Falling Through the Bedroom Floor

FallingPhoto by Henry & Co.

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

The last thing Zack saw as he fell back onto (into?) the Map, was his sister gaping at him in horror. And then the blue circle he’d been standing on suddenly swirled up around him, and… It’s that thing that sometimes happens when you’re first starting to fall sleep, he thought. You feel like you’re falling and you reach out to grab something, anything, but then your hands hit the covers and you realize you’re still in your nice, warm, safe bed. So he reached out to grab the covers.

There were no covers. There was no nice, warm, safe bed. There was only darkness. Zack was hurtling downward at an insane speed (as if there was a sane speed to be hurtling downward at). Maybe because he was still in his swimsuit, he thought of the “Black Hole” at Wild Waters in Centerburg, the nearly vertical plastic tube he’d become tall enough to ride just last year. Only this was that times infinity, and without the water; there was just frigid air rushing past him.

It had to be a dream. You don’t just fall through your sister’s bedroom floor into… What? As his eyes adjusted, he began to make out grayish-white shapes like clouds. No, not “like” clouds, they were clouds. Wait—light! He twisted his body and saw a bright yellow light. Good—a light. He reached for it, but couldn’t touch it. It was out of reach.

About 290,000 miles out of reach.

It was the same double moon that had disappeared after Aloysia left last June and then reappeared this afternoon when… Moon? Clouds? But that would mean he was really — no, it was a dream, it had to be a dream. It was night (how did it get to be night?) and it was cold, unbelievably cold. If only he’d put something on before he’d, what, started dreaming? Of course it was a dream, it had to be a dream. He tried to relax, tried to wake up. He couldn’t. He was freezing, and he was falling, falling through the night sky into—no. Absurd. Hah-hah. Falling. Oh, sure! He started to laugh, but even before it got out, the laugh betrayed him and turned into a scream:

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Help! Gina! Dad! Mom! God!”

The words shot like bullets from his mouth and were gone just as fast. There was no one to hear him, no one; even his voice had abandoned him. The reality engulfed him like a tidal wave: It wasn’t a dream. He really was falling.

And he really was going to die.

To read the next episode, click here.

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Thoughts: Have you ever had a close call with death? What hopes or regrets consumed your thoughts at that moment?

Wishing pix-Map

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Thinky Stuff

I love smart-funny stuff, and so-dumb-it’s-clever stuff, and “oo, I didn’t see that coming” stuff, and… Come to think of it, I like most thinky stuff. So, here’s a gift for your brain (and heart). Have a thinky weekend!

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” ~Horace Walpole

“To be a philosopher, just reverse everything you have ever been told…and have a sense of humor doing it.” ~Criss Jami

“To paraphrase several sages: Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.” ~Susan Sontag

“He was alone with his thoughts. They were extremely unpleasant thoughts and he would rather have had a chaperon.” ~Douglas Adams

“People don’t like to think, if one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant.” ~Helen Keller

         “A conclusion is the place you get to when you’re tired of thinking.”    ~Jill Shalvis

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ~Plutarch

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” ~Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)

Posted in Humor, Quips and Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

The True Tale of Toby the Turtle

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My Real Memoir

Shortly after the legendary Fat Cat incident, our neighbors matched it with an equally outrageous one involving their beloved Toby the Turtle. Odd pet? Hardly. Half the kids I knew had tiny pet turtles living in plastic lagoons on their bedroom dressers. Many families ended up flushing them down the toilet (resulting in an outbreak of sewer-dwelling ninjas in the 80s). But our neighbors the Cartingers couldn’t bear to part with Toby, and he eventually grew to be the size of a dinner plate.

Although Toby wandered incessantly, he was visibly nervous about living amid a herd of thundering feet. So Mr. Cartinger tied a length of hot-pink yarn to his shell, and the other end to the banister of the stairs.

Toby was now free to roam, and whenever anyone wanted him they would simply “follow the yarn.” One moment he would be on the third stair and an hour later…the fourth stair (I didn’t say he wandered quickly).

One day while vacuuming, Mrs. Cartinger heard a series of bangs upstairs. The mysterious noise moved from room to room, and then suddenly, as if wearing a powerful miniature jet pack, Toby zoomed into view, shot down the stairs at roughly eight million miles per hour…

And crashed into the vacuum cleaner. Mrs. C. stared uncomprehendingly, then turned off the device. The little reptile settled to the ground as his horrified human mom realized her vacuum cleaner had spooled up his tether!

There was nothing left but a shell. No legs, no head… Oh, calm down, he was fine. He was just hiding inside his shell. In fact, he came out…six weeks later.

Fast-forward 20 years, when one day it struck me that there was a parable in the dual Fat Cat and Toby stories.

Sadly, many religious folks are Tobys or Fat Cats:

Tobys are legalists. They live in fear of God, but not the Old Testament kind (reverence), more like the fear of Godzilla kind. They tether themselves to rules and hide behind a shell of religion, all the while avoiding their actual Creator. They live in fear of being stepped on by a dangerously capricious God. They know about sin, but not about grace.

Fat Cats are liberalists. Their doctrine is not fear, but presumption. They have no tether. In fact, they have no authentic connection to God at all. If they pray, it’s to butter him up (“I love you soooo much!”). They know about grace, but not about sin.

Both miss out. Tobys miss God’s love and assurance. Fat Cats miss God’s protection from sin, and from themselves. (Fat Cat always missed out on the safely de-boned chicken my mom prepared for our other cats!).

There are two things we can never fully understand:

The depth of our sin, and the depth of God’s grace. Only God can reveal them to us. No secondary source, no spiritual teacher, not even Scriptures can fully reveal them to us; only God himself. So go to the source. Go to the Shepherd and learn to know his voice. Don’t be a turtle or a fat cat…

Be a sheep.

“My sheep know my voice, and I know theirs. And I give them eternal life.” ~John 10:27

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir, Quips and Quotes | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday: Eyes!

My Featured Blogger this week is im-the-bestScuba Hank (looking dapper here in his tuxedo wet suit). Hank, who I also featured last year, is an NYC-based digital marketing consultant, DJ, and Master Scuba Diver. In other words, he does of lot of things. And if his underwater photos are anything to go by, he does all them remarkably well. His underwater photos and videos, captured virtually everywhere on earth, never cease to amaze me!

Scuba Hank NYC

Please click on any image to enlarge and scroll through gallery.

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The Legend of Fat Cat

Fat Cat

My Real Memoir

Well, here I am talking about cats again. We didn’t actually look for cats. They would just show up, and say, “I live here now, and you’re going to feed me.” What the heck, they were free, and most of them were pretty affectionate.

Except for Fat Cat. Mr. B and Ginchy liked us, they really liked us. Not Fat Cat. He avoided us like the mange. But every now and then he would suddenly remember how deeply he loved us.

It was when Mom cooked chicken for dinner.

We ate in the den because we were committed to spending quality time every evening…with the TV. While Mom loaded our plates onto a tea cart, Dad would pull a gateleg table (made by the same people who built medieval drawbridges) out of the closet. Then he would lift the Formica flaps, activate the 416 interlocking cast iron legs, and voila: the perfect 9,000 pound eating surface from which to view Bonanza.

As soon as we sat down, Fat Cat would adopt his “I love humans soooo much!” look and jump up into Dad’s lap, then curl up and (seemingly) fall asleep. But seconds later his right front paw would levitate, and as soon as it found Dad’s plate, would begin fishing for fowl. Splunk. Mashed potatoes. Ew! Shake-a, shake-a. Resume reconnaissance. Then the mission would be cut short by a friendly poke from Dad’s fork. Fat Cat would jump down, acutely offended.

Then he would jump up into Mom’s lap and the ritual would begin again: Lap. Nap. Levitating paw. Fork. Squeak. This would continue until he’d been kicked off every lap.

After dinner, Mom would roll away the tea cart while Dad began closing the gate legs and lowering the drawbridge flaps.

As the only child, my job was to supervise. One particular night, while Dad was carrying the hulking table toward the closet, I spotted a strange aberration: four extra feet. And unlike the others, these had claws, claws that were frantically trying to help the table “walk.” As Dad passed, I looked between the flaps and saw…

Fat Cat. Neatly folded into the legworks. And looking seriously peeved. Being the deeply compassionate child I was, I instantly sprang into action, i.e.,

I fell on the floor laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Dad asked.

I pointed between the flaps: “He…the cat…hah-hah-hah-hah!”

Dad looked for himself. A moment later he landed on top of me, guffawing like a madman.

Mom came rushing in. “What’s going on?” Dad pointed: “He…the ca…hah-hah-hah-hah!” She looked between the flaps at the irate cat slowly working his way through the legworks, and…

Whump! She landed, on top of both of us, chortling uncontrollably.

It was the hardest my family ever laughed (our stomachs still hurt the next morning).

Fat Cat was not amused.

He did, however, graciously forgive us…

The next time Mom cooked chicken.

Note: to complete this two-part parable,

read The True Tale of Toby the Turtle.

Posted in Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Don’t Love Your Family!

the-good-samaritan-1874Thought for the Week

My title is a ruse. But it makes a point: There’s a widespread belief that loving your family and friends is the greatest virtue to which you can aspire. This is either true or false depending on how you look at it. If by “family” you mean blood relatives and personal friends, it’s false. If by “family” you mean our universal family, it’s true. Why? Because our families and friends aren’t isolated units, unaffected by and unaffecting others. To paraphrase John Donne, “No family is an island, entire of itself. Every family is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Loving your immediate family and circle of friends is good, but it’s not the ultimate good. Nor is it the kind of good that will heal our world. We’re called to love our whole family, the human race, our whole home, the earth, and all of our children.

I’m sometimes tempted to think this will never happen. But this morning I saw something on a community site called nextdoor.com that gave me hope for our universal family. All of the respondents (except Pauline) were young adults:

  • Mrs. Gardner: “I need help. I’m senior can’t get the store I’m getting dehydrated. I need 2 cans of chicken noodle soup and 3 bottles of body armor drink it’s good it’s helps my dehydration!!”
  • Phil: “I tried texting you. Where do they sell body armor drink?”
  • Brianna: “Phil, they sell the body armour drinks at any gas station.”
  • Barbara: “They sell them at Target and they’re actually on sale right now!”
  • Sarah: “Is there anything you need Phil??”
  • Phil: “Sarah, thank you for the thought. All my needs are met at the moment though.”
  • Mrs. Gardner: “Please my dr said these r very good for dehydration.”
  • Nancy: “I’m on my way, I got everything!”
  • Phil: “I put it at your front door.”
  • Nancy: “You’re awesome Phil!”
  • Mrs. Gardner: “Thank u everyone with all my heart thank thank u god bless all!!”
  • Pauline: “Thanks, Mrs. Gardner for reaching out for help and to everyone who helped for modeling how to Love they neighbor!”
  • Mercedes: “Phil, thank you for helping Ms. Gardner in her time of need! The world is better because of people like you!”

Maybe we should ask ourselves regularly,

“How am I loving my whole family?

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Give Up Yourself

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“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

~C.S. Lewis

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

A Whoom! in the Room

trees-6903871_960_720Photo by jplenio

The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.Wishing Title (logo only)

Ever since Aunt Aloysia had given them the mysterious Map, Gina and Zack Dore had been obsessed with it, as if their souls lived there rather than in mind-numbingly familiar Middleton. Zack went into Gina’s room every day to look at it, but in the two months since Aloysia left, nothing had changed. Life was still moving at the speed of tree sap.

Gina swore she’d lost interest, but the truth was she rolled the Map out every night, and sometimes even cried because she “missed” Ismara. Both of them could have drawn detailed copies from memory. It was more than just another objet mystére, it was their true home.

Zack was swimming at the Gutmacher Community Center pool when he spotted it. Ninety seconds later he was pedaling El Furioso as hard as he could, struggling to stay on the seat in his still-dripping swimsuit.

He crashed into the mud-room, blurred past the kitchen, and shot up the stairs to Gina’s room. “Did you see? The double moon is back!” He pounded illegally hard on her door. Nothing. He poked his head in. Empty. He went in and pulled the Map out from under her tall white bed frame.

Gina came in ten minutes later, sipping an iced latte from Middleton Mall where she and Missy Herbert had spent the day window shopping (Gina had pretended to be a Swedish exchange student, but it wasn’t fun like it used to be). She found Zack standing on the Map, positioned over a blue triangle-in-a-circle symbol on a snow-covered ridge high in the Northern Mountains.

“Did you see it?” he shouted.

“The double moon? Yeah. So?”

“So, when Aunt Aloysia…I don’t know…it just…seems like there might be some kind of—”

“Move it, dufus.”

“It’s my Map, too!”

“Zaaaaaaaaaack!”

“Okaaaay! It’s just that…”

“What?” Gina softened. She knew what he was thinking, what they were both thinking.

“I just wish I could go there,” said her brother.

A loud WHOOM erupted in Gina’s face. It was if though a tornado had come to life in front of her. The air shimmered and whirled. A blue flame swirled up from the surface of the Map. She fell back onto the bed, spilling her latte on her patchwork comforter.

The ends of the Map flew upwards as though it had been sitting on top of a giant fan. Then it rose several feet into the air and started spinning. The air vibrated and pulsed; all of the colors in the room, indeed the air itself, seemed to be rushing into the vortex at the center of the Map.

Gina pulled herself backward across the bed and fell hard onto the oak floor on the other side. There was a loud Ssssszzzztttt! She peered over the edge of the bed just as the Map stopped spinning and slowly drifted back to the floor. The edges shivered, as though the last bits of an electric charge were passing out of them. Silence.

And only then did Gina realize that…

Zack was gone.

To read the next episode, click here.

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Thoughts: Would you still desire that magical future, if you knew it would veer wildly and irrevocably off course?

Wishing pix-Map

Posted in Humor, The Wishing Map, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

My Biggest Hits of 2021

Forget the Oscars or the Grammys! Here’s the “Best” list you’ve really been waiting for: My Most Read and Liked Posts of 2021! Please, hold your applause. No, seriously, I’m not that self-centered (why are you looking at me that way?). But first, enjoy this gallery of images from my top 2021 posts. The Bests List follows.

Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show.

Most Read (with Most Liked in parentheses)

  1. The Death of a Dear Friend (#4 – tie) 
  2. “Girl Sitting in Window” (single photo from a 2019 photoblog that went viral in ’21!)
  3. My Feature Film Has Been Nominated for a Major Award! (#6)
  4. Tips for Writers: Just Show Up (#2)
  5. The Day We Met (the day I met my wife) (#5)
  6. Should I Celebrate My Own Birth? (#4 – tie)
  7. Farewell to a Beloved Family Member (#3)
  8. “Trout-Headed Chicken” (single pic from a 2020 photoblog)
  9. An Open Letter to Christians
  10. My Real Memoir (first post in my widely-read memoir series — thank you!)
  11. Family Is… (photo essay) (#8)
  12. Happy New Weird (day one of 2021)
  13. A Necessary Resolution: Better Health (#9 – tie)
  14. What I Really Want for Christmas (#7)
  15. Hilarious Customer Reviews
  16. 50 Strange and (Sometimes) Strangely Beautiful Buildings
  17. Oops! (funny, awkward designs and products)
  18. The Problem with People
  19. My First Big Fork in the Road
  20. 20 Years Ago Today (thoughts on 9/11)
  21. Tips for Writers: Always Tell the Truth, Even When You’re Lying (#10 – tie)
  22. Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies! (originally posted in 2015!) (#1)
  23. Every Day is Mother’s Day (#10 tie)
  24. Don’t Love Yourself (#10 – tie)
  25. Yay, I’m Seven! (my seventh blogiversary) (#9 – tie)

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A Brief Winter’s Tale

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“My whiskers!” said Reggie McMouse. “What a catastrophe that nearly was!”

And then, after cleverly outwitting the dangerous intruder, Reggie returned to his favorite chair. He was particularly pleased with his posh new rug.

~The End~

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