Putting your toe in the water


We all know the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land, but were stopped at the turbulent Jordan River. God promised for them to make it into the promised land and commanded Joshua to step into the river. Just imagine: Joshua and some others stuck their toes into the water. Nothing happened. Then they went ankle deep. Still nothing happened. They got to their waist and could not really go further without the risk of being swept away. Then the water started to build upstream, so they kept on walking. By now the rest of the Israelites were probably reluctantly following, as the water dammed up all the way. 

When we want to accomplish something, we have to start somewhere to get going.                                         Just “preparing” is not good enough! 

I started to develop a character for my first chapter of the book: A Drop in the Bucket, by using the main character in Soldaat van Oranje (see previous blog).
  1. I needed a name. I wanted him to live around 1800 in order to make him a character going to California during the gold rush. So I Googled names used in the 1800’s.  
  2. I needed for him to live somewhere. I chose Missouri, since that was from where the gold rush trek started, and decided to put him in a farm setting. 
  3. I listened to Jerry Jenkins podcast interview with Brandilyn Collins. Brandilyn compared creating fiction characters with those created in theatre setings. She gave some great examples of how to develop realistic characters. 
  4. Then I started writing: putting my toes in the water… 
  5. Several other characters emerged: Theo had two brothers and at least a sister, so they too needed a name. Those, or some of them, might develop yet as well in my story. I also need to check out what crops were planted at that time, the economy, and how water was used in Missouri.

What is your next step ... to put your toe in the water?


Here are a few paragraphs:
THEO
He was just cleaning up the milk buckets, adding some hay to the feed trough, looking out over the flat landscape of Missouri. His father’s dairy farm was a challenge, but Theo learned a lot! His dad was not the easiest person, demanding a good job be done. Every day it became routine to milk the cows twice a day, feed them, or send them out to pasture in the spring and summer.  Next, get ready for school, saddle his horse or get the buggy ready if he had to take his brothers and sisters as well. Mom would have a hearty breakfast ready and then it was off to school.
 
Would Theo be looking over those fields for the rest of his life? There was plenty to do and he would be very capable of taking over from his dad, should the time come. Maybe his dad even expected it?  Owen, the neighbor boy, who was about as old, was clearly expected to take over the farm, but Theo’s dad kind of left it up to him. Did he secretly hope Theo to take over? Caleb, the next one down probably never would, but then there’s Emmett who might.
 
“Hey Theo, you’re ready?” Emmett would holler across the barn shaking Theo back to reality. It was a nice Missouri spring day, so getting to school shouldn’t be a big deal. Mom had the eggs ready with the ham from the hog they had butchered about a week ago. Hattie had made some nice bread the day before, and there was plenty of strawberry jam yet from last summer. It could be tough living in Missouri, but life was pretty good on the farm, Theo thought.
 
This day Theo took the buggy. All of the McDermott kids would go together. Theo put the horse to the buggy and off they went. It was about a ½ hour ride to town, first down their driveway, then following a hard packed sandy road. It was wide enough for oncoming traffic to pass and there was a walking path along the road as well.

Soldaat van Oranje

Soldaat van Oranje is a play going on its six’s year. Go figure: 2-3 shows a week 50 weeks a year and still sold out after 5 years straight! Only if you know Dutch can you understand it fully. Otherwise maybe 50%? The theatre is located in a hangar on an air force base. The theater seats about 2,500 people. The audience sits on a big platform that turns toward the following scene. Sometimes the platform turns a full 360 before settling onto the next scene to emphasize drama.


The play takes place, starting with a student rag of the Minerva Society at the Leiden University in the year 1938. Leiden University is like the Yale of Holland. Minerva is a society of students, mostly from prominent families. Either their parents, an uncle or aunt attended there before them. It becomes clear that something is brewing in Germany with this Hitler guy coming to power. 

May 10, 1940, the Germans invade the Netherlands, despite their assumption that Holland would remain neutral again as it did in WW I. The Germans get too much resistance, so they bomb Rotterdam, and that brings the Dutch to their knees. Each student reacts different to this situation. There are the strong minded ones who already know they will resist, those whose parents join the Nazi regime, the weaker ones not knowing what they can do, and so on. 

                                                        "If not us, then who?"

The main character with some of his friends, figure out to get to England across the North Sea and convince the Dutch government, which had fled there, that they need radio equipment for the underground. They make like 27 trips across the North Sea before they get caught, some of them killed by the Germans, others who walk over to the enemy.

In the end, the queen returns to Holland. The scene takes place with a real DC-3 sitting on the turmac just outside the hangar, propellers turning, when the queen sets foot again on national soil. 

Why am I telling you all this?

A week after returning from Holland, the scenes passed by again and all of a sudden i connected it to the book that I want to write. I still need characters! Why not include characters of a strong will, like the main character in the play? One statement he made early on, was:
“If not us, then who?” 
He referred to what they could do to defeat the enemy; to be able to continue their studies, to be free! They tried to cross the North Sea in a dingy, but didn’t get very far. Next he figured out how to get on a fishing boat to get across, and they made it. After crossing 27 more times, he and his friend got awarded by the queen for their courage. He became known as Soldaat van Oranje, or Soldier of Orange in English. Soldier because of what he did, Orange because that is what the color the Dutch Royal family stands for. 

What if one of my main characters would come from a prosperous farm in Missouri, but knew he would be bored if he stayed there? Instead, he wants to join the people going after the gold rush in California. He would not necessarily “strike gold and live happily ever after”, but would go through the process of gaining water right laws for processing the gold. Then I can show how those laws are still on the books today, resulting in one farm able to grow any crop they want and the neighbor having to lay his land fallow due to lack of water. 

How about you? What are you excited about? What is driving you?
How did something that made an impression on you, as did Soldaat van Oranje for me, affect your progress? 

Why Raja didn’t go to school

When the Americans came to town, the first thing they noticed was the lack of kids being in school, especially girls. They figured kids needed an education in order to get ahead in their future. This was in Pakistan, but also in Niger and Zambia Americans saw the same thing. They tried to raise support in America so schools could be built in Pakistan, Niger, Zambia and many other places, especially on the African continent. They built the schools but many girls would not come to school. Or they would come to overcrowded classes and not really learn anything, so their parents took them out. They were far more productive helping on the farm. 


In Niger the boys worked in the fields and the girls had to make hours-long trips to get water. Niger is over 80% Sahara desert.  These basic jobs kept kids out of school. Water was desperately needed at home. On their way to the pump, the girls passed by the big houses with running water. So, water was accessible, but only to the priviledged. The girls were struck by the opulence for the rich and poverty of the rest, like them. These economic gaps triggered frustration and anger among the poverty stricken. We think about economic aid or education required to have the basics, but more basic is the provision of water. 

The lack of water, or inequality of water distribution triggers tribal or religious conflicts. Rival factions will use water as a weapon. Maybe they blow up a water line, for instance. Then, Raja and her friends have to travel farther to get water for their families.

It is under those circumstances that Americans start to see that each community needs individually designed systems. Having to go after that water, kept the boys and girls away from school. This in turn kept them from getting ahead economically. Economic improvements don’t come like magic. 

One time, Ben was in England, helping out with soccer camps for children. He stayed with a doctor from Nigeria. Nigeria was poor. The doctor explained that it was not for a lack of water. There was plenty of that, but what happened to the crops storage facilities? What about the roads those crops had to be transported over? There was no upkeep because of corrupt governments.

Raja cannot go to school now, because she has to carry water. She had to carry water because waterlines were blown up. Waterlines were blown up because people were angry about the inequality of water distribution. The inequality of water distribution was in part, the result of government corruption: Officials took care of themselves. They had houses with running water. Those were among the houses Raja and her friends passed on the way to, you guessed it: get water. 

California Water Management


Folsom Lake

The Sacramento area got almost 4” of rain in the foothills on this February day in 2016! That happens more often, but this time it was so welcome because California has been in a drought for 5 years. The news media have been telling us that we need to conserve water. Governor Brown even demanded a 25% reduction every month based on the 2013 water use, so the media duty fully reported the actual reductions each month. For the month of February (2016) it was 24.6 %, just below the required 25%.

“But who cared, we were getting some rain and snow now so we can cheat a little, right?” Ben thought.

 As Ben was watching the news with his friend Paul, it showed the huge Folsom Dam with water spilling over two of the spillways and the newscaster saying two more spillways would be opened later that day.

 “How can they do that?” Paul fumed.  “Here we are in the drought, and they are wasting all that water. What are they thinking?”

 The newscaster was prepared for that question and resumed:“ We have people calling in asking why they are releasing so much water in this drought season; we’re only at 83% of average precipitation!”  He went on: “Folsom Lake is filling up fast and if we don’t release water now there will be no room left for the snow melt come this spring.”  It takes 10x more time to release the same amount of water, than it takes to fill Folsom Lake with a couple of 3-4” rainfalls. 

“How could Lake Folsom fill up so fast with an average of 83% precipitation to-date, when only a few months ago the lake was literally just about empty?” Ben thought. “If the lake fills up this fast, and we got very little snow and rain in February, we are way short of storage capacity!” Ben couldn’t believe he said that, because a week ago he was still thinking: Just because the lakes are filling up does not mean we are out of the woods yet, concerning the drought.

 “Didn’t we read just a few weeks ago that even if we got 100% of the required precipitation, California would still be short because there are aquafers to be replenished yet?” Paul lamented.  “How did we do it before this drought season? They must have been releasing at least as much water, then.”

 “Then nobody worried about not having enough water after the winter,” Ben replied.

 Ben changed his mind and believes we actually are behind in building dams.  Before, he thought that more dams wouldn’t make any difference; that all it would do is increase our consumption and there never would be enough water in California anyway. Now he realizes that those reservoirs fill up so fast that a few more will be very helpful. 

Ben’s son recently told him that the release program of water is based on outdated information. That information was valid years ago when there was plenty of rainfall and more water had to be released to make room for snow run-off. Now that we use more water, the program has to be updated, but that will become a story for another time.

It’s all just a drop in the Bucket. 

The Scroll

Far into adulthood I automatically assumed that my English was just average, like no more than 8th grade level. I came to that conclusion because I went to Jr. High school in Caracas, Venezuela. It was an American school where English was the common language. After eighth’s grade my family returned back to Holland where I attended Dutch schools. English was one class I was good in. I always knew the answers without the grammatical instruction given by the teacher. I was just fluent, so got straight A’s. I did not learn anything new, and I didn’t pay much attention to the grammar lessons. 


As an adult, many of my writings / reports were criticized, including grammatical errors. I automatically assumed that I only had 8th grade level English, so probably never would be any good in writing. I did not distinguish between asking someone for reviewing my writing for improvements, and pure grammar. I blamed my struggle in college, on not having been brought up in the Dutch secondary school system, which is far more rigorous than the American school system. I blamed / contributed getting criticized for my writing in my career, to the fact that I did not pay attention to English grammar beyond eight’s grade.

Fast forward to 2012-13 when we took a writing class where I got serious in writing and became aware that I could write. Even to the point that I took our teacher serious when she titled her last class: “finish your book…!” It was a class where we were taught how to write our life story.

The scroll started to unroll…

I ended up writing and having my life story printed in book form. That felt gooood, holding that book in my hands! The purpose of the book was for my grand children to learn more about their past. It turned out to be more than that. I passed a copy around in my bike club and soon a list developed so those interested could read it. I got a lot of positive comments.

Next I started blogging. I learned a bit from my daughter and son-in-law about that. Then I took a course from Michael Hyatt (Get Published), and next from Jerry Jenkins (Jerry's Guild), as I described in my previous blog. 

The scroll unrolled some more...

Simultaneously, I am following Rick Warren’s sermons about dreams and how those can turn into goals. That all sounds very good and well, but it is still so mechanical. What is it all based on? I say it is based on a world vision that everybody has, consciously or unconsciously. What is yours?

My world vision is that God exists, and that the Bible is His Word. You may have a different world vision, but you have to start somewhere.
We all have dreams. Where do those come from? That depends on your world view.
What have you always wanted to do? What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
 
When we put a date on our dream it becomes a goal. Goals require faith!
I will … by …December 31, 2016.  How do you know that?

How big should my goal be? That depends on the next question: How much time do you have? Do you want to accomplish your goal in one year? You can only do so much in a year. If you have ten, fifteen years, then you can dream BIG, and set bigger goals.
We over-estimate what we can do in a year and under-estimate what we can do in 10, 15 years. That became clear to me when I sat down with my financial planner recently, as to what my financial future will look like, given certain parameters. One of those parameters was age. He assumes I will reach 90 and calculated my financial needs accordingly. Ninety??? All of a sudden it hit me: that is 17 years away yet, but not impossible since both my parents reached 90! 

The scroll is unrolling some more, again… 

Now I want to write this novel. Just because my dream seems impossible, is not a reason to give up. 
 
Behold the turtle: he only is willing to take risks when he sticks his neck out.    Rick Warren