Friday, August 24, 2007

Never a Dull Moment

Yesterday, reports of TORNADO sighting occured while Robert was in surgery. (He had adhesive capsulitis, "frozen shoulder," and -- in essence -- needed someone to jump on his shoulder so it would move.) While the shoulder manipulation was underway, and Robert was under, the aforementioned tornado made its appearance.

I was at Wal-Mart when they got on the loudspeaker and told us all to leave. Cassandra and I raced north, right on the edge of the storm, and arrived at the hospital to find the elevators out of service, and all the patients (including my rather looped husband) congregated in their wheelchairs and hospital beds in the lobby, 'cause that's the safest place to be -- away from the windows.

When we went to Rite Aid to have his prescriptions filled, the computers were all down so, of course, Nothing Could Be Done.

Amazing how dependent we are upon electricity, and how crippled we become without it.

We arrived home to find all trees up and mostly intact EXCEPT one. A big one. (Phone calls I hate to make to my contractor: "So, um, did you leave before or after the tree fell on your tractor?")

Damage is minimal, but flooding remains ever-interesting.

And, since power is present, work on the Major Project continues...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No More Biting Horses!

Not long ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Wendy Hilton Smith of Cornerstone Training Center and getting her to talk about how she trains a horse to stop biting.

I was impressed with how down-to-earth and low-key her approach to the biting issue was. Don't get me wrong -- a biting horse is a serious liability. I had a good friend whose daughter once nearly lost a key part of the female anatomy when their normally good-natured stallion reached over his stall door and bit her.

biting horse

Wendy agrees that biting is a serious matter. But she also believes that it's well within the average horse handler's abilities to deal with most biting problems. The key is knowing why the horse bites, and knowing what to do before the bite in order to minimize the problem and control it before it gets out of hand.

In our interview , Wendy explains 5 different ways to defuse a biter. She also tells how to recognize the signs of a horse that wants to bite, and discusses what to do if the horse crosses the line and actually bites you.

Cornerstone Training has released the audio of the "No More Biting Horses!" interview, only available as an MP3 download online. Those who take advantage of the offer will also receive a complementary "No More Biting Horses!" e-book as a .pdf download (a $19.95 value). (I'm a big fan of free books!)

I am pleased to be able to work with such wonderful trainers as Wendy and her husband Steve. I am honored to be a small part of making this information available to the people (and their horses) who need it. I can't help but think what a great world this would be if there truly were "No More Biting Horses!"

In Other News

Work on the Major Project continues. The last few content holes are nearly all plugged, and work has begun (albeit s-l-o-w-l-y) on kneading, massaging, and otherwise walloping things into a shape that is as meaningful to the end user as it is to the Committee of Creators.

The rest of this month and all of September is earmarked for the First Edit and all the accompanying joys.

The highlight of the month has been watching the steady improvements in our Barn Reorganization. All the stalls were dismantled and the barn was emptied. Then tons of sand was brought in and -- today -- concrete poured over the non-stall portions.

The studio has also been leveled and electrified. A small deck is currently being installed. How wonderful it will be to actually have a place to work! It can't happen soon enough. I've discovered that the dining room table makes a mighty poor workspace.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Nation of Non-Readers

A recently released AP Poll(with an accuracy rate of plus or minus 3 percent) found that one quarter of all American adults read no books last year!

As a writer, this is brutal news.

True, there are others on the opposite end of the Reader Spectrum. One woman polled read approximately 70 books last year -- more than one a week. She's an older woman, with arguably more free time to read. She comes from a generation that was taught the importance of reading for one's self, envisioning the printed page in the mind's eye, and making up one's own mind.

What will become of this and future generations who do not find the same joy and value in the written word?

Reading occupies an entirely different set of mental muscles than watching a movie, watching TV, or playing video games. Reading is an engaged activity that allows two different minds -- the writer's and the reader's -- to meet without an electronic interface.

Reading allows one to connect with others on a cellular level. Through their writing, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Xenophon, William Shakespeare, and the Apostle Paul, for instance, are alive and well in this day and age.

Reading enables us to wrestle with others' ideas and learn from history.

But, according the this recent poll, one in four don't read.

They work.

They probably watch.

But they don't wonder enough to find out why.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What if Mike's Right?

"MailMax" is a local paper distributed to homes throughout Berrien County every Saturday. The tab-sized paper is filled entirely with ads and columns. It's not a newspaper. It's an ad delivery vehicle.

Still, everyone I know reads Pat Moody's "Moody on the Market." The column begins on the front page, below the fold, and usually continues on to two inner pages.

The paper's tagline is "Michigan's Great Southwest," and Moody, the Executive Vice President of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce is an apt spokesperson for the area. His column generally consists of information about local movers & shakers, businesses coming in and going out, and other developments of note.

To Moody, all development is good. He writes rapturously about the Harbor Shores development which will boast a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course -- but only by annexing part of a park that was deeded to Benton Harbor, one of the poorest cities in the state, nearly 100 years ago, and by developing what was once wetlands.

Moody is also careful not to rile the Powers That Be in the area.

His column on why the local airport should, in essence, be publicly funded in order to privately benefit Whirlpool Corporation was a keeper.

And he is practically the only person in the county who has nothing but good things to say about Lakeland Community Hospital -- a political powerhouse with an "alleged" history of telling the local daily paper how much space it wants reserved on the front page above the fold for a story of their choosing, and of informing doctors that they need to order more tests such as MRI's and CAT scans on a higher percentage of their patients if they wish to remain on staff.

Don't get me wrong. I read Pat's column. I like to keep up on what's going on, and he does a good job of keeping the public informed. His writing is usually sprinkled with lots of bold words, intended, no doubt, to help the reader zero in on what's really important. In print, Pat is rarely coy, or cutting, callous, or cruel. But every so often, the veneer slips -- as it did this past week.

Pat, it seems, does not well tolerate those who disagree with him. Here's the opening salvo of this week's column:

It would appear that I have finally worn out my welcome as author of the Moody on the Market column here in MailMax. At least that's the case with Mike B. of Benton Harbor. Mr. B. recently left me quite a bitter voicemail message saying, in essence, that it's time for my Pollyanna World to cease and desist. I have transcribed the message so that nothing can be taken out of context. See if you share Mike's take and let me know if it's time to turn the column over to him. Here, word-for-word is his message:

"Hey, Pat, um, I read your column every week. Um... you should change it to, like, Pat Moody's Fairy Tales, and maybe, um, start the column out, "Once upon a time..." Drive around this area and see how many houses are for sale... how many lots are for sale... how many businesses. Go to Bridgman and see how many businesses are out right now."

"Mike" then names two businesses that have shut their doors. He doesn't get their names quite right, and Pat editorializes about it. The column continues:

"And in St. Joseph, Three Oaks, Galien. I mean... I don't know how you can say this area's getting better when they're building houses... houses... houses... and condos... and nothin's sellin'... and there's -- I've never seen so many houses for sale in my life. It's probably ten times what it was last year for sale, and all my friends are moving out of this area.

"There's nothing for kids to do any more -- All they're doin' is building houses and condos where things used to be... and, I mean... this is a... It's like Fairy Tale World you're living in about how great this area is.

"And, ever since the riots, my insurance has tripled... and my house... I mean it's... I don't know. I think you, um... I'd like to write a column for MailMax myself and write about the businesses that are going out and I'll bet it'd be ten times as long as your column. Well... You have a good day, sir. Bye."

Pat wraps things up with:

Mike is clearly not a happy camper, and doesn't appreciate it if I tell you about good things happening. He'd rather this column be about the bad things.

He tells people how to contact the publisher if they agree that "Mike" should get his own column... Then he leads off the next paragraph reporting that a local business has closed!

From a writer's point of view, I found the tactics used to discredit "Mike" and to belittle his concerns most interesting. For instance:

* Transcribing, word-for-word, a voicemail message. Really, now. How many people would come off sounding learned, literate, and well-spoken if subjected to seeing their voicemail messages in print?

* Deliberately including "verbal fillers" such as "um," and "I mean," which are routinely excised from most transcription.

* Transcribing words phonetically ("nothin's sellin'") in order to make the speaker appear boorish and uneducated.

* Putting words in the mouth of his "opponent." Contrary to the column's opening lines, "Mike B." never says that Moody has "worn out his welcome," or claims that it's time for his "Pollyana World to cease and desist." What I read simply sounded like a man who wonders why he doesn't see both sides of an issue addressed -- and is frustrated by what he considers to be a consistently skewed approach.

* Inserting editorial comments and question marks as parentheticals within the text of the transcribed message to call "Mike's" veracity and accuracy into question.

Writing & presentation aside, however, as a Berrien County resident, I find it most interesting -- and most telling -- of all, that Moody completely ignored the meat of "Mike's" concern.

Because what if Mike's right?

Drive down virtually any road that receives MailMax distribution, and you'll not only find houses for sale, but you will also find acres and acres of subdivisions on what was once farmland.

Agricultural acreage, some still planted with corn, bristles with signs announcing Development! Commercial! Estates! Lots Available!

Century farms are up for sale. While they await their inevitable dissection by developers, they are unwelcome, anachronistic oases of green surrounded by a sea of "McMansions."

I see the point of Mike's questions as I look out my window.

Less than half a mile away, multiple condo units are going into what was once a business. At the same time, the house across the street has been for sale for over a year. And the 40 acre parcel that borders the north side of our property is for sale at a rabidly inflated price. "For Sale" signs sprout in yards instead of "Yard Sale" signs.

Shouldn't there be some sort of Grand Plan? For instance, if you put 100 homes on what was once 20 acres of farmland, where are those kids going to go to school? Will enough be added to the tax base to pay for the additional buses, teachers, police officers, and firemen required?

Corn and cows don't need much infrastructure. They also don't need "second homes" or "vacation homes."

This area of the country has been an agricultural community for over 100 years. The farms, vineyards, and orchards were more than just part of the county's charm -- they stocked the county's kitchens. But as the farmland dwindles, so does our self-sufficiency. We become reliant on others to provide what was once readily available.

I don't have a pie-in-the-sky view of rural life. But I do share some of "Mike's" concerns.

How CAN you say this area's getting better when they're building houses... houses... houses... and condos... And nothin's sellin'... All they're doin' is building houses and condos where things used to be.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Baby Braden's Song

A dear, dear friend had twin boys on July 12. One week ago, I attended her "Meet the Babies" shower, where I held sweet little Braden for several hours while he slept. On Wednesday, he died. Braden Michael Roberts was three weeks old.

Some things in this world make no sense at all.

My heart just aches for the family. In times like these, there is nothing anyone can say or do. There will always be a Braden-sized hole in their lives.

Several years ago -- before I had a child -- a song about how precious a little baby is just "dropped in." It came to me, music, lyrics & all, in its entirety in a matter of minutes.

Yesterday, I sang a new version at Braden's funeral. It's strange how changing only a few words intrinsically alters the meaning of something.

Braden's Song:

I held heaven’s littlest angel
In my arms.
You looked at me and suddenly
I knew angel-charms.
And I thank you, Lord,
For sending me this precious child
And letting heaven’s littlest angel
Visit for awhile.

1.) When you laughed, I heard music.
So I know
You are where you belong --
Your voice must be raised
In the heavenly choir –
For with each breath you took
I heard angel song.


2.) Everything about you was a miracle.
Your smile
Lent my heart angel wings.
I never knew
Until I met you
All the love and the joy
Such a little angel brings.

Dear Lord, I pray,
Show me the way
Other angels have flown.
Include me in Your plans,
Help me understand
You took your child back home.


c. Ami Hendrickson

My heart goes out to that family. I hope I never hear that song again.