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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Call for You ... and You ... and You ... and Me

In older movies, a couple is dining at a fancy restaurant when the head waiter approaches the table. He bends neatly at the waist to whisper to the main character, "Excuse me, but there is a call for you." And the plot begins to move more quickly after that.

So, Excuse me, but there is a call for us:

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but have no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongues but with actions and in truth ... If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given this command: Those who love God must also love one another."
1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

Help someone have a great day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Winter 2010

I live in the Northeast in the U.S. For many years, in my particular neck of the woods, snow has not amounted to much. Not anymore! Here's our third snowstorm in as many weeks. The first two dumped around two feet each and came within four days of each other. This one is still underway but the tally so far is 7" and rising according to the measuring stick in the front yard. How about everyone else? Seen unusual snow falls in your neck of the wood?
The photo is fire and ice, sunset through hanging icesickles. Until this year, I'd always thought a Nor'easter was a storm that came out of that compass direction. Now I know better since I've been through a couple that have swept up out of the south. It's a storm location, not a storm direction. Don't I feel silly.
Scientists say global warming brings more frequent and more violent storms along with it. If this is the result of global warming, stop it now!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our Plaster Saints

Today, we seem to be in the habit of creating "Plaster Saints." No, they aren't lawn ornaments but people, people we've set up on high pedestals and whom we regard with high esteem that often spirals up into hero or heroine worship. Then, these individuals do something entirely human -- they reveal some flaw of character or do something foolish (just like the rest of us) -- and we throw them down off that high pedestal we ourselves erected for them, shattering the heroic image we ourselves created for them, and stalk off in a huff. Then we look for the next plaster saint and start all over again.

The term plaster saint comes from the radical Catholic monk Thomas Merton's book Life and Holiness. He spoke of our plaster saints this way,

The stereotyped image [of the plaster saint] is easy to sketch out here: it is essentially an image without the slightest moral flaw. The saint, if he [or she ... writing in the 1960s Merton had the habit of using the "royal he" to cover everyone] ever sinned at all, eventually became impeccable after a perfect conversion. Impeccability not being quite enough, he is raised beyond the faintest possibility of feeling temptation. Of course he is tempted, but temptation provides no difficulties. He always has the absolute and heroic answer. He flings himself into fire, ice water or briers rather than even face a remote occasion of sin. His intentions are always the noblest. His words are always the most edifying cliches, fitting the situation with a devastating obviousness that silences even the thought of dialogue. Indeed, the "perfect" in this fearsome sense are elevated above the necessity or even the capacity for a fully human dialogue with their fellow men. They are without humor as they are without wonder, without feeling and without interest in the common affairs of mankind. Yet of course they always rush to the scene with the precise act of virtue called for by every situation. They are always there kissing the leper's sores at the very moment when the king and his nobel attendants come around the corner and stop in their tracks, mute in admiration ...
Ridiculous, isn't it? But we do it, often. We call young men and women whom we have given great amounts of money and fame at a tender age "role models" and expect them to live saintly lives outside of the sports arena, the movie set, the job ... the list goes on and on. The most glaring example of this to me was when Mother Teresa's personal journal was published (which she was against, by the way) and it was revealed that she had doubts about her faith. Many were shocked and disillusioned. Many of the proud and vocal "new athiests" crowed and railed about how Christianity was a sham since this woman who had given her life and health to work amongst the poor and outcast in India, burying more people in a year than most of us will in a lifetime had periods of dark and awful doubt. Come on folks, she was a human being struggling with great adversity. Of course she had doubts! Who wouldn't?

Thomas Merton provides us all with guidelines on how to be fully human and be a real saint, something everyone can aspire to:

The fact is that our concept of sanctity [sainthood] is ambiguous and obscure, and this is perhaps because our concept of grace and the supernatural is itself confused. ... We must remember that human nature was, in him [Jesus Christ], quite perfect, and at the same time completely like our own frail and suffering nature in all things except sin. Now what is the "supernatural" if not the economy of our salvation in and through the Incarnate Word [Jesus Christ]? If we are to be "perfect" as Christ is perfect, we must strive to be as perfectly human as he, in order that he may unite us with his devine being and share with us his sonship of the heavenly Father. Hence sanctity is not a matter of being less human, but more human than other [people]. This implies a greater capacity for concern, for suffering, for understanding, for sympathy, and also for humor, for joy, for appreciation of the good and beautiful things of life.  

So, strive to be more of a saint yourself as Thomas Merton describes sainthood in the second quote ... and take the early Irish monk's approach to human sin. They were surprised by nothing a fallable human being could do when straying from the path to grace. They neither pushed people up as plaster saints when they behaved well, nor did they tear them down when they fell off the pedestal of false expectation and strayed from the path, as humans will. Instead they carried around great big books on penance and gave the sinner a really good one, a penance that made sure the sinner never wanted to do whatever it was he or she had done again. Let's stop creating and destroying plaster saints. After all these are real people struggling as best they can to live human lives. Let's judge not and work hard to follow Christ's example in to real sainthood. Surely that is a far more profitable pursuit, and one that leaves far fewer shattered reputations ... and lives ... in its wake.

(Direct quotes from pages 22-24 of Thomas Merton's Life and Holiness)

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:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Discipline in the Age of Zero Tolerance

Today, it's three strikes and you're out, zero tolerance, and hard core school administrators "monitoring" children at home through school provided laptop webcams. So, in this world of "extreme" justice or the judicial X Games, what is discipline, really.

I turn to one of my favorite sources, the good ol' DPCC* (p. 825) for a look at this highly charged topic. The article there points us back a few thousand years, citing the biblical meaning of the word, which was taken from the word (care to guess, ... punishment perhaps, no; anger or revenge, no) "disciple," meaning pupil. So, biblical discipline is all about a certain dynamic of learning, a dynamic coupled with growth and maturation.

For children, the purpose of discipline, quoting the DPCC, is, " guide a child to internalize and follow the teacher's values. Ultimately the teacher's task is to aid the child in developing skills and attitudes to functioning in the world."

When a child gets out of line, the job of the teacher (I use this term broadly to include parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, grandparents, aunts & uncles, and others, as well as school teachers) is not to descend on the child in righteous indignation, spewing out harsh punishment trending toward hatred, anger, and authoritarian retribution, but to teach with love and nurturing, with an eye fixed firmly the child's future healthy growth. This approach leads a child toward positive growth and a brighter future.

I'd suggest this applies to everyone, child and adult alike. It's time to put away the big sticks, punchy slogans, and angry rhetoric, and get down to the real job of teaching disciples wherever and whenever we have them in our care.

*Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Record Keeping

Blogs are simple to create. here provides templates and add ons galore and makes the initial constrution easy. You start to think, you know, there's nothing to this. But, after a while, you begin to realize your stellar writing and great looking site aren't going to be enough to draw a crowd among all the other blogging voices out there. You start looking around for help. Hopefully, you've stopped here and received a little of what you need. Soon you're going to discover you need to keep track of a few things. You're going to find out you need to have your blog linked to social networks, you're going to need to ping search engines, and take on a number of tasks to help get your word out to interested people. And you're going to need to start keeping records.

Make a little Word file (or use whatever writing program you like) of account names and passwords. Keep it secure if you need to and remember to pop up this file anytime you begin another blogging adventure in connectivity. That way, when you try to enter some new site you've set up an account with to try to get your blog to others you won't blank when the user name and password blanks are staring back at you waiting for you to input the right words. Hmmm, was this site's password opensaysme or myname1?

It's a small thing, but it will ease your mind and make the whole blogging experience a little bit easier.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Parents: Please Don't Believe Everything You Read

Here's a few life lessons from different stages of parenting.

Advice for parents to be: While you’re anxiously waiting for your bundle of joy, and researching what is to come with early parenthood, don't believe what the baby books have to say about everything. Take what they say with a grain ... no, let's make that a pound of salt. Better yet, don't believe what you're reading here. Grab three different baby book printed in three different decades ... and watch them contradict each other.

Advice for parents of toddlers: Don't freak out over the schedules for toddler development. No kids, no matter how driven their parents are or how many "baby big brain" products (don't want to use an actual product name here and get sued) they buy, are going to develop right along with the schedules. Toddlers live to freak out high strung parents.

Advice for parents of young teens: God help you!

Finally, advice for parents of college students who have allowed you to be friends of theirs on Facebook: Be grateful that they have “friended” (is that a word?) you and you can see evidence that they are alive almost daily through their posts. However, don't under any circumstances believe everything they write. More than that DO NOT RESPOND PUBLICALLY to what they have written. You'll only make yourself look old and out of touch. Trust me on this one. I'm learning the hard way.

Good luck, I'm rooting for ya, and as the immortal Red Green reminds us every week, "We're all in this thing together."

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:

Helping Haitians, Another Avenue!

If you are looking for an avenue to provide longer term aid to Haitians, American Baptist Women’s Ministries ( has put out a call for people and churches to gather hygiene and baby kits to send to Christian World Service, who will distribute them to those in desperate need. While you will find all the details you need at the address, here's what the kits should include:

In the face of natural disasters, violence, or grinding poverty, Hygiene Kits can mean the difference between sickness and health for struggling families.

To assemble a Hygiene Kit you will need:

• One hand towel measuring approximately 16" x 28" (no fingertip or bath towels)

• One washcloth

• One wide-tooth comb

• One nail clipper (no metal files or emery boards)

• One bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)

• One toothbrush (in original packaging)

• Six Band-Aids®

Please do not add toothpaste to the Hygiene Kit. Toothpaste that has an extended expiration date will be added to Hygiene Kit shipments just prior to shipment. Seal all items in a one-gallon plastic bag with a zipper closure.

Hygiene Kit value: $10

Processing/Shipping Cost: $2 per Kit (include this to help CWS to process and ship your kits to Haiti)

In areas of extreme poverty or following a natural disaster, Baby Kits help young mothers care for their newborn babies.

To assemble a Baby Kit you will need:

• Six cloth diapers

• Two T-shirts or undershirts (no onesies)

• Two washcloths

• Two gowns or sleepers

• Two diaper pins

• One sweater or sweatshirt

• Two receiving blankets (one can be a hand-knitted or crocheted baby blanket)

All items should be new. Wrap items inside one of the receiving blankets and secure with both diaper pins.

Baby Kit value: $39

Processing/Shipping Cost: $2 per Kit

You can also go directly to the CWS web address for all the info as well:

Anyone may help.
God bless you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"I Wasn't Expecting a Sort of Spanish Inquisition..."


So began some of my favorite Monty Python skits.

But you know, that's good advice ... for kids, parents, workers, bosses, businesses, clergy, and everybody else. We're all human ... well except for corporations (despite what five members of the U.S. Supreme Court think) ... and as humans we all mess up ... a lot.

When we do, what do we like to do about it? Hide the mess, walk quickly away, sweep it under the rug, or any other cliche you want to think of. Is it surprising there are so many cliches for this habit?

Instead, 'Fess up. It's hard, it's unpleasant, but it beats the alternative. As a journalist I know well would ask business folks, "Do you want a quart of trouble now or a gallon of trouble later?" Think about it. It's really better to come clean yourself than to have someone else discover your mistake later. Mr. Toyota should have followed this advice. So should we all.

Confess! Spare yourself the dread comfy chair!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Writing a Children's Story Part 4: Escape!

When we read, or when our little ones are read to, we all want the same thing, whether we are readers or listeners. What do we want? Escape! No, not the old radio show, but entertainment we can escape into. Remember those cherished few stories where you were disappointed when they were finished because you simply didn't want to leave that world? I do. When I was very little, Harold's Purple Crayon did it for me. Creating a landscape and then climbing into it, wonderful. As Susan Cooper states in "Escaping into Ourselves" (in the book Celebrating Children's Books, p. 14), "The novel [or short story I'd assert] entertains by offering refreshment, solace, excitement, relaxation, perhaps even inspiration: an escape from reality. And the escape, in turn, brings encouragement, leaving the reader fortified to cope with his own reality when he returns to it."

Those were my objectives when I wrote Michael and the New Baby. I wanted to entertain and encourage our son, along with a good splash of excitement that would leave him fortified to cope with the arrival of his baby sister.  I'm grateful that the book I wrote did the trick. I hope for some of you all out there, it may perform the same service, allowing your child to escape into a fantastic, fantasy world where he or she can explore and discover for him- or herself that all will be well, that there is enough love to go around in a family, and that the future will be far brighter than she or he fears.

Keep writing.


Life on the East Coast of the U.S. has been more "eventful" than usual. With nearly 20" of snow falling on the weekend and another 20" or so Tuesday to Wednesday, we've been housebound much of the week. Fortunately my line of work allows me to continue writing and editing from home. Today will be the first day I hit the roads again. Hopefully the roads will be clear enough that I don't hit anything else and nothing hits me. Be careful out there everyone in the snowbound regions. Don't push too hard with that shoveling, fellow driftbound East Coasters!

The day is done. Travels were uneventful. However, I have to tell you the drifts along the sides of the road were higher than my car. If I'd pulled onto the shoulder, my compact car would have been buried ... completely!

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Volume

Last month was a particularly productive month for J.S. Brooks Presents ... Twenty-four articles were written in a one month period. New bloggers, if you can set a strong pace and maintain it with a large volume of useful, engaging material (with some light, friendly stuff thrown in from time to time), you are very likely to see increased traffic at your site. Write, right now. Good luck.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Join A Contest

Hey new bloggers: take a moment and join a contest. Vie with other bloggers to have one of your January posts deemed best among those entered. Get your competitive juices up and give it a shot. Who knows, you may be crowned king or queen of the posts and meet a bunch of new blogger in the process. Social connectivity and competitive glory await at

Good luck!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Read Procrastination: Space 2

Jim Slade, science news correspondent who covered much of NASA's story and whose name is now on a plaque at the Cape, has done it again. Now that the Obama administration wants NASA to return to the drawing board for deep space manned missions, delaying America's return to the moon or more ambitious destinations for who knows how long, Jim Slade has really placed it all on the line. See to read this important editorial.

I have to say, I agree with him on every well made point. I also say putting the Space Shuttle out to pasture without a replacement craft is foolishness bordering on the criminal. We have just forfeit a generation of potential scientists, engineers, and astronauts to whatever nation proves to be more farsighted and continues moving forward with manned missions. We have also forfeit all the spin off technology that a robust manned program would provide each and every one of us. And the idea of turning low orbital space flight over to private industry makes me cringe. After all, look at the "stellar" job they've done with degregulated air travel.

Anyway, read the article. It's important. Then write a congressman or congresswoman and a senator or two and tell them to do something contructive for a change.

(ISS image courtesy of NASA)

Failed Test of Time

I am sorry to report that some things from childhood that you and your sibs chuckle about when you reminisce just don't translate to today's kids. My parents had kept our old NFL Superbowl Electronic Football Game from the 1970s. You remember this one: metal playing field vibrates (ground shaking action as they said in the ads) and little tiny plastic players, one carrying a teeny weenie sponge ball, wander around the surface, more than one spinning slowly around in circles. You "controlled" the players with little wheels on their bases or so the theory went. My brother and I found the best strategy to move the ball was to create a wedge of tiny plastic players with the ball carrier in the very center. My brother and I remembered this contraption fondly and, with a few small applications of solder, it worked again. I thought my kids would get a kick out of it, out of the goofy way it operated, just as we had back in the day.

I set up the men on both sides, turned her on, and we all watched the little men scramble around the manically vibrating, growling field, scattering off in all directions except the ones I'd set them to follow. My kids grinned for a moment. Then I asked them if they'd like to try it themselves. Their response basically was "Nah, it takes too long to set up." So there you have it. An old game displaced by high tech. I hadn't thought about how computer games set up instantly. For me, most of the real entertainment of the game had been imagining plays and how they might happen ... and then seeing how they never really turned out that way, no matter how carefully I'd turned the wheels. That allure didn't hold for my kids. Ah well, times change. I guess you really can't go home again ... and you definitely can't take the kids!

Hopefully this year's real NFL Superbowl will prove more entertaining.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Celebrating Milestones

January proved to be a milestone month. Over 280 visits to J.S. Brooks Presents and 700 page views were recorded by Site Meter, a first, and 24 posts were written. Followers have graced the site (for which I am grateful) and provided comments. I attribute these increases in large part to NetworkedBlogs through Facebook. The multiple posts didn't hurt either, of course. The experts stated that a blog doesn't take off until it has been around between six months to a year. This seems to be the case. Take heart new bloggers. 

However, there is a dark cloud on the near horizon. Since my evening and weekend classes begin again this month, the number of posts and visits will drop significantly.