anyhow.

After my win in last week's flash challenge, I strolled into this one feeling pretty good. I deliberately wrote historical fiction again, because that's really been working well for me. And the week after writing one of my best flashes ever, I turned in one of my worst ever. Of course, it suffers in the commenting by people who don't know the history involved, which I researched as I wrote, including details (oh, I definitely still had an error or two that have to go). This happens every time I write historical fiction; people have a lot of misconceptions (and I usually share those misconceptions right up until I do the research for the story.) But the real fault is just that this one just wasn't very well written. Ah, well. Just shows I need more practice, I guess, like anything else. Being able to make a basket once doesn't make you a great basketball shooter. Being able to shoot well consistently, game after game -- that means you're a good shot.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sam Hazewinkel in the Nationals

Sam Hazewinkel, son and nephew of my college wrestling coaches (both Olympians), wrestled in the NCAA div. I national championships again this week. Sam used to come wrestle with the college team back when he was in high school (the high school kids just weren't a decent workout for him, even early in high school).

He ended up placing third at nationals for the third time in a row. Twice in a row he has been upset by Dubuque in the semis, I think. Yesterday he beat the number one seed in the tournament (who was also upset in the semis by a freshman kid (a phenom from NY state himself) Sam beat earlier this season. Fortunately for Sam, Dubuque graduates this year, and Sam still has a year to go.

The NCAA wrestling is tougher on Sam than on most, because he is also the number 2 ranked Greco-Roman wrestler in the country and divides his training time between the two styles. He's even beaten the number one seed on at least one occassion. Most college wrestlers never really try to enter the international arena until they graduate, but Greco-Roman is Sam's true love, I think. I'm still looking forward to seeing great things from him in the years to come. Watch for him in the Olympics in 2008. I hope we can get him up here to do a clinic for the kids sometime. It could be a great wrestling and witnessing opportunity, I think -- his father and uncle have seen untold numbers of people saved through their witness as they wrestle and coach.

If you scroll about two-thirds of the way down this page, you'll see a section titled Hazewinkel is the king of Saturday morning. Nice little writeup, and it shows the respect the wrestling community has for him.

Edit: I'm coming back on the 24th to add another link with an article involving Sam and the Greco nationals.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Competition is more fun...

...when you're winning!

I've always thought it funny how people play "just for the fun of it." I get it, really, I do, at least in an intellectual sense. But it's just so much more fun if you're winning. This has held true for me whether I'm playing basketball or chess, and it's especially true of wrestling (usually, if you're losing, it means something bad happened to you). And it's even true of those Liberty Hall flash challenges. Yeah, I know the purpose of the challenges isn't competition -- it's to get people writing and improve the quality of their writing. And it works on both of those levels. But for only the second time in 27 or so flashes, my story won best of the best! (It also picked up some wins in the individual categories in its group.) And again I am reminded that competition is more fun when you win, even if the win doesn't really mean anything.

The challenge this week was to write from the POV of a person you find morally reprehensible. The bonus was to see if you could still manage to make this person sympathetic. There were some terrific stories this week; I honestly didn't think mine would win, considering the competition. I ended up writing about an Inquisition torturer trying to get a pastor to give up the location of a collection of texts. Before I can sub it out anywhere, I've got to nail down a few historical details, but it seemed to come out pretty well. I've got to see if I can find some markets for historical fiction, particularly hisfic that's sympathetic to and involves Christianity.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Keeping moving

Well, keeping moving very fast is hard if your car breaks down. The battery died on ours Monday night (of course, there is no little sign that lights up saying, "Your battery just died, dummy"), so I monkeyed with it a little on Tuesday, took the train to wrestling practice, then with the help of our deacon isolated the problem and replaced the battery today. Have I ever mentioned that I'm glad I didn't go into auto mechanics? Can't imagine doing that for a living.

In other news, BackHome Magazine doesn't want my goat/personal finance article, so I'll have to keep looking.

Church annual business meeting is tonight, but it should be pretty low-key. Pastor is smart and the people are becoming pretty well trained.

This week's flash challenge at Liberty Hall is going well for my wife and I; I'll have to post an update once the voting is over. Toodles!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Missionary visit

Wednesday evening, we enjoyed a visit from a missionary, who presented his work in the ministry. He's been serving for well over forty years, and it was fascinating watching the slides of his life's work. Along with working with a hospital in what was then called East Pakistan, he has planted or rescued churches practically all over, including here in NYC. It was really neat to see the life journey of a couple who has literally been through the wars. He's now twenty years past what the doctors gave him to live (he had to leave Bangladesh because of extremely serious health problems), and figures he still has a few more miles and few more years left on his body. It was an interesting and challenging presentation.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Goat article query

Oh, I forgot to mention a few days ago when I did it. I sent out a query to BackHome magazine for an article on teaching kids fiscal responsibility by giving them dairy goats (this is the mag that published my homeschooling article several months ago). Yeah, I don't know if they'll buy it either -- but my parents thought it was a good idea.

Flash competition

It's funny how people like to make everything a contest. (Yes, even blogging even becomes competition fodder -- how many views have you had lately, huh? Take that, pal!) Now, competition can spur people on to excellence, and competition is a fact of life in the big, bad world out there. So it's not all bad that we create innocent little competitions where we can compete without terrible consequences for failure.

The Liberty Hall flashes are no different, really. Their primary purpose is to get people writing -- to spur us lazy artistic sorts (not that some of us are all that artistic, really) into creating something that we wouldn't have produced otherwise. But of course, it took about two nanoseconds before we were voting on which story was the best, which one has the best dialogue, which one would sound the best read aloud by James Earl Jones (okay, I made that one up -- but it should probably be included.) Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing -- this competition does motivate me to try to always put my best possible work out there. And the fact is, when these stories are put before an editor, it is a ruthless competition for space in his magazine.

Still, to get the absolute most out of these competitions, you have to be able to set aside that competitive urge, just a tiny bit. They are great for experimenting with new forms, genres, techniques, and more -- but if you're so driven to win the little voting sprees that you never try anything new (because it won't be as smooth and practiced as what you've done a hundred times before), you lose a major benefit of these challenges. We writers have to distance ourselves from that blood thirst for 90 minutes to produce something unique and beneficial to our writing skills.

Ha. It's always much more satisfying to see that you won "Best Character Development" for your group than to look within yourself and say, "Ah, yes -- I used dialogue and descriptions of mannerisms to reveal that character in a way that was new to me." In this week's flash, I wrote a joke story that totally didn't work with the readers -- but that's okay, because I tied for wins in two categories (we'll ignore for the time being the fact that my lame ending meant that I didn't get a single vote for "Best Story.") It doesn't help that I realized exactly what my story needed to work for most of the readers as I was going to bed that night -- too late to include it, but before the inevitable critiques came crashing in.

More importantly, my wife, called Joy in these online parts, won a category for the first time in her flash career. Give it up for Joy, winner of "Best Character Development" in her group!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wrestling for beginners

In a comment, Will says:

"So tell me about wrestling. AFAIK only teenagers and very young men do it. Is that just muscle soreness, or actual bruises? Since rugby exists, I have to ask."

Thanks for asking!I realized that several of the people who read my blog may have virtually no idea what I'm talking about when I talk about wrestling. (By the way, I suspect that I would LOVE rugby if we played it over here.)

First, I must make absolutely, totally, completely, incontrovertably, and inescapably clear (feel free to insert any other adverbs along those lines, if you'd like) that the wrestling I enjoy has no connection whatsoever to oversized, juiced-up, sparkly spandex-wearing, long-haired bad actors putting on a show. I refuse to have anything to do with the WWF, the WWE, or any other abominable organization with an acronymn beginning in "WW." (The time I got asked to try out a pro group is a story for another time -- a time far, far away, probably.) Although some real wrestlers do end up going into that as an occupation in show business, it is not real wrestling.

Wrestling is distinguished from grappling in that there are no "submission" moves. You can't choke an opponent out, and you can't work limbs against the joint. There are a variety of rules to force you to control your opponent rather than injure him. It doesn't mean that wrestling never hurts, or that people never get hurt, but it keeps it a lot safer, especially on a high school and college level.

With that out of the way, there are three different styles of wrestling practiced in the U.S. The style used in high school and college is called folkstyle. It is really practiced nowhere else in the world, and not much by anyone out of college (there's your teens and young men, Will). The focus of folkstyle is on control -- controlling your opponent with the ultimate intent of pinning him. The rules and scoring are designed to emphasize constant aggression by both men, with a minimum of potential injury. You will probably never meet a person in better physical shape than a competitive NCAA division I wrestler from a top school.

There are also two styles of international wrestling (they appear in the Olympics) that are fairly common in the U.S. The focus of these two styles is on exposing your opponent's back to the mat (with the best way of doing it being to pin him, of course.) The first of these is freestyle. In freestyle, you can attack your opponent in virtually in way you can imagine, involving grappling (no real striking, of course). You can throw him, trip him, grab his legs or feet -- do whatever it takes to bring him to the mat. When two freestyle wrestlers are on their feet, it looks an awful lot like folkstyle -- basically, the same attacks are used, although the scoring is different. The most common attacks are leg takedowns -- grabbing one or both of the opponent's legs to bring him to the mat. It's fast-moving and very tactical, with an emphasis on speed and agility.

The final style (although the least popular here in the U.S.) is Greco-Roman wrestling. This is my favorite, though I train a little in all of the styles. In Greco-Roman, you can only grab your opponent above the waist. This means no leg attacks, and no leg defenses. Otherwise, the scoring is very similar to freestyle. This restriction means that you see the most big throws in Greco-Roman wrestling -- this is the land of the big back arch suplexes. (Suplex, incidentally, is pronounced Su-play, for those whose only exposure to wrestling comes from that mindnumbing "sports entertainment.") Greco (as it is called for short) tends to focus on power and strategy, finding small advantages and pushing them. Thus, it suits itself well to my physique and mentality.

Now for some tidbits of trivia. In the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), men with a background in wrestling (particularly NCAA folkstyle, I gather) ended up winning more bouts in the early years than the practicioners of any other martial art (including Jiu-Jitsu, Kung-fu, Muy-Thai, and American kickboxing.) Of course, with the real development of shoot-fighting, an integrated fighting style that has borrowed from several of the others, all of the original fighting styles have slowly been eclipsed. My thinking is that there are two main reasons for the early dominance of wrestlers. First, wrestling emphasizes control rather than injury. But if you can control your opponent, you can eventually subdue him. Joints are weak, and chokes are easy, if your opponent is under your control. Second, wrestling involves conditioning like no other sport I've ever played (and I've played just about all the major ones). A wrestling match is the longest, most intense six or seven minutes of a person's life. When I messed around with grappling, kickboxing, and boxing, they were all way easier in terms of whole body fitness -- nowhere near as demanding. The wrestlers were often still going strong when everyone else was ready to collapse. This is one of the reasons why I stick with wrestling. I only have a limited amount of time to exercise, and this is the most intense workout I've ever found. On my college team, we had several guys who came and went from the Marines officer's program. Physically speaking, our college wrestling practices were harder than just about anything they faced in bootcamp or OCS. I took a kid in our church to wrestling practice for the first time last week. He is an avid athlete, easily capable of running for miles and doing sprints until any sane person would drop. He plays basketball, and plays football very seriously, hoping to pick up a college scholarship in a few years. After one of the easiest wrestling practices I've ever seen, he staggered out, sick to his stomach, and saying that it was the hardest workout he'd ever done. And he can't wait to go back this week.

As far as youth and aching goes, it is usually young guys that do this. Not exclusively, though. My training partner for last year's Empire State Games (he placed second in his weight, and I placed 6th in mine) was in his mid thirties. He retired, but more because of nagging back and neck injuries than anything else. Another man retired at those games -- at the age of 62. My college wrestling coaches, in their fifties, still occasionally competed at tournaments in the master's age bracket (sometimes against men twenty years younger) and won handily (of course, they were both olympians in their youth).

When I come home from a tough wrestling practice, I'll be winded and exhausted in every possible cardiovascular way. My muscles will be burned out, sometimes to the point that it's hard to lift a drink to my mouth. My arms and ribs will have bruises and marks all over them. Minor bumbs and contusions aren't at all rare around my face and head. When you're going hard with another person who weighs what you do and is going just as hard, you get banged up. Part of the game. But for all that, I've never been seriously injured -- no broken bones or bad dislocations (I hurt myself worse fishing, actually) -- and likely never will be. Part of that is just knowing your environment and who is around you. But a bigger part of it is just good body awareness and knowing how to protect yourself. You can eliminate almost all arm and shoulder injuries just by keeping your elbows clamped to your sides (and in Greco, that's a good way to avoid 60% of the takedowns, too.) You can elminate almost all knee and leg injuries by never locking your knees, and keeping them pointed in the direction of motion. And you can cut almost all the others by knowing when to fight a move, and when to just go with it.

And the end result of all that banging and and slamming and wheezing? Well, I never get winded on a few flights of stairs. I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantities I want without really gaining weight. I can still fit into the jeans I wore at 16 (even though I've put on 20 pounds without growing an inch, they went in the right places). The kids who know me do what I tell them without any trouble. And that college kid at the Empire State Games who just saw a quiet, skinny guy in glasses got quite a surprise.

From a church perspective, it puts me in contact with the community and gives me opportunity to witness. From my personal perspective, it keeps me in shape, and it can be just plain fun.

This is already terribly long, but I'll insert it anyhow; this just in, it looks like my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, just won third at the NCWA national tournament; they won the southeast conference, and the head coach, Jim Hazewinkel, was named coach of the year for the southeast. Woohoo! Go Eagles wrestling.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Officially here

Well, I've finally finished transfering my old blog entries over to this location. So here I am, or as much as me as resides on the internet, anyhow. I've still got lots of monkeying to do with this site, but for today I guess I should put the monkeys back in the cage and get back to work on my lesson for the teens tomorrow. Thanks to all who drop by; read and comment to your hearts' content. Your reading and commenting makes my heart more content.

You can never have too many books!

March 2nd

You can never have too many books!
My delightful wife sent me out on a couple of errands the other day. Really, they were both just drop-offs. Not pick-ups. But, see, one of those drop-offs was for the library books. Now, I don't know about the rest of you out there, but it is really, really hard for me to walk out of a building full of books empty handed. I really just can't help myself. So I walked into the library with those three children's books to return and heard the siren call of the books for sale.

I just kind of drifted over to the shelves of used books for sale, figuring, "Hey, it's just a quick look. And hey, if I happen to bring back just one or two books, it's no big deal." And then I saw it. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in three volumes. For $10. Hey, you couldn't help grabbing them, either, could you? So don't go getting all judgmental on me! And then, how could I turn down The Oxford History of the Classical World? You couldn't either, could you? Okay, maybe most of you could have managed to do without that one. In that case, we'll just skip over the two Patrick O'Brrian novels, the book by Nancy Farmer, and the couple of kids' books. No wait, we will mention the kids' books! Those two weren't really for me at all! Complete act of selflessness, me buying those books.

Yeah. My wife wasn't really buying that either. But at least she's just reached the eye-rolling stage when I stagger in beneath another load of books for which we must find shelf space or box space. I'm just afraid that one of these days she'll just make all the library runs herself. And then where will I get more books?

Rescue mission ministry

March 2nd

Tuesday night we went back to the Goodwill rescue mission in Newark, NJ. The gentleman who usually preaches was not there, so Dr. Stagno got to preach. We took a good group, including a couple of ordinary church members who went for the first time, my wife, and daughter. It was cold here Tuesday night (okay, frigid is probaby a better word), and that meant a good crowd at the mission. Nobody wants to be on the streets when it's that cold.

I played the piano, except for one song for which they brought in their in-house guy -- he doesn't read music well enough to play any variety, but he sure tore the keyboard up on that one. Dr. Stagno preached, and this is a format in which he excells. He preached with real power, and you could sense the working of the Spirit. A number of people came forward on the invitation, and Paul Funchess got to lead one to the Lord. Terrific evening.

Getting back in shape can...

February 28th

...really hurt.

Over Christmas, I caught myself needing to take out an extra notch in my belt. Not good. A couple of months off from wrestling and running was taking its toll. Then I went back to wrestling practice a couple of weeks ago, and couldn't last more than a full-length match against a high school kid (tough kid, but still!)

So I've gotten serious about getting back in shape. My part-time job at the bookstore is back to being actually part-time (as opposed to Christmas time, which means "all the time you possibly have, plus another two hours.") A gentleman in the church with a couple of teen sons is also taking some time off of work, so he and I have started running together (occassionally with one or more of his sons). Those first couple of runs, rather like that those first couple of wrestling practices, were pretty painful. The good news is that you always get it back faster and easier than you gained it in the first place. I'm already starting to feel pretty good on the runs, and wrestling shape can't be too far off either. The offseason program starts back up this week, with freestyle on Tuesdays and Greco-Roman on Thursdays. I plan to try to make both as often as I can, which, coupled with the running, should put me back in shape in just a few weeks. I still don't know about trying to go to the Empire State Games again this year, but if I do, I've got to get in shape. And even if I don't, it's a lot more fun being in shape than not.

Another great benefit of this new running program with the man in the church is that I've been able to build something of a connection with him. We talk while we run (okay, for the first mile or so, until we're gasping for breath too hard to communicate). He's become much more consistent in attending church, and he's even planning to come with us to the rescue mission in Newark tonight. I'd love it if we can really get him involved in the church and draw his kids in as well.

Bigger and Better

February 28th

Sunday afternoon, we had our Bigger and Better youth activity for the church. Coming into it, I was afraid we weren't going to have any kids, maybe four or so tops. Kind of discouraging. But when the time came to start the event, there were ten kids there! They included at least one first-time visitor. Just a hair on the low side of average for our youth activities, but still very pleasing. We actually had to scramble to get a third vehicle so that we had enough cars for the kids.

The idea of the activity is that the kids are split up into teams, and placed into a car with an adult driver (a very responsible, mature adult driver!) Each team is given a toothpick. They then take the toothpick and trade it for something bigger and better. Then repeat with that item. The team to return before the deadline with the biggest and best item wins. They can trade with anyone they like, family, friend, stranger, business, whatever.

I should have known better than to let one team go out with a pickup truck while the others just had a car and a minivan. Paul Funchess' team returned with a working washing machine. Another team had been offered a working dryer, but couldn't fit it into their vehicle. I guess it's no surprise that the washing machine won. If we go by and pick up that dryer, the church will then own a complete set for the parsonage, in case we take ours with us when we leave.

Funeral and wrestling practice

February 8th

Edna Pearson's funeral was held yesterday morning. I ended up leading the singing (we sang some of her favorite songs). Not the easiest song-leading I've ever done, trying to lead a group of people, half of whom can hardly keep from crying, half of whom don't know the song at all, and all without a piano or anything to keep us on pitch. Notwithstanding all that, the service went well. Edna's great-grandaughters sang a duet, and one played the flute (Edna really loved music -- shucks, I shouldn't put that in the past tense -- I'm positive she still does.) Our deacon, Ron Biller, did a superb job of eulogizing, including a poem that he'd written himself the night before. Dr. Stagno always seems to have the right words for any occasion, and he did again. Those who did not know the gospel heard it clearly and gently. I suspect Edna was pleased by the service.

Anna was present both for the viewing Monday and the funeral Tuesday, but didn't really grasp what was going on. The body in the open casket rather confused her, so we tried to keep her away from it and keep to a minimum the loud and inappropriate remarks that toddlers are so good at providing. It was hard on both my wife and Anna, since both of them were close to the whole family.

Yesterday afternoon I went to wrestling practice for the first time in at least a couple of months. All I've really got to say is, "Ouch." I'm getting older, and those kids are getting tougher. Two or three months off was plenty for me to lose my conditioning almost completely; a few little running excursions just don't keep you in shape like steady wrestling will. I wound up paired up with an up-and-coming kid who won his weight at the event Sunday. We wrestled pretty much two entire college-length matches. I was rusty but okay for the first half or so of the first match. After that, it was just my experience trying to stave off his energetic abuse. Like I said, "Ouch." I've got to get back out there regularly and get back in shape.

Busy weekend

February 5th

Well, this weekend lived up to the last couple of weeks. Naturally I worked Friday night. Saturday morning, while doing some prep kinds of things I got a phone call that an elderly lady (about 95) in our church had passed away early that morning. She is the oldest of four generations of her family who attend our church. Naturally, Paul Funchess and I went over to spend some time with her daughter (by now probably in her seventies herself) in the afternoon. We'll be having the viewing tomorrow afternoon and night (I can only make the afternoon time because of work). The funeral will be Tuesday morning. There is no question in any of our minds that this lady is in heaven. But many in her extended family are probably not saved, so keep them in your prayers.

Saturday evening we had our men's steakout at the church. Funchess and I did most of the legwork (well, between us I think we did pretty much all of it, and he did most of it himself). The food was terrific (Dr. Stagno said several times that he doesn't think he's ever had a better steak -- just goes to show that those western guys know their beef.) We had a solid turnout, which included my friend Jason Bross. All in all, the event went extremely well.

The service this morning required a little impromptu juggling, since the children's Sunday School teacher didn't show (her grandmother was the lady who passed away). My wife taught the class, and I got drafted to ride herd on a three-year-old tornado kid. Didn't help that the service went quite long. I'm so glad I'm not called to teach little kids.

This afternoon, we went to the NYC Catholic High School wrestling tournament. The kids I've worked with from Farrell were wrestling, and wrestling quite well, I might add. They ended up with nine guys in the finals, and a goodly number of those won. The top four from each weight class get to compete in the Mayor's Cup next weekend, and the top five get to go to the Catholic state tournament.

Tonight, we watched the first half of the Super Bowl at a church member's house (lest anyone think we were skipping church to do so, our church does not have a Sunday evening service). We came back here to finish watching Paul Funchess' Steelers knock off the Seahawks.

Whew. Well, this has been pretty dry; sorry about that. I'll try to say something interesting some other time; if I try to be funny now, it'll just make this longer. Toodles!

My dysfunctional work family

January 28th

I guess an explanation is in order for the rarity of updates to this blog. My apologies to those who check in expecting to find out what is going on and see only silence. I assure you that this is not an accurate description of what has been going on here.

In the last four weeks or so, I've been out of town three times. The whole family (the whole island, actually, but who's counting?) is coming off a nasty cold. At least I've stopped coughing up blood. That's a good sign. I realized that today was my first real day off in the last three weeks, I think, between the bookstore, the church, and our visit to another church. Dr. Stagno is out of town for two weeks on a much-needed vacation, so all I can say is "Praise the Lord for Paul Funchess." And I will likely have another day off in a little over two weeks. I can't wait.

As for my bookstore job, that is the titular dysfunctional work family. We may have the most messed up situation on the island at the moment, and that's saying something. We've lost almost everyone we hired before Christmas (we really needed most of them to stay around for another week or two at least). We've also lost a couple of the regular crew who were here beforehand, including one of the lower management crew. It looks like our associate manager is manuevering to get the store manager fired, while simultaneously looking for a position outside of the company. That keyholder who quit, didn't serve out his full two weeks notice, primarily because he wanted to make problems for the store manager. Another keyholder is quietly interviewing for another job (she would like to quit on short notice also, I think, to cause the store manager more problems). One of our regulars was out sick for practically all of last week, in the hospital and out. Another missed Monday to the flu, but came in Tuesday to work a double shift. I had to run out to her calendar kiosk to cover for her while she went to throw up. Not quite recovered yet, I guess. As for the store manager, there is reason for all the ire directed her way. During Christmas, I think she broke a couple of labor laws, while finding ways (inadvertently, perhaps) to treat just about everyone on staff pretty unfairly in some way or another. She systematically lies in any situation in which it might be to her advantage, and has by now done this in front of probably every worker at some time or another -- so no one in the store trusts her whatsoever. Her vindictive approach to problems with workers hasn't helped anything. Word has come down the pike that she thinks that most of the store staff is overly loyal to the associate manager (who has been here far longer than she has, and is in the store far more), and that she is therefore beginning to seek excuses for firing all of us. Her deliberate disregard for company policies now leaves her quite vulnerable to the scheming of the people who remain. All of this adds up to me being in the store an awful lot, because not much of anyone else is left to be there or willing to show up. Outside of all that, it's still not a terrible place to work. I've maintained my firm insistence on always acting honestly, and on being discrete about not repeating what I hear as rumors. I also continue to refuse to sell material that I regard as pornography. Although that last is an inconvenience to most of the staff, I'm in pretty good standing with most everyone, and get along fine with everyone. And I get to work with all those pretty books. But I still look forward to being able to do away with a part-time job completely, regardless of that employee discount on the purchase of books.

Last Sunday

January 27th

Well, this is a bit late, due to craziness at work for the most part. I'll have to touch on that in another post. Dr. Stagno is out of town on vacation, so I handled the service on Sunday and again on Wednesday. Paul Funchess will preach this coming Sunday and Wednesday.

The service Sunday went extremely well, really. I was pretty tired from the insane week before, but we had an excellent turnout. Funchess' early class on personal witness went well, and had a person or two show up that we didn't expect. In spite of the absence of the Stagno clan and several other regulars, we had probably the best turnout in months for the morning service. There was a return visitor (always a good sign), and a family visiting who had just moved up here from Texas with the Coast Guard; both seemed very positive that we would see them again. I spoke on the subject of judgment (when it is appropriate for Christians to judge, what we should judge, who we should judge, and how); I have a post on this blog some time back on the subject, so I won't go over it again. In any case, we were very encouraged by the whole thing.

A matter for prayer for those of you who pray is that an elderly lady in our church (she's about 97) has been admitted to the hospital with several health problems.

Teen Winter Retreat

January 24th

We found out why they call it a winter retreat instead of snow camp -- there was no snow this year! It seemed very strange to me to be playing games with the teens wearing just t-shirts in January, right on the border of New York State and Pennsylvania. But that's what we did. I took a teen from my church and one of his friends up to Tri-State Bible Camp for their senior high winter retreat.

The trip went well -- we didn't get lost once, coming or going. Neither of my guys got hurt, and I don't think any of the teens at the camp got seriously hurt (pretty good, really, when you have 70 people playing some of those games). The preaching was good, and I think my guys had a pretty good time.

I did learn, however, that I am no longer 16. See, we leaders jump into some of the games to keep the teams even, or to spend time with the kids. So I wound up playing some of the games, helping my guys out and cheering them on. So far, so good. Then there was some free time, so I was hanging out by the basketball court, watching a tall black kid from somewhere in New York tearing through the other kids. Then someone called out those fateful words: "Hey, man, you want in?" And of course I couldn't turn that down, could I? And you can probably guess who I wound up guarding and being guarded by. That game hurt. It hurt a lot. I really felt the two months I've taken off from exercising. Although my team lost, I think I hung with the guy pretty well, probably scoring more on him than he did on me. Then we staggered off for lunch, where I sat and glumly stared at my grilled cheese sandwich, unable to talk my stomach into accepting more than a few bites.

A few minutes later, I'm walking by the basketball courts, and the same set of guys are out there. "Hey, man, want to run it again?" The teams were different, but of course I wound up facing the same guy. That game really hurt. We won, but it was at the cost of all good feeling in my legs. All sensations coming from my legs were bad. Off we went for a service or something, played some games, etc. And then the big block of free time. And someone was breaking out a football. "You wanna play?" Well, I couldn't turn that down, could I?

And that is why I could barely walk on Sunday. Or Monday. Or today. Ouch. I've got to get more exercise. Excuse me while I use my walker to get to the kitchen for a drink.

Too long gone

January 18th

Wow, it's been a terribly long time since I've updated this. It's been so long that I even put off updating it on one or two of the few opportunities that I've had to work on it, just because I didn't know where to start. But now I have started. And so I must continue.

Since the last post, we took a few days and visited my family in Farmville, VA. Always exciting to have that many people and collie dogs crammed into a small house. Although two of the brothers missed each other, we were there long enough to catch all five of my siblings (along with John's wife, three kids, and the fiance (one "e" or two? I can never remember) of one of his daughters; also my sister's fiance (again with the "e" question). Once you add in my mom and dad, my wife, and my daughter, that made for one packed out little ex-trailor-house. All seemed to be doing pretty well, really. My next younger brother showed us some truly terrifying video footage (of the psychological terror variety, of course). He had the video from his training in the MS national guard, complete with footage of him throwing hand grenades and using an M16. The very thought of my younger brother with an assault rifle and grenades fills me with trembling, quivering, and several other manifestations of terror. Eek. Those of you who know him know what I mean. Those who don't, well, I guess you just don't. And might be rather less trembly than if you did.

Things really picked up last week. We started the week with revival services with Chris Miller, a Bill Rice Ranch evangelist and an old acquaintance of mine and Paul Funchess. The services went wonderfully on Sunday, with solid turnout. Monday night I had to work. Tuesday, we had a baptismal service, and four people were baptized. There are some great stories involved, but because they are all personal to the people involved, I'll forego passing them along. Sadly, I missed the baptismal service. I was terribly ill, but trying to play the piano anyhow. Didn't make it. I had to leave just before the start of the service. I suppose people found it preferable to the possibilities had I stayed around. After laying around rather miserably for most of Wednesday, I was healthy enough to make the conclusion to a great set of services.

In the meantime, the water cooling assembly for my computer arrived, on Monday, I think. I skimmed through the directions before pulling my computer apart, and decided that it didn't look too bad. Not quite as simple as the customer reviews of the product had led me to believe, but not too bad. Aside from the fact that the directions had obviously been written by someone for whom English was a third language, taken only for two years in high school. Many moons ago. But I digress. Over the course of Monday, I got the cooling gear assembled, and started to install it in the computer. Then I realized that I had missed one very important phrase in the directions when I skimmed through. That phrase was "on the back of" -- as in, "on the back of the motherboard." There was a clip that had to attach to the back of the motherboard to hold the processor cooler in place. Joy. This meant unplugging all sorts of things I had hoped not to need to unplug, and pulling the motherboard out of the computer. Then, in the middle of open heart surgery on my computer (being performed, by the way, on the dining room table), I got terribly ill. I had to leave the guts of my computer laying all over the dining room for a couple of days. Upon my return to relatively functional health, I found that I couldn't attach the new clip to the back of the motherboard because the old one was "integrated." Meaning that they clearly never meant for it to come off. At least insofar as I could tell. And of course the detailed product information is all online now (no phone customer service for us technologically advanced people -- no sir!) -- the booklet Intell provides with the motherboard very helpfully gives you the internet address for the help pages. But strangely, I found that I could not read the online material WITH MY COMPUTER IN TWO HUNDRED PIECES SPREAD ACROSS THE DINING ROOM. I don't think they would have helped anyhow. In absence of any proper tool, I ended up using nail clippers to cut the old clip off the motherboard. That was a terrifying hour spent struggling not to scratch the motherboard while hacking indestructible plastic from it with a blunt, curved clicking thing (the video card required much the same process). From there, it was just a matter of reassembling everything. That sounds easy. But it was rather like installing intestines and a carburetor into Frankenstein. While they are attached to his ear. By tubes too short to reach his belly. Most fun I'd had all year. (Note the length of the year at that point.)

Anyhow, my computer recovered from the operation on Friday night, just before we took off on Saturday to visit a church in southern New Jersey that asked me to come preach. The visit there Saturday and Sunday went very well.

And now we're back here. Dr. Stagno called in sick tonight about 45 minutes before the service, so I taught the Bible study tonight. Tomorrow I'll work, then Friday and Saturday I'll be with the teenage guys at a snow camp winter retreat. Then back here for Sunday morning, where Stagno will be out of town, and I'll preach. Whew.

I'm sure I've missed something. In fact, I'm sure I've missed any number of things. But this entry is far too long as it is, so I'm going to stop now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your holiday has been a happy one. I hope you've had a chance to reflect on the meaning of what lies behind the wrapping paper and the fruitcakes (and I mean that in both senses of the word!) Paul Funchess preached this morning, and he suggested that the meaning of Christmas wasn't even in the birth of Christ -- it is in the reason for the birth of Christ. "Unto YOU is born this day..." -- we are the reason for Christ coming to earth, and the reason for Christmas. "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." I'm glad He came for me.

We have a car!

December 24th, 2005

It is unbelievably nice to be mobile again, independent of the whim and whimsy of the MTA or the ridiculous expense of car services. It's so nice not to have to try to find someone for a ride to the grocery store or Walmart.

The deacon of our church signed over his extra car to us yesterday. It's a '94 Chrysler LeBaron, black, with about 58,000 miles. Although the ten years means it needs a little work (tires and mufler) and has a few dings and whatnot, it's really in pretty good shape.

Tiki Barber

December 20th, 2005

Tiki Barber
In light of all the attention that Tiki Barber (Anna's favorite player) is getting, I thought I'd throw in a link for a pretty classy article about him that was in the paper up here. Barber is a veteran running back out of Roanoke, VA. He's currently leading the league in yards from scrimmage (meaning that he is personally responsible, either by running with the ball or by catching it, for more yards gained than any other player in the NFL) for the second year in a row. The article is here: Tiki the biggest Giant of them all. Classy guy who really deserves all the attention he's finally getting.

His Excellency

December 20th, 2005

I just finished reading this brief biography of George Washington. The title of the book, His Excellency, was taken from the wartime title used by Washington. This may have been the most balanced and objective look at Washington I have ever seen. Although the prose was at times dry and could have certainly benefited from collaboration with someone who writes for the purpose of entertaining, it never reached that scholarly impenetrability that many seem to associate with good history. The book was clear, and accomplished its purpose of giving an overview of Washington as a man and of his career from the French and Indian War until his death.

The author resisted the recent trend of iconoclastic bashing of Washington, as well as the older tendency to deify him, instead presenting a remarkable portriat of a man who was all the more remarkable because of the flaws with which he dealt. This book is certainly a product of our times, and so it focused on isues of importance today, particularly that of slavery (which Washington privately opposed, but realized that fighting it publicly would tear the infant country apart even before it came together). This was a fascinating read, and all the better because it avoided extremes and remained pretty balanced throughout. Although it is entirely possible that the author is wrong in some of his conclusions (I think that he probably downplayed the importance of God in Washington's life, mostly because Washington didn't use the word "God" a great deal when referring to God -- he frequently referred to providence or "the Almighty"), this book was a refreshing and informative read.


December 20th, 2005

I finished reading this book quite some time back, but hadn't really had the time to get out a real review on it. I still don't, but I'm going to write something quick anyhow.

Freakonomics is one of the most fascinating pieces of nonfiction writing I've ever read. As the title suggests, the book deals with economics, but only in the broadest of senses. If I remember the subtitle correctly, it reads, "A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" -- and that just about sums it up. Of course, the book is far too short to cover everything, but it manages to range from the safety of swimming pools vs. guns, to the societal impact of abortion, to the organizational structure (and social impact) of crack gangs, to Sumo wrestling. In a book this scattered, it's hard to come away with a central message, though one sticks out -- beware of people bearing statistics. Although statistics can be powerful tools, the authors showed how they can be tremendously deceptive as well. And this bring up another major point of the book -- correlation does not demonstrate causation. Just because two (or more) events occur in the same vicinity or near the same time does not mean that one caused the other. And when one did cause the other, sometimes it's not the one you think. These aren't the only points of the book, but the powerful demonstration of both of these made the book worthwhile on their own. Although I don't find myself in agreement with every conclusion reached by the writers, the book made me think at every point, and informed me on practically every page. For anyone with an interest in politics or how society works, this book should be a must-read. In fact, I'd be a lot happier with the political and social scene in our country if every voter took the time to read this book and think through what it has to say.

Caroling and football

December 20th, 2005

We went Christmas caroling with the church folk Sunday evening. Although turnout was low, those who came had a good time, and I think we were a real blessing to those whom we visited. There are some wonderful people in our church who just aren't able to get out much anymore (two were just out of the hospital within the last week), and you could really see that they appreciated us coming to them. The cookies, provided by Joy, were as terrific as usual.

On a different note, I was thrilled by the performance of the New York Giants on Saturday. Well, most of the Giants. But they played a tough team, and did it without some of their top players. And they won convincingly. A lot of the credit has to go to Tiki Barber (Anna's favorite player, though she's hardly alone in that), who broke 4 team records and tied a 5th over the course of his 220 yards rushing (and that's not counting his yards as a receiver!) Barring a meltdown, they should make the playoffs, maybe even with a first-round bye. And barring an Eli Manning meltdown or more injuries, they have just about as good a chance of making it to the Super Bowl as anyone in the NFC. The last couple of years were rough ones for a Giants/Mets fan, but this season has pretty much already surpassed most people's expectations for the Giants. Now for the Mets. But I'm not holding my breath for them.

We might have a car soon!

December 17th, 2005

The main deacon in our church has decided that, pending the outcome of a repair job he's having done, he will give us his extra car. While not having a car has allowed us to save a fair bit financially, it really hasn't been easy, especially on my poor wife. The new car is about the same age as our old one, but only has about a fourth as many miles as ours did when it gave up on us. You (whoever you may be) probably have no idea how nice it will be for Joy to be able to go grocery shopping without needing to get a ride from someone else or lug all the groceries on the train. Not to mention that it should give us a lot more flexibility in ministry, flexibility that we had begun to take for granted until we lost it.

My wrestling associations dominate!

December 17, 2005

Just thought I'd brag on my wrestling connections for a quick moment. The high school team I work out with on occassion won the Staten Island duals tournament last weekend in a pretty dominant way. The event is a dual-meet tournament (which means your whole team faces off against another whole team, then moves on to its next opponent, rather than simply putting all the wrestlers from all the teams in a big pool and adding up the points). It's more team oriented than a regular tournament, and has a little room for coaching strategy. Anyhow, the Farrell guys won all of their duals, and beat the second strongest island team in the final by something like 17 points. Some of the kids I've worked with the most closely did very well, recording pins or solid wins in the final (including a boy I coached as a middle-schooler last season -- he was brand new to wrestling then, but looked like a veteran Saturday). There was a pretty nice writeup in the local paper on the event.

Then I got the email sent to alumni from my college and noticed that PCC is currently ranked first in the NCWA, and 5 of the top 8 wrestlers in the NCWA are PCC wrestlers. Nice. Goes to show what olympic caliber coaching can do for a team. Congratulations to any of these guys who happen by this space.

Crazy work week

December 10th, 2005

Whew! Glad this work week is over. We had a visit from the regional manager at the bookstore yesterday (the regional manager is the person who is over the district manager -- there's only seven regions in the country, so she's a pretty high-up muckety-muck in the company.) So we spent all week trying to get ready for the visit. The district manager approved overtime for our store (since if the regional manager saw our store in its normal state, she might be fired along with all the rest of us), and the store manager decided to take full advantage of this. I ended up working all my regular hours, coming in Monday for a few, and staying overnight after my regular shift on Tuesday and Thursday. I'm still staggering around bleary-eyed.

What I find ironic is what we spent so much of our time trying to fix. The company's inventory system (I forget the acronym) is a mess. It continually sends us more stock than we sell, and often more than we could ever reasonably expect to sell. It frequently sends us enormous quantities of books that we couldn't give away here (and of course nowhere near enough of some books that we could sell in quantity). Case in point: after the Red Sox won the World Series, Stephen King and another well-known writer from the Boston area published a book about the season (they had actually planned the book from the start of the season, with no idea that this would be the year the Red Sox would finally beat the Yankees in the post-season and go on to win it all). Since it was by famous writers who usually sell ridiculous numbers of books, and it was about a great come-from-behind-and-break-the-curse sports story, which also usually sells tons of books, the company sent us tons of these books. "Tons" used very nearly literally. We had so many of these books sent to our store, we didn't have anywhere to put them all. But they forgot something. We live in NEW YORK CITY. Home of the Yankees. Whom the Red Sox beat in a historic playoff series. The only thing most New Yorkers would want to do with a book about this is burn it in effigy. I think we might have sold a grand total of four of those books. And I think two of the people who bought it were beaten up as they left the store by angry Yankees fans (my friend Jay, the wrestling coach, also bought one, but was not beaten up, for obvious reasons). I think the remaining customer bought it to make origami voodoo dolls of the Red Sox team and Stephen King. But for months, we had mountains of boxes of this book sitting in our back room, and mountains of copies of the book in the store.

Anyhow, there are very few people in the company who would actually have the authority to change much of anything about the inventory we get. And this regional manager is probably one of them. Yet we spent nearly a week trying to hide, cover up, and remove all this extra stock cluttering up our back room (it's not company policy to have lots of extra stock sitting around the back room) because our new store manager was afraid that it would reflect badly on her if the back room was a mess (even though she has absolutely no control whatsoever over what books the inventory system sends us).

The upside is that the visit apparently went very well, and everyone is very happy about it. Everyone, that is, except myself and the other receiver who now have to dig those books back out of hiding and continue to open and deal with countless books that the store can't sell and doesn't have anywhere to put.

First real snow

December 4th, 2005

We had our first real snow overnight last night. It was only about an inch or two that stuck, but it announced as clearly as the bone-freezing wind yesterday did that winter is really here. The snow means that I got to dash out before breakfast and frantically shovel the church steps, the church sidewalk, and our sidewalk, among other miscellany. Whew. I forgot how much I didn't miss that about winter here.

The snow also meant that attendance was rather low this morning, but it was still higher than our expectations. Not too bad, considering the weather.

Anna attended another birthday party this afternoon, this time at the home of a church family with a son a little younger than her. This meant intermittant watching of the Giants game with the rest of extended family who were around for the party (they're all Giants fans, some of them far more avid than I am) on their huge screen TV. Anna had fun, as did the other kids present, and Wenonah wound up being pressed into "adult assembly required" duty for some of the gifts. It's becoming a pattern when we go to parties at this family's house. We guys might have felt more ashamed if we hadn't been so busy watching football and eating. (Of course, I jest, at least a little; but Wenonah really did assemble toys again, since she's pretty handy at it. She actually reads the directions -- for some reason this seems to work for her, on a general basis.)

Football disappointments

December 3rd, 2005

...And this time, they didn't involve the Giants! No, thanks for asking, but I don't want to talk about last week's game with the Seahawks.

Paul Funchess and I went to two football games today. A family in the church who started attending recently told us that their fifth grade son was playing in his league championship football game today. So he and I decided to go watch the game and spend a little time with the family. We had true football weather for the day -- you know, the sort in which you have to check the ground after every step or so to make sure your nose and fingers haven't fallen off yet, since you can't feel them. While we watched, we realized that another boy who comes to the church was also on the team, so we chatted with his family also. It was good to see both families. Sadly, the team narrowly lost the game (I'm getting all too used to those last minute, narrow football losses, as a Giants fan.) But while we were there, we found out the the second boy's older brother also had his league championship this afternoon.

Paul and I returned and had lunch with Wenonah and Anna, then we went back to watch the older brother's football game. We then spent another hour or so checking after every step for our noses and fingers. Turns out that this team also had a kid I coached in wrestling last year. That game was tied at the end of regulation, when the other team ran one more play -- and scored. Both games lost, by only one score. Poor kids. And rather disturbing how seriously a lot of the parents took these games. But I'm glad that Paul and I went, and I think we cemented a little tighter the relationship between our ministry and those families.


December 2nd, 2005

I've been too busy to post this up until now, but I finished NaNo! I finished the 50,000 words on Wednesday afternoon before the church service (which also went very well.) This makes me officially a National Novel Writing Month winner, with the right to put one of several cute little graphics in my signature (though I haven't bothered to do that). The end of the 50,000 words came very close to a natural break in the story, kind of at the end of part one out of two. The writing may well be some of the worst I've ever done, but I did finish. Whoopee! Back to something approaching a slightly more normal life schedule.

Sight and Sound

November 29th, 2005

Our church took a trip to Lancaster, PA to see the Sight and Sound Christmas production. Very impressive. We rode out in Dr. Stagno's car with Paul Funchess. Part way there, in stop-and-go traffic on the highway, Anna got sick. She was a real trooper about it, and due to her and Joy's efforts, they managed not to make a mess of the car.

We wound up getting separated from another car in our group, and that car had our tickets. Fortunately, someone in a car we hadn't been separated from had the purchase receipt, so they let us all in only a few minutes late. Like I said, the performance was very impressive. Large, talented and skillful cast. Live animals, and a nearly half circle stage that wrapped around the front of the auditorium made this a very immersive event. The sets were amazing, and the special effects were pretty good for a stage production. Paul Funchess pointed out an actress I thought looked familiar; turns out that she went to school with us. We would have liked to speak with her afterward, but there wasn't an opportunity to do that.

Anna in particular had a great time, really enjoying the performance. Some of us who were a little older were disturbed by some of the interpretive and artistic liberties taken, but on the whole, it wasn't bad. In a lot of ways, this was every bit as impressive as most Broadway productions (excluding the canned music instead of a live orchestra; at least the singing was live). In some ways, even more so (I mean, when was the last time anyone saw a camel ridden down the aisle through the audience and up onto the stage in a Broadway show?) My wife's blog, Joy's Pleasure, has a more detailed entry about the day, including some pictures.


November 25th, 2005

Well, our Thanksgiving was a pleasant one. God is good, The food was good, the company was good, and the weather inside the house was good. We invited a single mom and son from the church over for Thanksgiving; they really appreciated the invite, and it seemed like they had a pretty good time. Those of you who are of the praying sort, please keep the boy in prayer; it looks like he's going to be operated on sometime in the near future. All told, our day was simply quiet and pleasant.

I also got somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 words written toward my novel, giving me 38,981 words, and putting me back to where I only need to write about 1836 words a day to finish on time. My wife has already met the required wordcount for hers. Nice job, Joy! (That's her handle in the online circles in which we travel.)

Preaching, church dinner, American Museum of Natural History

November 23rd, 2005

Whew! Been a little while since I updated this thing. But I assure you, whoever you are, that I've been keeping busy.

I preached Sunday morning (from Colossians 1:12-13) on a theme of giving thanks. The service went well; at least no one threw turkey gizzards at me while I preached. No, it went well and was well received. Of course, messages about how good God is are often better received than those that talk a little more about how bad we are.

Following the service, we had our annual Thanksgiving dinner. That also went well, though attendance was a little lower than in previous years (this Sunday the attendance was on the high side of average for a Sunday morning; some years, the Sunday before Thanksgiving is the first or second highest attended service of the year, right up there with Easter.) We discovered a new talent in the church; a man who has been coming for several months brought some food. Let's just say that he didn't have to take any home with him. That had to have been some of the best lasagna I have ever tasted (and by the time I got to it, there wasn't much more than a taste of it left!) And he made some kind of blueberry cheesecake ladyfinger thing for desert. It was fairly large, by church fellowship desert standards. And I was lucky to get a bite off the sliver my wife managed to get. Incredible. Turns out the guy's dad owned a small restaurant chain, and his mom was one of those cookin' lovin' Italian ladies. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, let me tell you. There were actually people offering to pay this guy to cook things for them for Christmas. For a couple of weeks, Paul Funchess and I have been talking about doing some kind of evangelistic dinner, like the Campus Church Steakout. If we do it, I think we've discovered our lead chef. Wow.

My wife has been a little glum about not getting out of the house much lately, and this turns out to be a slow work week for me. So Monday, we took the day and went into Manhattan to see the American Museum of Natural History. And it's pretty much all it's cracked up to be. Anna had a blast; her favorite thing about the place was a little model of T-Rex that walked. The whole place was saturated with evolutionary propaganda (and I use the term deliberately, because that's what a lot of it was). The big new exhibit on dinosaurs played fast and loose with the facts, and tended to give the most sensational possible interpretation of things, even when the scientific community hasn't arrived at those conclusions yet. But all that didn't stop the exhibits from being downright impressive. Wenonah and I thought the butterfly room was great; they have a climate controlled room simulating a South American rainforest, in which there are hundreds, probably thousands of butterflies fluttering around the place, all around you. If you're lucky, one might land on you, or sip some orange juice (which the workers provide) from your hand. Really neat. The planetarium was cool, as all planetariums are, but the one recently built by Pensacola Christian College was probably better built (though I think the optics at the one up here are better). As it turned out, we didn't have time to see all the exhibits. The place is enormous, and seems even bigger on the inside than the outside. But it was a fun little trip.

As for the NaNo novel, I'm still slogging along, but have managed to slip behind a fair ways. I now have 32,888 words, which means that I have to write an average of 2,139 words each day for the rest of the month to finish on time.

Well, this is kind of a long entry. I'll try to post another time or two this week, in hopes of keeping the posts shorter and the updates more frequent. Toodle-loo!

Youth activity and wrestling clinic

November 14th, 2005

Wow, it's been a while since I posted anything here. I'm keeping quite busy, I'm afraid, between the church work, the second job, my novel writing, and such.

Speaking of church work, we had our "Build your own pizza night" last night. The church supplies the basic ingredients for pizza, and the kids bring their own extra toppings. We also played some Jenga (in keeping with the building theme), and Paul and I played some basketball with the guys afterwards. We were missing some of the regulars because of other events. (Several of the girls who usually attend our youth activities belong to a school marching band and color guard that won the New York State competition. They went to compete in PA for the Northeast regional competition Saturday night, placed third, and got home quite late. And another family was having a birthday party that we didn't find out about until after the youth activity was scheduled.) In spite of the missing regulars, we still had a solid turnout, due to several visitors. The activity was pretty low key, which was what I had in mind -- our last few have been very competitive, high energy contests, so we wanted something a little more laid back.

Saturday morning, the Farrell wrestling squad had a wrestling clinic put on by one of the coaches from the New York Athletic Club. Before coming to the United States, he was the Romanian national coach (coaching their olympic and world cup teams). I had seen him before at the Empire State Games, where he was coaching some of my competition, and some of my teammates as well. He specializes in Greco-Roman wrestling, my preferred style, so the clinic was really neat. I think I picked up some pretty cool stuff.

As for my NaNo novel, it's coming along slowly. Slowly isn't all that good. I don't have an exact wordcount at the moment, but I'm sure I'm at least a day or two behind. I'll have to post a wordcount later, once I add it all up (and maybe write a little more so that it's not so embarrassing.)

NaNo update and a Liberty Hall win

November 5th, 2005

Up to about 7,350 words now, and I still haven't quite settled on a title or a genre. That means I'm on track to finish, but not very far ahead. I had hoped to average a solid 2,000 words a day or so, but I've been a little shy of that (you have to write 1667 words a day, I think, to finish right on time.)

On an even more positive note, for me at least, I finally won in the voting for best story at Liberty Hall! My first win in twenty-some-odd flashes. I placed second once (lost by one vote, I think), but this is my first win. Hardly resounding; this time, I think I only won by one vote. But I'll take a win any way it comes. Not that this voting really means much; I don't get a cash prize, or publication anywhere, or anything. All it means is that my writing peers who voted on the stories, or a least enough of them to put me ahead of any of the other stories, thought that mine was the best this week. But that little bit of validation is always nice. And it means I got to pick the trigger for the currantly running challenge. Hehe.

Now, back to work! What Greek kind of thing am I going to tell those people tomorrow anyhow?


November 1st

No, my title isn't some grade school taunt. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. And I've decided to take the plunge and write a novel this month.

*Shouting comes from the background, "Are you crazy?! A novel in a month?! Have you completely lost it?"*

Okay, in order. Yes. Yes, or rather, at least 50,000 words towards one. And no -- I don't think I ever really had it.

That's the challenge -- to write at least 50,000 words (about 175 pages, or a rather short novel) before midnight of November 30th. It's not as crazy as it sounds. I regularly crank out 1,000 to 1,500 words in 90 minutes for a flash challenge -- and that's starting completely from scratch, with no idea what the trigger, plot, etc. will be until I start. (Anyone interested in trying the flash challenges, swing by Liberty Hall in my links list to find out more -- but don't try to register without a reference.) To "win" NaNoWriMo, I only have to average a little less than 1,700 words of the same story each day.

"Why now?" you may ask. And the reason is that I have become aware that if I don't do it now, I may never do it. I think I have the skills to write a novel now, but if I don't put myself in a position where I have some sort of accountability and pressure to complete it, I probably never will. I've learned an awful lot about people and communicating with people through my study and practice of short fiction. I expect to learn more still through NaNo.

So what is my story? That's a good question. Maybe I'll let you know when I've actually got a little of it written, enough to have decided things like, "What genre is this, anyhow?" So I guess I should go do a couple things and start writing!

I'll occassionally post my wordcount here to give myself a little more accountability. Incidentally, my wife has been working on a little more sensible program with a much smaller group that intends to write a novel (or the requisite 50,000 words) over the course of three months. This is her last month, so we've got a little friendly competition going, a race to the finish line. You can check in on her progress at her space,

So sign my guestbook and cheer me on!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Teaching Greek

October 31st, 2005

I've started teaching my bold and intrepid Bible study students the rudiments of Greek. Some of them look a little intimidated, but I keep telling them that it's okay -- I'm giving them the easy version. I just want them to be able to look things up on their own. Dr. Stagno suggested the brief series, and I decided that it would be a good idea. See, even with an accurate translation (which the King James Version is), there is no such thing as a perfect one-to-one correspondence between languages. Words hardly ever (some linguists would say never) mean exactly the same thing. And between English and Greek the case is even more complicated because the verb tenses, among other things, don't quite match up right. This problem is complicated even further by many new translations -- by abandoning some older English forms (such as the second person plural) for the sake of readability, they often sacrifice accuracy. Some people try to fix the problem of this lack of one-to-one correspondence by reading several different English translations. But that still can't address the fundamental problem; often, it just makes it worse, by adding new possibilities in English that add to the possible range of meaning without ever really limiting and expressing the Greek range of meaning. This frequently simply results in people picking the reading that they like best, without any notion of whether it most accurately reflects the original or not.

So, I'm trying to equip my students to understand enough to be able to look up the definitions of Greek words themselves, and to understand how, for instance, a Greek perfect tense differs from an English perfect tense. They'll probably never read Koine Greek, but the whole goal here is to teach them the Bible and give them the tools to be able to understand it ever better on their own. Kudos to the dedicated few who are actually willing to take the effort to study and learn the Bible. How much different a place this world would be if there were a few more people dedicated to both learning and living the Bible.

A nasty night in Newark

October 26th, 2005

The weather was terrible last night, which meant that the crowd at the rescue mission was terrific. We were missing Paul Funchess (preaching in TN) and our deacon (home maintenance emergency), as well as my wife and daughter (illness). The weather apparently put a damper on the intentions of anyone else from the church who might have come along, so it was just Pastor and myself, along with the preacher and his wife.

I'm still fighting off the remnants of a cold and don't have much of a voice, but as short-handed as we were, I still sang a capella. In spite of the confrontational style of the preacher last night, his message was surprisingly well received. I suppose it helps that he's personally come out of a lot of the problems that these men face; he can address them much more bluntly than I think I could. In any case, the response was great. It's not typical rescue mission work (we often have the same men in attendance month after month, and many, if not most, are saved -- I think it just takes a while to get on your feet up here with the cost of housing being what it is, and often with racial issues, among others, at play in finding good work), but it can be very exciting. I sure wish we could transport those guys to our services -- it would sure put a spark in the song service!

Border Wars wrestlin tourney and an open door for Paul

October 19th, 2005

A qualifier tournament was held Saturday at Farrell for the Border Wars national tournament in Michigan. Big event -- over 200 wrestlers in the different age groups, with representatives from NJ, Long Island, and NYC. It turns out that at least three of the wrestlers I have worked with at different schools won their weight for their age group (and quite a few others qualified for the national event by placing in the top four). Ben Villaret won in the 11-12 year old age group; he was one of the intermediate school wrestlers I worked with last year. Joe Cipriano of Farrell won his weight division over tough competition with the high school wrestlers. And Correy Ranno of Tottenville won his weight (He also won his weight at a pretty tough tournament in FL a week or two ago). Correy and I wrestle together whenever I get the chance; he's about a weight division above me, and for a highschool student, he's ridiculously strong. He pretty much manhandles any of the highschool kids who work in with him, so it's good for both of us to wrestle each other. Keeps me on my toes, to say the least, and hopefully he'll begin to realize that there will always be someone who can handle his power -- he needs to rely on good technique. It's the same lesson I'm working on teaching myself. Other qualifiers that I've spent a fair amount of time with include Fortuna, Henderson, and Benigno (and several other of the Farrell guys).

Paul Funchess went to practice with me last night. He hasn't wrestled in many years, but he hangs out while I wrestle and talks to other wrestlers and parents. When we got on the train to practice last night, a Farrell wrestler got on with us. Another wrestler he knew from another local high school joined us also. We struck up a conversation with him, and over the course of it, he found that I was a pastor. He asked if we were those "born-again" kind of people, and of course I affirmed that we are. Apparently he has a good friend who is also born again. It turned out that he is a Jew, with a family that takes Judaism pretty seriously. Paul and I were talking to him about that, when he popped out a question for Paul. "Can you explain this whole born again thing to me? My friend has talked about it, but I never really understood what he meant." Wow, talk about an open door. Paul spent the next few minutes before practice going through the plan of salvation with him, and although he didn't make a decision, he thanked Paul for explaining it to him. On the way back, we were also able to have a great conversation with the original Farrell wrestler (a good friend of Henderson's), who happens to live just a few blocks from the church.

Feeding Frenzy

October 17th, 2005

That was the name of our latest teen activity, held this past Saturday. We divided the kids into teams, and sent each team out with an adult driver. The teams had a list of food items from particular restaurants that they had to eat. The first team back having completed all of the assignments won. Naturally, I stress to the drivers on events like these that they are supposed to keep it all legal. Items on the assignment list included bourbon chicken from the only cajun place in town, a slice of pizza with ranch dressing on every bite, and something that lives under the water (other than shrimp) from any Chinese place in town. The kids had a great time. Evangelist Funchess gave the challenge after the teams returned. One of the moms who came and wound up going along with one of the teams (her daughters had come to our bowling outing) responded to the invitation, needing help with assurance of salvation. Keep this family in prayer; they attend a Lutheran church, and I'm frankly not sure that any of them are saved.

Last night I attended a wake for the father of one of my co-workers at the bookstore. My co-worker is younger than I am, and her father's death was sudden and came as quite a surprise to the family. She's a pretty tough person, but this is very hard on her. Again, I doubt that anyone in the family, except possibly the mother, is saved. My heart goes out to this shocked and saddened family. I wish we could do more for them, since they're going to be in very difficult financial straits. I left the girl with a tract with my phone number written on the back, and told her that if there's anything we can do to help to call at any time.

Building an ark

October 14th, 2005

We're a little short on lumber for the job, but I think we're just going to have to make do with what we have. All those inner tubes from the summer Teen Challenge may come in handy. We've had rain now for four or five days straight. Central Park recorded over four inches yesterday. Flooding is all over the area. We're very fortunate that the church and our house are built on very high ground for the east coast. Should give us enough time to finish that ark.

On a more serious note, I'd appreciate it if those readers of this blog who are of the praying sort would pray for our teen activity tomorrow night. Evangelist Funchess and I have high hopes for it, and it looks like we'll have a decent turnout. Tomorrow morning we plan to swing by a big wrestling tournament at the high school I help coach to see if we can drum up a few more kids.

Church business meetings

October 14th, 2005

We had our semi-annual business meeting Wednesday night. Long, but boring. This is a good thing. Not the long part -- the boring part. I'm glad I'm in a church where the business meetings are boring. Strife in business meetings is a sure sign that people in the church are living in the flesh, and it's often also a sign that something is wrong with either the leaders of the church or with the way they are leading. Like I said, I'm glad that I'm in a church with boring business meetings.


October 12th, 2005

"...a chim-sweep's as lucky as lucky can be." Apologies to Mary Poppins, but being a chimney sweep isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Based on the recommendation of our furnace service man, we had a man come look at our chimney. Turns out the thing was completely blocked at the bottom, as far up as he could reach. And according to him, the only way that happens is if there's a problem higher up; based on the stuff at the bottom, he said the terra cotta lining of the chimney had collapsed. He told us not to run the furnace until it was repaired (of course, since the furnace is also our hot water heater, that meant no hot water, too.) Naturally, the repair (replacing the lining on a forty foot chimney) costs a lot.

Our head deacon thinks that the guy may have been giving us a snow job about the seriousness of the problem and the price of the repair. But we needed hot water (and it's starting to get chilly up here.) So he and I started Monday with trowels and plastic garbage bags, shovelling soot and terra cotta out of the base of our chimney. Strangely, none of the chimney work involved dancing on the roof tops and stepping in time. And when we were done, if I'd shaken your hand, good luck wasn't all that would have rubbed off!

P.S. The Yankees lost! The Yankees lost! *Does a surreptitious victory dance, then looks around sheepishly and in fear of life* Does my joy at this make me a vindictive, evil person? Hey, that was a rhetorical question. No answer required. Or desired. *Fades away cheering, "The Yankees lost! The Yankees lost!"*

Praying men

October 8th, 2005

Yesterday morning a few of us men in the church gathered for breakfast, fellowship, and prayer. We've occassionally met before, but with evangelist Funchess here, I think we'll be meeting regularly. This was a great opportunity for the men of the church to get out of the world for a few minutes, think about the Lord and each other, and spend some time in prayer. Five of us were there, though I suspect that a few others will join us as word gets around and we find ways to work around work schedules. For our churches to be strong and vibrant, our men need to take up leadership roles, becoming spiritually minded and devoted to the cause of Christ. We hope that these meetings can be a small step in that journey of devotion and leadership.

Old and creaky

October 4th, 2005

Whew! It's amazing how fast you can get out of good shape. I went to the wrestling room tonight for the first time since the Lehigh camp. I've been running with some consistency, and occassionally do calisthenics and physical labor. So I shouldn't be in too bad shape. Hah! I'm not in bad shape, but I was reminded once again that wrestling shape is like no other shape. I don't think I came out looking too bad; I mostly trompled on the kids I wrestled. But they were high school kids, it was just for a few minutes of live wrestling, and man, I was feeling it by the time we stopped. I did most of the conditioning stuff (more than any of the other coaches, I guess), but it was still a little depressing how far I've slipped since the Empire State Games. Only consolation is that it's always easier to get back in condition than it is to get there the first time. Ya'll pray for me, now.

Things we New Yorkers take seriously

October 3rd, 2005

New York has been in a state of pretty high tension for the last week or so. Verious serious matters were being decided, but there was practically nothing the common man could do. For all the powerlessness, people have been talking in the streets, the delis, the pizzerias. You see, the Yankees and the Red Sox came into the last three games of the season with the Yankees having only a one game lead -- and the last three games were in Boston. As it turns out, both teams made the playoffs, though the Yankees retained their first-place finish (their records were tied, but the Yankees led the season record between the two teams); Boston goes in as the wild card team. Crisis averted, for the moment at least.

On a much more serious and joyful note (particularly since I really didn't have any desire for the Yankees to make the playoffs, and I don't even care much for the Red Sox), two ladies, a mother and a daughter, made professions of faith this past week. They were led to the Lord in conversations with church members during the days after Pastor Stagno's Wednesday night message on Revelation. Speaking of which, his series continues to go smashingly, as he evidences his abilities as an original thinker and as a teacher. I really wish he could have been the one teaching my undergraduate college course on this book. Attendance for the series continues to be good.

And on a less serious but also joyful note, my Giants routed the St. Louis Rams. Everyone pretty much expected them to win, though I don't know that anyone expected them to force five turnovers, Tiki Barber to rush for over 100 yards, and Eli Manning to throw for nearly 300 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. Considering Peyton also threw for over 250 with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions, it was a really good week to be a Manning. Something else I don't think anyone predicted: at this point in the season, Eli has 9 touchdown passes to Peyton's 6.

And how about those Chargers? Practically every prediction had New England beating them, not them destroying New England. I said I didn't know if they could beat New England, but if they kept playing like they did against the Giants, I didn't know how anyone could beat them. Well, they kept playing like that. And even New England couldn't handle it. In fact, the Giants scored more points against them than New England did, if I remember correctly.

Oh, anyone who's interested in a thought-provoking (whether you agree with it or not) socio-political essay ought to take the time to swing by by Orson Scott Card. Very interesting.

Okay...looks like this has some pretty nifty formatting errors with the font size that I'm not sure how to fix. I guess it goes in as is. Sorry about that, all.

Killing kids while we bowl

October 1st, 2005

Well, okay, none of the kids actually died. Or even wound up with serious injuries. But the bowling outing today was definitely a little more eventful than the last one we took with the church. An autistic girl that was along with us burnt her hand on someone's pizza, then passed out and fell to the floor. The college girl who was watching her took it even worse than the girl who fell, I think. Aside from a blister or two from the burn, the girl turned out to be fine.

Scarier yet, one of the toddlers with us (not mine, thank goodness) got away from his parents and everyone trying to keep him in check and ran down the bowling lane. He made it all the way to the end with the bowling pins and was back there with them before his mom and one of the teens ran him down and dragged him back. The alley workers just about had a fit; apparently the sweeper for the bowling pins is triggered by sensors back there and is powerful enough to really hurt a kid. Fortunately, he was retrieved with no injury and no damage.

Aside from these little moments of excitement, the event went very well. We had a turnout of somewhere around thirty, I think, and everyone had a great time. Paul's brother, who lives in Brooklyn these days, joined us. My friend Jay brought his son Dylan and stayed for the second half or so. He'll be joining us for lunch, football, and baseball tomorrow. A family in the church came with their youngest son, a teen now; this is the first event planned by us that this family has ever attended, I think. Three girls we hadn't seen before came with one of the regular teens. We were very glad to see several of the others who came. In case anyone is wondering, I bowled respectably but not spectacularly, with one game in the 110-120 range and another in the 150s. Paul Funchess had the only standout game of over 200. Turns out that some of the people in the church were better bowlers than we knew, though. We'll probably do this again in the near future; it's a pretty big hit with the church folk.

And now, back to preparing for teaching Elijah and Elisha for the teens tomorrow....

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