One word changes everything

A friend read “No mo moping” yesterday and was concerned, I think because it may have sounded like I’m stressing over the dozen or so creative projects that I’ve started over the years and anxious to get them all done all at once.

“You gotta slow down, chief,” he wrote. “At that rate you will slam into the finish wall. Better to gear back, move slowly among the projects and digest all the content that’s flying by. Ease to the end with a full grip on all that envelopes you.”

Sage advice! That’s actually where my attitude has begun to drift.

I replied, “I don’t disagree. The bottom line seems to be I have plenty of ideas to work with along the way.”

I was about to send the reply on its way, but I looked at it one more time and realized, no.

Delete-delete-delete-delete … type-type-type-type.

My revised reply said, “I don’t disagree. The bottom line seems to be I have plenty of ideas to play with along the way.”

THEN I sent the reply.

Did you spot the one word I changed? The one word that changes everything?

Writing is fun. These projects are play, not work. In fact, one reason why progress on creative projects is slow sometimes may be that we don’t prioritize play enough. 

When we work with our ideas, the magic can get lost. When we play with our ideas, the magic grows.

No mo moping

It’s been an odd week. I lay down at 7:30 p.m. Monday — way before my bedtime — figuring I could treat it as an “afternoon nap” and awake refreshed to work on my blog and stuff. The “nap” lasted until 11 o’clock, but I stayed up as planned anyway and ended up filling a dozen journal pages over the next two hours. Part of those thoughts ended up in my Tuesday blog post, “Taking stock,” which I finished around 2 a.m.

The day job has taken up most of my waking hours since then — one of our three-person staff is taken a well-deserved vacation this week — and I’m still trying to digest the notes to myself from which “Taking stock” emerged.

It was quite a meal to digest. I ran through all of my works in progress, assessing and organizing and trying to wrap my mind around it all, perhaps with an unconscious goal of generating some realistic goals for 2024. I concluded that I have nine distinct works in progress at various levels of completion, comprising the beginnings of two to four series — and those are just the novels.

I also have a couple or three ideas for non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a collection of poems, and a desire to get serious about writing songs again. Doing the Ebenezer podcast has reminded me that I think it would be fun to start making audiobooks, too. Oh yes, and I still have the above-mentioned day job. Is it any wonder that taking stock is a process that takes a few days?

The attitude shift I described in “Taking stock” is a big step. When I got to the bottom of the 12th page that night, I concluded with this advice to myself:

“You are sitting in a modern-day House of Ideas. Stop moping, take the wheel, and enjoy the ride.”

Uncle Warren’s Attic presents Ebenezer, Stave 3: ‘The Second of the Spirits’



I hope you’re having as much fun listening to the story of Edmund Filliput as I am having reading it to you. This week, as you might expect, the Spirit of Christmas Present catches Edmund up to the lives of the people we met with the Spirit of Christmas Past. You might not expect what happens in Stave 4, but that must wait until next Friday.

Unless, of course, you want to skip ahead and read the rest of the story right now. You can do that by grabbing the ebook wherever fine ebooks are sold, like here or here

You can also order them in paperback or hardcover format from any online bookseller, and I’m thrilled to add that the paperback is now on the shelves of OtherWorld Books & More and Novel Bay Booksellers in Sturgeon Bay! Your local bookseller should be able to order it for you.

I’m finding the hardcovers are coming off the presses a lot more slowly than the paperbacks, but I’m very pleased with the quality of both. I hope you will be, too. (Insert smiley face emoji here)

Sasha saves the day

Onyah after she grew up, circa 2008 or 2009.

(Based on a true story.)

Onyah and Sasha were pals. They lived with their people parents at their houses in the woods.

Onyah would run and play with Sasha like a puppy because, well, Onyah WAS a puppy.

“Be careful,” Sasha would say, because she was older and wiser, “or one day you’ll run and play right into trouble.”

“You silly worry wart,” Onyah would say. “Don’t you worry about me.”

One day in winter when the sun was shining but snow was on the ground, Mama Red let Onyah outside, and the little puppy went running in the woods near their home. She found a pond that was covered with ice.

Onyah walked on the ice and said, “Whee! It’s slippery!!” And she ran and slid on the ice, crying, “Wheeeee!”

But all of a sudden, the ice went CRACK!

And Onyah went SPLASH! into a hole full of cold cold water.

Onyah tried to climb out, but her little paws weren’t strong enough, and all she could do was put her paws on the edge of the ice and cry.

“On-yah! Come inside now!” Mama Red called from the house. “Where are you?”

Just then Sasha and her humans, Jim and Heidi, were taking a walk along the road. Mama Red came out to see them. 

“Have you seen Onyah? She didn’t come when I called, and I’m worried,” Mama Red said.

“Oh dear,” said Heidi. “Let’s go look for her.”

After a few minutes, Sasha heard cries from somewhere and ran up a little hill.

“What is it, Sasha?” Jim said. “What do you see over the hill?”

He walked up behind Sasha and saw Onyah’s sad little face with her paws hanging onto the ice.

“Oh my!” Jim said, and he ran over, stretched himself out on the ice, and grabbed Onyah’s little paws.

He pulled her gently out of the water and hugged her tight, to warm her back up. 

“What a good girl Sasha is!” said Mama Red. “And what a sassy dog you are, Onyah!”

They took both dogs home and laid them next to the fire.

“I told you,” Sasha scolded Onyah. “One day you were going to run right into trouble, and today was the day.”

“You were right,” Onyah said sadly. “I will be careful from now on.”

“That’s good,” Sasha said. “After all, my humans and I may not always be there to save you.”

“But you did save me!” Onyah cried. “Oh, Sasha, we will always be pals!” 

Scene from a random spy movie

© Chernetskaya |

He came to in a room, a hotel room like every other room in a decent hotel, not too fancy, not too cheap, and not at all memorable. He figured that was why they chose it. MacLemore was watching him from a love seat and holding a gun, pointed in his general direction.

“Why am I here?” he asked as soon as he had his bearings.

MacLemore laughed without a trace of humor.

“That is what I have always admired about you, Mr. Stock,” he sneered. “No small talk, no ‘It’s so good to see you, my dear friend MacLemore,’ just straight to the point. I shall do you the courtesy of acting in kind.” He held the barrel of the gun to Stock’s face. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know who you mean.”

MacLemore looked at the floor, looked out the window, stared Stock in the eyes, pointed the gun so the bullet would whistle past his ear, and fired. The report sounded like a cannon in the small hotel room.

On the other side of the wall, a woman screamed.

“Look what you made me do, Mr. Stock.”

“What? I can’t hear you,” Stock said. “Some idiot fired a gun next to my ear.”

“I’m going to make you a deal,” MacLemore said, his voice dripping with smarm. “Tell me where the woman is, and I won’t kill you until the next time we meet.”

“Seems a fair exchange,” Stock said. “Except Lynnda is one of my best friends and colleagues. She’s taken a bullet for me, and I would be proud to do the same for her. But maybe we can do a deal.”


“Yes. Step out on the balcony and I’ll tell you where she is.”

“Why the balcony? Do you have someone across the street who will shoot me? One of your sharpshooter friends, perhaps?”

“Ah, you’re too smart for me,” Stock said.

A thug walked into the room.

“What is it, Louie?” MacLemore said impatiently.

“We gotta go, Mr. MacLemore. Somebody shot through that wall and killed the guy in the next room.”

“Oh dear,” said MacLemore. “Well, clean up here, and the boys and I will take our business with Mr. Stock elsewhere.”

“Got it,” Louie said, but instead of complying, he shot MacLemore in the back of his neck. Before the boys could react, Louie shot them, too.

Stock and the thug stared at each other across the room. Then the big man smiled.

“Mr. Stock, I think this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said Louie.

Taking stock

Slowly but (sometimes I realize) surely, I have been chipping away at the block of stone that is my quarry of incomplete fragments of thought and bursts of creativity. I am pleased that I have had a big little victory this fall in shipping Ebenezer: A sequel of sorts to A Christmas Carol out the door, and I am eager to follow that up and find another finish line in my wandering way. 

I know I have to shift my attitude. I have at least 10 unfinished creative projects and often express frustration that I have failed to bring them to a conclusion. The fact is, however, that I have taken steps along the path in every case. They are not my “unfinished novels” — they are my “works in progress.” Do you see the distinction?

Even if I only nibble at the edges of this one or that one, I should be celebrating the newly etched teeth marks rather than bemoaning how much of the elephant I still need to eat. Wow, talk about mixed metaphors — I have meandered from the stone quarry to the undigested elephant in three quick paragraphs.

What am I doing? Where am I going? The eternal questions. It does help to stop along the way, to rest and regenerate, and see where I am and where the journey has delivered me at the moment.

We often ask “What am I doing? Where am I going?” in a tone of despair, but it occurs to me that perhaps that is the wrong tone. Rather than moaning about meandering, we should exclaim, “Look what I’m doing! See where I’m going!” 

We will see that we are traveling along a glorious path through a wilderness, exploring our way on everyday paths that wind this-way-and-that in newly discovered directions all the time, if we would just lift our heads and see what surrounds us. The sun rises and sets every day, but the swirls of weather and billions of interactions around the planet make each a different day, a kaleidoscope of experience.

By shifting the focus from “unfinished” to “in progress,” I cease moping about not having “enough” of my projects done (what does “enough” mean anyway?), take the wheel and start enjoying the ride.

I think Ebenezer turned out nicely, if I say so myself. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

A century of beautiful music

December 3 was a Sunday in 1944, too. That was the day, three years into the U.S. involvement in World War II, when family and friends gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Roselle, New Jersey, to watch Lt. Richard W. Bluhm be united with Miss Hilda Elwell. 

After the ceremony they started their life together in Washington, D.C., where Lt. Bluhm was stationed. He was a couple of weeks past his 21st birthday, and she was going to turn 21 in a couple of weeks. This November and December mark the 100th anniversary of their births.

They both loved music. I have fond memories of waking up Saturday morning to Dad’s big band records booming out of his state-of-the-art stereo system (ironic because he never bought a color TV during our childhoods). 

Like his middle son, my dad in his teens had a penchant for buying a lot of records, and he let me play his dozens of old 78-rpm platters on my portable record player that played only 45s and 78s. One of the most mortifying moments of my life was when I broke his copy of the legendary “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott. Meanwhile, Mom was often found with a song on her lips, usually a song with a positive message like “Happy Talk” or “Get Happy.”

I’m sensitive to musical cues as a result of all this. The day after Thanksgiving, I walked into the local grocery store, heard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen, and thought, yep, it’s Christmastime.

At our house it wasn’t the holiday season until Mom broke out Robert Shaw. In 1946 Shaw’s Victor Chorale recorded Christmas Hymns and Carols, an album of familiar and not-so-familiar seasonal classics sung a cappella. She would put the RCA Victor Red Seal LP on the old turntable, “Joy to the World” would burst out, and the season was underway. 

We also had an LP of Christmas Hymns and Carols, Vol. II, by what was now the Robert Shaw Chorale, from 1952, which among other gems features the best-ever version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The mournful way they sing “On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love sent to me” is priceless. You really feel the sadness of Christmas ending.

At some point I got obsessive about owning an original edition of the albums, the first of which was produced two years before LPs existed. It first saw light of day as a four-record album of 12-inch 78 rpm records, and I wanted to hear the songs as they sounded in 1946, sans any processing that may have taken place as the recordings were prepared for 33 rpm or CD.

I found wonderful copies of both albums on eBay, and eventually discovered an even better copy of Volume I in the wild at an antique store. I am a diehard fan of analog recordings, but even I am astonished how great these 77-year-old records sound when played on the proper equipment.

Sunday afternoon I pulled the old Shaw records out of the attic, fired up my beloved Audio-Technica turntable (have I really owned it for five years already??), screwed on the special 78 rpm cartridge and stylus, and gently placed Side 1 of the eight-sided Christmas Hymns and Carols on the turntable.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her king …”

Yep, it’s Christmastime. Happy anniversary and birthdays in heaven, Mom and Dad.

UPDATE: It occurred to me later I could have added the music!