Fear Naught Tales … It’s Alive! ALIVE!

Collage of all images in the Fear Naught Tales book!

A collection of images to Fear Naught!

Fear Naught Tales: Spooky Stories to Read and Tell is live and available to purchase, as of Friday, April 13! The book features 13 original spooky stories — with illustrations — perfect for middle grade readers. Each story has a “Tell Time” and a “Scare Rating” to guide readers to pick the best story for every creepy moment! The bonus chapter offers “13 Tips for Telling Fear Naught Tales.”

Click the link to order the eBook or PaperbackRead them, leave a comment, and share them with your friends!

Proof of Life!

Today I got to unbox proof copies of the paperback version of “Fear Naught Tales: Spooky Stories to Read and Tell” — watch the video and share in the excitement! Then plan to get your own copy in either eBook or paperback when it launches Friday, April 13!

(Intentionally Spooky) Author Photo Choice

Help me choose my author photo! “Fear Naught Tales” has 13 all-new spooky stories to read and tell … which pic best reps the guy who wrote them?

Visit facebook.com/randomhandyman to vote and track the results!

(Credit to Chris Bishop for the fantastic studio photography!)

Women’s History Month: Air Force Training Helps Collins Command Space Shuttle

Astronaut and Air Force Col. Eileen Collins conducts a press conference prior to her space flight mission as the first woman space shuttle commander, in 1999.

Astronaut and Air Force Col. Eileen Collins conducts a press conference prior to her space flight mission as the first woman space shuttle commander, in 1999.

In honor of Women’s History Month, this #TBT kicks it back to July 13, 1999, and an article from my interview as a military journalist with retired Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, a pioneer in American aviation and space exploration.

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (1999) — This summer, Col. Eileen Collins will become the first woman to command a space shuttle mission. It’s a job she’s worked toward for more than 20 years. Along with Columbia’s payload and crew, Collins is taking Air Force training to space.

The colonel got started at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., in 1978 as one the first women to go through undergraduate pilot training there. As a new lieutenant, she was inspired to become an astronaut after seeing the first shuttle astronauts — including the first female astronaut candidates — go through parachute training at the small Midwestern base.

In 12 months, Collins was a pilot, and in 12 years, she was an astronaut pilot. Since her selection to 1990’s astronaut class, she has piloted two shuttle missions for NASA. She will command shuttle mission STS-93 July 20, to place the X-ray observatory Chandra in orbit.

Commander and pilot preparations include flying NASA T-38 aircraft or a Gulfstream II shuttle simulator, which is a commercial jet modified to perform and fly like the space shuttle. Collins and Navy Capt. Jeff Ashby, STS-93 pilot, practice landing at White Sands, N.M., or Kennedy Space Center, Fla., every week. That training is important because the shuttle has “the glide path of a rock” on re-entry, Collins said.

“It’s a glider, in the sense that it doesn’t have any engines in the landing phase,” she said, but added that the space shuttle drops out of the sky at a much faster descent rate and at a higher glide angle than typical gliders.

“Our lift-to-drag ratio is on the order of 4- or 5-to-1, where, for example, the T-38 is on the order of 9- or 10-to-1, and a true glider could be on the order of 40-to-1 or more.”

Besides the shuttle’s unique approach, there’s also the challenge of a night landing — Collins’ first. And this shuttle will be heavier, and thus faster, than normal, because of the mission’s payload.

Because there is so much at stake, Collins said each shuttle pilot must fly at least 1,000 approaches and landings in the trainer before flying as shuttle mission commander. Collins and Ashby will also be able to practice the landing on orbit, with a special simulator stick connected to a laptop computer called “Pilot.”

In addition to flying more than 1,000 simulated shuttle landings, Collins has logged more than 5,000 flying hours in more than 30 different aircraft — including two flights in the space shuttle — and has knowledge far beyond what she had flying T-37s and T-38s at Vance. Nonetheless, she said she still uses much of what she first learned in undergraduate pilot training and as a first-assignment instructor pilot.

“What a pilot learns in the early stages of his flying training stays with him throughout his career,” she said. “In military pilot training, the intensity and the stress of it — there is stress there — is forcing you to learn. And the repetition is very, very important.”

Collins said the skills learned through that repetition almost become second nature, and stay with a pilot the rest of his or her career.

“When I fly the T-38 here at NASA, I still remember all the little formulas and all the little, neat tricks that my instructors taught me,” she said. “I taught those same things to my students, and I still use them today.”

The former first-assignment instructor pilot added that skills like how to use a checklist and the control-and-performance concept of how to do a cross check even apply to aircraft like the space shuttle.

Being shuttle commander involves much more than piloting the orbiter, however. To train for its mission, the entire crew employs the crew-resource management training Collins first learned working with a crew of up to seven people as a C-141 commander and instructor pilot at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., from 1983 to 1985.

“As a commander, I’m big on crew resource management — the way the crew (members) communicate with each other,” she said. “Every person has a job, they do their job, but they need to be aware of what the other crew members are doing, and they need to communicate well.”

Lt. Col. Catherine Coleman, an Air Force polymer chemist and NASA mission specialist on the flight, said she appreciates Collins’ approach.

“I like the way she works with people, the way she thinks about … what kind of help they need, what kind of help they don’t need,” said Coleman. “I just enjoy the way she manages the flight.”

“You need to learn how to work with people and use people to get the mission done effectively,” Collins said of her time commanding heavy-aircraft. “I think all of that experience has really helped me with this job here.”

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Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays — and here, and article — from PR, business and life, which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Redeeming Our ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

Hands resting on a Bible, folded in prayer

Prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society.

Pointed reactions following a recent tragedy temporarily put me on the defensive.

I was defending against criticisms of “thoughts and prayers;” that is, an inclination to hear those words as hollow and toothless in the face of tragedy. The nature of the event doesn’t matter, because increasingly, these attacks, usually railed from a secular worldview, follow every tragedy where this sentiment is expressed.

Setting “thoughts” aside, I was called to defend the act of prayer: ostensibly a religious expression by free people of faith. More pointedly, I was compelled to explain to a non-tolerant and self-misinformed audience that prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society. Not in the laws of our land, perhaps, but the power of prayer is in its unique capacity to move and improve the sin-stained hearts of a fallen humankind – a people inclined by their lesser nature to hurt, not love, others.

Prayer is that sole action that is most likely to affect change in the current events afflicting our society.

As I said in my response to these attacks: as believers, our prayers are the least we can do … and they are the most we can do.

However, as God would have it, with time, further reflection, and further prayer, I’ve come to appreciate that there is more going on with the issue at hand. Certainly there is deep and justified fear, concern, and frustration in the hearts of those taking gratuitous social media swipes at my well-placed prayers. But there is also a bit more to be considered in respect to how believers like me should think – and act – in these too-common, terrible situations where our thoughts and prayers are most urgently needed.

It’s possible / likely / probable / certain (circle your selection) that “thoughts and prayers” has been co-opted – by politicians and public figures who in fact may not believe in anything at all except themselves, and thus are too proud to deign to drop to their knees to pray to anyone, for anything. To the extent that this is true, then the expression indeed is the platitude that our philosophical opponents claim it to be. To the extent that this is true, such a platitude is a lie, of which believers should not want to be associated.

Unfortunately, this platitude has also become harmful faith speech. There is a whole catalog of well-intended Christian-ish idioms and catch phrases that believers tell themselves and others that simply are not wholly or even partially true – or can be less than helpful when delivered in the wrong context. Examples include, “God helps those who help themselves;” “whatever happened must be in God’s plan;” and “this certainly is God’s judgment for our (their) sins.”

Only recently has “thoughts and prayers” become hurtful, in part by our overuse of it, since suddenly there are so many incidents that compel our leaders to trot it out. Certainly also at root is the recent redefinition and politicization of the phrase by these others, such that in short order, it has become a comment that does more harm than good.

Instead of pledging “our thoughts and prayers,” our leaders might instead strive to be more precise, intentional, sincere, and sympathetic with what they say. For instance, what would the impact of our leaders’ testimony look like if they instead told hurting people, “I have prayed to God and I will continue to pray, for you and for everyone affected by this horrible tragedy, and for the evil person who perpetrated it upon good and innocent people.“

Would you think that doing so next time, every time, might be a game-changer for our culture? Better yet, what if these leaders were to simply pray, on the spot?:

“God Almighty in Heaven, an evil deed has been done against your will for this world, and too many good people are hurting right now – those directly affected, and those who knew and loved the victims well. But everyone who has learned of this tragedy is heartbroken – about the vile act, and for the unfairness of it all. Let your comfort and understanding fill your peoples and all of humankind in the days to come, and let us all strive together to bring this fallen world into your will, until your Kingdom comes. In the mighty name of our eternal Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!“

Prayer is the least we can do … and the most we can do.

Prayer doesn’t start and end with our leaders at a podium or a press conference. While we can do more no more than pray – because there’s no greater power available to us for the asking – prayer is also the least we can do – taking only seconds for us to utter in a quiet, private moment. Yet how many times will we tell someone, “I’m praying for you!,” but we don’t ever get around to doing it?

We must pray often – but we must also believe in the power of these prayers individually and collectively submitted to the Lord. If we don’t believe this as believers, then how can we fume and stomp our feet when nonbelievers also don’t, and mock us accordingly?

But then, as James taught us, faith without works is dead (2:20). Granted, believers understand prayer to be an action verb – when we pray, stuff happens! But we are not a monastic order secluded in a mountaintop abbey, to commune with our Lord in isolation from a hurting humanity. Instead, we are God’s hands and feet. As such, when we pray, we should ask the Lord to show us his will; we must remain in prayer long enough to listen for his response; then we must heed that call: to rise from our knees, roll up our sleeves, and get busy getting his work done!

With prayer, if we don’t believe as believers, how can we fume and stomp our feet
when nonbelievers also don’t, and mock us accordingly?

For all people in creation, prayers remain the best way to align action with God’s will. By engaging God sincerely, humbly, vocally, and often – then listening to discern his voice – we can better fulfill his will. And more effectively than a defensive rant, we can better answer critics who would again attack prayer – bolstered by the power for change that it truly holds.

THE END
Copyright 2018

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The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Fear, Forgiveness and the Pinewood Derby

Photo of Pinewood Derby care modeled to look like the Chicago skyline.Let me not bury the lead:

I DROPPED MY SON’S PINEWOOD DERBY CAR!

Today.  On the cold, hard concrete floor of the garage.  My 10-year-old’s vision of the Chicago skyline, wrought from Sculpey and paint and glue, with a to-scale level of skill and craftsmanship and hard work to rival that of the architects and engineers and steel workers who erected the full-sized Windy City skyline.  Broken — the beautiful thing shattered like glass.

When it happened, I wept like a child — like I knew my child would weep when he found out.

My folly was thinking it needed just one more layer of clear coat varnish.  My folly was holding it gingerly by the tires between my fingers and not firmly grabbing it by its wooden base.  My folly was my hubris in thinking I knew best what his car needed.  And that my age and experience relative to his were enough to prevent harm from coming to his craft.  I was wrong.

What could I do?  I grabbed up all the pieces I could find — I found all of them.  Some had just popped off the base, but some — like the giant Sears Tower (my son’s first experience with America’s tallest skyscraper was NOT in the Willis Tower, thank you) — snapped in three places.  Its twin antennae — as much a part of the building’s signature as it’s boxy-tubes shape — had snapped off as well.

I mixed up some two-part epoxy and started putting the rolling Humpty Dumpty back together again.

When I finished, I felt like I’d done a good job restoring his fantastic job.  We would have to make new antennae, but the main of the Chicago skyline was restored.  I did my best.  But …

Would he notice?  It didn’t matter — I knew that I would tell him.  How could we team up together to design and build the car in a values-based program like Cub Scouts and have me try to sneak something like that past him?

Would he be shattered, as his car had been shattered?  Yes, I knew he would be.  And when he came home from school and I told him, he was.

But by  God’s good grace, kids are resilient and unlike many of the “more wise” adults around them, kids are also generous with forgiveness.  My son calmed himself and listened to my apologies, listened to my pledge to help him repair it, and listened to my assurances that we could make it look as good as it had when he’d put the finishing touches on it only the night before.

He forgave me.  And he taught me about forgiveness.

Tonight, the car gets checked in.  Tomorrow, it will glide downhill at up to 350 (scale) miles per hour.  It might win.  It might lose.  And it might fall off the track and shatter again.  But having experienced the tragic and having recovered from it together, I know for my son and me that whatever happens tomorrow, everything will be o.k.

UPDATE Jan. 30, 2013:  My son raced the car, and clocked speeds at more than 216 miles per hour, against winning cars that sped downhill at almost 230 m.p.h.!  He stayed on the track, and while a couple antennae broke again (clearly the car’s Achilles’ heel) in the racing, it didn’t shatter on race day as it did for me.  Best of all, while others’ bested his cityscape for speed, his design took Best Design honors — cracks and glue and all!

THE END
Copyright 2013

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Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business and life, which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

The Endangered Flavors of Christmases Past

With the red cup crisis of 2015 passed, a true Christmas catastrophe yet looms: Time-honored tastes from Christmases past are in danger of extinction, forever lost from the hors d’oeuvres plates and family feasts of future generations.

The list of most-endangered holiday-time flavors?:

1) Eggnog: This spicy beverage blend of egg, cream, sugar, egg, cream, sugar and spices perhaps took its fatal blow in the health-crazed ’80s, when cholesterol was enemy No. 1. Today, we have Islamic terrorists and/or climate change for that.

Yet, the sumptuous, frothy glass of eggnog never made its comeback — even though vinyl records have. Spiked or straight, and even removing the egg and most of the nog from modern blends (whatever nog is, we don’t want to know), eggnog to this day remains at high risk.

2) Cranberry sauce: A longtime staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas alike, this dish is too often sacrificed for the latest feast fad.  Maligned as neither a dessert nor a savory side, it’s nonetheless an essential flavor for tying together all others in sweet-and-sour harmony: turkey, stuffing, and potatoes and gravy, all on a fork with cranberries at the same time. Yum!

Aggravating its demise is a run on cranberries for other products; similar to ethanol putting a strain on once-abundant corn grain, cran-everything: drinks, teas, candies, lip balms and skin exfoliants — have robbed the dinner table of this once commodious treat.

Culinary historians mark the advent of canned jellied cranberry sauces in the mid-20th-century as the apex — and the beginning of the downfall — of this dish. Perhaps because, when that jellied cylinder is sliced and served, it closely resembles another endangered flavor: Beets

3) Beets: This red-hued holiday dish, best served not at all, could pass into eternity and like the mosquito, would not be missed, but would definitely be noticed. With great cheer.

4) Gingerbread: Long synonymous with Christmas, this treat in recent years has been moved aside to make way for its blander cousin the sugar cookie — the Wonder Bread of Christmas flavors. Even gingerbread houses have been made from grahams for at least a generation.  The deep flavors of molasses and ginger are too strong for today’s pabulum palates.

5) Sugarplums: The original gummy treat, these sweet, fruity, sugar-coated spice drops are the Christmas equivalent of a Werthers from grandma’s purse — too uncool even for the hipsters to adopt. So sad.

6) Nuts: A carved bowl full of in-the-shell peanuts, pecans,  walnuts, hazels and filberts used to be set out shortly after Thanksgiving, alongside the wreath, tree and other Christmas trimmings. These were mostly enjoyed by the menfolk of the house, with kids volunteering to crack the nuts as a sort of off-season firecracker.

My guess is that the labor involved in this treat — once the fun of explosively opening the nutty packaging, you must patiently pick tiny slivers of nutmeat from deep crevices of the shell — brought nuts their due fate. That, and also the pain of finding a shell shrapnel on the floor with a bare foot — a pain similar to, but inconceivably worse than that of stepping on a Lego.

We can’t take any of these treasured tastes for granted; licorice is already extinct. Even peppermint could find its way onto the list, supplanted by more common flavors of chocolate or the novelty of sour gummy worms.

Together, we must stem the tide before it’s too late. Do your part to save — by savoring — these threatened holiday flavors. Lest we forever change the meaning of the season.

Copyright 2015

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Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Alpha and Omega

Amazon.com box with logo, from http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/files/2011/07/Amazon-Box-940x626.jpg

The phrase “from A to Z” encompasses everything in the entirety of a known and finite range; in other words, it captures the whole kit-and-caboodle. So much so that the Amazon.com logo, which includes both letters, draws a smirking smile that points, well, from A to Z.

It’s hard to guess if the Alpha and Omega of the original term is smiling about the commercial use of His namesake. The letters together, representing the first and last letters of the ancient Greek alphabet, is one of the many names for the Lord. This metaphorical use in Revelation introduces the great I Am as the Alpha and Omega — both the beginning and the end.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Revelation 1:8, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

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Many of our most popular idioms that endure to this day stem from the Good Book – or rather, the 66 great books that make up The Holy Bible. Somehow – miraculously – dozens of these colloquialisms from millennia ago have survived multiple translations and innumerable cultures through time to remain in common use today. Idioms From Heaven collects, dissects, and shares this pithy wisdom to edify and educate all.

Armageddon

Nuclear blast, from https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/Terrorism%20Section%20Content%20Nuclear%20Blast%201.3.0.0.jpg

If you came of age during the Cold War, you knew Armageddon as a thing: the cataclysmic end of the world and of all people, civilization and life as we know it — notably due to nuclear war or some other man-made disaster.  Or a bad Bruce Willis sci-fi action movie, perhaps.

More accurately; indeed, biblically, Armageddon isn’t a thing, but rather, is a place: perhaps a mountain or plain near the ancient city of Megiddo.  At this location, according to interpretations of Revelation, the battle to end all battles at the end times will take place and Satan and his demonic army will be defeated at the hands of God’s angels and the forces of good. The end-times event gets its name from the location it’s set to occur.

At the advent of horrific atomic technology capable of death and destruction on a supernatural scale, our World War III prophesies naturally took on the same name. While this final battle is sure to be scary for those still here to bear witness, it nonetheless will herald the beginning of the end, toward a new day, a new Heaven and a new Earth for all God’s people.

“Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.”
Revelation 16:16, Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version

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Many of our most popular idioms that endure to this day stem from the Good Book – or rather, the 66 great books that make up The Holy Bible. Somehow – miraculously – dozens of these colloquialisms from millennia ago have survived multiple translations and innumerable cultures through time to remain in common use today. Idioms From Heaven collects, dissects, and shares this pithy wisdom to edify and educate all.

Superstitions Abound on Friday the 13th

I wrote the following article for The Airscoop, the official installation newspaper of Vance Air Force Base, in February 1998, when I was stationed there as a public affairs journeyman.

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – For the superstitious, 1998 could be a very unlucky year, as Feb. 13 is the first of three Friday the 13ths in 1998.

Many of the superstitions modern western people hold dear – including the beliefs that 13 is an unlucky number, our human fates are tied to the patterns of the stars and black cats are evil – originated more than 5,000 years ago in the Middle East, specifically, in Mesopotamia, according to Dr. Michael Seth, professor of history at Phillips University in Enid, Okla.

“The fact that everything is sevens, 12s and 40s in the Old Testament, of course, is because those were considered good or lucky numbers in Mesopotamia,” Seth said, “and so you see them over and over and over in the Bible.”

Because 13 came after lucky number 12, it was associated with evil.  “There are a lot of legends going on about the twelve apostles of Christ, and that the 13th member at the last supper was bad,” Seth said, “but these would be much later ideas, after the number 13 was already established as bad.”

In addition to continuing the belief that 13 is unlucky, Seth pointed out that people still believe in “lucky number seven,” especially in games of chance.

“Although these are really ancient Middle Eastern superstitions and beliefs, we still kind of like them,” he said.

According to Capt. Wendi L. Betz, behavioral health chief here, superstitions are formed when people erroneously draw connections between neutral phenomena and good or bad events in their lives that immediately follow those phenomena.

“Who knows how our superstitions got started in the beginning, but maybe somebody had a black cat cross their path, and then something bad happened to them, so they connected the two,” she said.

For the most part, Betz said, superstitions are a normal response to our often-random world.  She added that even animals have been shown to display superstitious learning, citing pigeons that developed elaborate “rituals” designed to elicit a food reward during a controlled experiment.

Betz said humans invent their own rituals to create a desired result or to stave off an undesired result.

“I’ve seen some guys on the softball team that have a certain warm-up routine they do every time, or there are the people who play bingo, who bring all their lucky dolls and stuff with them,” Betz said.

Superstitions in a culture’s collective consciousness can be self-perpetuating, because people look for anything that can support their belief in the superstition, she added.

“If you have a superstition about Friday the 13th, you’re going to look for something bad to happen to you that day, and you’re going to pay attention to it (if it does occur),” Betz said.  “Bad things can happen on other days than Friday the 13th, but that doesn’t count, because it doesn’t reinforce any belief,” Betz said.

“Then again, maybe black cats and Friday the 13th are bad, and they’re actually causing bad things to happen to people,” Betz added.

“But I have my doubts.”

THE END
1998

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Enter the frightful world of Fear Naught Tales … if you dare! The first book in a planned 13-volume series launches Friday, April 13, 2018! On these pages, find terrifying tales of horror and suspense for middle grade (8-12) readers. Witches, vampires, ghosts, and zombies await, ready to show you around their dark and richly illustrated world. Like an ancient oracle, the Tell Time and Scare Rating features will guide you to the just-right story to read. Crack open Fear Naught Tales … for spooky stories to read and tell!