Short 09

“People want to read a book for one of two reasons: because the story is very good, or because the content relates to them.”—Curtis Rider (he’s very wonderful)


The irony is extreme: I made a grammatical mistake in my Typo Challenge post. See correction below (an excellent explanation of correct comma usage). Imagine large slice of humble pie. (Side note: Commas have always been hard for me, sort of like swimming is hard for cats.)

Having been a junior high English teacher, and having taught that "you must have a reason for every comma you use," I am not a proponent for random commas. However, this sentence truly needs one, as there is a clear subject and verb on each side of the conjunction (after your introductory clause, which is appropriately set off by a comma):

When a typo sneaks into the paper, concerned readers may submit the correction to the editor and it will run in the next issue.

The comma belongs after editor.


Speaking of cats, we have acquired another kitten. Curtis found it crying under our pile of scrap metal one morning. We’re dangerously close to becoming Crazy Cat People.

Left to right, back row: Curtis. Left to right, front row: Scout, Gulliver, Brave.

Left to right, back row: Curtis. Left to right, front row: Scout, Gulliver, Brave.

Cats before baths are much happier than cats after baths.

Cats before baths are much happier than cats after baths.

The Typo Challenge

Most newspapers have a corrections column (otherwise known as a humility training ground for writers, editors, and proofreaders). When a typo sneaks into the paper, concerned readers may submit the correction to the editor and it will run in the next issue.

After making any size mistake, it’s normal to want to quit. But throwing in the towel every time you do something wrong has two main problems: giving up* robs you of a learning and growth opportunity, and you’re bound to make mistakes if you do anything for more than a day. If every journalist quit the first time their article hit the corrections column, every newspaper office in the country would be empty.

I’m thinking about typos because you probably noticed I made one in my last blog post. My September 23 post, 6 Types of High School Baseball Fans, isn’t about baseball at all—it’s about football. A glaring error!

Several of you pointed it out to me, which started the ball rolling. I don’t have an editor or proofreader for my blog, because that’s just how personal writing works. But, what I do have is a crew of faithful, highly literate readers (yes, I’m talking about you).

So what?

From now on, when I accidentally make a typo in one of my posts, I’ll send a prize to the first person who tells me what the error is and how it should be corrected. Yes! A real live prize (well, the prize won’t be alive)!

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Typo Challenge Rules:

  1. The challenge only runs for 24 hours after the post goes live (in other words, no need to comb through my past 4 years of posts—otherwise I’d be sending prizes all over the place).

  2. Use my contact form, or if you know another way to contact me, that’s fine too. Carrier pigeons are acceptable. Include your address so I know where to send your prize.

  3. I’ll always highlight the most recent correction in my next post, and you’ll have the option to be featured as well. If you do want to be included, answer these three questions:

    • What is your favorite ice cream?

    • How do you like to spend your free Saturdays?

    • What book are you currently reading?

  4. What counts as a typo? Misspelled words, missing words, extra words, and incorrect grammar.

No contest should have more than four rules, so I’ll stop before I exceed my quota. I look forward to working with you (because really, I’m receiving a free editing service and some of you will just get prizes).


*There is a difference between giving up at your first mistake, and knowing when to quit when something isn’t right for you.


6 Types of High School Baseball Fans

One distinct delight of our Michigan life is attending high school football games. Even though I understand the sport better now than I ever have, watching the people in the stands still distracts me constantly. There are a few very specific types of attendees at high school football games:

The Mom: Every time her child is on the field, her engagement increases. Leaning forward, she holds her breath for the plays. If he gets tackled she doesn’t blink until he’s up.

The Old Guy: Alone and unbothered, he munches on concession treats and takes in the game with placid aplomb. Only a questionable call from the refs is enough to rattle his cool. Standing, he’ll shout and wave his arms.

The High School Crew: Decked out in team spirit, they walk up and down in front of the stands, more interested in seeing and being seen than in how the game is going.

The Younger Siblings: After countless hours spent at sporting events for older siblings, these may be the most savvy fans in the stands. They know when to hit concessions, the bathroom, and even the secret way to sneak under the bleachers and look for loose change. And if figuring out all that stuff gets boring, there’s always the game.

The girlfriend: Proud of her significant player, she comes to every game. Wearing her sweetheart’s jersey, she makes friendly comments to the people around her. After all, she’s never understood football.

The Dad: Caring for his other children occasionally distracts him, but most of the time he fixes an attentive gaze on the field. With every admirable move his son makes, he puffs up and looks around to make sure everyone else saw it too.

PS. This weekend at the grocery store, with arms full, I ran into the candy aisle for some gum. One moment, I was holding a box of cereal, a container of ice cream, a bag of marshmallows, a pint of blueberries, my wallet, my keys, and my phone. The next moment, I was holding all those items except for the pint of blueberries. It had tumbled from the stack in slow motion, hit the floor, and exploded. Blueberries went rolling everywhere. If I had any presence of mind, I would have taken a photo.

Instead, I just stood there and stared, hopelessly mortified.

PPS. I survived, but only after turning burning crimson and scooping up a hundred blueberries.

The Young Couple: A Vignette

One day last week, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) brought me lunch, which we ate under a pavilion at a nearby park in the pouring rain. When we were about half way through our sandwiches, a police car drove by. Window down, driving slowly, the officer stared at us as he passed.

So I waved at him. He waved back.

It seemed like a perfectly normal interaction, but then, don’t they all? If it were in one of my stories . . .


I hate rainy days. They’re too cheerful.

Chuck Friedman took everything seriously. He never told dad jokes, or any sort of joke. It was a running competition among his fellow police officers to get Chuck to laugh at something one of them said—there was even a prize, a free steak dinner for two. The prize coupon hung tacked on the wall where it had been on display for 17 years, still unclaimed.

On the rare occasions when he did laugh, it was like a rusty gate in a silent room. Sitting quietly, he’d suddenly chuckle, then frown and glance around furtively, as if hoping no one heard him. The last time it happened, two years earlier, he was in the office with his partner, McGee.

“What’s so funny?” McGee had asked, trying to mask his look of astonishment with cool curiosity. After several moments, Chuck answered,

“Sure you wanna know?” Responding to the nod, Chuck continued seriously, “I’m laughing in the face of danger.”

McGee raised an eyebrow and let it drop.

This particular rainy day, Chuck swung through the park on his way to lunch. Keenly attuned to his surroundings, he noted the two women walking, the group of businessmen staring at their phones, the person smoking from their car in the parking lot.

Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Rolling out of the park, he suddenly noticed something unusual. At one of the picnic tables, a young couple was eating lunch. The man was smiling at the woman, who looked at him with attentive interest. Chuck slowed the car to a crawl. They triggered a memory in his mind, but they also triggered suspicion. His instincts warned him not to trust happy people, as often they were doing something of questionable legality.

“Hey, McGee, don’t those people look suspicious to you?” McGee was busy reciting the license plate of the car in the parking lot. He’d picked up the habit a few years back, and was trying to memorize the plate numbers of every car in town. It’ll come in handy someday, he’d always say. He replied,

“What people? That couple? Nah, I don’t think so. Looks like they’re just having lunch.” Chuck frowned and coasted past, still staring. Suddenly, the woman waved at him cheerily as if she knew his suspicions. He hesitated then waved back, tilting his head.

The incident stayed in his mind the rest of the afternoon, and later, as he walked out of the office with McGee on his way home, he chuckled. McGee, astonished and instantly alert, asked,

“What is it? The face of danger again?" Chuck nodded slowly, and McGee continued, “What does it look like?” Chuck asked,

“Sure you wanna know?” Responding to the nod, he continued, “That couple we saw at the park over lunch.”


*Inspired by one of you most faithful readers, who wonders what the people in my vignettes are thinking about us.

Handwriting

I recently read a handful of articles about the merits of writing by hand. Longterm benefits include:

  • greater mental retention (you remember stuff better when you write it)

  • the ability to develop your thoughts quicker (you think more about what you’re writing because it takes longer to get it all down)

  • increased mental health in your old age

In addition to those obvious benefits, writing by hand is a classy lost art—one that most people claim to love, but few people practice anymore. Hoping to become better at remembering things and more thoughtful, I’ve decided to handwrite my blogs before I type them out.

After all, as Seth Godin says, “You will not be tomorrow what you are not becoming today,”

Investing in Groceries

Investing in what you’re doing doesn’t have to be expensive.

For instance, the cashier at a grocery store doesn’t need to buy stocks in the store to be invested. For him, investment is how he spends his day at the register. Each morning, he gets to choose. Will he fully engage with every customer, greeting them kindly, serving them eagerly, and making eye contact at the first greeting and the final word? Or, will he slip through the day, mumbling answers, avoiding looking people in the eye, and bagging groceries carelessly?

You get the choice to invest in what you’re doing, and you get to make it every morning. Investment may not yield instant gratification—but when you invest, people notice. Over time, the cashier who shows up and engages will go much further in the game than the one who brings his body to work without his heart.

Making the choice to invest isn’t always easy. But it’s always worth it.

But When You Don't Have a Hammer

When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. But what about when you don’t have a hammer? Then every nail becomes an unsolvable problem.

This morning on my ride to work, I realized my chain was loose. My unexperienced mechanical analysis pegged the issue as a loose screw. Arriving at work, where I unfortunately don’t have any screwdrivers, I assembled my tools: a push pin, an ID clip, my ID, a bobby pin, and a letter opener (I should really keep a multi-tool in my backpack).

You see, when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. But what if you don’t have a hammer, and you have dozens of nails to pound in? That’s when the real delight of creativity comes in: instead of waiting for a hammer to materialize from thin air, look around. Stop thinking that every problem just has one solution, and find something else that might work. You’ll be surprised how many objects can be repurposed in a pinch.

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*the bike malfunction ended up being simple enough for me to fix with my bare hands (I know, I was relieved but also little disappointed). But it still inspired a blog, so the whole thing wasn’t a failure (more so because I didn’t get stranded on the bike path at 7 a.m.).

16 Unrelated Thoughts on Biking

During this beautiful Michigan summer of transition, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I bought a house that’s 14 miles away from my job. Our house is also conveniently located near a bike trail, so every day I ride my bike to work.

After more than a month of almost 30 miles a day on my swift red bike, I’ve learned a few lessons:

  1. Riding to work is somehow always slower than riding home.

  2. On-time arrival isn’t accomplished by sporadic spurts of speed—it’s earned through steady, continuous pedaling.

  3. There is such a thing as having sore, tired thighs all the time.

  4. Skunks don’t spray humans every time they see them, contrary to what kids books and the media want us to believe.

  5. If you think being chased by a bear is a good speed motivator, try attempting to out-bike a thunderstorm.

  6. Deer aren’t exactly the smartest animals, but they can certainly jump.

  7. If you call out to cows, they will look at you.

  8. Riding four miles on a flat tire is not a good idea.

  9. Biking in 45 degrees without gloves on will make your hands very, very cold.

  10. Greasing your chain makes a major difference not only in ease of pedaling, but also in rattling and squeaking.

  11. Some cars are gracious and pass with a wide berth. Others are less so, and pass a lot closer.

  12. Traveling down a mist-covered path isn’t quite as eerie as it is in movies . . . but it’s close.

  13. Skinny road bike tires + gravel roads = lots of fishtailing.

  14. Bikes are great conversation starters.

  15. Every time I pass anyone else on a bike, I always say, “It’s a great day for a ride, isn’t it?” Once past, I laugh because they don’t know the secret truth: it’s always a great day for a ride.

  16. Biking is easily the best part of every day (besides being with Curtis). Nothing compares to the cheery expectation of miles of smooth path on a sunny afternoon.

If you’ve never ridden your bike to work, give it a shot sometime. If you don’t own a bike, I’m so sorry. If you never learned how to ride a bike, come to my house and I will teach you and we’ll go on an adventure and get ICE CREAM.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to start the day.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to start the day.

You’d be amazed how many people stop and talk about biking when they see a bike. It’s almost the equivalent of walking a dog or a baby. Almost.

You’d be amazed how many people stop and talk about biking when they see a bike. It’s almost the equivalent of walking a dog or a baby. Almost.

Biking in northern Michigan poses slightly different road hazards than biking in downtown Chicago . . .

Biking in northern Michigan poses slightly different road hazards than biking in downtown Chicago . . .

But That's Not What I Was Expecting

Wildest dreams seldom compare with the sunshiny, blissful, sometimes all-too-dreadful reality of real life.

When I imagined moving from Chicago, I saw friends and family lining the curb and waving to us as we embarked on our next adventure. Instead, Curtis and I alone pack-horsed a bunch of suitcases across a few city blocks, crammed our tiny Ford Fiesta full of stuff (wishing at that moment we’d just torched the whole lot and started from scratch), and drove out of the city in a June hailstorm. Well, that’s not how I pictured it happening.

We knew where we were headed, but we didn’t have a home to go to—so when we arrived at our tiny town in northern-ish Michigan late that night, we pulled into the driveway of a house we’d never seen to stay with people we’d only met briefly. This wasn’t exactly how I thought relocating would look.

Shortly after arriving in Michigan, we discovered it was going to take longer to close on our house than we thought. In the exactly 2 months during which we didn’t have a home of our own, we stayed in six different places. I feel like starting out a new life isn’t supposed to be like this.

The brakes on our car went out. We spent a lot of Sunday afternoons sitting in the driveway of the house, looking at it wishfully and praying about maybe someday owning it. I biked a lot, got a flat tire, got it fixed, biked some more. I started a new job. We were farm animals (sheep and donkey) in the local Fourth of July parade. We spent lots of Saturday afternoons at the beach of Lake Michigan. Most of our meals were eaten in the church kitchen. I took naps on the floor of Curtis’s office. Somehow I don’t feel very much like an adult.

On July 17, exactly two months after Curtis graduated with his MA and we moved out of our apartment in Chicago, we closed on a house in Michigan. It had been owned by an older gentleman who now lives with his son near Detroit. He left the house abruptly two years ago, so it was still full of all his belongings. Including lots of deer skulls. And 11 vacuums. Seven mattresses. Hunter orange countertops in the kitchen, yards and yards of retro wallpaper, and even some schnazzy camouflage carpet. A few acres. An apple orchard, grape arbor, and a semi-trailer container buried in the back yard. I guess this sort of qualifies as move-in ready.

Sweat equity is a gentle way to describe the amount of work we’ve put into the house in the past month, and it still feels a little like it’s just the beginning. Somewhere in there we acquired kitties. A hot water heater. A water pressure tank. A new well screen. A half dozen gallons of paint. Home ownership doesn’t feel very much like Pinterest makes it look.

Exactly a month after closing, last weekend we got the rest of our belongings from a storage unit in Indiana, where we kept them all summer long. Our furniture didn’t fare too well, but to my great ecstasy all my books are back with me. This is definitely not what I had planned.

Nothing about the process has happened the way I expected it to. It has taken longer. Been more expensive. Required more sweat, more patience, more creative problem solving. Between full-time jobs and house renovations, we’ve put in a few 70-hour weeks. In every way it has challenged my idyllic expectations of Our First House Together.

And in every way, it has been better.

Not because it’s been more pleasant—a few times, it’s been just the opposite. But because I know a few key truths:

Our house and everything in it is a gift from God. How could two poor college-students-turned-adults afford enough furniture for a whole house unless God gave it to them?

I get to take this adventure with my best friend. Curtis (he’s very wonderful).

We are not alone. We’ve entered into a community that loves us generously, serves us tirelessly, and can’t wait to do life with us.

Life will continue to be one thing after another that is different from my expectations. But I am learning that’s going to be okay.

Our new house!


Flea Cat

Interestingly enough, I posted Why You Can’t Write about Fleas and a few days later Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I acquired a flea-ridden kitten. I was wrong. You can, under extenuating circumstances, write about fleas.

Curtis first noticed the unwelcome parasites in the car after picking up the kitty. He saw a small black dot moving through the white fur. By the time we got home, he’d seen quite a few more of them. Prepared to wage all-out war on the fleas, we found a basin, squeezed about an entire bottle of Dawn dish soap into it, and filled it with warm water.

De-fleaing a cat is a fascinating (and disgusting) process. Crying and yowling, the orange and white kitten fiercely resisted the suds. But after several moments, she resigned herself to a watery fate, and crouched in misery in the tub, almost as if she knew we were helping her in the long run. Dawn miraculously kills fleas on contact—so as soon as we submerged her into the water, there were dozens of dead fleas floating around.

What we naively assumed would be a fifteen minute process turned into a three-hour escapade. Filling basin after basin with fresh warm, water, we combed hundreds fleas out of kitty’s coat until around 11 p.m. Still a few stuck in her fur, but we determined that enough was enough.

After pulling her out, we blowdried her, named her Brave (because really, what’s more brave than a parasite covered cat taking a three hour bath?) and put her in a turkey roasting pan* with a blanket in it. (she’s fully recovered now)

If you can avoid it, don’t get a kitty with fleas. It’s only barely worth having the experience to write about.

Left to right: Brave, Scout.

Left to right: Brave, Scout.

*Curtis and I recently made a purchase that included two turkey roasting pans.