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Righter

Quarterly

Review

 Winter 2016

 Edited by E. B. Alston

 logo 1in.jpg

Copyright 2016 by:

 Righter Publishing Company

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253

Print copy available on Amazon

 Righter Publishing Company

1112 Rogers Road

Graham, NC 27253

336-525-1520

 eMail: righterpub@esinc.net

 Righter Quarterly Review – Winter 2016

December 1, 2016

ISBN 978-1-540645-56-2

 

Table of Contents

Editor. 4

Organic Chemistry byMartha Grove Hipskind. 5

A Forgotten Landscape by Ariana Mangum.. 5

A Different Conclusion by Diana Goldsmith. 12

All in a Day’s Work  by Rita Berman. 13

Who Are You? Tim Whealton. 17

Old Chocolate Box by Joan Leotta. 19

Adopted by by Elizabeth Miccio. 20

Arctic Solstice by Ingibjörg Sveinsvóttir. 20

Baking—A Winter Holiday Ritual by Joan Leotta. 24

Bells of Hatteras Village by Sybil Austin Skakle. 25

Book Review Lanquid Luciousness With Lemon by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. 26

Champ by Elaine Jones. 27

Christmas at the Sunset Lodge byMarry Williamson. 29

Count to Ten—January 10 by Joan Leotta. 32

Merry Christmas from Moccasin Gap by Brad Carver. 32

My First Kansas Hunt by E. B. Alston. 34

Happy Christmas by Marry Williamson. 38

Growing Up on a Farm by E. B. Alston. 38

Say What! 40

Photo Gallery. 47

From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza by P. L. Almanza. 54

Hammer Spade and the Long Shooter Serializd Book. 67

Happy Christmas 74

Louise, the Christmas Doll 75

My Pittsburgh Roots by Joan Leotta. Error! Bookmark not defined.

Arctic Yowl by Michael Warren. 77

Take Your Sons Hunting by E. B. Alston. 77

The Christmas Cow by Winnie D. Wyatt 79

Warm Bricks and Cold Feet by Danny Key. 81

White Flakes Picnic by Elizabeth Miccio. 83

New Year Thoughts. 83

Groundhog Day. 86

The Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest 87

How to Say Nothing by E. B. Alston. 97

Contributors. 99

 

Cover pictures courtesy of P. L. Almanza, Betsy Breedlove, Ingibjörg Sveinsdó and Tim Whealton

 

hercules at crossroads.jpg

Editor

 This issue ends the first year we have been a quarterly magazine. Reception of the new format has been good. Contributors like to be able to send longer pieces and, apparently, the readers liked it too because paid subscriptions have almost doubled. Before we move on, I hasten to point out that paid subscribers are not in the thousands. They are barely in the hundreds. However, they are loyal because they continue to subscribe. So far the only subscribers we have lost are because they died.

Thank goodness the election is over. I am permanently sick of all politicians. Enough about politics! Elizabeth Ballard sent me this, which sums it up better than I could.

“Nothing has changed for a very long period of time, as the following comments illustrate. Jay Leno said, “If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.”  Henry Cate, VII said, “The problem with political jokes is they get elected.”  Aesop said, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.  Will Rogers said, “If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven.”  Nikita Khrushchev said, “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.” Clarence Darrow said, “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.
Oscar Ameringer said, “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”
Tex Guinan said, “A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.” Doug Larson said, “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”

I want to thank all of our loyal contributors, too. All of us are amateur writers. But this group had come through for every issue since January 2008.  That is an accomplishment that all of us can be proud of.

 

E. B. Alston

Publisher and Editor in Chief

 

People who face up to their ages won't expect their bodies to run smoothly over forty without help, any more than one would expect to prize an antique car for its handsome patina without constant maintenance and frequent tune-ups. Gail Sheehy

 Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, all the time you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can. John Wesley

 To multiply happiness, divide it.

 What kind of pig can you ignore at a party? A wild bore.

 Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

 What kind of murderer has fiber? A cereal killer.

 

Organic Chemistry

Martha Grove Hipskind

 

Smoothing out the rough edges of the day.

Grateful for cubes of orange squash, ruby shine of

French soil in the glass, the lilt of Persian spices.

 

Transcendent shimmer of oil dancing in waves.

Sizzle of onion shaken with cumin and cinnamon

racing garlic to the punch,

Siracha splash overtakes them all.

 

Globes of chickpeas kiss lipstick red tomatoes.

Dark raisins like eyes in the pot

watching while mind gives way to heart,

squash to treasure.

 

Aromatic, sweet and pungent,

bringing senses alive.

Dinner made rich and day made whole,

by any measure.

 

 

AFL Cover.jpgA Forgotten Landscape

Ariana Mangum

 

Chapter 75

Mrs. Carthage’s Shopping Trip

 

Shortly after Thanksgiving, which at that time came on the last Thursday in November, Mrs. Carthage telephoned our house. She wanted to speak with Mrs. Houghton, but could not remember her number. I was at die house with Bertha, so i trotted across the lawn and found my neighbour in her kitchen baking.

“Mrs. Carthage is on the phone for you.”

“What ever for?”

Hastily Mrs. Houghton threw a coat over her shoulders before following me back to our house. I knew she did not wish to be bothered by Mrs. Carthage, but since her accident, we realized the poor, old soul was lonely. Still not able to drive the car, her weekly visits to the general stores had been curtailed.

“Hello, Alvira,” I heard Mrs. Houghton pick up the telephone.

A long conversation ensued, but finally Mrs. Houghton emerged, somewhat agitated, from behind the library door.  

“She wishes to go into Richmond with us on Wednesday to see the doctor and perhaps to do some Christmas shopping at Miller and Rhoads. But I am afraid of what Harry will say.”

Nevertheless, early the next Wednesday morning they left for town, all three of them. Mr. Houghton dropped his wife and Alvira Carthage at the doctor’s on Second Street before he drove down to the Southern States Co-operative on his own business. They all planned to meet at twelve o’clock in Miller and Rhoads tea room for lunch. This was a rather “hattie and glovie” eating establishment at one of our two big department stores.

Mrs. Houghton told me later, as she and Alvira Carthage walked down from the doctor’s office, casually poking into several shops along the way, they chatted quite happily about the war, the shortages and the weather. Upon their arrival at Miller and Rhoads, Mrs. Carthage wanted to find a few little gifts for her nieces, so Mrs. Houghton went upstairs alone to the dress department. They planned to meet Mr. Houghton in the tea room just before twelve o’clock.

At noon when Mrs. Houghton walked off the elevator onto the fifth floor what should she see, but Alvira Carthage standing before her in a most extraordinary pose! Mrs. Carthage’s bloomers, yes, her bloomers, had dropped around her ankles and hobbled her. Since she could not walk, Alvira Carthage just stood there rooted to the floor with her old-fashioned underwear covering her shoes, and a look of horror upon her face.  

 “Goodness gracious! What’s happened?” demanded Mrs. Houghton.

“I am afraid the elastic’s broken. What do I do now?” wailed Mrs. Carthage standing immobile in her tracks,

“Alvira Carthage, don’t just stay there with you britches around your ankles, get in here and take them off.” Mrs. Houghton pushed the surprised woman into a phone booth.

“Suppose Harry sees me!” exclaimed Mrs. Carthage, shocked by the very thought. Always a snob, she prided herself upon being a Virginia ‘gentlewoman’. She would never dream of appearing at Miller and Rhoads tearoom without her hat and gloves.

“What size pants do you wear?” Mrs. Houghton inquired. “I’ll have to buy you another pair. Just stay here in this phone booth until I return.”       

But Harry had seen. Punctually at twelve o’clock when he arrived for lunch, he found Alvira Carthage hobbled in her bloomers and blushed scarlet. Mr. Houghton fled down the escalator bumping into people as he ran. He did not stop until he landed in front of the tie counter on the first floor. Mr. Houghton simply laid his head down amid the piles of neck ties and Christmas shoppers and laughed. He laughed until he choked, and then he cleared his throat and laughed again.

In vain, Mrs. Houghton looked around for him before she headed down to the ladies underwear department and bought poor, stranded Alvira another pair of britches. Upon Mrs. Houghton’s return to the fifth floor, she found Mrs. Carthage obediently still locked in the phone booth. After some maneuvering Alvira finally disentangled herself from the encumbering underwear, and Mrs. Houghton led her friend into the ladies room.

But Harry Houghton had vanished. They entered the tearoom, after the ladies waited for some time, and they ordered their meal. Still Mr. Houghton did not come. Then just as the ladies were finishing their dessert, a red-faced Harry came into the dining room,

“Where have you been?” inquired his wife.

“Down at the ties with my head on the counter,” Mr. Houghton whispered, “I didn’t dare appear until I could stop laughing. The sight of Alvira from the elevator was better than any picture show!”

But Alvira Carthage was not amused. She left Miller and Rhoads to sit straight and stiff in the front seat of the 1932 Chevrolet. She wished to return home immediately after she put on her new britches. Instead, Mrs. Carthage had to eat lunch in Miller and Rhoads’ tearoom in front of all those people, who had, no doubt, seen her standing beside the elevator in a most embarrassing position.

“Why didn’t you meet us as arranged?” she asked Mr. Houghton as he drove them home. “I shall not set foot in that place again.”

But Mr. Houghton, who never explained anything, made no reply. However, about two weeks later, Alvira Carthage called our house again. Once more she needed a lift into Richmond.

“We are not going today,” I told her. “But I think Mr. Houghton might.”

There was a long silence at the other end of the line, but the voice finally returned. “May I speak to Clara?”

“Can I give her a message?”

There was a long silence at the other end of the line, but the voice ' finally returned. “May I speak to Clara?”                    . " r

“Can I give her a message?”

“Tell Harry I’ll catch a ride with him as far a Thalhimer’s,” (our other big department store,)

“Not Miller and Rhoads?” I asked with all innocence, “I wouldn’t be caught dead there. I doubt I’ll ever go there again.” But she did go that very afternoon.

December 10, 1943

Richmond, Va.

 

Dear Dad,

 

Everyone’s rejoicing, not because of Christmas, but because Cary’s been found. He’s back with his Group again, and everything is great. He’s with the 8th Air Force in England. Miss Emma cried when she told us. I’ve never seen anyone cry from joy before, but she did. Everyone is light-hearted and happy once again. It’s wonderful.

This Christmas was rather fun, but then again it was not. The war drags everything down. We have shortages now. Shoes are murder for me because I’m so hard on them. Mrs. Houghton says I’ll have to make out until my coupon comes due next month. Sugar is the worst and gas is still a problem. I hope you are eating steak because we are not. I have never eaten so much chicken and eggs. I’m going to cackle soon. We also eat fish because Grievous catches it for us. Canned fish is rationed, so fresh ones are a treat. I’ve returned to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mrs. Houghton puts up the jelly from the fruit trees in the orchard. It’s lovely, even without much sugar in it. We have vegetables, and so we are lucky because we don’t have to depend upon the stores for our food.

I hope things are better in the new year. I’m sorry to complain, but if s tiresome to give up so many things. Mrs. Houghton has been very kind and found some new fall clothes for me. She made a lovely sweater too, so I look nice. We have to be so careful with everything now. Harness, shoes, clothes, and anything made of wool is hard to get. Leather goods are impossible so it’s a great sin to break anything like a bridle or a strap of leather. They can’t be replaced easily. I’ve been good about that. Jackie’s harness is in perfect condition. My saddle is too because Mr. Houghton makes me clean it and my shoes all the time. When will this war be over?

Love, Doc

P.S. Maybe God’s all right after all since he brought Cary home. Mr. Houghton says it’s the French Resistance, but Mrs. Houghton says it was God. Maybe it was a little of both.

 

Doc


Chapter 76

Mr. Houghton’s Birthday

 

December 21,1943

 

Mr. Houghton was bom on the twenty-first of December sometime before the turn of the century. The year, however, was not important, but the day was extremely so. It became even more important from Thanksgiving onwards, and its importance increased as December arrived. Everyone in our lower end of the county, from Henley’s store to Tuckahoe Creek, knew when it was Mr. Houghton’s birthday.

“It’s the shortest day and the longest night,” he would lament as the day approached. “I’ve got only half a birthday. I should have been born on the twenty-first of June. That’s the longest day and the shortest night.”        

In spite of his telling us about his birthday a month ahead of time, (to ensure we would all remember) Mr. Houghton felt cheated. Not only was it the shortest day, but his birthday fell only four days prior to Christmas.

“I don’t get many presents,” he complained “Now if I were born in June, I would get them twice a year.”

In fact, he did quite well where presents were concerned. As his birthday approached, we all made trips to Miller and Rhoads to shop. Usually ! would go down from school on the bus to meet Miss Emma at the store’s Sixth Street entrance. Finally I grew tired of hearing about Mr. Houghton’s birthday.     

This year, Bertha and Mr. Houghton had a run-in. Bertha celebrated her birthday in December which most of us overlooked.

One Thursday in early December, I stayed home from school because I had a cold. Bored in Mrs. Houghton’s small cottage, I put my coat on and went across the orchard to my own home. I liked to chat with Bertha and hear about life in the Negro population in Manakin.

When I entered the laundry room I,found Bertha seething with anger. She’d found Mr. Houghton’s constant talk about his birthday too much to bear. So when he arrived at the laundry room.door with a basket of freshly gathered eggs, Bertha stood waiting for him.

“Tell me why you think you own the month of December? Other folks are born then too. I’s for one and Jesus. Stop worrying folks to. death over your birthday. You’re like a dog with a bone. I’ze fed up.”

Caught off guard, Mr. Houghton made no reply. He just left the laundry room still carrying his basket of eggs and banged the door shut.

“Now, you’ve done it, Bertha,” I told her, as I watched these proceedings with interest. “He’s gone out with your eggs.”

“Perhaps he’ll be back, Miss Doc, I gets tired of his talk, just plain tired.”

When Mr. Houghton stayed away all morning, I realized he felt deeply hurt. He put a lot of stock in his birthday for some reason. Perhaps he didn’t have them as a child on a farm in Yorkshire. Bertha went cheerfully about her work, humming the hymns she sang on Sunday. Around two o’clock when I entered the laundry room again,

I found her extremely worried.

“I haven’t got a ride home,” she confided. “And I’ze scared to walk to the store because of Nellie Randolph’s ghost, to say nothin’ of the headless horseman. Don’t you ever walk there at night, Miss Doc, ‘cause of that headless horseman.”

Few colored people dared to go near that section of Tuckahoe Creek. Bertha was scared to death of this apparition even more seared than she was of Nellie Randolph’s ghost.1            -

The short afternoon wore on, but still Mr. Houghton did notri appear. On occasion Bertha walked to the store and caught a ride with James. But unless she went through the woods, that meant walking over Mrs. Haunch’s bridge. And the woods held other terrors - snakes and ticks in summer, and the hoot of the bam owls in winter. ‘

“Miss Doc, Miss Doc,” Bertha called me. “You best find Mr. Houghton and ask him to come here in an hour’s time.”

I wondered what Bertha was up to but did as I was bidden. . Scampering across the orchard, I found Mr., Houghton in the barn sweeping and singing.

“When I was born upon a cold and frosty mom, the doctor spanked me upon my little back and said I was a handsome little chap. Then after I was powder-puffed all over, I was dressed in the little shirt my mother made for me.”     

“Did you make that up?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine Mr. Houghton being powder-puffed all over and giggled at the thought of it.

“No, I just can’t remember the words,” he replied as he continued to sweep down the aisle of his barn. “I learned it a long time ago.”

“How are Lindy and Susie Q.?” I leaned over the loose box stall door and patted Lindy on her forehead. "

“Fit as a fiddle. Fat and sassy, these two are lazy beggars with no work to do except to bring in the Christmas tree. I brought them in today early because it’s calling for snow. Those horses eat, I can tell you, whether they work or not. Maybe I should sell them. .They would make fine dog food, don’t you think?”

I knew he was teasing, and did not reply. Then I remembered why I had come. “Bertha sent me to ask you to please come to the house in an hour.”

I delivered my message, then gently stroked Susie Q.’s head. She was the more nervous of the mares and sometimes tried to nip.

“My birthday falls on a Tuesday,” he said, as he stopped sweeping.

“Does it?” I asked, still patting the mare. “How old will you be?”  

“As old as my tongue and a little older than me teeth,” Mr. Houghton replied.

He opened the tackroom door and hung up his broom on a nail. “How dare Bertha speak to me like that.”

This last remark brought our conversation to a jolting halt. Not knowing what to say, I left the barn.

“Don’t forget to come,” I repeated and scampered away.

Upon my return to the house Bertha wouldn’t let me in the kitchen. She had locked the door and pulled down the shades. This seemed very unusual because cooking starch required no special solitude. So I knocked again. ,  

“I’m busy, Miss Doc, go away,” her voice commanded from behind the locked door. ,          

A few minutes later, Mr. Harris rolled up the driveway in his battered old car. He was dressed in a clean, shirt and neatly pressed trousers at milking time. This surprised me. Bertha mysteriously allowed him in the locked kitchen for an instant. Then he was sent out.

“What’s the big secret?” He asked me.  

“I don’t know. She’s locked that door all afternoon.”

“Something’s up,” agreed Tom Harris. “I was told to wait.”

“You can sit in the library if you like. The chairs are comfortable, and you can turn on the radio.”

“A fine kettle of fish; this waiting around when my cows need to be milked is tiresome.”

“Can’t Angelo milk the cows?” I asked him..

“Yes, I suppose he can. Let’s see what’s on the radio.” He turned it on looking for a station.

Emma, Craddock and Jean Taliaferro arrived a few minutes later and my curiosity reached its zenith.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “What’s going on?”

“I hear there’s to be a party,” said Jean.

“A birthday party,” Emma Craddock explained, as she arrived with two packages.                       

“A birthday party,” I echoed. “Here, this afternoon, how do you know?”

“That was the message I received,” concurred Jean.

“Come on into the library,” I offered, “Mr. Harris is here too.”

“This is a surprise. Hello Tom, what are you doing here?” Jean greeted him.

“How’s Cary, have you heard?” Tom Harris asked Miss Emma.

“I had a telegram from the State Department that he’d been returned to his group in England.” She took a seat near him. “It’s been an awful worry for two months wondering where he was. He’s fine and I am much relieved.”   “He’ll have some stories to tell when he gets home,” Jean replied as they made themselves comfortable in the library.

I went to turn up the heat, which was kept low so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. Bertha was still in the kitchen behind the locked door.

“I miss Cary,” continued Mr. Harris when I returned to the library. “He’s a good kid to have around.”

“I miss him too,” I told him. “He’s an awful tease, but things were fun when he was here.”

“I guess he’s flying missions over Europe again,” Jean added to the conversation.

“Yes,” said Miss Emma, “he loves flying.”

I thought she looked especially nice in her blue tweed suit. Although not new, it had a longer skirt than the ones they made now. They were not long enough to be modest and Mrs. Houghton wouldn’t allow me to wear them.    

Finally Mrs. Houghton walked over from her cottage carrying a package wrapped in reused tissue paper and tied with a blue ribbon. She always curled the ends with her scissors, making the curls spring back when you pulled them. .     

“Come in,” I greeted her, “everyone is here.”

“Hello, neighbour,” said Jean, “now turn up your hearing aid so you can join in the conversation.”              

I noticed for once that Mrs. Houghton was wearing it. She rarely did at home. I had got used to her deafness and had learned to talk directly to her.  

I left the party and went upstairs. In a certain drawer Mother kept unwanted gifts which we used for birthday presents throughout the year. I opened this drawer and selected a gift I thought Mr. Houghton would like. Then finding some paper and ribbon, I wrapped-it. Finally I discovered some stickers with Santa Claus on them and I pasted them on the paper for good measure. Then I returned to the library.

Promptly at three o’clock Mr. Houghton arrived with his boots muddy and his hands dirty. I opened the door.

“I understand Bertha wants me,” he said as he entered the hall.

“Take off your boots,” I said. “You look awful to come to a party.”

“A party?” he asked me, removing his work boots and standing in his sock feet.  

“That’s what I’m told,” I replied as he started to leave.

“No, don’t go. Just slip into the powder room and tidy yourself up.” I held the door open for him and found a hand towel. “Go wash. I’m not sure there’s hot water, but there might be.”

I waited for him so he wouldn’t escape out the front door. Meanwhile, Bertha opened the dining room doors. A great transformation had taken place. Instead of dust covers there was a table fully set with silver and plates for a party. All the curtains were drawn, the lights were off, but in the middle of the table sat a big birthday cake, a real honest-to-goodness butter, eggs and sugar birthday cake, covered in mounds of white icing, and decorated with red rosettes. Across the top in large letters, equally red, was just one word, Harry. Ten candles flickered in the darkened room.

“How marvelous,” I cried, “how simply marvelous.”

Mr. Houghton came out of the powder room and joined me in the hall.

“It’s a wonder in War Time even to make a cake,” he said amazed, “this one is a miracle.”

We all trooped into the dining room and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ as we went. Mr. Houghton stood amazed and speechless as he inspected the cake. We watched as he blew out the candles. In a mighty effort, he got them all on the first try. He stood in the dining room in his sock feet and blushed scarlet. We all laughed as we took our places around the table and Bertha opened the curtains. The late afternoon sun shone weakly as we all sat down to eat.

“Now what do you have to say for yourself?” Bertha asked as she handed him a large cake knife. “None of us forgot your birthday. How could we? It’s the most important birthday of the year.”

Mr. Houghton blushed again. Then he cut the first slice of yellow cake. Bertha handed him plates for the cake and gave us each a piece. Mr. Hams opened a bottle of champagne.

“This is pre-war stuff, Harry,” he told us. “I’ve saved it for a special time, which is today.”

The champagne was poured into juice glasses as we couldn’t find the wine goblets, and we toasted and sipped our drink, savouring the taste and pleasure. Then Jean got up and raised her glass in a toast to Bertha.

“To the best cake-baker in the world!” she said.

We all clinked our glasses once again.

“To Bertha,” we all cried.

“To Bertha, may all her troubles be little ones,”' added Mr. Houghton.

“How old am I, Miss Jean, do you reckon?” Bertha wanted to know. “My Grand Mama was born in slavery times and didn’t know how to read and write. She just told me I was born the year Tuckahoe flooded out the railroad. What year was that?”

“I don’t know, Bertha,” Jean replied. “There have been many floods since then. I could look it up, I suppose in the newspaper. How old do you think you are?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Bertha said, “but I’ze ‘spect about fifty. Ain’t that about right?”

“That’s perfect,” Jean told her. “Fifty is just right.”

“Yes, now I remember,” Bertha continued. “Mama was born after slavery times, but before the First World War. She went to school and could read pretty well. But I ain’t got no birth certificate. You didn’t get them in the country when you’s born in a cabin in the woods. I’ll stick to fifty.”

We all raised our glasses for a third time and drank to Bertha again. She saluted us with her up-raised glass and we all drank together.

Little packages for Mr. Houghton began to appear, and I ran upstairs once again and opened the present drawer. In it was a lovely green sweater, just Bertha’s size. Hastily, I wrapped it, put six Santa Claus stickers on the package and returned to the dining room.

“Here, Bertha,” I said upon entering, “is a birthday package for you.”

“I just loves it, Miss Doc,” she told us. “A Christmas sweater just the right colour, and made of wool too. Won’t I be the envy of all the ladies at church on Sunday. Mr. Harris could you give me a ride home?” Again Mr. Houghton blushed. I knew he remembered what he’d done that morning and felt ashamed after all the trouble Bertha had gone to with his cake.

"“I’ll take you home, Bertha,” he said faintly.

“Now, Mr. Houghton, don’t you trouble yourself. Mr. Harris here has offered to take me. I will take my eggs though, but I wouldn’t put you out on your birthday.”

 

To Be Continued

A Forgotten Landscape is available on Amazon and Kindle

 

 

A Different Conclusion

Diana Goldsmith

Brian sat staring at the blank sheet and waited for inspiration. Nothing came, so he picked up the copy of his local paper which was on the table and turned to the page entitled " friends united". He read the descriptions of men looking for ladies such as:-

"Tall,  blue eyed, athletic man with GSOH (Good Sense Of Humour) seeks blond attractive female for friendship and perhaps leading to more!"

Well that person would soon have loads of replies from gorgeous ladies, thought Brian despondently. How was he going to attract a partner.

What could he say about himself?

Fate hadn't bestowed him with an athletic physique. In fact he was short and had poor eyesight so he had to wear glasses. His fellow pupils at school had called him four eyes or goggle eyes. He hated it but as they were always bigger and stronger than he was, he didn't retaliate. Consequently he used to be a bit of a loner choosing to sit with his head in a book.  However in class he always got good marks because all that reading had  paid off while his classmates often spent less time on studying and more time partying!

He had gone to Oxford and got a first in English. After that he got a position teaching in the sixth form at a prestigious school. His parents had always been very supportive but secretly they had hoped that by now he would have found a nice young lady with whom he could have settled down and had a family, their grandchildren!

It wasn't that he hadn't wanted that but rather than ask girls out and be rejected he hadn't bothered. It was that he lacked confidence due to his very low self esteem

He had friends who tried to encourage him by inviting him around for dinner and also asking suitable single ladies but the matchmakers had no success either.

So here he was forty and still single and turning to a dating site for help.

Cynthia was  a pretty girl. She had fair curly hair and a good figure.  She had been popular at school and had many friends. However she wasn't a dumb blond and had a good brain and could join in discussions putting her point of view in a very convincing manner.

She had always been surrounded by admiring young men eager to make a catch with her but she was choosy. In the end after her graduation she had married Philip,a childhood friend. They had had two children Graham and Gillian and enjoyed a very happy family life.  However fairy tale endings are only for fairy stories and she found herself being a young widow after Philip was killed in a car crash. She was utterly devastated but had to keep going for the sake of their two children. She was devoted to them and slowly after many years and encouragement from her close friends she decided to face up to the fact that it might be a good idea to meet someone else. She realised that it was no good looking for another Philip. He was unique and no one was going to equal him. Graham and Gillian encouraged their mother and suggested the personal column in the newspaper.

Brian was nervous as he sat in the cafe on the seafront. He couldn't believe that someone had actually answered his ad. He had managed to put together something which he felt put over an honest description of himself without sounding too boring

Now they had agreed to meet and he had chosen this venue. They could have a cup of tea and chat and then go for a walk by the sea. The lady in question sounded honest too and he hoped she wouldn't be put off when she actually met him.

Cynthia was nervous too and wondered if her dress was suitable for the occasion. She had butterflies and felt like a teenager not a middle aged woman.

She opened the cafe door and saw the handsome man at the table by the window where he said he would be.  Her heart missed a beat as he looked up and smiled at her approvingly.

The owner of the seafront cafe came over to Brian and spoke to him telling him that there had been a phone call. It was from the person whom he was supposed to have been meeting. Something had happened and the lady wouldn't make it after all!

 

 All in a Day’s Work

By Rita Berman

             “Hey, Dan, I got a call from a woman who wants to have a bathroom sink replaced.  Apparently dropped a jar of face cream in it and it’s cracked.  She wants an estimate.”

            “OK,” said Dan, taking the order form. “I’ll call her and set up a time.”

            It was the beginning of fall. The weather had turned colder and people were spending more time indoors. This meant increased business for Dan and Pete, who were partners in a home repair business. Calls came in daily. They ranged from a simple request to check out the furnace, which was a relatively minor job, or the homeowner thought there was a leak in the roof, sometimes insulation needed upgrading, or the most lucrative of all, an upgrade to a kitchen or bathroom.

            Over the years Dan had improved his woodworking skills and thrived on the variety of work. But it was the smaller jobs that gave him a thrill. Those jobs where he went out alone.  Where he was let into the house by a woman. It was the rare occasion when a man was around.

            Dan and Pete had been in business together for about ten years, worked well together, and until Dan’s divorce the two couples had gone out socially. With Cheryl no longer in his life Dan had become withdrawn. Most nights he picked up some fast food before going home to the empty apartment. He watched a lot of television.

            As Dan drove into Colony Lake he fell into his usual pattern of wondering what the woman would look like and what she would be wearing. He had set up the appointment for 9 a.m.  At that hour many woman were not yet dressed.  Nor were they wearing make-up.  It was strange how they acted towards a repairman.  Almost as if he didn’t exist.  Wasn’t a man.  They didn’t realize how much they were showing in a negligee.

            He rang the doorbell and felt a familiar rush of excitement before the door was opened. It was all he could do to control himself on some days.  He had never spoken of this to Pete, had a feeling it wasn’t normal behavior.  But he enjoyed the rush even if he rarely carried it any further.

            She was a blonde, nice features.  About 5 foot 4 inches in her high heels.  Maybe mid-thirties.  Dressed in a navy suit. Obviously was going on to work as soon as he left.

            “I’m here about the sink,” he said.  She smiled and invited him in.

            “So clumsy of me,” she said.  “It’s cracked.  Doesn’t seem to be all the way through but I want to replace it.  Follow me.”

            She led the way upstairs.  He stayed behind her at sufficient distance so that he could see her legs.  Nice shape.  He wanted to see more of them but she walked quickly.  She held the banister with her left hand.  It was ring less.

            The bathroom was small, barely room for the two of them.  She pointed to the sink and he assured her it would be a relatively minor job if she wanted the exact replacement.  It was a standard sink, available at several local home repair stores.  In those close quarters the smell of her perfume was more obvious.  Again he felt the rush.  He glanced at the toiletries on the counter.  Perfume, creams, make-up.  No male items.

            He measured the sink and made a few notes. Checked under the counter to seek the plumbing.

            “How much will it cost?”

            He quoted a figure which included buying the sink.

            “That’s fine,” said she. “When can you do it?”

            “What day is best for you,” said Dan. “It’s a relatively small job so I can fit it in with my other work.”

            “Friday,” she responded.

            “Right, Friday it will be.  I’ll make you my first job.”

            “Thanks.”  She led the way back down the stairs.

            “So, what time on Friday,” she asked.

            “I can make it 8 a.m.” he said.

            “Yes, that would be good.”  She opened the door and he left.

            It was over too soon. But now he had Friday to anticipate.  Supposing he arrived a little early. He might catch her not yet dressed.

            The following day Dan was adjusting doors and replacing quarter-round trim in a house that had been recently painted.  He didn’t like the customer, a rather silent, elderly woman who stood around and watched his every move as if he was about to rob the house.  When he went upstairs to work on the bedroom doors, she followed and busied herself cleaning the bathroom on that floor.  He took a short break and drove to the mall cafeteria for lunch.

            As he was parking his truck he saw his ex-wife Cheryl leaving the cafeteria closely followed by a stocky-looking man with a ruddy complexion.  They were obviously together – she said something and the man laughed.  That’s Cheryl, he thought, always had plenty to say.  Sometimes too much, like when he wanted to watch sports on television and she wouldn’t stop talking about her day at Bullocks Restaurant.  He had been more interested in how much she made in tips, not the customers chatting her up. 

            Watching the couple get into a beat-up Chevrolet he wondered if this was the man that had led to their breakup.  Dan never suspected she was playing around until one night in the kitchen, when he started to fondle her she pushed him away, shouting, “I don’t love you anymore.  I don’t want to live with you.”  So that had been the end.  After eight years of marriage and no kids there was little to fight over, no house, a few bits of furniture.  Nothing remained except promises made and broken, shattered dreams.

            Women, he thought, always wanting more. But his job depended on a woman’s need for more, a newer kitchen, a larger house, and this week it was a new sink.

            He locked the truck and switched his thoughts to Friday’s job. He decided that immediately after eating lunch he would go to Lowe’s to pick up the sink.  On Friday, if he got to the house a few minutes before 8 a.m. maybe, just maybe, he would get lucky and catch her before she dressed.  Emily Smith, was her name. He began to whistle as he entered the cafeteria.

            The line was fairly short, some elderly folk, and workers from the nearby gas station in uniform.   A couple of young women, probably college students, and a group of business men.  A woman stood immediately in front of him, apparently alone.  He saw her face when she turned the corner and reached out for a tray.  Too bad, a similar type to Cheryl, blonde, full lips.                     

            He picked up his tray.  “What’ll you have,” asked the server.

            He looked at the steam table. Wasn’t fussy about what he ate. Seeing Cheryl again with that other man had taken away his appetite. Not that he missed her, it was more a feeling of anger, how could she reject him.

            “What’ll you have?”  The woman repeated the phrase, intent on keeping the line moving.

            “Fried chicken, and mashed potatoes,” he said.

            He picked up a glass of iced tea, got his ticket from the cashier, and walked towards an empty table almost colliding with the woman who had been ahead of him in the line.  She smiled and said, “Do you want to share?”

            “No, you have it,” he said and then looked around.  The cafeteria was quite crowded.

            “It’s OK.  Really, “she replied.

            “You’re sure.”

            “Yes.” 
            He sat down and began poking at his food.

            “That looks good,” she said, and made a face at her macaroni and cheese dish. “I just came from the dentist, so I can’t taste what I’m eating.”

            “Ugh, the dentist. That’s no fun”

            “You got it, and the job isn’t finished. I have to come back next week. I’ve recently moved from Chapel Hill to Cary.”

            “I guess I’ll have to find a new dentist in Cary, but till then…”she signed.

            Dan chewed on his food.  Didn’t feel like making small talk but the woman seemed intent on it.  Now and then he nodded while she told him about her job, most enthusiastically, as a teacher of educationally challenged students. 
            “Its hard work, you can’t push them like normal kids, but oh, so rewarding to see them make small improvements, learn new skills.”

            She took another bite of macaroni and cheese.  After a minute’s silence she asked, “What do you do?”

            “Fix things.  Home improvements, renovations, check out furnaces, nothing challenging, more a matter of pleasing the customer” he said. 
            “A lot of variety.”

            “Yes.” He drank up his tea.  “Time for me to go. I’ve got to pick up a sink.”

            “So soon.”

            “Yes.”

            “I’ll be back at the dentist next week.  Will you be here Wednesday?” she asked.

            “Gee, I don’t know my schedule from one day to the next,” he said.

            “Look, here’s my number.  Call me if you’re interested.  She handed him her card. He put it in his pocket.

            “Well, it was nice meeting you, “she said.

            “Likewise.” He nodded and walked quickly to the cashier.

            Phew, she was forward all right.  Call me.  Like heck I will, -- not.  Not his type of woman, he preferred the quiet, shy ones.  The ones who were unsure of themselves, wouldn’t make a complaint if a man got a bit out of line. He got a thrill doing that.  Dominating them.  At his own pace. Cheryl had really surprised him when he left.

            That night he felt on edge, switched the remote from one channel to another. He paused at “Sex and the City,” a show about single women who led non-traditional lives.  They were sitting in a restaurant talking frankly about sex.  It appeared to be something they had to have, like food.  From their conversation it was evident, these women picked up men for a casual encounter, without meaning or attempt at relationships.  It was purely physical.  Being on the pill gave them a freedom which they thought was great, but it took away the male challenge.  The women were the pursuers. He watched a couple of scenes. One of the women was in bed with a man.  Evidently they had just had sex.

             “I’ve got to rush now,” she said.  “I have a meeting at 2 p.m.”  A definite role reversal. 

            He switched the channel.  Ah, Raymond.  Now here’s a married man trying to get a bit of action in spite of working at home. He had to wait until he finished writing his column, the kids and his interfering mother were out of the house and, hopefully, his wife was in a good mood and receptive.  Poor Raymond. Married and still not getting much.

            Dan switched off the television and went to bed.  Tomorrow was another day.

            Friday started off cloudy, in the mid 50’s F.  He felt too keyed to eat breakfast.  Parked his truck in her driveway.  He rang the doorbell and to his delight she opened the door still in her robe.

            “Oh, you’re early,” she said.

            “Sorry. I thought you said 7:30.”

            “Well, come on in.”

            She led the way upstairs. He watched her hips sway as he walked.  She motioned to the bathroom and asked,” Are you going to cut off all the water?”

            “No, only to this sink.”

            “Fine, then I can make some coffee.”

            He turned off the valve. Unscrewed the faucets, and then positioned himself under the sink.  Using a wrench he severed the pipe connections and then removed the old sink. 

            He carried the sink down the stairs and out to his truck.  Brought in the new sink and carried it upstairs.  He caught a glimpse of Emily going into the bedroom and then she shut the door. 

            As he edged the sink into position he imagined her getting dressed.  She was only a few feet away from him.  His hand shook while he applied packing tape to the plumbing connections, and turned the water back on.  Filled the sink and then checked underneath.  No apparent leaks.

            He picked up his tool bag and then tapped on the bedroom door.

            “Miss Smith, it’s all done and I’ve turned the water on.”

            She opened the door.  Now wearing a silk blouse and skirt.  She had a jacket over her arm. 

            “That didn’t take long.  How much do I owe you?  I can give you a check or will you send me a bill?” she asked.

            “I’ll give you a bill before I leave.”

            Now standing at the top of the stairs she was close enough for him to smell her perfume.   The shape of her breast and nipple were clearly visible under the fabric of the blouse.  He felt the rush, dropped his tool bag and reached out.  His fingers brushed her nipple.

            “Don’t do that,” she said sharply, pushing his hand away.              

            “Aww, come on, you know you want.”

            “Get away from me.” Now she had a scared look on her face.

            “I can’t help it,” he said, pulling her close towards him.  She struggled, pushing her hands against his chest.  She pushed harder and he lost his balance, fell backwards.  Then all went blank.

            “Hello, hello, Dan, can you hear me?” He heard her as he came to.   He was lying on the floor at the foot of the stairs.  She was leaning over him, frowning.

            “What happened?” he asked.

            “You slipped.  I couldn’t grab you.  Are you hurt?”

            “I don’t think so, just a bit sore.”

            “You’re lucky.  You took quite a tumble.”

            How?  What had happened?  Did she push him?  Something was very wrong, for here she was calmly talking. Not mad at all.

            With her help he got to his feet, and picked up his tool bag.           

            “You know, I felt a bit light-headed this morning,” he said. “Guess I had better see my doctor.”

The End.

          

 Who Are You?

Tim Whealton

 It started a long time ago for me. As a child I was lucky to have a Dad that wanted to teach me things. He was a patient teacher with a fantastic mechanical mind. I took that for granted like all children at the time. Pop could fix anything. When we needed a boat he built it, a boat trailer, a car, bathroom floor, old bicycle or fantastic repairs on anything broken. Our water pump motor burned out and he didn’t have the cash to get a replacement at the time. Borrowing money was frowned upon then so he took the motor off the lawn mower and put it in the pump house. You went to the pump house and cranked the motor to take a bath or wash dishes. It worked till he made enough money to buy a new electric motor for the pump.

Pop was an outboard motor man and ran his own shop for the part of his life I remembered best. We were in his shop and getting ready for a bird hunt when somehow his old Remington model 11 shotgun hit the floor. The sound of that shotgun hitting concrete was terrible. Slowly he reached down and lifted it like it was a baby needing nurturing after a fall. The damage was obvious. The bolt handle was broken. Pop said “well we have to go get this fixed.” I was in shock. I asked “why don’t you fix it?” He just sat there looking at it sadly and said “only two people work on guns, gunsmiths and fools.”

I couldn’t wait to see what a gunsmith looked like. If he could do something my Pop couldn’t he must be a superman! It put a notion in my mind that if I was a gunsmith one day that I would really be something special. I don’t remember who he was but I remember looking at his shop. Lots of guns, parts of guns and tools that didn’t look like what we used to fix outboard motors. I even remember that smell. If you are a gun person you know what I’m talking about, Hoppe’s #9 bore cleaner. He dismantled the old model 11 and replaced the handle without a single wasted motion. He charged Pop $4. $2 for the handle and $2 labor. ( I told you it was a long time ago!)

As soon as I was able I started tinkering on guns. Partly for fun but mostly because I couldn’t afford to pay a gunsmith. I didn’t know how to fix guns but I knew I wanted to become a gunsmith. Every time I did something wrong I thought about what Pop said “only two people work on guns, gunsmiths and fools.

Shortly after high school I went to work as a phone man. It was a secure job but it didn’t pay well. I started at $68 a week. If you remember those times a hamburger was 15 cents at Hardees so it did go a lot further than today. I decided that I would start rebluing guns at my house for extra income. Only two real hurdles to get over before I started. One was I had no idea how to reblue a gun and two I had less than $5 startup capital.

 Not being easily discouraged I found every book I could on gunsmithing and started reading. I also made friends with a man that worked at the plating shop where they could blue guns. With lots of work I started to make what I needed to build my business. A motor from an old clothes dryer became my buffer. Wooden wheels with leather glued on the edge became my polishing wheel. Old pump pipe made burners to go under my homemade tanks. Finally after I bought a startup bluing kit from Herters and I was ready.

Learning by your mistakes is okay unless you are working on someone else’s gun so I had to start with mine. I learned that caustic soda at 300 degrees will turn a double barrel into two single barrels. It also causes a combination chemical and heat burn that is just awesome. Did you know that aluminum gun parts dissolve when you put them in the tank? Anyway after I was sure I could do a gun without dissolving it I took in my first paying job. It was an 1897 Winchester pump shotgun. It took me two day to disassemble, two days to polish the rust away, one night to blue and a week to get it back together. I was finally a gunsmith. Broke, but a gunsmith.

My Pop told me, “you start off doing something and it turns into who you are.” Well it took a long time but eventually I became “The Gun Man.” More and more customers and more and more guns. My family would ask what I was doing and the answer was always “working on guns.” When I looked at my records I was shocked at how many guns I had repaired. It started out around 3 guns a week and has been over a 1000 a year for the last 15 years. Doing something you love is great but it made the years go by too fast!

 Now I’m ready to start enjoying this thing called retirement but first I have to figure out how to stop fixing guns. Actually it isn’t that hard to give up work, its hard to give up who you are. I’ve been the gun man for so long that I don’t know how to be anything else. It was a lot easier to give up being “phone man.” It had gotten to the point in that industry that nobody liked the phone company anymore but people like getting their gun fixed. And I still like having a little money now and then but I have to face this thing called aging.

Things are on my body that hurt that I never knew were there. Hair is growing out of places that doesn’t need hair and don’t even ask about loose skin. When I look at my neck I should probably stay indoors till after Thanksgiving! As one of my old friends said “old age ain’t for sissies!”

And who will I be? After “Phone Man” and “Gun Man” I want to be more than just “Old Man.” My grandson told his Mom, “He is more fun than he looks, in the woods he turns into Granbo!” Or maybe my new name at the soup kitchen where I volunteer, “Biscuit Man.”  I guess whatever name it will be won’t really be up to me, it will be the people that are in my life that will name me. I’m okay with that.

Besides what’s in a name anyway. The names to really hope for are found in my favorite book. Sheep, Lamb, Blessed, Christian, Saint, Faithful, Child. I will take any of those and rejoice.

Enjoy all the blessing God has given us this Christmas. We are blessed more than any country on earth. Enjoy it and share it with the unfortunate. And maybe ask yourself if you will be happy to answer when God ask “Who are you?”

 

 

Old Chocolate Box

By Joan Leotta

 

Every time the word comes

to clean out , pack up, move on

I sort the memories

reduce the tangibles

and move on

except for that chocolate box

Whitman sampler heart

from my dad

holding the first card

from my husband

A dried rose  from our toddler son

No, I do not "need"

to smell those remaining

cocoa traces,

run my hand over his card

or fondle those papery petals

However,

I will not give up

my triple Valentine

 

 Bulletin Board

 

A buddy of mine has two tickets for the 2017 Super bowl. Box seats plus airfares, accommodation, etc., but he didn't realize when he bought them that this is going to be on the same day as his wedding - so he can't go. If you're interested and want to go instead of him, it's at St Peter's Church in Osborne Park, Baltimore at 5pm. Her name's Louise. She will be the one in the white dress.


Adopted

Elizabeth Miccio

 

My “person” found me

At the house with the Big Cat

…..and many little cats.

 

She held me in just one hand

….and I fit!

Remembering Soft and Warm

I purred all the way to my new home.

 

In the mornings, I hop on the bed,

My whiskers curve ahead of me

Touching her before I get there.

She laughs, reaches out and pats my head.

 

She doesn’t have ears that can move

To the front, to the side, to the back,

All the better to listen.

Mine have points on top!

And sometimes she smooths

My thick, beautiful, coat.

 

Y’know, she doesn’t look like me

….But, I think, she’s my Mom!

 

miccio066.jpg

 

Arctic Solstice

Ingibjörg Sveinsdóttir

 

White darkness enveloped them. It was impossible to see what was up or down in the

consuming snowstorm. The furious weather shook the heavy truck as if it were a matchbox car. An eerie feeling of weightlessness slithered into Ylfa’s stomach making her feel even more vulnerable than she already felt. She fought the nausea by focusing on the occasional black rocks that breached the whiteness revealing the possibility of ground. She held onto her seat with one hand and steadied herself against the dashboard with the other as they slowly inched forward over the rough trail to the cabin. The glow from the dashboard accentuated the muscles of her lover’s unshaven chin and his heavy brow as he concentrated on navigating.

Ylfa closed her eyes as another wave of nausea washed over her. In her disempowered

state, her mind sought balance in an empowered memory. The physician had felt like a rock star

lecturing in the packed grand ballroom of the convention hotel. She loved bringing science to life

and engaging the audience in discussions about practical solutions to important problems. That

November morning she had been on fire. After the applause, a swarm of people came up to

speak to her. A colleague of hers, Eydís, congratulated her on her research and asked if she could

email her on related business.

“Of course,” Ylfa replied, not knowing that Eydís had an epiphany during the lecture: She thought she had found the perfect woman for her brother. Into an innocuous professional message, Eydís snuck a mention of her brother, Úlfur, an accomplished man she thought Ylfa would like to meet. This annoyed Ylfa. She did not want to be set up on blind dates with random men. To Ylfa’s frustration, Bryndís persisted in insisting that she meet this wonderful brother of hers.

An aggravated Ylfa explicitly stated that she was not interested. The divorced mother of two wasn’t interested because just days earlier she had made the difficult decision to end her romance with Hrafn, a man she had loved and lost many years ago but had found again that spring. She had enough of drama. Consequently, Ylfa promised herself a testosterone free diet.

Ylfa had just finished reading her daughters their bedtime story and kissed them butterfly

kisses good night when the phone rang. She was exhausted and definitely not in the mood for a

sales pitch.

Somehow Úlfur’s deep earthy voice convinced her that adding a taste of testosterone

back into her diet would be worth it. A few nights later he picked her up for their date. The tall

bass had a confident presence. His glacial blue eyes revealed a playful and caring personality.

She immediately felt at ease with him. Their rapport was refreshingly uncomplicated. Úlfur´s quick wit entertained her so well that she woke up in the middle of the night with cramps in her jaws and stomach muscles from laughing the entire evening. Now deep in the darkness of winter solstice she found herself heading to an isolated beach cabin with this man she hardly knew.

Úlfur declared that they had arrived at the cabin and jumped out of the truck. Incredulous

Ylfa saw nothing but a white wall of hostility outside. Before she could protest, Úlfur whisked

her from the safety of the truck into the storm. The resolute weather threw tiny icicles like missiles at them. They felt like shards of glass on her unprotected face. Unmistakable tremors, in

rhythm with heavy thunderous sounds, could be felt in the ground.

To Ylfa the ominous booming sounded uncomfortably close, but in the blinding darkness, it was hard to tell the distance. She felt defenseless. But her taste for adventure overpowered the salty taste of the roaring North Atlantic Ocean on her lips. She swallowed her fear.

Inside the Spartan cabin, Úlfur lit a fire in the wood burning stove. The glow illuminated

dead animals with curiously quizzical expressions on the walls as if death had taken them by

surprise. The head of a caribou with authoritative antlers presided disproportionately over the

miniscule kitchen nook. An antique rifle was mounted above the cot as if there might indeed

arise occasions in bed that necessitated immediate access to fire arms. To the feminine eye it was

obvious that the cabin had reached maximum capacity for wall mounted dismembered members

of the animal kingdom. She smiled to herself. Úlfur wrapped a wool blanket over her shoulders

and handed her a welcome coffee mug of Cabernet Sauvignon. She continued to explore and discovered  that although there was plenty of hunting and fishing gear there was neither electricity nor running water. This man obviously had a clear view of his priorities, she thought and giggled.

Over a simple dinner of smoked puffin, flatbread and butter he told her about his family.

His younger sister Ylfa already knew, but she didn’t know that they had an older sister who had

Down’s Syndrome. To him she was a great example of how challenges can be turned into opportunities and how triumph can rise above defeat. She was her brother’s hero and the inspiration for Úlfur’s choice of developmental psychology for his career. Ylfa had chosen pediatrics for a similar reason.

Ylfa could not resist teasing him about the eccentric cabin.

“I am fascinated by things unique. Like you,” he said.

Ylfa blushed. To be able to fully enjoy the challenges of his busy life, he explained that it was vital for him to have a haven of peace and quiet.

She felt the same way. She proposed a toast for the former lives of the dead animals on his walls and offered her medical opinion that the cabin had exceeded the maximum legal dose of testesterone.

Úlfur laughed. ragged old orange sea hat that had belonged to his great grandfather, the captain. She tried it on with a teasing smile. Úlfur laughed his low rumbling laugh and pulled her close.

“My sister was right. You are perfect for me.”

The frigid woman slowly thawed in warm embrace of her lover.

Outside, the natural forces continued their magnificent wrestling match. The relentless

hammering of the surf made the ground quiver. The angry wind hissed and tore at the cabin with

its ravenous claws. Inside her mind, her own natural forces wrestled. Her lover slept peacefully

through the raging weather. She listened to Úlfur’s relaxed breathing, closed her eyes and tried to

lure sleep to her. But sleep finagled its way out of her reach.

She thought of Hrafn’s black hair on his white pillow, probably tossing and turning in the

night as had always been his habit. Her mind flew back in time. Although the attractive young

man at the party caught her eye, she ignored him as she assumed someone studying physics was

probably excruciatingly dull. Undeterred by her indifference, he patiently waited for the right

moment. She was getting ready to leave, when he came up behind her with a bold proposal. She

demurely declined the invitation to his bed and he mischievously bit her on the neck in retaliation.

The love affair that ensued was fast and furious. But even back then he had been lost and, as consequence, had lost her for the first time.

The glow of the fading fire gilded the rugged man. With a delicate finger she traced the

silhouette where light met shadow on his shoulder. The warring elements did not disturb him. He

was in his element. He was at peace with himself and the world. This was a man who was not

lost. The orange sea hat lay on the floor where it had been playfully flung earlier in the night.

Like its former owner, Ylfa was the captain of her own ship. She had fought too hard for her independence to ever let it go. She neither wanted a loose cannon nor mutiny on board. What she wanted was a partner who was the captain of his own ship. She wanted a man who would sail his ship beside hers towards their joint goal. She curled up against Úlfur’s back, savoring his scent and tried to fall asleep. But neither the match outside the cabin nor the one inside her mind had reached their conclusion.

On her 20th birthday, Hrafn brought her the gift of break up. He had decided to sequester

himself to study for his finals, the aspiring physicist explained, and she would only distract him.

She was incensed. Immature Ylfa publicly shamed him by kicking him out of her irthday bash. But they could not stay away from each other for long. On summer solstice, they reunited at the old lake in Reykjavík center. Under the midnight sun he begged for her love. But her pride and fury overpowered her love for him. A torn Ylfa stormed away from the heartbroken man on the park bench.

Although they went their separate ways, their bond was never completely severed. That

Ylfa got married didn’t stop tenacious Hrafn. Each year for seven years he asked her to marry

him. Each year she declined his proposal, secretly wishing she could accept. The proposals

ceased only when Hrafn went to one end of the world for graduate school and Ylfa went to another to further her specialization in medicine.

Years later, serendipity interfered. They met by chance last spring at a lonely road side

grill in the East Fjords. She remembered rushing in from the rain with her two daughters, soaking

wet from playing on the beach. Hrafn’s obsidian eyes met hers from across the room where he

sat with his children. He invited them to share their rickety table, the only table in the old grill.

It was somewhat awkward to meet him again after such a long time, perhaps especially so as they both had their children with them. Over sweaty hot dogs and stale coffee they managed to share 30 brief news. He had married, had children, got divorced, finished his degree, and moved back home to Iceland. She had divorced, had children, finished her degree, and moved back home to Iceland.

Although they were busy wiping little noses and policing sibling rivalry, the sparks between them were unmistakable. Hrafn was as charismatic as he had ever been and their riveting romance resumed. Hrafn was full of lofty ideas, but at a loss when it came to concrete plans. Ylfa came to understand that what it really meant was that he didn’t know what he wanted. Months of swinging between emotional extremes wore her out. He said he loved her, but wouldn’t commit to their relationship. She realized that he was still lost and probably always would be. He was not the man for her. Yet it was with a heavy heart that she ended their relationship. It was as if she was giving up a beloved childhood fantasy. Hrafn lost her once again.

She snuggled closer to Úlfur. Intellectually, she was afraid to love again, afraid to hurt

again. But there was something new in the way she felt about Úlfur. There was no struggle.

There was no fear. To her amazement her feelings seemed to grow naturally with a lightness and

joy she had not experienced before.

The monster storm gained momentum. The nerve wracking rattling of objects unseen

magnified in the dark. Suicidal cups plunged off the shelf to their deaths. Úlfur woke up and

found Ylfa nervously perched on the edge of the cot. He gently stroked her ivory back and

coaxed her into his arms. He kissed her forehead. He tenderly kissed her eyelids. He caressed her

soft mouth with his rough thumb. Úlfur slowly made love to Ylfa again. Peaceful sleep finally

gave itself to her.

A pale, bleary-eyed woman with a raven's nest of hair nervously climbed out of the cabin

into the chill of the morning after. The frozen ground crackled for mercy under her feet. To her

horror she saw that the waves had greedily licked the side of the cabin with their icy tongues.

Their salty icicles were threatening evidence of their claim to the cabin. She shuddered. To the

west there was a quaint light house, discordant in cheerful white and red stripes. Majestic

Snæfellsnesjökull glacier rested stoic across the water in the distance. To the south, the subdued

steel gray ocean caressed the beach like an abusive lover begging for forgiveness for the night’s

destruction. In their rage, the forces of nature had strewn huge black boulders and tangles of olive sea weed in bizarre patterns on the gray ground. It was a frozen abstraction of rage.

A cell phone peep pierced the absence of sound.

She had a text message: “Please. Hrafn.”

She turned off her phone and pushed it deep into her jacket pocket. Unable to concentrate she wandered aimlessly among the rubble. Úlfur found Ylfa sitting on a solitary rock on the beach.

Without a word he handed her mittens, a scarf and gently tamed her tangled mane with a woolen hat. He poured her a cup of coffee from the thermos and sat down beside her. They sipped their coffee in silence for a while. He put his arm around her and her floodgates burst open.

She told him about her struggle. He listened. She cried. He held her. When the last tear had left her empty, he filled her up again with a simple whisper of truth. She felt an overwhelming feeling of relief well up inside her and wash her clean. Ylfa was found.

Hrafn had lost her for the last time.

 

 

 

Baking—A Winter Holiday Ritual

By Joan Leotta

 

Baking is one of the first ways children learn the joys of working in the kitchen. For me the ultimate Christmas joy was baking cookies, to eat to give away, to serve to others. My favorite cookie as a child was my Aunt Claudia's Candy Cane Cookies. She stayed up late into the night making trays and trays to feed family and guests. As we got older, we were, one by one, brought into the secret order of the Candy Cane and invited to help make the cookies. My children licked their share of spatulas and now our daughter is an ace cookie maker, taking on much of the share of the holiday baking all to herself. 

 

The math, the science—they play second fiddle to the warm soft taste of icing licked from a bowl, from cookies warm from the oven, from the warmth of hugs delivered as treasured recipes are turned into edible delights. The alchemy of flour, sugar and butter begins at Thanksgiving and does not end until spring. The ancients say we needed those extra calories to keep us warm in winter so perhaps this explains the need to cook and eat sweets when the thermometer drops.

 

The force of cookies in my life is expressed by their use in the third book in my Rosa series, Rosa's Red Apron. In that book  young Rosa helps her Mom bake  grandmother's favorite cookies—a pumpkin cookie recipe. Not too sweet, but certainly yummy. Yet, as good as those are, nothing equals that quintessential cookie from my youth that my daughter and I will make together this Christmas -Aunt Claudia's Candy canes.

 

Here is the recipe

Aunt Claudia's Candy Cane Cookies

A cherished family tradition at my house—these are time machine cookies for me—one taste and I am five years old again

Ingredients

For Cookies

1 cup softened butter

½ c white sugar

1 egg

3 tsp vanilla

3 cups flour

1 tsp bake powder

For glaze

3 plus cups confectioner's sugar

2 T butter

1-2 drops vanilla

Milk or cream

3 large tsp cinnamon, and

Cinnamon oil if you can

15 drops of red food color for glaze

Method for Cookies

Preheat oven to 375

Cream butter with sugar

Add in egg, beat until fluffy

Add vanilla

In a separate bowl, measure out dry ingredients.

Pour into creamed ingredients and mix.

Grease several cookie sheets

Take dough, by bits and shape into canes

about finger thickness and index card length.

Bake one sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes.

Remove when cookie edges are golden

Method for Glaze

Mix all glaze ingredients, except for dye and cinnamon

using milk or cream to

Get right consistency. Reserve about one third for piping the stripes.

Spread rest over cooled cookies.

Add cinnamon and coloring to the reserved icing. Use that to make

Stripes on the cookie with an icing tube.

 

 Bells of Hatteras Village

Sybil Austin Skakle

 

Ringing bells were part of life in Hatteras Village, where I was born and grew to adulthood. Each morning during the school year, a first bell alerted the village and fifteen minutes later, a second ringing called the students to class. We had fifteen minute recesses twice each day. While denied a sports program of any kind, we played our games in the sandy yard in the fresh air and sunshine. Hop scotch, marbles, or catch, a ball game similar to baseball. When that fifteen minute period ended, a short ring called us back to our desks and books. At 3:30 p.m. another bell told us it was time to go home for the day.

There were around 60 children in grades one through eleven. One teacher was required to teach two grades, which shared a room. One grade studied while the other did their recitations and etc.

The first, fourth, and seventh had a single teacher, while the fifth and sixth, shared one. High school had three teachers, one of whom served as principal, as well. They were assigned subjects to teach and the students moved from room to room. Our courses were minimal, but our teachers were superlative. Only those who planned college beyond high school were required to take geometry. We had no laboratories. We bought our books and sold them to those who followed us. Those rooms were warmed by coal stoves and the windows had no screens and we were fair game for the mosquitos.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Rob Gaskins rang the bell in the steeple of the Hatteras Methodist Church to call the village to worship, a first bell to alert and another after fifteen minutes. As the Church School Superintendent he arrived early to light the fire in the big coal burning stove at the front of the church in the winter time. Church School convened at 10 a.m. and since we shared a pastor with two other churches, we did not have worship every Sunday. While the other churches were not that far away, during my school years, roads were only sandy ruts made by the car wheels. The pastor needed time to go the four and ten miles north to the other churches two Sundays a month. Wednesday prayer meeting required another bell ringing.

Another important bell event occurred when a village resident died. Then the bell tolled the number of years of that person’s life.  And, yes, another. The bell rang joyously when the end of World War II came, September 02, 1945, when the lights went on again all over the world. Our boys would be coming home again.

 

 Book Review

Lanquid Luciousness With Lemon.

By Joan Leotta

 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Silance Ballard

 

 xz

         I must admit that I have never read a great deal of poetry. I believe it has something to do with the requirement during my junior year of high school to memorize a minimum of 100 lines of poetry. I chose to memorize some of the works of Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay and loudly declared to anyone who would listen that they were my “favorite poets.”    However, when that year was over and the memorization requirement met, I rarely looked at a poem.

When I  received Joan Leotta’s latest book of poetry and was asked to review it, I thought of umpteen reasons why almost anyone on the planet was more qualified to review this volume than I but I turned to the first poem anyway.  I was hooked. I could not put the book down. 

In poetry, there is no story line, no plot, to keep us interested and turning the pages. The poet has to be a master with words, with imagery, with alliteration  so that the reader is, at once, captivated with feelings,  emotions, and/or memories. Joan Leotta is such a master. Her poems are of few words but each word is carefully chosen and evokes such nostalgia, such a longing for the simpler times. Yet, she is showing that we can still enjoy and appreciate the simple things in our own lives.

With my first reading of the  poem, “Lanquid Luciousness With Lemon,”  I smiled. I, too, love farmers markets. The food is always so fresh and the combined smells of all the fruits and vegetables make me want to grab a big basket and start filling it to the brim.  The poet, however, is in no such rush as she imagines slicing the peaches and how they will look on a pretty plate at home. With this and all her poems in this volume, she pulls us into an appreciation of the simple pleasures of life.  I was reminded of my junior literature class and of Mrs. Sandlin telling us that poets look at life differently. “They focus and their work can help us focus and examine the various aspects of life. We don’t have to run helter skelter trying to do so much all the time. Sometimes we can learn more just by focusing.”

Reading this book many decades later,  I realize now what Mrs. Sandlin was trying to teach us back then. All of Joan’s poems are about the simple, yet so important, aspects of our lives.

In “Apples at Nonna’s,” we can identify her childhood eagerness and anticipation of a family outing, the comfort of family traditions, the joys of possibilities.  I believe one of my very favorites is “Back Porch Morning.”  For a few minutes, I was sitting on my own grandmother’s back porch basking in the joy of just being with her. This is what good poetry does, I believe. It brings up feelings and memories and helps us to see and feel them in other ways, too.

Much of Joan’s work centers on the family such as in “Sampling Oysters” in which she tells of going to Prince Edward Island with her daughter and sampling oysters in various places. She recognizes in the poem that the real pearl gained from the oyster outing was their togetherness.

Likewise, she speaks of her son who, during spring break of his senior year, they went to Kill Devil Hills on the outer banks of North Carolina where he made his first solo flight in a hang glider. The poem reflects her wistfulness in the realization that this son was making only the first of many solo adventures in his life and would soon be moving into true adulthood, out of the safety of family.

On a humorous note, anyone who grew up with biscuits on the table will readily identify with the poem, “In Rhapsodic Praise of Biscuits.”  Oh, the sheer near-ecstasy of a hot biscuit with soft butter, or jelly or honey!  She brought back the memory of my own mother’s biscuits—hard, crusty and perfectly brown on the outside with a warm softness  on the inside—and Daddy’s frequent comment, “Good eatin’, Honeybunch!”

No doubt, this little book of poetry will arouse memories of your own special moments in life and will be on our bookshelves for a long time to come. 

 

 

 

Champ

Elaine Jones

 

When you’re born into a sharecroppers family, it doesn’t take you long to learn that there’s never a plenty of anything especially food. We grew as many vegetables as our small patch of land could produce but some of those along with the eggs had to be traded for other necessities such as sugar, flour, or cornmeal. So the day a straggly, half-grown dog showed up at our house, mom couldn’t see having another mouth to feed and told me to run it off. Although it was thin, I thought the black and white dog was beautiful and I began begging mom to let me keep it. I had never had a pet before and since I didn’t have any toys to play with, I thought it would be a lot of fun to have a dog. As mom stood trying to explain to me all the reasons we couldn’t have a dog, my little brother toddled out in the yard where the weeds grew high. In a flash, the dog ran toward him barking fiercely. Mom began screaming, “Alex get that dog before it bites the baby”. As I ran toward them, I saw the dog grab a snake by its tail and flip it way from brother and it slithered into the bushes. Then the dog went up to brother and licked his face as if to say, “All’s okay now”. As brother giggled at the dog, I dropped to the ground and wrapped my arms around its neck. “You’re a champ”, I told him. “See mom, it wouldn’t hurt brother.” Mom seemed so relieved at how everything had turned out that she said I could keep the dog until someone claimed it. That was how I got my dog and how he got his name Champ. Over time I fattened him up by feeding him a lot of cornbread and buttermilk and when I brushed him, he really was beautiful. Often he would run off into the woods which made me worry that he wouldn’t come back; but he’d return carrying a small rabbit that didn’t have much meat on its bones. Mom would skin it and cook it with soup to add some favor. She saved the hides and in the winter lined the inside of my worn brogans to help keep my feet warm.

Champ was my constant companion and best friend. He followed me everywhere even to school. Our school was only one room with several grades. One of the bigger boys was a bully and I was the one he picked on the most. He wouldn’t come near me though if Champ was around. Champ would get between me and the bully and give his meanest sounding growl which would make the boy back away.

Champ always seemed to know when it was time for school to let out because he would be waiting for me and we’d run home together.

One Christmas when school let out for the holiday’s, Champ and I ran home full of excitement. All day the children at school had been talking about what they wanted Santa Clause to bring to them. The bully boy asked me if I had put up a Christmas tree and when I told him no, he told me Santa never stopped at a house that didn’t have a Christmas tree. I quickly told mom I was going to cut us a Christmas tree because Santa wouldn’t stop at our house if we didn’t have one. “Alex”, mom said, “Santa won’t be stopping here this Christmas, tree or no tree”. “But he will if we have a tree and I’m only asking him for a ball and bat”, I answered as I went out the door to get my hatchet. Champ and I walked a long time looking for the perfect tree. When I found what I thought was a good one, I’d turn to Camp and ask, “What do you think of this one boy?” and he’d bounce off through the woods. Eventually I saw him lift his hind leg and leave his dog scent on a pretty shaped cedar tree. Yep, that was our tree and while trudging home with it, I felt sure Santa wouldn’t pass by us this year.

Sitting the tree into the comer of the room, Champ and I went back to the woods to look for things to put on it. We returned home with an armload of holly branches that were covered with big red berries, an empty bird nest and pockets full of sweet gum balls. I could tell mom had been crying and thinking it might make her feel happy, I asked if she wanted to help decorate the tree. She said no that she was busy and it was my tree so I could decorate it. When I finished putting on natures decorations, I thought it looked very nice and I waited anxiously for Christmas morning. I even hung up two old socks, one for me and one for brother. On Christmas morning, I hurried to see if Santa had been. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The socks were empty and there was nothing under the tree. I just didn’t understand why Santa didn’t stop by since we had a pretty tree and I had been as good as a boy could be throughout the year. I walked out to the front porch and sat down on the old broken down steps. I didn’t want to cry but I just couldn’t hold in the tears. Champ came and laid down beside me putting his head on my lap. I gave him a hug and said quietly to him, “You’re still the best present I could ever have”. He gave a sigh and licked by hand.

That was the way it was with Champ and me. He shared all my disappointments, dreams, and happy times. He was my CHAMP.

 

 Christmas at the Sunset Lodge

 A Family Reunion

Marry Williamson

 The letter was waiting for him when he got home from work. It was propped up on the mahogany table in the communal entrance hall against the ugly vase with the dried flower arrangement. Although it was a plain white envelope, he recognised the spidery handwriting in green ink. There was only one person who used green ink. Aunt Muriel. It was a summons. On pink note paper that smelled pf violets. A summons to come to a family reunion at her house in Guildford. The date was not convenient but he knew better than to make an excuse. A summons from Aunt Muriel was like a royal command. You declined on pain of death.

So there he was wending his way laboriously up the M25 and down the A3 and negotiating the sluggish traffic in Guildford on the coldest and wettest day of the year. It took him ages to find a parking place on Muriel’s road. He had to drive 3 times round the block and was in a foul mood as he picked his way up the 4 uneven steps to the front door of her large detached Victorian house. Before he reached the door it was flung open by his cousin Deborah. “Your late!” she said. “Good day to you too, Debs” he answered. The family was all assembled in the shabby dining room, Muriel at the head of the table. He slotted in between Uncle James, son of Muriel’s brother and Cassandra his daughter, Deborah’s sister. His parents were seated at the other end, his mother being the daughter of Muriel’s sister. Muriel never had any children. She lived in that old mausoleum of a house alone after her husband died, looked after by Rose. Rose was a relic of a bygone era. She had been with Muriel since she was a young girl, straight from school. Originally there had been quite a few servants but they had all disappeared, left, died or sacked. Only Rose remained. She did not seem to lead any sort of life of her own. Rose was there as well, seated at Muriel’s right.

Muriel looked at him accusingly. “Late as ever, Robert. We can count on you to always being late.” Everybody looked at him. His mother’s mouth twitched and his father stroked his moustache. Muriel cleared her throat and all eyes swiveled to her. “You will all be wondering why I called this family meeting”, she began. “Changes. I have been thinking about my situation for a long time and have finally decided. I am going into a home. I have reached that age. I feel I need to be looked after.” All our eyes flew to Rose who sat quietly looking at her hands on the table.

“Oh Rose is coming with me, of course. About time she retired. She also needs to be looked after. Why I have called you all here is so that you can all chose one thing you want from this house to remember me by. The rest and the house is to be sold to pay for our care. I have a buyer lined up already”. There was a stunned silence. Then a little yelp from Joan, uncle James’ wife. “Goodness, Muriel, we all can look after you here, you don't have to leave your lovely home. We could take turns           ” She trailed off under Muriel’s withering look. “That is not going to happen”, she snipped. “Besides, nothing lovely about this old dump. In any case, we have a place, Rose and I, a lovely home. We’re moving next Monday.

After the initial shock of this announcement everybody started to look round for the one thing they wanted to remember Aunt Muriel by. It soon became quite heated as James and his mother both wanted the same French clock. Cassandra and Deborah both argued that the Meissen figurine in the sitting room was always promised to them. Within 5 minutes the fur was flying. Muriel and Rose looked at one another, stood up and retired to the kitchen leaving the family to fight amongst themselves. Nobody had thought to ask them where they were going, which, by the way, was a lovely old people’s home called The Sunset Lodge’ run by a Mrs. Edith Hartnell.

 

Christmas

Marry Williamson

 

Mrs. Hartnell looked round the lounge with a satisfied smile. “What do you think, Prudence? Do you think they will like it?” Prudence nodded enthusiastically. “It is splendid. Derek has done a terrific job” Derek, the minibus driver had become the Sunset handyman and had put up the Christmas decorations and assembled and decorated the large tree. Mrs. Hartnell suspected that he was rather sweet on Prudence but Prudence had no idea and Derek was too shy to make his point. Mrs. Hartnell thought that some time soon she had to prod them a bit. Just then Alice came in the front door. She had been given a key so she could come and go without disturbing anyone. She was very proud of this key. She had come on in leaps and bounds and hardly broke anything anymore. She had become a real help to Prudence. She had also started to hanker after the little en-suite room under the eaves which was at present reserved for visiting relatives. It was never used as none of the residents ever had visiting family in need of putting up. “Oh”, Alice breathed, “this tree is beautiful. I have never seen anything as nice as this. I am so looking forward to spending Christmas here.” Mrs. Hartnell looked at her. Everything was a first fort Alice. She had never been to the seaside or been to a garden centre and she had never had a handbag until Margery bought her one. She did not have many pleasures in life. Mrs. Hartnell knew Alice was dying to leave her abusive mother and stepfather and come to Jive in the Sunset Lodge. That told her something. That a teenager actually wanted to live in an old people’s home. That was pretty sad. She made a mental note to discuss the issue with Prudence.

Meanwhile, the others had all piled into the lounge amidst squeals of surprise and excitement. Everybody loved the decorations. Even the stately Muriel, the new resident, harrumphed appreciatively. Eleanor, conscious of the havoc that George created last Christmas when he jumped into the Christmas tree, thought how lovely it was that George was now fully integrated into Sunset life and accepted and even loved by Margery whose animosity was the cause of the chaos in the first place. She was looking forward to a Christmas without upsets.

Christmas morning finally dawned. Prudence and Alice produced a lovely breakfast before turning their hands to the main lunch. There was even a Buck’s Fizz for all. Everybody was in a good mood and the most wonderful smell wafted in every time the kitchen door opened. Maud was knitting a sweater for Alice. Violet was quitting a new bedcover for Janey’s (the girl from the coffeeshop} new baby taking care to chose colours that were not going to clash with the little girl’s red hair. Eleanor was on the sofa talking to Rose who was sitting next to her, George snuggled between them. Margery was in her usual chair reading ‘the Handmaiden’s Tale’. Jack and Brian were playing backgammon at the table. Muriel was reading The Lady’. Even Norman - after they had successfully shut him up singing ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ over and over again - had settled down on the floor with a large jig-saw puzzle. The Christmas tree lights were on as it was a bit of a dark day. A load of presents were lying under the tree. Even Alice - who had gone shopping with Margery a few days ago - had bought a little present for each of the residents. All was well at the Sunset Lodge.

At about half past eleven Mrs. Hartnell appeared followed by Prudence with glasses and a large sherry bottle. “I think we will open the presents now” she said, “lunch is under control for a bit.” The announcement was met with noises of approval. Alice was agog. Mrs. Hartnell dreaded that she was going to say “I’ve never had a Christmas present” but Alice merely sat on the floor next to Norman and looked on contentedly as the presents were unwrapped one by one. She looked especially pleased as all admired and appreciated the soaps and hand creams that Margery had helped her buy for everybody. When all was done and the wrapping papers tidied up Mrs, Hartnell produced a little box from the pocket of her long cardigan. “Just one more thing” she said. “For Alice.” Alice looked up. She got up and took the box, opened it and burst into tears. She then started to hug Mrs. Hartnell and Prudence alternatively. Inside the box was a key with a little label saying: ‘for Alice, the key to the little room under the eaves’.

Even the sardonic Margery had tears in her eyes and the matter-of-fact Muriel found that she had to blow her nose all of a sudden.

 

 

A man decides to take the opportunity while his wife is away to paint the toilet seat. After he finished, he went to the kitchen to raid the fridge. The wife comes home sooner than expected, and heads to the bathroom, sits down and gets the toilet seat stuck to her rear. In a panic, she shouts to her husband to drive her to the doctor. She puts on a large overcoat to cover the stuck seat, and off they go. When they get to the doctors office, the man lifts his wifels coat to show their predicament.

The man asked, 'Doctor, have you ever seen anything like this before?'

'Well, yes.' the doctor replied. 'But never framed.'

 

 

“There’s been an accident!” they said.

“Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead!”

“Indeed,” said Mr. Jones, “and please,

Send the half that’s got my keys.”

 

Billy, in one of his nice new sashes

Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;

Now, although the room grows chilly,

I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy.”

 

Harry Graham (1874-1936)

 

 Count to Ten—January 10

By Joan Leotta

 

Usually they say

"Count to ten" to

Keep anger away.

For me, ten, January

is thetime for starts

especially for  New Year

resolutions.

While others

fret and fuss

Hoping to have

In place their lists

By January 1

I watch and wait

tor ten more days

Before curbing my calories

Starting my walks.

Ten more days of chocolate

Cookies and other treats

Ten more days of

Lounging instead of

Sweating at the gym--

Just when then others

Have decided after

Ten days of workouts

Ten days of fasting

That perhaps their

Goals are not worth lasting

I begin, slow but sure

and I will endure.

Yes,I take my time

starting resolutions.

After all, it's always good

to count to ten.

 

 

Merry Christmas from Moccasin Gap

December 2008

(Note: Moccasin Gap is the original name of Roxboro, North Carolina)

 

- My daddy used to be able to tell if it was going to rain by the way his corns hurt.

 

- He used to sit on the front porch and put his feet up on the railing, take his shoes off, rub his feet and go, “It’s gonna rain today.” It could be sunshine without a cloud in the sky, but somehow he knew it was gonna rain. And it would always rain before the day was through.

- If his arthritis was acting up it was gonna snow. If his rheumatism was acting up it was gonna be a tornado coming through. I once asked him how he knew all that stuff. He said, “It’s a gift.”

 

- I was six years old. I was wondering who gave him that gift for Christmas and how can I top it. Somehow, the electric razor I gave him didn’t mean squat. You can’t tell anything from shaving.

 

- My daddy wasn’t much for talking. I remember when I moved away to college I would call home to talk to him. He’d answer the phone and I’d go, “Hey daddy.” The first thing he’d say is, “Hang on, I’ll get your mamma.”

 

- One year for Christmas he got me an electric train set but I couldn’t play with it for two weeks. Every time I tried, he was playing with it. He loved that train set.

 

- He always got me stuff that he could enjoy too and I learned from that. That’s why this year for Christmas; I’m getting my seven year old a twelve foot pontoon boat.

 

- We used to always have a big party at our house on Christmas and all the family would come over; aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody. And everybody would bring a covered dish. I remember one year everybody brought potato salad; seventy three bowls of potato salad.

 

- To this day potato salad is my least favorite food, right behind fruit cake, which was always made by grandma. She was old and didn’t care if we liked it or not.

 

- Who invented fruit cake and why did they do it? What were they thinking? “Let’s invent a cake that no one will eat and make it a Christmas dish.”

 

- No one likes it, not even Santa Claus. Every time I’d leave out a slice with a glass of milk on Christmas Eve, the next morning the milk would be gone, but the fruit cake would still be there.

 

- You can’t get rid of the stuff. It lasts forever. Fruit cake never goes bad and even if it does, how will you know?

 

- I Always give fruit cake to people I don’t like. Those I really don’t like get two.

 

- My family’s not really big on Christmas decorations. We put up a tree and a wreath on the door and that’s about it. My neighbors are rednecks. They put up a glowing Santa Claus on top of their house with a number eight on his suit.

 

- And he’s peeing on a Ford Sleigh.

- And a cemetery wreath on the door instead of a Christmas wreath. I guess when times are tough you make do the best as you can.

 

- I remember one year when Daddy was out of work and couldn’t get me anything for Christmas, he drove around the neighborhood and picked up boxes on the side of the road where other people got their kids stuff. Then he put the boxes under our tree. We were really poor that year but I got a lot of really nice boxes.

 

- Anyway, here’s a Merry Christmas to you and your family from Moccasin Gap. That’s right, I said Merry Christmas. I don’t care who I offend.

 

- I notice the folks at Wal-Mart say, “Happy Holidays.” They don’t want to offend the Muslims.

 

- There are no Muslims in Moccasin Gap, just God fearing, unemployed country folks.

 

- And if there were any Muslims here, the rednecks would use them for target practice.

 

- If they don’t say, “Merry Christmas” then you shouldn’t shop there, bottom line. 

 

- And now, in California they’re using a slimmed down Santa Claus because the fat one sends the wrong message. They should rope off California from the rest of the country.

 

- I’ll be so glad when the big earthquake comes and sends California sliding into the ocean.

 

- I’m so glad I was born in North Carolina. We don’t have crazy people here, just folks who are special.

 

From Life in Moccasin Gap  by Brad Carver

Available on Amazon

 

 My First Kansas Hunt

E. B. Alston

 

I first went on a hunt in Kansas in the early 1980s. We had a new neighbor named Jim Allen, who had just moved to Creedmoor from Wichita.  At a party he was telling me how much fun it was to hunt ringneck pheasants in Kansas. Jim also told me that he had a friend in Wichita who was badgering him to visit and hunt pheasants. That conversation generated a plan where four of us drove to Kansas in a borrowed Dodge maxi-van carrying our gear, two bird dogs and us. The four were Jim, Cliff Turner, the hunting column reporter from the Raleigh News and Observer, Randy Guthrie and I.

Our host in Kansas was a man named Ed Short who lived in Wichita but had hunting contacts near a town in western Kansas called Quinter. Quinter is about the same size as Pollocksville, NC except it’s so flat you can see the curvature of the earth. Ed was (is) one of those men who is always right. He is never wrong because he does not plan to be wrong. Therefore Ed’s opinion always carried more weight because Ed was always right. Ed actually had a wife. She was pretty too. Dorothy Short was a very nice woman and she must have had the patience of Job because she got along with Ed. They even had children. She was a fantastic cook. I guess being always right helps a man get a pretty, good-natured wife who is also a good cook. Ed was fond of beginning a conversation with, “Now boys, this is the way we need to go about this.”

Ed had a bird dog, a Brittany spaniel named Bo. Bo was the unhappiest dog in creation. This was in spite of being the dog of the man who is always right. When Bo was let out of the kennel in the morning, he wasn’t allowed to romp around just any kind of way. Every move Bo made was orchestrated by Ed. Ed would point to a sickly looking piece of shrubbery over by the fence and say, “Potty. Bo.” Bo would trot over and throw up his leg. When Bo had finished watering the shrubbery, he would move around Ed’s back yard in exactly the manner that Ed wanted him to. After Ed thought Bo had had enough exercise, he said, “Kennel, Bo.” Then Bo trotted obediently back inside his kennel. Bo’s kennel was stout. It was so strongly built that Ed could have kept a pet rhinoceros in Bo’s kennel. Ed could probably tell a rhinoceros where to potty too.

After stuffing ourselves with Dorothy’s gourmet supper and spending the night with Ed, we got up early and stuffed ourselves with Dorothy’s breakfast. Then we loaded up Ed and Bo and Ed’s gear and took off for Quinter.

We arrived in Quinter three and a half hours later and met Ed’s friend, a Mr. Gilbert Weyand, who owned two squares (“square” is a square mile, two squares equal 1280 acres) of land, at the Q Inn Restaurant on 1204 Castle Rock Street in Quinter. Mr. Weyand brought his bachelor son, Danny. Danny was designated to be our guide for the week and our host. We were going to stay in Danny’s house on the Weyand farm. Was this a deal or what?

After introductions over lunch, we planned the week. Danny would guide us over the miles we would walk and Danny’s brother, Bill, and his sister’s husband would hunt with us when they weren’t busy doing farm chores. Mr. Weyand had made arrangements for us to hunt on his neighbors’ farms too and by the time we learned how many acres we had to hunt on, I was wondering how we’d cover all that land.

 

After lunch, we loaded back up and drove to Danny’s house in the country. No one in North Carolina can imagine without seeing it how much space is in Kansas. Danny’s nearest neighbor was two miles away. But we could see their house.

Danny’s bachelor pad was a sturdy, well-built wood frame house with a full basement. The yard was not neat because farm tools and equipment were scattered everywhere. The inside was not neat either. He had a little kitten whose bowl of milk and saucer of cat food were on the kitchen floor along with several open cans of cat food. The sink was full of used paper plates, plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups. We decided on the spot to take all of our meals at the restaurant and pay for Danny’s meals because he let us stay with him.

By the time we got settled in and exercised our bird dogs it was time for supper. Randy and I let our dogs romp. They needed a good romp after riding fourteen hundred and ninety three miles. You know, a hunting dog must have a lot of trust in their master. When they load up into a truck, they don’t know if it’s for a trip to the vet, or a ride all the way to Kansas!

oor Bo looked with obvious envy at Lucky and Heidi cruising those big fields at ninety miles an hour while he followed the choreographed exercise pattern dictated by Ed. Ed observed that our dogs seemed to be too wild for pheasant hunting. Ed was always right.

We had a nice supper at the Q Inn Restaurant. A good steak with all the trimmings was $6.00 1981 prices. Ed coached Randy and I on how to manage our bird dogs while we ate. When we got back, Randy and I cleaned Danny’s bathroom before we took a tub bath. Danny’s bathroom didn’t have a shower.

Tomorrow we would get to hunt ringneck pheasants for the first time. I had trouble going to sleep thinking about it.

 We were up bright and early. We fed the dogs and let them stretch their legs. Then we went to the Q Inn for a big breakfast. Midwestern country breakfasts are every bit as good as our North Carolina breakfasts. But they don’t serve grits. Gilbert Weyand and Bill joined us for a jovial meal. The restaurant was crowded and many of Gilbert’s friends made it a point to meet the guys from Carolina. Somebody remarked that they didn’t remember anybody else from Carolina visiting Quinter. So we were making history.

The first field in our itinerary for the first day was a quarter on Gilbert’s farm. A quarter in Kansas lingo is one fourth of a square; a hundred and sixty acres. It was a milo field. Milo is caviar to ringneck pheasants.

We turned the dogs out and offered them water. There aren’t any little branches in Kansas where hunting dogs can get a drink of water like there are in North Carolina so we took jugs of water with us. Lucky and Heidi were as excited as we were. They were too excited to be interested in drinking water.

Bo knew the drill and he drank some water. But he didn’t drink enough to suit Ed. “Drink, Bo,” Ed commanded. Bo lapped a few more times. It wasn’t enough. “Drink, Bo,” Ed commanded again. Bo lapped a few more times and looked up at Ed as if to ask, “Please let this be enough, Boss.” Ed made him drink one more time. Now we were ready to hunt.

Danny, Ed, Randy and I were to move with the dogs through the milo field towards Bill and Danny’s brother-in law who were posted at the other end of the field as “blockers.” When they were in place we released the dogs.

That precipitated a pheasant hunting disaster. Lucky and Heidi were trained to circle a field and then criss-cross it in a pattern designed to locate quail. Quail squat and hide when danger threatens. Pheasants run like heck! By the time our dogs made it around that big field they had run up flock after flock of ringnecks and chased jackrabbits. It was embarrassing. Bird dogs are not supposed to bark and chase rabbits. It’s low class. But Lucky and Heidi barked like hounds while they chased the jackrabbits.

Meanwhile Bo was diligently working his orchestrated patterns under Ed’s direction. Randy and I tried to get control of our dogs so we could salvage something from this cornucopia of ringnecks flushed out of our range but Lucky and Heidi were determined not to understand. We ought to have limited out on that drive but we ended up with two. Both shot by Ed. In addition to knowing everything and being right all the time, Ed was a fantastic wing shot.

Our dogs did a little better on the next drive. They did know that it was a no-no to flush a game bird and after we let them see and sniff the pheasants Ed shot, they started to get the idea. But they would point a ringneck a hundred yards in front of us and we’d flush five more pheasants while we walked towards them. The positive note was, if we wounded a pheasant in a way that he could still run, our pointers could chase them down and bring them back. Bo couldn’t catch a running ringneck.

The next drive was such a disaster that we put Heidi and Lucky in the dog box for the next drive. They howled in anguish the whole time. This was a bummer.

By lunchtime all of us had scored. Over lunch Randy and I decided that we had hauled Lucky and Heidi fifteen hundred miles for this and it wasn’t right to leave them in the box while we hunted. We worked out a new strategy for the next drive and we hoped that it would work.

Ed was skeptical of our new plan. Danny was just happy to be free of farm chores for the few days we visited. I’m sure he was bemused by the different opinions Randy and I had discussed with Ed. We seemed reasonable enough but Ed had proven to be right, at least he had been when it came to pheasant hunting.

Randy and I approached the afternoon hunt with trepidation. Would Lucky and Heidi meet this challenge? Both were excellent quail dogs but this was a new discipline and neither Randy nor I had any intention of forcing them into the regimentation Ed had laid out for Bo. Luckily Ed was a good enough host that he would not insist that we do things his way. That was a big blessing on this hunt.

We stopped at the local hardware store and bought a hundred feet of light rope. When we got to the hunting area, while Ed was making Bo drink enough water, Randy and I put fifty-foot leashes on our dogs. The plan was to coach our dogs to hunt in a zig-zag pattern instead of a circle.

The first drive was somewhat disorganized but by the time we had hunted the full length of that mile long soybean field, Lucky and Heidi were staying pretty much to the script. After two more fields, we took the leashes off. We had to do a lot of voice coaching but it went pretty well and our dogs pointed and held ringnecks within shooting range. On the plus side, they were ace retrievers. We didn’t lose a single ringneck that we knocked down. By the time the day ended, everybody was upbeat and Randy and I were proud of the way Lucky and Heidi had adjusted. Even Ed was complimentary. But he still thought they were too wild.

That night we had big steaks at the Q Inn while Gilbert and his friends listened to Ed regale them about how the North Carolina boys were nice fellows, safe hunters and good shots. We were looking forward to the next four days.

The second day was ordinary without any embarrassing occurrences. We had noticed that Ed removed and cleaned the trigger group of his Winchester shotgun every night. One night he asked us why we didn’t clean ours. Randy replied that we had Remingtons and Remington triggers didn’t need to be cleaned. Then Ed gave us one of his famous warnings about how he had missed a shot forty years ago because somehow a piece of trash has gotten into his trigger. So since then he had cleaned the trigger after every days hunt.

On the third day when we were coming up to the edge of a field, Bo locked up on a solid point. Ed and Randy were closest to him. The rest of us stood back to watch when the pheasant flushed. Randy and Ed were the two best shots in the group. The bird got up with a cackle and a furious flapping of his wings. Randy shot first and it was perfect. Ed’s shot connected a split second later. But the bird kept on going. Randy shot again and connected again. The bird still didn’t fall out of the sky. Ed shot again. Same thing. Bulletproof pheasants? Somebody made a comment about witnessing the miracle of a dead pheasant flying away.

Finally the pheasant died in mid-flight and fell to the ground at least two hundred yards away. Bo was sent to fetch. He had to stop to rest twice on the way back because the pheasant had fallen so far away. After everybody congratulated Bo on a fine retrieve, we remembered the other two dogs. When we turned to look back, there stood Lucky and Heidi locked up on a solid point not more than thirty feet behind us. They must have followed us and smelled the pheasant hiding and had held point the whole time Randy and Ed were shooting and Bo was retrieving.

When I walked up beside Lucky, a huge cock pheasant flushed and I knocked him down with one shot. You never know what’s going to happen in the pheasant hunting business.

The hunt ended on a positive note and everybody was friends at the end. We had a permanent invitation to hunt on the Weyand farm. Ed was jovial and started calling us “his boys.” The last night at the Q Inn was a rowdy celebration and all of the locals joined in. Early the next morning we set out for home by way of Wichita and another of Dorothy’s gourmet meals.

We continued to hunt in Quinter for most of the 1980’s. Danny Weyand got married to a woman who thought it was a fun thing to have five men to stay in their basement for a whole week while they and her husband hunted ringneck pheasants.

Randy and I returned the next year with two secret weapons. One was a huge yellow lab named Butch and the other was my Brittany spaniel named Red. With them we became a true menace to the west Kansas ringnecks.

 

 

Happy Christmas

Marry Williamson

 

Christmas starts quite early, halfway through September.

You buy the cards and then forget until halfway through December.

You write your hundred Christmas cards following our list,

But always find someone you’ve missed.

You get the tree, a real one planted firmly in a pot.

You get it home and within an hour it drops it needles on the spot.

The floor is full of them they get stuck under your feet.

There is no hovering against them you can’t keep that carpet neat.

Then Christmas day arrives with lots of bother and grief.

The turkey is in the oven but problems gather you won’t believe.

You can’t keep Colin from the punch.

He is already falling over two hours before his lunch.

The table is set according to a plan.

But somebody has put Edna, the one who always moans.

On the seat next to grandma who is also full of groans.

Then after lunch the presents, heaped under the tree.

It’s a free for all, everybody grabs ‘I believe this one’s for me’.

There you all sit amongst the debris on the floor.

With fish faces and frowns because no one got what they asked for.

You bring out the chocs and gallons of booze.

Then everybody zonks out and prepares for a snooze.

They all wake up hungover, scratchy and weary.

Tempers flare, old wrongs are remembered, eyes are bleary

Eventually they all go home, tired and replete.

Shouting their goodbyes, good times, must repeat.

Next year! Next Christmas!

 

 

 

Growing Up on a Farm

Part Three-Winter 1942

E. B. Alston

 

World War II was raging all over the world, yet, for me and children my age, things were pretty much the same. Gasoline was rationed but Daddy farmed with horses that were fueled by corn, hay, grass and oats, which we grew in abundance. Food was rationed, too, but since we grew 98% of what we ate, it didn’t bother us. The only bought items were sugar, salt, coffee, tea and flour.

One set of cousins lived in Rocky Mount and didn’t have a garden. Mama and Daddy helped them a lot during this time, loading them up with vegetables and meat when they visited.

They had a son who thought we were country hicks, which we were, and made fun of us to me, and my two-year-old brother, Paul. I got even with him a couple of years later. We had battery-powered electric fences. It pulsed voltage along the wire every few seconds. One day I saw a dog urinate on the wire. The electric pulse passed to him through the urine stream and that dog let out a howl that could have been heard a mile away. He never peed on fences after that lesson.

When I was 10, I learned that the cousin and his parents were visiting the next weekend hatched myself a plan to get even with the city slicker.. I showed four-year old Paul how to ground the wire so the electric shock would not hurt me. The cousin came and as usual made fun of us. He was 15 then, knew everything worth knowing, and thought he was already a man. I mentioned that peeing on the electric fence made me feel like I was having sex. He was skeptical but, by pre-arranged plan, Paul grounded the wire without him noticing and I peed on it. I acted like it felt real good. Then Paul removed the ground. After seeing my act, the cousin was anxious to try this new way to feel good. When the jolt of electricity hit him, he let out a scream that could have been heard in Essex. He ran into the house, holding it in his hand, and told his mother what had happened. She was a pretentious woman who thought highly of herself.

“Eugene, those ruffians of yours have hurt my precious (the boy’s name). I want you to go out there and whip them for doing that mean thing to my boy.”

This was the only time I was ever called a ruffian.

Daddy came out where we were sort of hiding behind the tobacco barn. Apparently, daddy knew the boy had been making fun of us because he was laughing when he found us. He whacked us a couple of times and told me not to ever do that to anybody again.

That aunt and that cousin never visited us again, although she died a few years later, and the uncle and his new wife visited regularly. The cousin never set foot on Daddy’s farm again.

I like all the seasons and have never wanted to live in a place where it was summer year round. Winter back then was good and bad. It was good because there was not much farm work to do. It was bad because the outhouse was not heated and, although our house had wood heaters in every room, we slept in cold bedrooms under a pile of quilts. That part wasn’t bad, but getting up in the morning was. Washing ourselves was hard, too. Of all the modern conveniences, hot running water and showers is the one I would most hate to lose. The kitchen and living room were heated only during waking hours and their fires burned out soon after we went to bed.

The other thing was room lighting with oil lamps. We had standard kerosene lamps and one or two Aladdin lamps that put out light like a 200 watt electric light bulb.

For entertainment, we played games, checkers, etc., listened to the battery-powered AM radio and read. Somebody gave me an old wind-up Victrola record player and a few country hick records and I played that when our parents were out of the room. Daddy didn’t like the songs or the music and I didn’t have money to buy any new records.

My daily routine was get up, dress, and wash my face in the kitchen by the stove. Then go outside milk a cow and bring the milk to mama in the kitchen. We had two cows. Daddy milked the other one. By then, mama had breakfast on the table. Daddy blessed the food and we ate. We never ate cereal. Breakfast was always biscuits, jelly, ham, bacon, or sausage and fried eggs. Us kids drank milk until we were 12. Then mama let us drink coffee, Luzianne, strong enough to walk on it’s own. Mama’s coffee was so strong that I thought that Army coffee was weak.

After breakfast, it was off to school for me. Daddy drove the schoolbus. In my childhood, I was supervised by a parent or a schoolteacher every waking moment. And in grades 4, 5 and 6, my mama’s cousin was my teacher. Family included cousins back then and Miss Clark was quick to report any of my misbehavior or slackness to mama the next time she saw her.

As I have said before, I liked third grade because we read good stories and studied arithmetic.

Christmas that year was wonderful! Santa brought me a brand new 26” Western Flyer bicycle. It was wartime and how daddy found it is a mystery. It was a girl’s model, which I liked because I was not tall enough to ride a boy’s bike at the time. I was the only boy in all of Hollister School who got a new bicycle for Christmas! The other boys got hand-me-downs. In addition, they were glad to get them.

Christmas was our biggest holiday. There were family events galore on both sides of my family. Ma, Grandmother Alston, had a big do, which amounted to another family reunion. Most of the gift giving was to Ma from her children. She gave us grandchildren practical gifts, like clothes, gloves, socks, etc. She gave us boys pocket knives one year. All alike.

Mama’s family’s Christmas were more festive. Us grandkids got toys! The adults traded gifts, too. Aunt Vera always had Mama and Daddy to her and my Uncle’s house during the holidays. I think mama was her favorite sister. Mama, Daddy and Uncle Jack always got together during the holidays but it was for meals only, no gifts were involved. Daddy and Uncle Jack quail hunted after dinner.

Daddy celebrated New Years by shooting a gun at midnight. He wasn’t the only one. We could hear shotguns going off from all the farms in hearing distance.

Farm work consisted of cutting barn wood used to cure tobacco, mending fences, rebuilding plows, mending horse harness and general maintenance. In February daddy made the plant bed for growing young tobacco plants until it was warm enough to reset them in the tobacco fields. The plant bed was about a quarter acre, plowed, raked smooth and seeded with those tiny tobacco seeds. Then it was covered with a thin, light transmitting canvas to protect the tiny plants from frost and harsh weather.

Daddy also used the down time to improve his workhorse teams. He had two teams, plus Silver Spot, who did double duty as his fox hunting horse. He usually traded one or two during winter in an attempt to upgrade the teams. Daddy liked quick stepping horses and finding one was hit or miss. If he missed, poor Silver Spot had to help pull a plow until he found another fast walker. Our northern neighbor, Bob Wood, liked plodding work animals and much preferred mules.

By the end of February, all of us were tired of cold weather and ready for spring.

 

Gene Alston

 

 

Say What!

 

Overreacting: A New Jersey third- grader was questioned by police after another student mistook his comment about the "brownies" served at a school party as a racist slur. Stacy dos Santos said her son was traumatized when a cop "with a gun in the holster" took him into a room and asked, "Tell me what you said/" School officials said they'd been told to report all possible crimes to police.

 

Only in Texas: The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian family accused of failing to educate their children because they believe the Rapture is imminent Laura and Michael McIntyre refused to provide a school board with proof they've been actu­ally homeschooling their nine children, saying the order violated their constitutional rights. The all-Republican court ruled in their favor.

Animal channels: A British company unveiled a large TV remote control specially designed for dogs’ paws. “We know that people can feel a little guilty about leaving their dog alone,” explained Wagg company spokesman Dan Reeves.

 

Indigestion: Competitive eating icon Joey Chestnut regained his title at the Nathan’s Famous annual hot dog eating contest in Brooklyn, chowing down a record 70 wieners in just 10 minutes. That’s about 19,600 calories.

 

Opting out: A survey from Public Policy Polling revealed that 13 percent of potential voters would prefer to have a giant meteor crash into die Earth and destroy civilization than to see either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump living in the White House.

 

Faking it: PBS broadcasters were caught using stock footage of exploding fireworks against a clear sky in their “live” coverage of the annual Washington, D.C., fireworks display, because it was raining. “It was the patriotic thing to do,” the company said.

 

Sore losers:  The runner-up in a Colombian beauty pageant abruptly snatched the tiara off the winner’s head and placed it on her own before storming off stage. “This is a caricature,” said one Colombian viewer. “And very Colombian.”

 

Passing gas: A Swedish soccer player was issued a red card for unsportsmanlike conduct for audibly farting during a game. “I had a bad stomach, so I simply let go,” said defender Adam Ljungkvist. The ref’s decision to send him off, he said, was “the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced in football.”

 

Stranger than Fiction: A Texas woman had jaw surgery and emerged with a mysterious neurological condition that left her speak­ing in a thick British accent. After Lisa Alamie underwent the operation to correct an overbite, neurologists diagnosed her with foreign accent syndrome, which has struck fewer than 100 people over the past century. "'Mum' is probably the one word I notice right away says Alamie, 33. My daugh­ter laughs at the way I say 'tamales’; I used to be able to say it like a real Hispanic girl. Now, I cannot.”

 

SweePee Rambo: A blind, 17-year-old Chinese Crest­ed Chihuahua mix—was crowned the World's Ugli­est Dog last week, beating out 15 other canines at an annual contest in Petaluma, Calif. A scrawny 4 pounds, with milky eyes, a tousled Mohawk, and bowlegs, SweePee bounced between animal shelters until owner Jason Wuriz, 44, bought her as a gift for his first wife. “I’ve had girlfriends over the years, end they were jealous of SweePee" says Wurtz, who plans to use the $1,500 prize toward the removal of a tumor from the dog's gums.

 

Beware of Snails: A driver lost control of his car on the German Autobahn when he hit a large patch of snail slime. Tooling along the superhighway, the young man encountered a slide spot left by what police say was a "whole caravan" of snails. The vehicle then careened into a side railing and flipped over. Fortunately, the driver escaped injury. Authorities say the slime eventually dried out in the sun, prevent­ing more mishaps, and that some of the snails managed to crawl away from the high­way and "save themselves in the nearby grass.”

 

Time: Everyone who need more time, after NASA announced that a “leap second” will be added to the world’s official clocks at 11:59:59 on New Year’s Eve this year, an adjustment meant to keep atomic clocks in sync with the Earth’s rotation.

 

Fish Story: A 6-year-old boy hooked a great white shark while fishing with his father off Cape Cod, Mass., fighting the 12-foot predator for an hour before cutting it free. Next time, said Blake White, he’ll try “to catch something a little bit smaller.”

 

Thinking Out of the Box: A group of inmates at a Texas jail broke out of a confinement area to help save a guard who was suffering a heart attack. “We were worried they were gonna come with guns drawn on us,” inmate Nick Kelton said.

 

They’re All the Same: Researchers at MIT revealed that virtually every story in human literature—from King Lear to The Hangover— is based on one of just six core plots “which form the building blocks of complex narratives.”

 

Automation: A toddler at a California shopping mall was knocked down and run over by a 300-pound security robot. The 16-month-old boy wasn’t badly hurt, said his mother, Tiffany Teng, but “he was crying like crazy.”

 

Chasing Phantoms, A Georgia woman became trapped in a graveyard while playing Pokemon Go, the gaming craze that requires users to track down virtual characters in real-world loca­tions. “The gate is f—g closed!” the indignant woman told a 911 dispatcher. “This is not cool.”

 

Overpaid: A British construction worker went on a spending spree after his boss put a decimal point in the wrong place and overpaid him by $50,000. Steven Burke, 43, was supposed to receive $500, but an accounting error gave him 100 times that amount, Burke quickly spent $36,000 on designer clothes, vodka, cocaine, and online gambling, and didn't respond to frantic emails from his boss asking for the cash back. When police caught up with Burke, he told them he "could not remember" the email informing him he'd received the money in error. He now faces prison time.

 

Wildlife: A former boxer got into a fistfight with a 300-pound black bear—and came away with only a few scratches. Rick Nelson, 61, was walking his dog near his Ontario home when a mama bear charged him, defending her cub. The bear hit Nelson in the chest and face, and the onetime featherweight boxer struck the beast in the teeth with a right-hand jab. Nelson followed with an uppercut to the bear's snout—"I hit it hard and I hit it perfect— and the animal retreated into the woods. "I'm really glad that bear walked away. And I'm really glad I did, too.”

 

Planning Ahead: Dallas-based investor Shannon Burchett purchased the domain name TrumpPence 2016.com for $10 in April. “I made some guesses and I guess I was right said Burchett, who is anticipating a u six-figure valuation.”

 

Creative excuses: Republican officials opposed to Donald Trump explained why they failed to show up at the OOP’s national convention. “I’ve got to mow my lawn,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said he was taking his kids to “watch some dumpster fires across the state.”

Rote Memorization: Thai computer programmer Komol Panyasophonlert, 31, became the world’s third-highest-ranked Scrabble player despite not speaking English. Panyasophonlert spends six hours a day memorizing the dictionary.

 

 Crooks with Smartphones: The Manchester, N.H., police department announced it had found one of the rarest Pokemon Go characters—Charfzard—in its headquarters, and invited a list of 500 people to catch it. All 500 are wanted fugitives.

 

Fair Play: A developer blocked from building a hotel along Malibu’s famous coast decided to turn the land into an exclusive cemetery. “It’s freaking ghoulish,” one resident complained.

 

Intolerants” Ohio’s Kent State University opened the coun­try’s first entirely gluten-free campus cafeteria, because officials didn’t want students with celiac disease to feel “singled out.”

 

Coded Messages:  Brazilian researchers revealed that Renaissance painter Michelangelo secretly included dozens of hid­den images of female reproductive organs and pagan fertility sym­bols in painting the Sistine Chapel, to show his irritation with the Catholic Church’s male-dominated culture.

 

Having a Taco: “Latinos for Trump” founder Marco Gutierrez inspired widespread hilarity by warning that if the border isn’t walled off, “you’re gonna have taco trucks on every corner.” That would require 3.2 million taco trucks, The Washington Post estimated, or about 300 times the number of Starbucks stores.

 

Men in Black: ISIS leaders banned referees from soccer matches in its Syrian stronghold because they uphold the rules of FIFA and not sharia.

 

Landmarks: A group of vandals at an Oregon state park deliberately destroyed an iconic sandstone formation known as the Duckbill, telling a witness their friend had recently broken his leg climbing on it and that it was “a safety hazard.”

Civilization as We Know It: Experts in robotics warned that by the year 2050 humans will be having sex with cyborgs— and may prefer them to other humans. “Sexbots would always be available and could never say no,” said researcher Joel Snell of Kirkwood College. “Robotic sex may become addictive.”

 

Thieves: Stole a toe marked "chemicals” from a New Zealand company car are in for a stinky surprise. Police believe the crooks wanted drug-making materi­als; what they got was 16 bottles of oil made from the anal glands of stoats- a type of weasel. Robbie van Dam, whose company sells the stoat-butt oil as lure on traps, warned that “If the thieves open a bottle of it they'll be sorry.” When some of the substance got out in van Dam's plant, “some staff chose to work from home for a couple of days.”

 

First Time: In it’s  36-year history, an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest in Key West

Fla., has been won by a man named Hemingway, Dave Hemingway, 65, beat some 140 other
entrants to claim the trophy at Sloppy Joe's Bar where the writer was a regular In the *1930s.

The North Carolinian credits his victory to his decision to wear a cream-colored woolen sweater similar to the one favored by the late author. “Even though this sweater is really hot, it was part of my strategy,” Hemingway sale. ‘It worked really well.”

 

Win-Lose: An Illinois baseball player slugged a grand slam home run that shattered the windshield of his own pickup truck. Brandon Thomas of the professional Gateway Grizzlies
was batting against the Joliet
Slammers when he launched a booming shot over the left-
field fence. The ball landed in the parking lot—squarely on his 2008 Toyota Tundra, leaving a starburst-shaped pattern of cracks on his windshield. "I had to drive home with my head hanging
out the window," Thomas said. Nevertheless, after his blast sparked a 17-6 victory, he tweeted a photo of the smashed windshield captioned "Definitely worth it.”

 

Wisdom

 

“The sovereignty of the people has become the sovereignty of the politicians.” Aristophanes

 

“I like good food, strong drink and bad women!” Willie Nelson

 

“Only lunatics have original thoughts.” Socrates

 

“I can drop my pants and walk backwards and still look better than you.” Paula Whealton

 

"Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be." Nora Ephron, quoted in TownAndCountry.com

 

"There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen." Lenin, quoted in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)

 

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." Eiie Wiesel, quoted in Qz.com

"There is no history without people, any more than there is sound without hearing?” Novelist Edna Ferber, quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Losing strengthens you. It reveals your weaknesses so you can fix them." Basketball coach Pat Summit, quoted in Bustle.com

 

"The harder I work, the luckier I get" Samuel Goldwyn, quoted in The Washington Post

 

"One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. Even from the heights of splendor,
we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home," Annie Dillard, quoted in The Weekly Standard

 

"A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and then we know how to meet him" Aesop, quoted in The Washington Post

 

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." John F. Kennedy, quoted in Altemet.org

"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts"
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, quoted in The Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun." Katharine Hepburn, quoted in Rustle.com

 

"Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable." G.K. Chesterton, quote in The Wall Street Journal

 

"Well-behaved women seldom make history." Historian Laura Thatcher Ulrich, quoted in The Washington Post

 

"Poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture makers—and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements" Frederick Douglass, quoted in The New York Times

 

"Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Des Moines Register

 

"It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." George Carlin, quoted in NJ.com

 

"In the long run, a people is known, not by its statements and statistics, but by the stories it tells."
Flannery O'Connor, quoted in CSMonitor.com

 

"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal" Emma Goldman, quoted in the Eugene, Ore., Register-Guard

 

"Only by going too far can you go far enough." Artist Francis Bacon, quoted in  TownAndCountryMag

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about" Oscar Wilde, quoted in The New York Times

 

"Friendship is mutual blackmail elevated to the level of love." Poet Robin Morgan, quoted in the International Business Times

 

"Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear. That's why it's such a powerful weapon." Nelson Mandelai, quoted in NewRamblerReview.com

 

"Give a man a reputation as an early riser, and he can sleep 'til noon." Mark Twain, quoted in NYMag.com

"A large part of altruism, even when it is perfectly honest, is grounded upon the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one." H.L. Mencken, quoted in Forbes.com

 

"To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy." Historian Will Durant,
quoted in the New York Post

 

"Work isn’t to make money; you work to justify life." Marc Chagall, quoted in Bustle.com

 

"The best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive." Coco Chanel, quoted in the
Financial Times

 

"To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman"
George Santayana, quoted in The Wall Street Journal

 

"Cocaine is God's way of saying that you're making too much money." Robin Williams, quoted in NYMag.com

 

"Truth uttered before its time is always dangerous." Mencius, quoted in The Economist's Twitter feed

 

"If God wanted us to vote, He would have given us candidates." Jay Leno, quoted in the Utica, N.Y., Observer-Dispatch

 

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in The New York Times

 

"When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him." Napoleon, quoted in TheGuardian. Com

 

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted in Entrepreneur.com

 

"Having been with both men and women, I know that women are amaz­ing and complicated and confusing and you never know where you stand and it constantly keeps you on your toes. Men are easier to figure out" Model Cara Delevingne, quoted in Vogue (U.K.)

 

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in The New York Times

 

"Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions  that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."  Milton Friedman, quoted in the Financial Times (U.K.)

 

"Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer." William S. Burroughs, quoted in Bustle.com

 

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful." Mae West, quoted in The Wall Street Journal

Photo Gallery

 

We received so many pictures for this issue it’s a shame not to show them all.

 

family christmas.jpg  heather.jpg

                                                             Heather

 

India and Ava Christmas.jpg  jazlynn and santa.jpg

 

 

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From the Kitchen of P. L. Almanza

 

Burgundy Wine Beef Stew

(Also known as beef bourguignon )

 

INGREDIENTS

3 pounds stew beef, cubed

Burgundy Wine Beef Stew.jpg1 pound farfalle bow-tie pasta

2-3 cups beef stock

3 cups red wine (cabernet)

5 carrots, chopped

4 slices bacon, cut into strips

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 onions, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon cloves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

 

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Take your cubed beef and pat them dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat and render bacon stripsuntil browned and crispy. Remove to a bowl, leaving bacon fat in the pot.

 Turn heat up to medium-high and, in batches, brown cubed beef, adding more olive oil if necessary. Once browned, transfer to bowl with baconand set aside.

 Add onions and carrots, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sauté until softened and tender. 6-8 minutes.

 Return beef (and bacon, optional)to the vegetables and sprinkle in flour. Toss to coat everything and transfer Dutch oven to the oven for 4 minutes, uncovered.

 Toss everything again and roast for another 4 minutes.

 Stir tomato paste into beef and veggies and cook for 3-5 minutes.

 Pour in liquids until meat is just submerged, then add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and cloves, and let simmer.

Cover and place in oven for 3 hours. Check at 2 hours to see how much liquid is left, adding more stock if meat is no longer covered.

Note: sauce should be reduced and thickened, and meat should be falling apart.

 

Once meat is tender, transfer Dutch oven back to stove and keep on low heat until ready to serve.

Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

 

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook farfalle according to packaging directions, or until al dente.

 

Serve beef bourguignon hot, on top of pasta, pouring extra sauce over as desired.

 cheese cake cookies.jpg

Cheesecake Cookies

 

2 boxes Blueberry Muffin mix (I use Jiffy)

4 oz. cream cheese

1 stick butter, margarine or light substitute 

1/2 C. light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

1 1/2 C. white chocolate chips

How to make it :

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time until blended. Combine muffin mix with the butter mixture and mix well. Fold in white chocolate chips. Chill for at least one hour. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 14-15 minutes or until just turning brown around the edges. Cool on cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack until completely cooled.

Christmas Cookies

 

Ingredients:

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 tsp. vanilla

3 1/2 cup flour

4 tsp. baking powder

Instructions:

Sift in dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar and beat in eggs. Add vanilla and dry ingredients.

Knead and add flour as needed to keep dough from sticking to hands. Pinch off dough, roll in your hands to form and then twirl into shape. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.

Icing:

2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

6 tsp. water

Stir together until creamy

Dip cookies into icing and sprinkle with trim. Place on wire rack with wax paper on counter to collect the dripping icing and sprinkles.

 

Christmas Cookies.jpg

 

Cinnamon Drizzle Apple Pie

 

INGREDIENTS:

Serves 10

5 Granny Smith apples

2 cans cinnamon rolls

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

 

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray pie dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Peel and cut the apples into thin slices and place in a bowl.

Add sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch to apples and stir.

Cut each cinnamon roll in half and roll out with flour until thin.

Layer the bottom of the pie dish with the flattened cinnamon rolls to create a bottom crust.

Add the apples and layer the rest of the rolls on top to create a closed crust, pinching any holes together with your fingers.

 Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes uncovered. (Time may vary)

Allow the pie to cool and drizzle with icing.

Cinnamon Drizzle Apple Pie1.jpg

COCONUT CREAM CAKE

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

Coconut Cream Cake.jpg1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup shortening

2 cups white sugar

5 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flaked coconut

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

 

FROSTING:

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons light cream

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 9 inch round cake pans.

In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the buttermilk; set aside.In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter, shortening and white sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk mixture, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup coconut, baking powder and flour. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool.

TO MAKE FROSTING:

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/2 cup butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and confectioners' sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Mix in a small amount of cream to attain the desired consistency. Stir in chopped nuts and remaining flaked coconut. Spread between layers and on top and sides of cooled cake.

 

 

 

Coconut Pound Cake

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter (you can use regular butter)
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 cup self rising flour
2 cups plain flour
1 cup milk or skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor (or flavoring of your choice)
1 cup of coconut

DO NOT PREHEAT OVEN.
All of the ingredients should be room temperature.
Cream butter, sugar, and coconut together.
Mix flours in another bowl, and add a little of the flour, then an egg, don't over mix after each egg. Leave the mixer on low and alternate with the last of the flour going in after the last egg. Add the milk slowly while mixing, add the flavor. Mix thoroughly. Let the mixture rest for 4 minutes. Then stir with a spoon.

Pour evenly into a tube pan that has been greased. You can use cooking spray but make sure that you spray evenly! Then shake in powdered sugar OR flour. You can use flour, but the powdered sugar leaves a sweet taste on the outside of the cake instead of a flour taste!

Put in COLD oven on center rack, set oven to 325 for 90 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Then, just for decoration and added sweetness, sprinke a little powdered sugar mixed with coconut flakes over hot cake let rest and enjoy!

 

coconut cake.jpg

 

Easy No-Bake Drop Cookies

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 (16 oz.) vanilla flavored almond bark, vanilla candy melts or chips

1 (15 oz.) jar creamy peanut butter

2 cups rice krispies cereal

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (frozen)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place vanilla almond bark in a large, microwaveable bowl and microwave in 20-second  increments, stirring in between, until melted.

Once melted, stir creamy peanut butter into vanilla candy.

Place rice krispies in a large bowl and pour peanut butter vanilla mixture over them.  Stir until everything is evenly coated, then let sit for 10-15 minutes, or until cooled.

Once almost to room temperature, stir in marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.

Using a small ice cream scoop* or tablespoon, scoop cookies and place them on  parchment-lined baking sheets.

Spray scoop with nonstick cooking spray

Let set until firm. Enjoy!

 

NO BAKE DROP COOKIES-5.jpg

 

NO BAKE DROP COOKIES-1.jpg

  

RED VELVET CHEESECAKE CAKE

 

INGREDIENTS: CHEESECAKE:

 

Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated white sugar

pinch of salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

RED VELVET CAKE:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup (two 1-ounce bottles) red food coloring

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons white vinegar

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted lightly to remove any lumps

Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the cheesecake layer:  It's best to make the cheesecake layer one day ahead.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  

 

Place a large roasting pan on the lower third rack of the oven. Place a kettle of water on the stove to boil. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Wrap a double layer of foil around the bottom and up the sides of the pan (you want to seal it so the water from the water bath doesn't seep into the pan). In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the cream cheese- blend until it is nice and smooth and creamy. Mix in sugar and salt and blend for 2 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, blending after each addition. Finally, mix in sour cream, whipping cream and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the pan into the roasting pan in the pre-heated oven. Carefully pour the hot water from your kettle into the roasting pan (it will fill the pan surrounding the cheesecake). Pour enough water so that there is about an inch of water coming up the foil along the sides of the cheesecake pan. Bake the cheesecake for 45 minutes. It should be set to the touch and not jiggly. Remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. When it has cooled, place the pan into the freezer and let the cheesecake freeze completely. This can be done in several hours- or overnight.

Prepare the cake layers:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round metal baking pans (or spray with nonstick baking spray with flour). In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar to the flour mixture. Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans, then invert cakes onto a rack to cool completely.

 Prepare the frosting:

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla until it is smooth and creamy (do not overbeat).

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer into the center of a cake plate or platter. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, take off the sides of the pan, and slide a knife under the parchment to remove the cheesecake from the pan. Peel off the parchment. Measure your cheesecake layer against the cake layers. If the cheesecake layer turns out to be a slightly larger round than your cake, move it to a cutting board and gently shave off some of the exterior of the cheesecake to get it to the same size as your cake layers. Place the cheesecake layer on top of the first cake layer. Place the 2nd cake layer on top of the cheesecake.

 Frost the cake: Apply a crumb coat layer to the cake- use a long, thin spatula to cover the cake completely with a thin and even layer of frosting. Be sure to wipe off your spatula each time you are about to dip it back into the bowl to get more frosting (this way you won't be transferring any red crumbs into the bowl of frosting). Don't worry at this point about the crumbs being visible in the frosting on the cake. When your cake has a thin layer of frosting all over it, place it into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to "set" the frosting. Once the first layer of frosting is set, apply the 2nd layer. Start by adding a large scoop of frosting onto the top of the cake. Use a long, thin spatula to spread the frosting evenly across the top and then spread it down the sides of the cake too. Because you applied a crumb-coat layer, you shouldn't have any red crumbs floating around in the final frosting layer. Decorate, as desired. I recommend white chocolate shavings (see *Tips below). Keep this cake refrigerated.

 TIPS:

For making white chocolate shavings: Purchase a hunk of white chocolate. Microwave the chocolate to soften it up slightly (15 to 30 seconds, depending on the size). Use a potato peeler to run down the side of the chocolate to create shards/shaves/curls of white chocolate. I like to shave it onto a paper plater and then just use the plate to slide the chocolate onto the top of the cake.

 If you are serving this cake at a party, it's perfectly okay to leave the cake at room temperature for an hour or so while serving. Otherwise, keep it in the refrigerator. It also freezes perfectly! I made my cake one day and then just placed it as-is in the freezer and pulled it out the next day. It thaws quickly.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake.jpg

  vxz

 

Sugar Pie Buttermilk Surprise   

                                                                                                       

Ingredients

Original recipe makes 1 - 9 inch pie 

2 cups white sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 eggs

2/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In a large bowl, combine sugar and flour. Beat in the eggs and buttermilk until blended. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Pour filling into the pie crust.

Bake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes, or until filling is set. (Depends on your oven)

 

sugar pie1.jpg

 

Tasty Chelsea Buns

 

Ingredients:

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp instant yeast

1/2 tsp salt (always optional, I never use it)

1 tbsp cold butter, diced

1/2 cup warm milk

1 large egg, lightly beaten (I use two egg whites)

2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

3/4 cup raisins, golden raisins, and/or dried currants

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 cup honey, to glaze

9 inch square cake pan

 

Instructions

Mix the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt* together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips. Make a well in the center. Pour in the milk and egg and mix to form a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured work surface for 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place about 1 hour, until doubled.

Lightly butter the cake pan. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle about 12 × 9 inches.

To make the filling, brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter, leaving a 1 inch border along the long sides. Mix the raisins, brown sugar, and spice together and sprinkle over the butter. Starting at a long side, roll up the dough and pinch the seam closed. Slice the dough into 9 equal pieces. Arrange the slices in the pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let stand about 30 minutes, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack. Brush the buns with the honey. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and serve warm.

Notes:

Prepare ahead: The buns can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.

Freezing Information: Freeze baked buns up to 1 month.

 

 

chelsea buns.jpg

 

Question: “What do you call a fly with no wings?”

Answer: “A walk.”

 For icy door steps in freezing temperatures: Mix warm water with Dawn dishwashing liquid. Pour it on the steps. They won’t refreeze.

 

HSLS cover.jpgHammer Spade and the Long Shooter

 

Part Four

Dave Quigley

 

Chapters Twenty-Six-Twenty-Nine

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

Cardoni stayed inside the compound for the next two days. Dave and Roscoe had nothing much to do except look out the window facing the compound. They couldn’t ride around and sightsee because they might be away at a critical time, plus there was a chance they might be noticed. Staying in the apartment was their best bet.

“What’s the longest you’ve spent on a stakeout?” Roscoe asked.

“About ten days. But it was not a stakeout like this. Hammer and I were behind enemy lines in a sniper position.”

“Maggie and I spent seven weeks in a place like this a couple of years ago.”

“I’m sure Margot was better company than I am.”

“Not really. Maggie is all business when she’s on a job.”

“That’s why she’s so good at it. I wish I could meet her.”

“In a social setting Maggie can be quite charming, but on assignment she’s like a Marine drill sergeant.”

“What did you do for seven weeks?”

“Talk mostly. Actually, she talked and I listened.”

“What did she talk about?”

“History and philosophy mostly. She’s an amateur astronomer too. She’s never without something to talk about.”

“No politics?”

“She despises politics and politicians. She’s a monarchist. She makes Edward Gibbon seem like a republican apologist.”

“What part of her discussions did you find most interesting?”

“She had religion on her mind because I learned more than I ever wanted to know about world religions during those seven long weeks.”

“So she’s studied them all?”

“All that have been written about.”

“Is she religious?”

“She’s very religious.”

That statement surprised Dave. “Which religion?”

“Maggie is a devout Catholic.”

“That’s surprising for a woman so scientifically and historically sophisticated.”

“Maggie knows stuff about the Catholic Church and its beliefs that most Catholic theologians don’t know.”

“How does she square it all?”

“In a nutshell, she said there were no valid conflicts between science and the faith because science is about facts as we know them and religion is about values. She said the Holy Ghost teaches us how to get to Heaven, not about how Heaven works.”

“That makes sense to me.”

“Yeah, it did to me too. She told me the modern world has too many prophets and not enough heroes.”

Dave laughed. “She has got that figured out. These days anybody with a mouth and a microphone is some kind of ten cent prophet. Heroes are hard to find.”

Roscoe agreed. “You got to work to be a hero.”

Their reverie was interrupted when the helicopter rose to make its two circular passes around the area.

“We had better load up,” Roscoe said.

 

 

They drove up the north slope of the mountain and put out two sets of hot HeatPacks on the southern side that faced Cardoni’s compound. One was close to the first location with the same kind of picnic trash. The second decoy site was three hundred yards away under some brush. These HeatPacks were covered by two arctic weight sleeping bags. Then they drove back to the apartment and waited.

 

 

 Medea was cooking dinner when Cardoni returned. The reaction was exactly the same as before, but they didn’t go to the spot covered by the sleeping bags.

Roscoe slapped Dave on the back. “Buddy, we have got us a plan!”

 

▼▲▼▲▼

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

Dave spent the next few hours making sure the rifle was ready for the shot for which it was designed and built. He made sure the scope was mounted tight, re-torqued the mounting screws and wiped the bore clean of any oil or dust. Then he lay on the floor and snapped the trigger so many times it got on Roscoe’s nerves.

“You got a clean barrel zero?” Roscoe asked.

“Yeah.”

“Suppose you shoot twice?”

“I’ve got a fouled bore zero too.”

“At what ranges?”

“From two hundred out to a thousand yards.”

“What about the wind?”

“The scope’s a 24-power. I can see wind mirage in the scope.”

“You spent a lot of time getting ready for this shot, didn’t you?”

“A whole week at Quantico.”

“I met Carlos Hathcock when I was there at the Interservice Matches in the early seventies.”

“I’d sure like to have met him.”

“It was like talking to a god. He was a nice, quiet spoken man.”

“Did he shoot?”

“Naw, he was pretty much a cripple by then.”

Their reverie was interrupted by the helicopter.

“Looks like today is your chance for glory,” Roscoe said solemnly.

“We better load up.” Dave replied.

 

 

Dave was in place an hour and a half later. He had the rifle, his GPS, cell phone, a rangefinder and ammunition. Roscoe said Dave would have to leave Honduras after this was over.

“Why?” Dave asked.

“If you bring this off,” he told Dave, “every policeman and hoodlum in Olancho is gonna be out looking for you.”

“Yeah, I guess they will.”

“You are about to kill the source of two-thirds of their income. We’ll be lucky to get out. They say Olancho is wide to enter, but narrow to leave.”

“I guess you’ve got a plan.”

“Yeah, I do. It’s all set. If we’re lucky, in a week or so you’ll be back with your honey.”

“Your paper had eleven names on it.”

“Dave, I’m telling you, if you nail Philippe, you have got to get out of Honduras.”

Dave grunted.

“I’ll be watching from the window. When you shoot, I’ll leave and park the Bronco where it is now. I’ll hide in the bushes and wait for you. If somebody finds it and gets suspicious, they’ll be waiting for you. If you see anybody waiting when you get there, walk up and distract them so I can sneak up on them from behind. Then we’ll ditch the Bronco somewhere and hike the rest of the way to the coast.”

“I’m in your hands.”

Roscoe slapped Dave on the shoulder. “Shoot straight, Dave.”

“I’ll try.”

After Roscoe left, Dave got the range to several landmarks. He adjusted the scope for the place the limousine usually parked when Cardoni returned. He laid out four shiny cartridges. Then he waited.

At three-thirty p.m., a car drove into the compound. A teenage girl opened the back door and stood up, looking around in awe at the surroundings. Dave looked at her through the scope. She was about fourteen. She was pretty the way teenage girls are, young, fresh-faced and innocent. Her long, straight black hair made him think she was an Indian girl. She was barefoot and her dress was well worn. Dave doubted if she had had a bath in a week. A woman came out, took the girl by the hand and led her inside.

 

 

An hour before dark the helicopter started up. Dave got under the two sleeping bags while the helicopter made its two circles and landed back on the pad. Dave was relieved that there was no excitement below with men shouting and pointing in his direction. He flipped out the bipod on the rifle and lay on the sleeping bags while he lined up toward the place Cardoni’s limousine usually parked. He loaded the magazine.

The woman brought the girl out and they stood a few feet from the place Dave had targeted. Dave looked at the girl. She was clean, wearing a short, low cut cocktail dress and lots of cheap costume jewelry. Her face had been heavily made up with eyeliner, mascara, bright red lipstick and lots of rouge. She looked grotesque. She was wearing spike heels and moved about clumsily.

The limousine entered the compound and parked in its accustomed spot. A servant was waiting to open the back door.

Dave chambered a round and clicked the safety off.

When the servant opened the car door, Cardoni stepped out, looked toward the girl and smiled a lecherous smile.

Cardoni was not a handsome man. He was thin and bony, maybe five-ten, with a beak nose and heavy eyebrows. He was wearing a tight, bright red silk shirt, beltless shiny black trousers and white Italian shoes. He stood by the open car door and motioned for the girl to come to him. She moved toward him shyly, awkward in high heels and hesitant to approach a stranger.

The crosshairs of the riflescope were lined up on Cardoni’s heart. Dave touched the Jewell trigger. The Tubb Speedlock firing pin sprang forward and punched a small dimple in the RWS primer in the Winchester cartridge case. Fire erupted from the primer into a charge of Varget rifle powder. The burning powder gases expanded to drive a Sierra 175 grain Matchking bullet down the polished bore of the Krieger barrel.

The bullet exited the barrel at 2,580 feet per second and rose in flight, its streamlined shape passing effortlessly through the humid tropical air. Somewhere between 275 and 300 yards, it began its graceful downward arc, with the front tip angled slightly upward, headed straight at the blackguard’s heart.

Ninety-two hundredths of a second after Dave touched the trigger, moving at 1,090 miles per hour, the bullet tip touched Cardoni’s silk shirt, parted the fibers, passed through his skin and struck a rib bone, shattered the bone and sent pieces of bone into his heart and lungs. Since the bullet didn’t strike the bone straight in, it turned and entered his heart sideways, tearing through muscle and lung tissue. It continued through his body, knocking a softball size hole through his back. Blood, tissue and bone fragments exploded inside the plush back seat of the car. The bullet entered the seat upholstery through a seam and came to rest between the car body and the armor plate on the bottom of the car.

The force of the bullet’s impact knocked Cardoni back against the car. Then he fell face first onto the concrete. His body twitched a few times and he lay still.

Dave chambered another round in case the first one missed. When he saw Cardoni down, he clicked the safety on and surveyed the scene below as the stunned onlookers became aware of what had happened. By then the girl was sitting alone on the ground, screaming in terror. The quad-fifty came to life and started doing methodical sweeps of the mountain. It ran out of ammunition long before it got up to where Dave lay hidden.

Somebody finally grabbed the girl and she was taken inside the house.

The helicopter started up. Dave covered himself with the sleeping bags. Men with guns came from every nook and cranny and began a disorganized search of the mountain. The closest any came to Dave was two hundred yards.

At one a.m. they went back down the mountain. By then the police had arrived and moved the body inside. They organized a dragnet of the area and soon every vehicle except Cardoni’s limousine had left the compound.

Dave waited another hour before he crawled from his hiding place and started toward the north side of the mountain. 

▼▲▼▲▼

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

 When Dave arrived at the top of the mountain, he turned to look back. Vehicles were moving in every direction and it was obvious that they had no plan. Keystone Cops in action, he thought. He had another mile to hike down rugged mountain terrain.

By the time Dave approached the Bronco, the sky had begun to brighten in the east. The Bronco was sitting in a small shaded forest clearing. Dave stopped before he entered the clearing and screwed the silencer on the barrel of the Llama pistol.

He entered the clearing with his hand on the grip of the pistol in his pocket. When he opened the back of the Bronco to put his rifle in it, two men in police uniforms marched toward him from behind some bushes. One had a police radio in his hand. They motioned for Dave to back away from the Bronco. They approached Dave as if to frisk him. When they were two steps away, Dave raised the Llama and shot the man with the radio between the eyes. Then he shot the second policeman before he could raise his revolver.

Roscoe emerged from his hiding place.

“You sure handled them quick,” he observed.

“I didn’t have time to wait for you. He was getting ready to key the mike on the radio.”

“They’ve already called the Bronco in.”

“So they know about you?”

“Naw. It’s registered to a dead man with a fictitious address.”

“What are we going to do now?”

“Their vehicle is down by the road. I think we should put them in the Bronco and push it into the river. Then we can take their jackets and caps and drive their car to Durango. We can hike the rest of the way from there.”

Dave followed Roscoe in the police vehicle to an isolated spot on the Talgua River where they let the Bronco roll down the steep bank into the water. After it sank, Roscoe took over and they got onto the Carretera Principal Highway and drove east toward Durango.

“Do you reckon they’ll ever find the Bronco?” Dave asked.

“I doubt it. If they do, it’ll be sitting on top of more vehicles with bodies in them. They do that a lot around here. That’s one of Maggie’s favorite ways to dispose of a body. There’ll be so many bodies they won’t know where to start.”

“Does anybody in Honduras die of old age?”

Roscoe laughed. “A few.”

“How far is Durango?”

“About seventy miles.”

“So we’ll be there before dark.”

“Yeah.”

“How long a hike?”

“Five or six miles.”

“I’m hungry,” Dave said.

“Grab a couple of nutrition bars from the sack.”

“That’s all you brought for us to eat?”

“It’s just a day, Dave.”

“I’ve been up all night, Roscoe.”

“You’ll dine with the Royal Navy tonight.”

“Did you settle up with Medea?”

“Yeah. I paid her good too.”

“She deserved it.”

“She could’ve turned us in and she didn’t. I made sure she got more than they would have paid her for our hides.”

“Did she ever figure out who we were?”

“Naw. She still thought we were Federalistas.”

“I hope she don’t get hurt because of this.”

“Me too,” Roscoe agreed.

“I’m surprised Clover let me leave so soon.”

“My boss said that 0031 told him if you got Cardoni, that you deserved to go home.”

“Are you sure I’m that hot?”

“Buddy, every police officer and hoodlum in the country is looking for you. I bet you’ve got a bigger price on your head now than Maggie has on hers.”

“But they don’t know who I am.”

Roscoe laughed. “They’re after Big Gringo Dave that beats up peasants in restaurant parking lots.”

“Very funny. What’s the drill when we get to Durango?”

“We’ll ditch this in a swamp and hike to the beach. They’re coming for you at 03:00.”

“I’ve been up for 36 hours.”

“Take a nap. I’ll wake you when we get to Durango.”

 

 

When Dave woke up, they were driving on a dirt road through a wooded area.

“Are we there yet?” Dave asked.

“I found this little road to Santa Rosa Aguan. It takes us about two miles from the pickup.”

“What about the vehicle?”

“I’ll park it somewhere. They’ll pick me up in Iena tomorrow.”

“How far is that?”

“Ten miles.”

“So, after they pick me up, you’re gonna hike another three hours.”

“I’ll hole up somewhere and get a little shuteye after I get you loaded.”

“I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more police.”

“They’re all at Catacamas looking for you.”

“Surely they think we have left by now.”

“I’ve been listening on the radio. They’re combing the mountain, looking for the Bronco where the two men you killed told them it was.”

“So it was good that I didn’t let them call on the radio.”

“You saved our hides, buddy. That quick thinking shot saved our lives. The Catrachos would have cooked our goose by now.”

 

 

It was dusk when Roscoe drove the police vehicle behind a thicket. They got out and found a clearing. They removed the police shirts and hid them under some brush. Then they ate the rest of the nutrition bars and drank the last of the water.

“You ready for a little hike?” Roscoe asked.

“Yeah,” Dave grunted. “Let’s get it over with.”

Dave shouldered the rifle and they struck off in the moonlight, down a game trail in a northeast direction.

“Anything dangerous in this jungle?” Dave asked.

“Barba amarillas and panthers.”

“What’s a barba amarilla?”

“A fer-de-lance snake.”

“That’s all?” Dave said sarcastically.

“Wild dogs, too. They’re worse than the snakes and panthers ‘cause there’s more of them.”

Dave grunted an unintelligible reply.

 

 

It was nearly midnight when they arrived at a deserted, wide, white sandy beach. They were all alone on a beach so far from civilization that they couldn’t see a light of any kind in any direction.

“It’s been good working with you, Roscoe.”

“Same here, Dave. That was one heck of a shot.”

“Thanks.”

“What did you think when you saw’im face down on the concrete?”

“Just that I hit him exactly where I aimed.”

“No feeling of success? Or remorse?”

“Just that I rid the world of a fiend who preyed on girls.”

“You got ice water in your veins, Dave. I guess that’s why you got the big double-o and I don’t.”

“I saw what they did to that girl. I’d have more feeling for a rat I drove over with a car.”

They stopped talking and listened to the surf and the wind. Three o’clock came and about the time Dave started to say something, a rubber dingy rode in on a small wave. Four armed men came to them.

“5470?” one asked.

“Yeah,” Roscoe replied.

“Who’s he?” he asked and pointed to Dave.

“0062.”

“Follow me, Sir,” the man said to Dave.

“Good luck, Roscoe,” Dave said.

“Same to you, Dave.” Roscoe grinned. “You’re almost as good as Maggie.”

Dave laughed. “I guess it’s because I can’t pole dance?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

Dave waded out to the dingy, got in and sat down. When he looked back at the beach, Roscoe was gone. The only evidence that anybody had been there were a few footprints that would be washed away with the next tide.

The boatswain started the outboard motor and steered east for a couple of miles until Dave saw the conning tower of a submarine. Strong hands took his rifle and pulled him onto the deck. He was led up the ladder of the conning tower and down into the submarine where he was met by a sailor dressed in whites who asked Dave to follow him. Dave had never been inside a submarine. The sailor escorted Dave to a room with a table and chairs and bade him to make himself comfortable while the sub got underway.

He listened to the drill that he had heard in so many movies with the bells and commands on the speaker and the depth count as the submarine submerged. For some odd reason, Dave wondered where Jack was at that moment.

Twenty minutes later, an officer entered the room.

“Mr. Quigley?”

“That’s me,” Dave replied.

He extended his hand. “I’m the skipper of this tub. Allow me to be the first British officer to shake the hand of the man who sent Philippe Cardoni to his reward.”

Dave shook his hand. “Thanks.”

“What can we do for you, Sir?”

“I haven’t slept for over forty hours. I haven’t had anything to eat except nutrition bars. I’d like a steak, a shower and a bed with clean sheets.”

 

Next Issue: Part Four- Hammer Spade

 

 

Happy Christmas

Marry Williamson

 

Christmas starts quite early, halfway through September.

You buy the cards and then forget until halfway through December.

You write your hundred Christmas cards following our list,

But always find someone you’ve missed.

You get the tree, a real one planted firmly in a pot.

You get it home and within an hour it drops it needles on the spot.

The floor is full of them they get stuck under your feet.

There is no hovering against them you can’t keep that carpet neat.

Then Christmas day arrives with lots of bother and grief.

The turkey is in the oven but problems gather you won’t believe.

You can’t keep Colin from the punch.

He is already falling over two hours before his lunch.

The table is set according to a plan.

But somebody has put Edna, the one who always moans.

On the seat next to grandma who is also full of groans.

Then after lunch the presents, heaped under the tree.

It’s a free for all, everybody grabs ‘I believe this one’s for me’.

There you all sit amongst the debris on the floor.

With fish faces and frowns because no one got what they asked for.

You bring out the chocs and gallons of booze.

Then everybody zonks out and prepares for a snooze.

They all wake up hungover, scratchy and weary.

Tempers flare, old wrongs are remembered, eyes are bleary

Eventually they all go home, tired and replete.

Shouting their goodbyes, good times, must repeat.

Next year! Next Christmas!

 

 


 

Louise, the Christmas Doll

Submitted by Tom Sturdevant

 

This is an article submitted to a Louisville KY Newspaper contest to find out who had the wildest Christmas dinners. It won first prize. We don’t know the name of the author.

 

As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them.  What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.  

One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown. If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go, you'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, “What does this do?” “You're kidding me!” “Who would buy that?”

Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section.  I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.  Finding what I wanted was difficult. 'Love Dolls' come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry.

I settled for 'Lovable Louise.' She was at the bottom of the price scale. To call Louise a 'doll' took a huge leap of imagination.  On Christmas Eve, and with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life.  

My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.  

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy, but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.   We all agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

 My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. “What the hell is that?” she asked.   

My brother quickly explained, “It's a doll.”

“Who would play with something like that?” Granny snapped.  

I kept my mouth shut.  

“Where are her clothes”' Granny continued.

“Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran,” Jay said, to steer her into the dining room.

 But Granny was relentless. “Why doesn't she have any teeth?”

 Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, “Hang on Granny, hang on!”

My grandfather was a delightful old man with poor eyesight.

He sidled up to me and said, “Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?”

I told him she was Jay's friend.  A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at Caution-home.

 The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the mantel, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.   My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants.  Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.  

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh.  Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.  I can't wait until next Christmas.

 

 

My Pittsburgh Roots Show at Groundhog Day

By Joan Leotta

 

If you come from Pittsburgh

Or blessed Punxatawney

Home of our hallowed Phil,

February two is the day

to throw away the science

and rely on marching up a hill

 

in the hours before the dawn

we huddle and we cuddle

We  know that folklore

Rules the ways

So we're set to plan our next

Six weeks of days and more

 

According to the whim of

Sun and sleepy rodent—

All these have their ways.

Science knows not everything,

Winter, spring the sun the sky;

Phil holds the secret of the days.

 

 

 

Question: Why do cows have bells?

Answer: Because their horns do not work.

 

Question: What happens to composers when they die?

Answer: They decompose.

 

 

Arctic Yowl

By

Michael Warren

 

More forlorn than a wolf wailing,

Over the frozen barrow,

I weep, deep within my soul,

For cuts that run to my marrow.

But I am good,

And I am true,

And I am noble,

And my love was pure—and failing.

My scars are a secret wisdom,

Glinting spirit in myriad spectra.

When they stand over me,

My ashes that were freedom,

The lovers and the cutters recalling attack,

Will utter mantra.

He was good,

And he was true,

He was noble,

And his love was pure,

Delivering us from the lonely arctic pack,

Becoming poems our yowls would,

If we had not cut him when we could.

 

 Take Your Sons Hunting

E. B. Alston

 

Rocky Gap, Virginia, 1976

 

I have two sons. When they were growing up I made it a point to introduce them to firearms and take them hunting. My purpose in introducing them to firearms was to first make them aware how dangerous guns are. I did this for my daughter too. I guess that part worked out well because today they respect guns without being overly fascinated with them. It is curiosity and fascination about guns that gets children unfamiliar with them in trouble.

Enthusiasm for hunting sports didn’t carry into adulthood for my children. My daughter wasn’t interested and the boys thought of hunting as more of a fun outdoor hike in the woods than a quest for wild game.

But still, we had a lot of fun while they were growing up.

When we lived in Southwest Virginia we deer hunted in the national forests. The Appalachian area has tens of thousands of acres available to hunt in. They are wild, undeveloped acres where you don’t have to worry about houses being nearby.

One cold December Saturday Don Meadows and I took our sons deer hunting in Jefferson National Forest in Giles County. We hunted on Wolf Mountain along Nobusiness Creek. The plan was to arrive at the hunt area before daylight, still hunt until eight a.m. and meet back at the truck to fix a campfire breakfast.

Don was a gourmet campfire cook and he brought biscuits. You’ll note that actually bagging a deer would have spoiled breakfast big time. Luckily nobody did, although my son, Mike and Don’s son, Kevin, saw a couple of does and a spike buck.

Breakfast was a huge success with the boys. We had biscuits, eggs, sausage, fatback and jelly, plus perked coffee. The smell of frying fatback and perking coffee in the open air is one of the true pleasures of outdoor life. The boys had never seen uncooked fatback and said, “Eyuuu, I’m not eating any of THAT!” when I was slicing it. By the time it was ready, they changed their minds and ate it all. Don and I didn’t get a single piece.

Appetites are big on twenty-two degree outdoor mornings and every morsel was eaten with gusto. The five of us ate a dozen eggs. I know I ate only two and I doubt if Don ate more than that. That left eight eggs to be consumed by two teenagers and one eleven year-old boy. Don’t forget a half-pound of fatback, a dozen buttered biscuits, a pound of sausage plus two thirds of a jar of blackberry jam. 

We had built a rather big campfire due to the intense cold. After breakfast and cleaning up we were sitting around the fire digesting our food when we heard loud popping sounds from the fire, like a small firecracker might have sounded. Mike and Kevin stirred among the ashes and while they were doing it, a small limestone rock popped and split apart. Our theory was the wet limestone rocks were being split by steam caused by the heat from the campfire. So until the fire died out, the boys spent their time looking for small limestone rocks to throw into the campfire. The popping continued for quite a while.

Boyhood fun comes from odd circumstances.

It was ten-thirty before we split up to hunt again. Mike and Kevin wanted to hunt together. Don and I agreed but we made sure they hunted in an area we were familiar with and they were admonished about safety rules and it was a bucks only hunt. They were both mature enough to follow instructions.

Don had identified a special spot where he wanted to hunt. So Carl and I made our way up the ridge toward a nice little cove where we could watch and wait for game.

Carl was hungry by noon so we ate our sandwiches.

We were on the south side of the mountain and the sun came out in mid-afternoon. Although it was still below freezing on the mountain, Carl and I got downright comfy in our hunting clothes. We took a nice nap.

After waking up, Carl asked if he could play in a hole full of leaves a hundred feet down the mountain. A huge oak tree that blew over during a storm had caused the hole. We could see the tree with a fifteen-foot root ball about halfway down the mountain. That must have been a heck of a wind. Soon Carl was among the leaves whooping and hollering. No danger of getting a deer around there.

After this had been going on a few minutes, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a hunter stalking through the woods in hope of surprising a deer. He moved by Carl while he was making all of that racket one careful step at a time. He didn’t look at Carl or me the whole time he was passing by. It must have taken him fifteen minutes to go out of our sight. There wasn’t a deer in a mile of Carl and the racket he was making. The only way Carl could have made more noise was to shoot his gun. Yet that hunter moved by as if a deer might have been a foot away. It was a ridiculous scene.

All fun has to end sometime and about four-thirty I told Carl it was time to go. We got back to the truck about dark. There was no chance that Carl and I would get lost up on that big mountain. If we hadn’t returned and search parties had to be sent looking for us all they had to do was follow the trail of Carl’s candy wrappers.

Nobody had seen a deer. Everybody had a glorious time. It was, and still is, a day to remember.

 

 

 

The Christmas Cow

By Winnie D. Wyatt

 

            Eleven-year-old Rusty gave curt answers to the endless questions his five-year-old brother Rob asked as they hurried toward the church to see Blackie in the live Nativity pageant. Rusty had not been consulted before his pet cow had been hauled to the church yard that afternoon.

            “Will they have camels, Rusty?”

            “No, silly!”

            “Why won’t they have camels?”

            “Just where would they get camels?”

            “But the wise men rode on camels!”

            “These aren’t really wise men, igmo! Just Pete and Andy and Steve wearing their daddies’ bathrobes.”

            “Oh!” Rob’s voice was breathless as he half ran to keep up. “They will have a donkey though, won’t they?”

            “No, Mr. Zigler tried to get one; but nobody in the whole town had a donkey.”

            “Well, how will Mary get to the stable?”

            “Sally Tibbit’s mother will bring her to the church in her car. How else?”

            “Won’t there by any animals by the stable except Blackie?”

            “Just Blackie and Tom Barnes’ old pet goat!”

            “Just Blackie and Tom Barnes’ old pet goat?” Rob puffed.

            “Yep! A cow and a goat, and some bunchy old bathrobes. Some show!”

            “Joseph’s going to have a long beard,” Rob consoled. “I saw Mrs. Zigler trying it on Sam after Sunday school.

 

            The congregation was assembled in a jagged semi-circle on the church lawn as white-sheathed angels hovered on their scaffolds behind an open-front stable. Kneeling wise men in loose-fitting robes solemnly held out their “costly gifts” in gold-sprayed Kleenex boxes. Joseph, attired in a red corduroy bathrobe, scratched the back of his knee with a blue-sneakered foot while Mary, in a pink satin negligee, adjusted the spotlight hallow in the straw-filled manger. Both Blackie and the goat were peacefully chewing their cuds.

            Rusty edged his way through the crowd until he was alongside Blackie. On his left Mr. Zigler blew gently on his pitch pipe and the angels’ treble voices lifted toward the star-speckled sky: “G-l-o-r-y to God in the Highest…”

           

            At just that point Tom Barnes’ goat stretched out her inquisitive nose and sniffed Blackie’s ear. Blackie stopped chewing her cud and stood perfectly still for a moment. Then lowering her tethered head, she butted the nosey goat right into the arms of the bearded, red-robed Joseph. Mary let out a shriek and ran into the crowd, her negligee flowing wildly; and the three wise men tangled in their over-sized robes as they retreated on hands and knees.

            Now completely disturbed, the cow pawed the ground and strained on her tether until Rusty appeared on the Nativity scene and began scratching her behind the ears.

            Tom Barnes had also gotten control of his goat, while the congregation twittered and guffawed.

 

            “There is nothing to be disturbed about!” Mr. Zigler raised his voice above the confusion. “The animals are pets. Children! Children! Take your places please!”

            Joseph and the wise men waited for Mary to return and arrange her garments, and then assumed their stances. The angels, miraculously, had not fallen from the scaffolds and spontaneously inhaled as Mr. Zigler lifted his pitch pipe.

            “G-l-o-r-y…” the angels sang again over the manger scene.

 

            Rusty dressed in the dark Christmas morning, so as not to wake Rob.

            “What-cha doing, Rusty?”

            “Putting on my clothes.”

            Rob jumped up in bed. “Are you going to see your presents?”

            “No! I’m going to get my cow!”

            “But Mr. Zigler said he would bring her home this morning.”

            “Well, I’m not going to wait for him. I’ll lead her home myself.”

            “I’ll go with you.” Rob hopped out of bed, and fumbled with his clothes and shoes.

            “Naw! You stay here and see your presents.”

            “No, I’m coming. Opening presents won’t be any fun all by myself.”

            “Well, hurry up!”

 

            Lights burned in many windows as they hurried along in the cold dawn.

            “Wonder what I got for Christmas?” Rob mused aloud.

            “You could have found out if you had stayed at home,” Rusty reminded him.

            “Then I couldn’t get the good out of wondering!”

 

            When they reached the church yard Rusty saw the tethered goat lying on the lawn, but he did not see Blackie. In a moment he spied her inside the stable, her head buried in the straw beneath the manger. He ran to her and slapped her affectionately on her broad rump. The cow whirled around and moo-ed threateningly until she recognized him. Reassured, Blackie lowered her head back down into the hay.

            Rusty stared for a moment; then his knees began to tremble. “Blackie!” he cried, throwing his arms around her neck.

            “What’s the matter, Rusty?” Then Rob, too, stared down under the manger. “It’s a calf, Rusty! It’s a calf!”

            The newborn animal looked up at them serenely. A tiny splotch of a star stood out in the middle of its black forehead.

            Rob reached down and patted the calf’s starred forehead. Suddenly he peered up into his brother’s face. “Did the angels bring it, Rusty?”

            Rusty touched his little brother’s bed-tousled hair with his forefinger. “Maybe!”

            “What-cha going to name it, Rusty?”

            Rusty lifted his eyes to the clear, December sky. All the stars were gone and now long rays of sunlight touched the church spire.

            “G-L-O-R-Y!!” he shouted in answer.

           

 Warm Bricks and Cold Feet

Danny Key

 

My mother and her two brothers were raised in a four room house in our little mill town. Their house was a simple wood frame house with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room.  My grandparents had one of the bedrooms and since my mother was the only girl, she got the second bedroom.  The brothers had to sleep on the back porch. 

The only heat in the house came from a wood burning heater in the living room. This was later replaced by a coal-burning stove.

The back porch was so open to the elements that it could hardly be called a room. The planks were so far apart that if it snowed, the boys would wake up with snow on their beds.  They slept under piles of homemade quilts, so heavy that you could not even turn over once you were in place. To provide a little warmth my grandmother would place bricks on the stove and get them steaming hot. She would wrap the bricks in a towel and put them at the boy’s feet under the covers.  In her mind, if your feet are warm, then you are warm all over.

My grandmother had some sort of “thing” about foot care.  You could not go to bed until you had washed your feet. The rest of your body could be filthy nasty but those feet had to be clean. She was constantly worried about the condition of everybody’s feet. 

“Are you wearing the right kind of shoes?” she would ask. “Not wearing socks will cause your feet to become permanently stained from the shoe leather.  Do those shoes have the proper arch support?  Shoes with no heels will ruin your arches.  If your feet are cold you will catch all sorts of diseases.”  And so on….

I think that Grandma’s foot and shoe hang up was genetic.  My mother was obsessed with shoes too.  If she wore a different pair of shoes every day for a year, she would not wear all of her shoes. Since we only have two feet,  four hundred pairs of shoes seem excessive to me. 

To further support my theory that this hang up is genetic, I have also have a thing about shoes. The first thing I notice about a person is their shoes. The most beautiful person in the world is reduced to a thing to be pitied if their shoes look bad. Shoes should be clean, stylish and appropriate for the rest of the outfit.  I am  sick to death of seeing perfectly lovely people walk around wearing flip-flops while the hems of their pants drag through the dirt collecting germs, grit, chewing gum, spit, and god-knows-what else.

When my mother was growing up during the war it was difficult to feed a shoe fetish because shoes were rationed by the government. You were allowed two pair of shoes a year, one for spring and another for winter. It must have been torture for my mother and grandmother.

To make matters worse, as the war waged on, your two pair of shoes were reduced to one pair. Adding insult to injury was the fact that your one pair of shoes had a wooden sole because leather was needed for the war effort. I cannot imagine my mother clopping around in wooden shoes. I guess having to do without good shoes for so long fueled my mother’s obsession with shoes, because once she started earning her own money she bought every pair of shoes she wanted.

My grandmother never got over her love of shoes or her obsession about feet.  She did, however, get a little confused. One day I was cajoled into taking her on an all day shopping trip in the mountains. We went into every dress and shoe store in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. My grandmother tried on dresses, pant suits, and dozens of pairs of shoes. All day long she complained that her feet hurt, a rarity for her.  We took extra breaks and sat down as much as possible in order for her to rest her feet but she still fussed about how much they hurt. After five hours of shopping and complaining we sat down on a bench on Main Street to have a soft drink.  I went into the drug store to buy some refreshments and as I returned to the bench I saw the reason my grandmother’s feet hurt. Her shoes were on the wrong feet.  All day long she had tried on all these articles of clothing, often taking off her shoes to do so and then stepping right back into the wrong shoe.  We laughed all the way home over her “I Love Lucy” moment.

Since my grandmother passed away, I remember that day and wish that we could do it all over again.

My grandmother not only put warm bricks at the feet of her children on cold winter days, she placed “warm bricks” into our hearts.  Her love of life and laughter and the rare ability to laugh at herself made her a queen in my eyes. 

Modern families exist in the same house and pass like ships in the night but there are no “warm bricks,” no quiet nights of sitting together and talking about life and how absurd and funny it can be, no stories of shoes being worn on the wrong feet or snow covered bedding.

I asked my uncle how in the world they survived sleeping out on that porch in the dead of winter.

He replied, “It never felt cold because of mama’s warm bricks.”

I know exactly what he meant.

 From Hallelujah, Pass the Grits by Danny Key. Available on Amazon and Kindle

 

You’re Drunk

 

As I was getting into bed, she said, “You’re drunk.”

 I said, "How do you know?"

 She said, "You live next door."

 

Why does a chicken coop have two doors?

Because if it had four doors it would be a sedan.

 

What do you call a cow with two lega?

Lean beef.

 

An aardvark walked into a bar.

The bartender said, “Why the long face?”

 

A man out on a clean pair of socks every day of the week.

By Friday, he couldn’t get his shoes on.

 


White Flakes Picnic

Elizabeth Miccio

 

Thinking of the garden

Before the white flakes fall.

Chores to be done

Or, better yet, what can be left

For the time of spring crocuses.

 

Raspberries and blackberries

Must be trimmed to the ground,

Only after the migrating birds

Have feasted.

 

The grill, unused, will be abandoned.

The clay Chiminea, we bought in Taos,

Will be saved for another month

Om hopes of toasted marshmallows,

….and “somemores.”

 

miccio066.jpg

 

New Year Thoughts

E. B. Alston

 I read an article a few years ago that stated clearly what people in large parts of the world find admirable about America. It is not our institutions, democratic or otherwise, not our industry and, unsurprisingly, not our culture. They admire America because we don’t much care who anybody is. We care only about what you can do.

Why didn’t I already know that? Or, more correctly, why hadn’t I already said it myself? And why didn’t you already know that? Proof that the obvious is invisible.

The last few years I’ve been dealing with publishing books after trying for for a couple more years to get a (any) major publishing house interested in my work without result. Steven King unhelpfully said in an article not to let rejections get you down until you have been rejected six hundred times. Just keep perfecting your work while the dice roll and maybe one day the dice will roll in your favor. What I have learned is that the writing business thrives on credentials; the best one of which is having a couple of dozen best sellers. Absent that, or being famous, academic credentials come in second.

You can imagine the expressions in an editorial meeting where they notice that I had a career at the phone company.

However, for a fee, a famous, and famously credentialed, literary critic will write something nice about my stories.

Bill Gates resume would read something like “Dropped out of Harvard. Founded Microsoft Corp.” In the real world we care only about what you can do.

When I worked, I was in a meeting one time where it came out that a cable repairman in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, earned more the previous year than the division vice president. To which I remarked that the vice president could be absent from his job half a year and the telephone customers in South Carolina would not know he was gone but if that cable repairman was out sick a half day, somebody’s telephone wouldn’t be working. We care only about what you can do.

None of us wants to be what Matthew Arnold wrote in an elegy of an inconsequential man.

 

Most men eddy about

Here and there—eat and drink,

Chatter and love and hate...

…and then they die—

Perish; and no one asks

Who or what they have been…

 

There is one other resume we ought to think about in this season while we overcome the various obstacles to success. After training as a carpenter, Jesus embarked on a career as an itinerant preacher.” We care only about what you can do. It’s the American way.

 

 New Year’s Day

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the New Year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

In order to realign the Roman calendar with the sun, Julius Caesar added 90 extra days to the year 46 B.C. and called it the Julian calendar.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly  sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Why January 1 became New Years Day: The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Numa Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

 As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation); Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.

In many countries, New Year’s celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes,symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere. In Sweden and Norway, meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the New Year, including the ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” in many English-speaking countries. The practice of making resolutions for the New Year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)

In the United States, the most iconic New Year’s tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

 

In China, 2017 is the year of the Monkey. The Monkey 2017 horoscope asks you to make sure that you keep yourself flexible this year. It will greatly help you out at both work and with your friends. Being flexible will also make your year more interesting in general. Let people know what you want out of this Chinese New year instead of just going with the flow or what other people want. While you may feel self-centered by doing this, it is bound to make 2017 more enjoyable. In Chinese astrology, each of the twelve signs are named after an animal that seems to represents the sign’s traits the best. If you were born in any of these years (1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, or have a child being born in 2016) then you fall under the Chinese monkey sign. In general, monkey people tend to share many of the same traits.

Those born in the Year of the Monkey tend to be intelligent, optimistic and full of energy! You will never find a dull moment when you are with a Chinese zodiac sign monkey.

The 2017 Chinese horoscope predictions for Monkey show that they are highly sociable people and can solve just about any problem that you throw at them. Of course, at times their ego can get the better of them and they will focus on themselves more than others. In general, monkey people are full of good traits that will be able to help them in the Chinese lunar year 2017

 

 

Groundhog Day

 

groundhog.jpgGroundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2 originating from the custom of early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. If on this day a groundhog emerges from its winter burrow and its sunny, it will see its shadow and retreat back into the burrow, and the winter will last for six more weeks. Otherwise, if the weather is cloudy, the groundhog will remain out, and the spring will come early.

According to research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the groundhogs forecasts are not very accurate on average. However, the tradition is surely an important part of the cultural heritage and a source of inspiration. It was a main theme of well received "Groundhog Day" comedy film (1993) directed by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

 

Q:What would you get if you crossed Groundhog Day with a puppy?
A: Ground-dog Day!

Q: What happened when the groundhog met the dogcatcher?
A: He became a pound hog!

Q: What happens if the ground log sees its shadow?
A: We'll have six more weeks of splinters!

Q: Why was the groundhog depressed about his den?
A: He was having a bad lair day!

Q: What would you get if you crossed Groundhog Day with a Christmas drink?
A: Ground Nog Day!

 

Q: Where do sick groundhogs go? 
A: To the hogpital

Q: What do you call a groundhog adopted from the Humane Society? 
A: A poundhog

Q: What do you call a groundhog who eats too much? 
A: A roundhog

Q: What do you call a royal groundhog?  
A: A crowned hog

 

 

The Edward Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest

Or

Who wrote the world’s worst opening sentences for a story?

 

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel "Paul Clifford" (1830) with the immortal words, "It was a dark and stormy night." Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line "The pen is mightier than the sword," and the expression "the great unwashed." His best known work, one on the book shelves of many of our great-grandparents, is "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such locales as England, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, and New Caledonia (see the Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award).

 

2016 Contest Winners

 

Winner:

Even from the hall, the overpowering stench told me the dingy caramel glow in his office would be from a ten-thousand-cigarette layer of nicotine baked on a naked bulb hanging from a frayed wire in the center of a likely cracked and water-stained ceiling, but I was broke, he was cheap, and I had to find her. —  William "Barry" Brockett, Tallahassee, FL

 

Runner-Up:

Her grandmother had mopped her brow with the same antique kerchief for twenty years whilst working in the barley fields, and now Anastasia was to wear it on her wedding night knotted into a baggy loose panty; while her lover Anatoly would wear his father's ancient gray and tattered undershorts tied around his neck to honor the old village custom of marital odor-blending. — David S. Nelson, Falls Creek, VA

 

Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award

#After his seventh shot of Jack Daniels, Billy reflected that only a certain kind of man, a Roman Catholic priest, born under the sign of Gemini, whose loved one had been run down by a bus full of inebriated Lazio supporters on a glorious Sunday morning in early April outside a provincial church whose bells were ringing Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in B minor, would truly be able to understand the abyss of despair in which he was drowning. — Neil T Godden, Nouméa, New Caledonia

 

Winner, Adventure:

#Knowing well the hand signals of his platoon leader, Private James Dawson silently dropped to the dirt, concealed and motionless for what seemed an eternity, a move that he had learned, coincidentally, from his parents whenever the Watchtower ladies would ring the doorbell. — Peter S. Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Adventure:

 

“Penguins, damnable penguins,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain-basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feathered form. — Stephen Lewis Davis, Sacramento, CA

 

The sea roiled like water in a pasta pot about to boil, an apt simile thought Captain Samuel Turner, because if they didn't fix their engine soon he and his crew would be floating face down like overcooked manicotti—bloated, white, limp and about to be consumed by something that wished it were eating ahi tuna instead.— Alex Bosworth, Ketchikan, Alaska

 

The life of a mountain man like Jedediah Buckman is a simple one, a campfire to warm the person as well as the soul, a full moon to illuminate the forest as well as the mind, and game to nourish the body as well as the spirit, though one wonders how he could stomach beaver without mint jelly and a bold, young pinot noir. — John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

 

As Swordfish and the ever-loyal Ling Cod Boy surveyed the scene of rampant destruction spread out before them—swamped trawlers, shredded nets, the still-smoldering floating cannery—two things were crystal clear: Avenging Tuna was back, and Turner Bay needed some superheroes. — G. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA

 

Captain Blackheart well knew the penalties for piracy, but out here in international waters there was no one to stop him, so he scanned the horizon with his brass telescope before heading below decks to check on his high speed DVD copying machines. — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, Wales

 

Winner, Children’s Literature:

 

When your home smells like a three-week-old buffalo carcass, your Mom is constantly being mistaken for a guy, and your sisters keep using your ears as their personal chew toys, life is no laughing matter—at least that's how it seemed to Hubert, the baby Hyena.   — Anna McDougald, Winnipeg, Manitoba    

       

Dishonorable Mentions, Children's Literature:

 

She couldn't decide whether it was the tail-less rat devouring another neighboring rat's brain in his glassed cage, or just the way the doctor and his white-haired assistant were applying the saw to Aslan's skull casing as he lay dismembered on the great table, but something told Lucy they'd tumbled through another portal and out of Narnia.— "Lionrhod," Winter Park, FL

 

Tinkerbell the Fairy and Amy the Elf were BFFFs (best fairyland friends forever), and they loved having adventures in Big-People Land, like eating marshmallows for dinner, galloping fast on the backs of tiny lizards, and taking naps on the pillows of very important people like Judges, Mayors, and Millionaires.— David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA

 

Little Billy Wonka spent his days running through the Gumdrop Forest, dashing through the greenery of Marzipan Valley, hopping along the banks of Honey River and racing to and fro between the Chocolate Factory to his Gingerbread Abode . . . which is not surprising considering his colossal daily sugar intake.— Russ Wren, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

Winner, Crime/Detective:

#She walked toward me with her high heels clacking like an out-of-balance ceiling fan set on low, smiling as though about to spit pus from a dental abscess, and I knew right away that she was going to leave me feeling like I had used a wood rasp to cure my hemorrhoids. — Charles Caldwell, Leesville, LA

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Crime/Detective:

 

“We got a stiff on the sidewalk all bled out; a stiff on a tugboat tied up with enough cement to build the Hoover Dam; Louie Miller empties out his bank account and falls off the face of the planet; Jenny Diver, Sukey Tawdry, Lotte Lenya, and Lucy Brown all get death threats . . . I got no goddamned proof, but five’ll get ya ten that Macky’s back in town.” — William Lattanzio, Boyertown, PA

Detective Hammer Logan III woke with a start, images of the bizarre bayou murder still fresh in his mind’s eye—a dame in trouble, body covered with bloody toothprints and saliva—but as sleep lifted, the grizzled detective remembered that he was a dog and the dame a coyote, so he spun on the bed three times and slept the rest of the day. — Jacob Smith, Dallas, TX

 

As he gazed at Ming's lifeless body draped over the sushi bar, chopsticks protruding from his back, Det. Herc Lue Perrot came to the sobering realization that tonight, there had been a murder at the Orient Express. — Andrew Caruso, Akron, OH

 

It was almost teatime, late June, with no likelihood of rain any time soon and I was wearing my olive-green anorak, Snoopy Dog T-shirt, beige slacks and navy blue sneakers, odd socks with holes in them, hadn't shaved, had a stinking hangover and felt like crap; I was everything a penniless down and out ought to be—I was calling on the Salvation Army for soup. — Ted Downes, Cardiff, Wales

 

Winner, Fantasy:

#The handsome man bent down to kiss the pale lips of the catatonic maid just as the first small bubble appeared in the corner of her mouth, followed, in slow motion, by a stream of popping translucent spheres, and Prince Jarris, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of the Seven-and-a-Half Mountains straightened up, climbed upon his horse and rode away to search for another sleeping beauty. — Domingo Pestano, Caracas, Venezuela

Winner, Historical Fiction:

#It was the worst of times, although I suppose if I were really pressed I could come up with a time in history even worse than the French Revolution, such as the Black Death, to name but one, but on the other hand it has to be said that it was also the best of times, particularly for those of us that were rich and living in England rather than France. — Michael D. Hill, Burton, England

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Historical Fiction:

 

Lieutenant-Commander Keith ‘Rusty’ Brooke-Hamilton of the Royal Navy, serving on Her Majesty’s ship Refulgent (48 guns), which had sailed from Portsmouth early on a Tuesday morning with but a few light, high clouds and a fine, brisk sou-westerly wind blowing across the mouth of the Solent, was terribly fond of bananas. — Leslie Craven, Wellington, New Zealand

 

On March 5, 1836, Lieutenant Colonel William Travis stood before his rag-tag revolutionary army, unsheathed his sword, and drew a line in the sand, followed by a smiley face, some crude stick-figure men, and a few choice words about Mexicans that the State Board of Education has deemed unfit for publication in this 7th Grade Texas History Textbook. — Gwen Dallas, Austin, Texas

 

Eleanor had doubts, as well she should have had, and in truth no one knew the repercussions which might result, yet she felt proud in her way to have been selected to be the first person ever to turn on an "electric light" switch, the woman who would be celebrated forever in history, or fried, which in fact she was, though the inventors combined to hush it up. — John Holmes, St. Petersburg, FL

 

Trevor didn’t care what they thought—yes, they would sigh and roll their eyes at him as they always did, and yes, they were in a bad way, on their way to have their heads separated from their necks by Mme. La Guillotine—but dang it, it did put him in mind of that one really snappy tune from “Les Miserables,” and so, with a song rising up in his heart, he stood up in that filthy French cart and began to sing. — Joshua Long, Harrison, OH

 

Winner, Horror:

#A cold wind arose from the moss-covered tomb with a haunting asthmatic whistle and horned its way around the ornate marble monuments, increasing speed and raising its menacing sound as it set course towards five-year-old Samantha Wainberry, who forgot to wear a sweater. — Domingo Pestano, Caracas, Venezuela

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Horror:

 

As the shambling throng of zombies edged closer Leopold raised his quivering axe to shoulder height, pausing only to consider that the phrase 'living dead' is contradictory; that staggering about implied a fully functioning nervous system supplemented by an intake of oxygen; and that if they were really dead, then why persist in stumbling about in this vastly paradoxical manner?— David Meech, Auckland, New Zealand 

The girl screamed, the wind rustled, something moved in the night closer and closer; the moon hung heavily over the night, white as a pearl, blood dripped from Vlad's mouth, the girl’s pale body hung in his hands, sparkling in the moonlight—he was a vampire, after all. — Heather Fougere, Center Conway, NH

 

Winner, Purple Prose:

#She was like my ex-girlfriend Ashley, who'd stolen my car, broken my heart, murdered my father, robbed a bank, and set off a pipe bomb in Central Park—tall. — Rachel Nirenberg, Toronto, Canada 

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Purple Prose:

 

As its newly-incentivized next-gen thought leader, Li-Kwan Patel saw the handwriting on the wall: there was no kicking the can down the road because the paradigm shift at Synergex, Inc. necessitated him to hit the ground running, avoid low-hanging fruit like the plague, and strategize scalable core competencies to close the loop on feedback redundancy, for at the end of the day it all boiled down to boldly going where none had gone before. — Thomas Frohlich, Miami, FL

 

When Glenn left the house, the sky was a satin Spinnaker Blue with White Feather clouds, the still-moist lawn and street were glossy Sunlit Glade and Bastion Grey, and, contemplating the to-do list jotted on Ivory Cream notepaper as he started the Sundance Yellow hatchback, Glenn knew he would go flat Condition Red berserk if his wife didn't hurry up and select a color for the dining room.— David Franks, Greenland, AR

 

When Margie told me we were going to rob the jewelry store instead of going for a pedicures, my mind bent under the weight of it all like a cheap paper plate at a family barbecue when it is filled with all the wet heavy stuff like baked beans and sauerkraut. — Dorothy Harbeck, Fair Haven, NJ

 

As Night fell with the finality of a Sycamore toppled in a windstorm, the neon-clogged Arteries of the great Metropolis came alive with the banshee shriek of asphalt-tortured tires, the ululation of yammering sirens, and the bellow of brazen-lunged air horns, Predator Calls of the insomnolent Urban Jungle.  —Anna McDougald, Winnipeg, Manitoba

 

She was uncertain how or when it had happened, but over the years her svelte figure-8 frame had gone lopsided and become a wretched parody of the symmetrical numeral—indeed, the bottom oval was as lumpy and pear-shaped as the carelessly-thrown-aside velour sack of the average mall Santa.— April Olion, Gainesville, FL

 

The jar was oozing, and the ooze was jarring: a dank fetid oleaginous slime that slapped and slithered across the bourgeoisie marble countertop like loathsome Gerber's Lovecraftian puree . . . — Marlon McAvoy, Oak Ridge, TN

 

As she reclined, naked, on the chaise longue, Constance's breasts looked like two mounds of creamy coleslaw served up on a fine porcelain plate—but the good kind of coleslaw, not the violent, neon-green stuff you get at KFC.— Lisa Liscoumb, Oshawa, Ontario

Winner, Romance:

#Osgood knew he wasn’t popular, well-liked, or even very good looking, and could suck the life out of a room like a fat kid sucking the filling out of a Twinkie, but surely a date with the beautiful blonde in the corner wasn’t out of the question, he thought as he licked the cream from his fingers. — Marie Gaither, Asheville, NC

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Romance:

 

She wanted—no—she needed Robert, oh, what she would give if he knew that he was the first thing on her mind at the start of each day, if he knew that she yearned, yearned to be happily by his side at the spring dance, yes, she needed Robert—unless Brian dumped that bleach blond snob Leah in time, in which case she'd need Brian. — Heather Armstrong, Williamsburg, VA

 

Watching Emily sleep in exhausted, naked bliss while bathed by the soft shower of lucid moonlight that titillatingly teased glimpses of her supple features he had come to know, Sebastian tried to remember the last time he had seen a woman's body so beautiful, but after the collision of his '02 Pontiac Aztek with a Bug-X exterminator truck on East Hermosa Vista Drive in Mesa, Arizona, two months ago left him with long-term memory loss, he couldn't. — L.A. Jackson, Apex, NC

 

Francine was intrigued by the idea of a threesome with a unicyle-riding circus clown, a zither-playing contortionist, and a milkman because she didn’t know that the latter still even existed. — Randy Denker, Tallahassee, FL

 

Winner, Science Fiction:

#Upon hearing he was to appear immediately before the Seturia Nebula's Supreme Council, where, in high ceremony, he would be unclothed, bathed in the sacred Waters of Torg Jas, and presented the uniform of a Qadon Shuu Guardian as reward for his courageous defense of the TH-174 Diijoss Collective against Gnar-al troops from the Xinon-Thur Horde, space adventurer Sunspot Carson could only think, "I picked a helluva Baldorian day to wear ladies panties." — L.A. Jackson, Apex, NC

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Science Fiction:

 

Following my successful career as chief medical officer of the Horus 7 on its extended mission to explore the Galaxy, I returned to Earth—what follows chronicles the first seven years of the orthodontics practice I opened in Michigan. — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, Wales

 

“I’m going to be late for work again,” Xyzyx muttered to the Galactic Positioning System on the dashboard of his shuttlecraft, as traffic slowed to a crawl in the fuliginous murk of Wormhole Alpha Beta Supra. — Louise Grieco, Albany, NY

The Halkan prediction of galactic revolt did indeed come true when Han Solo seized the throne of Gandolf, was overthrown by Captain Jim Kirk, all the Wookies were slaughtered by a ragtag band of renegade Hobbits, Tribbles were ground up and made the sixth flavor of Skittles, and Saurian brandy was sold as a premixed chocolate-flavored cocktail by the Martian partners of Nestle. — David S. Nelson, Falls Church, VA

 

“Science fiction is the lowest of all possible literary genres,” said ICE-500 into the hover-mic, as he slowly rolled past the vast hordes of mutant alien book critics. — Justin Goudey, Newton, NJ

 

Winner, Vile Puns:

#“See, Horse,” said Detective Sam Ohn, “the sting Ray pulled off has you dab in the place with a barb in your hand and the piano tuner filleted on the floor so don’t you carp on all coy like thinking to leave us to flounder in the dark; mull it over or you’ll be frying on a 20,000 volt perch and may God have mercy on your soul.”— Henry Biggs, Sydney, Australia

 

Dishonorable Mentions, Vile Puns:

 

The evidence at Evan’s Seaside Bird Sanctuary was mounting: the scattered precocial plumage, the tidal pond encircling a quartet of lifeless birds, the brine-soaked ascot, the cane—could it be that Maurice Chevalier sank Evan’s four little gulls? — Peter S. Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA

 

Patrice—the most-feared henchman of the global terrorist mastermind Ivan Terrible—staggered back to his car, wiped the dead cocktail waiter's blood from his hands, picked up his smartphone, and texted a terse status update to his employer's personal assistant: "Tell IT that our server is down."— Gwen Dallas, Austin, Texas

 

Legendary U of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olsen needed someone to take the charge, someone who was willing to be mercilessly flattened, someone to sacrifice his body for the team, and that someone stood up at the end of the bench and announced, “Lute, I am your fodder.” — Robert Greer, Queen Creek, AZ

 

As the new babysitter, Lindsey quickly learned that in the Hesterburg family, "tow-headed" referred to Billy Jr.'s penchant for dragging his little sister around by the hair. — Kimberly Baer, Woodbridge, VA

 

"Nurse, I need more blankets, and my water pitcher is empty, and also my bedside lamp isn't working," Tom said coldly, dryly, and darkly, yet at the same time patiently. — Kimberly Baer, Woodbridge, VA

 

A murder of crows, ravenous with hunger, alighted on the skeletal limbs of a desiccated oak tree, their cacophonous scolding admonishing the solitary figure, cloaked in black, who had entered the gloomy graveyard to pay tribute to Poe’s tombstone, just as a tintinnabulation of church bells began chiming a counterpoint to the avians’ caws-stick chorus. — Kathryn El-Assal, Middleton, WI

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions

 

HI could've waited, he could've waited, but we didn't and now the entire town of Sop-Bottom, Mizzou (pop. 894, in the heart of the heartland, widely considered the tuning fork capital of the world), would pay for our unspeakable act of passion there on the statue of town founder, staff sergeant Ebenezer Winthrop Sop-Bottom, the unsung hero of the Great Bethel Skirmish.— RGlenn Neel, Maitland, FL

 

“Hey, ho! they make the beast with two backs,” Captain Jean Chartraine shouted lustily over the din of the rollicking seaside inn, The Wayward Mariner, but all I could think, preoccupied with the cargo manifest, dueling pistol, and tankard of ale before me, was why anyone would want to be a Bactrian camel.— James Pokines, Boston, MA

 

Quiet mornings, long lazy afternoons, and spectacular sunsets were de rigueur for Elbert and Ethel Salipit since their early retirement and internment at the Happy Valley Cemetery for Eternal Rest and Relaxation. — Tim Petteys, Malden on Hudson, NY

 

It was a dark and stormy night, and that translated into unchecked pandemonium among Los Angeles residents who hadn’t worn anything but open-toed shoes for five years, but tourist Alwyn Brewster was thankful for the scant traffic on Sunset Boulevard as he desperately accelerated his rental car through the tony neighborhoods, too preoccupied with the raging rivers of high-end, plastic patio-ware, which were making a break for the ocean, to notice the black Land Rover with diplomatic plates hot on his trail. — Barbara L. Pawley, Los Angeles, CA

 

The chrysanthemum Sarah had received from Edmund was exquisite, no doubt, but she had other things on her mind the moment that our story begins, like how Edmund had got out of his cage and how a hedgehog could have pulled up a chrysanthemum with his teeth. — Jonathan Nathan, New York, NY

 

Petulantly, William dunked his socks into the basin and scrubbed futilely to remove the last vestiges of succotash that clung there, and absentmindedly slipped into a reverie—not quite a fugue state—in which he thought of Saturday morning cartoons and pondered the nature of sufferin' as part of the human condition and whether Nietzsche was correct, but his reverie was interrupted by Mabel's clarion bellow from the other room, "Springer's on!" — Bradlee R. Frazer, Boise, ID

 

Little Jenny would stop at nothing in her ambition to become an astronaut—that way she wouldn't end up as an unfulfilled cashier married to a dweeb like Colin Snodgrass, with a sizeable mortgage and four lazy kids who couldn't even be bothered to pick up a book like this, never mind become astronauts. — Julie Crowley, Ballyphilibeen, Ireland

 

When the storage tanks backed up and the extraction mechanisms proved non-functional, with pressure rising rapidly and a critical failure imminent, Harve was compelled to take emergency action: an immediate, explosive evacuation of the American Bottoms Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility in Sauget, IL. — Michael Moon, Mountain View, CA

'Oh Mon Dieu, she thought to herself while searching for that Fatboy Slim song she liked, I know this is Paris and I should be making heaven of what I have, right here, right now, but eating this stupid baguette for breakfast every morning is a gum-hurting, head-aching, and anything-but-satisfying process.' — Raluca Murg, Paris, France

 

Just after dawn on the morning of the last day of his life, Anthony Scanzio looked out his window and again saw the two men parked down the street in a Gloss Black 2016 Chrysler 300C, and coincidentally you can buy one just like it from the author's uncle at Lyndhurst Chrysler and get a great deal, ask for Eddie!  — Steve Lynch, Oro Valley, AZ

 

At the bottom of a steep path, beneath the trunk of a slumping oak, I lowered myself into a hole, descended a staircase and crawled to the bottom of a tunnel that led to a dangling rope that dropped me into a shoot from which I slid into an elevator lobby where I pushed the button marked “Down.” — David Bailey, Tillamook, OR

 

As the first shovelful of earth fell on her father’s coffin, Emily kneeled at the graveside sobbing, overwrought by the sudden realization that, not only had she lost her only living relative, but she had somehow forgotten to set her DVR to record this week’s episode of “House of Cards,” an episode she had particularly wanted to see because of a rumored and breathlessly anticipated guest appearance by a nephew of Don Ho. — Rob Rachlin, Greensboro, NC

 

Everywhere he went, in his mind, 24/7, he thought of nothing but her: her silky white dress, her robin’s egg blue eyes, her flavescent locks, her wildflower scent, her mellifluous voice, her velvety flesh, and her buxom sister. — James Siragusa, Lewiston, ME

 

 

 

Potpourri

 “I’ll tell you where I got the idea,” says Wade Beacham, Texas oilman who founded Rain Forest Fellowships, Inc. “I took a fishing trip to the Amazon, and saw how our native guides lived. I came back to Dallas and a friend of mine said he was worried about his son, who was off in college and wanted to be an environmentalist, devote his life to saving the rain forest. I said, “Tell you what. Lets set up a program.”

            “So now any Texas college student who’s developing these environmental leanings, and whose daddy has $18,000 to spare, can go spend a semester in the environment and see what its like—with these Indians down there who kill and eat everything they can find and chop down anything they feel like. In other words, the rain forest is just as much a jungle as the bidness world. Those kids go down there wanting to hug a tree, and they come back mean as snakes. It’s refreshing.”

From The Best of Bad Gaynelle; What do facts have to do with good writing by Roy Blunt, Jr. in the spring issue of the Oxford American.

 

 

A Poem for Emily

 

Small fact and fingers and farthest one from me,

a hand’s width and two generations away,

in this still present I am fifty-three.

You are not yet a full day.

 

When I am sixty-three, when you are ten,

and you are neither close nor as far,

your arms will fill with you what you know by then,

the arithmetic and love we do and are.

 

When I by blood and luck am eighty-six

and you are someplace else and thirty-three

believing in sex and god and politics

with children that look not at all like me,

 

sometime I know you will have read them this

so they will know I love them and say so

and love their mother. Child, whatever is

is always or never was. Long ago,

 

a day I watched awhile beside your bed,

I wrote this down, a thing that might be kept

awhile, to tell you what I would have said

when you were who knows what and I was dead

which is I stood and loved you while you slept.

 

Miller Williams

From Good Poems, Garrison Keillor, Viking

 

 

 

Top Eleven Reasons to Celebrate Groundhog Day

 

11. It's on nearly every calendar.

10. Helps relieve cabin fever.

9. Spring or not, it's six weeks till St Urho's Day.

8. Forecast is no less reliable than the National Weather Service.

7. At least one of them critters is bound to see things your way.

6. Valentine's Day is too depressing for nerds.

5. Unlike the Easter bunny, he keeps his dirty paws outside.

4. As they used to say on radio: "The Shadow knows".

3. It's fun to say "Punxsutawney".

2. If a rodent can bring us an early spring, more power to him.

1. In Minnesota, either way we come out ahead.

 

 

How to Say Nothing

E. B. Alston

 

Benjamin Disraeli wrote that, “Man is made to adore and obey, but if you will not command him, if you will give him nothing to worship, he will fashion his own divinities.”

Today’s public figures, who have nothing to say, but are required by the nature of their position to say something, use buzzwords. A nearby county appointed a new school superintendent. He replaced a no-nonsense outsider who offended the sensibilities of those who are easily offended. We see more and more of them these days.

The local newspaper had a front-page article about her replacement, who was a local black man. His color has no real significance here, white people behave this way too, but he also speaks in that pseudo-educated, buzzword-laced idiom that apparently offends no one but doesn’t convey any useful information either.

The headline read, “Harris ready for school’s challenge,” and the sub-title reads, “New leader’s ‘heart and passion’ lie in Durham.”

That’s what the nation’s schools need more of: “Heart and Passion.” The newspaper quotes his buzzwords and phrases as if they were manna from heaven and pearls of wisdom. (See, I can do it too.) He is quoted as saying “This will not be a day when it will be all about me,” and that his role will be “shared responsibility” in this “huge job” of “great responsibility” that is “extremely demanding” and “the challenge” is to “keep a pulse on your own life” and “making a difference” in a “different kind of challenge” where his “heart and passion is” and “we’re going to see a new era.”

This stuff goes on for about eighteen more column inches and includes a statement from a local political gadfly that she is behind him “110 percent.” My impression of the man after reading about his “passions” is that he’s a Jesse Jackson without flair. There was not one definitive word about improving the school system’s abysmal performance. But he is going to “focus on the positives.” It’s just more blather and hogwash. (There I go again.)

My first thought after reading this was another generation of children goes down the drain. Our children deserve better than this. The taxpayers do too.

If you attend a political candidates forum, you get more of the same with most of the candidates using buzzwords without saying anything that could be a definitive statement. They will only assert in vague language that if elected, they will do a better job than anybody else. If a candidate makes a plain statement about anything, the crowd applauds.

What American schoolchildren need today more than anything is for somebody to tell them what their goals are and for adults to behave like…well, adults. Children don’t know how to assign goals. They are young and inexperienced. It is up to adults to help them.

Instead, what our children get are feel good buzzwords describing nostrums that have no significance other than to betray a lack of honesty in discourse. In other words, it’s a lazy man’s way to sound important without generating any responsibilities he would have to live up to.

These symptoms are not just local. You see them in every locale, every state and all over the country. They are wrecking the United States.

I can think of no better way to end this than another Disraeli quote, “They live in the air, they excel in sports, they only speak one language and they never read.”

 

 

Chesterton Quotes

 The perfect happiness of people on earth, if it ever comes, will not be a logical and solid thing like the satisfaction of animals. It will be an exact and perilous balance like a desperate romance. It will not be a mere victory of some one thing over some other things, like love or pride, peace or adventure. It will be a delicate balance of all the elements of life, like a painting by a great artist. Or a symphony by a great composer. Like the universe, or like our lovely planet which were painted and composed by the Artist and Composer of all that exists

 They say that the world is impersonal because it is orderly. But if that were so, how would we know it is orderly and a personal creation is more conceivable than a material fate. I have a certainty of self and of a need for the good of living.

 The Titans did not scale heaven. They laid waste to the world.

Moderns make a great deal about how much men are like the animals. If you do it with any humor or imagination you will see how unlike, how much he differs from the beasts. This divergence is on a monstrous scale. That we are physically like the beasts is true for all to see. Bur then we are so insanely unlike the beasts. That the apes has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact of having hands he does next to nothing with them. The ape does not play the violin, carve marble of mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art but elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in rococo style and camels do not paint even bad pictures. Dreamers say that anta and bees have a society superior to ours. They have indeed a civilization but the truth only serves to remind us how inferior it is. Who ever found an ant hill with statues of celebrated ants or a bee hive with an image of gorgeous queens of the past? The chasm between man and the beasts may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm.

 

 

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 Cat Tales.

     

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.

 

Elizabeth Silance Ballard: Review of  Lanquid Luciousness With Lemon,  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 and her latest, Three Rivers to Cross.  

 

Rita Berman: All in a Day’s Work ; was born in London, England, is a free-lance writer, lecturer, editor, and author of Still Hopping, Still Hoping, the biography of Carla Shuford, (2012), and The A - Z of Writing and Selling, a Writer’s Digest Book Club selection Sept, 1981. Her work has appeared in more than 500 travel, feature, business, and trade journal articles, as well as newspaper columns for diverse publications in the United States and Great Britain. Her other books are Dating Adventures of a Widow and The Key Her latest book, Parallel Lives came out in July.    

 

Brad Carver: Merry Christmas from Moccasin Gap.  Was a regular contributor for the magazine until he died in 2013. His book, Daddyhood, was published in 2007. A collection of his columns called Life in Moccasin Gap was published in 2014. Brad was a humorist who lived in Semora, North Carolina. 

 

Diana Goldsmith: A Different Conclusion; is a retired teacher in England. She lives in Chard, Somerset.

 

Martha Grove Hipskind: Organic Chemistry; is a gerontologist living in Mebane, whose work has appeared in professional journals and industry publications. She is currently at work on a memoir essay.

 

Danny Key: Warm Bricks and Cold Feet, is retired and lives in Salisbury, North Carolina. His book, Hallelujah!Pass the Grits, was published in 2008.

 

Elaine Jones: Champ; is a member of the Writers’ Block writers group that meets in the Mebane Library. This is her second published work.

 Joan Leotta: Old Chocolate Box, Baking-A Winter Holiday Ritual, Count to Ten-January 10, My Pittsburg Roots; has been writing and performing since childhood. Calabash Headline: Three of this Calabash, NC award winning journalist and performer’s books were released this past summer one in romance/women’s fiction, a collection of short stories, and the third is Joan Leotta’s first picture book. Her second picture book, Summer in a Bowl, is being released on September 30.

 

Ariana Mangum: A Forgotten Landscape; is a retired English teacher and author of When the Goldenrod Sang in the Meadows, A Forgotten Landscape and Where the Butterflies Roam. Her latest book, Shenandoah Promise, came out in 2015.

 

Elizabeth Miccio: Adopted and the Red Broom and White Flakes Picnic; spent her early years in Westchester Coy, NY, and now lives in Greeley, CO, near her children and grandchildren. She is a graduate of Rocky Mountain School of Art. Later on the staff of Colorado Institute of Art, she became head of Media and taught life drawing. She is an artist and a poet. Her work includes both word and pictures of people and places she has visited. Her work has appeared in Lest the Colors Fade and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories.

 

Sybil Austin Skakle: Bells of Hatteras Village; grew up in Hatteras, NC, born January 10, 1926, was a hospital pharmacist for 23 years, has published poetry, Searchings, 2001; a memoir, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly, 2002; another memoir Valley of the Shadow, 2009. Her work has appeared in periodicals and numerous poetry and prose anthologies, four of which were published by The Chapel Hill Writers’ Discussion Group. She has been a member of Friday Noon Poets for more than thirty years.    

 

Ingibjörg Sveinsdóttir: Artic Solstice; lives in Iceland. She is an amateur writer and a professional physician.

 

Michael Warren: Artic Yowl; is the author of the novel The Estrangement of the Rain God, 3rd edition, published by Righter Books. He maintains his author web site at http//:www.tiliks.com. His first novel is the first of a tetralogy, The Glory River Saga. His newest children’s book, Squeach and the Magical Starfish came out in 2015. His second novel, The Cripple Goat was published this year.   

 

Marry Williamson: Christmas at Sunset Lodge and Happy Christmas; 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: Who Are You: 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.

 

Winnie Wyatt: The Christmas Cow, lives and writes from Glen Rose, Texas.