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Sequoyah: Power through the Pen and Press

Into the Past by H.R.R. Gorman

The English language: we all know our writing system isn’t perfect because, if it were, I wouldn’t have to spell “rhythm” so many different ways before spellcheck finally tells me it’s right. It takes a child years to learn to read and write English for this very reason. And all of this effort, wasted on the young, is because the English alphabet was borrowed from the Romans, and the Romans never toyed with the foolish idea of an alphabet for anything other than Latin (for which their alphabet was pretty much perfect).

That’s right. No English person invented their own writing system. We just stole a different system that was very much imperfect for a language with a ton of different vowel sounds. Then we proceeded to invent things like “dumb” with a b on the end because… just because we needed to make it worse.

Very few pre-literate societies are able to come up with their own writing systems, and those that do often rely on logograms (where one symbol is one word). Foreigners, usually missionaries, have invented writing systems for previously illiterate societies.

Image of Cherokee man, Sequoyah, holding a copy of his syllabary.

Downloaded from the National Portrait Galleries, this painting was created by artist Henry Inman circa 1830. It was a copy of an original painting by Charles Bird King, which has since been destroyed in a fire before it could be preserved photographically or digitally.

And one of the main inspirations for missionaries to invent writing systems for other languages is the efforts of one Cherokee silversmith: Sequoyah.

Sequoyah was born in the 1770’s (though some believe it was earlier) to a Cherokee woman and a white father, theoretically Nathaniel Gist, a fur trader. His name, Sequoya, means “pig’s foot,” which led some historians to believe he had a physical disability, perhaps a club foot. As a result, he learned to be a silversmith, which wouldn’t require him to leave his native town of Tuskigi.

Sequoyah sold his silver to people of many diverse backgrounds, and one day a white man admired his work and said, “I’d like you to sign this.”

But Sequoyah didn’t know how. He went on a journey to get someone to show him a way to spell his name, and he thought the “talking leaves” of the white Americans were interesting. He didn’t understand how the Latin alphabet worked, and he couldn’t read – he just knew it was interesting.

Then, when he participated in the War of 1812 for the Americans, he noticed that the white men could send and receive letters from home. His people, unable to do so, were missing a vital element that boosted the morale of the English-speakers. He wanted to communicate with those back home.

And so he set his mind to inventing a Cherokee writing system despite being completely illiterate, no one having ever studied the nuances of Cherokee speech, and not understanding the basics of how different alphabets, logographic systems, or syllabaries worked. He experimented with logograms, but quickly realized that a one-symbol-one-word system would take him forever to invent, learn, and teach, and it would likely never be complete.

Then – and remember, he couldn’t read, didn’t even know that English writing was based on sounds – he invented a script based off the sounds in his language. By himself, and against people burning his work because they thought it was witchcraft, he created a complete system by which his language could be written. After proving the system wasn’t witchcraft (and that his young daughter, Ayoka, wasn’t a witch for being able to read), Sequoyah then proved the usefulness of a writing system to the tribal council.

A table showing the letters of the Cherokee syllabary and what sounds they represent

Syllabary taken from Native Languages. The Roman letters on the left represent the consonant sound, and the Roman letters on the top represent the vowel sound (“v” is a nasal “eh” sound). So, “W” represents “la” in Cherokee.

And boy did they pick it up.

Unlike English, the Cherokee syllabary actually matched their language and did not need to be slaved at for years in order to understand the mind-boggling mess of spelling. It took Cherokee mere weeks to learn to read their language rather than the years it takes us. Before long, the Cherokee literacy rate matched and surpassed that of the white Americans. They established the first Indian* writing system on their own, without foreign intervention, from scratch.

Because American missionaries saw the use of a written language and translations of the bible into a people’s native tongue, many people went to foreign lands or started making syllabaries and alphabets for other people. Though Sequoyah probably isn’t well known outside of America, his genius reaches to the far corners of the earth and has made the world a better place.

So, take a moment, today, to think about your English writing system. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s yours, and you put in the effort to learn and use it. We can be thankful for our form of communication and appreciate the struggle of creating a written system at all.

For more information on the Cherokee Syllabary, there’s plenty of online resources. Several travel and museum sites have detailed information (Northern Georgia travel site, Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Cherokee NC museum) in addition to those sites mentioned in the image blocks.

I discovered a book during my research (Seqoyah: The Cherokee Genius), but I’ll admit it was very expensive and I didn’t want to purchase it because I didn’t have $70 lying around to buy a copy from a reliable seller.

Wikipedia is very helpful for white people who want to know how the syllabary works.

*I use the term Indian here because many – if not most – native works indicate that Indian is the preferred term for their people. The term “Native American” or “Native” seems to have been invented by whites and implemented as PC without consulting the people they’re referring to. Check out this article and this YouTube video to learn more about why I made this choice.

Circle Pic Small H.R.R. HRR GormanAbout the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson – which, coincidentally, is relevant to this article). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

Finding the Balance—Healing through Creativity

Over the years, negativity and fear have adversely affected our relationships, environment, and health. That has resulted in violent crimes, global warming, financial crisis, and planetary shifts. We all have seen the transformation happening in our pace of life. The result is an imbalance in our energy, and that has lead to a poor connection with our fellow humans.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 

We always wonder about the above question, don’t we? 

This question has been around for ages, and the answer is still unknown.

The question we always pose is: How can we balance our lives amidst the chaos prevalent inside and outside us? 

Balance word is not just a noun, but also a word that can throw us off a see-saw if we do not hold our grip. It’s like a tightrope walker walking on a line. It’s intricate, so the walker uses a balancing pole in her hands while walking on that rope.

The same holds for all of us. We want a balanced life. Be happy. Be content with the success and the bounties. But are we truly there?

Most of us spend our lives looking for answers; some pretend they got the answer, while a handful of us look for signs from the Universe.

I feel balance comes when we are present in our lives. And one can only be present when we are internally aligned.

The internal alignment comes first, and then the balance is experienced externally.

All of humanity is in search for that balance.

Balance is not only intricate within us, but also plays a vital role in our environment. It is a universal search, and it stretches around us and is within us at a cellular level. Our body’s hormones function courtesy the balance. We see many examples daily, such as when the seed sprouts. It is due to the balance in the conditions of water and oxygen that comes into play. The balance between the air pressure and the feathers and firm muscles make the birds fly. The balance of our constellation that allows our planet to spin and continue to make it our home.

Now that we realize that balance is critical for any living being.

This balance about a human comes from being mindful of his/her emotions. That energy that you exhale out is potent. It comes through your spoken or written words, and just your physical presence.

We can choose to pollute our environment and bring chaos by the choice of our words, or we could filter them and expel only to balance our surroundings and make it beautiful.

In this column, I will explore how we individuals who love to write can fertilize our thoughts mindfully, and deliver our work with love. We can use protection on our thoughts and conceive them intently. This can help create that balance within us so that we can continue to heal the world around us via our words of positivity and wisdom.

There is a Native American parable about a grandfather who says; I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” When asked which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”

Stand And Deliver

The title for this post should be ‘Drive and Deliver’. ‘Stand and Deliver’ sounds better, I think.  It also reminds me of the song by Adam Ant, conjuring up a wonderful image of him in his heyday dressed up like a highwayman, all eye-liner, lip gloss and black mask. A good look, I thought. I can’t say I wear much make-up these days. But I do wear a black mask, though not for committing any crime. Then again, if someone coughs near me again at the supermarket, I could be tempted…

The theme of highway robbery ties in nicely with our present crisis and the ‘Unsung Heroes’ story I’m priviliged to share with you today at Carrot Ranch. Thanks for letting me loose, Charli!

The story ends well, thanks not to Adam Ant, but to a man called, Rob.

It began just before lockdown, which in the UK started March 20th. Anticipating weeks, if not months, of isolation, I rushed to order the treadmill I had planned to weeks earlier, but never got around to. I got my online order in just in time; it sold out the next day.

Delivery was confirmed at the end of the following week on Friday. The only time the tracking facility could give, due to extra pressures caused by Covid-19, would be anytime up to 8pm. No problem. After all, it wasn’t as if I had plans to go out anywhere…

But my treadmill didn’t arrive by 8, 9 or 10pm. Nor the next day and the one after that. Tracking had no updates. It just stopped. Disappointed but not too surprised with early lockdown in full chaotic flow, I was, however, concerned. And so began a two-week long flurry of emails back and forth between me and the third-party seller, Rob.

It seemed my treadmill had come as far as the nearest depot, gone back up north hundreds of miles to Wolverhampton or such, and disappeared. Great, I thought, I bet someone nicked it. Everyone wants a treadmill now, and this one was a great price (cheap), so I bet it got “re-routed” somewhere… Memories of my laptop getting “lost” in the Czech Republic a few years ago didn’t help…

Rob, the Customer Services Manager of the sporting goods store that stocks the treadmill, apologised and assured me that he would look into it. Full of scepticism, I figured he would fob me off, I would have to chase (and oh, how I dreaded the energy-suck of all that) and would have a fight on my hands for a refund.

Dear reader, I love it when I am proved wrong.

A couple of days later, Rob emailed me back. In touch with the courier, he told me they were trying to track my order. Yes, it looked as if it had been re-routed, but he could not tell where. He would let me know as soon as he heard.

Sure enough, he got back to me the next day. As part of an entire missing delivery gone astray, he reported, the courier had now traced it and would hopefully find mine. But alas, the news came back that all had been traced… except mine. At that point, we both felt it highly unlikely that my treadmill would turn up.

Rob had one more avenue to check, he said, but if no luck, he would make arrangements to process my refund.By then, several emails had passed between us, and I noticed something. The tone of them.

Rob told me was sorry for disappointing news in these “challenging times”. I expressed my understanding of the immense pressure couriers face meeting their quotas.

We signed our emails with “take care and keep safe”.

As much as we sought to resolve my missing order, our messages acknowledged one simple fact: we all are doing our best in extraordinary times.

Believing the matter at an end, Rob emailed me with a surprising glimmer of hope. Another customer had ordered the same treadmill as mine at the same time, but upon delivery, had changed his mind. Would I like him to send that one to me, provided it passed his inspection once back at the depot? Yes, please, I replied, that would be great!

Easter on lockdown came and went, a few days went by when nothing happened and then, at last, a van pulled up outside my house. A young, bearded and cheery chap bounded out. He offered to bring the heavy box inside, self distancing of course. I relayed the story as we chatted for a few minutes.

He nodded, chuckled. Yes, their work load is huge, he said. A massive increase in online shopping. They run out of the time set by government guidelines, get re-routed, drive hundreds of miles each day.

He asked my name so he could sign me off once back in his van (no touching of any electronics).

I’m glad you got your treadmill, he said, as he left with a smile and a wave.

I looked up the courier service online and found their Facebook Page. Complaints about late deliveries filled the comments. Then I read their “Covid-19” update. They apologised for the problems some customers had experienced. They had cut back on their staff due to sickness and isolation from Covid, no longer delivered on Saturdays, and had taken on extra work for the NHS (National Health Service).

I left a message of support and thanks and vowed never to complain about White Van Man again. Even when he tailgates.

My treadmill delivery woes seemed trivial, but walking for my daily allotted exercise outside has become a challenge of its own. With narrow lanes used as “rat-runs” by local drivers and many now out walking, cycling and jogging, it’s more a hazard than a pleasure.*

When my weekly exercise class ended abruptly at lockdown (and I was just in the swing of it too, darn it,) I knew I had to do something for my mental and physical health. So my treadmill serves its good purpose.   And it even has a Bluetooth link for music. A good time as any for some Stand and Deliver.

I salute you, cheery delivery driver. And I salute you, Rob.

Thank you, my not-so unsung heroes.

*From tomorrow here in the UK, we are allowed to exercise as many times as we want and travel to parks and who knows where to do so. Hmmm. Think I’ll keep to my treadmill, for now.

While bringing her memoir, Stranger In A White Dress, to publication, Sherri’s articles, short memoir, personal essays, poetry and flash fiction are published in national magazines, anthologies and online. Sherri blogs at A View From My Summerhouse about her travels, nature and wildlife, Asperger’s Syndrome and her life as a Brit ‘Mom’ in America. She also contributes as a columnist to Carrot Ranch, an online literary community. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years, but today, she lives in England with her family, two black kitties and a grumpy Bunny. You can connect with her on her on TwitterFacebook Page and LinkedIn.

Home with the Kids — Ideas to Keep them Learning

Kids and learning are two things close to my heart. I have always been an advocate for education and learning, especially for young children, for that’s where it all starts. Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers and, although they may share responsibility in partnership with others, they never fully relinquish that position.

I have been a teacher all my life (my mum always said I was good at teaching my younger siblings how to get up to mischief) with involvement in some form of education since earning my first teacher qualifications after leaving school. Probably the only thing I wanted as much as being a teacher was to be a writer. Now I am fortunate to combine both.

I write two blogs, both with an educational focus, and freelance for other educational publishers. My ultimate aim is to be a published author of children’s stories. My first eponymous blog is the one through which I met Charli and engage with The Carrot Ranch. The second is part of a website for which I write teaching resources to support teachers of children in their first three years of school.

Over the years I have written numerous posts that promote early learning with suggestions of how parents can support their children’s learning from birth (or earlier). Having supervised my daughter’s education at home until she was nine, I have some sense of what parents are experiencing now as they juggle their new responsibility for ‘schooling’ their children with other ongoing responsibilities.

I have always promoted education as something different from schooling and I believe that parents would be wise to focus on their children’s learning, as opposed to ‘schooling’ during these different days. Many activities that form part of everyday routines are rich in opportunities for learning and, if we ensure children are interested and engaged, they will be learning. My belief is that we all, parents, teachers (and especially those ‘in charge’ of teachers) need to lighten up and reduce stress all round in these circumstances. The children will survive. They will learn. That’s what they were born to do.

If you would like to check out some of my suggestions, you could read these posts:

Ideas for learning at home when you can’t go out

Five things parents can do every day to help develop STEM skills from a young age

What parents can do to prepare their children for school

In this post, I want to share with you some online resources that you may find useful in supporting your children’s learning. Unless otherwise stated, the links lead to free information and resources and are suited for children up to about 8 years of age. I have avoided school-type resources in favour of those with more general appeal for a family to engage in at home. However, there is so much good stuff available for parents and children, I could not include them all. If you have favourite sites you use with your children at home, please add them in the comments.

Supporting young learners from birth

The Australian Literacy Educators Association has 27 Little People’s Literacy Learning Modules.  They are organised around themes and each is packed with suggestions for parents to implement with their young children at home.

Talking is Teaching (US) is a website that supports parents support their children’s learning from birth. The importance of talking with children, reading to them, and singing with them is stressed and encouraged. There are many online and downloadable resources with explicit suggestions for parents to encourage their children’s development in language, thinking, maths, science, art and social-emotional skills. A great resource for parents of young children from birth, or earlier.

Books, stories and poetry

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has put together a great collection by authors and illustrators. There are book readings, audiobooks and eBooks, art lessons, activities and lots of other fun bookish things.

Michael Rosen (UK) has written many fun stories and poems. You can view videos of his recording on his website or YouTube channel. One of my favourites is Chocolate Cake.

You can doodle along with Mo Willems and his Lunch Doodles. If you enjoy Mo Willems’s books and artwork as much as I do, you’ll love these doodle sessions.

Vooks (US) is a child-friendly ad-free streaming library of animated children books. For less than the cost of one book per month, you have access to dozens of animated stories, many of which have lesson notes and ideas for parents. (This site requires payment though offers a free trial for parents and a year free for teachers.)

The Oxford Owl for Home (UK) focuses on learning for children from 3 to 11 years of age and includes eBooks, videos of storytelling and reading (including by Julia Donaldson) and free activities for developing skills in reading and maths. The books and activities are organised according to their suitability for different age groups. Access to the site is free though registration is required for some activities.

John-John Dot com (Australia) is a video channel on which teacher John-John reads picture books.

Goodnight with Dolly Dolly Parton (US) reads a story from the Imagination Library every day for ten weeks.

Across-interests

Kids News (Australia) has a wealth of up-to-date news of interest to children. It covers a wide range of topics and includes suggestions of other things kids might enjoy such as book clubs to join and competitions to enter. The news articles contain video links and exercises for discussion and comprehension. To assist teachers and parents of students who are learning at home, it provides daily activities for children from age 4 to 14.

Scholastic has many free learn-at-home projects from PreK to year 9 with books (fact and fiction) to read, videos to watch and projects to do. There is something to interest every kid.

Citizen Science

If you want to get involved in citizen science projects that advance scientific knowledge, there are plenty of those to become involved in, depending on your interests.

You can help fight disease by solving puzzles on your computer with foldit, or by allowing Folding@home to run calculations in the background using spare graphics processing on your gaming computer.

If you live in Australia or New Zealand, you can help track the spread of influenza and Covid-19 by joining Flutracking.

If it’s natural phenomena you are interested in, join iNaturalist to record your observations of nature and share them with fellow naturalists. Join hundreds of thousands of other naturalists and projects around the world.

There are over 50 projects you can join in from home with Zooniverse, including space exploration like this one:

For these and other citizen science projects, visit the Australian Citizen Science Association or Scientific American or citizen science associations and organisations in your country.

Maths

Kathleen Morris (Australia), a primary tech teacher and host of the Student Blogging Challenge, has published a collection of 20 maths games in a free eBook which you can download from her website here. Like me, Kathleen is not a fan of worksheets and these games are easy to play with resources and equipment you probably already have at home.

Museums

While it may not be possible for you to physically visit a museum this year, many museums welcome you online. Here are links to just of few of the museums you may like to visit:

The British Museum

The Guggenheim Museum

The Museum of Modern Art

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The British Natural History Museum

The Australian Maritime Museum has lots of activities for children.

You may also like to explore the Tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI.

Art Galleries

The Google Arts and Culture page provides links to many art galleries with much to explore.

Zoos and animals

At Explore.org livecams you can visit  animals in their natural habitat, on farms, and in zoos. You can see dogs, cats, bears, goats, manatees — there are so many different animals and environments to explore.

Just ten of the many places also live streaming animals:

Victoria Zoos

San Diego Zoo

Zoo Atlanta Panda Cam

Houston Zoo

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo

African Wildlife

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta

Aquarium of the Pacific

True to Life Books has 15 wildlife videos taken by wildlife author and photographer Jan Latta. The aim of the videos is to educate children about endangered wildlife. Videos include tigers, sloths, meerkats, pandas and koalas.

On Google Earth, you can explore 31 National Parks of the United States. You might even find others to explore around the world also.

For those interested in space, NASA has made its image and video library available to all.

I hope you have found a few new sites to interest you and your children. Remember to share any other favourites of yours in the comments.

Until next time, Norah.

Service – Military or Otherwise

    When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978­­—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.

    I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.

    I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood”  of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.

    According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.

    Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue.  My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.

    The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)

WWII quilt.jpg

 

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                             The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin.

We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)

There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.

Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever expanding.

In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.

You can contact me individually through my blog susansleggs.com

Tales from the Silver Screen: Part 1 Epidemic Noir

Cinematic by Bill Engleson

In this series, depending on how long it lasts, for life, writing, and so many other things, are quite fleeting, I hope to look at a few classic films, give my take on them, perhaps even say something new that will have significance for today, and, failing that, try like the devil to be entertainingly provocative. I also hope to post a link or two about/to the films I examine, if available, so that they can be enjoyed (or dismissed) with full access.

Given the current COVID-19 rampage, and my rather melancholic, long-time predisposition to be an epidemic junkie, this first essay will draw on two thrillers from 1950:  Elia Kazan’s, Panic in the Streets, and The Killer That Stalked New York, a more obscure film, by director Earl McEvoy.

When I began to give some thought to this post, I did a quick google search for ‘Epidemic Noir’ and discovered something close, Contagion Noir. Contagion Noir popped up back in 2011 when the movie, Contagion, was released, and was subsequently reviewed on the blog, www.criminalelement.com.  This site is a wildly engaging book and film noir encyclopedia and I highly recommend it. The one essay, Contagion Noir, addressed the two films I want to talk about so it’s possible I will be covering territory already covered. That has never stopped me before. Even in duplication, I will try and be creative and original in my approach.

With that caveat fessed up, lets begin.

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On a New Year’s Eve back in the early 1990’s, a few friends and I celebrated by watching a couple of films I had selected on my now long-departed VHS player. One of those films was Panic in the Streets. Photographed in New Orleans and starring Richard Widmark as a Public Health Doctor and Paul Douglas as a grumpy New Orleans cop, the film begins with a marvelously jazzy musical night ride in the city, a ride that ends on a dark, somber back alley street, a street where your gut tells you anything might happen. The camera sweeps upstairs to the second floor where six guys have been playing poker. Rather suddenly one of them, a sweaty, feverish fellow, ahead in the winnings and apparently just off a boat from somewhere, has the temerity to want to leave the game. This does not sit well with his compatriots. A few of the players follow him out into the lonely night, eventually catching up to him and pummeling him unmercifully. Then, without warning, Jack Palance, Blackie to friends and foes alike, the alpha male of the motley group, unhesitatingly caps the foreigner. Twice.

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Clearly, these guys take their poker seriously. More seriously than life. And, wouldn’t you know it, in no time we discover that the haplessly plugged foreigner had Pneumonic Plague. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneumonic_plague.

Fortunately, Richard Widmark plays a take charge Public Health Doctor, a Dr. Fauci kind of guy, but younger. In no time, he convinces a gathering of cops and politicos (including a very take-charge Mayor) that they have 48 hours to find the person or persons responsible for plugging the dead guy before they have an epidemic.

He cites a real life 1924 Pneumonic Plague incident.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1924_Los_Angeles_pneumonic_plague_outbreak

Then he hits them with a powerhouse soliloquy. “Pneumonic plague can be spread like a common cold…You have forty-eight hours. Shortly after that you have the makings of an epidemic. I may be an alarmist…but I have seen this disease work. I’m telling you if it ever gets loose it can spread over the entire country…and the result will be more horrible than any of can imagine.”

The balance of the movie is the chase and the conclusion. Why would I say much more and spoil it for you?  I will mention the odd tidbit of plot but that will be it.

                                                                   ****

While The Killer That Stalked New York has a few domestic moments, all fraught with duplicitous tension, I might add, Panic in the Streets, for all its darkness, has some lovely moments of marital and parental harmony. And a really cute kid to boot, eight-year-old Tommy Rettig, who would go on to star in Lassie in the mid-fifties, age out of cinematic Lotus land in the early 1960’s, and, eventually, become something of a Computer programming legend.

Another mid-fifty child star also appears very briefly in The Killer that Stalked New York. Billy Gray, who spent the four years from 1954-58 as Bud Anderson, the only son in the prototype fifties family show, Father Knows Best, was an incredibly busy twelve-year-old in 1950, having roles in a dozen movies and TV series, including a walk-on in one of the great noir’s, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place starring Humphrey Bogart.

Immediately after Billy Gray’s walk on (the Mayor is reffing a pickup baseball game with some kids and gets called away to deal with the epidemic, so he asks “Pinkie” to take over)  the Mayor agrees to vaccinate 8,000,000 New Yorkers for free. There follows a beautiful montage of inoculation. Everyone gets the needle, starting with the Mayor. A Newspaper Heading reads “MASS VACCINATIONS BEGIN.” In a Barber Shop, men argue over the need. One Trumpian fellow says, “Two Cases of Smallpox don’t make no epidemic!” This character then says, “Nobody can get it unless he rubs up against someone who’s got it.”

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On a musical note Panic in the Streets offers some great jazz and blues scores and the shots of home life are filled with the gentle sweet sounds of Glenn Miller’s, I Know Why and So Do You. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPh_RycALQA .

The Killer That Stalked New York is not quite as musically blessed.

While Panic in The Streets is a top-notch location movie with a wealth of emerging stars, a great score, and, even, eventually, the recipient of an  Academy Award for Best Writing , Motion Picture Story, The Killer That Stalked New York is, by some standards,  a slighter lesser effort. Still, it has significant credibility in my book (yes, the one I am still writing.)

It begins,  as you will see if you watch it, assuming You Tube doesn’t take it down https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y3c9mXhvyY with a slightly deceptive image of a huge shadowy woman hovering over the New York skyline, clutching a pistol, though sadly not in this poster, but still looking menacing, even more menacing than Jack Palance. If that’s possible.

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The story, based on a real life incident a from a couple of years earlier,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_New_York_City_smallpox_outbreak , moves along at an infectious pace. The “killer” is returning from Cuba being tailed by a Treasury Agent. Clearly there is a traditional crime unfolding. Soon though, we watch the health of the “killer” painfully, feverishly portrayed by Evelyn Keyes (who made her first serious  cinematic bones as Scarlet O’Hara’s younger sister,) start to decline. We bear witness to those whom she comes in contact with, encounters in her desperate journey to get to her philandering hubby and partner in crime. We watch her sad scurrying through the streets of New York, frantically, almost obliviously unaware of her own tragic tale.

At one point, a friendly cop (someone who ups her anxiety, we can tell) intercepts her, and guides her into a nearby clinic. She has a caring moment with an ailing child, a child about to enter hospital for whooping cough, Pertussis, a deadly child killing disease at the time. The physician at the clinic (played by the dashing William Bishop who died much too young and who was in a favourite comedy from my childhood, It’s a Great Life,) checks Keyes out quickly, gives her a bottle of some unnamed medication, and sends her on her way. I should note here that after he dispatches her, he does a modest job of washing his hands -not even close to twenty seconds. In a subsequent scene at the hospital, he and a colleague do an exemplary job of the same activity (and the colleague gives it almost to a full minute.) A bravado performance of hand washing.

From then on, the story unfolds with the snap and crackle of a well-honed B flick. As in Panic in The Streets, a flurry of inoculations occurs. Both of these epidemics, smallpox and pneumonic plague, are classics, each having made numerous stops down through the years unlike COVID-19.

Both Panic in the Streets and The Killer That Stalked New York have a grand array of supporting actors, many who have few or no lines but who lend a realistic aura throughout.

One actor in fact, Dan Riss, is in both films. In New Orleans, he’s an irritating newspaper man who needs to be restrained from publishing the story that will panic the city. In New York, he’s a detective/public health investigator tracking down viral contacts. I imagine the redemption was comforting.

A few other actors who stand out for me in TKTSNY are Walter Burke as a larcenous bellboy and Jim Backus, as a lecherous nightclub owner (and just beginning his long running career as Mr. Magoo.)

Final Thoughts

I don’t want to ruin the endings for anyone. And I admit that here and there, I went off on a few tangents. That is part of the delight I find in writing about old films. Tangents. There are always tangents. Both film noirs were shot on location. Panic in the Street, as stated earlier, was shot on location in New Orleans. The Killer That Stalked New York, was, not surprisingly, shot on the streets of the Big Apple. As I write this, one of these two cities is an epicenter for COVIC 19 and the other is on its way up the COVIC 19 nightmare ladder. Both movies and their real life urban-counterparts are peopled by positive role-model politicians. I like to think that in some small way, these films might provide local, state and federal politicians of today with some smart and principled role modelling. Clearly some of our leaders don’t need the instruction. Others clearly do.

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Bill Engleson (2)

 

About Bill Engleson:

I am a Canadian author with two books, my 2013 novel, Like a Child to Home, and my 2016 collection of humorous literary essays titled Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul.

I write flash fiction, essays, poetry, and reviews and have two larger projects including my first novel’s prequel, Drawn Towards the Sun

My website/blog is www.engleson.ca

Lockdown literature: recommended reading for facing, fleeing or forgetting the virus through fiction

Lockdown Literature by Anne GoodwinWith all but essential workers on lockdown, and our social lives on hold, the time seems ripe for a reading revolution. But this is no holiday; anxiety will skew what and how we read. Some will want to escape to another world where there’s no fear of contagion; others will seek out stories that echo our turbulent times. Others will find solace in nature, in extending our outdoor time through words on the page. Whatever your current inclinations, I hope I have something to tempt you, from my reading of around 140 novels a year. Most of these are reviewed on my blog: clicking on the title will take you there. And if none of these take your fancy, let me know through the comments and I’ll try to suggest something more to your taste.

Novels about confinement and pandemics

Fiction can help us process difficult experiences by engaging with stories which parallel our own. We can vicariously explore our emotions through discovering how the characters cope. We do this effortlessly, unconsciously, and – unlike our own predicament – if it gets too hairy, we can simply close the book.

It’s no surprise that sales have soared recently of Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague (La Peste). More surprising, perhaps, is that at the end of last year I read two novels about the Black Death: did these authors know something the rest of us didn’t?

If you fear going stir crazy to staring at four walls, spare a thought for Oisín Fagan’s characters in Nobber, a darkly entertaining tale of pestilence, madness and land seizure. Debarred from leaving their windowless hovels, the townsfolk languish in darkness and stifling summer heat, along with their moribund relatives and putrefying dead.

A little more sober, perhaps, To Calais in Ordinary Time by James Meek is an impressive, if challenging, linguistic achievement, exploring power, belief, gender, love and misogyny set in cataclysmic times. Revisiting my review a few months on, I’m heartened by the thread of common humanity, as three English cultures, so separate they don’t even speak the same language, find a degree of mutual respect.

Not about sickness, but my go-to novel about confinement, The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader provides a fascinating insight into life in a mediaeval English village, with its feudal system on one hand and the power of the church on the other. Yet the novel seems highly contemporary in its themes of religiosity, obsession and interdependency.

While not physically locked in, the central character in Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini, translated from the Italian by J Ockenden, is willingly estranged from society. It’s a a beautifully compassionate story of an old man gradually becoming estranged from himself. Whether due to dementia, psychosis or social isolation, the author perfectly encapsulates how his attempts to safeguard his shreds of sanity pitch him deeper into the muddled maelstrom of his mind.

Locked up, not alone, or even with family, but with fifty-seven other international hostages in an unnamed South American country, the characters in Ann Patchett’s multi-award-winning Bel Canto find a sense of community amid the fear and boredom. (No review for this as I read it before I started blogging but I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.)

For some who work in offices, lockdown might feel like freedom in contrast. That’s if we can believe the atmosphere evoked in The Room by Jonas Karlsson, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, a marvellous Kafkaesque fable about office politics, diversity and differing versions of reality.

Novels to escape into

Fiction can be a retreat from painful reality by transporting us to worlds different to our own. While we might not have an actual time machine, we can forget our woes when our minds travel to some hypothetical future or back into the past.

Classics can be comforting at such times, especially if we’ve read them before. But if you’re an Austen fan bemoaning the fact that she’ll never launch another bestseller, you might enjoy Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister. It begins as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from a neglected point of view, rehabilitating not only dour Mary but scheming Charlotte Lucas, oleaginous Mr Collins and shadowy Aunt Gardiner. It then moves into its own as Mary is herself transformed into a convincing Austen heroine, both endearing to the reader and suitably flawed.

If Regency England still seems too recent, Lux by Elizabeth Cook takes us right back to New Testament times with – among other themes – a feminist reimagining of the story of Bathsheba, supposed seductress of the psalm-writer, King David.

Fast forward to the twentieth century for Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage. Light as a soufflé, and with touches of humour, it’s a moving tribute to the campaign for women’s suffrage with a credible portrait of a heroic woman whose loyalty to the wrong person ends up hurting herself and those who love her best.

For a zany read with laugh-out-loud humour, spend a few pleasant hours with Shona McMonagle, the feisty time-travelling heroine of Olga Wojitas’ debut, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, when she’s invited by the 200-year-old founder of her alma mater to serve as a goodwill ambassador.

I couldn’t find many futuristic novels that aren’t also dystopian, which might not be the best form of escape, but Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut is a marvellously quirky exception. While some novels suffer from the weight of too many stories, Spaceman of Bohemia manages to be much bigger than the sum of its many parts: sci-fi adventure; love story; sociopolitical history of the Czech Republic and homage to Prague; psychodrama of how the actions of one generation shape the next; a meditation on identity, adaption to loss, and what makes us human.

 

The nature cure

There’s some evidence that engaging with nature can be therapeutic, but that’s small consolation for anyone with no green space accessible at a short distance from home. Fortunately, it seems imagined scenes and scenarios can also be beneficial and we can wander literary landscapes free from social distancing demands. While many will prefer to facilitate vicarious visits through non-fiction if, like me, you’re a fiction freak, there are plenty of places to find your nature fix. But be warned, if there are people present they won’t all smell of roses: the last in my list is probably the most upbeat!

If you like your wild places wild, I strongly recommend Polly Clark’s Tiger in which three disparate characters are united by their respect for the Siberian tiger and, eventually, a particular female who patrols a territory of 500 square miles in one of the harshest environments on earth.

An East Anglian farm in summer 1933, might seem tame by comparison and there are some lovely descriptions of rural life in nature writer Melissa Harrison’s All Among the Barley. But we know from the opening pages that something dreadful is to happen in this sympathetic portrayal of a mind unravelling in the context of a community that is likewise losing its way.

East Anglia is a little too flat for my liking, so let’s lace up our walking boots and head to the Italian Alps. The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre, is a lovely lyrical coming-of-age story about mountains, masculinity and family relationships with unbridgeable gaps.

If you want less sky, join me in the Canadian forest with Sarah Leipciger, author of The Mountain Can Wait, a poignant tale of family and fatherhood and the conflicts between work and home. At the opposite end of the Americas, Nothing but Dust by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson, is a startlingly honest account of the harshness of life on the Patagonian steppe and the impact of a mother’s inability to love either herself or her sons.

At this time of year, I’m up with the sun most mornings and can catch the ornithological chorus outside my door. If that’s your kind of thing, you might enjoy Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer, translated from the Dutch by Antoinette Fawcett. It’s a heart-warming – but unsentimental – novel about an inspiring woman: English eccentric, lay scientist, talented musician and ornithologist with the courage to live life on her own terms.

Buying books

Ebooks are probably safer at the moment, but we do have some choice in how we get hold of them, as we do for print.

Your local bookshop might be closed but, if you want it to survive the crisis, do check whether they’re open to email orders which they’ll deliver themselves or send through the mail. Alternatively, there are online retailers who will donate a portion of their profits to your nominated shop: Hive in the UK and Indiebound in the US (I’m not sure if the latter actually sells books – let me know!)

Some of these also supply ebooks, as do small independent publishers. Do support them if you can!

Let’s get social!

Have you read any of these novels? Have I tempted you to try something new? Can you suggest any other books to help us face, flee or forget the pandemic?

Do you know of any initiatives to support independent bookshops and small presses at the moment? If so, spread the word below!

If you want some advice on finding a novel on a particular theme or in a specific location, just ask. If I can’t help you, someone else probably can.

This post comes from Rough Writer Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal, with around ten novel reviews a month. A former clinical psychologist, she’s also the author of two novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill.

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Subscribe to Anne’s newsletter for a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist.

 

Into the Past: The Not-so-Spanish Spanish Flu

With Coronavirus/Covid-19 currently raging across the globe, many people are looking to the past for comparisons. Since recurrent diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox, and others feel too far in the past to really compare with, many have chosen a deadly pandemic for inspiration:

The century-old outbreak of the Spanish Flu.

The Spanish Flu, like most strains of influenza, tended to attack the respiratory system and often made the body vulnerable to pneumonia which only further complicated a patient’s prognosis. With no ventilators (the first negative pressure ventilator used on humans – the “iron lung” – wasn’t tested until 1928), no antivirals such as Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir phosphate; look for “vir” at the end of drugs to identify an antiviral), and widespread misinformation campaigns, those who lived in 1918 were facing a grimmer outlook than we can expect here in 2020. But, lo, did I mention above “misinformation campaigns”? How could this possibly be in the glorious past?!

The news industry in the 1910s was quickly learning from the skillbook of Nelly Bly, who pioneered investigative journalism. These new techniques, wherein journalists dove into the action, led to exposes on corrupt politicians, business owners, and social issues, but they were not the only types of journalists out there. Sensationalist journalism, perfected by Hearst and Pulitzer at the turn of the century, was about to be hijacked for clearly nationalistic causes. Benito Mussolini of World War II fame, for example, honed his political ideologies espousing extreme authoritarianism and an Italian ethno-state.

More broadly, however, nations found themselves in the need of propaganda when facing the meat grinder of World War I. If you were German, your newspapers needed to be pro-German, otherwise the kaiser wouldn’t be able to recruit enough fresh bodies to turn into corpses. If you’re English, the stories need to be pro-England, otherwise Parliament couldn’t shame enough boys into accepting destruction in the trenches.

And, in America, President Woodrow Wilson needed you to shut up about the flu.

Patient zero of the 1918 Flu Pandemic was a farmer in Kansas. The flu spread in the small town of Haskell and later, due to sons being called to the draft and going to large training camps, military installations such as Camp Funston in Kansas. The flu rampaged through the camp, but luckily the doctors realized something was afoot and did their best to quarantine the sick. Though they eventually calmed the virus in the camp using isolation measures, it wasn’t completely effective, and the sick were shipped off to fight in Europe where the virus spread.

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An ambulance hauling a patient in 1918, manned by nurses recruited for the effort. Image from the CDC image gallery.

At the same time, Wilson was apprised of the situation. He knew there was a virulent strain of flu – or something else just as devastating – destroying lives in Kansas. With his war efforts finally underway, he worried the risk of squelching American morale with news of a rapidly-spreading plague would dampen draft and training enthusiasm or compliance. The nation had been deeply divided about joining the war just a year ago, and now (Wilson believed) was not the time to make the populace back out of supporting the war efforts.

So he straight up banned reporting on the virus.

Once in Europe, the virus quickly spread among the ranks of both sides of the fight. Most European nations’ journalism was similarly stunted as America’s had been, what with the need to recruit more people to die. Despite the toll of the disease eventually matching or and eclipsing the number of deaths caused by the war itself, nations such as Britain, Germany, and France all refused to admit the virus was spreading in their ranks. They covered it up.

The only Western nation that didn’t inhibit coverage of the pandemic was Spain.

And boy, did American news latch the heck onto that. With the ability to point to Spanish newspapers as the first publications about the flu, and thus by calling it “Spanish Flu,” American newspapers were finally able to report as the second wave of the virus ravaged places like Camp Devens near Boston, followed soon after by east-coast metropolises. Politicians and military men still tried to downplay the fatality of the virus, which led to the mayor of Philadelphia allowing a massive parade that caused an enormous spread of death and destruction throughout the US, just as the virus – now permanently deemed “Spanish Flu” thanks to misinformation campaigns – continued to rage throughout Europe and Asia.

But misinformation didn’t stop those people who could be called the heroes of the Spanish Flu. In the effort to stop the flu, many doctors found difficulties in isolating the pathogen and, thus, determining a method to develop a vaccine against the disease. Because of the weakened immune systems of the sick, secondary illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia complicated this search. The haste to find a cure often led to sloppy lab work, and many worried that quarantine would be the only effective measure.

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Image: Anna Williams, true American hero; image taken from the NIH website.

Though this did, sadly, end up being the case since the flu mutated into a less pathogenic form by the next year (as flu tends to do), some doctors did amazing work to discover the flu as a “filterable virus”. Anna Williams, one of the few women in the medical research field at the time, was the first to make this distinction while many others insisted the disease was a resurgence of the bubonic plague. Her efforts with the 1918 flu pandemic eventually led to better understanding and our ability to combat the flu and other viral diseases. Other doctors, especially military doctors at camps, were the first to prove the disease could be limited by quarantine.

All of them, however, were instrumental in establishing public health departments and efforts across the nation.

And, here in 2020, someone will be a new hero we should appreciate. Already, Chinese doctors (many of whom sadly fell to the disease) could be considered heroes for their efforts to sound the whistle and treat early patients. Smaller heroes, such as bloggers like us, can make sure to provide only accurate information while others (resisting… urge… to… start internet fights) may spread misinformation.

Into the Past Prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about people who tell the truth in the face of many lies. Don’t feel constricted to coronavirus or the 1918 flu pandemic, but feel free to use any of the information presented here.

There won’t be a roundup, but you are encouraged to share your work in the comments.

For more information on the Spanish Flu, I encourage you to read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. You can find a quicker overview posted by the CDC. If you’re into podcasts, the American History Tellers episode “What We Learned from Fighting the Spanish Flu” can be found on Stitcher or on your favorite podcast app (I use Podcast Republic, available on Google Play).

About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

Ranch Recipes

First a saloon, and now a rotation of new columns from writers across the ranch. Carrot Ranch is gathering in the literary community as the world pauses and hunkers down.

Every Monday, you can expect to have fun with Kid and Pal, creations of D. Avery, who will operate the Saddle Up Saloon where Ranchers and their characters can gather. D. will interview characters and their creators, prompt writers, and generally keep the wit and writing flowing.

Every Tuesday, you can expect a column and a “closed call” in rotation among a fine array of Ranchers, including H.R.R. Gorman, Anne Goodwin, Bill Engleson, Ann Edall-Robson, Susan Sleggs, Norah Colvin, Sherri Matthews and me, Charli Mills.

Columns will vary in topic and include a call to participate. For example, I’m going to ask if any of you have recipes to share today. You can respond in the comments. A “closed call” means we are not link-sharing, blog hopping or publishing submissions. We want to create weekly social engagement and give writers a chance to play in the Carrot Ranch sandbox. Have fun! Be social!

We will continue as normal with the 99-word story challenges on Thursdays to share links, blogs, and publish submissions to the collection. If you want to publish in the collection, remember to enter the submission form. If you want to respond to any Monday or Tuesday prompts, do so in the comments.

Ranch Recipes made use of easily transported food that could feed large gatherings. It was said that my great-grandmother, who was a ranch cook, had no concept of making a small meal. Her recipes include beef and paired well with pinto beans.

Shortages at the grocery store will challenge us to think beyond our standard fixings. A good shift in thinking is to practice substitutions. How can you make a familiar dish from different ingredients? How can you alter it to reduce preparation time? Great-grandma’s enchiladas are time-consuming to make. This recipe is an easy one that alters her original but maintains a similar flavor. It’s also similar to lasagne but doesn’t call for pasta, which might not be in stock.

Enchilada Casserole

1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 cup black olives
1 medium can Enchilada Sauce
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup cheddar cheese shredded

Brown ground beef and onions together for about 10 to 12 minutes, drain. Spray a casserole or pan (8×12 inches). Place half of tortillas in bottom. Spoon half of beef mixture on top and sprinkle with half the olives. Then layer the last tortillas, beef mixture, olives and cheese. Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve with beans, garlic bread, and a green salad.

What if you can’t find beef? Try chicken or pork instead. A vegetarian option replaces the meat with 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can of black beans, and 1 can of corn. A vegan option replaces the cheese with a nut “cheese.” If you can’t find enchilada sauce, use any kind of jarred salsa or taco sauce. Corn tortillas last in the fridge much longer than flour tortillas. They make a great substitute if your store is short on bread.

Bottom line is to not panic and ranch forward. What would a chuckwagon boss do? Take stock of what is available, and use your creativity to play with ingredients and alter familiar recipes.

What tips or altered recipes are helping you shop during a shortage? Share in the comments.