RPG Digest

 

January 2019

Copyright 2019 by the RPG Partnership

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RPG Partnership

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January, 2019

 

 

 

Appreciation

 

Thanks to all these talented writers who have contributed to every issue of RPG Digest with such enthusiasm. We thank Betsy Breedlove for the beautiful mountain photos and P. L Almanza for her delicious recipes.

 

Table of Contents

From the Editor. 2

Virginia Woolf - Used Interior Monologue in Her Novels by Rita Berman. 4

An Integrated Woman by Laura Alston. 11

Through Aristotle’s Eyes  by Randy Bittle. 12

A Bad Beginning by Marry Williamson. 15

Sheer Madness by Tim Whealton. 18

Seven Types of Atheism - Reviewed by E. B, Alston. 21

Death Takes a Holiday by E. B. Alston. 22

Three Rivers to Cross – Serialized book by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 23

Twelve Pearls of Wisdom.. 30

First  Aid by Sybil Austin Skakle. 30

A Beautiful Day by E. B. Alston. 32

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse – Serialized book by E. B. Alsotn. 35

Why Men Fail by E. B. Alston. 39

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza. 44

Say What! 45

The Most Beautiful Heart – Author Unknown. 48

Contributors. 48

 

 

 

From the Editor

 

This is issue number six. A lot has happened to me since August and all of it has been good. My physical condition has improved remarkably. Wish my brain had been affected. My burden for the new year is moving all active titles from Righter Books to a new site because I am un-incorporating the business January one. In the process, I won’t have to look at 87 cancelled titles every time I log onto the site.

Those of you who have books listed with Righter won’t notice much change. They will still be available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. Maybe the new site might generate a few more sales.

I have been writing regular columns since 2003. I did 312 for Topsail Island Info before they closed shop in December, 2007.

One of my most (In) famous one is below:

 

Gene Alston

Timberlake, NC

January 26, 2006

 

January Was a Mad (cap) Month

 

The local paper had an article about a consultant telling the city of Durham, North Carolina, how they could save 2.4 million dollars by retiring eighty-two of the oldest vehicles in their fleet. That amounts to $29, 268.29 for every old K car parked among the weeds gathering dust. That’s over three times the cost of a new K car. Then he went on about how they could save another $350K in depreciation costs, implying that reduced value of the fleet was an operating cost item in the city budget. The article didn’t mention it, but I bet after the city fathers swallowed those two zingers, he advised them about a bridge up north that was for sale cheap.

Then I got this catalog put out by a firm that, while its focus is outdoor gear and products, it sells anything that comes under the “overstock” category. This means the products they sell were a sales flop. They got it cheap and they are going to pass those savings on to their friends.

The thing that caught my eye was an item called the “Limbsaver” (?) Barrel De-resonator. You put it on your rifle barrel to increase accuracy. It looks like a miniature toilet plunger and you slip it onto your rifle barrel. By changing its position along the barrel, you can dampen the effect of accuracy inhibiting barrel vibrations. You shoot five shots into a target, move it to a different location on your barrel, shoot five more shots and by a process of elimination, you can find the “sweet spot” on your barrel where this thing ought to go.

I wonder if the Pentagon knows about this. By the way, they sell surplus ammunition.

The Limbsaver Barrel De-resonator is cheap. Just $14.97 plus shipping and if you’re a “Buyers Club” member, you can save another buck-fifty. If you want to know more about it, just email me for the firm’s web page. You can buy it online. Then you can make all of your redneck friends envious when you show up at the hunting club with a toilet plunger stuck on your rifle barrel and they won’t have one.

We knew it had to come, although I expected Jesse Jackson would have thought of it first. I read where a black man in England won thirty thousand pounds in an out of court settlement for a racial discrimination lawsuit because he was “over promoted because he was black.”

Sergeant Leslie Turner was promoted to royal bodyguard for the Duchess of Cornwall. He complained that, as a black man, he was placed in a position where he could not perform in order to “diversify” the Duchess’s guard detail. If he had been white, he said, he would not have been promoted because his performance didn’t warrant his advancement. I guess this is an example of getting it coming and going.

I know you heard about the discount furniture store called “Sofa King” and their ad on the sides of city busses saying “Our prices are Sofa King cheap.” Well, here’s one better. A Chinese immigrant in Illinois had to get his name changed. He said he didn’t have a problem with his name until he came to the United States but after he got here, every time he told an American his name, they cracked up. The first hint of how serious it was came when he gave his name to a clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles and he about shut the place down. His name was, before he changed it, Fuk King Kwok.

I didn’t make any of this up.

 

Elizabeth Ballard was also a regular contributor to Topsail Island Info and when they shut down, she prodded me to start a magazine so folks like her would have an audience.

I started Righter Monthly Review. It’s Elizabeth’s fault.

RPG Digest has proven to be more popular than Righter Quarterly Review. I send it to about 200 people and they must be forwarding it to their friends, which is good.

Anyway, I thank all of our talented contributors and all of our faithful fans.

Happy New Year

 

Gene Alston

 

 

Virginia Woolf - Used Interior Monologue in Her Novels

By Rita Berman

 

Virginia Stephen Woolf and Jane Austen are linked because of the impact they both made on the written form of the novel. Woolf was born 25 January 1882 and died 28 March 1941.

Jane Austen broke new ground in the 19th century and thus revolutionized the form of the English novel because she wrote stories that were tightly constructed and sticking to a theme. Before Austen, stories were written in the extended letter form, with the story line being revealed by correspondence between two individuals. The thrust is on what the character will do next. But Austen’s stories reveal the character’s motives and describe actions that may change the character.

Roughly a hundred years after Austen, Virginia Woolf took an even bolder step forward, and thus reshaped the novel structure still further, by introducing the inner world of her characters. In her writings, Woolf used interior monologue, a stream of consciousness which tried to mimic the thought patterns of her characters. Thus, we find fleeting thoughts captured and lost, as a means of moving the plot along.

Her novels require the reader to work in order to follow the development of the plot, but they ring more true to real life where we frequently don’t have time to think about the consequences of our response to events. It is only later, after the passage of time that we may place the event into context with the rest of our life.

Woolf’s early years as a member of an extended family were unusual. Her mother, Julia Jackson, had three children by her first husband and then four by her second husband, Virginia was one of these. Her maiden name was Adeline Virginia Stephen. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a distinguished philosopher, critic, and biographer. She had no formal education, she did not attend school but acquired her education by reading from her father's extensive library.

Her mother was 21 when she married Herbert Duckworth. He died 19 Sept. 1870.

Three children were born of this marriage. (George, in 1868, Stella, 1869, and Gerald in 1870 after death of his father). In 1878, after Julia had been a widow for 8 years, she married Leslie Stephen. His wife Minnie had died in 1875 leaving one child, Laura, who was mentally deficient and spent her years in an insane asylum.

The marriage of Julia and Leslie Stephen produced four children -Vanessa born in 1879, Thoby in 1880, Virginia in 1882 and Adrian born 1883. The Duckworth children lived with their half brothers and sisters (the Stephens) at Hyde Park Gate. This was a five-storied house that had been enlarged to accommodate all the children and servants.

By the age of five Virginia was writing letters and could tell her father a story every night. For her tenth birthday, she received an ink-stand, a blotter, drawing book and a box of writing implements.

From 1882 to 1894, the family spent their summer holidays at St. Ives, in Cornwall.

Later, Virginia wrote recollection of the St. Ives holidays in her novel To the Lighthouse. In 1895, when Virginia was 13 years old, her mother died. She experienced her first mental breakdown after her mother’s death, and was reported as hearing voices, had a rapid pulse and was excited and nervous.

Her half- sister Stella took over the responsibilities of the household at that time. Two years later Stella married Jack Waller Hills in 1897 but she died 3 months later. Vanessa then took over the role of father’s ‘angel in the house’. Jack Waller Hills had an affair with Vanessa after the death of his wife.

Virginia’s father declined in health after his wife’s death. He was by then deaf, eccentric and shut off from the world.

George Duckworth became the head of the family and more to the Stephen girls. Some biographies have alluded that he took physical advantage of Virginia. Virginia wrote in her memoir Moments of Being, “Yes, the old ladies of Kensington and Belgravia never knew that George Duckworth was not only father and mother, brother and sister to those poor Stephen girls; he was their lover also.” That’s as much as she tells us.

When she later turned away from having sex with her husband Leonard Woolf her frigidity may have come from an experience with her other half-brother Gerald Duckworth, when she was very young. In her memoir, she remembered, “... the feel of his hand going under my clothes... I stiffened and wriggled ...resenting, disliking it...I still recall it.”

After her father's death in February 1904, Vanessa moved the four Stephen children to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. Virginia suffered a second breakdown in May 1904, again hearing voices. She is said to have attempted suicide by jumping out of a window too close to the ground to hurt herself.

Her brother Thoby's friends, Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell, became frequent visitors to the house. That was the beginning of the circle known as the "Bloomsbury Group".

After the death of Thoby from typhoid fever, Vanessa married Clive Bell, and the group enlarged when Roger Fry, the art critic, John Maynard Keynes, the economist and E.M. Forster joined in the meetings and discussions.

In 1912 Virginia married Leonard Woolf, a political writer who had also been a friend of Thoby at Cambridge. They were married in a registry office and his mother was not invited. None of his brothers and sisters attended.

It was, "a marriage of minds," and they lived together companionably for years. She wanted, intellectually, to love vehemently but it was not in her nature to do so. She had already told Leonard that she felt no physical attraction in him. Before their marriage she wrote a letter to him explaining, "There are moments - when you kissed me the other day was one - when I feel no more than a rock.”

What had been a passive attitude at the outset shortly developed into a complete rejection of the sexual act. Leonard must have accepted the situation for not long after their marriage they were occupying separate bedrooms and her diaries and the autobiographies written by Leonard Woolf tell us that they were content. He had a need to care and she needed to be cared for. Intellectually they were a good match and so they made a marriage that suited them both. She recognized this in 1922 when she stated plainly she "couldn't have married anyone else."

On January 13, 1913 Leonard Woolf started keeping a daily record of her health. Less than a year after the end of their honeymoon she made another suicide attempt by taking a lethal dose of veronal.

Based on the advice of doctors Leonard Woolf developed a protective regimen for Virginia. His program was: she must not get too excited; must eat well and avoid loss of weight; get plenty of rest and not be allowed to become unduly tired.

Woolf s first published works were reviews or essays. She is said to have written more than 500 essays and reviews but not all were published in her lifetime. She concentrated on memoirs and biography, and writers whose styles deserved appraisal. She felt that the traditional form and method of writing did not allow her to say what she wanted to say. After her first novel, called The Voyage Out, had been accepted for publication she had an episode in which she suffered from headaches and sleeplessness, depression and delusions, and resistance to eating.

In a paper that she read to the Women's Service League, she spoke about her early writing experiences. She said she made one pound ten and six by her first review and bought a Persian cat with the proceeds.

“Then I grew ambitious. A Persian cat is all very well, I said; but a Persian cat is not enough. I must have a motor car. And thus it was that I became a novelist - for it is a very strange thing that people will give you a motor car if you will tell them a story."

In 1917, the Woolfs bought a hand printing press in 1917, intending to print a few short works by themselves and their friends, purely for the fun of it. They set it up in their dining room. Over the years that followed The Hogarth Press became famous as a publisher of new writers. Virginia Woolfs novels were published as well as works by T. S. Eliot and books that took unconventional points of view.

An entry from her diary dated 1920 tells about her writing life.

"By God! What stuff I'm writing! Always these images. I write Jacob every morning now, feeling each day's work like a fence which I have to ride at, my heart in my mouth till it's over, and I've cleared, or knocked the bar out."

Jacob's Room is a story about a young man's life, but not written in a direct fashion, it is revealed in glimpses and episodes, employing the use of impressionistic flashes rather than weaving a plot.

In 1926 when she was writing To the Lighthouse her diary entry records:

“I am blown like an old flag by my novel, To the Lighthouse.At last, at last, after that battle (with) Jacob's Room, that agony - all agony with Mrs. Dalloway, I am now writing as fast and freely as I have written in the whole of my life.”

In Wolfs most successful novels almost nothing happens on the surface of her characters’ lives. Instead the action all takes place in their heads, in their responses both to each other and to the objects they are surrounded by. Time also changes: chronological time being replaced by a sequence of impressions, intuitions, memories, anticipations.

I found The Waves, published in 1931, to be a challenging book to read. It is abstract with the only descriptive imagery that of the sea as background, hinting at the ebb and flow of the lives of six different characters who speak to us in different stages in their lives. At times it is hard to distinguish their voices.

Virginia Woolf said that The Waves was “the only one of my books that I can sometimes read with pleasure. I wrote it.. .in a kind of trance into which I suppose I shall never sink again....”

Leonard Woolf published extracts from her diaries in which she communed with herself about the books she was writing or about future books she intended to write. She kept a diary from 1915 until four days before her death.

Because of The Lighthouse she had refused 30 pounds to write on Willa Cather. By January 1927 she said that Leonard had read the book and says it is her best, “a masterpiece.” In it she had included her memories of St. Ives, Cornwall and the characteristics of her parents, whom she portrayed as Mr. & Mrs. Ramsay.

Mrs. Ramsay, outwardly serene presides over the household of eight children. At night as she sits knitting stockings after they are all in bed she wonders about life and where it will take them. She goes to the village, visits the sick, loves and hates her husband. He thinks about the lectures he has to give, takes opium that stains his moustache, and gets angry when his son wants to know when they can visit the lighthouse.

After reading the book, Woolfs sister Vanessa commented, “.. .you have given a portrait of mother which is more like her to me than anything I could ever have conceived of as possible....father too I think as clearly.. .as far as portrait painting goes you seem to be a supreme artist.”

The Woolfs lived for 9 years in Hogarth House, Richmond. In 1919 they bought Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex, for seven hundred pounds and used it at first as their weekend and summer retreat. The view across the river Ouse towards the hills was unchanged since the days of Chaucer, according to Leonard Woolf. The tranquility of the village of Rodmell, Sussex, and the surrounding countryside enabled Virginia to rest and write. In 1924 they moved from Richmond to London until they were bombed out and removed to Monk's House.

virginia Woolf-1.jpgThe house is now owned and maintained by the National Trust and open to the public. I visited in 1999 and again in 2006 when I added a side trip going by taxi to Charleston Farm near Firle that had been the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

In 1999 I took a train from Gatwick Station to Lewes and then a bus to the village of Rodmell where I was joined by my sister-in-law. On the day that we visited Rodmell, the main street was deathly quiet, we were the only ones out walking. The shops were closed and only an occasional car drove through the village.

A short distance from the main street and we were at Monk's House. The house is surrounded by a very large garden, said to be three quarters of an acre. It is divided into various sections; there is a formal walled area behind the house, statues in the garden.

The Woolfs had employed a full time gardener to take care of the grounds and the vegetable gardens, and greenhouse.

I photographed a statue that was near her writing lodge. We walked through the apple orchard and I picked up an apple that had fallen to the ground. I couldn't bring the apple back with me to the States so ate it. It was sharp, crisp. (I wondered if eating Virginia's apple might improve my writing.)

The main entrance to the house, which is long and narrow, is through the greenhouse.

The building is said to date from the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1929, the Woolfs added a wing on the end which comprised of her bedroom and an upstairs sitting room. The house itself is quite modest, has low-ceilinged, small rooms, furnished with chairs, tables, and screens painted by her sister Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant.

The downstairs sitting room had been a combination living and dining area, but after the upstairs sitting room was built the Woolf’s relaxed upstairs. Their friends are said to have found the house cold and damp, there was no bathroom or electricity for a number of years, and no hot water.

virginia Woolf-2.jpg"For years I never had a pound extra; a comfortable bed, or a chair that did not want stuffing," Woolf wrote in her diary. Frankly, what I saw of her furniture was far from luxurious.

A peculiarity of Virginia’s bedroom is that the only door opens directly into the garden, there is no direct access to the main house, and she had to climb a flight of brick steps in all weathers. I was surprised by her bedroom’s ordinary appearance. It was originally meant to be her work room, and is simply furnished with a narrow single bed, but plenty of bookshelves and books. Heating was provided by a coal fire, or portable electric heater. Woolf, who is known for her suggestion that "every woman who writes should have money and a room of her own", had so little comfort in her own bedroom.

With the improvement of her finances, a writing "lodge" was constructed at the end of the garden. Because it was unheated she probably only used the lodge in the summer time. After her death, the lodge was enlarged and when I saw it had various exhibits in cases. For some reason the writing lodge was a disappointment to me, I did not get a feeling of contact with her personal space. It was stronger in the bedroom.

Behind her writing lodge, the spire of a 12th century church is visible. A manuscript that she wrote about the church is on display inside the main house.

The view from the lodge, showing the gardens, and the surrounding countryside, the marshy fields, the downs and chalk hills, was striking. Virginia Woolf had commented that it provided her with the space that she needed for inspiration, as she put it, "to spread my mind out in .... I want to breathe in more light & air; to see more grey hollows and gold cornfields & the first ploughed land shining white with gulls flickering."

Her sense of place comes through clearly in her books. Images of London are clearly seen in her novel Mrs. Dalloway which was published in 1925. Mrs. Dalloway is planning a dinner party. As she takes a walk in Bond Street she muses on the scene around her: “Heaven only knows why one loves it so,.. .in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands;...some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life, London.”

Counterpoint to Mrs. Dalloway's narrative is another stream of consciousness involving the character of Septimus Smith who commits suicide that same day. A review by Esther Lombardi on About.com observed that as the novel develops, “we come to see that it is a study of insanity and suicide as Woolf once wrote. But more than that, Woolf presents the subjective truths of a world as both sane and insane people see them. Truths are subjective and changeable, as the plot streams back and forth in space and time.”

In her writings, Woolfe reveals she is aware of the class system in England, another link to Jane Austen. And, like Jane Austen, she wrote about day to day living: housework, sewing, shopping, pouring tea, servants and the keeping of household accounts.

While at first, Monk's House was only a country retreat, over a period of 20 years the Woolfs made improvements, rebuilt the kitchen, installed a bath and hot water. Money from Mrs. Dalloway and The Common Reader paid for the two new toilets in 1925 and in 1929 the two-storey extension was added. By 1931 the house had electric heaters in the bedrooms. According to Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s writing habits were that she said out loud the sentences she had written during the night. This she would do while taking her morning bath. Then she would write or correct for three hours in her writing lodge in the garden, if the weather was fine.

She wrote, revised, rewrote, and revised again, in the expectation that a shape would emerge acceptable to her feeling for form. She wrote with an old-fashioned nib pen and ink, then had her manuscripts typed up by a typist. Later in life, however, she did her own typing but she still did her initial writing by hand.

At night, she kept pencil and paper by her bed in case she was inspired. After lunch and a couple of hours spent on reading, she would take a walk towards the South Downs. She loved this landscape and walking helped her to get the right rhythm into her sentences. Visitors naturally changed this routine because then there was conversation with others. But always Leonard Woolf kept a watchful eye on her knowing that she was likely to go into a period of depression whenever she finished a book. Nigel Nicolson observed this tender caring and noted this in his memoir about his mother Vita Sackville-West.

Virginia had Vita Sackville-West in mind when she wrote Orlando, published in 1928. The whole book was a sly joke about Vita and her love affairs.

“I dashed it off, by way of a joke," Virginia wrote in a letter to Alice Ritchie.

In a diary entry dated 1933 she described her pleasure at being in Rodmell, "How happy L and I are at Rodmell; what a free life that is .... coming in when and how we like; sleeping in the empty house; dealing triumphantly with interruptions; and diving daily into that divine loveliness - always some walk; and the gulls on the purple plough or going over to Tarring Neville these are the flights I most love now - no being jerked, teased, tugged."

After she completed revising Between the Acts Leonard Woolf had a feeling of desperate uneasiness. He wrote in his autobiography that: "Depression had settled upon Virginia; her thoughts raced beyond her control; she was terrified of madness. One knew that at any moment she might kill herself."

By March 1941 she was seriously unwell and Leonard drove her to Brighton to consult with Dr. Octavia Wilberforce who was also her friend. But it was too late. The following morning he saw her writing at 11 a.m. Judy Moore in The Bloomsbury Trail in Sussex gave a detailed description about Virginia’s death.

“She had left letters for her husband and sister on a table in the upstairs sitting room, and her cook saw her striding quickly up the garden to the top gate... .After being summoned for lunch, and Virginia did not appear, Leonard went upstairs to hear the BBC news on the radio. He found the letter for him on the sitting-room mantelpiece. She wrote that she felt she was going mad again: ‘I can't concentrate. Therefore, I am doing what seems to be the best thing to do.        I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know.... I owe all the happiness of my life to you.’"

Leonard ran to fetch Percy Bartholomew, the gardener, who summoned the policeman and all three hurried over the meadows to the riverbank. There they found her walking-stick standing in the mud and footprints leading into the water. The men searched across the brooks and in the village, and gave up only when darkness fell.

Birds, the sights and sounds of nature are nurturing to the creative spirit but they were not enough for Virginia Woolf. She had walked into the River Ouse and drowned herself on March 28, 1941, but it was three weeks before her body was found on April 18. Some children saw it floating in the river. The Coroner for East Sussex recorded a verdict of “suicide while the balance of her mind was disturbed.” Her wristwatch had stopped at 11:54. There was a large stone in one of the coat pockets. A tragic end for a brilliant writer.

Her reputation was at its greatest in the 1930s, declined considerably following World War II. The growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s helped to establish her reputation. Her works have been translated into more than 50 languages and she has been the subject of later novels, plays, and movies.

In 2002 the Academy Award film, “The Hours” starred Nicole Kidman portraying Virginia Woolf at the time she was writing Mrs. Dalloway and then years later shortly before her death. In addition the movie weaves two other separate stories in and out of Woolfs scenes. The editing is excellent, the film is a visual delight, the scene shifts blending Woolfs actions with those of the two other women, moving the plot forward until the end when we see how the fictional characters and their stories eventually link up with each other.

The film “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” directed by Mike Nichols (1966) was an adaptation of Edward Albee’s 1962 play. The film starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and was said to be the peak of their collective and individual careers. Elizabeth Taylor received an Academy Award for it and Sandy Duncan received the Best Supporting Actress Award. The title becomes clearer as the action proceeds, but it is said to have come from a joke at a cocktail party based on the nursery song. In Albee’s play four characters in an academic setting grapple with the question “who is afraid to live without illusions.”

The film of “To the Lighthouse” (1983) had Rosemary Harris as Mrs. Ramsay, Michael Gough as Mr. Ramsay and Kenneth Bragnh as the student Mr. Tansey. It was set in Cornwall in 1922. Joining the family is Lily Briscoe a painter. She is put down by the student when he says that there has never been a successful woman artist. (He is ignorant of Mary Cassatt). Mr. Ramsay doesn’t read Mr. Tansey’s dissertation, saying he is unable to work.

Lily asks Mrs. Ramsey what she shares with Mr. Ramsey. According to Lily, who is a modem woman, Mrs. Ramsey merely serves him. Later, at the end of the story Lily takes Mrs. Ramsey’s place and the boy does go to the lighthouse.

In 1991, Patrick Garland directed Eileen Atkins in “A Room of Her Own,” based on lectures that Woolf gave to Cambridge University in 1922.

 

***

In 2014 the National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition on Virginia Woolf. Leonard Woolf published several books in 1975 about his life with Virginia Woolf.

Below is an incomplete list of writers who have published biographies about Virginia Woolf:

Quentin Bell, 1972.

John Lehman, 1975.

George Spater and Ian Parsons, 1977.

Louise Desalvo, 1989.

Hermione Lee, 1996 Nicol Nicholson, 2000.

Lyndall Gordon, 2001.

Julia Briggs, 2005.

Alexander Harris, 2011.

Zena Alkayat & Nina Cosford, 2016.

 

Photographs by Rita Berman

 

Monk’s House, Rodmell. August 1999.

Woolfs writing lodge, Rodmell. August 1999. .

 

 

An Integrated Woman

Laura A. Alston

 

A feeling of expectancy infused my being

As I woke up to a new way of seeing

And understanding that life is not a dreaded chore,

But it is a way of growing more and more

Into the person I was meant to be.

 

The me that was meant to be

Feels tall and willowy like a tree.

I am no longer slow and plodding,

And in no way am I shoddy.

 

Strength and integrity are the clothes I choose to wear.

The hardships of life I am willing to bear,

For I know that in spite of sorrows

There will be more tomorrows

Where I can recover from time’s old wounds.

 

“Come forward!” I call to my inward self.

This time I emerge full of wealth.

The wealth of a total, integrated woman-

The child within me finally sleeps in peace.

 

 

Through Aristotle’s Eyes

Randy Bittle

 

They found him wandering around Carr Mill mall, speaking gibberish and wearing a sleeveless, loose-fitting white cloth robe.  He had no identification or money, and in fact he had nothing but the robe on his person.  Several annoying hours passed with this strange man wandering the mall talking in an unknown tongue.  Finally a shop owner called the police.  The police could do nothing with the out of place stranger.  They took him to the psychiatric ward at UNC Memorial Hospital for evaluation.

On the paperwork the man scribbled in characters recognized by one of the doctors as Greek letters.  None of them could read Greek, however.  They kept him for observation and were perplexed about what else they could do.  A few days later the doctors sent the Greek scribblings over to the Department of Classics to see if they could read them.  The doctors were surprised when they soon received acknowledgement that the writing was indeed ancient Greek, and although in a dialect unfamiliar to the professors, they could make sense of most of it.  The writing was mostly questions about where and what was happening.  Plato and Athens were mentioned.  The sample was too small to be relevant.

This was a most bizarre situation.  The doctors explained the scenario to the language experts, who decided to further investigate the puzzling case by meeting the patient.  They suggested giving the patient a blank notebook and a pen in the meanwhile.  Two days later a Classics professor visited the strange man who still wore his white robe.  He would not wear anything else.  The professor found a two-page letter written to Plato in the stranger’s dialect of ancient Greek.

The man had written to Plato about his unusual circumstances and asked for assistance getting home.  He complained about the food and lack of wine.  The professor was stunned at the consistency of the writing, clearly ancient Greek, and the sincerity of the strange man’s message.  The Classics professor could not understand the man’s speech since he had never heard ancient Greek spoken by an ancient Greek.  He had to communicate through written means.  He wrote down the question, “Who are you?”

The man wrote, “I am Aristotle of Stagira, son of Nicomachus.”  They discovered the man thought he was thirty years old and a student of Plato in Athens.  The evidence strongly indicated that this man was indeed the Aristotle from ancient times, but this was an impossibility that made no sense.  The professor did his best to explain the situation to the man, but ancient Greek vocabulary did not express modern state of affairs well, and he had no explanation for how or why a 2500 year-old man appeared here and now in his thirties.  He had to go teach a class and wrote the man to be calm, get some rest, and to write about his life and times in Athens.

The Classics expert returned in the afternoon with several books with ancient Greek writing in them, which he gave to the presumed Aristotle.  Then he spoke with the doctor in private.  If this guy was an imposter, if this was some kind of hoax, Aristotle would slip up and make a mistake sooner or later.  But what if this was somehow remarkably genuine?  What then?  The professor recommended playing along until Aristotle made a mistake, giving himself away as a prankster.  Classics students would visit the man daily, looking for evidence of fakery, while working to acclimate this Aristotle to the modern world.

A couple of weeks passed by without a hint of a hoax, and Aristotle was a fountain of apparently authentic information about ancient Greece.  The professor was astounded, and he couldn’t understand how a thirty year-old Aristotle showed up in modern Carrboro.  It defied common sense and was beyond belief.  The doctors said something had to be done.  They needed the bed and no one was paying for Aristotle’s care.  The Classics professor recommended they let Aristotle stay a couple more weeks while he and his students continued to work with the strange man to learn more about him and look for cracks in the theory that this was somehow a real phenomenon and not a hoax.

Other staff from the Classics Department visited the man and were astonished, as well as mystified, by the curious stranger’s sincerity and aura of authenticity.  The first professor spent the most time with him, and he began to learn to talk with Aristotle in his ancient Greek Athenian dialect.  He explained the nature of the situation to Aristotle, and eventually offered to bring him to his home and provide room and board until some other course of action could be figured out.

The summer break was coming up at the university, and the professor thought he could examine Aristotle over the summer and determine what kind of game was being played.  No explanation came to mind as to how a thirty year-old Aristotle could manifest himself here today, but if it was somehow true, then he could learn much about ancient Athens from the philosopher.  The professor discussed his plans with the doctors and solicited their backing and support in verifying the mysterious arrival of the man, if future questions arose concerning Aristotle’s origin in today’s world.

For his part, the philosopher was somewhat bewildered at first.  It took some convincing to assure him that the people around him were not gods and goddesses.  With TV’s, radios, cell phones, tablets, and computers, the new world Aristotle found himself in was a little bit overwhelming.  He adapted quickly, however, understanding that people were not going to hurt or threaten him in this new place.  He was glad to move to the professor’s home where he had more privacy and time to think and read and write.  Also he finally got some wine, which he preferred at room temperature.  Wine was the common drink of the ancient Greeks, and the philosopher was more at ease imbibing the alcoholic beverage.

The professor brought the philosopher to campus twice a week for the rest of the semester.  Students enjoyed learning spoken ancient Greek and teaching him English, and the staff studied the philosopher.  Every shred of evidence indicated Aristotle was for real.  The professor got several volunteer students, who lived locally, to work with the philosopher during the summer at his home.  They learned about ancient Greece while teaching him English and cultural skills.

In the fall, the professor set up three senior students with a special project, for credit, to prepare Aristotle for the GED.  Other students and staff continued to learn from his knowledge of ancient Greece and what Plato was like in person.  As Aristotle’s English improved, he began reading philosophical works on his own time.  His interest fueled his study efforts.  He thrived on the basic mathematics he learned as part of the GED project.  His thirst for understanding was unquenchable, and his mind and memory were solid.

The following year, the professor arranged for Aristotle to take a couple of introductory college courses to establish his competence for entering as a degree student.  The university set aside a special scholarship for him in return for his time educating students about ancient Greece and for working with the staff.  He decided on a double major in philosophy and biochemistry.  Aristotle did well in biochemistry, but he struggled a little bit in his philosophy courses.  It seems he was too independent-minded and did not passively give back answers the philosopher professors sought, but rather gave his own opinions, which did not reflect well on final grades.

He spent his summer breaks reading history, which absolutely fascinated him.  He was obsessed with learning and dedicated to understanding as much as possible.  One summer day, between his junior and senior years, he sat down on the professor’s back deck with a bottle of wine and reflected on his newfound life in the modern world.  Let’s look through Aristotle’s eyes as we eavesdrop on his thoughts.

“I do not know how I came to be here nearly 2500 years after my birth.  I would suspect the caprice of the gods if I could bring myself to the point of believing in them.  Anyway, it matters not how it happened.  That it has happened is sufficient and I must deal with these extraordinary circumstances as best I can.  Mankind has accomplished so much.  Humans have walked on the moon and currently orbit the Earth in a space station.  Hearts, livers, and kidneys have been transplanted from the recently deceased to the living in need of healthy organs.

“It boggles my mind to contemplate such things, but what is most surprising and perplexing is the lack of progress people have made in the moral arena.  Economic and political greed are no different today than in Greece 2500 years ago.  They are just exacerbated by sheer numbers of population.  Although goodness exists in a few people and is occasionally applied for the benefit of others, nonetheless unscrupulous people everywhere, worldwide, and at all levels of society, treat others poorly.  Plato was right to consider the nature of virtue and to value it above all else.  The world today is a mess with seven billion people and an extensive deficit in moral virtues.  I don’t understand it, and I doubt it will ever be understood.

“Democritus and Leucippus were correct in believing in atoms, although they had no way of knowing the complex truth of the modern atomic and molecular models.  Pythagoras was correct in believing in the pervasive role of numbers in physical reality, but he missed the mark in one respect.  Numbers are not the divine whole of reality, but rather they just define relationships of quantities of things.  The things themselves have an independent “it-ness” that relational numbers merely describe.  Numerical relationships can be measured with a high degree of accuracy and allow for refined, intricate manipulations of objects they describe.  But just what are the objects themselves, besides being conglomerations of atomic constituents?

“Two abstruse objects intrigue me, and I will devote my life to comprehending them.  One is the nature of gravity, and the other is the nature of consciousness.  Gravity cannot be explained.  It can only be observed indirectly through analysis of its effects.  Gravity warps space and time, and it imposes mutual attraction to all massive objects.  But how does it do what it does, and of what exactly does it consist?  The concept of gravity baffles me, and I will not rest until I come to some understanding of the “it-ness” of gravity.

“Consciousness defies comprehension despite its inescapable realness to me as I experience it.  Everyone experiences it, but no one knows precisely what it is.  Physicalists maintain that everything real has a material structure.  Is consciousness made of atoms?  I think not.  It has a physiological basis, but the mind itself is something more.  I do not believe it is entirely immaterial, however, as Plato and Descartes conveyed.  Organizational functionalism, in the context of mental processes within the physical brain, is the best I can describe it, but this is a fancy, incomplete way of saying I do not know.  What connects purely mental concepts, awareness, feelings, and attention to the brain physiology that makes them possible?  This wine is disappearing fast, causing a psychologically pleasant sensation through physiological means.  Most perplexing…”

 

 

A Bad Beginning

Marry Williamson

 

The new year started with Neil’s wife asking him to do something about the loose stone in the front garden.

“Absolute death trap that stone. We can’t have Aunt Ethel breaking her neck when she comes to stay on Sunday.”

“Sunday? Ethel! When was that plan hatched.” The first he heard of it. And why was she coming to stay and more to the point for how long? He tried to ask his wife but she batted him away.

“You know. Don’t make out you don’t know anything about this. You were here when we decided that it is too dangerous for her to live on her own. We have the space upstairs. Large en-suite. Just perfect.

What! She was actually coming for ever! Ethel! Ethel who makes it clear that she cannot stand him. Ethel, who had not spoken a word, civil or otherwise, to him for months. He groaned and sat with his head in his hands for a moment. His daughter giggled nastily and his onosyllabic son sucked his teeth as he slouched out of the door. “Tsk”.

“Anyway”, his wife said, “do something about that stone on the garden path. Ethel”s zimmerframe will never cope with it. She has been deteriorating rapidly ever since she came back from that trip to Prague with you. She maintains that it was you who pushed her off that boat into the Vtlava so it is not more than fair that you should look after her in her last remaining days”.

He wanted to shout. “I did not push her. I was knocked from behind. She was in front of me. It was an accident. Why should I look after her? She is your aunt. She can’t stand me. Last remaining days? That woman is going to live forever if only to spite me.”

But as nobody ever listened to him he suffered in silence.

Apparently, the preparations had reached quite an advanced stage. Ethel’s house was already with estate agents. When had this happened? He was not aware of ever being consulted about all this. He briefly thought about leaving home. Go somewhere where he could be alone. No wife, no selfish daughter or teethsucking son. How wonderful.

In the event he did nothing about going somewhere, stopping Ethel from coming or, indeed, repairing the wonky stone on the path. Sunday crept up on him and all of a sudden it was time to collect Ethel. She was waiting by her front door. Arms akimbo. A neat row of suitcases and boxes in the hallway.

“You are late”.

She did not look particularly frail. In fact, she looked exactly like the last time he had seen her, at Heathrow, after coming back from Prague. Angry. There was no sign of a zimmerframe. They drove home in utter silence. At the gate Ethel fairly jumped out of the car and darted up the path where his wife greeted her warmly. He was left to struggle with the luggage. As he was carrying the last box - a large one with big letters ‘FRAGILE’ - his foot caught the loose stone. He desperately tried to stay upright while at the same time keeping the box from falling to the ground. To no avail - on both counts. The box crashed onto the path.

 There was an ominous tinkling sound accompanied by Ethel’s scream “My precious Lladro”.

He also crashed onto the path, his right leg making a horrible snapping sound. He passed out. He came to briefly while being wheeled through a hospital corridor.

The upshot was he had broken his femur and had to be in traction for an unspecified time. So he got his wish. Peace and quiet. Away from the house and Ethel. He only had to endure visiting times and the moaning of his wife. “Trust you to think of a way to get out of looking after Ethel”.

By which he assumed that ‘looking after Ethel’ was not quite what it was cracked up to be and that the novelty was already wearing thin. He gathered that looking after Ethel was quite an arduous task. Or so he was told by his wife who grew more resentful by the day. Especially as she was doing it all on her own and was getting no help from their daughter or son. Nothing new there.

It transpired that she had counted on his support and help, indeed, she had counted on him looking after Ethel for most of the time while she continued with her many groups, lunches and clubs. Instead of which he was lying snug and safe and completely Ethel-free in his hospital bed.

Ethel, of course, had not visited him once. She was very angry about her Lladro figurines that were all, except for one, irreparably broken. Smashed to smithereens on the garden path.

Same as his leg. But Ethel did not care about that. She did care that out of all her precious figurines only the one she cared for least - a shepherdess given to her by her late husband (no taste) - had survived.

Anyhow, he was no good to any of them. His daughter was angry that he was not there to ferry her to her many clubs, ballet and riding lessons. The teeth sucking son was angry that he was not there to collect him at some ungodly hour from a club, pub, rock concert or a mate’s house. And his wife was angry that she had to do it. All the ferrying to and fro on top of looking after Ethel and, this was said with some venom, visiting you as well.

“Look” he said, “don’t come. I am fine. I can get everything I need here. Food, drinks, books, newspapers. You don’t need to worry about me. I can even use my mobile. It is allowed now. Phone me if you need to.”

But he should have known. She had to be the martyr. He suspected that she liked to have an excuse to get away from Ethel. And most of all he knew that when it was all over he was going to pay dearly.

Nothing lasts forever and eventually his femur healed and it was time to go home. His wife came to collect him and he negotiated the loose stone cautiously on his crutches. The front door opened and there she was - the Angel of Doom. Nothing frail or having-to-be- looked-after-ish. A picture of rude health. No zimmerframe. His heart sank.

“Ethel, sorry about the Lladro”.

There was no reply although he heard “tsk” further up the hallway. The son. The daughter was also there.

“Can you drive yet? I need to go to my riding lessons in half an hour”.

Welcome home, Dad, he thought.

Life settled down after that and resumed more or less the same as it always did. Except there was an Ethel in the house. Originally, she was supposed to stay in her own room which was equipped with all the necessities but she stuck her nose into everything and interfered in all aspects of his family’s lives.

His son was spending more and more time at his friend’s house. He wondered if he ever said more than one word at a time or sucked his teeth at his friend’s folk.

His daughter locked herself in her room and rarely appeared apart from dinner time and demanding to be taken somewhere.

His wife started to look very harassed and one night, after Ethel had gone to bed, she said: “This was a very bad idea to have Ethel living here, you know. I don’t know what you were  thinking of. I told you it was never going to work. You have to think of a solution because I cannot cope much longer.”

He opened his mouth to protest but she cut him short.

 “Think of something.

And boy, this is going to cost you. After we have got rid of Ethel you are going to take me to Sweetpeas in the High Street and I will chose something nice. What? Sweetpeas? The most expensive jeweller in the town. And how was he going to get rid of Ethel? Did she mean literally, kill her, or was she speaking metaphorically?

In the event Ethel solved the dilemma herself. Her best friend, Edie, had moved into assisted living apartments up the road and Ethel had seen the facility and the apartments and had taken a fancy to it. Whether the Manager had taken a fancy to Ethel was debatable but Ethel, on hearing that there was an apartment available, had bulldozed her way in.

 So that was Ethel sorted out. Now there was nothing more to do than Sweetpeas. He accompanied his wife with a heavy heart. Of course, she had to choose the pendant with the large diamond. Of course she had to have a gold chain to hang it from. His credit card groaned as it was swiped through the machine but his wife was happy. She even said “thank you darling” and linked arms as they walked up the garden path. The wobbly stone was still there and his foot caught it exactly as before. He lost his footing as before and his wife tried to keep him up. He stayed on his feet but his hand caught at the chain around her neck. The chain broke, the diamond went flying and skittered down the path, under the gate and into the gutter where it disappeared down the grate.

He was dumbstruck while his wife kneeled by the grate, wailing. Well, there you are. Diamonds are not always forever. Sometimes they are for half an hour only.

 

 

A Nation of Sheep Will Beget a Government Of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow

 

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. – Plato

 

 

Sheer Madness

Tim Whealton

 

Tim 1.jpgI’m 67 years old. I use to hunt and fish in winter weather for fun but things have changed. I realized a few years ago that it was hurting for me to be in the cold. Specifically my fingers would get cold and not warm up. Even gloves wouldn’t help unless they had hand warmers inside. I finally found a muff that was camouflaged and equipped with a strap to hang around my neck. I could put 5 or 6 disposable hand warmers and I had a small oven to warm my hands. It worked, but it was hard to manage hunting or fishing. With a little research I discovered I have Raynaud’s disease. It is a condition where your body senses cold and overreacts by shutting down the blood flow to extremities like fingers to keep the core of the body warm. It makes it easier to say no to winter sports to say the least. That is until I get chance to go see my daughter and family in Alaska!

Figure 1This is what Raynauds looks like. That finger won't restore circulation till it is warmed with a heat source

If you don’t know my daughters story it is amazing. She lived on Ocracoke Island with her husband and 2 children ages 13 and 5. She owned a small business and her Husband James did too. They were successful in business but they both were working long hours and dealing with a lot challenges. One day she calls me and says we have decided we want to move. We are making money but not able to enjoy life here. I’m thinking, well okay maybe being off the island will be good. They could move to Manteo, Hatteras or maybe Morehead and get away from the hassle of dealing with a ferry but I wasn’t ready when she said Alaska. They had gone for a visit and decided that was where they wanted to live.

It took me a while to realize that most of us never decide where we want to live. We just keep living where we are because it’s too hard to move. “Too hard” doesn’t apply to this couple. In less than a year they sold home and businesses and reduced their personal stuff to one shipping container. They sold their cars on the way to the airport and dropped their cell phones in the trash before boarding like they were going in witness protection. Susan also worked in real estate and she had a list of properties to inspect for a potential home in Alaska. In a month they had bought a home, 2 vehicles and found jobs. They are both in their mid- 40’s.

This is their 4th year and they are more in love with Alaska every year. Susan says we use to work for stuff but now we work to do stuff and doing is better. I had been in March and May and August but never in the real winter. Since I work for a college I have to plan trips while school is out and December is the biggest holiday we have so I had to do it. My brother Warren lost his wife a couple months back and my sister wanted him to get out so she graciously bought him a ticket to fly with me. My brother is loved everywhere he goes so this just made the trip that much better. Unfortunately my wife Rhonda had to stay behind because we are expecting another grandchild and she will needed. So it was to be a “brother’s trip”.

Before we go Warren was asking the usual questions. What do we wear? What are we going to do? Will it snow? Will we die? How do people live in Alaska in winter? The answers were easy. Take a coat, we let Susan pick the activities, it will snow, maybe and they live like we do.

Maybe the last question about how do they live in winter is the most surprising. I imagined then with dog sleds and eating frozen fish or seal meat till spring. Not at all the case. They live in a house that wouldn’t look out of place here and order pizza or pick up Panda Express on the way home. Walmart is just down the road and anything else you need. You do need to keep an eye out for a moose but bears don’t eat you in the Walmart parking lot. The roads are plowed and graveled and they drive 60mph most of the time. In December the average high will be in the teens and average low in the single digits. Yes it’s cold but it’s also dry so it doesn’t cut you like a razor and your clothes work well.

While winter rules out long road trips it does allow us to try something that you have a hard time doing in NC. That of course is ice fishing! It just sounds crazy. How can fish even survive under ice and what fool would even try to catch them in the dead of winter? We I guess you know the answer to that question. Since my brother is the true fisherman in the family he was excited to learn that Susan had the trip lined up with a local guide. Best way to learn.

We left from New Bern on the 13th at 5am. Reminded us of our days duck hunting. At least we didn’t need 300 decoys! The trip was a long one but we knew that. There are no shortcuts to a place far away. We arrived in Anchorage at 8pm. When you add in the 4 hour time change it was a long day.

Anchorage is the only big city in Alaska. It has everything you need and some stuff you don’t. On my first trip there I saw a beginner Eskimo hooker that was trying to maneuver on 6 inch heels crossing an icy road. You don’t see that in Cove City! Thankfully the ride to Susan’s home is short but beautiful even at night (sunset 3:30). It’s my job to look for moose so I scan the roadside as far as I can see. You absolutely don’t want to hit a moose. They are huge and most of the weight is up high since they have long legs. That means the 1200 pound body will be coming through the windshield and into the passenger compartment. They are the most delicious game animal I have tried but I don’t want one in my lap at 60 mph!

We arrive and are warmly welcomed by the family and the dog “Fred”. James (my son in law) has supper ready and we enjoy eating and sharing stories. They recount the earthquake that shook the house so hard the burners were thrown from the stove and I tell about Hurricane Florence. We realize just how blessed we are to basically get through without major damage or injury.

 

Tim-2.jpg

The next couple of days we just sort of live life with the family. We go shopping, buy groceries, mail gifts, take Arabella to Gymnastics and do a little sightseeing. Even though we aren’t doing anything special it is still a learning experience about life in Alaska. Warren got to see that the locals dress a lot like in NC and eat the same. Pizza, Chinese and McDonalds. Even though he temps were around 20 there were plenty of women in stretch pants and kids in t shirts!

Finally it was time for the ice fishing trip. It was a 4 hour trip and we met the guide at 11:00 am on the shore of Big Lake. He had already drilled our holes and had a tent set up over two holes. We let the oldest and youngest take the holes in the tent and Susan and I took the outside holes. I was hesitant about going out on a frozen lake ever since the whipping I got from my mother for walking on Neuse R when it froze. Don’t tell me corporal punishment doesn’t work! I felt a little better when I watched a new Ford F150 drive by on the ice.

We hadn’t fished long before Jamie hooked and landed a beautiful rainbow trout. Then I caught my first ever arctic char. It was hooked and I was too. Then Susan caught a huge rainbow and I got one too. It slowed down for a while then and the cold started to sink in. Sitting still I noticed my rod tip was bouncing but it was me shivering instead of a bite. Then just before time to go Susan and I both hooked up on nice fish. She landed a huge char and I got another rainbow. We had plenty of fish for supper and it was time to go. My

fingertips were turning white and I was glad to take the short snowmobile ride to the parking lot. If it was fun when it was that cold it must be awesome to fish there in summer. I will be finding out maybe next trip!

tim 3.jpg 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2Sunlight shines through the outside ice and inside you can see the bottom 12 feet down. The water is clear and you can watch the fish swim up and take the bait. The ice was 13” thick.

 

 Susan waiting for the next big one!

 

The long trip home gave me lots of time to think. If you had told me exactly what would happen in my life when I was 16 I would have laughed in your face. Since I am a God, Bible, Jesus person I try to put things into some sort of order with meaning. Has this life been a test to find out if I am worthy of something? If it is a test I must surely have failed. No, I think it must be training like a school or something. I have certainly learned that I am not the center of this world and all this wasn’t made just for me. God has a plan that doesn’t depend on me but thanks to him it includes me. Just that is awesome news.

 If you ever get chance to visit Alaska don’t pass it up. It isn’t as cold as you think and it is more beautiful than you imagined.

 

 

Seven Types of Atheism

By John Gray. Farrar

Straus and Giroux; 176 pages; $25.00

 

Reviewed by E. B. Alston

seven types of atheism.jpgFinally, a non-Christian  philosopher subjects the atheist creed to the sort of scrutiny normally reserved for Christianity. Ever since the Enlightenment, Christianity has been subjected to rigorous examination that has contributed to the decline of organized faith. Though Christian teaching is at the heart of the Western academic tradition, atheism has long been the new gospel for many intellectuals. Some authors have tried to subject it to the same scrutiny that religion has received. As polytheistic Romans found in the fourth century, challenging rampant ortho-doxies can be tough.

Alister McGrath’s "The Twilight of Athe­ism” and Nick Spencer’s "Atheists: The Ori­gin of the Species” are excellent critiques; but both writers are Christians, so they have been easy for unbelievers to dismiss. It has taken a prophet seated firm­ly in an atheist pew to publicize the creed’s contradictions more widely.

That prophet is John Gray, a retired professor of philoso­phy at the London School of Economics. In several books, Mr. Gray has reasserted his belief that there is no God, while also attacking the liberal human ideas that have emerged in God’s stead,  They are, he thinks, is as flaky as the religion they tried to replace. I will add here that Chesterton famously wrote that “When there is no god, the government becomes god.”

Dispensing with the teachings of monotheism leaves no coherent concept of humanity, nor of human dignity. Mr. Gray uses this observation as a launch-pad to criticise "New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, and to point out that most mod­ern atheists do not follow their reasoning to its logical conclusion. They may have re­jected monotheist beliefs, but they have not shaken off a monotheistic way of thinking, and "regurgitate some secular version of Christian morality”. Mr. Gray has a much bleaker view of atheism's implica­tions: "A truly naturalistic view of the world leaves no room for secular hope."

In “Seven Types of Atheism” Mr. Gray neatly recapitulates his arguments, com­bining them with a whistle-stop tour of modern unbelief from the Marquis de Sade through to Friedrich Nietzsche and Joseph Conrad. He gives Christianity its due, con­ceding that not all enlightenment began at the Enlightenment and pointing out the imperfections of that era’s heroes—the racism of Hume, Kant and Voltaire, for in­stance. Many of the saints of modern liber­alism were not as secular as they might seem, he suggests. John Locke’s liberalism is indebted to Christianity at every point; John Stuart Mill’s insistence that morals did not depend on religion "invoked an idea of morality that was borrowed from Christianity”. The new orthodoxy Mill founded was deeply rooted in Christianity, Mr Gray says the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

He is as exasperated with knee-jerk un­belief as he is with unthinking devotion, and has no time for several of the types of atheism he enumerates. All of them look to replace God with some form of secular hu­manism, science or politics. Their high priests tend to be just as blinkered as the ecclesiastics they abjure, Mr. Gray com­plains: "While atheists may call them­selves freethinkers, for many today athe­ism is a closed system of thought.” He decries a rising intolerance in academia, where free expression is jeopardized by "a frenzy of righteousness” that recalls the iconoclasm of Christianity when it came to power in Rome. "If monotheism gave birth to liberal values,” he says of today’s illiberal liberalism, “a militant secular version of the faith may usher in their end.”

Instead, he is drawn to the more bracing denominations of the new church, such as those espoused by Spinoza and Schopen­hauer, atheists that are happy to live with a godless world or an unnamable God. These varieties reject the idea of a creator and dispense with all pieties regarding hu­man nature. Have they truly emerged from the shadow of Christianity?

In a godless universe, there would be no need for affection, music, art, compassion, community, or philosophy. The truth of the matter is, every atheist is an inverted believer.

 

 

Death Takes a Holiday

E. B. Alston

 

I was taking my trip of a lifetime by driving across the United States from Wilmington, North Carolina to Barstow, California on US Interstate I-40. After arriving in Barstow, I would decide if I was going east by the northern or by the southern route.   

I am now crossing Kansas. I could not have imagined how flat Kansas is. According to the US Government Survey, as developed by satellite imaging, Kansas is flatter than a pancake. I also am surprised by the incessant wind. I had trouble sleeping last night when I stayed in a cheap roadside motel just east of Abilene. 

In addition, the flat terrain allowed wind out of the north to blow all the time. Sometimes it blew hard enough to make my car drift over into another lane. 

About midmorning, I stopped for breakfast a few miles west of Abilene. The restaurant was called “The Git it and Scram Restaurant.” Appearance-wise, the name fit. Surprisingly, it was pretty crowded. All of them looked like locals so I decided I might have lucked out in spite of the name.

The waitress who took my order was pretty, business-like and efficient. A copy of the local paper was on the table so I picked it up to see the news. My breakfast was delivered before I read the headline.

The food was good, and with the hash browns, I might not need lunch. The waitress kept my coffee cup full.

After I finished eating, I browsed the paper for a few minutes. Then I asked a man at the next table if the wind blew this way all the time.

He looked at me and grinned. “Naw. Sometimes it blows the other way,” and laughed.

I laughed, too.

I picked up my bill and went to the register to pay. Stacked on the counter were orange hunting caps with an embroidered picture of a ring-neck pheasant with the words “Kansas – Big Cock Country” under the picture. I bought one for my friend who lives in New Bern.   

I left the “Git it and Scram” and drove a couple more hours until I saw a National Parks sign that read “The Largest Sand Dune in North America.” Evidence of how boring driving across Kansas was, I decided to visit the park.

I turned right and drove north for about six miles. There was a good-sized National Parks building with a parking lot for 50 cars. The building was taller than the sand dune.   

A park ranger greeted me with a friendly smile and looked like he was glad that somebody stopped. He took me inside the building and showed me the pictures, displays, maps, a plaque showing the cubic yards of sand contained in the dune and the history of the monument. Then we went outside to the viewing platform where I looked at a good-size pile of sand and read another plaque. I handed him my cellphone and he took my picture standing in front of the largest sand dune in North America.   

Then I asked to use the men’s room, after which I drove away wondering if anybody else would visit today, or even this month.

A couple of miles back toward I-40, I saw a road angling to the right. Thinking it might cut off a few miles, I turned off and followed it at a brisk pace. This one was refreshing because it had curves. Kansas is laid out in squares and local roads run either north or south spaced one mile apart. These roads define “squares,” a square mile containing 640 acres. This was the only road I had seen in Kansas that traveled south-west.    

It was getting dark. I was driving too fast. When I approached a bridge over a deep dry bed ravine, a herd of deer ran across the road in front of me. I jammed on the brakes; my car slid sideways, ran off the road, down the steep embankment across the bottom of the ravine and crashed into a large sycamore tree. Both air bags activated. I was knocked unconscious.  

I woke up at 3:33 AM, groggy and not sure where I was. Then I remembered the crash. I had a terrible pain in my right leg, which was on brake pedal when the car crashed. The moon was out so I could see a little of the damage to my car. The right side of the dashboard had pushed the passenger seat back. I was unable to move my body and my left arm was pushed hard against the door. My cellphone, which was lying on the passenger seat, was nowhere to be seen. This looked very bad.

It looked even worse when dawn began to break and there was no traffic on the road. Just before sunrise, I was startled when a cowled figure appeared outside the window.

“Are you Death?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “Death called in sick. I’m Jack Frost. Help is on the way. I’ll cool you off until they arrive.”   

 

 

New Year Celebrations

 

Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic New Year's Eve (Silvestr) is the noisiest day of the year. People generally gather with friends at parties, in pubs, clubs, in the streets, or city squares to eat, drink, and celebrate. Fireworks are a popular tradition; in large cities such as Prague, the fireworks start before noon and steadily increase until midnight. In the first minutes after midnight, people toast with champagne, wish each other a happy new year and go outside for the fireworks

 

 

Three Rivers to Cross

Elizabeth Silance Ballard

 

Chapter Ten

 

I put a notice on the bulletin board asking if anyone was going anywhere near Sea Vista 3 rivers.jpgafter the semester but  I had no responses whatsoever. I was beginning to think Sea Vista must be really isolated.

The bus seemed to be my only transportation until I got a letter from Mrs. Cabler saying she would like to come pick me up at the end of the semester and drive down to Sea Vista.

“I haven’t been there in so long and I’d love to go with you,” she wrote.

As it turned out, there was a family emergency so she and Mr. Cabler each drove their cars to Meredith before the semester was over and  left  her car for me to drive.

“Charlotte, you just keep my car and drive it to Sea Vista. When we get home, we’ll drive down one day to get it. There’s just no telling how long we’ll have to stay at my mother’s, though.”

So that’s why Suzanne taught me to drive, and  that’s why I was driving alone that day to my summer job. It was a beautiful drive and I was almost there.  The water was shimmering in the bright sun and I could see across the river to Sea Vista.  Up ahead, the swing bridge was open and there were already two cars stopped at the barrier. 

I drove onto the bridge, pulled up and stopped. I was puzzled as to why the bridge was open because I couldn’t see any boat traffic. If the boat, or boats, had already passed through, why hadn’t they closed the bridge? I turned off the ignition but when I saw that the bridge was closing, I started up again. That’s when it happened.

As the swing section came around to connect with the bridge, for some reason it didn’t. Instead, the whole bridge literally shook!  Shook hard! I don’t mind telling you that I was terrified. What could be happening? I didn’t know and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to get off that bridge!

I got out and looked at my car. It was literally hemmed in. I had pulled too close to the car in front of me and the ones behind me had done the same. There was no way to turn around and get off that bridge, even if it had been wide enough to do so.

The river was probably twice as wide as our Bluefish River and the opening for boat traffic was right in the middle. So, the point at which my car sat on the bridge was roughly halfway across the river. Several people got out of their cars and appeared to be as shaken as I was at our predicament.

By that time, the bridge had swung out and was making another attempt at closing. Again, a loud  clank and the bridge shook so hard that two people fell against their cars and a child fell down onto the bridge itself. I got back into my own car.

What could possibly be the problem? I rolled down my window and heard someone say that the bridge tender had summoned help and they would have the bridge operating as soon as possible.

“He says not to worry. He’s not going to try closing it again until help arrives. He said that none of us are to try to get out of line and turn back. They need to keep that lane open for the men and equipment coming to work on the bridge.”

I watched in my rear view mirror as he went to the cars behind me with his news. Traffic must have been backed up quite a distance because it seemed to take him a long time to get back to his own vehicle.

I was frantic. I, who had grown up in the middle of a river, was now frightened at being stranded over the middle of a river. What would happen if they couldn’t get the bridge to close? How much shaking could that bridge take before it collapsed as they tried to force it to close? My mind was racing with the awful possibilities and the newspaper headlines:       Meadow View resi-dent missing! Last seen leaving her dorm at Meredith College!

But, no! No one would  even know I was missing!  Daddy and Mama were not expecting me at home. Even if the car were retrieved from the river, they would be looking for the owner – Mrs. Cabler! Not Charlotte Gurganus! In the meantime, I would be somewhere out to sea, my poor body carried by the tide.

School teacher’s car is identified in massive bridge collapse.  No sign of Mr. and Mrs. John Cabler. Rescue efforts continue!

Teachers and students pray for the safety of Mrs. Della Cabler as the search continues for survivors of bridge collapse.

No one would be looking for me! I had to get a grip on myself!  I was letting my imagination run rampant. Still, I knew if that bridge could not be closed, the only way we were getting off that bridge was by driving backward!

That many cars driving backward to—well, there was no telling how this would all work. The road was narrow with very narrow shoulders.

I looked at my watch. I had been there approximately an hour. I had no idea how long the bridge had been inoperable.  As soon as I could get off that bridge, I was going home. That was a given! This thing with the bridge was a sign! I should not be going to Sea Vista!

Never without a book, I took out “Sense and Sensibility.” There’s nothing like a Jane Austen novel to take your mind completely off your own reality.

I read several chapters before the state highway vehicles and crew arrived and managed to get the bridge operating and traffic moving. 

I, however, wanted to go home. I mean I REALLY wanted to go home because the wild possibilities I had entertained while stuck on that bridge still flitted through my imagination.

What if this really WAS a sign that I shouldn’t be here? Is that what you’re trying to tell me, Lord?  Here I am in a place I’ve never seen, in a car that isn’t even mine, a car I barely know how to drive! 

I kept looking for a place to turn around but there was nowhere to turn around for what seemed like miles. By the time I did find a place, I was too intrigued with my surroundings to do so.

I could still see the river in my rear view mirror and when I opened my car window, I was thrilled. I could hear and smell the ocean. That’s how close we were. Even though I grew up on a river and very close to the ocean, I had never been to this river and this part of the ocean and there was no way I was going to turn around and go home!

 

2nd River-bw.jpg

 

Chapter Eleven

 

I absolutely loved it at Sea Vista and was lucky enough to work there during my freshman, sophomore, and junior years at Meredith. The staff of college students wore several hats, which is to say, we worked wherever we were needed at any given time.

We were store clerks, front desk clerks, cafeteria workers, janitors, whatever was needed. I have nothing but good memories of those summers, especially that first one. The summer I met Gregory Langlois  Cleveland,  a rising sophomore at Wake Forest.

We were both on kitchen duty that particular day, each manning the business end of a mop. I was huffing and puffing, and wondering why I had ever thought working at a summer camp would be a good thing to do. Greg was smiling as if he thought being there at that moment was wonderful and he was lucky, indeed. 

He had attended summer camp there during his childhood years and was so excited to be able to spend his entire summers there during college “and get paid for it!”

Though we were on kitchen and dining hall duties that week, we had other duties, too. Being a ministerial student, Greg was urged to attend and participate in the various activities to gain insight, ideas, and experience, which would help him when he entered the ministry.        

He was my exact opposite. Whereas I was still very quiet, though not as shy as I used to be, Greg was a whirlwind of energy. He talked and laughed easily with everyone, was always smiling and appeared to be the happiest person around—and good-looking!

Yes, Greg Cleveland had to be the most handsome and—okay, sexiest!—boy I had ever seen! He didn’t ACT sexy, mind you. He never uttered an inappropriate word nor did he ever give an inappropriate look toward any of the girls. He was a perfect gentleman and had what the other girls called “class.” But, oh, he really was so sexy without appearing to know it!

There were several of us who always seemed to end up on the same work details and we naturally gravitated to each other during our free time. Gradually, we also began to pair off and, wonder of wonders, Greg and I became quite an item in our little circle of friends.

One afternoon during our free time, the two of us headed for the beach, only a five-minute walk from the staff living quarters. Greg was wearing red swim trunks and carried a large black raft he had checked out of the Rec Hall.  I was in my navy blue one-piece swimsuit and carried a beach towel and a book.

“A book!? You’re not going to be reading! We’re going to hit the waves!”

“Oh, no, really, I can’t go into the water. I like to sit in the sun near the surf but I can’t go in.”

“And why not? Can’t you swim?”

“Of course I can swim! I grew up on an island. My daddy had me in the water before I was a year old.”

“Okay, so?”

“So, it wasn’t the ocean. It was the river. I’m terrified of the…”

“Waves?”

“I can handle the waves okay, but the undertow can be really dangerous.”

“Not today, Lady! Today you’re going out with me. You’ll be fine!”

Still I declined, even though I saw several girls watching and knew any one of them would go beyond the breakers with Greg Cleveland in a heartbeat.

“Tell you what, Charlotte. You watch me for a minute or two and then you come on out.”

Good. He was going to leave me to my book. I spread my towel, sat down, and opened my Jane Austen.

“Charlotte, come on in!”

I saw him jumping the waves and pointing further out, toward the horizon, out where you can’t touch bottom.

I pointed to the sun and turned over on my stomach as if to say I was still sun bathing for a while longer.

I heard his running footsteps but before I could even turn over, he had picked me up and was racing toward the incoming waves. I screamed.

“No! Don’t throw me in! Please!”

“Throw you in? I should say not! I like holding you too much,” he said, laughing. “Here’s the raft. Now, just lie across and hold on. I’ll get us over the breakers and then it will be easy.”

Easy? I could hear my own racing heart and imagined the headlines: Meadow View native lost at sea. Caught in undertow! All hope lost for Charlotte Gurganus!

Miraculously, the ocean was suddenly peaceful. We WERE beyond the breakers and he had maneuvered the raft so that we were now facing the shore.

“We’re out too far, Greg! Let’s go back to shore.”

“No, ma’am! We’re going to let the waves take us in. We might have to wait for a little while, though. Maybe a long while.”

I knew he was teasing but he had no idea of how frightened I was.

“Now isn’t this fun, Charlotte?”

Fun? Well, if I were not so terrified of drowning, it would be fun just being that close to Greg, inhaling the effect of his sun tan lotion and seeing the salt spray glisten on that great tan! When I looked into those  bluest of blue eyes squinting from the sun, I even forgot all about the undertow—for a few seconds.

I guess we had drifted farther toward shore than we knew because a wave crashed right on top of us. I slipped off the raft, couldn’t touch bottom, and learned fully the meaning of the word terror.

 I was flailing all around. Where is the raft? Oh, God, please help me!

In the next second, Greg grabbed my arm and pulled me back on the raft. That time he put his arm across my back and grasped the end of the raft on my left side, effectively pinning me safely. I was gasping and crying.

“I’ve got you. You’re okay. I won’t let you slip again. I’m sorry, Charlotte.”

He leaned over just as I looked up, shaking all over, and he kissed the tip of my nose, then kissed me for real.

“Don’t be scared. It was my fault. I’ll make sure you don’t leave the raft again, okay? I won’t let you go!”

I nodded, still unable to speak but being fully aware that I did not want Greg Cleveland to let me go. Ever.

Things changed for me that day. When I teased him about trying to drown me, he would always reply that I wasn’t fooling anyone.

“You deliberately fell off so I would rescue you and hold you in my arms!”

Everyone laughed with us but from that day on, we were seen and accepted as a couple and we spent as much time as possible together.

The morning before we were to return to school, we went to the student staff office and made known our desire to return the following summer, guaranteeing that we would be together those next two summers. 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

All was well with my world until I got back to Meredith at the end of August and told Suzanne all about it. I realized how foolish it all sounded.

“Of course, it won’t last,” I said, hoping I was wrong. “Summer romances never last, do they?”

“Why  not?   It  sounds  perfect.”

That was the problem. It was all too perfect. Me. The nobody girl. The awkward girl. Not one of the pretty girls. No, I had to get hold of myself and accept that it was just a summer thing. My first boyfriend and my first kiss, but a summer thing, nevertheless.

“No, Suzanne, it was just a summer thing. I’ll never hear from him again.”

“Where does he go to school?”

“Wake Forest.”

“I predict you’ll hear from him.”

She was right. Apparently, he had mailed his first letter as soon as he got back to campus. He signed it, “Love, Greg.”

Our letters flew thick and fast over the next three years and he made several trips to the Meredith campus during that time. Of course, each summer we were together at Sea Vista and when I went back for my senior year, I was wearing an engagement ring. Suzanne immediately began planning a bridal shower for me.

“We’ll do it after spring break, before we all get bogged down in studying for finals.  Hey! I’m going to be your Maid of Honor, right?”

“You know so!” I said, laughing.

I didn’t mention my engagement to my family until I went home for Christmas. I didn’t usually stay the full two weeks of the holiday but this time I would.

Uncle Leonard met me at the bus station and Mama was waiting at the boat.

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s home, waiting for us. I told him I wanted to come get you this time.”

I kept my gloves on. I wanted to break the news to both parents at the same time. They knew about Greg, but had never met him. I had sent pictures, though, so I was sure they suspected we were serious.

“Lady Baby!”

“Daddy,” I said, hugging him hard, “don’t you think I’ve outgrown that name?”

“No! You’ll always be Lady Baby.”

He put one arm around Mama and the other around me. “So, tell me. Is your young man coming to be with us for Christmas?  Tell us everything.”

We were divesting ourselves of shoes, coats, and scarves. I took my gloves off last.

“Well, I do have something new, Daddy,” I said, holding out my left hand.

“When can we meet him?  When is the wedding?”

“Oh, my  goodness! It’s beautiful!”

“Please wait until after graduation.”

The same words, almost verbatim, were repeated when Lon and Len and their families came over for Christmas dinner.

“We plan to have the wedding this summer. We both hope to have some idea of where we’ll be living by then. Greg graduates first and will go on to seminary and I’m hoping to get a teaching job.

“There’s just so much to do and we can’t move ahead too quickly because we’ve both got another semester to go. I’ll be student teaching and then I have to get set up to take the State Boards.”

“A minister’s wife.”

As soon as the words were spoken by my sister-in-law, the room became quiet except for the children playing in the front room. We were all sitting around the kitchen table. Daddy spoke first.

“Did Greg  think it was strange that you’re not  from a church going family?”

“He did, at first, think that it was really strange, Daddy. He could hardly conceive of such a thing. After I explained how you and Mama had brought us up to have strong faith, that our family members were as acquainted with the Bible as he was, he didn’t say anything more. 

“Besides, I’ve been attending a Baptist Church with Suzanne ever since the first Sunday I was at college. We both help with the children’s Sunday school and even keep the baby nursery many Sundays.

“Anyway, Daddy, Greg seemed satisfied that we’ll make a great couple and no one else has a problem with it.”

“Will you get married in a church?”  Mama asked.

“Mama, that’s a question I can’t answer yet.  Right now, this upcoming semester is our primary focus.”

After the others left that night, Mama and I went to her room and she opened her cedar chest.

“Don’t feel like you have to use this, Charlotte Anne, but I hope you might want to wear my weddin’ dress. It’s not fancy, but it is my weddin’ dress.”

The dress looked nothing like I had imagined my own gown to be but it was not too bad.

“Mama, I doubt I could even fit into your dress. You were so tiny.”

She smiled. “Norbert said I had the tiniest waist of any girl he ever looked at.”

“I tell you what, Mama. I’ll try to diet some this semester but I wear a size 12. What size is this dress?”

“I don’t really know. My aunt started with a pattern she’d had for years but she had to fit, refit, and refit again before she got it cut down enough for me.”

I held it up in front of me and looked in the mirror and knew there was no way I would ever fit into that dress. Guilty as I was feeling, I was glad.  I loved Mama. I just did not love her clothes and, especially, I never did like the clothes she thought were so pretty on me.

 

Twelve Pearls of Wisdom 

1.     Whether a man winds up with a nest egg, or a goose egg, depends a lot on the kind of chick he marries.

2.     Trouble in marriage often starts when a man gets so busy earnin' his salt he forgets his sugar. 

3.     Too many couples marry for better, or for worse, but not for good. 

4.     When a man marries a woman, they become one; the trouble starts when they try to decide which one. 

5.     If a man has enough horse sense to treat his wife like a thoroughbred, she'll never turn into an old nag. 

6.     On anniversaries, the wise husband always forgets the past - but never the present.

7.     A foolish husband says to his wife, "Honey, you stick to the washin', ironin', cookin' and scrubbin'. No wife of mine's gonna 'work'."

8.     Many girls like to marry a military man - he can cook, sew, and make beds, is in good health, and already used to taking orders. 

9.     You know you are getting old, when everything either dries up or leaks. 

10.  Old age is when former classmates are so gray and wrinkled and bald, they don't recognize you. 

11.  Have a GREAT day and keep laughing! It's good for the soul. 

12.  And, always remember to pay the undertaker with a bad check...

 

 

First  Aid

by

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

 

In their fishing boat beside the wharf,

He and his helper dropped fish they

picked out of the nets into metal baskets

Standing above them on the wharf, I caught his

attention and told him why I came

Chewing without teeth, his chin and nose nearly

touching,

He rolled the wad around and onto his tongue,

spit the wet, brown lump into the palm

of his calloused, weathered hand and

Pinched off a small bit. He handed it up to me.

Chewing tobacco is first aid for a wasp sting.

I knew Uncle Monroe would share a bit.

 

 


 

Weird Headlines from 2018

 

Man Who Stabbed Ex’s Fish Gets Probation

 

Bride’s Bouquet Brings Down Plane

 

Ted Williams’ Frozen Head Mistreated

 

Would-Be Seattle Ninja Impaled on Fence

 

Pink-Clad Pooch Stolen From Gay Bar by Man with Britney Tattoo

 

Man Called Zombie While Ordering Food Punched Twice

 

Stoned Wallabies Make Crop Circles

 

Courtroom Feces-thrower Gets 31 Years in Prison

 

Pants-less Puppeteer Charged with Indecent Exposure

 

Dead Deer in Clown Suit Left on Iowa Porch

 

Granny Fights off Bear with Pillow

 

Strip Club Owner Snubbed by Gingrich Named Pit Bull Shelter After Him

 

Kansas Couple’s Trash Bin Tryst Takes Wrong Turn

 

Girl Gorillas Go Ape for French Pinup Hunk

 

Pregnant Woman Fined For Failing to Scoop Poop

 

Honolulu Considers Fine on Stinky Bus Riders

 

Hitler’s Mein Kampf Seen as Self-Help Guide for India’s Business Students

 

Half-Naked Santas Run for Charity in Hungary

 

Vatican Paper Says ‘Simpsons’ are Okely Dokely

 

Man Impaled With Knife Orders Coffee

 

Mom calls 911 over son's video-game habit

 

Too cold for nude protest, bikers switch gears

 

Against nudity ban, Ore. gallery takes it all off

 

Christmas trees show up with live 'ornaments'- Out-of-state frogs make it to Alaska

 

Beer-buzzed boy, 4, wanted to visit jailed dad-Mom says he got drunk, stole girl's dress because he 'wants to go to jail'

 

Teacher on leave for taking choir to Hooters-Arizona district school officials say there were other options for post-concert lunch

 

I didn’t make any of this up.

 

 

A Beautiful Day

By E. B. Alston

 

I grew up next door to a widow lady that I knew as Mrs. Thornton Davidson. She lived in a faded old mansion among a cluster of modest middle-class houses. When I was eight years old, I began running errands and doing chores for her. She paid me for everything that I did.    

She was a good neighbor to the families in our little community. If anyone got sick or had a death in their family, she always brought food and condolences. My father thought she might have been a great beauty when she was young. She was old now and dressed in styles that were in fashion long ago.    

An incident when I was twelve caused her to have special feelings for me. Boys from another neighborhood came into her yard and rode their bicycles through her flowerbeds and knocked down her bird feeders. She saw it but was afraid to confront the young hooligans. I happened to be at home and heard the racket.

I ran into her yard and confronted the leader of the boys, a big boy about two years older than I was. When I grabbed his bicycle handlebars and made him crash, he came up fighting mad. He was a bully and the boys followed him because they admired bullies. They stopped and stood astride their bicycles while they watched what they expected to be a lopsided fight where I’d get a bloody nose and run home crying.    

My father had taught me how to deal with bullies. When I was in the second grade, I had a fight with a bully who was in the third grade. When I ran into the house several days in a row and my mom noticed that I seemed afraid of something. She mentioned it to my father. He asked me what was going on. I told him that some big boys had been chasing me home from school yelling that they were going to catch me and beat me up.    

My father didn’t threaten to look for the boys and make them stop like I’d hoped he would. He gave me this advice, “They’re bullies and one of them is the leader. If you hurt him, they’ll leave you alone.”   

“But they’re on bikes,” I protested.

“Carry a short stick with you tomorrow and when he rides up to you, stand your ground. When he rides close enough, put the stick through the spokes of the front wheel. This will cause him to crash. Jump on him while he’s on the ground and hit him as hard as you can right square on his nose. If it doesn’t bleed right away, hit him again. When you bloody his nose, they will steer clear of you.”   

I did exactly as my father suggested and it worked just as he said it would. The bully leader was the one who ran home crying because I got carried away and blacked one of his eyes, too. It was suppertime when I got home because I stopped at a local playground and played tag with some other kids. My mom was worried to death. My father never asked me what happened.    

I was more confident this time and I had the other boy bloodied and crying while I pummeled him in his face. Then I stopped, got up and threw his bike out into the street telling him to never bother Mrs. Davidson’s flowers again. The other boys meekly pushed their bicycles out of Mrs. Davidson’s yard and the boy with the bloody nose slinked sniveling out of the yard and pushed his bike down the street.   

Mrs. Davidson had watched everything from her window and she rushed out when the boys were gone.     

“Mark, are you hurt?” she asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You were very courageous to stand up to that bully.” She smiled. “You reminded me of Thornton, my husband.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

That night she came to our house and told my parents what happened and thanked them for having such a courageous son.

Every year after that, she gave me a hundred dollars on my birthday and another hundred dollars for Christmas. I ran errands and did chores for her through high school.   

In the spring of my senior year, Mrs. Davidson asked me where I was going to college. I said we couldn’t afford it. I had applied for a working scholarship with a local plant that allowed two students to alternate working a semester while the other was in college. That night Mrs. Davidson visited my parents. The next morning my father told me that Mrs. Davidson had promised to pay for my college education.  

So I went away to college. I always called on Mrs. Davidson when I came home. She still had me run errands and do chores for her when I was around. She always asked about my grades and she was so proud of my academic performance that she paid for me to get my PhD.      

On every visit to Mrs. Davidson’s, when it was time for me to leave, she thanked me for visiting and said it was a beautiful day, no matter what the weather outside was like. She also wrote me a letter the first day of every month. Her handwriting was so beautiful that her letters could have been framed. I would need an hour to write one character the way she did, but she wrote at normal speed. After graduation, I got a job teaching at a university in a neighboring town.     

The years flew by. I married a girl from the town where I taught. Late in life, my parents inherited income-producing property from an uncle. They became affluent in their old age and moved out of our old neighborhood. I still visited Mrs. Davidson every time I went home to see my parents.    

By then Mrs. Davidson was in her nineties and it seemed that every time I visited her she was getting feebler.    

Then I got a promotion. The same year both of my parents died. My mother died in the spring and my father right before Christmas. My visits to the old neighborhood became more infrequent. In the process, I inherited the property from my parents so I still had to visit my old hometown a couple of times a year.    

Two years passed before I visited Mrs. Davidson again. When I rang her doorbell, I noticed that the place looked even more rundown. If it had looked any worse, you could conclude that it had been abandoned.     

A young woman who looked to be about twenty-five opened the door and greeted me. When I asked about Mrs. Davidson, she was vague about what had happened to her and said that she was Sarah.

“Must be her daughter,” I thought. There was a strong resemblance to Mrs. Davidson and she even dressed in the same style clothes Mrs. Davidson had worn. Since Mrs. Davidson had been a virtual recluse, I figured that Sarah was her daughter and shared that trait. I also considered that Mrs. Davidson had died and Sarah, had inherited the house. We had a nice visit. Mrs. Davidson must have told her about me because she seemed to know me well.     

On the way home I thought about Sarah. She was a very beautiful young woman. Any young man would be pleased to have her by his side. But with her reclusive tendencies she would never meet anybody while she stayed in that old run-down house.    

Two years later I was in the neighborhood and visited Sarah again. She looked the same. She had that same reclusive, ethereal aspect about her. I suggested that the house could use a coat of paint. She replied that it suited her needs just the way it was.    

Over the next few years, I continued to stop at irregular intervals to visit Sarah. She was always the same. Beautiful. Ethereal. Reclusive. She always seemed happy to see me.    

The last time I visited, that big old house was gone! The lot had been cleaned up and a “For Sale” sign was posted next to the sidewalk. The neighborhood had gone down over the years and none of the neighbors had any idea what had happened to Sarah. They acted as if they had never seen her. What a recluse she must have been!    

I drove to the realty office listed on the sign and asked the lady at the desk what had happened. She told me that the property had been sold for back taxes and the new owner had torn the house down in preparation for selling the lot.    

When I asked about the lady who lived there, she told me that Mrs. Davidson had died fifteen years ago and the house had been vacant since then.

What a puzzle! Had Sarah been that reclusive? I began to have a funny feeling about this on the way home, remembering how pretty Sarah was and how she never seemed to change as she got older.

My wife had gotten the mail and when I looked at the pile, a letter with familiar handwriting was on top. With trembling hands I tore it open and read it.   

 

Dear Mark,

Goodbye and thank you for everything. It was always a beautiful day when you visited me.

 

Sarah

(Mrs. Thornton Davidson)

 

My wife walked in.

“Mark!” she exclaimed, “You’re as white as a sheet. You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”

 

 

Hammer Spade and the Inca Curse

 

E. B. Alston

 

Chapter Three

hsic cover.jpgThe room was quiet after Clover left. Nobody met anybody else’s gaze.

“Did anybody see this coming?” I asked.

“He told me about it early this morning before the rest of you arrived,” Isabela replied

“This is not like him,” I said. “He’s a hands-on guy.”

“He was ordered back to London,” Isabela said. “Something big, I think. He mentioned the something about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

“Must be a code name for a new case.”

“I think it is,” Isabela agreed.

I’m surprised that he put me in charge. You and Oscar are more familiar with the territory.”

“You have more operational experience than we do. He spoke to somebody who knows you well before he made his decision.”

“At least he could have said, ‘I’m sorry,’ before he left.”

That remark broke the tension.

“I don’t operate like Clover,” I said. “I will expect your opinions and suggestions.”

I looked at Isabela and Oscar. “Hart and I are handicapped by our lack of familiarity with the country and social customs.”

Isabela laughed. “I was paired with Jack so I know what to expect.”

“I don’t even know who’s in charge of this building or what goes on here.”

“Clover set it up for this project,” Oscar said.

“Then we had better get to work unless we intend to spend the rest of our lives on this mission. You three review these files and come up with a plan to find Raúl Fuente while I try to find out what goes on around here.”

After they started sorting through the papers, I went to speak to the lady that gave me directions to the dining room.

I introduced myself to Mrs. Sally Harper, a prim, well-groomed and attractive brunette, and asked, “Who’s in charge of the building?”

“Mr. Clover was. I understand you are now.”

“Thanks,” I said. That was not what I wanted to hear. “Is that office mine?” I asked, pointing to an open office door.

“Yes, it is.”

“Thank you.”

I went inside my new office and closed the door. What on earth could have been such an emergency for Clover to leave me with this mess? No plan, a fully staffed headquarters with no supervision, an unstructured mission in a foreign country; or, in all probability, foreign countries, and a wily opponent with all the advantages of being in his home territory.

There were two telephones on the desk—a regular black phone and a red phone that I guessed was a secure line to the outside. I called Phoebus on the red phone.

He picked up on the first ring. “I was expecting your call.”

“What is going on?”

“Clover was ordered to London. Something big came up. He had no choice.”

“Why did he put me in charge?”

“I recommended you.”

Well, that explained everything. Sometimes Phoebus’ confidence in me pushes the limits. “I guess I ought to thank you, but right now I’m not sure why.”

Phoebus laughed. “You’re the perfect match.” His voice became serious. “Plus, you’re the obvious choice to avenge the murder of Lady Margot Fisher.”

“Were you friends with her?”

“She was a good friend. We assisted each other on many occasions.”

“She knew Alonia too.”

“Alonia and Minerva are distraught over Lady Margot’s death.”

I got the feeling that this had become a Phoebus mission.

“What do you know about Isabela Salazar?” I asked.

“She is very capable and knowledgeable about the countries in which you will operate. She is fluent in all the local languages and dialects. Her grandfather is an Inca nobleman. Her mother married an English agronomist. She grew up in both societies and was educated in England.”

“What about Hart?”

“He’s a wild card. He treats these assignments as a holiday. He’s there to have fun because he likes to play cowboy. You need him because he is an excellent shot.”

“Is he as good as Clare Davis?” Clare was a crack shot with her mother’s 1911 GI pistol. She had saved my hide on the Merchants of Death and the Midnight Treader cases.

“Maybe.”

“Does he have any experience?”

“He’s worked for Clover several times.”

“Then he must be okay.”

“Clover was very high on him.”

“Thanks, for the information.”

“If it helps, your pay doubled today.”

“That helps.”

“Alonia is worried about you. Call her when you get a break.”

“I will. Thanks.”

“Oh, by the way, local legend has it that the mountain on which Lady Margot was murdered is sacred to the Inca god, Viracocha.”

“I felt kind of strange that night on the mountain after she died.”

“The Inca believe that if her death is not avenged by the time of the Inti Raymi festival, Inti, the Sun God, will curse them.”

“Curse them?”

“Women will be barren, crops will fail and livestock will not breed.”

“So I also have a metaphysical reason to kill Fuente?”

Phoebus laughed. “Do not ridicule the ancient gods.”

“When is the Inti Raymi festival?”

“Winter solstice.”

“That means we have six months.”

“Yes.”

“Do the locals really believe this stuff?”

“You would be surprised how many South American natives believe in the old legends.”

“I’d better get to work. Thanks Phoebus.”

“Good luck, Hammer.”

 

 

I asked Sally Harper to compile a roster of people working in the building and include their responsibilities. Sally was way ahead of me. She opened a file and handed me a document with that information on it. I thanked her and returned to my office.

Sally was head of the administrative staff. There were two technicians and five intelligence agents, plus one diplomatic liaison.  In addition, there were three cooks and three cook’s helpers.

After I had familiarized myself with the setup, I asked her to come into my office. After she was seated, I asked her for a quick rundown on who did what.

“Marylyn, Antonia and I maintain files and route incoming calls. The two technicians maintain the satellite communications. We have secure direct links to London and the British Embassy in Santiago. We also have a long wave radio system to communicate with the Royal Navy. The two techs also maintain the phone system and the computers.

“The intelligence agents use public and secret channels to find leads for you to investigate. They also use information from other intelligence services, informers, newspapers and television news. The Embassy liaison guy is a go-between for you and the Embassy. The cooks prepare meals for the staff.

“We do not mingle with outsiders. We live in the building and seldom venture out, except to go on leave or take a holiday. Food and supplies are delivered to the building as though we are a factory. Anything that would betray our mission, such as arms and ammunition, comes by courier from the Embassy.”

“What if somebody gets injured or sick?” I asked.

“The Embassy will send a doctor or nurse, whichever is needed. One of the cooks was an army medic.”

“Everybody here has the highest security clearance I suppose?”

“We do.”

“You may not want to answer this but I’ll ask anyway, and I want a frank answer. Is there anybody here that I can put in charge of this building?”

“No.” She didn’t elaborate.

So, I thought, Clover, in his hands-on way, didn’t need a second-in-command to take over if he had to leave.

“Thank you, Sally. You have been most helpful.”

After she left the office, I closed the office door and called the control center.

A man’s voice answered. “What’s up, 0061?”

“I need somebody to manage the operations center in Iquique.”

“0031 said you might.”

“I can either manage the operations center or I can manage the team going after Fuente’s operation. I can’t do both.”

“I’ll get back to you in two hours.”

I hung up the red phone, picked up the black one and dialed Alonia. She picked up on the first ring.

“I have missed you!” It seemed like months since I had heard her voice.

“I’ve missed you too,” I replied.

“Are you in Iquique?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sad about Margot?”

“I’m still pretty shook up about what happened.”

“I cried when I heard she had been killed. I don’t have many real friends and she was one of them. Minerva is sad too.”

“It has been tough.”

“You liked her, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, she was an admirable woman.”

“It was a terrible tragedy. She was so young and vibrant.”

“Yeah, she was,” I grunted.  Alonia was making me feel sadder.

“Are you okay?” she asked with concern in her voice.

“I’ll be alright, Alonia. I just have to keep busy.”

“You were hurt by Margot’s death, weren’t you?”

“I feel like part of me is still up on that mountain.”

“You need me, don’t you?”

“I’ll be okay. I’ll get away to see you as soon as I can.”

“We should not speak of such sad things when we’re apart. Now I feel as if I need to comfort you.”

“I’m too busy right now. I’ve been put in charge of the whole operation to get the man who had her murdered. Maybe after I get things organized, I can get away for a couple of days.”

“I’ve got a place close to Valparaiso.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s nine-hundred miles south of Iquique but I could send a plane to pick you up if you could get away.”

“I’ll do the best I can, Alonia, but right now I have too much on my mind to leave.”

She didn’t say anything right away. “You’re too businesslike. You ought to think of yourself sometime.” Then she corrected herself, “I’m sorry, Hammer. I shouldn’t have said that. I love you.”

Then she hung up the phone. I wondered if Alonia was becoming possessive and taking my attention for granted. Did she think I was supposed to be at her beck and call? I don’t need any complications right now. I have enough on my plate. 

 

 

Nomophobia: Fear of being without your mobile phone

 

White Fragility: Fear of being called a racist

 

Disinformation: Intentional spreading of lies.  (This used to be called “lying.”)

 

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

 

 

Why Men Fail

How a Guy’s Brain Really Works

E. B. Alston

 

I have read a lot of old stuff and in the process I have learned from the ancients the way our brain works. Why our educators have not passed this important knowledge down to us is one of the mysteries of all time. The ancients knew important stuff long before Wikipedia was discovered. Of course we moderns make fun of the ancients because they didn’t have rap music and American Idol and they didn’t talk a lot about global warming or whether Jennifer Anniston will ever get over Brad.

The reason we fail as persons is the same reason businesses fail, depressions come, wars are lost and civilizations collapse. It’s all right there written in stone and baked clay tablets and it has been there for all to see for thousands of years.

The reason we fail is ineffective personal management. What I discovered is that the model for modern corporate management is hard wired into our brains. Our brains are our corporate headquarters. And modern corporations are organized in the same way as our thinking apparatus. Our corporate leaders replicate what resides in the inner recesses of every guy’s brain.

According to the ancients here’s how our personal management center works. Imagine you’re standing in an operations center that looks like NASA Space Command in Houston. There are lots of tiny people sitting in front of tiny computer screens and occasionally one yells something at another tiny person.

Your average up-and-coming corporate guy’s typical day would go something like this. He’s on his way to work. He’s in a hurry because he’s late. The reason he’s behind schedule is he didn’t hear the alarm. We switch now to the Person Command Center in his head right behind his eyes.

 

 

“Why is he late?” the Schedule Director asks.

“Because the Sleep Manager forgot to turn on his hearing before he went off duty.”

“This is the third time this month. Have you spoken to him?”

“Yeah. Looks like we need to make a change.”

“Sorry to hear that. He seems like a nice guy.”

“He doesn’t like the night shift.”

“But he’s got a degree in sleep management. When did he think sleep managers worked?”

“You know kids nowadays. They just pick something out of a college handbook and go for it.”

“What about the work our guy took home?”

“It wasn’t done.”

“Why in blazes not!”

“He stopped off at a beer joint after work. The Work Manager had gone off schedule by the time our guy made it home.”

“But he’s got a presentation to make to the board today. Is he prepared?”

“I doubt it. He spent all day yesterday thinking about the new Human Resources Director.”

“She’s the one with the tight sweaters and short skirts, right?”

“And the red hair. Our guy is partial to redheads.”

“What’s her name?”

“Tootie Green.”

 “The Passion Manager is too humanistic. She lets him get away with an awful lot.”

“I’ve thought that for quite a while.”

“I’ll speak to her about it after lunch.

 

 

Our guy is in the boardroom of his company wondering what he’s going to say to the board when his time comes.

 

 

“You know he’s not prepared,” the Job Manager says to the Preparation and Background Manager.

“He’ll do okay. We’ll just wing it today. He’s been working too hard.”

“But he hasn’t been working hard at his job. He’s been thinking too many irrelevant thoughts.”

“He’s been under a lot of pressure lately.”

“Yeah,” the Job Manager replies sarcastically. “He’s under pressure because he’s not doing his job.”

“He’ll work through it. He always has.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

The Dress and Work Attire Manager comes in.

“Will he look the part today?” the Job Manager asks. “Were you able to get him in a suit?”

“It was quite a struggle but he’s wearing the navy pin-stripe.”

“That’s good. I hope the tie matches this time.”

“Sorry. The tie that matched had food on it. We had to substitute.”

“What kind of substitute?” the job manager asked suspiciously.

“He’s wearing the only clean tie he owns,” the dress and attire manager replied plaintively.

“What kind of tie is he wearing?” the Work Manager insisted.

“It’s a Hooters tie, you know, the one with the orange swirls strategically placed over the girls’ anatomy.”

The preparation and background manager laughed.

“You know, for a Dress and Attire Manager, you have horrible taste in clothes.”

“Can I help it if the Cleaning Manager is incompetent!” he replied defensively.

The Personal Mobility Manager strides into the office.

“Did you inspect his footwear like I asked you too?” the Job Manager asked.

“Nope.”

“Why not? That was your highest priority assignment.”

“I was helping the Passion Manager get his mind off the redhead so he wouldn’t be too late for work.”

“What’s he wearing today?”

“Don’t know. Let’s have a look.”

They left the office and walked over to the vision screen where the vision techs were monitoring the system.

“Check out his feet,” the Personal Mobility Manager asked the man at the vision keyboard.

The monitor view moved to his feet.

“Jesus Christ!” the Job Manager exclaimed. “He’s wearing tennis shoes!”

The Personal Mobility Manager started to laugh and pointed at the Dress and Attire Manager. “His socks are just like the pair he wore yesterday. One brown sock and one blue sock.”

“They are arranged the same way they were yesterday,” the Dress and Attire Manager replied sullenly. “Brown on the left foot and blue on the right foot, just like yesterday.”

“Why is he wearing tennis shoes?” the Job Manager asked incredulously.

“Because his leather dress shoes were scuffed up,” the Personal Mobility Manager replied defensively.

“And why were they not shined?” the Job Manager asked.

“Don’t know. Ask maintenance.”

 

 

Suddenly the monitor moved and focused on another person who had arrived at the head table. It was the new Human Resources Director. She was wearing a low cut blouse and a very short skirt. She focused on our guy and winked at him.

 

 

Alarm bells started ringing in the health monitoring section.

“What’s that all about?” the Job Manager asked.

“Nothing unusual. His blood pressure spikes every time he sees her.”

The Morals Manager dashed up. “It’s her!” she exclaimed all out of breath. “I knew it! Why does she do that to him?”

“He likes redheads.” The Job Manager replied.

 

 

The Human Resources Director repositioned herself in a way that gave our guy a better view of her charms.

 

 

The alarm bells in the health monitoring section became louder and a Claxton started sounding.

 

A man sitting next to our guy leaned over and whispered, “Isn’t that Tootie Green?”

Our guy replied, “Naw. It’s …uh, yeah, she’s the new Human Resources Director.”

 

 

The Job Manager, Personal Attire Manager and Personal Mobility Manager laughed uproariously at our guy’s quick recovery.

The Morals Manager was indignant. “Why does she do that to him,” she repeated with resignation in her voice.

The Passion Manager strode up with a triumphant smile on her face. “This is so exciting!” she exclaimed.

The Preventer of Red-Faced Acts dashed up to take charge. She sided with the Morals Manager in deploring the situation. “This sort of behavior must not get out of hand,” she screeched.

 

 

 The board meeting droned on and finally it was time for our guy to make his presentation. The Preparation and Background manager was still confident.

“He’s very good at B…S…,” she said reassuringly to the Job Manager.

 

 

Our guy looked confident when he mounted the stage. The audience and members of the board noticed our guy’s tennis shoes, mismatched socks and inappropriate tie.

“He’s an out of the box thinker,” they thought. “This is a man to watch.”

The Human Resources Director’s thoughts cannot be stated in a family venue.

Our guy confidently strode up to the podium without a single piece of paper in his hands. He looked out over the approving audience that waited with baited breath for what he had to say.

He began in a steady voice, low enough to make the audience strain to hear what he had to say. “Mr. President, members of the Board, officers of this magnificent and hallowed organization,” short pause, “and fellow workers.” He paused to let that sink in. “I have examined the algorithms. I am pleased to inform you that we are one thousand percent on track. There are many reasons for our, he emphasized ‘our’, great success. First we must recognize the excellent guidance provided by the leadership of this company. We must also give credit to our client-centric approach, our consensus gathering processes and our core competencies.

“Because of our leadership and our well-thought out processes, we are the team to beat in this business.

“Our customer experience team is motivated. Our customer relationship management process insures that we can provide customized solutions to our customers. We utilize best practices. We do not blamestorm. We consider business needs first.  We calendarize our activities in a centergistic process that places responsibility where it is needed and encourages collaborative behaviors. This gives us a competitive advantage in a field where competitive advantage is the hallmark of a thriving organization.

For each of us, individually, and for our beloved organization, the only way for us to move is UP,” he shouted.

 The whole room gave him a standing ovation, including the head table. The Human Resources Director hugged him right there in front of everybody.

 

 

The tiny people in the control room were just as elated as the people who were applauding. They were marching around giving high fives and laughing because of the part they played in this success.

 

 

On his way home from work our guy was supposed to pick up a few things from the grocery store. He bought a jug of milk with an expiration date the next day. He bought the wrong ice cream and he also went by a ladies apparel store and bought his wife a short skirt that was way too small.

He stopped by the beer joint and by the time he got home, the ice cream had melted on the front seat of his car.

 

The tiny people in his Person Command Center kept blaming everybody else for his failures. It was so bad that the tiny VP-Operations called an all hands meeting the next morning.

“People we must do better than this!” he announced authoritatively. “And I have called this meeting to announce that we are going to reorganize!”

 

 

It’s written in stone. And you heard it first right here.

 

 

New  Year Celebrations

 

Mexico

Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve, (Spanish: Vispera de Año Nuevo) by eating a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clock's bell during the midnight  countdown, while making a wish with each one. Mexican families decorate homes and parties in colors that represent wishes for the upcoming year: red encourages an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages blessings of improved employment conditions, green for improved financial circumstances, and white for improved health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient of the slice with the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good luck in the New Year. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months; before midnight, this list is thrown into a fire, symbolizing the removal of negative energy from the new year. At the same time,  thanks are expressed for all the good things during the year that is ending so that they will continue in the new year.

 

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, New Year's Eve is celebrated with friends and family. The Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan is the main attraction for Puerto Ricans during the celebration. It has Latin music, fireworks at midnight along with the signature song "Auld Lang Syne" in Spanish, and great recipes.

 

Austria

In Austria, New Year's Eve is usually celebrated with friends and family. At exactly midnight, all radio and television programmes operated by ORF  broadcast the sound of the Pummerin, the bell of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, followed by the Donauwalzer ("The Blue Danube") by Johann Strauss II. Many people dance to this at parties or in the street. Large crowds gather in the streets of Vienna, where the municipal government organises a series of stages where bands and orchestras play. Fireworks are set off by both municipal governments and individuals.

 

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza

 

Grandma's Peanut Brittle

 

Ingredients:

peanut brittle 1.jpg1 cup sugar

½ cup white Karo syrup

¼ cup water

½ cup butter, cubed

1½ cups unsalted roasted peanuts

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Instructions:

Line a 10x15 inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Place sugar, syrup, and water in a 2 quart with candy thermometer attached and bring to a boil over medium heat. Slowly stir in the butter a little at a time. Let mixture boil, stirring occasionally.

When mixture reaches 250 degrees (when you drop a little of it into cold water it forms pliable strands), add the peanuts. Stir constantly for 7-10 more minutes until mixture reaches 300 degrees (when dropped in water it forms brittle strands). Immediately remove from heat, add the vanilla and baking soda, and stir until evenly combined. Pour onto parchment lined baking sheet and spread evenly.

 

Let cool and set. Use a mallet or back of a spoon to crack the brittle into pieces.

peanut brittle 3.jpg peanut brittle 2.jpg

 

 


 

Ranch Zucchini Chips

 

Ingredients:

2 zucchini, sliced very thinly into coins

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. ranch seasoning

1 tsp. dried oregano

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 225°. Grease a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Slice zucchini into very thin rounds. Pat zucchini with paper towels to draw out excess moisture.

In a large bowl, toss zucchini with oil then toss in ranch seasoning, oregano, salt, and pepper. Place in a single layer on baking sheets. Bake until crispy, about 1 hour 20 minutes, checking after about an hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

 

ranch zucchini chips 1-2.jpg

 

 

 

New  Year Celebrations

Canada

New Year traditions and celebrations in Canada vary regionally. New Year's Eve (also called New Year's Eve Day or Veille du Jour de l'An in French) is generally a social holiday. In many cities there are large celebrations which may feature concerts, late-night partying, sporting events, and fireworks, with free public transit service during peak party times in most major cities. In some areas, such as in rural Quebec, people ice fish and drink alcoholic beverages with their friends until the early hours of January 1.


 

Say What!

 

Leave it to the English

The Shape of Her by Rowan Summeville won the 2010 Bad Sex in Fiction Award by Britain’s Literary Review committee. The winning passage was, “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

 

I wish I could write like that.

 

Taking Responsibility

 

The government of Zimbabwe censors weather reports because it considers the weather a “sensitive topic.”

 

You know, our government might be doing the same thing. Why else would weather reports be wrong so often?

 

Just Odd

A Tennessee man, twenty-three year-old, 165 pound Christopher White, escaped from jail by smearing himself with grease and squeezing himself out of jail between bars 4 1/2” apart. The Sheriff is quoted as saying, “It is beyond my imagination how he did that.” White was caught fourteen hours after he escaped.

 

A Spanish woman has filed papers staking claim to the sun. Angeles Duran states in a notarized paper that she is now the “owner of the sun, a star of spectral type G2, located in the center of the solar system at an average distance from the earth of 149,600,000 kilometers. She plans to charge a usage fee for the sun’s rays. She must be a Democrat.

 

New England Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, is being pressured by his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen to get a hair transplant for his bald spot. He didn’t blame God either.

 

These United States

There is an annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term. This year's term was: "Political Correctness"  
The winner wrote: "Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of manure by the clean end."

 

“One of the biggest obstacles to economic recovery is that politicians and the media are both focused on how government can MAKE the economy recover, rather than on how it can LET the economy recover. One of the biggest deterrents to investments, and the jobs they could create, is uncertainty as to what new bright idea will come out of Washington to change the rules in midstream.” Thomas Sowell

A Maine man is suing the local Wal-Mart because he damaged his truck when he drove into a light pole in the parking lot. Richard Griswold said the pole was in a hazardous location.

 

Congress has passed a Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act that forbids TV advertisers from upping the volume in their ads.

 

Aaron and Christine Boring (I am not making this up.) sued Google for invasion of privacy because their house showed up on Street View. They got a $1.00 settlement.

 

A 12 pound Manchester terrier terrorized passengers on a flight from Newark to Phoenix. The dog escaped from its carrier and bit a passenger and a flight attendant. The pilot made an emergency landing in Pittsburg. Where’s a real man when you need one.

 

A New York university professor has had a miniature digital camera implanted in the back of his head. Visual Artist Wafaa Bilal (I didn’t make this up either.) plans to keep it there for a year so he can see what’s behind him like he had an eye in the back of his head. He said the operation hurt a lot more than he thought it would.

 

Wisdom

“Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.” Michel Montaigne

 

“I have often thought that morality may consist solely in the courage of making a choice.” Leon Blum

 

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the “good” of the victims is the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C. S. Lewis

 

“You can become a winner only if you are willing to walk over the edge.” Damon Runyon

 

“Great events make me quiet and calm. It is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” Queen Victoria

 

“A misogynist is a man who hates women as much as women hate one another.” H. L. Mencken

 

“The real problem is what to do with the problem solvers after the problems are solved.” Gay Talese

 

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you find a rock.” Will Rogers

 

“Happiness is the agreeable sensation you get from contemplating the misery of another.” Ambrose Bierce

 

“The best car-safety device is a rearview mirror with a cop in it.” Dudley Moore

 

“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than dying.” William Goldman

 

 

The Most Beautiful Heart

Author Unknown: 


          One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley.  A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen.  The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, "Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine."

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly... but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in ... but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges.  In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing. The people starred ... how could he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought? 

The young man looked at the old man's heart and saw its state and laughed "You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine... mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears." 

"Yes," said the old man, "Yours is perfect looking... but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love….I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them ... and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart... but because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away... and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges... giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too... and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?"

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. 

The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man's heart. It fit.... but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. 

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side. 
Physical perfection is not always beautiful

 

 

 

Contributors

 

P.L. Almanza: From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza; lives in Hamlet, North Carolina. She has been writing stories since she was four years old. Her first book, The East Side Killers came out in April 2014. Her cookbook, Family Meals and Desserts, came out in the summer of 2015. She is currently working on two new cookbooks 

 

E. B. Alston: Author, columnist, literary critic, and sometimes poet. His work has been published in various newspapers, telecommunications trade magazines, and books. He is the Managing Editor of the magazine.

 

Laura A. Alston: An Integrated Woman, lives and writes in Inez, North Carolina. Her first book, My Pet Rocky Renee, was published in June 2010. In addition she has published Too Many Goodbyes, You Gave me Wings and a book of her collected poems, From My Heart to Yours

 

Elizabeth Silance Ballard: Her book Three Rivers to Cross is being serialized, is a magazine columnist and author of Three Letters from Teddy and Other Stories, co-author of Whoopin and Hollerin in Onslow County, Kate’s Fan, Christmas Without Koyoko, The Fourth Wife of A Markham Gillespie, Welcome Home, Teddy Stallard, Three Rivers to Cross, and her latest, Life with Elizabeth 

 

 

Rita Berman: Virginia Wolfe; was born in London, England and now lives in Mebane, N.C. Her business, travel, and writing advice articles have been published in more than 500 diverse newspapers and magazines in the United States and Gt. Britain. Her reference book, The A-Z of Writing and Selling,  was a Writer's Digest Book Club selection for September 1981.  Her other books, available on Amazon.com are Still Hopping, Still Hoping, (2012), The Dating Adventures of a Widow, (2013), The Key, (2014), Parallel Lives, (2016), Ariana Mangum's Books and Columns (2017),and Military Wives and Widows Tell Their Stories, (2018).

 

Randy Bittle: Through Aristotle’s Eyes; is a self-taught independent philosopher who is still learning.  He has two books, both collections of essays, available on Amazon.com. His latest book, More Colors Through My Mental Prism is also available.

 

Sybil Austin Skakle: First Aid ; Her first book, Searchings, poetry, was published in 2001. Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, stories of growing up on Hatteras Island between 1926 and 1940, followed in 2002; Valley of the Shadow, a memoir about the death of her husband, 2009. What Came Next, published in 2014, is another memoir, about years between 1980 and 1993. After 23 years as a hospital pharmacist and retirement in 1990, her work began to appear in various periodicals, and poetry and prose anthologies, four  of  which  were published  by  The  Chapel  Hill  Writers’  Discussion  Group. Her most recent work is her compilation, edit, and contributor to The History of Amity United Methodist Church, is now available.

 

Marry Williamson: A Bad Beginning; lives in Chard, Somerset, England. She was born in the Netherlands and moved to Britain in 1966. She worked for an Anglo-Dutch company in London. In 1999, Marry and her husband retired and moved to Chard, Somerset. Her hobbies are writing, reading, bird watching, and exploring ancient monuments. She is a member of a local writers’ group in England.

 

Tim Whealton: Sheer Madness : writes a regular column from New Bern, NC. He is a gunsmith whose shop is in Cove City, North Carolina. His book, According to Tim was published in 2013.