Looking Back – Aftermath of a Hurricane

In the fall of 1996 I was living in Wake Forest, NC while in school, and I was working as a stocker and janitor at a gas station in Raleigh. When Hurricane Fran hit the NC coast, it came far inland and the eye passed Raleigh.

I was at work when Fran hit Raleigh and had to drive home through the storm. It was not as bad as it would have been on the coast, but it was not a fun drive. The entire campus and most or all of the town lost power that night. Some houses in the area were damaged. Fortunately, no buildings on campus were significantly damaged, and I do not think anyone I knew was injured.

Trees throughout the area fell. Some trees on campus were broken in half by the storm. I saw one that appeared to be twisted in half. Some trees were not broken but instead fell because the ground was so saturated with rain that the roots could not hold on to anything. That was likely the case with the tree below. Notice how much of the tree came out of the ground.


After that storm I had no power for about four days. I had to finish my school work before I went to work each day because I had no light when I returned home. Some locals in the area were becoming so frustrated with the slow progress of restoring power that they were becoming aggressive toward the work crews. The men were doing the best they could, but they had lines down everywhere. It was a huge mess.

I did not have all of the food I wanted for a few days, but I found enough non-perishable food to sustain me. I did okay. Some other items were hard to find. For example, flashlight batteries were sold out everywhere. The Winn Dixie in Wake Forest received a truck load of bread, but it sold out in about thirty minutes. For a few days I had to empty the outside ice cooler at work and bring the ice inside in case someone tried to steal the ice during off hours. It was a good thing that I did because one morning when the owner opened the station he found that someone had cut the lock off of the outside cooler.

One night some other students and I drove around looking for a place to eat. Almost everything was closed because of the power outage. Eventually we found that a Golden Corral was open (probably the one on Capital Blvd), but when we were about to go inside someone came out and told us that they ran out of food. Yes, the restaurant with seemingly unending buffets ran out of food. I have never seen that before or since, but they were probably the only restaurant in the immediate area that was open. They were guaranteed a large crowd.

After power was restored, crews worked for weeks to clean up the fallen trees. Of course, this storm was nowhere nearly as devastating as Katrina would be in New Orleans several years later, but it was the worst I have experienced. It also showed me how much I depended on electricity. Going without electricity for a few hours is an inconvenience. Going without it for four days is significantly different. Going without power for weeks or more . . ., well fortunately I have never needed to experience that.


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Reading about Writing

Before February was over I had finished six books from my 10 books Goodreads reading challenge. Well, actually 5 and a half books because I started one book late last year. For the past few years I read very little, and now my momentum has increased considerably. The challenge was exactly what I needed to recommit myself.

When I first wrote my Goodreads “to read” list I was flexible. I knew I would discover other books throughout the year, and so the list was not set in stone. Since then I have shifted my reading primarily to books about writing. These include books about the craft of writing and the proper mindset. I do not know what my future holds regarding career, but I do want to write regularly, be published, and possibly make some of my income from writing. In pursuit of that goal, I am learning what I can. Most recently I read James Scott Bell’s The Mental Game of Writing: How to Overcome Obstacles, Stay Creative and Product, and I think it contains valuable advice.

I also want to read some fiction. This serves my goal to develop my writing because I want to learn to write short fiction. I have never been good at writing fiction, but some ideas periodically nag me. I thought I should listen to that, and so I made the goal to get one short story published. Part of learning to write is reading what other people have written (both the well written and the poorly written) to see examples of what to do and what not to do. To this end I am now reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I have self-doubt about this endeavor, especially regarding fiction, but I decided that I need to make real effort to achieve it. I will not say, “Oh, that will never work” and neglect to try.

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Looking Back – My Time in Kenya

(Note: The photos in this post look degraded because they were scanned from old prints taken before I had a digital camera.)

In the summer of 1997, after my first year in seminary, I went on a short-term mission trip to Kenya. I had lived my entire life up to that point in the southeastern United States (although I had visited other states, Canada, and the Bahamas). Visiting a third world country was a time of stretching myself and stepping out of my comfort zone. When my plane at the Raleigh-Durham airport began moving, I thought, “What am I doing?!”

This trip provided a great perspective on how well we have it here in the United States. I stayed each night in Kisumu. Almost every day my group rode a van to Sondu, a rural village about an hour from Kisumu. Almost every building was made of mud and sticks with rusty tin roofs. Over the week I probably walked down every road and passed every building in this village, but I did not see any paved roads, plumbing, or electricity.


Our task was to speak with people, explain the gospel, and invite them to meetings with the new church we were helping to start. I found most of the people to be hospitable and willing to talk. I had a translator, but most of the people knew English well enough to speak directly, with the exception of the very old and very young. It was normal for people there to know three languages: their tribal language (Luo in this village), Swahili (inter-tribal language), and English.

The church met in the dental clinic near the village entrance.


My professor told another student (Bryan) and me that each of us would preach one Sunday, I told him I knew nothing about writing sermons or preaching. He said not to worry because many of he preachers there did not prepare at all. They would simply preach on the fly. After some thought I decided to teach Romans 6:23. I explained each point and added some cross references to other relevant verses. Everyone was interested in what I said.

Each day in the village we would eat locally prepared foot in one of the huts. There was one vegetable that they served each time which I did not like, but I always ate some of it to be polite. The rest of the food (soup and ugali) was fine. One day when we were eating a chicken and vegetable soup, another chicken walked under my legs. I thought, “Well, there is tomorrow’s lunch.”

One day we went to the village school, which consisted off two classrooms. One of my professors and his wife spoke with grades 5-8. Bryan and I spoke to grades 1-4 (all in one room). Afterward we all went outside to take pictures.


After we took the pictures, Bryan stretched out his hand. The children rushed both of us. I had three or four children at a time shaking each hand, all yelling with excitement.

After our work in Sondu was complete we rode the van to Brakenhurst near Nairobi and stayed there for one or two nights. During that period we visited the game preserve. I saw these lions by the road. I was probably only ten feet from these lions. Notice the good advice on the sign.


It is an eye-opening experience to visit other countries with vastly different cultures. It provides a wider perspective on the world. It is also a time to stretch yourself by leaving what you take for granted each day. Despite the differences, however, I was welcomed by the people there. The following years at school I also formed friendships with fellow students from Kenya. I hope to visit more countries and expand my exposure even more.

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Book Review: Dear Mr.Henshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary tells the story of Leigh Botts who lives with his mother while his father works as a trucker. He struggles with his parent’s divorce and conflicts at school while he also tries to develop as a writer. This book won the John Newbery Medal for The Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children.

The story is first told through a series of letters that Leigh sends to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. Later he primarily writes diary entries. My mother gave me this book when I was in fourth grade. When I first tried to read it I did not understand its format. It looked like a collection of letters rather than a story. My mother told me that the story is told through the letters. I tried it again, and after I became accustomed to the format I grew to love the story.

Plot Summary

(The story is fragmented because it is told through letters and diary entries, and so this summary will be a bit fragmented. I have done what I can to smooth it out without compromising the story.)

Leigh writes his first letter to author Boyd Henshaw when he is in second grade. At this point his parents, Bill and Bonnie, are already divorced. He writes to Henshaw a few more times in third, fourth, and fifth grade. When he is in sixth grade he writes more consistently. He also sends Henshaw a list of questions for a class report. Henshaw does not respond in time and then sends silly answers and his own list of questions. Leigh is angered by the silly answers, and at first refuses to answer the questions, but his mother insists. Through the answers we learn more about Leigh.

Leigh is an average boy: average height and not athletic, not especially gifted but not dumb either. His parents’ marriage suffered because Bill’s payments to buy his rig made it impossible for the family to move out of their mobile home. Bonnie also did not like not knowing where he was when he drove cross-country. After the divorce, Leigh and Bonnie moved into a small house in Pacific Grove, CA. Bonnie now works part-time for a catering company. Her employer Katy usually sends something special home for Leigh’s school lunch. Bonnie is also studying to be a Licensed Vocational Nurse.

When Leigh’s parents divorced, Bill took their dog Bandit because Bonnie could not work and care for a dog, and Bandit helps Bill stay awake on long drives. Bandit likes riding. In fact, Bill found him at a truck stop.

Leigh thinks school is okay. He is in a new school, and so he does not have many friends. He wishes some of them would invite him to their house. He does not have a favorite teacher, but he likes the custodian Mr. Fridley. Leigh is also frustrated because someone at school keeps stealing the special item in his lunch that Katy sends home for him.

Sometimes Bonnie needs to leave for work early. Leigh does not like to stay at home alone in the morning, and so he leaves for school. He is not supposed to be on school grounds too early, and so he hides in the bushes. He misses his father and wishes he would show up someday and drive him to school.

Leigh did not want to answer Henshaw’s questions but when he finishes them he realizes he enjoys writing, and Henshaw did tell him that the way to become an author is to write. He considers writing a story called The Great Lunchbag Mystery.

Henshaw suggests he keep a diary. When Leigh tries it his mind is blank, and so Henshaw suggests he pretend he is writing a letter. The next several entries in this book are pretend letters with  few real letters to Henshaw.

One day he writes a fake name on his lunch bag to fool the thief, The trick works for a while, but then the thief learns the bag belongs to Leigh. Fridley suggests a burglar alarm (probably making a joke). One day Leigh wraps his bag in tape, but then he struggles to open it at lunch

Leigh is frustrated by his parents divorce, and he and misses his father. He keeps waiting for a Christmas present, and then another trucker delivers a package from Bill. Leigh is also frustrated when his father forgets to send the support check. He asks Bonnie why she does not remarry. She says the right kind of man is hard to find. Leigh worries about how hard she works, and he wonders if his father is not very interested in him.

Leigh’s teacher tells him his school and some other schools will print stories by young writers and that the winner will have lunch with a famous author, She suggests that Leigh write a story. He hopes that the famous author will be Henshaw.

Henshaw previously told Leigh to write like Leigh, not someone else, but Leigh struggles to think of a story that does not sound like another writer. In the meantime he is frustrated because his father forgets to call, despite his promise to call. His mother used to ride with his father before he was born, and so he wonders if the divorce is his fault.

As more days pass without a call from Bill, Leigh grows angry. He is also angry at Bonnie for divorcing Bill. Eventually Leigh cannot wait anymore and calls his father’s home in Bakersfield. Bill is home and answers. He says he lost Bandit while he stopped to put chains on his tires due to snow. He looked until he was forced to leave to avoid being stranded by the highway closure. Leigh then hears another child in the background ask about getting pizza, apparently the son of a new girlfriend. Leigh cannot take it and hangs up.

The next day Leigh feels terrible that his father took another boy out to get pizza. When his mother comes home he tells her about Bandit ans asks why she married Bill and why she stopped loving him. She explains they married too young. She did not have a good life at home, and there was not much to do in her town. When Bill arrived in his big truck she was entranced, and so they went to Las Vegas to be married. She rode with Bill until Leigh was born but grew tired of it, and then Bill was away most of the time. When Leigh learns that his mother grew tired of life on the road he concludes that maybe he is not to blame for the divorce. Bonnie also thinks that maybe she grew up, but Bill did not.

The next day Leigh is angry because his lunch bag was robbed again. He complains to Mr. Fridley that he has no friends at the school. Fridley asks who would want to be a friend to someone who always scowls. A few days later he begins plans to equip a lunch box with an alarm. He also begins a story for the writing contest. Bill sends a letter apologizing for losing Bandit and encloses $20.

Leigh writes to Henshaw asking for help on his story. Henshaw says a character should solve a problem or change. Leigh sees that does not work with his story, and so he considers writing something other than a story. He then returns to writing in his diary.

Leigh borrows books from the school library to study electricity and then uses the $20 to buy parts for a lunch box alarm. The next day at school no one steals from his lunch box. When he opens the box during lunch he sets off the alarm. This attracts attention from teachers, staff, and other students. Another boy, Barry, says he wants an alarm on his bedroom door, and the next day he invites Leigh to his house to help him build one. No one steals from Leigh’s lunch again, and so he stops setting the alarm.

Instead of a story or poem, Leigh decides to write about a time he rode in his father’s truck. He includes details about gear shifting on steep grades, hawks on the telephone lines, and the leaves on the trees.

A few days later he invites Barry to his house for dinner. Barry enjoys a break from his sisters and step-sisters, and Leigh appreciates having a friend.

The next day Leigh asks Bonnie whether Bill will remarry. She doubts he can afford it because of the payments he makes on his truck. Leigh then asks her why she and Bill do not remarry. She says Bill will never grow up.

The next day at school, Leigh looks through the writer’s yearbook. He only won Honorable Mention. He is disappointed, but he is happy to see his name in print. Some of the children who did not win anything at all are angry and say they will never write again, which Leigh thinks is dumb. He also learns that the author is Angela Badger who writes books about girls. Leigh sill wants to meet her because she is a real author.

Later that week Leigh learns that the winning poem had been plagiarized, and so he is given the chance to have lunch with Mrs. Badger instead. At the lunch Leigh sits across from her. While Leigh tries to think of something to say, some girls tell Mrs. Badger they want to write books “exactly like hers.” She then praises Leigh’s work, “A Day on Dad’s Rig” because “it was written by a boy who wrote honestly about something he knew and had strong feelings about” and because it let her feel what it was like to ride in the truck. She compliments him for writing like him and not trying to imitate another author and says that is “one mark of a good writer.” She also tells Leigh about the time she met Henshaw. On the way home Leigh thinks about how Badger called him an author and told him to “keep it up.” When he is at home that night writing in his diary about the events of the day, Leigh wishes his father were home so that he could tell him about it

That weekend Leigh is out with his friend Barry when he sees a truck without a trailer parked outside his house. He runs home and finds his father and Bandit. Bill says he asked about Bandit every day on his CB. He and another driver who found Bandit were at the same weigh station one day, and so Bill retrieved him. When Bonnie arrives at home she invites Bill inside and offers him a cup of coffee. Leigh shows him his lunch box alarm.

While sitting with their coffee Bill tells Bonnie he misses her. He asks her if there is any chance for them. She says “no” because of the lonely days, waiting for calls, and broken promises. When he leaves he tells Leigh he will try to visit more often, but Leigh does not count on it. He offers to let Leigh keep Bandit, but Leigh tells Bill to keep him. After Bill leaves, Leigh feels happy to have seen him, but he feels sad as well.


Dear Mr. Henshaw is an interesting story for many reasons. Leigh struggles with many difficulties common to children, such as needing a friend and adjusting to a new school. The story also explores in depth the difficulty of growing up with divorced parents and missing his father. My parents never divorced, and so I cannot personally identify with Leigh. This story, however, does a great job of showing how hard it is for him.

Leigh learns some important lessons on writing. Henshaw tells him that to learn to be a writer, he needs to “read, look, listen, think, and write.” He also needs to write like him, not someone else. I wonder if Cleary was trying to help young aspiring writers when she wrote this story.

I read this story probably several times as a child, and I enjoyed reading it again as an adult. If you want to encourage your child to read, then I highly recommend this book.


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Arwen Continues to Amuse Me

My cat Arwen continues to provide amusement. A month or so ago I was sitting at my desk when I noticed her rolling on the floor in the corner. That was strange, and so I asked, “Buddy, what are you doing?!” I then remembered that her catnip ball was in that corner. I thought the ball would be a good toy because she enjoys a catnip-scented mouse. It did not go as I had hoped. She mostly ignored the ball when I first gave it to her, and so I thought I had wasted my money on it. A few weeks later she suddenly became interested. She does not play with it often, but she occasionally enjoys it.

The best toy for her is a scented toy mouse. I have a small ziplock bag of catnip. I put a cheap toy mouse in it for at least a few hours, maybe days, and then I give it to her. She goes crazy. See the results for yourself.


A few months ago I found a treat she enjoys. She did not care about the brand of treats I gave to Oscar, and so for quite some time I did not give her treats. A few months ago I decided to try Temptations. Wow. She loves them. I do not even know which flavor is her favorite because she loves every one she has tried, but I like to give her the catnip flavor.

I like to spoil her, and so I enjoy watching her reaction to these treats. Whenever she first comes inside, she often jumps onto the kitchen table where I keep them. If she is already inside, she also might jump up when she sees me walk into the kitchen. I know what she wants. If I then pick up the bag, she sometimes rubs it in anticipation.

As much as I enjoy spoiling her, however, I need to keep some discipline. She can act like a child who only wants to eat desert, but she needs to eat food too. If she has had enough treats for that day, then I will tell her to eat her food or go outside and catch something.

These treats are also useful if I want to know where she is. When I leave for work I put her outside. She loves to roam and would hate to be trapped inside alone all day. If I want to make sure she did not slip back inside while I was preparing to leave, then I shake her treats. If she hears it, she will come running. I cannot disappoint her after doing that, but I do not mind giving her some in those situations. I like seeing her happy.


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More Movie Reviews Are Coming

I hope to do another religious/philosophical themes movie review sometime in the next month or so. I have several movies in mind. Here are some that I am considering. I have not decided which one I will review next, but I am interested in which ones most interest my readers. Feel free to make a request in the comments.

Raiders of the Lost ark (1981)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indian Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Contact (1997)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Signs (2002)
Minority Report (2002)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Knowing (2009)
Avatar (2009)

All of these are movies in my personal collection. No doubt there are some others that I have not seen. Feel free to suggest other options.

For now I need to stop posting every Tuesday. Posting twice each week leaves me little time to read about the craft of writing. I want to increase my quality on this blog, and I also want to break past that inner block and learn to write decent short stories. I may still occasionally publish an additional post when time allows, but I will not make it a weekly event.

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Love Your Furry Friends

Last Sunday I watched A Street Cat Named Bob on Netflix after stumbling across a YouTube clip reporting on this story. The movie is based on the true story of a street musician in London named James Bowen who is struggling to overcome heroin addiction. He adopts a stray, orange, male cat whom he names Bob. The cat becomes a part of his act, attracting attention from the people. Caring for Bob also helps James to overcome his addiction and turn his life around.

I watched most of the movie at my desk. During the last twenty minutes or so I lied down on the couch. I covered myself with a blanket and invited Arwen to join me. She loves blankets. She settled into one of her favorite spots – the space between my legs and the back of the couch (which my sister once called “the basket”). She purred and turned her head upside down. This is her way of saying, “Please rub my chin,” which I did. She then enjoyed time with me as I finished the movie.


I thought about how pets can enrich our lives. Like Bob, Arwen was a stray. She was living on the streets and trying to care for two kittens until my brother-in-law’s aunt and uncle fostered her and provided homes for her kittens. I later adopted Arwen after Oscar died. She is happy living here, and I am happy to have her. When I come home from work, she is usually at or near the door waiting for me. Of course, she is eager to eat her dinner, but she is also happy to see me.

After I finished the movie I picked her up from the couch, held her, and scratched her head. She squinted her eyes and purred loudly, showing her appreciation. I thought about the closing line from Marley and Me: “Give him your heart, and he will give you his.” Oscar was one of my best friends. Losing him was hard, but since then Arwen has become a great friend. I talk to her as I get ready for work, and she greets me when I come home. Sometimes she will curl up on her carpeted cat platform next to my desk while I a working or curl up and purr on my lap when I sitting on my recliner. If you have a dog or cat, then take good care of him or her. Your furry friend can become a great companion. Give your love, and you will get it back.

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