When Is “Finished” Actually Finished?


Every project has an end in sight: completion. Whether I’m writing a novel or a song or making a walking stick from a piece of dead tree branch, I always have the same goal: making it the best it can be.

But when is “finished” actually finished?

When I start carving the bark off a dead piece of branch, I know I’ll also need to file the nodes as far down as I can. I can only saw them off so close to the branch itself, and sanding them down is tedious and sand paper-consuming.

Then I do some serious sanding with course sandpaper, making sure to round off the edges of the top of the  stick to make it safer. And sometimes having to file or sand the bottom end enough to fit a rubber furniture tip on.

Then comes sanding with fine sand paper. That doesn’t take much work, but if some of the bark proves uncarveable, the sanding can result in loosening some obnoxious “threads” of bark that take forever to get rid of.

A coating of linseed oil brings out the grain, and then two or three coats of polyurethane give it a lustrous shine. Even then, however, just when I think I’ve finished, I’m apt to find places I didn’t sand smoothly enough or “threads” that feel unpleasant to the touch.

So that means more sanding of something that had seemed complete. And redoing the linseed oil and polyurethane.

When is enough enough? Whenever a finished walking stick is finished, I guess. When there’s nothing left for me to do to make it better.

That’s true of my novel writing as well. Beginning novelists think they’ve done something really special when they complete their first draft, and they have. But if they think their books are anywhere close to finished from a publisher’s or reader’s point of view, they’re sadly naive.

It normally takes me twelve to twenty complete times of editing and revising that rough draft before I’m tempted to call it complete. The rule-of-thumb seems to be “don’t do it any more if the improvements are so minor no one can tell the difference.”

Writing novels that will be read by other authors as well as by regular readers is tough. Other authors are pickier readers. I certainly am.

Now that I’ve gotten into indy book publishing , I’ve found there’s even more to the problem of when finished is finished. I had to submit one recent manuscript to CreateSpace three or four times just to get the cover photo to look right. On other books, a reading of the proof copy may reveal a simple mistake or two that I can’t permit to be included in the final edition.

Even in the print version of my latest book, Wherefore Art Thou Ramon, after paying in succession for three proof copies, I discovered one blank page in my intended final copy. As tempted as I was to correct the file and resubmit it, that change might adversely affect some other page. And changing that one might affect another one.

So I bit the bullet. Enough would have to be enough.

Song writing has its own set of problems, because it’s hard to be sure I’ve correctly notated the music in Personal Composer software. But songs also have a different kind of completion problem. I wrote a song in 2010–“God’s Words.”

I made some changes to the words a few years ago, and right now I’m in what I hope are the finishing stages of adding a refrain to the song. It was complete before, but soon it will be even more complete.

I’ve added bridges or refrains to at least four or five completed songs during the past few years. Are they really complete now? Are they really finished?

I sure hope so.

Jesus knew his earthly mission–dying for mankind’s redemption–was complete when  he uttered, “It is finished” from the cross.

That’s the ultimate kind of completion because it doesn’t require anything more.

Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Where I Wouldn’t Want to Be


Although the whole title of this post is “Where I Wouldn’t Want to Be When I Die,” I was afraid nobody would read it if I didn’t at least get people to read the first sentence before they gave up. Actually, this post is not going to be morbid.

That’s my intention, anyhow.

I dare say that–given a choice–most of us would prefer to die in bed. Of pure old age without any painful or debilitating illnesses leading to our demise. That would be my preference, but it’s not something I pray for. In fact, the only thing I pray for regarding death is that God will continue to keep me mentally active until the time He’s designated for me to die.

Yes, if I can keep writing songs and novels and knowing who I am and who the people around me are, I’ll have a lot to be thankful for. Life–or should I say death?–doesn’t come with any guarantees, however, and I have to trust that God will do whatever He deems best with the rest of my earthly life.

There. This hasn’t been morbid yet. But neither has it been exactly on topic. Let me try again.

Here are some of my preferred places not to die:

  • In the shower. That would be a real hassle for Kathleen to have to deal with.
  • At a nursing home ministry worship service. Those poor patients probably see enough death.
  • Outside cutting the grass. No telling how long my body would burn in the hot sun before I was discovered. Can a dead body get a sunburn? Hmm. At least I wouldn’t feel it.
  • In the woods looking for something to make a new walking stick from. Especially if I was bitten by a poisonous snake.
  • At church during the Christmas musical. I wouldn’t want to take everyone’s attention off of the presentation. Especially when the nurses in the choir quit singing in the middle of a song and came to attend to me.
  • At a restaurant. I wouldn’t want other patrons to wonder if I’d eaten something they should avoid–unless, of course, that was actually the case.
  • On vacation. No matter how much I’m looking forward to Heaven, that would be a real downer for Kathleen.
  • At a writers conference. I still recall when the mother of an author friend actually suffered some kind of health problem that led to her death several days after the conference. I’d rather be remembered for my writing than for my departure.
  • Around little children. I’d hate for their parents to have to explain what had happened to me.
  • Around knowledgeable medical personnel who understood what was wrong but couldn’t do a thing to help. I wouldn’t want them to live with that regret.
  • At somebody else’s funeral. Talk about trying to steal the show…!

I suppose I could come up with more places and situations, but that list will suffice for now. Do you have any places you’d rather not be when you die? How about leaving a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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A New Normal (in One Room, Anyhow)


Last week I talked about waiting, and I mentioned that we were waiting for someone to come give us an estimate on new flooring for the living room, kitchen, and maybe the bedroom.

Our wishes turned out to be a little ambitious.

What we had saved would take care of the living room alone, and–after three or four years (maybe longer) of being totally out of debt–we weren’t about to even do a one-year interest-free arrangement. That would still have meant being obligated to spend money we didn’t have yet.

We also had to compromise on the specific wooden flooring we’d originally wanted. But the laminate we settled on looks great and will serve well. Why spend enough for a floor that would outlive us?

Today’s (this past Tuesday) the big day–a lot sooner than we’d expected–and two quiet Latino men are in the midst of the installation. Fortunately, THEY do the furniture moving. But we still had to move breakables, spillables, and other miscellaneous small stuff. I dread having to put everything back in place later.

        

I must admit I’ve been fascinated watching the men as they work. And just as fascinated at how much Spanish I’ve forgotten since high school and college. But one thing hasn’t changed. I still can’t listen fast enough to comprehend even the Spanish I would recognize if I saw it in writing. Spanish is indeed a beautiful language, but those words seem to connect in what for me are incomprehensible ways.

I envy Kathleen. She got to go to work today while I sit here with my laptop at the end of the counter where I normally sit to eat breakfast. Right now I have one foot draped over the pen we were smart enough to keep when our miniature dachshund, Happy, no longer needed it otherwise. She keeps jumping up and barking (not necessarily in that order), but I think my foot gives her some assurance.

As of this moment, I’d say the guys are more than half done. If it weren’t for corners, heating vents, and a place where the cable comes through the floor, it would undoubtedly be a straight shot.

Nonetheless, the new normal is coming. The six-by-six rug we ordered last weekend–we wanted a splash of color–is due today, and it can’t take but so long to put everything back in place.

I hope.

Here’s the finished job. We’re thrilled!

Do you have a tale of some home improvement you’ve done and had done? Please leave a comment.

~*~

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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A Time to Wait

During the mid-1900s, Samuel Becket wrote a play called Waiting for Godot. The title refers to a character who never arrives, although the play’s two main characters wait continually throughout the play.

Doesn’t that seem a little like life?  We do a lot of waiting. Although some things come, not everything does.

How many everyday things involve waiting? If we wait long enough for the hot water to actually get hot, it does–as long as the hot water heater is working. Traffic lights eventually turn green. Grocery store lines eventually shorten. The mail arrives. As does the end of the work day for those who’re not retired.

And, yes, the weekend eventually comes as well.

Not all waits are created equal. We might be waiting for a bill we wish would never come. The weekend may involve activities we’d rather avoid.

Sometimes we’re waiting impatiently for something because it’s really special. A long-awaited purchase. A far-better-than-average vacation. Retirement. The publication of a writer’s first book. Or the birth of a baby–no matter whether it’s the woman’s first or her dozenth.

Sometimes we’re waiting for something bad to get better. For cancer treatments to work. For an abusive spouse to learn to control his or her anger. To get debt under control.

I suspect we’re all waiting for some things we’re not overly optimistic about. Honest politicians who work for their constituents and who believe in biblical principles and constitutional law. The end of nuclear weapons. Peace on earth.

And of course there are things like The Rapture and Jesus’s Second Coming, depending on which you believe will come first. Christians wait as expectantly as they can, hoping those events will happen soon. Unfortunately, despite the signs we see daily, there’s no guarantee anything related to the end of the age will happen during our lifetime.

At the moment–you don’t really think I wait till Sunday morning to write these posts, do you?–my wife and I are waiting for someone to come give us an estimate for some new flooring. That wait is okay, though. We’ve had to–there’s that word again!–wait a long time to save enough to pay for it.

Honestly, though, I’m more concerned about how much longer I’ll have to wait to pass this kidney stone!

What about you? Are there some things you are especially conscious of or bothered about having to wait for? How about sharing a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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The Lost Sunrise

In 1996 my daughter and my first wife and I took a family vacation to Australia. I’d been there several times on mission trips, starting in 1991, but this was the first time to be there without any responsibilities, and it was a wonderful time to catch up with friends I’d made over the years as well as to revisit familiar places and see new sights.

It was also a great time for taking photographs, and I still have an album–a thick one–full of them. Although it would be difficult–maybe impossible–to pick a favorite picture from that album, one of my favorites has actually been missing for a number of years: a sunrise over the ocean at Port Douglas.

Why? Why is it missing, you ask.

I used to have a big poster made from my print of that photo, but when my first wife moved to another state, the poster (and all of the negatives) inadvertently went with her. It’s entirely possible they were later destroyed in a flooded basement.

But what about the print that used to be in the photo album?

In my desire to have another poster made from the original, Kathleen and I headed to a camera store with my only print copy of that sunrise in a brown envelope. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to close the envelope. Can you imagine our shock when we opened the envelope while heading down the hall towards the camera store and found that the picture had fallen out somewhere?

Panic! We must’ve searched every inch of the path we’d taken, but to no avail. We’d lost it. Forever.

Hadn’t I scanned a copy at some point in time, though?

Definitely.

But the only copy I could find is so small and of such low resolution that another print could never be made from it, much less a good-sized poster. I tried using software that is supposed to help with problems like that, but it didn’t work. Not sufficiently well.

So this little picture is the best one I have…the only one I have. If you click on it, you’ll see it the same size you do now.

It’s no wonder I’ve almost become a fanatic about sunrise pictures (and making sure I have good digital versions stored in multiple locations.

This photo, taken at Sandbridge, Virginia, is probably my current favorite.

I’ve also become fond of sunsets–perhaps because of the symbolism relating to growing older. This is my current favorite.

Do you enjoy taking pictures? What’s your favorite subject? Have you ever lost a photo that was extra-special–or perhaps had a very special picture turn out horribly? How about sharing a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Life on an Island?


How many of us sometimes dream about getting away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, not to mention the horror of politics, and enjoying a peaceful retirement on a deserted island–or maybe even just a nearly deserted one?

Dreaming that way seems safe enough because few people are in a position to fulfill that dream.

And those who can afford to can also afford to return to civilization if their dream getaway turns out not to be the Utopia they expected.

~*~

Smith Island isn’t a deserted island. Maryland’s last remaining populated island group in the Chesapeake Bay has fewer than three hundred residents, however. Most of them work on the water, although some make the forty-five minute commute by boat twice daily to work on the mainland. And of course there are folks who bake Smith Island cakes for exportation to markets in Crisfield and other places.

The island has a school, but kids above a certain age commute by boat to Crisfield to complete their secondary schooling.

Smith Island has a very attractive and informative museum. But the entry fee must be paid just to come in and purchase a sweatshirt. It’s worth it, though.

Smith Island’s only two restaurants close at 4:00 p.m. because that’s when tourists leave by ferry to return to the mainland. The seafood is wonderful, though. Fresh and tasty.

And the Smith Island cakes? Just as amazing as they’re rumored to be. Yum!

The islanders are big on church. The pretty little United Methodist church has a graveyard out back. The headstones go back a number of years, but fighting off the mosquitoes makes a lengthy examination too much of a nuisance to undertake.

    

Visitors aren’t allowed to bring cars. (The “ferries” are actually just regular boats big enough to carry a few passengers and occasionally some cargo.) Some of the residents have their own cars, but golf carts are popular there, too. So are bicycles.

   

The island is actually small enough to walk almost everywhere.

Birds in abundance are always visible. And so is the Chesapeake Bay itself. Since the Smith Island group is less than ten square miles in size, having an actual waterfront home is probably not considered overly special. And at time of flooding, maybe not even desirable.

   

Just like the island Devon in James Michener’s Chesapeake, Smith Island has been eroding for centuries. Efforts are being made to protect the island from being washed away entirely.

~*~

What do you think? Would Smith Island be a satisfactory substitute for a deserted island paradise?

In some ways it could be. With no crime, no law enforcement, and vehicles that don’t require license plates, life is safer than in what we think of as civilization. (I don’t mean to imply that Smith Island isn’t civilized–just that the resources are more limited.)

But wouldn’t we eventually take the simplicity and beauty of our surroundings for granted? Is it possible we might even grow tired of seafood and Smith Island cakes? And how would we feel about having to ferry to the mainland just to go to a mall (I’m not sure whether Crisfield even has a mall), a movie theater, or even a real grocery store?

And what about hurricanes? How could three hundred people be evacuated when the water gets that rough?

~*~

Don’t get me wrong. We thoroughly enjoyed our overnight visit to Smith Island in May. We stayed at a very adequate Bed and Breakfast, took a private boat ride around the Island, and enjoyed walking around looking at what there was to see. The residents were unfailingly nice.

Nonetheless, I don’t think Smith Island is where I’d want to live. And if a place like Smith Island won’t do, I guess I’ll have to quit dreaming of a deserted island, which would be even more limited.

Drat!

Any comments? I’d love to hear from you.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Parable of a Walking Stick

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I enjoy walking. In fact, it’s the only kind of exercise I do. I’m not concerned about building arm muscles or tightening abs. I just want to strengthen my heart and keep it functioning properly as long as I can.

You may also know that I like to use walking sticks when I walk. As a fellow who could trip over a line in the floor, I’ve found walking sticks to be a simple–but necessary–thing for me to keep in the car and beside the front door as well.

Although I don’t use one for non-exercise walking, I foresee that changing in the near future. Why chance an unnecessary fall?

Although I have a couple of purchased walking sticks, the two in each of our cars are ones I lovingly made. So are the three or four by the front door and the dozen or more sitting out in the shed.

Several months ago I noticed a piece of tree branch lying in the drainage ditch while I was walking through our neighborhood. My first thought was, “Good grief! That’s seen better days. Too bad. It’s the perfect length. But would it be sturdy enough and not so dead it would simply snap in two?”

After passing it by several times and thinking the same thing each time, I finally stopped and examined it. I couldn’t break it.

So far, so good. It was strong enough. Maybe that piece of a branch wasn’t totally unusable after all.

Probably half of the bark was already pealing off. What could be easier than to remove the rest?

So I brought it home, finished stripping the bark, and cut off the worst of the nodes where smaller branches had been attached. Then I did my usual sanding with coarse sandpaper and then with fine. I applied one coat of linseed oil–boy, did that bring out the grain!–and three coats of polyurethane. Maybe a little excessive, but I not only wanted to protect it against rain and other water, but also to give it a super-glossy sheen.

Then I fitted a rubber tip on it. (Furniture tips are a lot less expensive than cane tips.) I couldn’t tell you the number of compliments I’ve gotten on it. I love telling people the story of how I turned an otherwise useless length of tree branch into a thing of beauty–and something that’s extremely useful as well. Something to lean on when needed.

The left-hand pictures below are of a piece of branch I rescued earlier this week. The only thing I’ve done to it was to break off enough of the little branches to get it in the car. The right-hand pictures are of the walking stick I’ve been talking about.

             

I believe God sees us when we’re broken, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually–and useless to anyone, including ourselves. He sees the potential. He knows what it will take to rejuvenate us and turn us into something more beautiful and more useful.

How easily He takes us into His perfect hands and strips away the useless parts, cleans off the rough places, and puts on us a special finish of love, mercy, and forgiveness–and we end up shining like never before.

Only under God’s workmanship do we become useful for other people to lean upon as the walking sticks He knows they need for their journey.

Your comments are welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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