The Importance of Second Fiddles

Yesterday I had the privilege of eating dinner with 40 teens from five Congregation of Holy Cross high schools in Texas, Louisiana, and California.  All had spent several hours Friday, in the Texas heat, doing service projects at various host organizations. While all the kids seemed touched by their experiences, one group especially stays in my mind.

That group assisted groundskeepers at St. Edward’s University in mulching many of the beautiful trees that shade the hilltop campus.  One teen was impressed with how many of the other staff on campus knew and greeted the groundskeepers with friendship and affection.  He realized he’d never paid much attention to those who keep the grounds at his homePhoto of pink Alstromeria flowers high school.  He realized you don’t have to be a faculty member or school administrator to live forth the Holy Cross values, and make a difference in the world.  He spoke of how he’ll always see his own high school campus differently after this, realizing how many people silently and faithfully go about their daily business of taking care of living things, trimming grass, picking up trash, or doing other jobs, all so those on campus can have a beautiful place to study and grow.

Sometimes folks like the SEU groundskeepers are considered to be “second fiddles”, named after violinists in an orchestra who aren’t in the “First Violin” position (the one who often rises from his or her chair at the audience end of the row to shake hands with the conductor).  Second Fiddles are less visible, often sitting own the row behind the First Violinist, sometimes blending into the background to the point of near invisibility, sometimes being considered less necessary to the music since there may be more than one violinist in the Second Fiddle row, and perhaps the absence of one would not make a difference to the music.

But think of all those Second Fiddles and what would happen to the world if they all suddenly disappeared:  the green living things on campuses might start dying for lack of water-preserving mulch, trash would pile up, offices would have no staff.  And St. Brother Andre Bessette, a door-keeper in Montreal, might never have become known to the world.

I realize not everyone in the positions I’ve mentioned likes the term “second fiddles”, and that’s as it should be.  No insult is intended.  But take a moment to stop and think about those in your daily life who aren’t the First Violinist, yet contribute to beautiful music for all. Stop and ask God to bless them.  And the next time you see one of them, give them a smile and a greeting and say a few words of appreciation.   You’ll be glad you did.


“Read the Bible As Much As Possible”


James Latimer's photo.

“The main thing is to read the Bible as much as possible. When the mind does not understand, the heart will feel; and if neither the mind understands nor the heart feels, read it over again, because by reading it you are sowing God’s words in your soul. And there they will not perish, but will gradually and imperceptibly pass into the nature of your soul; and there will happen to you what the Saviour said about the man who ‘casts seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, while the man does not know it’ (Mark 4:26-27).  The main thing is: sow, and it is God who causes and allows what is sown to grow.”— St Justin Popovic

Practicing What I Preach: Making Forgiveness a Habit

“Every Moment is a Chance to Practice” – Charlie Gilkey,

Recently I read a post with the above title, from Charlie Gilkey’s Productive Flourishing website.  Charlie is the provider of some of my favorite weekly project planners, all aimed at creative types whose lives are project (not appointment) centered.  While Charlie was speaking of other things, his title reminded me of a principle I learned decades ago:  I must choose every moment to practice in seemingly small ways, what I may someday have to do in a much larger way.

What do I mean?

  • To run a marathon I’ve never run, I must run smaller distances on a regular basis before running 26 miles.
  • To have a good annual dental report, I must brush my teeth every day.
  • To read the Bible daily, I have to choose to say no to distractions, often one after the other, some provided by my own brain.

This truth also applies in our Christian spiritual lives: Those of us who are Christians often say “I have surrendered my will to Jesus Christ.”  But if we live our daily lives choosing our own will, demanding our own way in everything, how will we suddenly be obedient to Jesus’ will when He requires it?  On a daily basis we have practiced doing our own will and demanding our own way until it has become a habit.  When the crunch time comes, will we not be much more likely to do our own will, than to do His will?

Jesus has indeed given us a command, to forgive others (“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew chapter 6 verse 14), therefore we must, on a daily basis – sometimes on a minute by minute basis – extend forgiveness to those who offend us, including but not limited to:  the drivers that cut in front of us on the road, family members, or the co-worker down the hall.  Even a seemingly small situation requiring us to forgive is not some lightweight, sweet and easy thing, but often a difficult act of the will, out of obedience to Jesus, that goes completely contrary to what our will wants to do.  I often fail in the battle to obey and forgive.  When I do, by the grace of God I get up, dust myself off, and try again, in the hope that someday my forgiveness muscle will be strong and ready for action, and I will finally have trained my will to do Christ’s will, not my own.  When I’m whining and having a pity party over the “injustice” done to me by someone who infringed what I considered to be one of my rights, I remind myself that Jesus set the bar high when, after having every human right violated, and being tortured and hung on a cross, He said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

To come:

A Few Good Men

UPDATE: Good News! The military has reversed its position and allowed SFC Martland to remain in the military. Thank you for your prayers and actions on behalf of SFC Martland.

Those who watch films may remember the movie of two US Marines courtmartialed for the death of a fellow Marine.  One of the two accused soldiers could not understand why they were discharged for “conduct unbecoming” when they were following orders.  His companion finally realized and explained to him that they should have stood up, against orders, for those weaker than themselves.

Four years ago, Sgt. First Class Martland did exactly that, he stood up for a young Afghani boy tied to a post and repeatedly sodomized by an Afghani policeman. Now Sgt. Martland may be drummed out of the military for doing the right thing.

Please watch this video and sign the petition to expess your support for Sgt. First Class Martland.

Favorite Tools: “Old Gray” and “RedTop”

A friend of mine sent me a link today to a NY Times article on the “satisfying sound” of staplers, which brought back childhood memories. When I was growing up I enjoyed helping my father with his business paperwork.  He traveled for his job and every weekend would come home with papers to be organized and filed, verbal notes recorded on Dictaphone belts to be transcribed, and paper clips down in the bottom of his lawyer’s style wide-mouthed leather briefcase.

The loose paper-clips never seemed to bother him, but they did me.  Most of them had come off sets of papers and every week Dad would have to put the sets back together.  That’s where the stapler came in: he would get a set of papers together and hand it to me and I would staple them using his old gray stapler, which I still have.   I’m not sure why Dad didn’t just carry the stapler with him on the road, but I suspect Old Gray was just too heavy.  It is an “Ace Cadet Liftop Model No. 302” (sometimes listed as “half-size”) made in the USA by the Ace Fastener Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, possibly back in the 1940s or 50s. I’m not sure how much the 302 weighs, but for a half-size model it’s pretty hefty: I’ve often used it as a paper weight in gusty wind situations and as a book-opening weight when doing research reading.

At the time of my use of it with Dad’s papers Old Gray had a mind of its own and frequently jammed.  Looking back, I suspect the problem was with the staples.  By the time I inherited Old Gray, staple strips had improved and I’ve rarely had a problem with Old Gray jamming so long as I stick to Swingline half-strip staples.  I’m glad to report that as a consequence it’s still in use many decades after it’s creation.  Considering how often it’s not only stapled papers but also things to apartment walls, box closures, and other surfaces, the fact that it still works smoothly is pretty amazing.

Somewhere along the way Dad bought a new stapler and I have it as well.  It’s a red-topped Bates “88P Hand-Grip Stapler” stamped “A 572” in the inside top of the staples compartment.  These apparently were produced in the 1960s. The stapler is great to use as it was made to fit the human hand when held, but was an annoyance for many years as it spins when set down horizontally and has a tendency to fall over sideways. It can also be set down on it’s nose, like some of today’s models, but tends to fall over from that position as well if the desk so much as vibrates slightly.  Dad never really had a good place to store it on his desk, though the stapler has a hole to hang on a nail or peg.  Never having a nail or peg or my desk either, I finally discovered the stapler’s open space between the staples compartment and the anvil base slides nicely over the edge of a medium-sized pencil cup, with the top of the stapler hanging on the outside for easy grabbing.  The cup has to have enough contents to counter-balance the weight of the stapler, of course, but after overcoming that minor difficulty the red stapler has been happily hanging off my pencil cup for many years now and is in constant use when I print drafts of my writing.

I wouldn’t trade either of these staplers for a newer one.  I’ve used plenty of those at offices over the years and have yet to find one that makes me want to run out and buy it to replace these two.  Old Gray and RedTop have been adopted into their “forever family.”

What’s your favorite tool story?


Recommended Tool: ReaderWare Book, Music, and Video Cataloging

Recently Harold Taylor, a Canadian time management expert ( mentioned in his newsletter that he has over a thousand books in his home library.  I, too, have over a thousand books at home and over the years have tried many ways of keeping track of them.  Years ago I found a great tool for cataloging books: the very reasonably priced (USD $75.00) ReaderWare (  Using the “CueCat” wired bar code scanner that comes with the software, I simply scan the bar code on newer books and/or type in the ISBN number or US Library of Congress (LCC#) and ReaderWare automatically scans the internet for all information pertaining to that edition, including cover photos, then it pulls it all into a single extensive catalog entry for each book.  Any books it can’t find, or older books with no ISBN, can be entered manually very quickly. I’ve been using ReaderWare for close to ten years and have cataloged both a small library at work (we scanned and cataloged 200 academic books in less than two hours) and my library here at home, which I’m still working on as time permits.

Each book’s entry has a huge number of fields, all of which are optional.  This includes Location information and a way to notate if a book is sold, loaned out, given away, etc.  There’s also room for recording edition/printing information (ReaderWare lets you know if your book may be a First Edition) and even for recording a narrative description of cover details if the one you have doesn’t match the photo ReaderWare came up with.  Or you can locate your cover’s photo on the web and copy and paste it into ReaderWare, or upload your own photo of the cover.

One interesting feature is the capability to know the pricing history of a book.  I tend to keep price stickers on my books and so was able to enter what I’d actually paid for the book.  ReaderWare often provided the original selling price and what the book is currently worth.  Sometimes it was thrilling to see that the book I bought secondhand for $1.00 was actually a first edition.  Other times it was disconcerting to see that a book I’d paid $19.95 for was now valued at $0.25!

Search capabilities enable quick searches by Topic, Keyword, Title, Author, or other entries for any book in your collection and allow you to know where to find it on your shelves without using stickers that might damage the cover and reduce the value of the book.  There’s even plenty of room for your reading notes as well.   And there’s more, too many features to list here.  Go to the Home page of the website above, click the Features link, then scroll down on the new page to see all this software does.

Not only is the price reasonable for a book cataloging program, but the $75.00 is actually the 3-program bundle price that includes similar software to catalog your Video and Music collections as well as your books.

I whole heartedly recommend ReaderWare and the CueCat offer.  For those who might want to go wireless or already own a barcode scanner, I recommend reading the information under the OrderàBar Code Readers section of the website above.

If you purchase it, I’d be interested in hearing how you’ve put it to work and what you think about it.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction…and the Joy of Victory

Dear Readers,

Years ago I heard of a book titled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  I never read the book so this entry isn’t about the book.  But the title has stuck in my head for more than twenty years.  At first, it was a curiosity: what could such a title be talking about?  Later, it became a reminder to do my duty: that sometimes things we don’t enjoy doing are non-optional duties that require “a long obedience.”  Off and on through the years I focused on the “in the same direction” part, realizing that I needed to be more consistent about doing good things, making good changes, and substituting good habits for bad.

Today I discovered the joy of exercising “a long obedience in the same direction”: after many years of working to whittle down and organize my accumulation of papers and books, and after a hiatus from that obedience of several months, today I sat down at my home office desk and groaned at the piles of paper covering it’s top.  My one goal over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was to clear that desktop down to the bare bones and it just never happened, for various reasons.  I’ve been putting the clearing off, dreading the process of sorting papers yet AGAIN!

But as I began the process today I realized that the habits I’ve been trying to build for so many years are beginning to pay off.  What I thought was another huge stack of unsorted papers turned out to be already sorted stacks that just needed to be filed away.  It took much less time than I expected, only about an hour and a half. So here I am, with a spot for my laptop and the actual time to share with you this victory.  Yes, there are still plenty of things to be done, but today I’m taking the time to thank God for success and savor the moment.

How about you? Is there a book title that has impacted your life? Is there a victory you’d like to share?  If so, I invite you to share it here.

Resources on Persistence

The One Way to Guarantee You Won’t Succeed Michael Hyatt


Deleted Christmas crafts – and the hope of stets

Editing deletes often occur in life.  For example, pay phones, those formerly ubiquitous machines hanging on the walls at every convenience store and gas station:  a few years ago I hired a young college freshman who had never seen nor even heard of a pay phone.  He’d never known the joy of putting a finger in the coin return and discovering a left-behind dime –  or better still, quarter – that could be added to one’s stash and used to purchase a Coca-Cola  or other favorite out of the nearby soda machine on a hot summer day.

Yesterday an email from a family member about doing Christmas crafts on Thanksgiving weekend triggered memories of my growing up years.  We lived in a large city where the phone book (often found hardbound and chained to the pay phone) took up two large volumes.  One of my favorite holiday activities was turning our giant home phone book into a tabletop Christmas tree, spending hours and sometimes days folding the pages just right, gluing the covers together, finding a way to add extra stiffness if the tree-book didn’t stand on its own, then spray-painting and covering in glitter.  Messy, but fun and always more fun when shared with friends or family.

In editing, some deletes may end up being “stets”, which means “keep as originally written”.  In life we don’t often get that chance, but this is one of the times we do.  So put down your writing pen for a few moments, take a deep breath, gaze off into the distance, and remember your favorite childhood holiday activities. If you remember a holiday activity that you think has been “deleted” and needs stetting instead, please share your story here.  Who knows? Maybe a newer generation will read your comments and be inspired! Or perhaps in the process you’ll find the seed for your next book or article!

And at this Thanksgiving time, may your heart and mind be filled with the blessings you have received, and stretch to receive many more.


The Importance of Context

I like certain furniture styles: high-backed sofas, wing chairs and Colonial styling. When my husband and I married he found a beautiful Colonial-style high-backed sofa, upholstered in a velour fabric with a bird-and-trees pattern that brought together all the colors of the two households we were merging.  For many years I was very happy with it.  For a few more years I used it but somehow became dissatisfied with it.  Finally one day I took time to figure out why.

As I listed the various reasons, one in particular stood out: the sofa was hot.  The velour fabric, high upholstered back, and large rounded upholstered arms kept in heat and made me sweat.  “Colonial” styles are either derived from previous British styles or created after the arrival of the colonists on the cold wet north-eastern seashore of the U.S.  This sofa was designed to keep in warmth and it did that quite well, making it eminently suitable for the context it was intended for.  Unfortunately our area of Texas stays 95 to 110 degrees from April or May until at least October and sometimes well into November and even December.  Our sofa was in the wrong context and, while beautiful, didn’t do what we needed it to – keep us cool and comfortable.

Like our sofa, words need to be created and put together into sentences  with a certain context in mind.  Take the word “love”, for example: in English there is one word – “love” – which is used to describe everything from very much liking an object (“I LOVE that dress!”) to  the most serious commitment one person can make to another (“I love you.  Will you marry me?”) to the ultimate in love (“Greater love hath no man than this: to lay down his life for a friend.”)  Consequently the only way to know what the word “love” means is to fully understand the context in which it is being used.  The Greek language, on the other hand, has four different words for love, each one representing a specific type: agape (unconditional love), phileo (brotherly love), eros (passionate or sexual love) and storge (affection).  Readers can easily understand what is meant by just reading the word.

In writing and editing you must understand your context.  Like the sofa situation you may need to sit down and re-read your writing with a clear picture of your audience in mind: who will read your words? What is their background? Does the terminology you’re using mean the same in all contexts and to all audiences?  If you’d like help understanding Context and Audience in your own writing, contact me,  I’ll be glad to assist.

Did you gradate from your eduation?

Sometimes even companies that specialize in education in one way or another can miss important typos, especially when it comes to catching omitted letters.

“Eduation” – that’s how Josten’s, a diploma manufacturing company, misspelled “education” on high school diplomas – for two years.

Makes me think of the letter of invitation I received from a university when I was approaching high school graduation: it began “Dear Lara, we hope that yo are looking forward to yor gradation…” and thus it continued: between the “Dear” and the “Sincerely” there was no letter “u” to be found.  I thought at first it was a stuck key problem but then noticed that my name and address at the top of the letter contained two “U”s and there was a third in a postscript line.

Both Josten’s and the university I received the letter from are entities normally known for their high quality of work.  In fact, I’d bet they use multiple proofreadings to catch such errors.  However the human brain has the ability to see what it expects to see, even when it’s not there, so occasionally important typos can get by, especially if a single person is doing the repeated proofreadings.

One of the best ways to catch letter-omission errors is to have more than one person do the proofreading.

Do you have a project you’d like another set of eyes on? Use the Contact form to send me a description of your needs.