#FridayFive: 5 Web-comic Artists I Enjoy [4/12/2019]

close up photography of colored pencils
Photo by Plush Design Studio on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, friends! This week, I wanted to point you to five web cartoonists whose work is always worth a look. You may be familiar with some or all of these artists, but I would recommend you check them out (or check them out again) this afternoon!

XKCD — Okay, fine, file it under “obvious statements are obvious,” but Randall Munroe’s brainy webcomic is a mainstay of the format, and always worth a look. His work is clever, dry, and expressive even in its simple stick-figure design. In other words, it’s not as much about the art as about the ideas behind each post (especially when some of the best material is hidden in the “scroll-over” text of the published image). I should hope by now if you are able to use “the internets” in any form, you have already enjoyed some of his work, but if not, here’s a recent post that made me smile.

Nathan Pyle’s Strange Planet — Let’s acknowledge and set aside the recent hubbub about Pyle’s alleged pro-life views, the “cancel-culture” dogpile, and his subsequent “clarification.” His series of comics examining common human behavior from an alien’s perspective is full of off-beat, pointed observations, drawn in a charming style that brings a smile to the face. I just found out about his work a few weeks ago (just before the dust-up), but no matter what his politics are, I really do enjoy his work on this series and will continue to follow his updates.

The Awkward Yeti — I’m not sure when I started following The Awkward Yeti (Nick Seluk), but his colorful designs and relatable punchlines keep me coming back. I am particularly a fan of his charming (and hugely-popular) “Heart and Brain” series. If XKCD tickles my geeky little brain, The Awkward Yeti touches my geeky little heart.

RefToons — If you’re into Christian theology (particularly of a Protestant bent), get thee to RefToons immediately. Paul Cox has created a host of lovely illustrations and portraits of figures from church history. His figure style has the feel of a more complex and artistically mature “Calvin and Hobbes,” and I find his work absolutely delightful. Check him out, buy his merch, support his work.

Adam4D — I think my favorite cartoonist online is still Adam Ford. His work is sharply-written and thoughtful (no surprise from the founder and former editor of The Babylon Bee), and his art is simple but subtle. Again, these are comics about ideas–and sometimes those ideas are challenging. (Case in point: On Wednesday, Instagram removed a comic he posted that compares the arguments used to justify abortion to those used to justify slavery–a post that contained no profanity, no slurs, no suggestion of violence or abuse, but was deemed “hate speech.”) I hope he continues to produce work like this, and keeps pushing the boundaries to challenge mainstream ideas that should be re-examined.

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There you go–five web-based artists whose work I enjoy. I hope you are able to find something new and fun to check out among these listed.

Do you have any favorite web-comics or artist/illustrators online that I haven’t mentioned? List them in the comments below!

#FridayFive: Five Book Series I Loved in Grade School (1/11/2019)

Happy Friday, friends!

As I’ve said repeatedly, I was blown away by the Wingfeather Saga series of books last year. (Have you read those yet? Seriously, what are you waiting for?!?) They are the kinds of books I would have loved as a young reader–funny, playfully-written, just a bit scary, and full of heart.

Speaking of which, here are 5 series of books I *did* get to enjoy in my younger years. (And I’m going to purposefully leave off the Chronicles of Narnia series, because that’s pretty much a gimme, right? Lewis’ masterwork was my all-time childhood favorite, so let’s leave it aside.)

While there may have been more books or series that I would call “favorites,” these are the books I look back upon with a deep and abiding fondness:

The Hank the Cowdog Series, by John R. Erickson

I can’t tell you how many of these books I ate up over the years. Erickson created two of the great children’s book characters in the eponymous Hank the Cowdog and his trusty (but cowardly) sidekick, Drover. These two ranch dogs are duty-bound to protect their master’s cattle ranch from such terrifying threats as mysterious noises, unusual smells, and the occasional vampire cat. There are DOZENS of these books, and I’ve probably logged most of them in my time, thanks in large part to my old church’s huge lending library. I had the double-joy of listening to the audiobook versions of these stories, and if you get the chance, you really REALLY need to do the same. Many of the stories include original songs (which are a HOOT), and if I were pressed, I could probably recall a few of those tunes, more than 25 years later. Just a delightful series of books.

The Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald Sobol

For kids who liked a good puzzle, Encyclopedia Brown was the jam. This pint-sized Sherlock Holmes would be face with a mystery of some sort, and would use the powers of deductive reasoning to solve the case and find the culprit or the missing whatever-it-was. The thing I loved about these books was that the story would reach a point where EB would be able to solve the case, and then you (the reader) would be asked by the narration if you figured it out, too. The solution would then be revealed at the back of the book on Page __ , where you could flip to see if you were right. (Confession: I was never right.) This series of fun short stories was perfect preparation for enjoying Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics later in my school-aged years.

The Cooper Kids Adventures, by Frank Peretti

I’ve talked about my love of Peretti’s writing before, but this series was how I became acquainted with his work. This brother and sister duo traveled with their archaeologist father around the world, discovering all sorts of mysteries and facing various middle-grade-appropriate perils. These books also fed my fascination with exploring ancient civilizations (fueled by a viewing of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” if I recall). I haven’t read these books since middle school, but I have a hunch I would still enjoy them.

The Spirit Flyer Series, by John Bibee

Obviously, as a fan of Narnia, I enjoyed some on-the-nose Christian allegory. This series (which I always thought of as the “Magic Bicycle” series, since that was the first book!) by John Bibee brings straightforward Christian allegory into a modern setting, with a group of heroic kids taking their stand against a diabolical corporation called Goliath Toys (diabolical in a “controlled by dark forces” way, not a “capitalism is bad” way). They face these spiritual foes with the help of some old magical bicycles that contain secret powers and abilities to help their owners overcome the darkness. The allegory is painfully obvious in some ways, but there was also something charming about it. Certain books in the series were quite thrilling and some of the imagery was striking. This series may be worth giving a spin if you’re into Christian middle-grade fiction.

The Archives of Anthropos series by John White

Okay, this is a really deep cut, but I discovered this rarely-discussed fantasy series when I was in fifth grade. I happened upon the first book in the school library and was blown away by the adventure it contained. While these stories are very similar to Lewis’ Narnia (apparently, this was the author’s intention, since his own children loved Narnia) and begin in an almost identical way (siblings discover an enchanted commonplace object that becomes their portal to another world), I remember them taking a decidedly different turn into a more classic fantasy plot. I’m surprised to discover (thanks to the power of The Internet!) that I may have never actually finished the series! I only remember four volumes, but it looks like there are 6 on Amazon! This may require a re-read, then. Hopefully, they still hold up! (They probably won’t, but one can hope, right?)

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There you have it: 5 children’s series that still hold a warm spot in my heart. If you haven’t read these, and are looking for something fun to enjoy and perhaps share with a younger reader in your house, these would be a great place to start.

Your turn: What books or series did you love as a child? Share your picks in the comments!

#FridayFive: 12/14/2018 — “Terrible to Bearable!” Christmas Music

Merry almost-Christmas, friends! It’s that time of year when more and more radio airplay is filled with the holiday classics we have come to know and love…or despise, in some cases. (Truth be told, “Christmas music season” started on November 1st, so we are more than halfway through it!)

While I’ve discussed in past blog posts the Christmas songs I love, hate, and maybe hate that I love, this year (to save me some tears) I thought I’d try something a little different.

So here’s my “Terrible-to-Bearable” List*–five songs that have been moved from the Naughty List to the Nice List (barely)**, thanks to a cover/remake that salvages them from the coal bin. They’re not necessarily my least favorite Christmas songs of all time, but they certainly could be considered “skip-worthy” when they come up on Pandora.

Hope you enjoy these recovered classics–or at least hate them a little bit less now!

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Honorable Mention: “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Guster

I’m not putting this on the list officially because I was first exposed to the song via this version, which I find oddly charming. The original was sung by 12-year-old Augie Rios back in 1958–and I’ve discovered that I usually don’t enjoy Christmas music sung by any child not named Macaulay Culkin. The other reason this one doesn’t make the cut is that the song is essentially unchanged–it’s just sung by adults.

Honorable Mention: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Jars of Clay

I almost didn’t include this track; it made my “eggnog” list from 2014 specifically because of this version. I’ll admit, I’m even coming around on Paul McCartney’s trippy original (have you seen the original music video? Yikes…), but for a while there, I hated it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So this Jars of Clay cover demonstrates that the bones of a really nice (non-partisan wintery) song are there, if you strip away the synthesizers.

#5: “I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas” by Relient K

The best way to fix annoying jokey Christmas songs sung by children is apparently to speed them up to a pop-punk beat and shout them into the microphone. Because as grating as the original is, I can’t help but bop along to this one.

#4: “The Chipmunk Song” by Hawk Nelson

Again, speeding it up (and not being chipmunks) makes this a bit more enjoyable. This high-energy pop-rock cover removes the tedious waltz-rhythm of the original, so that the whole thing is done in 2 minutes without the “Aaaaaaaaaaalllllvvvvviiiiiiinnnnn!” discussion after each chorus. Definitely an improvement.

#3: “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Okay, folks, this is a safe place here, so let’s be honest: “Little Drummer Boy” is a song that gets tiresome REALLY quickly. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) It doesn’t have a lot to say in terms of the story. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) I mean, it’s nice that there’s a message of bringing your best to Jesus, whatever it is. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) But I don’t know if it’s worth dragging each line out to get there. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.)  So how do you improve on a Christmas classic that isn’t going anywhere soon (or fast)? You have two amazing vocalists duet in counter-point to each other, in a one-of-a-kind performance that is gently arresting.

#2: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Jamie Cullum

A surprise entry to the list (it was just released today!). Yes, the original song also made my 2014 “Eggnog” list, due to sentimental reasons, but man oh man, it has become ubiquitous. Not even watching my 1-year-old dancing around to it a few weeks ago could redeem it in my mind. It’s over-played, and everyone thinks they can sing it well (though not one of us can). But then in walks Jamie Cullum and the magic returns. If you’re not familiar with Cullum, you should check him out. He’s like a better and less-well-known Buble, with a dash of Scott Bradlee and Billy Joel. And he brings a fresh energy to this track (which he learned and recorded in an hour?!?). Great cover.

Before we get to my Number One Terrible-to-Bearable pick, a few extra links and comments :

Okay, okay, let’s get to it. My Number One “Terrible-to-Bearable” Christmas cover is…

 

 

[drum-roll]

 

 

 

#1: “Christmas Shoes” by FM Static

I think I’ve gone on record enough with my intense dislike of “Christmas Shoes.” It’s shamelessly manipulative, cloying, and cliched. At times, it has made me viscerally angry. So, as I was researching this post, I thought, there’s no way that this, the most despicable of schlocky Christmas tunes, could be ameliorated by a cover version. That would be like finding a unicorn–discovering a mythical creature, imagined but never realized.

I think I was wrong, folks.

Is the FM Static version of the song actually better? Lyrically, no. It’s still terrible. It’s still manipulative and corny and syrupy. But I realized as I have listened to this version that FM Static eliminates two of the main elements that make the Newsong version so awful in my opinion:

  1. Newsong. That sounds mean, doesn’t it? Too bad, because it’s true. The overwrought, growly vocals of the original artist are ridiculous. While FM Static’s knock-off-Rivers-Cuomo vocals in the verses aren’t the greatest, it’s still a VAST improvement over Russ Lee’s emoting.
  2. Children singing. This is definitely a thing for me; apparently, I can’t stand children singing in Christmas music. When the original song brings in the children’s choir to sing the reprised chorus and then the twee little urchin sings the last line about his dying mother, the producers are trying their best to wring out your tears. Well, Mr. Producer, you have failed. I will not give you a single tear. I refuse.

Instead of leaning on emotional manipulation, FM Static goes to the other extreme. There is no sentimentality in their cover. Not to say it isn’t sincere and played straight; there is not snark or cynicism in their approach. What’s fascinating is that the actual melodic line of the song becomes clearer and cleaner, and I’m able to appreciate that it’s not a bad song and it has a pretty good hook to the chorus. I even (and I hate to admit this) caught myself humming the chorus yesterday. No other proof is needed, I feel. Well done, FM Static. Well done.

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There you go, folks. Five (okay, seven) songs that are improved to one degree or another by a cover or remake. Did I miss any of your favorites? Want to argue my picks? You can comment below!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to “like” the post if you enjoyed it, share it on your favorite social platforms, and subscribe in the box on the right (or below) if you’re not following already. I’ll see you next week!

 

 

 

 

*I almost called this the “Toothless Bumble List” in honor of the Abominable Snow Monster in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” that chills out after a round of non-consensual dentistry–but I figured the reference was a bit too esoteric. Nevertheless, I share it now with you, the loyal footnote-reader. Buon Natale and Meli Kalikimaka.

**My alternative title was “Terrible to Tolerable” but I decided to go with the rhyme instead of the alliteration. These are the pointless decisions I wrestle with, as I write this blog. *shrug*

#FridayFive: 5 Favorite Tabletop Games Currently on Our Shelf

We’re gonna mix it up for this month’s #FridayFive’s, so instead of links to Medium posts, I wanted to share some of my favorite “Fives.” Enjoy!

Until around 6 years ago, my table-top game experience was mostly limited to the usual suspects: Monopoly, Risk, chess, maybe a few others. Some friends tried to teach me Settlers of Catan once, but I became overwhelmed by the rules and, to no one’s surprise, got destroyed by the other players. However, the discovery of a board-game cafe during a weekend trip to the coast opened up a new world to me, and I discovered a love for table-top games: board games, card games, dice games (sometimes…), strategy and deception games, even party games. I was hooked.

Now, board games are part of our holidays, vacations, and family gatherings. We are always trying to introduce our friends and family to more of our favorite games, hoping to inspire the same level of enjoyment.

Like any hobby, board games can be addictive and expensive when you’re trying to build your collection. There are lots of games we don’t own or haven’t played yet, and I feel a small twinge of jealousy when I see other players’ “shelfies.” Nevertheless, we are slowly growing our collection, while at the same time trying to play regularly the games we currently own (using the “10×10 Board Game Challenge,” a strategy I first heard about here).

So here are 5 games from our collection that I love playing as often as I can:

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Star Realms

Star Realms is a 2-player “deck builder” game with a space-battle theme. Each player has his or her own player deck, and you can “purchase” new cards and use the combination of the cards in each hand you draw to attack your opponent and/or complete objectives. Because a lot of our game playing is on “date night,” my wife and I love games that are either designed for 2 players or can be played easily with just 2 players. This is one that I had to convince my wife to try (she wasn’t jazzed about the theme), but she enjoys the competitive nature of the one-on-one format. The only downside is that the length of each game varies widely, so it could be 10 minutes or an hour to finish, depending on which cards you draw. I would also recommend investing in some of the expansion packs, like the mission objective cards, so that that you can achieve victory without always needing to grind down your opponent’s defenses. That said, Star Realms is a pretty light deck-builder and easy to learn, even if you’re not familiar with that style of game.

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Lost Cities

If you weren’t convinced that I’m a nerd already, this will do it. Lost Cities is another 2-player game with a thin veneer of “adventurer/explorer” theming plastered over what is essentially a math and probability game. The strategy of this game is to gauge the risk of “embarking on a new expedition” versus your ability to collect and play enough cards (in ascending order from 2 to 10) to offset the “cost.” So there’s a lot of “Should I discard this one now, or wait to see if a lower card in that suit comes up soon?” This game, like most of the ones on this list, can be played either diplomatically or in a cut-throat-style. You have the option, if you are so inclined, of discarding cards that your opponent needs to help them avoid disaster, or hoarding them like a dragon until the end of the round and laughing maniacally about keeping the other player from breaking even. (If you don’t want to sleep on the couch, you know which path to choose.)

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Splendor

Splendor is a set-collection, point-scoring game in which each player is a jewel merchant acquiring and trading sets of jewels for even greater treasures, with the goal of reaching 15 victory points first. The trick to this game is you really have to plan several moves in advance, without giving away to the other players which gems you are saving up to acquire, so they don’t swipe them first. My wife is VERY good at this, while I tend toward tunnel vision and quickly find myself way behind. Nevertheless, I like the strategy of this game. No two plays are the same, since the jewels in the “market” are randomly-drawn cards. If you like strategy games like chess, Splendor is worth a try.

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Tikal

Tikal is a territory-control game for up to 4 players. Each player controls an expedition of explorers traveling through a Central American jungle, discovering ancient tombs and collecting artifacts. (And if it’s okay with you, let’s just acknowledge and table the unavoidable discussion about the game’s colonialist theme.) The game has a built-in timing element, so that points are calculated only at certain intervals. This requires the players to be mindful of what sections of the map they control, so that they can maximize their point totals when these scoring rounds come up. Tikal is considered a classic (it was released almost 20 years ago!), and my wife found an open but unused copy at a thrift store for $2–still her best thrifting find to date. It plays just fine with 2 players (if I use the same “play nice” overlay I mentioned with Lost Cities!), but having more players totally changes the dynamic, as each player is elbowing for more territory.

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Pandemic

I love this game, y’all. I love it. But I think it’s a little broken for me now. Let me explain.

Pandemic is a cooperative game for up to 4 players, as you work together to find the cures to 4 viruses spreading around the globe before the “timer” (one of the game’s 2 card decks) runs out and it’s too late. Everyone wins and loses together, so it’s in the best interest of the players to cooperate, each using their character’s unique skill to collect sets of cards to discover each virus’s “cure.” While the cooperative gameplay can be mucked up by one player trying to quarterback everyone’s turn, if your group can find the right balance of making suggestions and shutting your yap, it works just fine.

This game can be extremely hard, depending on whether you get a tough deal of the cards. There are “epidemic” events scattered throughout the player deck that ratchet up the game’s difficulty level as you progress. It’s incredibly intense and stressful and a whole lot of fun.

In the last few years, Z-Man Games has released 2 “seasons” of Pandemic: Legacy. “Legacy” games are a relatively new animal in table-top gaming. In “Legacy” games, every play-through fundamentally changes the components and play of the game itself, so that you can’t play it the same way again. In Pandemic: Legacy, you play through a set “storyline” over the course of 12-24 plays, and new challenges and twists are revealed all along the way. It’s incredibly fun and makes the game that much more challenging. I’ve played through Season 1 of Pandemic: Legacy with friends, and I have to admit, going back to “vanilla” Pandemic is a bit of a let-down now. That said, whenever I have the chance to introduce someone new to the game, I always do it, because it will definitely make a lasting impression.

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I suspect that these games will be in heavy rotation at our house over the holidays. If you’ve never played them before, I recommend checking them out!

You can find lots of great board game resources online, including reviews, videos, and information about game cafes in your local area. (One of my favorite board game sites is Art of Boardgaming–if you stop by, tell them The4thDave sent ya!)

Your TurnWhat are YOUR favorite table-top games? Are there any you haven’t played yet but are dying to try? Do you have any questions about the games I’ve mentioned above?

Let me know in the comments!

#FridayFive, NaNoWriMo Edition: 10/26/2018

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, gang! 

Well, there’s (finally) a cool tinge to the air down here in Texas, which means the arrival of fall, the ramping up of football season, the near-availability of cheap Halloween candy, and of course the kick-off for  National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo)!

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. You can find more info here.

While I’m not participating this year (next year? Possibly…), I do have a slew of links to help you brainstorm for your NaNo sprints next Thursday! 

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Don’t Waste Your Words: How to Write A First Draft that is Crappy but Usable — If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo before, you know that the trick is speed, not polish. In this post, Jeff Goins helps those of us who try to perfect every line to get over that habit. He also gives a great basic definition of “planners” versus “pantsers” and provides some useful questions to consider, no matter which approach you take to planning your novel.

Start Writing a Novel Without Having A Clue What to Do — Another Jeff Goins piece, this time providing some useful starting advice about story, genre, and plot. He also links to Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid,” which is a great resource.

I Wrote A Novel Entirely On Evernote — This post from the Evernote blog by Forrest Dylan Bryant is obviously meant to entice you to use Evernote. But you know what? I love Evernote, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful for blogging and capturing story ideas. I even have half of a short story on there right now that I’m hoping to finish and share with you later this year. So, if you haven’t used Evernote before, this may be a helpful introduction to the program for you.

How to Construct a 3-D Main Character — A novel lives or dies by how interesting or compelling its protagonist is. This immensely practical piece from ProWritingAid gives you prompts to help flesh out your main character. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this post soon.

Losing NaNoWriMo is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing — You know I love providing counterpoints at the end of these lists. You may want to save this post from Mitzi Flyte in your back pocket in case you need it at the end of November. Let’s face it–cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days is HARD. And if you only get part of the way there but can’t quite reach the finish line, this post is a good reminder that a half-finished NaNoWriMo attempt does have its merits.

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There you have it–5 posts about NaNoWriMo and the craft of writing a speedy story.

If you found these helpful, I’d very much appreciate it if you would “Like” this post and let me know to keep providing content like this.

And if you are participating in NaNoWriMo yourself, let us know in the comments, so we can cheer you on!

Otherwise, I’ll see y’all next week!

#FridayFive: 10/19/2018

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, folks! Here are five reading-themed links for your perusal as you prepare for your weekend!

How I Read & Remember What I Read — The Internet is full of articles and blog posts about how to read more, but Shay Howe gives us some handy tips about how to read so that we recall more. This is a punchy and practical 3-minute read.

How to Retain More of Every Book You Read — James Clear shares his ideas about how to benefit more from reading, and his suggestions dovetail with Shay’s pretty nicely as well. It may be worth it to try combining ideas from both pieces!

A Simple Plan to Read More — I’m going to steal Shane Parrish’s term “anti-library” (mainly because it makes my shelves of unread books sound so much cooler that “utterly unconquerable To-Be-Read shelf” or “Tsundoku to the extreme”). And when it comes to reading more, the simplest solutions really are the most elegant.

Party Where We Read Things — This is the GREATEST IDEA EVER, y’all. I love this. Someday I’m gonna do this. Now I’m trying to think of what my selected piece(s) would be.

Why Reading 100 Books A Year Won’t Make You Successful — Aytekin Tank provides a (balanced? contrarian?) perspective on why reading more isn’t necessarily better, why speed reading boosts your page count without necessarily boosting your knowledge, and why some books need to be savored slowly. This definitely makes me feel slightly better about my 25 or so books completed this year. Slightly.

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There you go. Five articles about reading well, reading deeply, and reading with others. I hope you enjoyed these links and are feeling inspired to crack open a book or two this weekend!

In fact, if you did find this content useful and/or interesting, do me a quick  favor and click *Like* on this post, so I know that these kinds of links are helpful to you!

YOUR TURN: Comment below and share what you’re reading lately!  Here are a few of the titles on my shelf at the moment:

  • What is Reformed Theology, by Dr. R.C. Sproul
  • Wingfeather Tales, edited by Andrew Peterson
  • The Exemplary Husband, by Dr. Stuart Scott

What about you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back next week!

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

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The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

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There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

#FridayFive — 08/24/2018

Five Medium stories to check out as you cruise into your weekend!

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I photographed the Charlotte protests. — Going through my old Medium bookmarks, I came across this series of photos from Sean Rayford, taken back in September 2016. The powerful and provocative images here, even this far outside their original context, serve to remind us that media narratives may be simple but reality is not.

The “Burner List” — In a day when everybody has a complex system for improving productivity, Jake Knapp simplifies things in a way that’s really helpful. You just need a piece of paper, a pen, and a basic knowledge of how kitchens work.

Stuck? Switch to Play Mode. — Another quick piece by Jake Knapp. This time, he suggests that the best way to break through mental blocks is to do something…fun? That’s crazy!

This 100-year-old Theater is Now a Bookstore — Here’s a little eye-candy for you bibliophiles. Places like this make my heart skip a beat, I’m not gonna lie.

She Was One of the First Black Women to Host a Television Show — Finally, here’s a fascinating slice of history from Ashawnta Jackson about the career of (unknown to me) 1950’s TV star, Hazel Scott.

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Your Turn!

Have you read any interesting stories online that you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!

#FridayFive: 8/3/2018

Happy Friday, y’all! Here are 5 stories with a “screen” theme!

[Note: A couple of these throw in some profanities, I think, but I can’t quite recall which ones. If you’d rather not risk it, feel free to pass on reading this week’s entries. Hit me up on Twitter, I’ll give you a nickel-summary of them!]

What I Learned About Deep Productivity from a 30-Day Digital Declutter: This post by Nick Wignall provides a case study for what happens when we start re-training our brains to do “deep work” for sustained amounts of time. The read is a little longer than some of these others, but it provides some interesting ideas about how our attention spans can be adapted (or “hacked,” if you want to be click-baity about it).

Facebook’s Addiction Wasn’t Free: Programming guru DHH explores some of the true costs of Facebook usage. Like many others, he addresses the idea that we, the users, were the product being sold. It reminds me of another article I read recently (but can’t remember the author, in order to cite him or her), about how writers/creators should seek to build their own websites and platforms, because to create content and put it on a social media site like FB or Instagram is basically “digital sharecropping.” You get the scraps, while the boss (in this case, the platform you are using for “free”) gets the benefits. I’ve been considering this lately in the context of my own professional and creative plans.

Why I Don’t Think #DeleteFacebook Will Stick: Back in March, when the Cambridge Analytica firestorm first broke, Dylan Sellberg wrote this post to predict why he thought the #DeleteFacebook movement would fizzle out. Four months later, it appears he may have been right. While there have been some who followed through on closing their Facebook accounts (I know a few, and none of them regret it), many of us who clucked our tongues at that story kept on clicking. If the popular history of social media had been scripted 20 years ago (specifically, the hybridization and monopolization of user data and platform access into the hands of a few key players), you would have expected it to be the set-up for a dystopian novel. Well…the future is now.

Florence: Sharing this story feels like a bit of a paradox, because I both wanted and didn’t want to read it myself. It contains spoilers about the new app-based story-game from the creators of Monument Valley (which is an outstanding and elegant puzzle game I can’t recommend highly enough). But this article is fascinating to me both as a casual gamer and as a writer because it demonstrates how this team conceptualized a video game about the life cycle of a romantic relationship. I love games that tell compelling stories in unique ways. I look forward to exploring and experiencing this one.

I’m A Millennial Tech Worker Who Switched to An Old-School Flip Phone: The title pretty much spells it out, doesn’t it? In the interest of full disclosure, I would probably have earned the author’s reply of “Hogwash!” as she describes those who claim they “need” their smartphones. I’ve only had one for a few years, and I admit that I’ve become more dependent on it, particularly as my home computer has become less and less dependable. I use my phone as my food/weight tracker, map, side-hustle platform, calendar, notebook, etc. I’ve made myself dependent on this device. On the other hand, there are times when I look back on the days of having a “dumb” phone and slightly regret making the switch. There may come a point after my smartphone bites the dust that I go back to the much-cheaper dumb-phone era. If I could find a decent slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, I’d be almost all the way sold.

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There you go, friends: five tech stories for your consideration this weekend.

Let me also challenge you (and myself): Pick a block of time this weekend to go “screen-free.” Talk a walk, hang out with a friend, play a board game, or maybe read a paper (!) book. I think we all could use a respite from screens now and then. I know I could.

Have a great weekend!