The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Be Kind

I'm speaking to authors now, but this could equally apply to anyone. Let's be realistic, fellow scribblers. Very few among us (sure, take a moment, wag your finger, and say ... speak for yourself, fellah ... Feel better? Let's move on) are going to hit the big time. The vast majority of us will write in one niche or another for years and make small differences in people's lives, living our passion and making a living. That said, let's be kind to one another. We live in an age where people seem to be determined to dismantle each other with words, tarring reputations, and slinging accusations fast and furious. You find this one the web, you find it on TV, you find it on radio, you find it everywhere. Be different. Be kind. Why, you ask? When everyone else is being mean and delighting in verbal pyrotechnics, why should I hold back? Why shouldn't I crow from the rooftops when another author makes mistakes? Should I not point this out and show my superior research skills? Should I not warn the public against this hack?

No, you shouldn't. Writing is hard. Research is tricky. We are all human and we all are going to make mistakes that end up in print, no matter how hard we try not to. Give other authors grace as a professional courtesy. Do it because it is the kind and humane thing to do. Discovering you've made mistakes in print is extraordinarily painful--even more so when some other author jubulantly declares that you've done so. Better yet, show this kind of grace to other authors because the day will come (oh yes it will, especially if you write for a living) when you need that grace from your fellow authors.

Be kind. It's humane, it's human, and it is entirely countercultural.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Grandparents: Great Gift Idea for Grandchildren

Okay, grandparents, I know it can be difficult searching for a gift for the grandkids. The toys look alien to you (except for a few standards like blocks, Barbies, and Matchbox cars), it's hard to remember what size the rapidly growing grandchildren are currently wearing, and it's a hassle running from store to store or searching through all the different Amazon sites to try to find the perfect gift. Well, I can solve your problem. Click on any of the image from our book Michael and the New Baby, found on the right side of the screen. You will be taken instantly to the publisher's website and the correct page where Michael and the New Baby is available. For under $15 dollars (a significant value in an age when money is tight considering a book may be used over and over again) you'll have a gift for a young grandchild (anywhere from 3 years old through ... oh, let's say ... fourth grade), especially if that grandchild is going to soon be (or has recently become) an older brother or sister. However, that is not a requirement for a child enjoying this adventurous tale which proves that love grows in families to include everyone and many other timely messages. And the illustrations are fun, bringing the story to life in comic book fashion. If you want to know more, click on the heading Why You Need This Book found near the top of this blog on the right. I've given you a lot more detail there. Don't wait until the last minute though. The publisher needs a little time to get your copy to you. Plan ahead ... and the perfect gift is yours!

If you wish to meet the author personally and buy a signed copy of the book for your grandchild (or grandchildren), I'll be at a large book signing event on Saturday, October 2, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. I'll be at the bookshop:

Greetings & Readings
118 Shawan Road
Hunt Valley, MD

Irresistible Revolution Living as an Ordinary Radical Book Review

Shane Claiborne is a member of a Christian movement that has been called the "new monastics." They endeavor to live simply amongst people who are struggling, providing an example of a different and better way of life by living out their Christian faith and helping others. This book provides the background for how Shane got started in this movement. It is filled with compelling stories about how a faith lived daily changed lives all around him. It is well written and worth your time. But rather than go on and on about it, click on the image above and let the author tell you about the book himself. He makes this book review easy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Turning Off the 2009 Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required Light

I own a 2009 Toyota Yaris. I love it ... a lot. But, if you have one and are mystified on how to turn off the darned Maintenance Required light (which only tells you it's time to change the oil ... which isn't covered in the manual by the way), here's how it is done!

  1. Put the key in the ignition and switch the car on (but don't start it). 
  2. Set the trip meter to A, turn off the car again. 
  3. Now, first push in the trip meter button, then turn the ignition key to on. 
  4. The trip meter numbers will turn to dashes, the Maintenance Required light flashes and 5 second later it goes out.* 
Simple things make me happy, especially things that have puzzled me for a while.

To learn how to reset the clock on the Toyota Yaris, see:
Here's how a 4 year old Yaris with 60,000+ miles has held up:

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: 

*Thanks to WikiAnswers for this valuable information.

Freeman's Mind - Episode 1 (Half-Life Machinima)

If you've ever played Half Life, this series is addictive. Accept no substitutes. Enjoy. However, please note, "Freeman's Mind" is not for children. This is for parents once the children have gone to bed ... or single people with a little ... actually A LOT of free time.

Baby Billie Jean - Michael Jackson babies dancing

This made me laugh on a tough day. I hope it does the same for you. Sure, it's a commercial, but it's one of the rare, really clever ones.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Funny Thing Happened in New York City

Family members went to New York City to see a play. They toured 47th Street along Time Square, saw the Hershey Building, and the Letterman studio just beyond the theater. Back in July (when these photos were taken), the mayor proposed that extra dumpsters be lined and filled with water. They would be stationed around the city for people's relief. Filming on the street for "Late Night with David Letterman," Bill Murray took the first plunge in a water filled dumpster. My family caught a bit of the action while wandering by at just the right moment. That night, back home, my wife watched the bit on Letterman that she'd filmed that afternoon. You never know what will happen when you visit the Big Apple. Funny thing, that.

"Hush" Dietrich Bonhoeffer Says ... Or How to Survive the Age of Debate

It seems ever more obvious we are living in an age and culture of debate. The twin arts of listening or conversation have withered on the vine, replaced with snippy comebacks, loud pontifications, shouted accusations, intractable positions, and litigious populations. For example, the other day I was asked my opinion on an area where I have some expertise. Much to my dismay, once the opinion was given, since it didn't agree with the ideas of those who had asked, they immediately attempted to start a debate. I reminded them they had asked for my opinion and insisted I was not interested in debate. They were not interested in listening once their point of view had be challenged. I ended the debate abruptly and left.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has some advice for surviving the age of debate from his book Life Together. Bonhoeffer has plenty of credibility for providing advice on this thorny issue. He was a Christian minister and young seminary professor running an illegal seminary in Nazi Germany. He knew how to navigate difficult waters and created a peaceful community in the midst of atrocity and warfare.

To live more peacefully in community with others, Bonhoeffer suggests:

"Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words." For this, Bonhoeffer references James 3:2, "He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body."

There are benefits to holding one's tongue. Bonhoeffer states:

"When this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the beginning, each individual will make a matchless discovery. He [or she ... you see when Bonhoeffer wrote this his seminary was a men's only organization reflecting the times he lived in] will be able to cease from constantly scrutinizing the other person, judging him [or her], condemning him [or her], putting him [oh, you get the idea] in his particular place where he can gain ascendancy over him and thus doing violence to him as a person. Now he can allow the brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining above his brethren, the richness of God's creative glory."

A few pages later, Bonhoeffer follows this  advice with another sound strategy. He states, "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him."

It seems like a good strategy for surviving the age of debate.

Abraham Lincoln and Bonhoeffer were of the same mind on this matter. Lincoln said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jest Is Best

Back in the Middle Ages, when kings ruled supreme, the only ones who could tell the king when he was about to do something foolish was the court jester. The jester was a well educated "fool" who could open the eyes of king and court with well chosen witicisms, making them laugh as they changed their minds. Tomorrow on the Washington mall ... well, here's hoping two supremely talented court jesters of the air waves can change some minds. Watch, laugh, think.

Protection for Dark Days ... Peaceful Protection

Here in the U.S., we are living in fear-soaked times. The economy is staggering, jobs are scarce, many homes are in foreclosure or "under water" ... with more owed on the house than it is worth, political extremism is on the rise ginning up fear and anger in the streets, and we have scared ourselves silly listening to pontificating pundits telling us how scary the world around us is without ever taking the time to peek out the door and peer around for ourselves to ascertain the truth. As Paul wrote to his readers so long ago, when we are fearful we are likely to be reduced to our lesser selves and lash out as "children of wrath." Rather than stoop to rage and lash out against one group or another (all too often some helpless, hapless minority group whose members cannot defend themselves against our rage ... see how low we can go as children of wrath).

Instead of giving in to fear and stooping to rage, I highly recommend we turn instead to Paul's recommendation in Ephesians 6 and strap on the whole armor of God. What is God's armor? I'll let Paul tell you that. He was a far better writer than I'll ever be:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

Paul was living in extremely dangerous times for a new movement and was facing immanent death as he spread the Gospel among us Gentiles. Christians were the helpless, hapless minority group of the day.

Note that all the components of the armor of God are peaceful. Note that the only weapon in the arsenal of God is the word of God. Described as a Roman short sword, using the sword of the Spirit is close work. You have to get close to others, interacting with them in peaceful ways to use the sword of the Spirit. Note well that the first component of the armor of God is truth. In an age of spun facts and wild invectives, we need the belt of truth more than ever. Second comes shoes that make you ready to move out among others to proclaim words of peace ... not anger, not vitriol, not one-sided "us against the world" rage, but words of peace! Your defense is faith, faith in a loving God who wants the best for you and everyone else, a God who commands all to love one another (love your neighbor as yourself ... and your neighbor is everyone), a God who sends you out into the world because God created us for loving community, not for hiding behind the walls of our homes or the personal barricades we create with all our clever little electronic gadgets. Get out there peacefully and talk reasonably with others. Your helmet is salvation, given to you by the grace of a loving God alone ... which should strengthen your faith if you take that seriously. Finally, your only offensive weapon is the word of God, a word of peace and truth to be spread throughout the globe in all you say and do.

So, in these difficult, dangerous times, God calls you to strap on the whole armor of God, pray powerfully that God's Holy Spirit will guide you and give you words of peace to use, read God's word so you are equipped with truth rather than angry opinion, and head out among the terrified and angry masses as loving soldiers in an army of peace and light, soldiers who by word and deed spread the very best of news: The creator of the universe loves you and wants to walk with you and guide you to a better life here and now ... and for eternity. Spread peace and joy wherever you go.

Excuse me now, I've got peaceful work to do.

May God bless you and protect you as you head out in these dark and difficult days. I will be praying for you, praying that you use your armor well and spread God's love wherever you go. God bless you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

There Are People Behind Those Old Pictures!

With blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we get used to saying just about whatever we please. The electronic posting sites have been called the "Wild West" where restraint is not the name of the game. It's liberating. It is also dangerous for the author who is getting a book published. If you've done a lot of blogging and/or spent a lot of time on social media, rein in the free flying opinions Hoss. The book world is the citified East Coast compared to the e-media's Wild West. People do care what you put in print when it is going to be around a while. So, keep your opinions to yourself. As one policeman of yore used to say on TV, "Just the facts, ma'am." This cautionary note is especially true with photos ... even historical photos.

When Stetson Hats was published, the cover photo used dated from 1925 and showed workers in the Stetson hat blocking room. No one imagined anyone would recognize a person in that old photo. A couple years later, all involved were startled when a letter arrived from a hospitalized older gentleman. He thanked the author and the publisher for using a photo with his father in it. The letter writer had been given the book as a gift and was over the moon about this photo. Now, had the author decided to say something humorous or disparaging about the folks in that photo, the letter would have been far different and might have mentioned lawyers. So, writers, be careful what you say when you are writing a book, especially when writing captions about historical photos. There really are people behind those photos, living people related to those shown in the pictures, people who care very much about what you say concerning their relatives. Tread carefully, use restraint, be respectful. You never know when you too may receive a letter from a relative. Do your best to make sure that letter is a happy one.

By the way, Stetson Hats is available for $39.95 @

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reality Check ... No Demons Here

We're soon going to be hip deep in a new political season. The rhetoric is escalating to a fever pitch and people all along the political spectrum are being demonized. We need to pause for a reality check before someone gets hurt. There are folks out there for whom thinking is a challenge (none reading this, you guys have to be brilliant to stop here) who may be so goaded by the rhetoric that they are driven to violence, seeking to "exorcise" some demon or other they have heard of in political advertising or from the over-paid provacateurs of the airwaves ginning up business for their particular media group.

The other day, I heard one of our public servants from the Republican wing, in a calm tone meant to placate say, "I love America. I love Americans. I just hate Democrats." Hate? That's an awfully strong word to use on law abiding fellow Americans, and a dangerously demonizing one as well. And when did Democrats stop being Americans in your mind, sir? How do you serve all the people in your state if you hate a good many of them?  If I had an example from the Democratic side, I'd use that too ... but it's early and I can't think of one at the moment. But, the campaign ads will start soon and we'll have plenty of real-time examples from both side, more than we can stomach.

 So, here are definitions of liberal, progressive, moderate, and conservative. Consider these "the definitions of reason."


1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.


14. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion.
15. (often initial capital letter ) a member of a liberal party in politics, esp. of the Liberal party in Great Britain.


1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, esp. in political matters: a progressive mayor.
2. making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.
3. characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.
4. (initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to any of the Progressive parties in politics.
5. going forward or onward; passing successively from one member of a series to the next; proceeding step by step.
6. noting or pertaining to a form of taxation in which the rate increases with certain increases in taxable income.
7. of or pertaining to progressive education: progressive schools.
8. Grammar. noting a verb aspect or other verb category that indicates action or state going on at a temporal point of reference.
9. Medicine/Medical. continuously increasing in extent or severity, as a disease.


10. a person who is progressive or who favors progress or reform, esp. in political matters.
11. (initial capital letter ) a member of a Progressive party.


1. of or pertaining to moderates, as in politics or religion. [there are other definitions, but they are off topic] 


6. a person who is moderate in opinion or opposed to extreme views and actions, esp. in politics or religion.
7. (usually initial capital letter ) a member of a political party advocating moderate reform.



1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
4. (often initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
5. (initial capital letter ) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.  


7. a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc.
8. a supporter of conservative political policies.
9. (initial capital letter ) a member of a conservative political party, esp. the Conservative party in Great Britain.

As the political season ratchets up, the invectives fly, patriotism is questioned, and characters are smeared, come back here and read these definitions often. There are no demons here. We're all Americans, despite our disparate views on particular issues. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter the politicians siding themselves with one extreme or the other say ... and in absolute defiance of what the "commentators" of all stripes scream.

This also applies to religion, come to think of it. These terms are often used by different faith groups to mean things that simply aren't in the definitions. Again, there are no demons here.

So, take a deep breath, read the definitions of reason, and head into the political storms of fall with a calm head. Repeat over and over again, "there are no demons here." We'll all get through this together, as Red Green would say.

No demons here ... just people with different ideas

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Celebrating 200 Posts

Following my own advice, J.S. Brooks now celebrates passing the 200 postings mark!

Okay, enough celebrating. Back to the keyboard.

Update September 2012: Since this was first written, blogging has become an early morning routine for me. I give myself 20 minutes to come up with something cogent to say. There are now over 800 posts on J.S. Brooks presents for you to peruse to your heart's content. Some are dated. The earliest posts show me just trying to get the idea of what one blogs about. Since post 200, I've discovered blogs aren't a very good method for selling a book, but they are a good avenue for persuing your own ideas on a wide variety of subjects, which actually attracts more readers. Also, since post 200 I've graduated from seminary and have decided I'm tired of letting the radicals (both Christian and atheist) define my faith for the world. Hence, Good News from Christianity posts, which help me experiment with evangelism while I seek a ministry post as an American Baptist.

Also, since post 200, I've followed my personal enthusiasms. You'll find a few book reviews, some advice for writers and parents, some humor, and a lot of space related articles, as human and robotic space exploration are other passions of mine. I hope you enjoy the posts you find here.

Finally, I've also run across Google+ since post 200, where many like minded people may be found. So, reader, I'm glad you stopped by. I hope you'll check out some of the other posts available. Sorry about the few posts with YouTube clips from sources since deleted from YouTube. I'm learning how to avoid those. I've also discovered posts with personal reflections and insights and useful information (a brief post with instructions on how to turn off a Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required light is the most popular of all ... go figure) are far more popular than any video clip I can offer.

There you have it. Maybe I'll return here at post 1000 and add a few more words. Who knows?

Familiar Phrases First Penned by William Shakespeare

We all know William Shakespeare was an impressive wordsmith. However, did you know that the Bard of Avon also was the first to use ... in print ... a wide range of phrases we take for granted today. Here is a small sampling. For an excellent and much more comprehensive listing, go to:

  • All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice)
  • As good luck would have it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • Bated breath (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Brave new world (The Tempest)
  • Crack of doom (Macbeth)
  • Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war (Julius Caesar)
  • Dead as a doornail (2 Henry VI)
  • Devil incarnate (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)
  • Eaten me out of house and home (2 Henry IV)
  • Elbow room (King John)
  • Faint hearted (I Henry VI)
  • Fancy-free (Midsummer Night's Dream)
  • The game is afoot (I Henry IV)
  • Good riddance (Troilus and Cressida
  • Heart of gold (Henry V)
  • Hoist with his own petard (Hamlet)
  • In a pickle (The Tempest)
  • Infinite space (Hamlet)
  • Jealousy is the green-eyed monster (Othello)
  • Kill with kindness (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Knit brow (The Rape of Lucrece)
  • Laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  • Love is blind (Merchant of Venice)
  • Melted into thin air (The Tempest)
  • Milk of human kindness (Macbeth)
  • Naked truth (Love's Labours Lost)
  • Neither rhyme nor reason (As You Like It)
  • Once more into the breach (Henry V)
  • One fell swoop (Macbeth)
  • Pitched battle (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Play fast and loose (King John)
  • Quality of mercy is not strained (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Seen better days (As You Like It? Timon of Athens?)
  • Star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Tell truth and shame the devil (1 Henry IV)
  • Trippingly on the tongue (Hamlet)
  • Violent delights have violent ends (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
  • Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Yeoman's service (Hamlet)
It's quite a list. There are lots more at the site address given above.

However, to prove that even Billy S. could have a bad day, here's one more:

  • Knock knock! Who's there? (Macbeth)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Relaxation: A Modest Proposal

After a summer working 60+ hour weeks with a full time job and part time internship as a chaplain, a break was long overdue and much needed for sanity's sake (mine and my family's ... they have to live with me after all.) My brother and sister-in-law had the brilliant idea of meeting up in Lewes, Delaware for some beach time. Our two families converged on Lewes on Saturday, August 21, 2010. Our first experience was with the beach along the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was terrific, the waves mild ... a good place for families.

There was one exception to this. The public beach is lined with bars and restaurants and some folks with less restraint on vacation have a tendency to enjoy the booze a bit too much before going to the beach. We ran into a small knot of such folks who make one feel the decline of civilization is at hand as every other word was F-you or f-'in this or that. Well, after a short run of this, some very muscular folk converged upon them and told them this was not allowed. F-you! was the slurred response as the angry trio staggered toward the beach exit. At that point, the muscular fellow who had spoken lifted an until now unseen walkie talkie to his lips and gave a short command. Four other muscular types, one on an ATV converged and headed purposefully up the path toward town that the three drunks had taken. No more was seen of the drunks. The young muscular types returned nonplussed shortly ... the same muscular types I had been rather depressed to see when we arrived at the beach as the contrast between them and my aging self was all too painfully obvious. After this incident, I was much happier to be among them and discovered the beach patrol is quite extensive on the public beach, a beach open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with life guards.

Elaborate sand castle build by beach patrol who allowed small children to run through before high tide removed.
Sunday took us to the Lewes, Delaware (first town in the first state) state park. Out of staters pay $8 for entry and it is well worth it. On the Delaware by, this beach has no wave action to speak of (perfect for small children and their parents), long stretches of shallow water, and no bars anywhere nearby. You can borrow shore bikes to ride through park trails.
Lighthouse ... Lewes, Delaware, state park.

On Delaware Bay in the state park ... calm, shallow water.
After the park, historic Lewes, Delaware, is well worth a visit. Lots of historical buildings, well maintained, to see and many shops and restaurants to visit. Be mindful of your time limits on the metered parking. The meter patrol is active and fine payment boxes are attached to the meters.

Finally, by accident, looking for a restaurant as Saturday evening waned, we ran across the wonderfully, strangely named "Crabby Dick's". I can personally attest that the Crab Fluff (crab cake cooked in beer batter) is fantastic, the adult and kid's menus are ample, paper covers the table and crayons are provided for young and old artists alike, and the double entendres to entertain adults fly fast and furious on the menu. The prices are reasonable, the food fantastic, and the staff very friendly and efficient!

The modest proposal, what is it? Here it is. Get away when you are stressed and overworked, even if it is only for a single day. Go to the right place, and one day (or a day and a half in our case) can feel like a real vacation and you'll go home with your head in the right place to return to work, your spirits lifted, and your body refreshed. Life is too short to spend working all the time ... or chained to a computer blogging.

Well, there you have it. The high tech version of the dread summer vacation slides.
Historical Presbyterian Church and former members

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Speak Convincingly

To speak convincingly, whether before a group, in the media, or when delivering a sermon, there are certain skills that will win listeners over to your side and keep their attention.

When speaking in public, you need to be well prepared. The better prepared you are, the smoother your delivery will be and the more confidence you will project. If you appear or sound nervous or unprepared, your listeners will never hear your message. They will focus merely on how nervous you are, how much you stammer, how often you lose your place. If you are preceived negatively, this is all your listeners will remember. If you project confidence instead, you will be listened to and your message will be remembered.

Speak in a lively manner and with a well modulated voice, varying tempo and pacing regularly. If you speak slowly in a monotone, you will be ignored. Speak quickly and strongly and people are much more likely to listen to you and believe what you are telling them. You may be speaking absolute truth, but if you speak it too slowly, too tentatively, nobody will believe you.

When speaking, make sure to ask questions of your audience or in some way engage them every eight minutes. Television has trained the listening public to expect some sort of break at eight minute intervals. Since you won't be providing commercial breaks, make sure to engage the listeners every eight minutes as they expect. Their attention will be maintained and refreshed.

However, that said, limit your presentations to 20 minutes (approximately) as that is about the extent of the TV trained attention span. The age of multi-hour orations is long past.

Provide very solid, well researched information of use to your listeners. Everyone's time is precious and you should not waste your audience's time or your own.

Finally, and this is sad, loud voices are considered to be telling the truth. Strident voices are believed by many to be the voices of truth and reason, even when they are delivering nothing more than propaganda or provocations they are paid to provide, no matter the consequences.

Take note: all of the pundits on the air today use each and every one of these techniques expertly. Many believe what they say to be the truth, no matter how foolish.

Speakers of truth: use these techniques to provide messages of true value and worth, messages of peace and love, faith and reason.

Listeners: be aware of these techniques and consider whether the skillful orator is using these skill sets to deliver truth or to deliver lies that seem like truth. Today it pays to know the difference.

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: 

There's Nothing New ...

When I wrote "How Not To Be Eaten" I had no idea how many other people were writing on the same subject. Then I stumbled online across:

  1. How Not To Be Eaten by a Duck
  2. How Not To Be Eaten by Aliens
  3. How Not To Be Eaten: The Biology and Chemistry of Arthropod Defenses
  4. How Not To Be Eaten Alive by Message-board Sharks
  5. How Not To Be Eaten by a Thin Cow
And on and on and on. I had no idea this was such a burning topic. So, now added to the list is how not to be eaten by a lion, courtesy of Henry M. Stanley and brought to your attention by myself.

However, in using this title, I was paying homage to the ever popular Monty Python skit, "How Not To Be Seen." I wonder how many of these other authors were doing the same?

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a link to How Not To Be Seen:

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Not To Be Eaten

You can learn a lot from old books. In Explorations and Adventures of Henry M. Stanley, published 1891, on pages 152-154, you may learn how not to be eaten by an angry lion. For this exercise you will need a "clever native" (to quote the narrator directly) who will use a number of dry reeds and other inflammable matter to flush an angry lion out of deep cover. You will also need a panicky hunting party with horses who fire their guns in all directions at first sight of the flushed lion, one member who keeps his [or her I suppose] head, heavy boots, a tame ox, water and eau-de-cologne, a wide-awake hat, a door, and a brave dog. Once you have gathered these essentials, head for the African bush, find your lion, and prepare not to be eaten. I will let the narrator explain.

"In the Jaws of the Infuriated Beast

Quick as thought, the enraged animal left his first intended victim [a member of the party paralyzed by fear who was not firing at said lion, which was preparing to leap at him ... until the narrator fired one shot intended to hit the animal head on but only grazed him] and turned with a ferocious growl upon me. To escape was impossible. I thrust, therefore, no other resource being left me, the muzzle of my own gun into the extended jaws opened to devour me. In a moment the weapon was demolished [see how useful this is ... you can save your gun now, knowing that unloaded its barrel will not stop the lion]. My fate seemed inevitable, when, just at this critical juncture, I was unexpectedly rescued. One of my men fired, and broke the lion's shoulder. He fell, and, taking advantage of this lucky incident, I scampered away at full speed. But my assailant had not yet done with me. Despite his crippled condition he soon overtook me. [Okay, now we've learned two essential things. First, scampering is no replacement for full out, panic induced sprinting and second that you don't mess around with lions. If you intend to shoot a lion, do not wing it, do not shoot it in the shoulder. These things only make the animal justifiably angry!] At that moment I was looking over my shoulder, when unhappily, a creeper caught my foot and I was precipitated headlong to the ground. [More vital information: always watch where you are going, not where the lion is, when scampering away. There's nothing worse than being precipitated when attempting to escape pursuit!] In another instant the lion had transfixed my right foot with his murderous fangs. Finding, however, my left foot disengaged, I gave the brute a severe kick on the head, which compelled him for a few seconds to suspend his attack. [See how important heavy boots are? Running shoes would neither have held up against murderous fangs, nor would they make a lion let go if you kick with one of them, being so cushy and all.]

He next seized my left leg, on which I repeated the former dose on his head with my right foot; he once more, thereupon, let go his hold, but seized my right foot a second time. Shortly afterward he dropped the foot and grasped my right thigh, gradually working his way up to my hip, where he endeavored to plant his claws. [Note this: lions are no dummies. This lion is working his way up the narrator's leg, making it impossible for the narrator to kick him in the head again!] In this he partially succeeded, tearing, in the attempt, my trousers and body linen, and grazing the skin of my body. Knowing that if he got a firm hold of me here it would surely cost me my life, I quickly seized hm by his two ears, and, with a desperate effort, managed to roll him on his side, which gave me a moment's respite. [Ear grabbing is effective against enraged lions. Remember that. A Three Stooges eye poke may also be of use.]

See the friend, the lion, the narrator and the brave dog?
Hair-breadth Escape from a Terrible Death:

He next laid hold of my left hand, which he bit through and through, smashing the wrist, and tearing my right hand seriously. [Okay... so the ear pulling isn't such a good idea after all.] I was now totally helpless, and must inevitably have fallen a speedy victim to his fury had not prompt assistance been at hand. In my prostrate position I observed, and a gleam of hope sprung up, my friend advancing quickly toward me. The lion saw him too, and, with one of his paws on my wounded thigh, throwing his ears well back, he crouched, ready to spring at his new assailant. Now, if my friend had fired, in my present position I should have run great risk of being hit by the bullet [Good thing the narrator's friend wasn't a certain former vice president]; I hallooed out to him, therefore, to wait until I could veer my head a little. [Hallooing and veering will save your brain from your friend's bullets.] In time I succeeded, and the next instant I heard the click of the gun, but no report.

Another moment, and a well-directed ball, taking effect in his forehead, laid the lion a corpse alongside my own bruised and mutilated body. Quick as lightning, I now sprang to my fee, and darted forward toward my companions, whom I saw at no great distance. [See that, darting beats scampering. Dart away from the angry lion, not looking back, and save yourself much misery and ear pulling.] Once or twice I felt excessively faint, but managed, nevertheless, to keep my head up.

No sooner had my companion so successfully finished the lion than he mounted a horse hard by, and galloped off in the direction of our camp. In the meantime I was lifted upon a tame ox, which was led by a man preceding us. At about half-way to our camp two of my men came to assist me, bringing with them, to refresh me, some water and a bottle of eau-de-cologne. A drinking-cup we had not, but the crown of a wide-awake hat was a good substitute for one, and I drank the mixture of the two liquids greedily off. A few minutes afterward we were met by some of the servants carrying a door. Exchanging then my ox for this more commodious conveyance, I was carefully borne into camp. Up to this time I had retained perfect self-possession, but the moment my wounds were washed and dressed I swooned, and for three entire weeks remained in a state of complete unconsciousness. I have since perfectly recovered health, but, as you see, I am totally crippled in my left arm.

I must not omit to mention that my brave dog, although shot through one of his fore-legs [These guys are lousy hunters, shooting everything except the lion, including the long-suffering brave dog!], on seeing the lion rush upon me, came forward at the best of his speed, and in his turn sprang upon my grim assailant, and clung desperately to him until my companion's bullet put an end to the combat. [So, brave and clinging dogs are not so effective against lion attack. That's good to remember ... although I suppose a dog who hadn't already been shot by his own hunters might have put up a better fight.]

Encounters similar to this are the fate of all travelers in some parts of Africa, and many were Livingstone's narrow escapes upon this journey."

There you have it. That is how not to be eaten by a lion! I wish the narrator had been more specific as to which parts of Africa travelers should avoid, however. I think I'll just stay home.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reframing the Issue: A Way to Turn a Problem On Its Head

Do you find yourself feeling angry about a situation, trapped in a predicament, frustrated, anxious, or frightened about an upcoming event? Try reframing the issue. Reframing is a powerful tool that allows you to view the problem, situation, or predicament from another angle and move forward in a positive way. Here are a couple of examples, beginning with the simplest one.

A couple years back, the Brooks family was camping in a state park. It was late and we were all settling in for the night to sleep. In the next spot from ours was a group of teens who were sleeping out under the stars that night. They were talking among themselves. I found this distracting. My first thought was I would never get to sleep with all that gabbing going on. Then I reframed the issue. I observed that the tree frogs singing in the night were actually louder than the teens. I realized the teens were just another quiet, natural background noise in the campground. At that point, I relaxed and it was lights out. Had I not reframed the issue, it would have been a long and aggravating night.

Here's a more complex example:

A few years ago I was admitted into the emergency room with half my face paralyzed. I had a bad ear infection ... I didn't know how bad at the time. Two days after receiving medication for the pain of the infection (and there is little worse than this in my experience so far, the pain never lets up), the right side of my face went slack. The lines disappeared, drinking was a challenge as the lips would not press tight on the right side, and blinking was problematic. When this happened, being a 21st century kinda guy, I took a look online and found out that partial facial paralysis was not uncommon with a serious ear infection. Then I read the more frightening line ... "If not treated immediately, the paralysis could become permanent."

Calling the doctor's office, I was told to go to the emergency room. "When?" I asked naively. "Now," the nurse replied firmly, adding the unsettling thought, "from what you've told me I can't tell if this condition is related to the ear infection or if you've had a stroke."

With that, I left work and drove to the emergency room. In hindsight, doing that by myself might not have been a very bright move. Needless to say, the half hour drive gave me lots of time to think. I arrived at the hospital at 4:30 p.m. God bless the nurse who met me there. She immediately asked me if I could raise my right eyebrow (the eyebrow on the affected side). I couldn't. "Good!" she said brightly.

"Good?" I asked dully, confusedly.

"Yes, good. It means you didn't have a stroke. If you'd had a stroke, you could still move the eyebrow."

We are made in weird and wonderful ways.

After checking in, the waiting and the scanning began. I have to say it was nothing like "ER" or any other medical show. It's pretty dull. A CAT scan and waiting. Lots of waiting.

After an hour I started feeling cranky. I found out several scans would be needed and no food could be eaten. This was not how I'd intended to spend Wednesday evening. I began feeling sorry for myself, getting frustrated, and preparing to let my feelings be known. Then it hit me. As a church youth group leader I'd told kids repeatedly that every hour of every day they had a choice. They could be a blessing or a curse to others. I realized I needed to suck it up and practice what I'd been preaching (since I'm currently in seminary part time working toward ordination as a Baptist minister I figured I ought to give this a shot). I reframed the situation as an opportunity to help others and to be a blessing in their day. So, I began making a conscious effort to be upbeat and to concern myself with others, the nurses and staff working hard around me. I focused on others and not on me.

I was surprised by the results. Before long, I was receiving more frequent visits by staff members than I had been, updates on how things were going and such. It helped a lot to get through the hours of waiting and the concern that was rising over the repeated scans.

At around 11 p.m. a fourth CAT scan was needed to see if the infection had gotten into my brain. That blasted infection was everywhere else in the ear and the bone and now I knew things were more serious than I'd imagined. I went to see my new friend, the expert running the CAT scan equipment and she said dye would need to be used. Then she asked a fateful question. "Do you have asthma?"

I have a very mild case of what's known as "performance asthma." In short, it means if I have to run great distances, I ain't gonna perform. I can sprint like a maniac, but I can't run a mile without wheezing. I told her I did and that it was very mild. She considered and I realized later this was the moment my reframed, positive attitude made a difference. Had I been cranky, as had been my first inclination, I'd have spent the night in the hospital cooling my heels and waiting for an MRI in the morning. As it was, since I'd been considerate to her all evening, she mulled it over, agreed to test the dye and see how I responded. I asked her for the worst case scenario. She said, there's a 1 in 10,000 chance you'll die. I told her I was feeling a little luckier than that this evening. And I was, obviously, since I'm writing this.

All went well and my brain was infection free (thank God). More to the point, I saw the power of reframing and the difference the positive attitude I had chosen to live in that evening made in the lives of others around me and in myself. What could have been an awful, tedious, anxious evening turned into an evening worth remembering with small kindnesses shared all around. I'd gone into that situation with no greater expectation than to live out what I'd been preaching to the kids. In the end I learned a lot more and received a kindness unexpected and unsought at the end of the night.

Reframing is a very powerful tool well worth using in our daily lives. The political pundits are paid to use reframing in the worst possible ways, trying to force us to see the world through extremely negative lenses they are well paid to force upon us. This is causing our society great harm and civility to unravel rapidly all around us. Take reframing back, use it for yourself, and help improve the world and better your life and the lives of others today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Michael and the New Baby Book Signing!

J.S. Brooks will be signing copies of Michael and the New Baby at the following location:  

Greetings & Readings
118 Shawan Road
Hunt Valley, MD

This will happen on Saturday, October 2 · 1:00pm - 4:00pm.

This is a first for M&NB. I'll let the publisher explain:

Old Line Publishing is proud to announce that the 2nd Annual Mega Author Book Signing will take place this coming October! Authors from around the world and across the country will be present to sell and sign books. There will be over a dozen authors there to share their stories and talk to you personally about their books and experiences. So come join us at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley, MD on October 2nd!

This is your chance to meet the author, ask burning questions, and buy the book. I look forward to seeing you all there.

J.S. Brooks Takes the Challenge

Marketing gurus have thrown down the gauntlet and I have taken the challenge. They claim you only get useful blog traffic by posting every day. So, for one month I will attempt to blog once each and every day. Each blog will appear on my Facebook page and be listed on my Twitter account. I will use Blog Buzzer to ping the ever-expanding blogosphere for each entry. Occasionally 2 or 3 blogs will be done at once for weekends when I am away. I began earlier this month. However, to make the challenge interesting, the month begins today! September 18, we will see how I have done. At the end of that month, provided I succeed, I will check the Site Meter at the bottom of this blog. At this point 147 people have visited this month and read 260 articles. That will be my starting point. All numbers after this until September 18 will be counted. If, and only if, the numbers are higher for this one month period than any others will I give credence to what the gurus say. Whether or not increased traffic brings buyers for Michael and the New Baby to the site will take longer to determine. That of course was the original purpose of this blog. Needless to say, some of the articles may be at least a bit peculiar ... we shall see.

Part of what makes this challenge interesting is the fact that outside the blogosphere I work full time and attend Palmer Theological Seminary part time, leaving me very little extra time. Can I meet the challenge? I don't know.

Who thinks I can come up with enough material to cover one month from today? Who thinks at least half of that material will be in some way useful? I have set one rule for myself. I will not resort to easy soapbox opinion pieces to fill in that month. The Wood Art Today 2 review is the first article of the challenge.

The clock is ticking and calendar days are drifting by.

Wood Art Today 2 Book Review

This book provides a sweeping overview of what is happening in wood art today, as the title clearly states. The work of 89 artists, all of whom have been in juried shows and/or whose works are available in art galleries, are presented in 380 exquisite color photos sure to reveal the details to interested readers. As editor Jeffrey B. Snyder (an author of a wide range of books, including art books) was frustrated as a child with art exhibitions that did not explain what the moved the artist to create particular works or what the intent of a piece might be, this book satisfies that curiosity. The artist have provided personal statements concerning what they do and why. Further, they have provided brief discussions of their work. Among the artists are carvers, turners, and sculptors of free-standing and wall-mounted sculptures, installation pieces, vessels, jars, vases, bowls, boxes, teapots, and more. The artists and their works are organized alphabetically by name. What makes the Art Today book series unique is that each artist is provided with at least a two page spread and multiple images showing the range of their work. Just as the book is designed to show you the range of what is being accomplished in wood art today, the images of each artist's works provide readers with the range and scope of that artist's current accomplishments. All of the art is from the first decade of the twenty-first century.

You may purchase a copy of this revealing volume, a 256 page hard cover, a gallery show between covers, for $50.00 through Schiffer Publishing ( or through bookstores near you. Also available in this series are: Art Jewelry Today 2, Ironwork Today 2 (and volumes 1 by the late author Donna Meilach), Ceramics Today, and Printmakers Today. Each book is a 256 page hard cover 11" x 8 1/2" retailing for $50.00.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

International Space Station: BIG

You really don't understand the size of something like the International Space Station until you see a picture like this. Here two astronauts use the Canada Arm to replace a faulty cooling system housed in the large brace holding up the main solar arrays. This thing is BIG.

Now if we could just retrofit it for a trip to Mars.

Image courtesy of NASA

Parents: Letting Go

There comes a time in every parent's life when you have to start letting go of your children. You have to step back and watch them go. You practice this in little ways over the years: helping them learn to ride a bike when you run alongside them until the bike feels steady, you swallow your fear, and release your grip on the bike seat and handlebars and see what they will do; you wave goodbye with a smile you may not feel inside as they take their first school bus ride; and you drive them to birthday party overnight adventures at a friend's house to name just a few. You pray you told them the things they will need to know and prepared them for the adventures to come as best you could ... then, slowly, reluctantly, you let go.

This has been a year of letting go. Our daughter is in her early teens and in the midst of all the social adventures with friends that are to be expected but that turn a father's hair grey. I'm learning to let go ... slowly, carefully, by degrees. However, it was our 20 year old son who really made this a season of letting go. He and a friend planned a trip from southeastern Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, Canada on high tech bikes. They got the necessary passports to be able to cross the border. They discovered a route on back roads (scenic routes) and bike trails that would get them there (amazing what you can do with Google directions). They purchased the necessary gear to carry the load. And they trained.

This was a hard one. On the one hand, all the preparation was reassuring. Knowing the races they both had participated in was useful. But, on the other hand, there was that little, parental, panicky "what if" part of the brain trying to go into overdrive. Every bad action movie scenario ran through my nervous mind involving drunks, violence, and kidnapping. All of that threatened to rise up and force me to try to insist they stay home and be safe, to give this up as foolishness (it wasn't by the way), to relax me. I had to work hard to quash that impulse, to trust in my son's capabilities and to believe his mom and I had done all we could to prepare our son for this moment.

Talking to his friend's parents (the father a biking expert) and admitting we all held the same fears was extremely helpful.

In the end, the trip was made. Over 100 miles was covered each day. God bless them for calling every night on the road with reassurances of a day safely spent (carefully tailored descriptions of the day with all the really interesting stuff removed that proves just how skilled these guys have become in parent handling). That meant a great deal to us. In four days, they reached their goal. I'm very proud of them and their accomplishment.

I wonder how much more this year will teach me about letting go.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Writers: Preparing for an Interview

Recently, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by the children's version of The Author's Show, an internet radio show. This was a new experience for me as I have never been interviewed for internet radio before. However, the preparations for this sort of interview are no different than any other. I have been interviewed for the nonfiction books I write (not under this pen name) by Martha Stewart, NPR on live radio and for the TV show "Philadelphia: Workshop of the World," and by many correspondents for newspapers writing articles on a wide variety of topics.

In each and every case, the first step is exactly the same. Reread the book you have written that will be the focus of the interview. You can't be expected to sound like an expert on this subject (and the interviewer and the public will expect you to be an expert ... after all, you wrote the book) unless you brush up on the facts. Nobody remembers everything they researched and wrote for any one book.

Take notes on major talking points related to the subject at hand (this is a chance to promote your work after all).

If the interviewer asks for a list of questions (this does not often happen), think hard and generate good questions that will get to the heart of your book, interest listeners/viewers enough they want to buy the book (always an interview goal to be remembered), and be the sorts of questions that will not stump you. Take advantage of the situation.

Be friendly with the interviewer and as helpful as possible. Like working with an editor, this is an opportunity to build bridges for future interviews. If an interviewer finds you handy for one topic, he or she is more likely to come back to you again as a reliable source if you've written on more than one topic.

Never, ever provide one word answers to any question. That is lousy interview technique and makes for a crummy interview nobody wants to hear, see, or read.

Always sound/appear relaxed, no matter how you feel inside. People like lively people to watch and listen to. If you are relaxed, you will remember your favorite stories, be engaged (people can tell when you're nervous and when you're relaxed. If you're nervous, they focus on that and not on what you are saying) in your topic, and provide material the interviewer's editor will want to use.

For radio or TV, speak briskly and use your public speaking voice. Briskly spoken words lends you an air of authority. Speaking up ensures you will be heard by all your listeners/viewers and that you make your editor's life easier.

Finally, to appear/sound relaxed, you need to remember one thing: you know more about this topic than any of your listeners, readers, and viewers. Nobody else has written your book, used your resources, or lived your life experiences. That is why no two books are alike and why you are THE expert on this particular book.

Relax, prepare, you're going to be great!

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: