Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tim, the Lonely Snowman, a Christmas Story

Bear with me. I’m going to subject you to a children’s Christmas story. I didn't dream this up until I sat down to begin the blog post. So read my story with young eyes and be content on this Christmas Day.



It was all great fun while they were building him. Of course, he couldn’t see the children until they put two pieces of black coal in his head as eyes. But he could hear them laughing and chattering at one another. He loved kids … or at least he thought he would. After all, he hadn’t even existed until now. Falling snow felt good on his rounded shoulders and bald pate, until the little ones put a red knit cap on top and a scarf around his neck. Or where his neck would have been if he’d had one. And green gloves, too. But that was all right. The tykes were all bundled up just like him.
They seemed excited, not just about him, but also about something called Christmas Eve. Christmas must be something wonderful. Finally, the youngsters stood in a group in front of him arguing over a name for him. He was so proud he almost burst his coal lump buttons when they settled on Tim. He liked that name. Had a good ring to it.
The day passed pleasantly. He had a brief fright when everyone disappeared for lunch and the sun threatened to break through the clouds. But then the children returned to throw snowballs at one another and laugh and play while a thick bank of white clouds rolled in to begin dusting everything with gentle snowflakes. The moppets tried to catch them in their mouths or on the tips of tongues. What a happy day.
Just as the light started to fade, the children began slipping away. Going home, they said to one another. Get ready for Christmas Eve. And then, suddenly, everyone was gone. Maybe Christmas Eve wasn’t so grand after all. Tim looked out across the broad park. No one was left except a few pine trees. And Tim got … lonely.
As the day turned into evening, he felt so abandoned his skin, once so soft and flexible, started to harden. After a long, lonely twilight, night fell, and he knew he was truly abandoned. The moon rose, making the snow-cloaked park and the trees and the glow of lights from homes in the distance lovely. But he couldn’t appreciate the sight. All he could think of was that he was alone. Deserted. He didn’t even have another snowman to keep him company.
In the midst of feeling sorry for himself, he heard a flutter and a raucous caw as a big black bird landed on his shoulder.
“Why so sad, bud?” The voice was loud and grating.
“Tim. My name is Tim. And I’m sad because I’m lonely. All the children abandoned me.”
“Aw, don’t worry. They’ll be back tomorrow.” The bird, who said he was Robbie Raven, twisted his head in a curious way. “But they’ll be late. Have to play with their Christmas toys first.”
“Christmas toys?”
“Yeah. It’s a big deal with them. Some fat guy in a red suit is supposed to crawl down their chimneys and leave them a bunch of play things. Funny, though. Most of them don’t have chimneys.”
“What’s going on?” a soft voice startled them.
Tim couldn’t turn his head, but in a moment, a beautiful little deer with huge eyes stood in front of him, flicking her ears.
Robbie gave a loud caw. “Doey Whitetail meet Tim Snowman. He says he’s lonely.”
“Well, let’s just keep him company and cheer him up.”
A little snow wren twittered from a nearby pine bough, and a red fox barked from behind the bole of the same tree. Before long, there were as many animals in the field as there had been children. Tim’s loneliness rose and floated away on the breeze. Even after the wren tucked her head beneath a wing and Doey scooped a bed out of the snow and the others settled down, he was content. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t abandoned.
The sun rose, chasing his new friends back to the sanctuary of dens and lairs and remote tree branches, but everything was all right. It wasn’t long before the children reappeared to flood him with love and Christmas cheer.


For those of you who can’t reclaim their childhood and ask how a brand new snowman knows all about children and deer and birds but doesn't know a thing about Christmas, I can only say … I feel sorry for you.

As always, everyone … thanks for reading.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Encomium to Two Electronic Saints

This post is dedicated to two individuals: Larry Strob and Dr. Joe Berdewelle. (For reasons to become plain later, I’ve twiddled with their last names.)

On another blog site (, I described my vicious war with a new Dell Inspiron One computer and told how two very unlikely guardian angels came to my rescue. I identified the three parties involved in this fiasco and subsequent rescue as Electronic Guardian Angel Larry (or EGAL) and Electronic Guardian Angel Joe (or EGAB … I couldn't pronounce EGAJ, so I played on his loquaciousness for an acronym). The third party was me … the Zinc Penny (i.e., worthless).

During a time of stress and looming deadlines, these two stepped up and saw me through the trials and tribulations (read “disasters”) of ordering and getting a new computer up and running when my old standby spasmed and threatened to die. Actually, it was two computers because the first one, while determined to be absolutely sound, wouldn’t interface with Word’s software, also declared to be faultless. Faultless, schmaltless. I needed a machine that wasn’t so uppity. One that would do what it was told to do. My experience with the second or replacement computer was only a little less stressful. It was an 8.1. What else need I say?

For several months, things have been going reasonably well, and I’ve only had to call on EGAL rarely and EGAB, occasionally. Because of this ongoing this drama, EGAB has become familiar with what I do and how I do it. As a holder of five academic degrees, one of them a PhD, he was appalled at how inefficient I was going about such mundane things as research and editing. Nothing would do but I should start using Dragon Naturally Speaking. Well, I wrote a blog post about that horrific experience, as well. (See post of August 28, 2014.)

More recently, Dr. Joe (or EGAB) enlightened me on how much a second monitor would benefit me in these pursuits. Finally convinced the value a second monitor outweighed the damage to my budget, I ordered an HP LV2311 Monitor. It arrived the other day, and of course, Dr. Joe had to set it up for me. He did a great job, too. My computer sits on the right and the new screen sits to the left. The only problem was that the cursor wouldn’t go left to the HP monitor. In order to utilize the screen, I had to go all the way around the barn and exit the computer screen on the right. Awkward to say the least. Confusing is more like it. Well, it took EGAL about five minutes to fix that problem. Now I’m making maximum (for me, that is) use of the HP screen.

After reviewing all of this, I’ve decided to promote my two lifeguards to electronic sainthood. After all, they’ve performed more than the requisite number of miracles involving electrons, not the least of which is that I am no longer terrified of my computer. I still approach it with trepidation and anxiety, but the abject fear is gone. Heck, I’ve even punched some buttons without knowing their function. I’ve soared through the innards of this Dell Inspiron as I have no other. (WARNING: I consider anything over six inches off the floor to be soaring.)

So EGAL has become Saint Larry Strob, while EGAB has evolved into Saint Dr. Joe Berdewelle (or should that be Dr. Saint Joe Berdewelle?). I have to admit that at least one of them has a somewhat tarnished halo. I’ve been sitting nearby while Saint Dr. Joe’s been working on a particular problem and learned a couple of new words. I found out the hard way they were not to be used in polite company.

I have even bumped my own status up a notch. I’ve evolved from the Zinc Penny to the Copper Penny. Why not? I can even speak computerese now: Boot up, Interface, Hardware, Software, Dongles, Toolbar, Taskbar (just don’t ask which is which). Pretty good, huh?

Earlier, I said that I had fiddled around with my two Saints’ last names. Oh, they can recognize themselves if they read this, but they are of such generous heart that I didn’t want them to be inundated by a host of know-nothings such as I am … er, was. But the decision wasn’t altogether altruistic. After all, if everyone called on them, they wouldn’t have time to bail me out when future problems arise.

Beneath my feeble attempts at humor, I hope these two guys read this blog and discern the depth and sincerity of my appreciation for all their assistance. Kudos to two electronic Saints.

As always, everyone … thanks for reading.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pasó por aqui …

Photo of El Morro National Monument courtesy of Pixabay
This week, I’d like to take a look at the El Morro National Monument here in New Mexico. Let me first introduce it in the form of a scene from The City of Rocks, my third BJ Vinson mystery novel. The following scene takes place in Chapter 23 of the book. BJ and his companion, Paul Barton, are headed from Albuquerque to the Lazy M Ranch in New Mexico’s boot heel country. They elect to charter a small plane and enroute fly over the monument:
     Paul and I departed Albuquerque from the Double Eagle Airport early Saturday morning. Jim Gray, a lanky fixed-wing jockey with a small potbelly, got us off the ground and into the air with his usual efficiency. Although the monsoon season was coming to an end, dark thunderheads to the west announced rain over the New Mexico-Arizona border. Exercising his customary caution, Jim was no sooner at altitude than he got on the radio for a final weather report. He knew I didn’t speak radio—all of that static and the special lingo pilots and controllers use rendered it incomprehensible to me—so he obliged us with an interpretation.
     “Gonna be okay. The front’s drifting off to the northeast. It won’t even come close enough to give us a bumpy ride. We’re gonna have a good flight.”
     We circled to the west and settled on a south-southwest bearing, passing over the old mining town of Grants and the El Morro National Monument, a huge, castle-like sandstone monolith rising from the scrubby desert plateau. A reliable water hole hidden at the foot of a bluff had made it a popular campground since pre-Columbian times. A succession of Indian, Spanish, and Anglo passers-by had left inscriptions: names, dates, messages, rock art, all carved into the stone to create a gigantic historical billboard. Somewhere nearby lay the desert Ice Cave. Farther to the west, the lava beds of the El Malpais Badlands cast an ebony shroud across the land.
Water is as precious as blood, itself, especially for travelers in the desert. There was one absolutely reliable source of this life-sustaining liquid in western New Mexico – long before it was New Mexico or New Spain or anything other than a vast unnamed land. Fortunately, this source was clearly marked by a huge sandstone monolith, which over time became known as El Morro, the Headland. 

As rain pelted its stark castle-like walls, water drained into a natural pool at the base of the rock, making the oasis an essential stopping point at the crossroads of primitive paths or highways running both north-south and east-west traveled by Indians, Spanish, and Anglos for something like a thousand years. Its importance in this sense remained constant until a railroad was built (passing 20 miles to the north), so that the site’s water was no longer as crucial.
Photo of Atsinna Pueblo Ruins courtesy of Pixabay

During this 1,000 years, the rock was home to Indians as evidenced by the pueblo ruins called Atsinna (Place of Writings on Rock) perched atop the monolith and roughly 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs inscribed on its sandstone walls. Atsinna, the pueblo occupied by up to 1,500 people from circa 1275 to 1350 AD announces the Native American’s primacy. The coming of the Spanish was proclaimed by an inscription by the first Colonial Governor, Don Juan de Oñate. The English translation of his carved message is “Passed by Here (Pasó por aqui) the Governor Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April 1605.”

After the Pueblo Revolt, the Spanish re-conqueror of the area, Don Diego de Vargas left a prideful inscription at El Morro, reading: “Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.”

The American’s arrival was noted by inscriptions left by Lt. Edward Beale on August 23, 1859 as he
Photo of Don Juan de Oñate's Inscription courtesy of Pixabay
and his train of 25 Egyptian camels established a new route from Texas to California.

The monument is administered by the National Park Service (US Department of the Interior), which in 1997 began an inscription preservation program. Despite the seeming immutability of solid stone, the Zuni Sandstone cliffs of this 200-foot monolith are subject to erosion by both mechanical (freeze/thaw, wet/dry, lichens, burrowing animals and insects, wind and water) and chemical (interaction of chemicals in the ground water) attack. 

Visit to see the steps they are taking to protect this vast historic “autograph album.”

El Moro can be reached from Grants, NM on I-40. Take NM-53 west past the El Malpais National Monument to El Moro. The Visitors’ Center is open daily except Christmas and New Year’s. For information call (505) 783-4226.

As always, thanks for reading.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Indulge Me A Personal Moment

You never know what you're going to get when you read this blog. Last week’s post was rather upbeat, at least Tom Turkey and I think so. Today, I’d like you to indulge me a personal moment for a change. While sorting through some files, I came across a letter I wrote and delivered to the hospital on the day of my wife’s death almost six years ago. After thinking it over, I decided I wanted to share it with you. So as I say … indulge me a moment.
At 6:30 a.m. on February 12, 2009, my beloved wife of almost 51 years lost a four-month battle with pneumonia, renal failure, and exhaustion. In an effort to express our appreciation to the staff of Kindred Hospital who had cared for her in those final weeks, I wrote and delivered the following letter that same day. Then we all had a good cry together.

Dear Friends,

We would like to thank you for the care and courtesy you extended Betty and me, our family, and the friends who visited during her stay there—including, of course, Gizmo, the little white Papillion. We will each have our say here, but first, I would like to channel Betty’s thoughts as she would express them were she able:

Hello, to all of you. You are an extraordinary group of people: professional, competent, but most important to me … caring and compassionate. You did your very best for me, and I am sorry I was not strong enough to allow you to see more positive results from your efforts. Alas, I wasn’t. Too old and weak from my illness, I guess. But my family and I will always remember that you were there for me, offering your best care, always delivered with respect and, I like to think, fondness.

Even though I have slipped away, please let my feelings spur you to offer the same level of professional and personal treatment to others who may better benefit from them. You mend broken bodies, ease tortured minds, and provide an environment where the soul is nurtured. Always, always remember this and take pride in it. Goodbye, thank you, and God bless.

Now, may I, Donald, add my opinion. I echo Betty’s thoughts and feelings about Kindred and its staff, both professional and administrative. During the nine or so weeks my wife was under your care, I received the utmost support from everyone I met. My requests were honored; my wife was well tended…and adored. You made it easy to admit her, gave her excellent medical care, helped me wend my way through the financial morass, nourished me in your excellent cafeteria, and showed concern for me while I sat with Betty every day she was with you. This includes everyone from the medics to the maintenance personnel. In other words, you delivered human compassion in addition to professional care. When it was obvious the end was near, we made it known we wanted Betty to die at Kindred among friends, not at some hospice in the midst of strangers.

Most of you met my son and his wife, and both have often commented on the extraordinary care Betty was receiving. They were made to feel their opinions were as important as mine. And for this, we all thank you. The guests who came to see my wife were also favorably impressed. We cannot all be wrong. As far as we are concerned, the evidence is in: you are a very special group of people. And in this, we are joined by Gizmo, whom everyone met at one time or the other, including some of your patients.

Once again, thank you for the care, concern, and love bestowed upon our family in an extremely difficult time of our lives. We will remember it forever. God bless you for your humanity. Please share this effort to express our gratitude with everyone at the hospital.
From the bottom of our hearts,


Thank you, as well, for letting me share this with you. Intensely personal … yet pretty universal.
As always, thanks for reading.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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