“just in time”

After completing the first draft of my book, “A Gift…Only Borrowed”, I made the mistake of doing a word search in the Navigation Pane that is available on Microsoft Word.

Apparently, I liked the word ‘Just’ a lot.  When I first looked at my original manuscript, I learned that I had used that word 182 times!!  That may have been just too many times, I guess.

When you write one chapter at a time and don’t go back and check what you had written a few days or weeks ago, you don’t realize just how many times you used a specific word or phrase.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word ‘Just’ means: “Having a basis in or conforming to a fact of reason.”  Also, “Conforming to a standard of correctness (Proper).  Additionally, ‘Just’ could mean: “Conforming or behaving according to what is morally right and fair, or what is righteous, deserved, or lawful.”  If used as an adverb: “Exactly, Precisely, Barely, Immediately, Directly, Quiet, Perhaps, Possibly, Almost.”

After reading Stephen King’s book on writing, one of his first clues to success is to put the story down for a couple of weeks, return to it and take out 20%.  You probably don’t need all the extra text, and it adds nothing to the story, plot, or journal. Unless your writing an article for a medical journal, or perhaps instructions for anything you purchased from IKEA, you probably have a little too much text.

So, after coming back to read the final version, I realized I liked the word ‘Just’ a little too often.  Reading through what I thought was my final version and getting my book ready for publication, I used the Navigation Pane in the Word software, and found every time and everywhere the word ‘just’ popped up.  Word Navigation will highlight in yellow everywhere you used a particular word or phrase in your text.

I decided I need to make some subtle and not so subtle changes in my story of 4,000 words.  I eliminated the word just or found an appropriate synonyms to use.  Mostly, I just simply removed it and it didn’t affect the story at all.

After making those changes, I still used the word ‘Just’ 82 times, but it seemed more readable and concise.  I stumbled onto the portion of the Microsoft Word software about that tool, but boy, what a find.  Once I finished working the story with a more reasonable use of the word ‘Just’, I also looked for words or phrases.  For example: much of my story takes place within the confines of Columbus Children’s Hospital, most notably, in “Ward 2 Tower South” of Columbus Children’s Hospital.

I found I could make changes to using that phrase so often.  Sometimes it makes sense to be as specific as needed, but not every time.

What a great tool Microsoft offers in many of their multiple software programs!!

I was able to fix my problem just in time, or “in the nick of time!”

my best friend’s music

Flipping through YouTube videos, I stumbled upon several folks who had never heard of Bob Seger listening to his music. I loved watching them react while listening to his songs.

I don’t know how anyone could possibly not know about bob Seger and his tremendous library of music, but then I have never listened to a Justin Bieber song either (AND I NEVER WILL!).

But the reactions to the songs were priceless, surprising, and humorous.  I guess growing up in the Detroit area and hearing the music of Seger all my life, well from my teens, I all ready knew of his music’s magic.  And magic is the best word to use.  His story telling in ballads or flat out rock is priceless.

Night Moves, Main Street, Old Time Rock & Roll, Like a Rock, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Rock n Roll Never Forgets, We’ve Got Tonight, Still the Same, and Against the Wind are all classics and should be on everyone’s playlist.  But there are other tremendous songs that don’t get much radio play as they were album cuts that were hidden treasures.  Songs like American Storm, Brave Strangers, Sunspot Baby, The Fire Inside, Roll Me Away, Fire Lake, Shame on the Moon, and need I go on.

But for me, nothing beats the Live Bullet album with great songs like Nutbush City, Turn the Page, Katmandu, Heavy Music, Get Outta Denver, and my all time favorite:  Travlin’ Man/Beautiful Loser.  Every time I listen to that live version of those two songs magically smashed together, it makes my heart beat a little faster and I can’t sit down.  If I’m driving in my car, I can’t turn it up loud enough and can only hope I don’t pass a cop car with his radar on!!

“Sometimes at night, I see their faces, I feel the traces they’ve left on my soul, and those are the memories that make me a wealthy soul”

Standing naked on my front porch

“A Gift…Only Borrowed” – By Kirk Spencer

While you can gain some comfort through your faith, you don’t always get answers to the questions you might be asking.  Sometimes the answers you receive may not fit neatly into what you wanted to hear.  Then again, maybe we are asking the wrong questions.

My other two children, whether they knew it or not, were tremendously helpful during that awful period when my youngest daughter was recovering from her heart surgery. Toddlers can have a strange and direct way of keeping you grounded.  Their needs are usually immediate and came in rather loud.  They can snap you back to reality quickly, usually just when you needed it.  And that was fine with me.  Their wants and needs helped keep me balanced just when I needed it most. When faced with a sick baby at a faraway hospital or “Daddy, I really want fishy crackers with my grilled cheese for lunch.”  

With the tremendous stress coming home every day from the hospital, I usually took the grilled cheese route.  It was much easier and considerably safer, but every bit as important.

I will never forget a conversation coming from the backseat of our car one evening a few years after Lindsay’s passing.  Shawn and Brooke, still very young themselves, were having an innocent discussion which I was trying to hear over the car radio.

Shawn, looking out the rear window and pointing toward the moon, said, “Look, Brooke, see the moon?  That’s where Lindsay lives.”  Through the review mirror, I watched my six-year-old daughter simply nod in agreement. 

I guess death can be an exceedingly difficult concept for little ones to understand – probably most adults as well.  I would never minimize the pain and suffering of losing a child way too soon, I’ve been there.  But maybe we overthink it sometimes. What if my son had it right and death is a little simpler than we make it. 

If you ever find yourself missing a loved one who left before you, occasionally take a glance toward the moon.  It might bring you some comfort, and if you wait a bit, maybe even a small smile to your heart.  You can rest easy.  They are being taken care of well

Writing a personal book can be challenging and even painful at times.  Publishing that book requires a huge commitment and the realization that now, everyone will know that personal story.  While you can read it over and over again, you continually find mistakes:  better ways to phrase a sentence, organize your thoughts clearer, seek better synonyms, and find punctuation errors…but at some point, you just have to let your story go out into the world.  Much like letting one of your children leave home and hoping they will turn out as you imagined. 

I have likened the process of writing and publishing a book to, “Standing on your front porch naked and hoping the neighbors don’t laugh as they drive by.” 

Think about it, every flaw, every scar, every mistake, and every defect will be shared with everyone you know, and everyone you don’t. Yeah, that naked!

But share it you must.  Your story must be told and you can only hope it strikes home with others.  So, don’t be afraid to shed your clothes and allow yourself to be seen naked on your front porch. Not everyone will laugh.  Some will just smile with a caring heart and let you know your story is safe. 

writing a story and publishing a book

Learning how to write!

I think everyone probably has one good book in them, they’re just not confident, curious, patient enough to let it out.  Well, maybe that’s not true, but it was in my case.

A couple of years ago, I picked up a handful of pages I had from years past that were printed on fading white paper with thoughts captured on an old Princess typewriter. When my career took my family to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and after I put my too young ones to bed, I began crashing out thoughts about my third child who had died from heart disease four years earlier.

I was never a good writer.  In fact, I had never really written anything of any importance prior to then.  I wanted to keep some personal memories in a place where I could spend time later remembering on of the strangest passages in my life.  After a couple of evenings, I had about 50 pages of scattered accounts about a time I was still trying to understand and piece together.  I decided I was never going to do anything more with these thoughts, so I put them in a box and shoved them in the top of our spare room closet.

Thirty years later, after retiring, I found that old box, opened it and found those fifty pages and began finishing Lindsay’s story.  I quickly realized I needed some help in getting my story told.  So, I joined a Writer’s Workshop close by in our county’s senior center.

Having no idea how to write a story and not sure how this group could help me, I forged through and began meeting every Wednesday morning.  I formed new friendships with other folks who enjoyed writing and reading.  Boy, did I learn much from these folks, several of whom were retired teachers – a big help! 

I also read some books on the best ways to write and finish a book. There were things like verb tense within a chapter, proper use of punctuation, dangling participles, the correct way to write numbers and dates.  One of the most important parts of our language is when to use “Who” and “That”.  Sentences where the noun is a person, use “Who”.  When the subject is a thing, use “That”. Also, the best ways to use better and complete sentences:

“I called the only person that who could help me learn how to write good well.”

After reading my story, we all spent time critiquing my writing one chapter at a time.  It was fun to learn how to correctly us the English language and write a better story.

One place I was surprised to find writing tips was a book by Stephen King of all people.  The biggest tip he had was, finish your book, walk away for a couple of weeks, come back, read it again, and then take out 20%!  You do not need those words, sentences, chapters, that add nothing to the story.  I call it the “Department of Redundancy Department”

All that time, help, critique, rewriting, spell and grammar check, taking out all the parts that really added nothing to the story, I finished my story and began the process of Self-Publishing a book…something I knew nothing about, and there was way much to learn.

There are two ways to take a manuscript and turn into a published book: the traditional route of giving it to a publishing company and wait and see what they come up with, or the “Do It Yourself” method.  Since I did not have thousands of dollars to spend on something I knew nothing about, I went the Do It Yourself way.

There was much to learn:

  1. eBook vs Print Version or both
  2. Copyright Rules and Protection
  3. How to embed text for printing
  4. Designing a front and back cover
  5. Permission for using someone else’s property, like song titles
  6. Revenue sharing of royalties
  7. Producing an Audio Book Version
  8. Marketing:  Learn how to utilize…

Social Media, Facebook, Amazon, Libraries, Book Stores, Instagram, Google Key Words and Categories, Website hosting and building, Blogging, Drop Caps, Stretching Text, Mirror Pages, Indenting, Freelance providers (editing, cover design, narrator for audio book), Author Profile, Book Backstory, Print on Demand, Utilizing Pinterest.

Well, after a couple years and about a hundred rewrites, I finally have a book on my coffee table, in the hands of family and friends, available on every eBook store, print version on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and soon…an Audio Book on Amazon and iTunes.

“A Gift…Only Borrowed” is the result of several years of writing an especially important story that needed to be told and saved for all time…my family’s journey trying to navigate the death of one of my children.

Mustang mach e ??

2021 Mustang Mach E vs 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet.

I thought I would write some thoughts about the advantages of an electric car that can go from zero to sixty in three seconds, non-polluting engine, new hi-tech toy…no I can’t do it!

Mustangs should breathe oxygen and push out horsepower through an exhaust system you can hear from down the block. There should be a shaker hood scoop that leans over every time you lay into the gas pedal.  There should be four on the floor Hurst shifter with a clutch that can will leave tire marks on the pavement at every traffic light or drag strip.

Come on Ford – quick kidding me or trying to tantalize me.  Mustangs should rumble and growl, not look like your wife’s grocery shopping car or the waiting in the car rider lane picking up your kids from school.

NO COMPARISON !!

growing up fast

Growing up fast in the Detroit Suburbs

1967 finally arrived, and not a minute too soon.  That was the year I began my driver’s ed.  Back then, the public schools in Michigan allowed teachers to teach driver’s education in the summertime.  I could not wait that long, so my parents paid for my initial time behind the wheel.

My first experience behind the wheel was my mom letting me drive our Ford Galaxy Station Wagon complete with rear facing back seats around our small town.  A boat to say the least, but I learned everything from staying between the lines, obeying the speed limits, and that long forgotten challenge of parallel parking…that hardest requirement to get past the BMV driver’s test ever.  Do they still even require that outdated task??

My private instruction required learning to drive three different styles of vehicles.  The first, a very normal and bland Pontiac Tempest, then a station wagon (I still don’t know why!), and finally a manual transmission coupe.  Well, back in 1967, the Pontiac Tempest that came with a stick shift was really a GTO.  So, when I pulled up behind a tractor pulling a trailer stuffed high with bales of wheat on a rural back road with the triangle caution sign prominently displayed on the rear of the wagon, my instructor asked me, “What does that sign mean?”

I promptly replied, “Pass it!”  I crushed the clutch down with my left foot, crashed the Hurst shifter back down into 1st gear, popped the clutch.  When the tach red-lined, I power shifted into second.  Within moments we were nearing 60 mph and as readied my hand for third gear, I saw total terror in the eyes of my instructor.

I decided to gently slide the transmission into forth gear and slow back down to the posted speed limit and let the man sitting next to me close his eyes, and he probably lifted a desperate prayer.  I don’t think the other student sitting in the back seat ever opened his eyes for the duration of the trip!

I was so excited!  Freedom.  Get off my bicycle and make my way onto that dragstrip commonly known in the suburbs of Detroit, as every traffic light!  My high school was literally a Mecam Action in real time.  There were muscle cars from every major car manufacturer just impatiently waiting for school to dismiss and head out to the parking lot to find their over horse-powered cars.  Quickly, all those testosterone filled teenage boys started up those thumping engines, pushed down on the clutch, slid their Hurst shifters into 1st gear and waiting in line to pull out onto 6-mile road and drop the accelerator. 

The line up of muscle cars ranged from overpowered pony cars to those slightly bigger cars that our moms used to drive to the grocery store with huge engines sucking in air from 4-barrel carburetors.

That list included but was not limited to:

  • Chevy Nova SS 396
  • Chevelle SS 396 and 454
  • Camaro SS/RS 327/396 and Z-28
  • Corvettes with everything from 327 to 427
  • Dodge Chargers 440 6-packs
  • Dodge Super Bee
  • Hemi Dodge Challengers
  • Road Runners with the standard 383, 440 6-packs, or the legendary optional 426 Hemi
  • Hemi Cudas
  • 340 Cudas and Dusters
  • Pontiac Firebirds
  • Olds 442
  • Even the AMC Javelin
  • And the first real muscle car – the 1966 Pontiac GTO

Since my dad worked for the Ford Motor Company, my personal favorite was the Mustang, which came in various forms.  The 1968 fastback equipped with a 390 cubic inch V-8 with a massive 4-barrel carburetor, the Boss 302, and my first car – the mighty 1969 428 SCJ Mach 1.

While the Big Three automobile makers have recently realized that all those kids growing up back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, could know afford insurance again, they upped the ante (and retails) and finally began producing those pony cars with more horsepower than probably necessary.  Yes, there are overpowered Mustangs, Challengers, and Camaros back in dealers’ showrooms, but it’s just not the same! 

The newer  generations kind of resemble their older sisters from the heyday of muscle cars, are better built, much faster, have better gas mileage, provide better handling, traded in their 4-barrel carburetors for fuel injectors, and are much safer…but it’s just not the same sound rumbling from the exhaust.  And there aren’t many races from every traffic light like the good old days.  Legendary drag racing from light to light on Telegraph Road and Woodward Avenue in Detroit are history today.  Only the annual Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise remains trying desperately to resurrect those good old days, only at a much, too much, slower pace.

Who could have ever thought there might be an eight-gear transmission?  Paddle shifters – are you kidding me?  What about the smell of Polyglas tires burning rubber?  700 horsepower right off the showroom floor with 10 second quarter mile elapsed times standard.  Cars with up to 40 computers on board?

I even saw a Dodge Challenger the other day boasting a Hemi, but with an exterior burgundy color that I can only compare to a Mini-Van he might have bought for his wife to haul around toddlers in car seats!   What was he thinking?  A Dodge Challenger must be bright limelight green, brilliant hemi orange, or yellow lemon twist.  For crying out loud, know your lineage and history man!

For Christ’s sake, next year Ford will release an electric Mustang Mach-E that more resembles a mini SUV to me than a muscle car.  Where will the exhaust pipes get that great rumble.  Where will be exhaust pipes?? 

I don’t know about you, but when I still look at pictures from the muscle car heyday, they look fast standing still.  Unfortunately, I can only watch the Mecam Auto Auction and dream.  Who can afford a half million-dollar Mustang Mach 1 or a 3 million-dollar Plymouth Hemi Cuda?

“God, I miss that high school parking lot!”

country music – changing radio stations

Somewhere in the 1990’s, I grew tired of most of the music playing on pop/rock radio stations.  Other than the occasional oldies played from a time closer to my generation, it was just terrible music coming out.   Having just moved to the Cincinnati area, I hadn’t explored all the local radio stations.  One morning on my way to work, I was stopped at a railroad crossing and decided to scan through the local FM stations.

It didn’t take long until I came across a sound I had not heard before, but the harmonies and lyrics caught my attention.  After the song finished, B-105 came on the air and told my I had just heard Brooks and Dunn singing “That ain’t no way to go”.

I was fascinated and hooked. There was a new genre of music I had only heard about, but the sound reminded of those country/rock groups from the 70’s.  Groups like The Eagles, Poco, Pure Prairie League, Marshall Tucker Band, and one of my local Ohio favorites – McGuffy Lane.  Smooth melodies, great harmonies, honest and simple lyrics of lost loves.

I decided to listen to a couple more songs.  A few that rolled out of the speakers were:  One More Last Chance, What Might Have Been, A Bad Goodbye, and The Song Remembers When.

THEN – some guy with a name I had never heard before began:

Sometimes late at night
I lie awake and watch her sleeping
She’s lost in peaceful dreams
So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark
And the thought crosses my mind
If I never wake up in the morning
Would she ever doubt the way I feel
About her in my heart

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she’s my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face this world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last

I wasn’t sure what a “Garth Brooks” was, but I had to know more.  I immediately pushed re-set button on my radio to that station and ran to Walmart on my lunch to find a CD from that Garth guy!

I was hooked.  The songs took me back to simpler time where music seemed to matter more.  A time where lyrics mattered more.  Back to a time when life was easier and gentler.  Once I looked into this country music thing a little deeper, I found songs that hit closer to home than that noise coming out of pop stations.

Some of the lyrics of country music amazing, simple, honest, fun and REAL:

She came to me one evening
Hot cup of coffee and a smile
In a dress that I was certain
She hadn’t worn in quite a while

Her daddy says he ain’t worth a lick
When it comes to brains, he got the short end of the stick

Ninety miles an hour down a lover’s lane
On a tank of dreams

But that’s just a lot of water
Underneath a bridge I burned
And there’s no use in backtracking
Around corners I have turned
Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when

Cause I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away
And I’ll be okay

Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Yea, we’re two of a kind
Workin’ on a full house

But there’s somethin’ ’bout this time of year
That spins my head around
Takes me back makes me wonder
What she’s doin’ now

Sittin’ on a city park bench, you outta try a split rail fence

Ain’t as much noise and a whole lot more to see

If I said you had a beautiful body
Would you hold it against me

I ain’t as good as I once was,
But I’m as good once as I ever was.

Bubba shot the juke box last night
Said it played a sad song it made him cry

But my heart breakin’
It didn’t make a sound

I sobered up, and I got to thinkin’
Girl you ain’t much fun since I quit drinkin’

Wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told me to

Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself

The queen of my double wide trailer
With the polyester curtains and the redwood deck
Sometimes she runs off and I’ve gotta’ trail her
Dang her black heart and her pretty red neck

Man, it’s not my day tonight

Then, there are the titles of Country Music that are hysterical:

I’m much too young to feel this damn old

This killin’ time is killin’ me

Ain’t going down ’til the sun comes up.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys

It ain’t age that makes me look this way it ain’t the years boy it’s the miles

Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

Don’t you know he ain’t worth missing

Yeah, I wish somehow, I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

Don’t all the girls get prettier after closing time

I’d trade all of my tomorrows for just one yesterday

Man, I feel like a woman

I’m gonna rock this country

My baby’s gotten good at goodbye

Some girls don’t like boys like me, ah, but some girls do

Don’t rock the juke box

This learning to live again is killing me

He stopped loving her today

How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away?

You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too

Keep Forgetting’ That I Forgot About You 

I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Just Like Having You Around

Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?

You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly

She’s Actin’ Single and I’m Drinkin’ Doubles.

Sleeping single in a double bed

If You Don’t Leave Me Alone, I’ll Go and Find Someone Else Who Will

If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?

My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, And I Sure Do Miss Him

We Used to Just Kiss on the Lips, but Now It’s All Over

I Bought the Boots That Just Walked Out on Me

And, It’s up against the wall you redneck mothers

A bad goodbye

And then, this guy named Garth Brooks hit directly deep into my heart:

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have to miss the dance

With song titles and lyrics like these (and too many more to name), how could you not related and enjoy this music.  I am sorry to say that since somewhere around the mid-2000’s, my love has waned from this genre.  The singers pretty much sound the same and the songs lack imagination and many artists have lost track with what brought country music to it’s glory.

Oh, there are those that hold onto the roots of country music, and I hear all the time that country music has been evolving for decades.  Maybe it has, but not to my liking.

So, thanks to YouTube and Amazon Prime Music, I can build playlists that are to my liking!

Holy week – my time to mourn

Holy Week – 2020

My baby girl passed away on the Monday, April 5th, 1982, right after Palm Sunday.  Her death, funeral visitation, and burial happed before Easter.  

I have to think carefully, or be reminded by my wife, as to the actual anniversary of her passing that Monday afternoon at Columbus Children’s Hospital so long ago. It was a very cold and snowy few days in Columbus, Ohio that week.  The snow kept falling everyday and dropped a couple of inches that Monday.  Three days later, as I helped shovel the dirt from around her grave site, huge snowflakes fell gently all around me. I don’t know why, but after a very white winter, it finally stopped snowing Easter Sunday just a few days after we buried her.  It was a fitting end because it snowed the day she came into this world and the day she left.

As I said, I have a difficult time remembering the actual date my little girl left my arms.  Maybe it’s my advancing years, but I really believe it is etched in my brain and heart as the Monday after Palm Sunday.  So, that is the time I remember her passing and allow myself to stand a little closer to my grief.  Holy Week.

As most Christians know, Easter Sunday doesn’t fall on the same date in spring each year.  So, maybe you can give me a little latitude and understanding as to why the actual date becomes a little fuzzier each year.  It’s not that I don’t try to hold her close as each year passes, I just get a little confused as to the exact date.

It turns out that Palm Sunday has fallen on April 4th only two times over the past 38 years and subsequently, Easter Sunday on April 11th:  1993 and 2004.  That means, 36 times I have been wrong about morning the death of my youngest child.  To me, it’s always been Holy Week and while the date moves every year, my heart does not.  She died on the Monday after Palm Sunday, we buried her on Maundy Thursday, and the rest of my family dressed up for Easter Sunday.

It also must be noted that since I celebrate, honor her life, and morn her death on a different date each year, I also get to do that alone.  I don’t mind really.  It is a precious time spent by myself and I’m okay with that.  I was a young father trying to make sense of a strange and difficult time in his life as he tried to navigate himself and his family through a ridiculous passage in his life.  A week that only I can appreciate and bring back the clarity to a very lonely week, oddly surrounded by friends, family and strangers standing nearby.

This past Saturday, my wife and I went to visit our baby girl’s grave on April 4th, the day before the anniversary of her death.  We had to go on Saturday because the cemetery was oddly closed on Sunday.  I don’t know if that was their normal schedule or because the Coronavirus had forced them to shutter like the rest of the world.

The visit this time will be one of the closest weeks that mirror that special week back in 1982.  I’ll hold onto it as best I can.