And a one, and a two

Daily writing prompt
What’s your all-time favorite album?

Labels can define you. They are not you, but they can place you in time and space, give people inaccurate hunches about who you are, and put actual thought on a snooze alert. So be careful with giving away information about yourself that sticks you in a niche. Admitting that you liked your grandmother’s collection of Lawrence Welk records from the 1960s will have them continually making reference to “Champagne Music,” giggling and asking if you took accordion lessons. Even worse would be revealing the info online – you’ll be showered in junk email offering you intimate bios of Welk, deals on concert videos, and the like.

We all know that such unscientific efforts to plumb the depths of a person are doomed to failure. I prefer graphology myself. A simple sample of your writing will reveal all the characteristics needed to pigeonhole, I mean to reveal a person’s most intimate traits.

Here, let’s try an experiment. Just sign on this line and here where it needs a date. No, no need to fill in the amount line. Of course not! What sort of cad do you think I am…I wouldn’t dream of cashing your blank check. It’s just an experiment in graphology!

And don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. No one shall ever know of your questionable taste in music. Trust me.


Daily writing prompt
What would your life be like without music?

A few years ago, I was put on inhalers for occasional asthma, and they warned me that my voice might change while I was on them. OK, we might envision my normal grumble turning into a mellifluous baritone in some fantasy world. But instead, I went from a grumble to sounding more like a cement mixer. Because I had been a 1960s folk singer and performer, I had few pretensions that I’d one day be invited to perform at the opera. But the new voice was something I was willing to donate pronto to makers of horror films looking for desperate creatures about to ravage the heroine.

While it has been many years since I had either sung in a choir or performed, the first time I sat down with my guitar, I was amazed by my new voice. Grinding gears sounded better. The cat left the room, and the dog began to whimper. Who was this monster, this deception who had replaced Father? The cat’s misery attracted the attention of my wife, who asked if I had a sore throat. She brought me a hot tea with honey and said it could make a terrible sore throat tractable. Rather than grunting out an unintelligible gargle of gravel, I merely smiled and sipped. It did help a bit.

The inhalers are in a box, and I hope to avoid another course of treatment with them. By and large, I have regained my normal voice, which still is not up to concert standards.

I hope they can prescribe me medication that improves my voice next time. Well, one can only hope, right?

Holiday For Pets

Daily writing prompt
How do you celebrate holidays?

Don’t ask people how the holidays are celebrated in their homes; ask the pets. The cat and dog will fill you in on the real scoop. How many turkey scraps do they get after a Thanksgiving meal, whether they get chased away from the tree at Christmas, and do Easter baskets have anything that cats and dogs can safely eat? Now, that’s just some of the holidays. I understand there is a closed Facebook group for pets of many nationalities and traditions to compare cross-culturally. But my pets have told me to log in and go away for an hour.

The Carreras pets have assured my wife and me that Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house are absolutely Killer. The cat’s only complaint is that we tend to put the little balls and bells up too high. The dog prefers a walkway around the tree to check out gifts more easily. A more commodious arrangement for his larger size, he’s not built on the same scale as kitty is, after all!

Our cumulative ranking is a solid 3.9 out of four points. We lost points for last year’s lousy performance on Birthday dinners but did pick up a few for a great Memorial Day cookout. That’s how it goes: up a bit, down a bit.

As arbiters of Quality, our cats and dogs consider themselves consummate judges. After all, one must keep up with what Tony’s family does, and lord knows Cooper and Honey are always watching to see if the Carreras traditions slip. 

Our cat always quotes Aristotle, “Quality is not an act. It is a habit.”


Daily writing prompt
Share a lesson you wish you had learned earlier in life.

Most of us go through life too busy to analyze or catalog everything we know. I firmly believe that the average person knows more than they think; they are just too complacent to rummage around, think things over, and realize that the solutions to many of their problems lay in simple things they knew all along. Our daily haste in life compounds this into a major issue.

BS, you say? Well, let’s look at one of the most basic- the seven P’s. Most of you have heard it or something similar: Prior, Proper, Preparation, Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Yet many would instead do the magical thinking thing a la “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall” or seek visions or esoteric advice from a YouTube influencer.

I have done more than my fair share of botching things. The other week, I was in a hurry and botched the sharpening of a carving knife. What! a professional carver! Botch something so basic? Yes. I could hear the reprimands of mentors softly asking, “Didn’t we teach you better, Lou?” I backtracked and corrected my errors and wound up with a sharp knife. But, as is the case often when we have to undo what we have already done incorrectly, it was a lot more work.

So it can seem a radical concept to think before doing. I certainly knew, but I didn’t access what I already knew in a rush.

Haste makes waste, but it also makes us seem stupid.


Daily writing prompt
What are your favorite types of foods?

I struggle to remember when rice was not on the dinner table at our home. Its absence would have been exceptional; everyone seated for dinner and no rice? The only thing that would have made it worse was no olive oil to put on the rice. Like many kids, I hated what was served routinely. Then, when I grew up, left the family home, and found out what others routinely put on their table, I started appreciating the rice and beans, rice and chile, and just rice with olive oil. But I’m not discriminatory about other traditions. Growing up in New York City and with a Hungarian Grandmother, I got exposed to everything on offer: German, Chinese/Cuban, Italian, multiple Jewish traditions, and many others.

Foodways are complex and vary from family to family and place to place. My preference for food grew beyond my family’s when I came to coastal New England and learned to love a good fish chowder (or cod cheeks ), preferably served with fresh fries). Visiting my favorite chowder house can banish the blahs and alleviate mild depression – ahh, a good halibut stew cooked in cream and sherry. Or a baked finan haddie!

If put on the spot for what my traditions are, I’ll have to admit that I am a bi-traditional Spanish and Yankee cuisine sort of guy. There is nothing inconsistent in the mixing of the two.

The truth is I have straightforward tastes; they just belong to multiple traditions.

Walk, don’t run.

Daily writing prompt
How often do you walk or run?

Walk, don’t run, is a safety statement in many workplaces. Safety and compliance officers could write entire treatises on the danger of workplace running. Yet many seem indifferent to the widely posted warnings and have severe injuries. It’s also strange because so many who can’t seem to change their behavior about not running in the workplace don’t seem to enjoy running as a leisure activity.

When working as a supervisor at a transportation company, I always cautioned people not to run. The floor could be covered with freight and packages, and catching a foot, tripping, and going down hard was incredibly easy. 

People need regular reminders about safe behavior. The company I worked for had a regular pre-work communication time where we discussed safety issues. Like me, most of the sups ended it with a daily safety tip. People will get hurt on the job, but you can reduce the frequency and severity by education and training.

When I taught television and video production to students and also when I taught woodcarving, every class was preceded by a safety talk and tip. 

There is a lot of truth in the saying, “Safety is a habit.” While working at carving in the shop, I don’t tend to run.

The Boss?

Daily writing prompt
Do you see yourself as a leader?

You must understand the difference between being a boss and a leader. Bosses command strictly regimented tasks; leaders guide creative teams in complex and perhaps uncertain tasks. Leaders guide in discovery.

Massage therapy, Subtle influence, Selective pressure, and management by walking around – these have been my tools for leadership. Stronger ones are in the toolbox if I need to resort to them: scolding, reprimands, and even firing. But I’m not eager to saturate the air with yells, curses, and innuendos. So it’s not like I’m a reluctant leader, just that I prefer to guide rather than rule; that could even be my slogan. 

It helps that most of my work has been in cultural areas where you may not initially know the answers and needed approaches. You and the team need to research and explore. You can’t just can’t unthinkingly start giving orders.

When I successfully landed my first job as a practicing anthropologist, I was surprised that it came with a small staff. My leadership skills were non-existent, but I knew one thing – I had problems with authoritarian leaders and did not want to be the hypocrite who emulated what he despised. Luckily, the staff was happy to engage in the sort of new adventures I could dream up. The easygoing style worked well as we developed community advisory boards for some of the grants and projects we created. The ” you go where I tell you when I tell you” leadership style would have gotten us nowhere and would have alienated the communities I needed to work with.

A few things I’ve learned. The leader needs to be prepared, the leader needs to be willing to do whatever the other teammates do if required, and the leader must support his teammates. The last means teaching what is expected, developing their skills, and correcting inappropriate behavior before it threatens the team and its mission.

Wait! You say maybe that’s OK if you are leading professionals. Sorry, after leaving government work, I worked at UPS and led Teamsters. The same principles apply. As is stated in the “Contract,” we treat each other with dignity and respect. The same skill set is used in different places.

So, in answer to that question, am I a leader? Yes, just don’t ask me to be the boss. I have other things I prefer to be doing.


Daily writing prompt
What’s your favorite word?

I am inconstant. Depending upon the time of day or my activity, I find that the song playing as background music in my head has changed. Tom Petty’s songs seemed to play a lot yesterday “…Oh, no I won’t back down…” My favorite word changes, too. I have a vault of favorites, but wood rates very highly daily. The other day, I stopped into a local sawyer in the town where I work and found that they had some lovely wood. 

I resisted the Spanish cedar and the gorgeous walnut. But I was shamelessly ambushed by a plank of wide cherry. Eleven and a half inches wide. It’s just perfect for some lovely bowls. My resolve to resist purchases proved flimsy, and thirteen feet of this sensual, lustrous, irresistible wood found its way into my car’s trunk before I knew it.

I’ll be carving bowls as soon as I finish cleaning up the flooded cellar.

All in all, I am proud of myself. I only bought the cherry. But I can hear the cedar and walnut whispering to me at night. Wood is not only my favorite thing and word. When it starts sending songs my way, begging me to buy it and take it home…it’s my favorite obsession. 

My Precious!

Swamping Out

Daily writing prompt
What are you doing this evening?

I decided to use a corner of my greenhouse for carving years ago. I wanted a pleasant place to work. My basement shop was dank and dark. Well, like the camel, I gradually nosed further and further into the space. At first, in an unplanned ad hoc fashion, just a single box of tools and one small work surface. But the periodic wetness of the basement dowsed my creative fire after pumping out after a winter storm. More tools were moved into the greenhouse for the sake of getting work done and to avoid rust.

Around ten years ago, our cat, Xenia, decided that the new workshop was a suitable location for her to supervise father. The imprimatur was added, and the greenhouse became the greenhouse/workshop. After all, as the feline breadwinner, so to speak, she needed a cozy base of operations, and her father was encouraged to place a cozy beddy on a shelf for her. 

The basement shop became where the large, durable stuff was kept. The things too big for the greenhouse – the large bandsaw and table saw, such like that. The key is durable.

In October, we’ll be in our house for twenty-five years and have dealt with what we considered the typical basement issues of an old house. You may have heard about the floods in our towns the other night. I was lucky. The sinkhole opened up a few blocks away, not near my house. But tonight, I will continue the cleanup of the basement, or as we say around here, “I’ll swamp it out”.

A floating freezer does not compare to the dumpster I saw floating in a parking lot as I tried to get home, but it was also something I’d never seen. So, having been a sailor, I responded as such when a drier friend asked me how much water was on the road at the base of the hill. Channeling my inner Yankee, I told him I could have launched a good-sized one- design sloop and sailed close hauled to the other side of town. 

Where the hell are my high-top rubber boots?!

A Special Offer!

Daily writing prompt
What personality trait in people raises a red flag with you?

Never make an enemy of an author. Less than pleasant things can happen. Your fictional self might be suspended above an abyss, besmirched in a sordid scandal, committed to an exquisite ordeal, or sealed in a tomb with no exit.

You say, ” But Lou, you’re a nice guy; such petty revenge is not your style.” Usually, I’d agree with you, but it’s so hard to turn down good material when you have the itch to write a story, and there among the assorted memories are people who infuriated you and who are beyond your actual reach…but not beyond your reach in fiction. So into the witches’ cauldron they go.

It’s not like I write a formal proposal letter detailing their torment through the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno. That’s so crude. But I find ways to make them foolish, petty, dyspeptic, dissolute, asinine, and generally pissmires.

You know the people who infuriate you. The ones who will never let an argument end, the screamers, gum snappers, and those who borrow but don’t return. This week, I am running a $10.99 special on in-laws. You post them, and I’ll roast ’em! I believe in doing well while doing good.

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