Speechwriting: Corporate, Weddings, Retirement


Christmas Candles and Away in the Manager

Christmas Eve candle ceremony at Wheaton Bible Church

We sang "Away in the Manger" I used to sing this at the top of my lungs, all shrill and boyful each Christmas at Incarnation Catholic Parish when I was five years-old. This little girl (Kaitlyn, who apparently has a fan in Ozzy Osbourne?) in the video below gives it a shy, tremulating go in a modernized version mixed with the secular "Twinkle Twinkle." She gets the bigger picture. While I never took center stage as she has, with tremendous excitement and joy I lifted my voice. Whenever I hear the song now I find myself going back to 1971, the left aisle, two thirds back from the front.

Merry Christmas.

My less pious greeting to you all at the end of this little Santa video.


Familiar Freshness - Old Becomes New While Remaining Old

Does familiarity breed contempt? Only if you let it.

Doug, a former colleague, who also lives in the west Chicago burbs as I do, told me to never let the familiarity of the city steal the awe. That is, as cool as it was walking on Washington and Michigan Avenue, after several years it loses a certain awe-factor, but he encouraged me to try to see it always. Look up, be impressed with the big buildings. See the river, the bridges and the people. It is amazing.

The Loop isn't mundane.  When I visited Budapest, Hungary, I was stunned, seeing how short the city was, yet a fully established city. Mundane? No, no. Far from it, but if you grew up there, you might find how easy it is to be blind.

That's what Doug encouraged me to never let happen. Be blown away by every moment, no matter how common. It still does become ordinary. Can't really help that. But, every so often, and more now since I no longer go as often, I see it, and see the buildings I have worked in, or interviewed in, and my jaw drops at the incredulity of it all in the midst of it being completely real.



Midwestern Beauty - A Descriptive Look at Gentle Nature

In the Midwest, up and down Illinois, we have a beauty surpassing anything in Colorado. Those who are consumed by only the magnificent mountains can miss the subtler colors and sounds that can be felt here near Chicago, in Bloomington, but also in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere in these Midwestern United States.

The cool moonlight in April drifting in and out of clouds, as the dew explores the tops of cars in driveways.

The sunrise over a gentle green cornfield swaying in an August wind presenting next month's meal.

The sweet smell of a soybeans wafting across town just before harvest.

The crunch of leaves mostly brown on my lawn, blown in from the neighbor north of me.

The fierce February snow pulsing across a parking lot while I search for car keys.

The first crack of ice as it melts beneath a March sun as the radio sportscaster argues with a caller who should be the starting pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.

Splash some lemonade into your favorite tall glass, and meet me on the porch. We have a lot to take in.

The scene in the photo: It is a view from a deck at a friend's summer home at Lake Donnell in southwestern Michigan.


Early Life on a Donkey

Jesus Christ Was Sent to Adoption Agency?

Christmas is coming, when Christians and non Christian people celebrate the traditional birth of Jesus Christ. Christians see it as a sacred day, and others see it as anything from a nice day of work to a thoughtful secular holiday.

What if the Department of Children and Family Services intervened first?

Jesus was born in a stable to unmarried parents. You've heard the sermon pointing out how scandalous this was.

Every child should be a wanted child, says Planned Parenthood, and Joseph did not want to be a dad, and Mary was scared. Thankfully, an angel stepped in and didn't let the local back alley abortionist kill Christ.

Not much money was available. The stable was not the Marriot. Joseph and Mary could have arrived earlier with more money and time to secure a nice room. For whatever reason, they didn't. Perhaps they couldn't. At any rate, this put stress on their upcoming marriage.

The return trip home involved life on a donkey. To think of it, so did Jesus' final trip back, but that's another story. But, in the beginning, this beginning, things were bouncy on a donkey's back. Not very PETA-friendly.

Donkeys bray, stink, and can be persnickety. Slow-going ride. Not much back support in the vehicle. Upholstery can be scratchy. The AC has much to be desired, and Galilee radio stations don't come in. If radio was invented, it still wouldn't work. Miles per bushel of hay? Not sure, but the carbon footprint has much to be desired, unless you are a horsefly.


The Cactus Cuties sing Amazing Grace

The Cactus Cuties sing Amazing Grace.

Country girl version. Very sweet. Not as amazing as their National Anthem, but quite impressive.

"Cactus Cuties sing a beautiful Terri Caldwell arrangement of Amazing Grace."


Who Is Your Fezziwig? A Call for Responses from You, the Reader

We all need a Fezziwig in our life.

I recently posted that as my Twitter/Facebook status.

For those who might not catch the reference: In Charles Dickens "Christmas Carol," Scrooge was thankful for Fezziwig in his life. Fezziwig had, as an employer of Scrooge, the power to make his life happy or a pain, and chose to be kind. When Scrooge remembered him, thanks to the ghost of Christmas past, Fezziwig served as a catalyst for his reformation of character.

It is so easy to remember the jerks. They make better stories when we talk to friends. "My boss is a jerk. Let me tell you what he did," has more color than, "My boss is so kind. Let me tell you what he did." Or, it could sadly be that there are fewer good bosses to talk about. We live in a complaining society, one which loves to wallow in bitter disregard for each other. There are many, many good people who look at life more hopefully, or who encourage us.

I have had several in my life. Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap at Dunlap's Restaurant in Palos Heights, my first job in high school. I was a dishwasher and busboy. Very kind. They gave me all the hours I could handle when I needed money. Several people (Nikki Daniels, Jon Keith and Gene Frost) I answered to directly or indirectly at Wheaton Academy, where I was recently their Director of Communications. They each worked to allow me to flex my creative muscles. Steve Wilkin, who I wrote and did layout for HTML newsletters at United Airlines. He patiently taught me HTML tricks. There are others. It is worth mulling over.

Who are yours?



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also, if Hungarian books are your interest, follow me here:

Pick up a copy of the original book. It will be great to read to your family this Christmas.

A Christmas Carol

Sarah Brendel: Bob Dylan Meets Larry Norman with a German Accent

I'm a fan of this German singer Sarah Brendel. Thought you ought to know.

She's singing here a slow tempo tune reminiscent of Bob Dylan lyrically, with a Larry Norman influence. She admits both are favorites, with a YouTube video of when Sarah actually meets Norman not long before his death. She has depth, passion, yet restrains it all so as to not sound sugar-coated or cliche.


Early Morning Hours (downloadable from Amazon)


Juncture - Rich or Poor?

An older poem.

by Anthony Trendl

In the days when I was rich,
I lived humbly, frugally,
but happy of heart
so that in the days when I was poor
I could live humbly, frugally,
but happy of heart.

And in the days when I was poor,
I lived lavishly, with flair,
but careful in my soul
so that in the days when I was rich,
I could live lavishly, with flair,
but careful in my soul.

In nearing now the age called dust,
I am free to be blown as April lint,
my riches and poverty left in my children's hands.
My lavish flair and careful ways better given
so that theirs are the days more humbly spent.


"And the Band Played On: Temptations Ultimate Collection Greatest Hits CD review

The Ultimate Collection
The Ultimate Collection: Temptations CD

The first couplet of the first song begins:
You've got a smile so bright, you know you could've been a candle.
I'm holding you so tight, you know you could've been a handle.
Anyone who has heard of the Temptations knows those lines from their classic "The Way You Do the Things You Do." It is crisply sung, almost doo-wop. It never loses its poise or falls into cliche.

Most of these songs were hits. If the titles don't jar your memory, listen to the samples. Expect to know at least 10 of these.

A couple weak links are present in "Treat Her Like a Lady" and "Error of Our Ways." In these two songs, there's no funk, no soul, and no depth. Both are acceptable, as pop R&B, but are musically pallid when compared to "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "Ball of Confusion."

The liner notes provide a puffy history, and credits song-by-song. That's not why this is worth buying. It is the sheer cool class and sway of the Temptations greatest hits. A couple songs might be left off, but most are here.

I fully recommend "The Ultimate Collection" by the Temptations.

Anthony Trendl
"A brave effort at cramming one disc full of Temptations classics, The Ultimate Collection nevertheless makes a couple of puzzling choices. Why, for instance, include "Error of Our Ways," a very minor mid-'90s hit, and ignore "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" or "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)," both number ones from their classic period? Still, for the price, it's hard to argue with." --Rickey Wright
  1. Way You Do the Things You Do
  2. My Girl
  3. It's Growing
  4. Since I Lost My Baby
  5. Don't Look Back
  6. Get Ready
  7. Ain't Too Proud to Beg
  8. (I Know) I'm Losing You
  9. All I Need
  10. You're My Everything
  11. Angel Doll
  12. I Wish It Would Rain
  13. Cloud Nine
  14. I Can't Get Next to You
  15. Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)
  16. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
  17. Papa Was a Rolling Stone
  18. Shakey Ground
  19. Treat Her Like a Lady
  20. Error of Our Ways
  21. My Girl [Acappella][Excerpt]


Apple Sauce Recipe for Men - 20 minutes and you are eating

Why men? I'm a guy. I made this recipe up based on some ingredients a buddy mentioned over the phone while I stood in a grocery store. He looked them up on the internet, and found them on some blog. I didn't measure anything, unless counting apples counts.

  • 4 Macintosh apples
  • 4 golden delicious apples
  • Honey
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Decent cognac
  1. Cored by chopping off a chunk from each side, leaving skin on. It is easier this way.
  2. Toss into a big pot with a little water.
  3. Flame on medium-high.
  4. Cover with heavy top.
  5. Go watch the game for two-three minutes. Not longer.
  6. Stir every few minutes since what you really want to do is look like you know what you are doing.
  7. Gently squish apples with potato masher. Let the apples know who is in charge.
  8. As things go along, turn down the heat. No one wants burned apples.
  9. When all apples are squished, use tongs to relieve the apple skins of their duty. These will be easy to grab. Toss them in the garbage disposal and grind them up, sending them to neverland.
  10. With heat on low, add some honey, cinnamon, cognac to taste. Too much is too much, so watch it.
  11. Note, the cognac adds a quietly nutty flavor, but also adds sweetness, so be careful with that honey.
  12. Heat a little longer until it looks like apple sauce.
  13. Cool until you can't handle it, then grab a spoon and eat.
    Or, if you have company, put it in a fancy bowl only used for visitors.
  14. There will not be any left, so don't worry about saving them in a nice Tupperware or anything.


Barack Obama Rejects the Nobel Peace Prize

In a brief, but eloquent speech, President Barack Obama turns down the esteemed Nobel Peace Prize.

Realizing the award's intrinsic deficiencies that ruined the musical career of U2 front man and 2008 winner Bono, who ever after turned out songs no one liked, and of Yasser Arafat. Arafat, famously peaceful and anti-military until his 1994 award, but then turned into a warmongering beast. The President wisely knew he was not capable of pressing through the tests such an award can offer. He was not as strong as Jimmy Carter, also a US president, who accepted the award in 2002, and since then has always said the right thing.

The President recognized he was not being awarded by just the Nobel committee, but a vast legion of interspatial congregation of lords.

"Lord Lightyear, Lord Spock, Lord Mork, Lord Jar Jar, and Lord Kal-El, I am honored. Citizens of the universe and of that vague place called heaven, I cannot in good faith accept this cherished prize so long as we are at war, and so long as the Peace Mother lives."

He then whispered something in Neptunian to indicate his oneness with the universe, "No-Salami Yukkum", meaning: "Peace be upon plants and animals, who are our gods." It was also an acknowledgement to the universal commission for the ethical treatment of plant life. Up until the Obama Administration, the vegan and vegetarian community, teamed up insidiously with the evil omnivorians, terrorized the vegetable world, methodical ripping plant life from their native land and devouring them. Then, a quiet mineral eater spoke with a loud voice, "Remember the lichen," and protests ensued, almost destroying all life in the known interplanetary stellar regions. The President's nod continued as he celebrated his prize rejection by lifting up a glass of purified hydrogen-oxygen drink and breaking nutrient bread, a tasty nitrogen bar dipped in a carbonic sauce.


Why I am not a teacher

I have taught on and off much of my life. First, as a private tutor, working with as many as a dozen students each week. Later, in a jail and as a substitute teacher, and in some adjunct classes at the elementary school level. I have been told I have the knack. I think they are right. I love kids, connect with them well, and usually have more energy. I also know what a tough time school can be. I am enthusiastic about my subject, and it shows.

Every so often, I get the question: why don't you teach? The money and hours are not bad. Coworkers would be smart. There is a chance to make a difference in a kid's life.

You betcha. All of that is true.

But I am am not a teacher. Why not?

One word: unions.

I'm no fan of unions. I decided not to become a teacher largely based on watching what unions did to my school system. I understand a basic argument for their existence, but think they are too involved in politics, personal lives, and offer a school no choice but to hire a union teacher. Freedom gets killed.

Not all schools are patsies to their union, nor is every local union politically partisan. My schools growing up seem to have been. My high school was the worst. A few places I subbed in also demonstrated they were unable to dialogue.

I am an opinionated person. I tell people what I think. At my work place, however, I do not want fights.

At one place, a peer was so anti-Obama, I felt uncomfortable, and it impacted the quality of my work. And Obama is the last guy I will vote for. This colleague was as bad as the anti-Bush people. At a place I contracted (not a school), the full-timer was intimidated by me, and stole my ideas. Unions were univolved in each work context, but the tension was more than I wanted. I did not fight. Not at work.

If a school I worked at had a union fight, I would quit. It means that either the leadership is not taking care of the teachers, or the unions were just being whiny. Who suffers? Not just the kids, but any teacher who dares disagree with the union he had no choice but to join. The leaders lose leadership. Money is blown on lawyers, so taxpayers suffer.

None for me, thanks.


I Want To Be a Paperback Writer - A Re-interpretation

Many people aspire to live the life of an author: To be able to linger among those great men and women of letters and laugh at erudite jokes, to drink wine with unpronounceable names, to dream the impossible dream, and then get paid for it. Whatever reality is missing from this imagined life of intellectual bliss is made up for in persistence. Good writers sweat more than they dream, and they dream often.

Paul McCartney understood this desire and put it to words and music. I'm unable, for various laws involving copyrights, to publish those lyrics. Instead, I am adjusting the words with books and other products. Some of the connections are cloudy, you'll find them all "if you take a look." :)

You can find the song below on the album, 'The Beatles 1', which is a collection of their number one hits.

Paperback Writer

by Paul McCartney, as re-interpreted through products that can purchased online

Dear 'To Sir, With Love' or 'Madame Bovary', will you read my 'Book'?
It took me 'Baby Years' to 'Write On', will you take a 'New Look'?
Based on a 'Barbie Romance Novel Giftset' by a man named 'Sub 4:00: Alan Webb and the Quest for the Fastest Mile'
And I need a 'Monster.com', so I want to be a 'Ingram Paperback Advance' writer -- Paperback writer

It’s the 'A Handful of Dirt' story of a 'Benny Hill, King Leer'
And his 'Saran Classic, Plastic Wrap' 'The Bishop's Wife' 'You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation'
His 'Son-In-Law' is working for the 'Daily Mail',
It’s a 'Slow and Steady Get Me Ready' 'The CareerBuilder Network' but he wants to be a 'Paperback Writer' -- Paperback writer

It’s a 'The Ultimate Brownie Book : Thousands of Ways to Make America's Favorite Treat, including Blondies, Frostings, and Doctored Brownie Mixes' 'The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile', 'Horace's Compromise' a few,
I’ll be 'On Writing' more in a 'Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength'
I can make it longer if you like the 'The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition',
I can 'Leading Change' it 'The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things' and I want to be a paperback writer -- Paperback writer

If you really like it you can have the 'Gideon's Trumpet',
It could make 'The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest' for you 'Overnight'.
If you must 'Return to the River: The Classic Story of the Chinook Run and of the Men Who Fish It' it, you can send it here
But 'Gimme a Break, Rattlesnake!: Schoolyard Chants and Other Nonsense' and I want to be a paperback writer -- Paperback writer

Paperback Writer - The Beatles


Morning in Suburbia, Morning in the World

One morning last summer, when there was no snow, and a friendlier sun, I awoke early and thought about what was around me. It was not the drab beige life of minivans and soccer moms. The Midwest has more than that to love, but can be missed if we forget to see the life we live for what it is.

Listen to me read this on BlogTalkRadio.

Few things equate the visceral joy of the first rush of morning as I sit down before sunrise to write. All is quiet except for crickets and the paperboy thumping a newspaper on my steps.

Nothing about the scene is unusual. Its usuality, in fact, is the thrill. In the usual is sometimes the most beautiful thing. The morning is the morning for all of us. Some are up already, coming home from work, or, like me, just starting the day.

While I lived in the heart of a major metropolitan city's suburbs, what I hear, what I see outside my window is found everywhere in the Midwest. When I lived in central Illinois, in a small city surrounded by farms, I awoke to the same sounds. Those days, before I owned a computer and when I worked in jobs that required me to arrive at 6:00 am, I would drive close to where I needed to be, and sit in a cafe surrounded by men who met there each morning. I was never one of them. Too young, too college to fit in. They never rejected me; I thought I was too different. I missed what these men knew: before the world is fully moving, there is a time to connect with good friends.

In my 20s, I had a mix of love and hate for the small town. I loved the Norman Rockwell aspect, but disdain what I thought was small minded living. I could only see the cliches and felt confined by the stereotypes. Academic, liberal, and big city was how I envisioned myself. Instead, the small mind was my own. What I did not know was the depth of discussion about farming issues. Farms are big business, but all I imagined was a guy with a hoe. The job didn't need a suit, but this did not mean the men were not well-read in current issues or classic topics.

The men, or their sons and daughters, are meeting somewhere just outside of Bloomington in the morning today. Maybe in Downs, or Hudson, or Towanda, but life is happening just as real as the suburbs and the city.

The morning is great for writing. I am high energy, and still gearing up as the day grows older. Coffee speeds things up, but mostly, when I wake, I am awake. Crash and burn. All the way awake, or all the way asleep. Little middle ground. The dawn is the closest I find to the peace of steady thought.

I think, now, in the afternoon as I finish this post, I will pour another cup of coffee, and think about the morning. There is little new to say about the morning and I like that.


Why I Won't Be Meeting Barry Trowbridge for Coffee Tomorrow

Instead of having coffee with Barry Trowbridge tomorrow night, I will be at his funeral. He's dead.

That's him on the left, swiped from his Facebook profile. He was that happy in real life, not just when getting his picture taken during a road race.

Who is Barry? Right now, I don't know. He's with God, and I don't know how to describe this. Is he singing? Running? Eating all the foods he denied himself as he fought obesity with regulated discipline? I honestly don't think any if those things are true, but given that I'm here on Earth, I don't have a keen view of what our life in Heaven looks like. Whatever it is like, Barry is not disappointed. He sees the face of his savior.

The Barry I knew through Friday was the kind of guy I want to be. He had a corporate job, but was not settled in the cushioned lifestyle. He knew what he was given, and worked hard to give it back. He was upbeat, passionate and joyful, and not satisfied with watching others do the work. His faith in Christ drove him to live well.

When the doctor said he needed to shape up or die, he took this seriously. He lost 60 lbs, at least, and was on his way to not just lose more weight, but become fitter. He ran and ate smarter.

As he was new to running road races, with just a few 5Ks under his belt, we talked about the joy of hitting the synchronicity of pace and fitness. His times were slow. His race last week was at 11:59/mile pace. Barry ran with no delusions, and, like me, raced because of the love and inspiration of running with others. We talked about getting together this week or next to run.

We shared a few tips about running music for iPods.

I saw him Friday. At our church, Barry was an instrumental lay leader in our men's ministry. We talked about me taking on the communications aspect of things. My first meeting with our leadership team was at 6:30, and ended around 8:00 am. When I got home, as he promised, I received an e-mail for an invite on my Google calendar to meet for coffee and discussion about the technical side of transitioning the responsibilities. This meant passwords and that kind of thing.

It is still on my calendar. I don't have the heart to remove it. 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm, at the coffeehouse on Roosevelt and Main.

Barry Trowbridge died Saturday morning at around 9:00 am on his way home from running. I don't know if he ran a road race. At that time, I was finishing my duties helping cheer on runners at the fundraising 5K/10K for PADS Dupage. Barry apparently had a heart attack, passed out and crashed his car on Butterfield Road.

The last thing I said to him was a silly thought on his Facebook page Friday at 3:39 pm. His status said through his cell phone, "Barry Trowbridge needs to remind himself that double bogeys are always better than triple bogeys...." I responded with a comment about how many children the Bogart family might have at once, "Mrs. Bogart was content, don't you agree, with just one Bogey at a time?" It wasn't very funny. He did not reply.

His last status update was at 11:15 pm Friday night when he posted a link to his most recent blog post (see links below).

There is no cool spin to put on this. I didn't lose a longtime friend. I was only getting to know the guy. He knew a great number of people better than me. We had maybe five or six conversations. One good one on the phone. One good one over coffee. We connected well. We looked at life, work, God, running, family in a similar way. And lots of plans about getting together. I miss the friend I never really got to know.

He was 43. I just turned 43. I can do the math.

Right now, as our nation argues about the health care issue, we cannot ignore what Barry learned the hard way: health care starts with being healthy always. Some readers of this blog do not exercise, play around with diabetes, eat too much, smoke, drink and make excuses about it. Barry looked at his reality and made bold changes, but he knew well he was not out of the woods.

I'm likely much healthier than Barry probably ever had been, but anything can happen. I'm looking to set an appointment with my general physician soon and get a check up.

There's no good way to end a post like this.

RIP Barry Trowbridge. You finished well.


Why I Do Not Want a Government Run Health Care Insurance System

Why I Do Not Want a Government Run Health Care Insurance System?



  • The billions of dollars, you ask? That is, the billions of dollars not already part of our debt?
  • The famed inefficiencies and corruptions that happen in government?
  • My personal expectation that abortion will be funded for more than life of mother situations?
  • My personal expectation that this is giving the government more power and invasion into my life than I want?
  • My personal expectation that we will shift from the corporate and broken free-market version of health care to a government and broken socialistic version?

I do not trust the government to handle this. Already, schemers are looking for potential loopholes.

I do not think President Obama has a true pulse on what America wants. Lots of Americans want this. Many do not. Obama has demonstrated he cannot build bridges in this issue, but instead, has created a polarized discussion.

Meanwhile, we have a war in Iraq still unresolved. It is not in the news, but soldiers are fighting hard. Now, any who die are on Obama's watch. He is not able to fight two fronts, and he has chosen health care as his issue.

What about our messed up corporate insurance? Corporate is the new profanity, so please forgive my intrusion into the delicate ears of naive readers. One massive issue with the current situation is size. Under a government run plan, any plan, things will get bigger. Essentially, we get the same thing, same problems. Corporation by election.

Remember (no, I suppose you don't, since neither do I) when neighbors helped each other? Real help. Gave the neighbor $1,000 to pay for car trouble. How about you? Helping out?

What if all the money we are about to be taxed was saved up in a special savings account. Only you can access it, just like any account. This money is your "help my neighbor fund." See a neighbor in trouble? Dip into the fund. Don't have enough? Talk to another neighbor, get him involved.

If enough neighbors did this willfully, we might just not need Obama to tag my pocketbook.

Churches have deacons funds. They might call itself something else, but most churches have these. It helps people with emergency needs. This is above and beyond what churches already give to local homeless shelters, battered women's shelter, pregnancy help centers, food pantries, and other outreach efforts. Sometimes that money goes to help health emergencies.


What Book Should I Read Next?

On Twitter yesterday, I asked for book ideas. I said:

Too many of the books I am reading are the easy, unsubstantive ones. Give me skill, style and meaning. Challenge me with authors long dead.
Suggestions flew in. Maybe you have ones to add to this. I should qualify this a little, as Twitter's 140 characters gave way quickly. Not every book I read is intellectually easy. I have recently read critical looks at poets, some poetry collections, and some nature guides. This isn't the same, though, as you'll see below, George Eliot's Middlemarch. I somehow dodged reading it in college, as I was, frankly, intimidated by it immensity.

I am suggesting dead authors only because I want to avoid the flavor of the week. Amy Tan is not challenging. I don't want to read some musing of how someone grew up. Few writers ever do that well, and Mark Twain is retired.

The political books listed in the NYT Bestseller list are lightweight (presently loaded with conservative writers, just as when Bush was president, it was loaded with liberal writers).

Summer's basically over. Toss the beachside reading aside.

Current Suggestions
  1. "Middlemarch" George Eliot
  2. "Anathem" Neal Stephenson
  3. "Sunnyside" Glen Gold
  4. "The Histories" Herodotus
  5. "Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History" Harry Crocker
  6. "Robin Hood" (who authored the book?)
  7. "A Thousand Years of Solitude" Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  8. "Valley of the Dolls" Jacquelyn Suzanne
  9. Specific books not indicated: Balzac, Colette, Graham Greene


Better than Sleeping, Much Better Than Sleeping

The next best thing to waking up is to be in Heaven.

It is an early morning, and a long day of travelling is ahead of me. I woke up hours before I intended, and in several ore hours will pay for this as I drive.

What if I didn't wake up? The goal of sleeping isn't the sleep, but to awake fresh. Only one thing is fresher than a full night's rest. Sleep isn't wicked, but the point's the same.

Maybe you know these famous verses from the Book of Psalms:

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
(Psalm 84:8-10)


Ciderman (Spiderman?) spoken word

Ciderman (Spiderman?)

Fans of the 1960s Spiderman cartoon will remember the theme. I don't sing. Tossed in a few cider-esque and appleish images. Have fun!

Ciderman, Ciderman.
Drinks all the cider that he can.
Sips a cup, any size.
Uses it to wash down pies.
Look out.
There goes the Ciderman.

Can he chug?
Listen, bud.
He's got apples in his blood.
Take a look in the aisle
Hey there,
There goes the Ciderman.

In the chill of his fridge
at the scene of his drink
Like a tasteful bridge
across from his sink.

Ciderman, Ciderman,
Friendly grocery store Ciderman
Beer and wine
He's ignored.
Fiber is his reward

To him, life is a great big juice bar
Wherever there's a fruit bar
You'll find the Ciderman.

The original:


What Bugs Me Most? Three Books on Some Favorite Insects

Insects: Revised and Updated (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

Spiders and Their Kin (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

Butterflies and Moths (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

Few books have given me more pleasure than these three. Boyhood is wrapped up in them, especially "Spiders" and "Butterflies and Moths" The prairie and creek near where I grew up, as well as a small farm, and the woods just two miles to the southeast, left me with plenty of opportunity catch butterflies, watch daddy long legs, and wonder if the walking stick would really walk.

Not exhaustive, but these guides each covered what I was likely to see. At eight years old, this offered me more than enough information.

The pages are crisp with age. It has been 25 or more years since they have seen the light of day, but when treasure hunting in my old bedroom, they shot out at me into my hands. I can't stop smiling when I see them, thinking of all the evenings in my bedroom reading, and the days playing, hoping to apply this vast knowledge of insects and spiders.

The prairie and farm I used to frequent have been subdivided. You might still see my initials carved in the concrete curb at 125th Street if it hasn't worn away where the old Pruim Farm connected just east of Moody Avenue, where my neighborhood began.

The woods are still there, but many of the insects and fauna are gone. The grand burnt orange monarchs are less common, just as the milkweed their larva feed on has all but disappeared. Cabbage moths are hard to find because no one is growing cabbage; backyard gardening has been replaced by trips to hip grocery stores. A good looking orb spider's web can be found here and there (mostly araneus'), but the cool looking black and yellow argiopes are nowhere to be found. There are too many brooms sweeping away at their exquisite homes.

Now, I'm wondering what I can find in my backyard here.

(see my review of a similar book on reptiles)

Insects: Revised and Updated (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

Spiders and Their Kin (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)

Butterflies and Moths (A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press)


Officially Hitting 10K Worth of Love

And there you have it. As I mentioned last week, this was coming. On August 14, this came to pass. It is up to 10,011 at the moment, and will take well over 11 years to see 20,000 votes.

Watch the progress.


Judge Sharon Keller's Incompetence Denies Appeal of Man Killed by the State

I make it no secret that I think the death penalty is awful. Innocent men are sometimes killed. There is racial and economic disparity among those given death as opposed to life sentences. No evidence has proven killing a murderer deters the next criminal.

I worked with inmates for many years, and met some very ugly characters. Some I hope never see the light of day. I can only imagine what the victim's family feels. Those who feel revenge, however, satisfy nothing with their blood thirst. Revenge executions are ethically no different than the honor killings found in the Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, our government is spineless about their own involvement. They shield those doing the killing from the certainty they personally caused another man's death. Back in the day when we would shoot the men, one marksman received blanks, opening the door for doubt. I believe the judge, or governor, should be the one pulling whatever lever transmits the poison into the condemned man, without some post-modern, separated from reality factor tossed in.

Today, I read that one judge has no guts at all. She feared an appeal. Her name is Sharon Keller, pictured on the left. She denied a death row inmate an appeal not because of some legal issue, but because she wanted to close up court. She is blaming her mistakes on a communication break down, but, whatever the reason, I hope she loses her position. Her incompetence shows she is not fit to judge. The blood of Michael Wayne Richard, who may or may not have been guilty, is on her hands.

I suppose she'll go into private practice if she is found guilty of being a blood thirsty judge without scruples. If she is, in fact, guilty of the professional misconduct, I hope she personally apologizes to the family of Mr. Richard, and offers financial restitution. It will not be enough, but, if guilty, she needs to see the pain in the eyes of the one who was murdered by whomever pulled the lever.


A Horsefly Meets His End (a poem) (repost with updated audio)

A Horsefly Meets His End
Anthony Trendl

Ne'er met a horsefly that I think I liked.
Nor such a horsefly was e'er so fond of me.
Buzz, he would, swat I would,
and thus our dance would be.
'Round the barn, 'round the pond
Past a broken shed--
Why is this fly so fond of me?
Not a question now,
I've swatted, and the fly is dead.

hear me read this poem, complete with a genuine imitation horsefly

first appeared January 29, 2008


Nine Votes to 10,000: An Amazon Reviewer Hits a Milestone

In March of 2008, I reported I had 10,000 votes. Some of those were not positive. Almost 17%, as a matter of fact.

Now, over a year later, these are all my votes. These are for me. I am closing in on the big 10K. At this moment, I am at 9,991 votes. Nine to go. There is still that 17%, but the 82.x% equals 9,991.

It will be unnoticed mostly, except now by any of you reading this blog. Strange to have done this in a vacuum of sorts. This great adventure has garnered me free books and products, a lawsuit, and a nice batch of online friends I see periodically, themselves reviewers like me. A few new friends came through the authors and musicians themselves, those who saw that my response to what they had written is their view as well. Those friends are dear people now, with ideas I embrace or heartily disagree with, but all are bright and articulate, with colorful, intelligent personalities.

Reviewing now, all these years after I started, is more difficult. I take more time choosing what to review, and then, in the writing of the review. Other things fight for my time now, and my reading/reviewing pace has dropped.

The professional reviewing community is undecided about us. Some love the average man's views, and others prefer that only elites write reviews. A modern, water down Jim Crow thing. We who review as I do largely ignore it all.

What choice have we got? We aren't spending our days in tall New York towers cranking out high priced reviews for book review magazines that sit unread in libraries. A few of us send review to the local newspaper or, as I do, post them on a blog or website, but, on the whole, we make no money from it.

Click through the link below, and read a few. Read hundreds if you have the time. Let me encourage you to vote, and vote often. These times in America need more people hitting the polls. And, thanks for indulging me.

Anthony Trendl's reviews on Amazon.com


Weight Loss Campaign 2009: Dropping 15 Pounds

Have you seen me? I have added 31% to my college weight. Gained 32 lbs. Gained more, but lost some, leaving me today at 140 lbs., looking to lose 15 lbs.

This issue has been discussed in my running blog, but it involves all of my life. Weight loss is a new thing to me, and my expectations are that it will take two years to get there. My goal, however, is to lose five lbs by August 1, and all 15 by May 1. This is not something I can control outside of eating smarter and exercising more, but it is vaguely reasonable to think it could happen.

Why 15?n Isn't 125 too thin? No. I'm a thin guy with a fatty exterior. When at my fittest, I was 107 lbs. Most of what I have gained is fat. I needed some of that fat, but not all. 125 is an arbitrary number, but one that makes sense.

Good friend David Dane, passionate about many things, is determined to lose weight. He has seen success, yet the struggle continues as his desire for sweets often gets the better of him (as he describes in his weight loss blog). Other friends have gotten on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, but all have quit, unwilling to commit long-term to the discipline. The wife of one friend has returned to it recently with vigor, and is seeing results.

I'm no a WW guy. While I appreciate the concept, I know I will not keep records of what I eat. Instead, I need to follow the principle.

David's principle is 'Eat less food.' This equals fewer calories. He isn't too worried about what he eats, only how much. I get that, but don't fully agree. Different foods affect us differently. I'm doing what I can to knock out processed sugar.

WW is about less food, but wants the eater to watch which foods are going down the hatch. I get this completely, but am too picky of an eater to follow this plan.

Forget anti-carb and anti-meat diets. Too much controversy, and long-term, steak needs to be on my plate next to the spaghetti. I'm reducing red meat, and watching my total pasta quantity for now. Portion control.

Water intake is increasing too. That's just good sense. Will it help me lose weight? No idea. It can't hurt.

David is newly on the running plan, trying to get in a couple miles a few times a week. Eventually, if his knees hold out, he should notice improvement, but so far, just recognizes pain.

I'm running too. After a long layoff, I am inching my miles up. I am hoping to get my mileage up to 50 miles a week, but am at 20/week now. With 50, I'll be burning something like 5,000 calories each week, which alone will drop a few lbs.

What will happen? Got me. Do the right things, and right things will result. That's not about karma, but about cause:effect. Eat right, exercise right, and, eventually, my body will accept this. Simple as that.


Report: The Great Facebook Coffee Experiment 1

For 1.5 hours, we had a Coffee Summit. No press was there to take pictures and ask who drank red or blue coffee, and who drank the Nescafe. At 9:00 pm, the doors closed, and some of us continued the discussion.

I have no amazing pronouncements about all of this. It wasn't that structured to provide 'data' as one might expect in a true experiment.
  1. Dave (pictured in red), a guy I ran with in the 1980s on a track club. Saw him last 25 years ago. He went from a GED to PhD (and two MAs) since then.
  2. Kati, Hungarian woman (know through my wife).
  3. Craig, Kati's husband. I see Kati/Craig semi-frequently. Craig owns a Chicago-area retail and residential painting business.
  4. John, my college roommate. Saw him last two-three years ago.
  5. Dan, John's friend whose postings I have watched recently. Met for first time tonight.
  6. Frank, an artist I know from related art circles. I see him every few months.
  7. My wife
  8. Myself
  9. Stacy, who I know from church, stopped by briefly to say hello.
  10. Phil, who I knew in grad school, had car trouble, and came by at the end. He might have just been nearby serendipitously, or intentionally stopped by. Saw him last four years ago. maybe more, maybe less. Not sure.
10 in all. 2.77% of 325 of my Facebook friends (9/325). Some discrepancy exists between various parts of my account suggest I have as many as 395 friends.

Tough night, especially as many of my church going ones have Bible studies and things, plus, parents have family activities. One person who planned to be there had a death in the family, another person was sick, and many friends live too far.

I had a thing or two planned (minor ice breaker/introduction questions), but dropped even my small agenda noticing the group was small, requiring no ice breakers. Conversation was fun and friendly, spanning art, baseball, soccer, hiking, language acquisition, stand-up comedy (Dave has played many of the Chicago clubs).

It was fun. I went there vaguely nervous, not knowing who would be there. Because I invited everyone, this included some people who might find themselves very different from each other. That might have been a story I might not want to tell.

A few people left with e-mail addresses, glad to connect again later. Met as strangers, left as friends.

It was a good number. At some point, it would be big enough to cause real organization. I was armed only with a Sharpie and name tags, plus a few conversational tools. I never used any of that.

If it hit 25 or more, then I go from participant to host, at which point I will have wished I had a plan B for location.

Small group theory suggests groups are from 3-21, but at 7, they start breaking into subgroups. That happened some, but this group had different overlaps, making integration continual.

I am curious how other invitation methods impact how seriously it would be taken. In this case, I basically only used the Facebook event invitation tool, then promoted it through my status updates, with a final e-mail this afternoon. What if I e-mailed or called the most likely attendees, like those who live close enough? What difference would Saturday make? Morning, noon, night?

Someone suggested this was narcissistic, and that I should not do it. Whether it was narcissistic or not, I have no idea. I saw it as no different, ultimately, as inviting friends to my home, or a couple guys from Boston to have a beer. Only, my home is too small, and, to those I have not met in person before, that could be intimidating. A cafe seemed the easiest, most welcoming thing, and I knew the place and the owner.

As experiments go, I learned some things about social networking. This was by no means a serious experiment with a hypothesis and scientific method, but it had purpose and goals. I'll try it again in six months or whenever, on a weekend, with much more advance notice.


Fresh, Invigorating Musical Poetry Invokes Neruda, Donne, Kerouac: Raven Songs 101 review

Raven Songs 101
Fresh, Invigorating Musical Poetry Invokes Neruda, Donne, Kerouac

Somewhere between songs and spoken word lands the Kevin Max/Adrian Belew project "Raven Songs 101". I struggled in considering how to describe this, since it hits several categories musically, stylistically and lyrically. Somehow, it ties together.

Gutsy, and not perfect, it goes to places avoiding genres, and shows that experimentation in music is a long way from dead. Not every allusion or symbol is clear, but there is a visceral challenge developed here worthy of exploration.

There is no point comparing this to dc Talk's work, as it is similar only in that Max brings the same genuine pursuit of God and art. Otherwise, there are only glimpses of hip-hop and pop rock. It does not contradict dc Talk's core message, but puts an entirely different voice and angle to it.

Listeners expecting Jack Kerouac will find something akin in the midst of something being extraordinarily different. The music written not just played behind the piece, but as an integral part. With Kerouac, jazz provided texture and tone. With Max/Belew, it is essentially unified with the lyrics. Unlike a song, the lyrics are not sung so much as they are presented as a variety of instruments.

The poetry is a cross between free verse modernism and Pablo Neruda, with a strong current of metaphysical poet John Donne in its realist-sensual-faith driven descriptions.

Like Kerouac, Max finds internal vowel rhymes, and with those, a natural cadence, as in the eponymously named cut: "I was spurned and churned, nocturnal immersions in the baptism of your love."

Spoken word poetry is often associated today with memoirists like Maya Angelou, but those listeners will be disappointed. Max's poetry deals heavily with self introspectively, as in the pulse-beat metronymic, rhythmic 'Raising Cain':

I seize the light and draw it down,
and I cover it up with a blanket of foam
I break the bond that held us.
I curse the ground and live in caves.
I speak to the dead in the silence of shame.
I break the back that made us.
I drive the nails and draw the sword.
I do this even though I know the word.

This is a confession of brokenness and willingness, as opposed to a declaration of defiance or victory.

The music itself reminds me of the Art of Noise, Bjork, and even some industrial techno and punk. Some club beats, ambient guitar, Africanesque-jazz drums line the songs in a moody, yet understated expression.

Vocal layers add to the intrigue, as does some interesting mixing of stereo (especially in 'River'). Culturally and artistically relevant, Max shows a broad knowledge of the world outside of Nashville. Max does not deny he is part of the greater musical world, referring diversely to Frank Sinatra, Gene Simmons, Elvis, Nina Simone, the Sex Pistols and others in the hypnotic 'Black Leather and a Microphone.'

In the song titled 'Untitled', Max turns on the effects and his voice comes out like a Doctor Who Dalek. It is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones 'Sympathy for the Devil,' with lines like, "I saw the Gestapo alive with desire," and "I saw old Judas hung from the gallows." Unfortunately, in the distortion, it hard to catch the full meaning of the piece. A lyric sheet would be a great tool, but, in downloading an mp3 instead of buying a CD with liner notes loses that.

'And You Tremble At His Feet' has a 1960s coffeehouse coolness to it, but with more depth and sophistication.

In the fog horn imbued 'One', he addresses cynicism as we see the frail humanity declaring Christ. "What you felt was a pinch of realism in a world of cheapened orthodox," seems to call upon on the sensibility of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wants real faith which does not succumb to the lure of Man, but the grace of God.

"It's not the singer. It's the song... There is one valid opinion among the screeching, seething leeches," implies that beyond all the marketing, church camps, falsity found in Christianity, there is still one truth, and one true voice. The truth is still the truth.

'Whalers Tails' is the most standard reading. Unfortunately, it is the least interesting and most cliché. The first two stanzas come across weakly as he sounds like he is reading a poem, rather than performing it. Moody Blues fans might find themselves remembering the mod-psychedelic poem 'Late Lament' spoken at the end of 'Nights in White Satin'. Max redeems 'Untitled' at the end, "I lay in bones in bunched up pieces, and I see the heavens in choked-up freedom."

Expect this to grow on you.

* Time The Fever To A Boil (4:04)
* Untitled (2:26)
* Raising Cain (3:37)
* And You Tremble At His Feet (1:18)
* River (5:07)
* Swing (1:59)
* When The Dawn Comes (1:13)
* Black Leather And A Microphone (3:25)
* One (2:34)
* Raven Song 101 (1:45)
* Whalers Tails (1:58)

I fully recommend "Raven Songs 101" by Kevin Max and Adrian Belew.

Anthony Trendl


The Cool and the Cucumber: Farmers Markets as Function and Form

Ever go to farmer's markets? We do. A necessity to get certain vegetables. Not being a great vegetable eater, I had never really gone before, but certain cherries, peppers that make Hungarian food what it is require the occasional visit. I learned it is cool to go.

In Hungary, farmers sell their stuff in large markets. And people buy in there. More than fruits and vegetables too. Meat. Bread. It is more a general market than the French Market I see in our town.
Here, a French Market takes over a parking lot most Saturday mornings in Spring and Summer. Real farmers sell there, as do a few boutique stores from the area. But it is cool to be there, to be seen there. 'Cool' is not part of my lifestyle lingua franca, so I am smiling at it all.
Pictured here are cherries picked in Michigan a few weeks ago. We needed them, they were cheap, so we did. These are tart cherries, similar to the Balaton cherries found in Hungary (and Michigan, but not in season). Cool? You betcha. Functional? Completely.


Worldview in Writing

Listening to a radio interview of Travis Thrasher, a horror writer who is a Christian: He says that our worldview comes through in our writing.

How about that?

I think this is perhaps more true for the non-professional writer. He does not have the advantage of editing out bias or frailties. There is an honesty, for better and for worse. From the heart to the paper.

What does this mean to me? I blog a lot. I write for a live apart from all of this. I have creative pieces I am trying to market. If I read through the totality of my writing, what is my worldview?



I Invited the World to Have Coffee

This week, I invited everyone, all 325 or so friends on my Facebook account to coffee. So far, 10 maybes, and one committed person. Two of those maybes are just being polite, as they live too far to come. Including me, then, 10 in all may be there. I think, at most, 25 people will be there once everyone reads their e-mail.

Novel idea? I am calling it a Facebook experiment. It is novel, I suppose, but only because of the way we are connecting. I think of it somewhat like a wedding in which there is a really big table, and although few have met, they are all connected by the person at another table. Only this is a coffee shop, and you won't find your drunk uncle singing Frank Sinatra tunes with a gin and tonic accent.

What if My Facebook Friends Got Together?
My friends are a diverse bunch. Off the top of my head, I know there are at least five countries represented, and locally, speakers of several languages. Some are rich, and others are poor.

A few are well-known to a degree (writers and authors, and one particularly famous singer -- you probably heard him on the radio with his old band). Others unknown to but a few. Some keep very tight circles, with just a friend or two, without much family. Runners from my youth and adulthood (no overlap). One runner even held a few world records for a long time.

At least one of my students from my professional tutoring days. Students from Wheaton Academy. Colleagues from a dozen gigs. Artists.

Their opinions on a life are wildly different. One has unbridled joy despite her simple lifestyle. Another has an equal amount of unbridled pessimism, living at at the same economic level. Politically, you name it. I have middle-of-the-roaders, rabid Obama fans, and rabid Palin fans. Some are conservative, others are liberal (politically and lifestyle). Their religions cannot be summed up either. With this many people, you can imagine: practicing and pretending, devoutly for, devoutly against. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, agnostic, pagan, atheist. Some just don't care about any of this, and, for all, they might just be ambivalent, or, by default some version of disinterested agnostic.

Friendship in Era of (In)Tolerance
In an earlier post, I lamented how one person I know could not tolerate a friend's view that mixed marriages were wrong. So, I got to thinking. What about my friends? What are my own intolerances? Somehow, that point was lost in the reading by the person who inspired me to greater thought. Stirred up a hornet's nest and found that my tolerance of another's intolerance was intolerable, and, let's just say I won't be getting a Christmas card this year.

For some, intolerance is a disguise, an excuse to avoid intimacy. Scary stuff, that. Men are known for superficial friendships, talking baseball and politics, but never going deeper. Men aren't the only ones. We are afraid of relationships with people different than us -- just as much as we are afraid of relationships with people exactly like us. I am.

I have a good friend with whom I can argue, and know that we are still friends. He is much more conservative than I am, and will quickly point out how he sees this world. We both agree it is broken, but aren't in accord with the solution. I trust him as my friend, and with confidence know I can express my views. He will remain my friend before and after the conversation. He never makes it, nor takes it, personal. I consider it an honor to know him.

Why I Am Doing This
My general thesis is that my friends...

  1. Are interesting (and many are flat-out exciting).
  2. Miss the range of friends they had in high school.
  3. Miss the depth of friendship they had in college.
  4. Aren't as social as they would like to be.

I want to encourage people just by merely getting together. Some have said this world is less friendly, and I think this is true. I don't know why. I'm not a sociologist. I do see, at least in my little world, people hiding away. A few on my Facebook list have confided they are lonely, and play online games all day. Why not call someone and meet in person? I do that.

I am online more than many, and one of those online places over the years has been a forum for book reviewers for Amazon.com. I have met many here as they traveled through, and when a large group us rented a room in the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York City. I cannot begin to tell you the joy I felt meeting my friends in person. Our common interests were a glue that drew us together, even though our lives often couldn't be more different.

I believe we live isolated lives that do not need to be, slowly deteriorating our sense of what defines relationship.

Our lives become theories, not realities. Our reality is some postmodern thing. We blame society, or lifestyle, but some of my most isolated friends are not overworked. They are under-relational. It is a funny thing too, as I ask around. The answer to these kinds of concerns is, "We are insulated. We never go visit people," followed by the admittance that they themselves never take initiative.

One friend recently met a group of fellow online players. They met at a central location in St. Louis and had a fabulous time. This is what should happen.

When I taught in a jail in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I noticed a peculiar thing: Late at night, at, say, 2:00 am, we all see the same thing: A ceiling dim, fuzzy in the half light of night and the need to sleep. At 2:00 am, the worst of humankind, the most noble, the beautiful and the ugly all encounter themselves for what they are. Be it lonely, content, joyful or beleaguered all look deep inside.

At 2:00 am, all men are equal.

I am not immune to any of this. I have had a rough few months. There's no need to labor into a pity party because all is well, but, content or not, I have suffered a few bruises directly, or watching others deal with some hard things around me.

On the whole though, I am hopeful. I don't see this life as darkly as a few others I know. You know the sort. They can find an excuse to pinch themselves just so that anything good can be seen in a more cynical light.

Meanwhile, my world is tremendously diverse. I don't know how this happened, but I look back at the adventures in my life, and it is a series of intertwining colorful junctures into some exciting lives and stories. It still is. You wouldn't know this to see me, or to look at any single glimpse, but the rich cavalcade of it all amuses me, a guy living with his wife in a small suburban apartment. No kids. No dog. I want to share the mundane and the exciting.

What Will It Come To?
Will I be sitting alone, reading a book, watching the door, wishing someone, anyone would answer my invitation? Or will it be an amazing evening of connecting? Look back here next week for my update.

Have you ever met your online friends? How did it go?


Completely Kerouac: Searching for America: Review of On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road

Few books are written fully in the writer's voice. Often, the story moves the voice this way or that, or a character demands a tone somewhat different than the real person writing. Not Jack Kerouac in "On the Road." I have heard enough clips and interviews that I can only hear Jack reading it. Not 'Kerouac'. Jack. The book, and the author through it, is that intimate. He is Sal Paradise.

Did everything happen as Sal tells it? Who can say? I doubt it, but Jack believed it could have happened, and for the sake of me believing the book, that's enough.

Like any road book, this is a collection of adventures. What distinguishes it is the period in which its written. It captures a slice of America and Americana unique in style to the late 1950s and early 1960s. A big revolution was coming, but no one saw it coming. Sal tells about the beginning, before it was the beginning.

The quest is bigger than any book can capture. It uses a lot of coming of age imagery, as well as pushing the limits of that age. The trip is east to west, symbolic of America's own quest toward a secularized Manifest Destiny.

The lore of the book, like how it was written in a furious rush, can be enough to be interested, but a few pages into it, you will discover this is much more than a curious novel written in an era to be forgotten in the next. This is a classic in the making.

To gain a taste of Jack Kerouac's poetry and cadence in his prose:
"So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? The evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty."

I fully recommend "On the Road," by Jack Kerouac.

Anthony Trendl


Phil Driscoll Plays Amazing Grace on Trumpet

A great video of trumpet player Phil Driscoll performing Amazing Grace.

Know Your Lizards, Turtles and Snakes: Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification (Golden Field Guide from St. Martin's Press) review

Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification (Golden Field Guide from St. Martin's Press)

"Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification" by Hobart Smith is what I have read for years. A lifelong novice, but curious follower of herpetology, I have used this field guide to identify geckos, skinks, snakes, turtles, terrapins, tortoises and more.

Although I live in the northern Midwest, we still have a few things crawling around. I first had a copy of a much earlier edition when I was a child. We lived on the then-edge of the suburbs, with woods and creeks close by, and this became a useful book, along with a guide for amphibians, spiders and butterflies.

Each animal is described by family, subfamily, species and subspecies, with color-coded maps telling the reader where it can be found. A brief overview of each family provides a few lifestyle facts. Color drawings for every species accompany the description, with details like "2 1/4 in. (58 mm) snout to vent" (Texas Banded Gecko).

A section at the end (20 pp) explains general reptile biology, distribution, scaling, and reproduction.

If the random snake slithers through your lawn, "Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification" is the book to help you sort out just what kind it is.

I fully recommend this book.

Anthony Trendl


What's Your Litmus Test for Friendship?

A good friend posed the hard issue: Could she be friends with a Christian who holds the belief that mixed-race marriages are wrong? She says no, and dumped that friendship on that basis alone.

Since something like 75% of America considers themselves Christians, that would make things challenging. If I went down my list of ideologies I thought were intolerable, I would be stuck lonely, wishing I could even avoid myself (with whom I disagree most often). If sinlessness is the arbiter, then I dare not pick my friends this way.

For me, I expect Christians to struggle with sin. We go into this whole thing pretty much in tune with the fact that we sin. We get it, Catholics, Protestant both get this. Naturally, people disagree with what counts as sin. Racism is a bad thing, there is no doubt, but it is just one on a long list of egregious grievances. Which sin is worse in the eyes of God?

Grading sins is easy. We like some more than others. Some are fashionably accepted as tolerable (or even nudge-nudge OK), while others are despicable unacceptable.

Pick your favorite? Drunkenness? Prostitution? Divorce? Stealing? Lying? Racism? Abortion? You get the idea. The list can go a long way before exhaustion.

Jesus Christ Himself famously loved the worst of sinners. He ate at their homes.

I considered my friends. I know many, many people who have strong views I consider contrary to God's plan. Some are Christians. Some are activists. All are sinners. Just like me.

Got a sin that you put higher in the hierarchy?


When It All Comes Down To It, Gimme Rock

I'm old rocker. No apologies. As I surf through my music tastes, I listen to a wide range of genres regularly. But I was born in 1966. I bought my first LP in 1976. (Wild Cherry, purchased at Dominick's). Favorites are found in all generations for me, but my default is blues-based rock.

I teethed on Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and the 1960s rock library. My dad listened to music from the generation before. During a high school job at a now-closed Palos Heights restaurant, I was introduced to Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers and Gene Vincent. I've learned a little about jazz, blues and classical, and can listen to banjo music all day. I dig it all.

When I think of today's music, I know it isn't all bad. Taking Back Sunday is listenable. But, when it all comes down to it:

  • Gimme Bowie (genuine poetic rock)
  • Gimme Dylan (he ticked off a lot of people when he converted)
  • Gimme Jimi (we need a whole lot more Jimi and a lot less Britney Spears)
  • Gimme Satchmo (passion blew a horn)
  • Gimme Frank (you need more?)
  • Gimme Keaggy (now, lemme tell you, that's a guitar)
  • Gimme Talbot (not rock at all, but I like it)
  • Gimme Norman (white soul)
  • Gimme Mahalia (if you don't know, find out)
  • Gimme Tharp (before there was Christian rock, there was Sister Rosetta Tharp)

Each link is a YouTube video. Click around and have fun. What's your music path?


Evening Writing

Late in the evening, I often begin my best writing. It is quiet, and my mind is at rest. There is a settling of all things.

No cars are coming by on Ramblewood Drive. COD students are not walking to school. The phone never rings. Birds aren't singing. Just quiet.

Nothing is in front of me, like an appointment or some errands needing taking care of. These things are silent too.

This is when my writing is often best. I can linger on a word, confident nothing will interrupt me.

Myself -- I am slightly tired, and so, internal distractions from my favorite thorn do not bother me either. It is when all is at respite, I hear the conversation of ideas. During the day, the conversation is still there, but is cluttered out by the maintenance of the day. This is as much a reprieve emotionally as it is a function of production.

If an idea comes about, I will cater its cause, and work until I can no longer shrug off sleep. Bad ideas will mix in with the good, but I can sort all of this out in the morning.

Nights are gentle. For Robert Frost, it intoned a sad, melancholic time.

Acquainted with the Night
by: Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

From "New Hampshire", 1923
I remembering understanding this poem best when I was younger. There were days I would spend hours talking with a friend, then walking two miles back. It was a misty walk, with dew on the grass, cool, with an evening fog blowing in off the Cal-Sag Channel (Calumet-Saganashkee Channel for those who care.). It could have been creepy if a moor was involved, but for me, there was just a tincture of peace matched by an equal amount of sadness. Childhood ends, and I knew it would.

From my friend's house, I would walk through the neighborhood, along Central Ave at Conkey Woods, then cut over at Bob's Citgo, and follow 127th to my street. As a runner, then, two miles was nothing if I ran, but I walked slowly then (before I learned the hurried, never talk to strangers commuter walk in Chicago).

In Bloomington, IL
Later, in college, I learned the art of porch reading. I found an old chair on the porch at the house at Linden and Poplar (a block from the Old Rt 66). I leaned back against a broken refrigerator under a dim light bright enough for a few hours of reading and to attract moths my landlord's kitten would seduce into lunch. I was a private tutor then, and this was how I kept up with my students' reading list. Linden was a mildly busy road then, leading north into Hudson, but quiet enough as I played Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby tapes as I flipped through hundreds of pages of "Treasure Island," "The Island of the Blue Dolphins," and other such junior high school classics.

A few years before, I lived across from Illinois Wesleyan University in the basement of a dilapidated house on Center Street, the northbound part of Rt. 51. The landlord lived an hour south in Springfield and so repairs rarely happened. A constant stench of humidity and mold would waft through if the windows would open for a breeze. This was before my first car, so to escape, I would wander south to downtown Bloomington, and the east on Washington. Bloomington carries the scent of corn and soy in July, and I'd end up in a park, or sitting on the stairs of the Old Courthouse watching policeman and late shifters go by. Sometimes, I would see an old friend and we'd sit together and talk about hopeful days ahead.

Now, in the evening, I am in these places whenever I like. I am anywhere the mood or poem suits. Imagination has been a friend to me all my life, and the quiet of the night helps get me wherever I need to be. Childhood has ended, but I walk Central Avenue or Rt. 51 any night I need.

These days, I can indulge. My situation provides the freedom to write late at night, so I will. The morning can tolerate me getting up late (8:00 am is late). My writing list is long, from poems and short stories to blogs to professional writing to book reviews. Even longer is the need to edit existing pieces into submittable form.

It is a good life.