Minnesota Is A Winter Wonderland For Dolts

Og, one of the prehistoric inhabitants of the area that would become Minnesota turned to his wife one day and said, “It is cold. I never would have expected this when the days have grown so short.”

Og’s wife, Julie, said, “For the sake of your fat head, Og, it’s like this every year. You have been here many years, cold is followed by cool, then hot, then cool, and then cold again. EVERY year you babble about the unexpected weather. Go back to skinning your bear and leave me alone.”

This may, or may not have actually happened. But Og is alive and well in modern Minnesota.

I present as my evidence the fact that people “don’t expect a winter this bad” when it hits.

I have been around this neighborhood for over 90% of my life. Yet each year I am forced to deal with millions of others who appear to have slicked their memory banks from the previous year.

On Friday it zoomed down to -6 Fahrenheit during the day. I was ready for up to 20 minutes of exposure to the cold with multiple layers. That would allow me to exit the house/workplace when the bus-tracking software showed him 10 minutes out, and leave me some margin. I did not expect that the Metropolitan Transit Commission would fail to get a bus there in a 50 minute period. Yes, not 10, 20, or even 30 minutes, but 50 minutes between buses. My little toes got cold to the point of numb, and I started to shiver as I stood there, the big dummy I am, in the darkness waiting for my ride home. 4 other buses on the nearest route went by during that time. When I contacted the bus company, they said, “Oh. He’s not reporting any data. That’s not good.”

Seriously? You have two missing buses out there in sub-zero cold and you’re not aware of it? Nobody called in and said, “Hey, Mikey, I’m broken down on the east side. Send help.” Two of them off the radar and … well, I guess the MTC doesn’t plan on winter being an issue.

The same lack of preparedness goes for a lot of hipster types I see downtown. No hat, no heavy coat, no gloves. They dash from their office to the bus when it pulls up and board without the encumbering Carhartt coat. The’d best hope they aren’t on the bus that fails on my route.

Once the bus got me a few blocks from home, I had to navigate the ice-packed sidewalks on the way to my house. I am, admittedly, more than a bit OCD regarding winter preparations: I go to Menards in August and get my salt limit up to 20 bags. 10 on the front porch, 10 in the garage. This year I had 24 bags ready to go, and three 5 gallon pails that were already set to go! Consequently, I’m not very sympathetic when the “surprise” ice storm hits, and people say, “Well, they were out of salt at the store.”

Here’s a newsflash: the stuff keeps literally forever. A couple of the bags at the bottom of the pile are probably 10 years old.

Almost enough salt to make it through a Minnesota winter. This is my personal pile.

This wouldn’t be a huge deal if it wasn’t every year that the same mopes didn’t shovel/salt their sidewalk. This year, in some kind of bonus round to accompany the extreme cold, several downtown buildings (worth hundreds of millions of dollars) have failed to shovel their sidewalks/pedestrian plazas, and completely neglected the application of salt. Consequently, you are taking your life in your hands walking around the capitol city of Minnesota.

I do have a solution: appoint me the Czar of winter in Minnesota. In order for you to get your tax refund, or occupancy certificate, I must be satisfied that you have a good hat for your head, a decent shovel/snowblower (those broom things that just push the snow into the street will be outlawed), and 40 pounds of salt for every 50 square feet of sidewalk/steps. That should cover you for the full year.

In addition, as Czar, if you wish to drive between September and June, you must have new wipers, a battery that tests properly, tread on your tires, cold weather washer fluid in the tank, and 1/4 of a tank of gas at all times. You are also prohibited from operating your vehicle until the snow is removed from all windows, the hood, and the roof of your car.

Failure to comply will result in your car being crushed while you watch. With your groceries inside.

See, all this prep stuff I do each year is easy as can be. I can be very helpful if you’ll just let me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put on my long underwear and stocking cap: I’ve got a formal banquet to attend tonight.

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NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

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This Review By Peter Younghusband Says It All

Now and again you roll the dice as an author and leap in a new direction. Nicholas of Haiti was a nearly complete shift from Assault on Saint Agnes in genre. But it was a book on my heart, and one that I needed to get into the public eye.

That is sometimes death for an author, because your following rejects a different flavor.

Today I feel good about the shift: Peter Younghusband approves!

Peter, for those who are unaware, is a prominent book blogger in Australia. He was gracious enough to review Nicholas of Haiti and his review is at the link provided here:

Peter Younghusband Review

I would ask that you take the time to read it, and then purchase the book. If you have already taken the time to read the book, I beg you to go to Amazon and review it for me. Those reviews are priceless, and help in my sales ability with their algorithm.

Have an excellent day: I did!

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NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Posted in Assault on Saint Agnes, book review, mission to Haiti, Nicholas of Haiti, popular culture, reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Masculinity Is A Wonderful Thing

There is always a fever gripping the nation about some stupid catchphrase. We’re seeing the rise of “Toxic Masculinity” at the moment. Mind you, if I wrote about toxic femininity, there would be a rush to the ramparts to pour boiling oil on my head. But it’s apparently okay to bash men in our culture.

I would like to share with you what I find good about classic masculinity. It’s a long list, so I’ll just dump a few things here for you to contemplate and toddle along home.

Men are biologically superior in strength and athletic ability. That’s a simple statement that’s borne out by science. I can lift more weight than a 59 year old woman my same height. I could lift more weight than a 20 year old woman my height when I was 20. Time and blubber diminish that ability. But over the course of time that has been the reality of this species.

As a consequence, men have been the builders, fighters, and bearers of heavy objects since the beginning of time. We also have the injuries and death rates that go with that honor. Technology has changed that to a degree, but in the main it still holds true.

I am proud to say that I have thrust myself between threats and the people I love. I have thrust myself between threats and total strangers. I hate seeing the weak being taken advantage of in my world, and won’t stand for it. That is evidently one of those traits that is toxic. Tough. I’m going to keep doing things the same way.

Men are taught to be strong emotionally. Okay. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes bad. But it has been my experience that when it has hit the fan, strong men lead the fight. I know some mighty strong women who do that as well. Being taciturn, stoic, and determined is not a gender item. But it is currently ascribed to men, so I’ll applaud it and take it for my own.

I’ve never been in a large group where I am an unknown quantity and been handed the job of thinking my way through the task at hand. But more than once I’ve been pointed at a pile of things and asked to move them. Furniture, dangerous items, you name it. And yet I would equally excel at the more cerebral parts of the endeavor.

I don’t grab women to possess them. I don’t cat-call in the streets. I don’t demean others because of their size, shape, color… etc. None of those things are part of masculinity. But we get tagged with that because it’s okay to slur an entire gender in the name of advertising.

I do barbecue. I love it. I also make jam, cookies, pies, and a pretty good chili. I’m at a loss how my liking to cook things over a fire makes me a toxic male.

I am a protector, and I nurture. Good men do both.

But when it comes down to the final mile, I’ll be picking up the sword to defend the things I love. You can’t take that away from me by shaming me with the behavior of others.

Leave men to be men. Teach little boys how to be good men, not how to be little girls with different bodies. Men need to be men, women need to be women. Doesn’t mean we aren’t equal, it just means we are different.

So, build the fires, get the pitchforks out, and boil the tar. That’s my line in the sand and I’m sticking with it until the end.

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NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Posted in popular culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Spoonful Of Sugar

Let’s start today’s blog by defining what a volunteer is in this context:

An unpaid, non-employee who gives of their time, money, and heart to see your endeavor succeed. Volunteers do such diverse things as paint pictures with small children in hospital nurseries, prepare meals for the homeless, missionaries teaching/serving in communities that need the help, airline pilots who ferry medical personnel or equipment in their private plane at no expense, and the kids from Scout Troop #4820 who plant the flags on veteran’s graves for Memorial Day. They man suicide hot-lines at 3:30 in the morning, visit the elderly, and paint the fence of a neighbor who broke their leg last winter.

Sometimes they are part of an organized team that a corporation sponsors. Sometimes they’re just a gal with some extra money who wants to help others. Or a guy who likes fishing and wants to share that joy with his park-and-rec association. But each and every one of them is holding two things in common:

1. They don’t get a paycheck.

2. They can walk away and never come back.

Let us ponder both in order, and see if we can find a way to offset #1, and avoid #2.

Leadership is they key. Whether you are a volunteer in charge of other volunteers, or you are paid staff, you are the one that the team looks to for guidance. You are the “man with the keys” or “the woman who directs us” to those people. Most volunteers, unless they are there under duress (*I’ve had a few of those, who were ordered by a drug court to volunteer to get their charges expunged.*) are rather joyful people willing to do most anything to help the mission of the day.

What volunteers hate is having nothing to do. This devalues them, but is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of you (the leader) doing a great job of recruiting people. Your volunteers bring a friend, or five, and when you expected 15 people you get 27. There is only so much deep cleaning you can do, and once the 18 paint brushes are handed out, you have 9 people to wipe up drips. Such is life.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your volunteers happy. Mary Poppins had it right with this song: A Spoonful Of Sugar. Listen to the first minute (or the whole thing, because it’s charming) and ponder the words and attitude.

Isn’t that the point of your leadership? Don’t you want the tasks to be accomplished in such a way that your people are smiling, happy with their circumstances, and glad to be working hard? Some of the happiest volunteers I’ve known were out in 100 degree heat handing out water bottles to runners. I personally found great joy filling in a mud-pit on a Habitat for Humanity project site a few years ago. Why? Because someone needed to do it, it helped my team accomplish their job, and I had the skill set – a strong back.

There’s another kind of leadership that leads to the second volunteer option: walking away.

If you are abusive to your volunteers, they should clear out. Nobody needs to be there. The exception, of course, is in the military. There you get “voluntold” to volunteer and you don’t have an option. Or, if you do have an option, it’s so odious that you’d be insane not to volunteer.

But abuse is a rarity. Many other things will drive your people away. Primary among them, in my experience, is being short with them if you’re in charge. It is too easy to get wrapped up in your project and snap at people who ask stupid questions. The problem is that it’s not a stupid question to the volunteer: they genuinely are seeking guidance.

How do you avoid being overwhelmed? Appoint your staff as they arrive. The military has a concept known as “Commanders Intent.” What that means is that all of the subordinates understand what the ultimate goal is, and how it might be accomplished. If you (the commander) inform your people what needs to be done, and how it might be accomplished, you are ahead. If you have people you trust around you, you can give them some more in-depth instructions, and then have them manage the volunteers given that task. You can then turn to the bigger picture, or if you choose a specific task, and get the thing rolling.

If you fail to delegate authority (the responsibility sticks with you no matter what) your people will do exactly what they’re told – and nothing more. They have no idea what you might need done. But by having people around you that can also direct and delegate, you will meet your goals with less friction.

Having snacks, coffee, water, t-shirts, and so on for your people is also a morale builder. The odd certificate of achievement is also a nice thing, but may not fit with your activity. One thing you have in abundance to hand out is thanks. You can thank people as they go about the tasks, you can acknowledge them in front of the group, and you can praise the whole group. Any counseling for bad things should be done as privately as possible. Then the aim should be correction, not punishment, because they didn’t show up to make things worse in the first place.

How can you drive your volunteers away for good? Levy unreasonable expectations on them. Demand precision that paid professionals struggle to provide. Criticize them for their efforts if they fail to meet your high mark. (This is especially hurtful, and can be avoided with praise such as “You did a great job on that cabinet. When we do the next set, could you make sure the stain on the wood penetrates all the corners?” That sounds a lot better than, “The cabinets look horrible. The corners are nothing like the rest.”)

You can also drive your people away with silence. Saying nothing about their taking time to help is as bad as criticism for some. They want to help, and if you ignore them, they will find other things to do instead.

Perhaps the biggest morale killer is when you criticize them for doing too much. “You shouldn’t have trimmed the hedges at that house. Our program is just to mow the lawn. Don’t ever do that again, even if it improves the results.” Yes, those kinds of things happen. And they drive volunteers without a thick hide off the reserve and into the lush grass beyond. Where they can find another volunteer activity that pleases them.

It’s the Golden Rule that applies to volunteerism: treat others as you would be treated.

That’s about as simple as it can be.

Remember we all screw up.

The circular saw won’t be put away clean enough to suit you: clean it yourself.

The flyer won’t have the graphics perfectly centered, but since the volunteer did all the work and paid for the printing, it’s a lot better than having nothing, and should be viewed as a labor of love. Do you scorn people for love?

The dog-walker will occasionally miss a woodtick on your dog’s back. Pluck it yourself and be glad that they got your pooch out for a run in the park while you’re trapped in bed.

The list goes on. But your supply of volunteers won’t if you don’t show compassion and appreciation.

One final note that’s similar to the above: better is the enemy of good enough. In any task you undertake, there is a level of quality that is good enough to get the job done. To redo the task, or fret that it wasn’t better, is a waste of time and talent. Your volunteers are most likely giving it their all, and if it’s not up to your expectations it’s most likely your cross to bear. Don’t tut-tut over the paint that’s dripped a bit when the room had gone without paint for the previous twenty years. That ramp they built for the old woman’s wheelchair doesn’t need to be absolutely flat at the joints of the boards, it only has to allow her chair to roll over them with a little bump. Brownies without powdered sugar are still better than brownies that never got made at all. Keep that in mind when you begin to criticize the hard work that was done with the right spirit. Because if you keep shooting for “the best” you may be doing it alone the next time.

That’s all. Just had to say that since I volunteer a lot of places and I hope all of my various supervisors read this blog. Volunteers want to help: help them meet their goal.

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NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Posted in Uncategorized, volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Spoonful Of Sugar

Mary Poppins Is A Classic You Need To Revisit

This past weekend my wife and I took the time to go and see Mary Poppins Returns. When I first saw the trailer, I was deeply saddened: too many badly done remakes already. I was sure they would ruin one of my most cherished childhood memories.

That didn’t last long, because before the trailer was even twenty seconds old it was clear that this was a continuation of the story, much as P.L. Travers wrote a series of eight books about the best nanny in the world: Mary Poppins.

This movie is deeply appealing to two groups: children under eight who will love this new classic, and adults over fifty who grew up with the original Mary Poppins.

When we got to the theater, I looked at all of the gray heads in the room and asked how many were there because they loved the original. Smiles of pure joy greeted the question. Many of these people had grandchildren, or great-grandchildren with them. Others were perhaps old enough to be my mother’s age, and had taken their children to see the original in 1964.

I don’t think any of us were disappointed by what we saw on Saturday afternoon. Whimsical, colorful, great effects, beautiful music, and a non-stop action that would engage children of any age. I would suspect that teenagers would not be fans because it’s a bit too young for them, and they have no strong memories of the original – that’s a television thing for them at best. I know my Goddaughter wasn’t impressed, and I fully understand that given the above.

As I watched the movie, I was floored with the way it dovetailed with my memories of the original. Mind you, I hadn’t seen the movie in about 50 years, so the memories were questionable. But I found myself choked up watching this modern movie for the first time.

Why? I was blown away by the artistic similarities to what I watched as a little boy. The spirit of the thing was also very close. The music, the references to the original, and the sheer joy of the story tapped into the little boy who grew up on the East Side of Saint Paul, and probably watched the original in one of the remaining movie palaces in downtown in a much more simple time in his life. No work, no bills, just an afternoon with my mom and siblings in a theater eating popcorn and SnoCaps.

When the movie was over, I started questioning those memories and had to know: was the original as magnificent as I’d remembered it to be? Amazon Prime answered that question for me on Sunday afternoon.

The answer is a resounding YES!! I knew every word to every song. I laughed and cheered watching the antics. I teared up more now than I would have in 1964 to be sure, as there are some terribly important messages to adults in that movie. (I plan to read all the Mary Poppins books next fall to make sure the message sticks with me.)

We all forget what magic there is in childhood. I think the movie took its deepest roots in me due to the soundtrack. Mind you, for the young people in the readership, people didn’t buy a lot of records in that era who were raising 4 kids on a teacher’s salary (or guidance counseler) with a stay-at-home mom. So the records you purchased had to have some impact and staying power. That soundtrack album from Mary Poppins, with the cover art depicted below, was a huge part of my childhood listening. The other records, to help explain how I wound up twisted like this, were The Ballad of the Green Berets, Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits, The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters, and Bob Newhart: The Button Down Mind Strikes Back! The Partridge Family came along a bit later, but those first five created what you have today.

My point is simple: go and see the movie. If you have the ability to do so before it leaves the theater, stream the original before you go. Both are beautiful.

I truly consider it a blessing to have enjoyed both this weekend. I hope you find the same.

Be blessed, and remember “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

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MY NEW BOOK IS OUT!

My second novel, Nicholas of Haiti, is now available. Go fetch your credit card for the Kindle, print, and audio book versions. This is not a sequel to Assault on Saint Agnes, but a unique book in the speculative Christian fiction world.

Audio book cover on the left, Kindle cover on the right.

Please follow me on Twitter, and “Like” the Facebook author page.

Don’t forget to subscribe (the box is on the right side of the page) to be eligible for free e-books and other benefits! Oh yeah – grab a copy of Assault on Saint Agnes if you’re of a mind.

Posted in movies, popular culture, reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary Poppins Is A Classic You Need To Revisit