Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving, Food Banks, and the Vanishing Middle Class

Today is November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day in the US, and for the last few days a couple of thoughts have been kicking around inside my head. Disjointed, perhaps, but maybe you can see the common theme that knits them together.

The turkey is cooking in the roaster this morning and it smells wonderful. After I’m done with this post I’ll head outside to scrape the bit of snow that fell overnight from the driveway We’re expecting 17 people to come and share Thanksgiving dinner with us. Wine will flow with the conversation and laughter, and plates will overflow. I am so thankful for my family, especially Kathy, my forever wife and friend. I’m thankful for my job, stressful though it is at times. I’m thankful for my home nestled in the country. But--

For several years, I’ve volunteered at a local food bank. When I started, we ministered to roughly 70 to 80 families each week. That number has steadily increased to the point were we now average over 150 families each week. This past Thanksgiving week, we provided food and turkey gift vouchers to 289 families. We nearly ran out of food. 

Over the years, some people only come in once or twice, dressed in business casual or scrubs, needing a little help as they experience an unexpected rough patch in their lives. Others I’ve seen every month for years. I have a chance to talk to the people as we walk the boxes of food out to their cars. The vast majority are grateful for the help we provide. I am thankful for John, Judy, Don, Gabby, and all the volunteers at the food bank who tirelessly dedicate their lives to minister to the needy in the area.

I wish we didn’t need food banks and I wonder why the demand constantly increases. What is happening in this country? Why is there a need for more red kettles and volunteers ringing their bells throughout the year? Why is there such an increasing, on-going need? I read a thought-provoking interview with Vaclav Smil recently. In the interview, he states that ‘In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots . . . the whole middle-class sinks.’ Vaclav argues that the ‘demise of US manufacturing dooms (Italics mine) the country not just intellectually but creatively.’ To me, that is a chilling accusation of our country and the never-ending push by US corporations to find the cheapest labor cost without regard to the impact to our middle class. As long as that push continues, I fear the need for food banks and red kettles will continue to increase. The gap between the haves and have-nots will widen. Dear God, I pray I’m wrong.   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing from my other life, in languages both foreign and strange

In my other life, a huge software release looms on the horizon: December 7th! The outcome of this December day may not be as catastrophic as that fateful day in 1941, but close. I don’t anticipate any loss of life, at least not yet. Tears? Shouting? Pulling out hair? Yes, yes, and yes. But blood will not be shed (at least not by me).

In my other life, I am a software engineer, one who has put in a huge amount of overtime lately for the aforementioned release. While consumed with my work, I thought it would be interesting to share some snippets of the writing I do when not slaying dragons and chasing elves in novels.

The languages presented are nearly as ancient as Latin, and some may add just as dead. Some (re: my sons) would argue I'm just as old. Maybe I am, but it's been a challenging and rewarding career. Anyone who guesses the languages wins . . . um . . . a hearty pat on the back. I don’t have anything to give away just yet :-)   

Some may find it strange when I say that programming is much like writing a novel. A problem is presented to me, a goal is spelled out. It is my job to start at point A and design a process to solve the problem (plot), code the process (write the draft novel), wind my way through all the landmines and obstacles and testing (edit draft, write, cut, edit, write, cut, cut) until I have a final shining product that works (a story people will enjoy reading). 

A little known fact is that most software engineers read fantasy, while the hardware geeks (you know, the guys who can build a motherboard with their eyes closed) read science fiction. Go figure.

If anyone asks me what I do other than write, I can honestly say that I write software.
I've left a message below coded in IBM EBCDIC.  Code is read vertically and then left to right. (E3 is one letter) Want to try and decipher the message? You'll get another pat on the back. :-)


Monday, November 11, 2013

Come to the Quiet

I’m sure most of us have that one special place in our lives. It may be a timeshare on the beach or on the ski slopes. Maybe it’s the farm or the hunting cabin, or that special inn tucked away in the mountains. Heck, it may even be Time Square on New Years Eve or just your own porch in the cool of the evening.

For many years, my family has been blessed to own a cottage along the Allegheny River, roughly 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh PA. I grew up there, as did my children. Now a new generation is enjoying cookouts with family and friends, long boat rides, and sleepovers. Never forget the hotdogs and s'mores cooked over a fire.

 For me, my special place extends out a bit further to include a special time. As I post this, summer is a memory in my little corner of the world and fall is winding down. Our cottage is closed up for the season, as are most of the other homes on the river. The boat is in winter storage. The boat dock is on dry land.

This is my special time in my special place.

Now there is quiet in my special place as leaves turn and float to the ground. The water is still as glass. The boats and skiers and wave runners are a memory. No music blares from nearby camps. Now I hear turkey and coyotes calling in the distance.

Life is too hectic. There are too many distractions. I need this special time in my special place. I need to bundle up against the cold and take long walks with just my dog and my thoughts and my Lord.  I need to watch the sun set over tranquil waters. Sometimes this is the only place and time where the world makes any sense to me. How about you? Where's your special place? Care to share?


Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Cover - It's decision time & I Would Love Feedback

Whispers from Forbidden Earth is soon coming out in paperback . . .Woot!!!!. That leaves me in a bit of a quandary, however. I'm trying to decide between two covers and would LOVE some feedback. The story is a fantasy written for ages 8 and up.  I love the colors on one but that's the adult in me talking.

Let me know what you think, especially the children. They're the reason I wrote the story in the first place.
Thanks --Mark