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The Words We Know

In recent discussion with my husband about decorating our kitchen, I asked if we had enough paint for the base boards. Base boards? For the life of me, I couldn’t think what we call them here in England. Skirting boards. Yes, that’s what I meant.

This August will mark eighteen years since I left California. Eighteen years and it still won’t be as long as the time I lived there. I am British born and bred, but I left in my twenties and lived in America until my mid-forties. Those years shaped me into who I am today. They shaped my American/British children. And our heritage is richer for it.

My family is a blended mix of traditions and learning. My eldest son taught me what Thanksgiving meant when I volunteered in his first grade classroom. My middle boy taught me the story of Johnny Appleseed planting apple trees. My youngest gave me a tour of a ruined Spanish mission. Together, we learnt about California’s history.

In turn in England, I gave them fireworks on their first Bonfire Night in November. In the summer, I bought them 99 ice cream cones with chocolate flakes from a van by the sea. In between I took them to Hampton Court to show them where Henry VIII once lived.

In America, I did this: I got married, worked in downtown Los Angeles and moved to the Central Coast. I gave birth, raised my children through the American school system. I took college classes. I rented houses, bought one, lost one and bought again. I drove a Camaro that leaked power steering fluid. I switched to a family-friendly Windstar and got pulled over by a cop for a “moving violation” at a four-way stop sign on my way to church. I travelled the length and breadth of California and marvelled at Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

I camped at Mount Shasta and watched a racoon steal our Cheezits.

 In America I found joy and heartbreak. People I loved died. I got divorced. I moved back to England with my children and the remnants of our American dream in a shipping container. But America and our life there did not leave us. My husband has observed the unique way, as he puts it, that I interact with my children when we are gathered. I am not aware of it, it isn’t obvious. But it’s intrinsic because it’s who we are

I liken it to a friend from my school days growing up in Suffolk. She would invite me to her home for tea, and one afternoon her grandmother called for a quick chat on the phone. She lived hours away in Birmingham, my friend’s original home. My friend chatted away, oblivious that she had broken out in a strong “Brummie” accent. We laughed about it afterwards, but she hadn’t realised she’d reverted to her childhood lingo. She had slipped into it naturally, without thinking.

Expressions with words used differently once gave me pause. The first time an American asked me, ‘What’s up?’ I was taken aback. Nothing was wrong, couldn’t he tell? I soon realised he meant it in friendly greeting. Today in the UK it’s common knowledge, but in 70s Britain?  Not so much.

As a “Resident Alien” in America, I retained my British citizenship with my rights of permanent abode. I could work, pay my taxes, but I could not serve on a jury, nor vote. This got more frustrating as time went by. I remained close to my family and roots in England to the point of homesickness, which never went away. But as time passed, I aligned myself more strongly with American politics, schooling and life in general.

My British accent stuck out in California. My American children stick out in England. It will always be so, but home is where we make it. And though our lives are different now, distant reminders are never far away.

Not so long ago on a typical food/grocery shop, I placed my bags in the boot/trunk of my car. I returned the trolley/cart to the shop/store entrance. I got in my car, closed the door. Where’s the steering wheel? The ignition? My mind had drifted. A fleeting thought in my subconscious, a distant memory of another day and not much to tell. But enough to plonk me down in the wrong seat. The passenger seat.

I smiled to myself and felt like a right twit. The driver’s side once-upon-a-time ago, but not now. I hadn’t driven in America for many years. A simple matter of getting out and going round to the driver’s side. Except I sensed eyes on me. That feeling you get when someone’s watching. A case of goose pimples/bumps? I turned my head and met the stare of a man in the car next to me. He had a sandwich to his mouth and too a chunk out. Of all the empty cars in the car park/parking lot, I had to get this one

I ducked down on pretence of rummaging through the glove/compartment box. Stupid when I think of it. I wouldn’t give it a second thought now to hop out of my car and walk round to the other side. Covid has definitely changed me. But that’s another story. For this story, I will tell you that I kept my head down. I slid my right leg over the gear/stick shift and hand/parking break into the driver’s seat. I heaved the rest of me into position and took off. I didn’t stop to notice if the man had finished his lunch.

A few times hence this has happened, but the gap grows longer and longer. Life goes on but we don’t forget. The lyrics from a song play on a loop in my head…you know the song, you know the words. Hotel California.

My life in America showed me where I belong. Home, I discovered, isn’t always a place, but it resides in our hearts with those we love most. And love is a word we know on both sides of the pond.

Until next time then, I bid you cheerio and have a nice day.

Sherri has published a collection of non-fiction articles in magazines, anthologies and online at her Summerhouse blog, diverse guest features and a memoir column at Carrot Ranch, an international online literary community. A keen walker and photographer from the UK, Sherri raised her family in California for twenty years. She has worked in the legal and medical fields and is now carer and advocate to her youngest on the autistic spectrum. Today Sherri lives in England’s West Country not far from the sea, hard at work on final edits of her debut memoir.

Maths is Everywhere

Maths is something many say they can’t do and didn’t enjoy in school. Many say it’s too boring or too complex or that they don’t understand it. If you have an aversion to maths, you’re not alone, and you probably don’t want me quoting figures about what percentage of the population suffers from it. Let me just say, it’s a big number.

However, we use maths every day. We couldn’t function fully in everyday life without it. From the moment we wake up and look at the clock until shutting down at night, we are using mathematics. Even if you don’t look at the clock, knowing that it’s morning is using maths.

You see, many think of maths as having to do exclusively with numbers, but it is more than that. It involves patterns, shape, probability, data collection and problem solving. We use it almost every moment of the day without giving it a thought.

We use it when we schedule events in order, like deciding what we will do in the day or even in what order we will be dress ourselves.

We use it when we sort items to place onto shelves, in cupboards or drawers.

We use it to work out our budget — what to spend and what to save.

We use it to navigate our way around the neighbourhood or places further afield. 

Since maths is such an integral part of everyday life, it is important to avoid, as far as possible, passing on one’s anxiety about maths to children, not just because they are equally capable of developing it on their own, but because they’d be better off without it.

If a child does experience difficulty in any areas of maths – try to avoid reinforcing it by saying that you always had trouble with maths. Instead, say something like, yes, it is difficult, but we can work on it. We’ll figure it out. Encourage them (and you) to develop a growth, rather than a fixed, mindset. We can all learn given the appropriate support.

As an early childhood educator, I focus on helping children find enjoyment and purpose in the world around them, including things mathematical, from a young age.

Here are a few ways to get your children using maths in everyday situations (without necessarily labelling it as maths) that make its use fun. The suggestions come from 25 ways to keep the children thinking mathematically during the holidays. The full list can be downloaded free from readilearn here.

Number and place value
  • Count items e.g. birds in the sky, shells collected from the beach, people for lunch, steps in a staircase, windows on a house, seats in a bus . . .
  • Include your child in shopping activities
  • When your child is sharing e.g. the biscuits, balloons or slices of fruit, ask them to:
    • Predict if there will be enough for everyone to have one, or more than one each
    • Share out the items, allocating the same number to each
    • Determine if there are any left over and what to do with them
  • Use terms like half and quarter correctly, e.g. when cutting apples, oranges, sandwiches, pizza, to indicate pieces of equal size
  • Read books with number concepts e.g. Pat Hutchins’s The Doorbell Rang, Eric Carle’s Rooster’s off to see the world or Kim Michelle Toft’s One Less Fish
Patterns and algebra
  • Use items to make patterns e.g. sort and create a pattern from shells collected at the beach
  • Look for patterns in the environment e.g. fences, tiles, walls and window, zebra crossings
Measurement and geometry
  • Include your child in cooking activities and allow or support them to:
    • measure the ingredients
    • set the temperature on the oven
    • work out the cooking finish time
  • A child’s understanding of volume and capacity can be developed when they:
    • pour glasses of water from the jug and discuss terms such as enough, full, empty, half or part full, more, less
  • Scales can be used to compare the mass of different items or quantities e.g., compare an apple and an orange, measure the quantity of butter required for a recipe
  • Measuring length can be included by:
    • measuring and comparing height
  • Use the calendar to
    • learn the names and sequence of days in the week or months in the year
    • count the passing days or the number of days until an event
Probability and statistics
  • When discussing the weather or desired activities include the language of probability e.g. possible, certain, likely, unlikely, impossible

These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. I’m sure you will think of many other everyday activities that will help your children develop mathematical concepts.

Celebrate Maths with the International Day of Mathematics

Another reason to celebrate maths and to turn around any negative attitudes is the International Day of Mathematics coming up soon on March 14. This year’s theme is Mathematics for a Better World. I can find no argument with that goal.

If you are keen to be involved, there are suggestions on the website, including a poster competition which is open until 1 March. Most of the suggestions are suitable for older children in classroom groups and organised events. However, I think the Scavenger Hunt could be used by a family working together and the Paper Activities could be adapted for younger children or substituted with; for example, making origami shapes, making shapes from tangrams, completing jigsaw puzzles and colour by number activities.

A gift for you

Many lessons and activities in mathematics for children aged 5 – 7 are available at readilearn. Like the list above, many are free. Others are available individually or as a collection through a small annual subscription. If you would like to see what’s available and whether they may be of benefit to your children, I am happy to offer Carrot Ranchers the first year’s subscription free. Simply use carrot at the checkout to obtain your gift (valid until the International Day of Mathematics, 14 March 2021).

But wait there’s more — Pi Day

Many of you will already know March 14 as Pi Day, celebrated because the date is often written as 3/14 and Pi (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter) is approximately 3.14.

The Pi Day website is also loaded with mathematical information and activities. I really enjoyed reading the Top 25 Most Interesting Pi Facts. It also lists ten reasons why mathematics is important and has information and videos to support understanding of some hard-to-get concepts.

The Exploratorium is also a great resource for learning about Pi. And of course, if all else fails on Pi Day, eat pie. Of course, you will discuss what fraction of the pie each person gets, won’t you?

The Birthday Paradox

In her post here at the Carrot Ranch last week, D. Avery stated that her husband and her sister-in-law’s mother shared a birthday. In response to the post, Ritu commented that there were a number of overlapping birthdays in her family, and I agreed that there were also a number in mine. I am constantly amazed by the frequency with which births, deaths and other events in my family fall on the same date while other dates remain bare.

I guess the further you cast the net, the more dates will coincide. However, I was intrigued by a phenomenon referred to as the birthday paradox. This states that in a room of 23 people, there is a fifty-fifty chance of two people having the same birthday. It doesn’t seem that likely to me but then others more mathematically able have worked out the probability.

What’s your birthday?

I thought it might be fun to compare dates to see how many of the Carrot Ranchers’ birthdays overlap. To join in, just pop your birthday (no year required) in the comments. I’m 18 June.

Matching family birthdays

Although I am one of 10 (so 12 in the family), there are no overlapping birthdays, though some are close with just one day apart. We only have to move sideways and compare the cousins’ birthdays to find a few that match, some with three or more sharing the same day.

I was interested in the following information that came up when searching the birthday paradox, so I followed it to the source at KLTV and an article about Unusual Mother Trivia

The highest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782) of Shuya, Russia. Between 1725 and 1765, in a total of 27 confinements, she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. 67 of them survived infancy.

My mind boggles. Of course, each set of twins, triplets and quadruplets share the same date, but there were 27 ‘confinements’, so chances are there were at least two matching birthdates in different years. Unfortunately, there appears to be no proof of the births or of the claim itself. Vassilyev’s wife, identified as Valentina in this article on Wikipedia, must have been healthy and strong. In fact, the meaning ‘healthy and strong’ is attributed to the name Valentina. Another coincidence? What are the chances of that?

Enjoy your mathematical encounters.

Until next time.

Norah

How Blogging and Rod Serling Helped Me Conquer Dyslexia

I recall a friend who always read the last page of a book before turning to the first page and reading it. I always thought it an odd thing to do – knowing the ending before the beginning.

“I’m glad you can’t do that with a movie,” I told her. These were the days before video players invaded our homes.

I often think back about how that friend read books, more so since I became a blogger and started to write and publish my thoughts onto a tiny piece of the web. Although I’ve had a passion for writing since I can remember, being dyslexic often stopped me from pursuing my dreams of writing a book and getting it published.

February the 12th, 2014 was the day I began the next battle with dyslexia. For far too long, I’d allowed it to win without putting up much of a fight. However, on that February day, quite by chance, I’d discovered the world of blogging. And reading the last page first was about to make a lot more sense to me.

For the first few hours that day, I tried convincing myself that there was no such thing as dyslexic authors. Although I loved writing, I often regarded words as an enemy. Some of them would trick me, while others would confuse me and send me off into a maze that had no exits. So why would anyone with dyslexia want to write?

Before writing my first post, I stumbled upon a blog about a subject I loved – The cult TV show ‘The Twilight Zone.’

the-twilight-zone

The creator, and writer of many of the 156 episodes of the show was Rod Serling, and I always looked forward to how he took you on a journey up a path you thought you knew, only to find that the twist he had planned took you to a completely different location. Although the clues of what was to come were there, he’d manage to trick you into thinking something else was going to happen.

I saw Rod Serling as some of those words that often tricked me when reading. But I also saw him as a ‘writing’ hero and somebody I would go on to admire for the gift he had of deceiving the reader. Whenever I watched one of the episodes he’d written, I was always gobsmacked at how he’d trick me into thinking I knew what was going to happen at the end.

It wasn’t long before I tried my hand at writing a few short stories. Like Serling’s stories, they take the reader on a familiar journey to a destination they think they know, but end up taking them somewhere, they never thought existed. As I wrote more and more of these stories, I soon discovered a form of writing where being dyslexic didn’t seem to matter.

However, just as Serling added twists towards the end of his stories and screenplays, I soon found myself comparing myself to the friend who read the last page of a book first. Instead of starting at the beginning of a story, I found myself writing twisted endings first and working backwards to the beginning. Now I find myself doing it all the time.

When I now think back of that friend who read the last page of a book first, I compare her to Rod Serling. Like Serling, she became a hero of mine because I believe she planted the first seeds of ‘endings first’ into my creative, dyslexic mind.

Where do you start when reading a book or writing a piece of fiction or non-fiction? At the beginning, end, or somewhere in-between?

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News.

Travel Brings New Knowledge

When you grow up in a small rural town in the Finger Lakes area of New York State as I did, you can hold on to some strange misconceptions because you don’t know any better. When I started moving around the US and the UK as a military wife I learned that dirt isn’t the same wherever you go. In some places, it isn’t even the same color. And the plants that thrived near my childhood home wouldn’t necessarily survive in another location. The same holds for birds. I learned about different backyard songbirds each time I moved. I enjoyed getting acquainted with them and knowing their proper names.

From lack of experience, I also thought food was the same wherever one might travel. If I hadn’t left my home area I wouldn’t have been introduced to Huevos Rancheros, Greek gyros, or jerked chicken served with plantains. I would never have had steak au poivre in a French restaurant in London or enjoyed the beignets that New Orleans is famous for. I wouldn’t have been able to go to a port and buy fresh-caught shrimp from a deep-sea fisherman. I wouldn’t have learned there are many ways to make baked beans other than the way my mother did. Nor would I have been introduced to Yorkshire pudding which is not a dish of cold creamy mousse but what I know as a popover. While living in England familiar foods were called by different names, for example, French fries are chips, and what I call stew is goulash. I like my food, it wasn’t a problem, just another interesting experience.

I was a dependent, a support to my husband, comfortable at home with our little ones. I never had to serve in a war zone or “in the field” where active-duty military members were fed K-rations, or C-rations depending on the time period of service. Stories from veterans about what those rations looked and tasted like can be high spirited with expletives thrown in. I have heard one man say, “They included that tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce and I used it to make whatever I was looking at palatable.” In the reverse, I have heard high praise for the canned cherry cobbler.

The MREs that are in use currently have a better reputation than the rations did according to the people who I know that have eaten them. I include a complete list of what is in the package because I have always wondered how toilet paper gets supplied. (IF you eat, you must go!) It doesn’t sound like a bad meal to me, but I’m not too fussy when it comes to food choices.

QUICK NUTRITION FOR SOLDIERS ON THE GO

GoArmy.com article on MREs

MREs are the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces. It originated from the c-rations and k-rations from World War II, and later developed into MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) rations used in Korea and Vietnam. In 1980 the MRE was developed and is still the U.S. Army’s primary ration.

Generally, an MRE contains the following items:

  • Entree – the main course, such as spaghetti or beef stew
  • Side dish – rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc.
  • Cracker or bread
  • Spread – peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread
  • Dessert – cookies or pound cakes
  • Candy – M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls
  • Beverages – Gatorade-like mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea
  • Hot sauce or seasoning – in some MREs
  • Flameless Ration Heater – to heat the entree
  • Accessories – spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.

Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day’s worth of meals would consist of three MREs. 

In my Veterans writing group we have discussed food on more than one occasion. Some of the prompts were: tell about a dish you ate in a foreign country, a memorable or holiday meal you had while serving, a unique way of cooking something you were familiar with, or an entree you learned to like though you didn’t expect to. Both of the WWII vets wrote about fresh-made German sausage. While sharing their stories they discovered they had been in the same sausage shop in Europe a few months apart. The owner stood back and watched on both occasions as the Americans took/stole his inventory. The rest of the story is that the shop owner moved to Buffalo, NY, after the war and my friends found out so went to visit him and apologize for their wartime actions. “We were just hungry. We meant him no ill will,” Kurt told us before going to meet the man for the second time. On their return, Bob explained, “We shook hands and passed around the forgiveness.”

When talking with a Korean War vet about his travels, he mentioned kimchi, made the traditional way, in an inground pit. He said the first time he had it he was skeptical, but by the time he returned to the states from Korea he craved it and still does 60 years later. If you don’t know, it is fermented Napa cabbage and radish with a lot of garlic and plenty of spice. I have to be honest, I have never tried it because of the smell. Maybe I’m missing something.

While living in England, we did our major grocery shopping at the base commissary. It was stocked with familiar name brands and the prices were set for the benefit of the American serving overseas. This was during the mid-1970s so fast-food chains like McDonald’s had not yet opened there. The two items we couldn’t wait to get back to the states to ingest were hot dogs and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Silly I know, but some flavors can’t be replaced or reproduced in my kitchen. Now I would love to be able to go to an English Chippy for some deep-fried, battered Rockfish and malt vinegar covered chips wrapped together in butcher paper.

Are there any types of food have you been introduced to while traveling and wish you could have again? Use the comments section to share where you’ve been and what type of food played a part in making your memories.

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of some of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com

Truth or Fiction

I am rural raised, my writing is contemporary laced with injections of western culture, heritage and tradition. And like working with cattle, sorting stories into their respective corrals can have its advantages. My favourite round-pens to hold words in is the one that is fit for sharing around a campfire and the one where the story did happen. 

As a young person, I found it annoyingly and funny how people reacted to stories they heard. While listening with the usual deer in the headlight look, their comments would range from “Really?” or “Did that happen?” to any form of disbelief that dribbled from their lips. Yes, it sometimes made me sassy, and I might counter with, “What do you think?” or “You know, you really can’t make this shit up.” But, as any storyteller knows, you can make it up. 

I learned uncouth, unprofessional, and inappropriate responses do not educate readers about your passion. I have matured, which I might add is questioned by some; however, it has guided me to make a point to take time to explain the stories. I have found when I add a back story or insider memento while at personal appearances, the aha moments come to life.

In preparing for this column, I took liberties with my ‘chore’ time and revisited several pieces I’d like to share with you. I am interested in your thoughts. Are these true stories, or are they campfire worthy – a product of my imagination? 

Throughout February, I will add some back story notes and personal thoughts for each of these stories. The link to their truth or fiction verdict will be on my Facebook Author Page



Cowhide Race

The rodeo always had something for everyone: Rough stock, roping events, calf riding for the kids, barrel and stake racing, and for added enjoyment during intermission, the cowhide race. 

At the last minute, her brother said she would be his partner, and since he was a lot older than her, she knew it wasn’t up for discussion. Besides, she had wanted to ride in the cowhide race for as long as her eleven-year-old mind could remember. 

The bonus was—well there were a few— but the one that she was most excited about was being able to ride her brother’s sorrel horse. She had ridden him before, but she was fairly sure her brother did not know about those times. Maybe this would show him she could handle the animal and be given permission to ride him whenever she wanted rather than on the sly.

At the starting line, a strong arm around her waist tossed her up onto the saddle. She looked down at the stirrups dangling a good foot below her boots. 

“You don’t need them,” he said, handing her the reins. He jogged back to the cowhide, sliding his hand down the lariat which he’d tied hard to the saddle horn. Keeping the gelding standing in line with the other teams, she watched over her shoulder as her brother got settled on the hide. He grabbed hold of a jagged, dried edge with one hand and the knotted rope with the other. 

When the klaxon blew announcing the start of the race, the sorrel catapulted forward. Leaning over the saddle horn, reaching along his neck to give the gelding his head, she felt the slack rope snap tight across her leg. 

They were at the other end of the arena in seconds. Her brother raced from his place on the hide, took hold of the reins, drug her off the horse, and swung into the saddle in one motion. She ran as hard as she could towards the hide. Stumbling, she somehow landed where she was supposed to before finding the end of the rope to hang onto. The gelding was already at a dead run when the rope tightened, swinging the cowhide with the little girl on it through the air in the direction of finish the line. 



Grizzly

It was a good day to check the fence line damage. He loaded the tools and supplies into the side by side and slid his rifle into the scabbard. A few hours into his day, he noticed something dark lying on the other side of the fence not that far from where he was working. Thinking it might be the neighbours’ missing bull, he started down the fence line to check. 

It happened faster than he could think. The roar. The screeching sound of barbed wire stretching to the max before it snapped. The grizzly bear charging. One shot from the hip, the bear dropped. The second shot was lost in the trees. Six feet from the toe of his boot to the nose of the old boar was the distance between life and death. Why he had decided to take his rifle to check on the possible bull sighting, he will never know



Man of the House

She busied herself stoking the fire, topping up the water reservoir, and filling the kettle and large canning pot with water to get them heated and boiling. She had already put the extra bedding, scissors, and thread on the chair beside the bed. 

The pains had started through the night. It wasn’t the first time she had birthed a child, and it wasn’t the first time her husband had been away when it was time. She would get everything prepared before sending the boy across the frozen lake to their nearest neighbours. The neighbour lady had experience in helping in these situations. It was the way of life.

When his dad was home, the little boy spent all his time shadowing the man he looked up to. His young mind knew more about surviving, hunting, and horses than some of the men his dad knew. His dad was proud of him and the man he would become. 

The boy knew there was something not right with his mother but didn’t ask. His dad had taught him that was women’s stuff and not to worry. But today, he was worried. She was doing things he’d never seen her do before. His mind told him something was going to happen, and since his dad was away, he was the man of the house and would look after her. 

It had started to snow by the time the boy finished his chores. At his young age, his daily responsibility was to gather the eggs, feed the chickens and dogs, and make his bed. Arriving at the house, his mother met him at the door. Taking the basket of eggs from him, she leaned on the counter, rubbing her back. 

“I need you to go get Mrs. Brant. Catch one of the workhorses and bridle him. Come back to the house and bring the horse with you. Before leaving, I’ll help you put on extra socks and gloves and your dad’s scarf.”

The boy nodded, leaving the house without saying a word. He pulled his wool hat down over his ears. He would take the big roan horse called Ginger.

His mother gave him last minute words of encouragement, a sandwich she had made, and asked him to do his best to hurry. He had been across the lake to the Brant homestead in the sleigh with his dad. Going by horseback wouldn’t be any different in his mind.  His mother reminded him he needed to go out to the point, on the lake past the beach, and turn toward where the sun would set. 

It was still snowing when he left, but every so often, the clouds would brighten, showing him the direction of the sun and his way. He wrapped the rein around a hand and hung onto the main, urging Ginger into a ground-covering trot across the snow-covered ice. The sound of horses whinnying welcomed them before the shoreline came into view, letting the boy and his trusty stead know they were close to their destination. 

Ginger needed no guidance. He seemed to know the importance of their mission. He didn’t go to the corrals. He went to the house and stood still while the little boy slid off his back, dropping the rein to remind him not to go anywhere. 

Mr. Brant hooked up his team to the sleigh, tying Ginger to the back while the youngster warmed up and ate his sandwich before the return trip. Wrapped in a quilt, sitting between Mr. and Mrs. Brant, they started back across the frozen lake in the fading afternoon light.



Gin in the Jockey Box

It was New Year’s Eve and forty below outside. Still, it was a given that the party at the lodge would not, and could not be missed. In this weather, any kind of travel required a certain amount of planning. In the long run, it was unanimously decided the trip would be worth it. 

After I had finished the morning chores, the Mrs. had coals from the wood stove put into two buckets for me. I put them under the motor of the car to keep a small fire burning all day. We always had a stock of shaving sticks we used to start the fires in the house. These, along with sawdust, were used to fuel the coals throughout the day to get the oil warmed and the motor primed to turn over when it was time for us to leave. 

Now the Mrs., she had things to do as well. The women supplied the midnight supper and My Mrs. was always asked to bring a few of her desserts and her pickled beets. We took the beets from our supply in the cold room, and she had spent a few days baking up a storm. Just because there was a bunch of women cooking didn’t mean we only needed to take a little bit of food. Each woman had to make enough to help feed about sixty people. 

I loaded the car with extra quilts and blankets. In this weather, you never know what you’ll be faced with. The Mrs. wrapped the beets in towels to help keep them from freezing, and layered her baked goods in a box. She’ll put the her baking in the warming oven to take any cold off of it when we get to the lodge.

Now you’re probably thinking, why go to so much trouble when we can turn on the heater? And I bet you think we didn’t have far to go either. That isn’t quite how it works in our part of the world. Driving to the lodge is not a ten-minute jaunt down the street. It takes us the better part of two hours in the winter, sometimes longer if we are the ones breaking trail in a fresh fall of snow.

The car we had is a good one. She’s reliable. I do all my own mechanic work, so I know her sweet spots and what has to be teased and tickled to make her hum. We had a little trouble convincing her that the heater should work all the time and not just when she felt like it. But we’re used to that. 

The Mrs., she wore her big, fir coat and wrapped a quilt around her legs. I chose a less ritzy look with coveralls and a winter parka. Most important was that we stay warm. 

But even when the heater did decide to work, we were faced with the problem of keeping the window clear so I can see if we are still on the road. It is sometimes hard for me to tell when the ground flattens out and trees have been logged off. That’s where the Mrs. comes in. She keeps a mickey of gin and some pieces of an old flannel sheet in the jockey box. Before we leave, she wets a rag with gin and gives the inside of the windshield a good wipe down in front of where I need to see out. It keeps the glass crystal clear for a little while, and when it starts to freeze up again, my Mrs. works her magic once more.  

When we get to the lodge, the men’ll help us carry in the food and drink. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that we bring our own liquor. We put it on a big table sharing with anyone who wanted some. There was always a good variety of homemade and store-bought. I like the potato champagne the Mrs. always makes. We usually take extra for anyone who wants to take a bottle home. 

I’ll put the bucket of coals we brought along under the car and check on it every so often to make sure it keeps things warm and ready for our return trip home. Sometimes we stay for breakfast before heading out, but that’s a story for another time. 

It’s good to see our friends and neighbours again. Happy New Year.

Tales from the Silver Screen: Part 5—Killer Noir

      

In this series-depending on how long it lasts, for life, writing, hopefully a pandemic, and so many other things, can be or 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. In my fifth in this limited series of film observations, I thought I would take a step back from noir that addressed social and political concerns and focus on something a tad sleazier. Well, by some measure sleazier: killers in noir. The reason was simple enough. The Coronavirus has levied death in large numbers around the earth in 2020 and continues with a vengeance in 2021. While there are still wars going on and people dying as a result, we have been paying most of our attention to Covid-19. Perhaps that is as it should be. How much grief for the earth can we be expected to absorb? How many tears can we offer? Even as I write this, as I attempt to justify a passion for old films, I am captured by images of the dispossessed fleeing Africa in the most unstable and congested of vessels, being swallowed whole by the unmerciful Atlantic Ocean.

Oddly, and somewhat inappropriately perhaps, writing about two lonely outlier cinematic killers and films about such creatures might seem almost a positive act. Yeah! Quite odd. I’ll concede that. So, as I write about film, about anything, I remain aware of the real world and its horrors. I have a desire to write. I also bear a duty to stay in the here and now. For this column, there were quite a few choices available of subject films, but two delightfully modest and seedy (seedy in only the best way) examples in particular came to mind quite quickly, two that I suspect are not as well-known as they deserve to be: the 1952 Arnold Laven film, Without Warning and the Alfred Werker/Anthony Mann jointly directed 1948 thriller, He Walked by Night. Both films feature lone wolf killers. Actually, that is not totally accurate. One killer has a dog companion. The other, dogless, petless, does have a neighbour child with whom he engages on occasion. She is not really a companion but serves to humanize him somewhat. In addition to those two connections, they each seem able to communicate in their respective work spheres, one a gardener/landscaper, and the other an inventor/technician with a light-fingered touch.

I should note here that a third film, Edward Dmytryk’s 1952 thriller, The Sniper, also immediately came to mind, but I opted simply to make a note of it here along with a link to the trailer. 

It does bear an uncomfortable similarity to more modern-day mass shooters, those forlorn school, church, and assorted other venue cluster-shooters who have emerged in significant numbers these past two decades but were not unknown even further back in time. I featured one of Dmytryk’s films, Cornered, in an earlier instalment, Hiding in Plain Sight. Killer Noir: Without Warning There is little mystery in Without Warning. It has no big stars to speak of. And stars probably were not necessary to the telling of the story.

Actor Adam Williams portrays the protagonist, Carl Martin. For much of his career, Williams was a supporting player. Moderately interesting, in this film, his wife at the time, Marilee Phelps, plays an undercover police woman and barely escapes with her life (cinematically speaking.) Moments in, its police procedural roots start showing.  For much of the subsequent journey, we follow both the police investigation, the gathering/discarding/processing of information, and the two worlds of the killer, his workaday world, and his murderous machinations, his killer’s world. As we watch him in his hilltop home neighbourhood, we are short months away from witnessing the tragedy of a soon to be bulldozed community, the marvellously lost Chavez Ravine. Eventually the neighbourhood became the home of the former Brooklyn Dodgers. Though Without Warning is not a study in gentrification, it’s greater value may be that it has left us with images of a community that is no more. This adds considerable worth to the film. In fact, that is a major quality of numerous film noir or films almost-noir that were filmed on location. We get the feel of the community, the streets, the businesses, the homes, the way life was once lived. 

                  

These two real-life images give a sense of the community fightback as well as the means of destruction employed. It was a lengthy battle and though new housing was promised, ultimately a huge portion of the neighbourhood became Dodger Stadium. As for the film, there is lovely jazz score by Herschel Burke Gilbert that carries us along into the city, the unfolding night. As it begins, we shortly arrive at a no-name motel. A body is discovered. The wheels of law and order begin a careful journey to catch the killer. The narrator’s deep rich voice (not Reed Hadley who narrates He Walked by Night but Gene Wood’s sonorous tone) keeps up fully informed about the steps taken by police. Wood, in later years would be the off-screen voice on countless Game Shows. Our murderer is a hunter. And a bit of a gardener as we learn shortly…though the gardening shear he carries to terminate his victims gives a fairly obvious clue early on He is an amiable sort…most of the time. He has relationships. None too intimate. Carmelita, a child who lives nearby is upset. Her doll has broken. Its heads snapped off. He tries to repair it. He is easily spooked. Fred, who runs the garden supply business he frequents is friendly with him…his blond-haired daughter is visiting…husband’s gone overseas…Korea perhaps…she spooks him.

As the story unfolds, the noose of justice tightens. As noted, our villain is drawn to the daughter of the garden supply owner. We are meant to identify with her, her innocence. Her simplicity.

While the plot is anything but complex, we do notice that there is serendipity at play. The killer has favourites, but he is also flexible. As I hope I have made clear, this is not a particularly great film. Still, it has its historical merits and is well worth an hour and a bit of your time especially for those Chavez Ravine images. Killer Noir: He Walked By Night He Walked by Night is a somewhat more intricate film then Without Warning. As well, though I can’t say with any confidence that Without Warning was based on fact, the producers of He Walked by Night leave us little doubt that it is rooted in a real and tragic series of events. The film begins very Dragnet-like. Almost ‘This is the city. Los Angeles California.’ Almost, but not quite. As he did in several films, actor Reed Hadley provides the narration. His deep resonant voice lent an air of documentary authority to a number of superior noirish movies including The House on 92nd Street, Boomerang, and Canon City. Though Jack Webb is featured in the film, it is not his movie. However, many authorities argue that Webb’s role in He Walked by Night was the catalyst for his later creation of Dragnet. But this film is very much a police procedural. And like Without Warning it begins fairly early with a terrible crime.

In this case, a police officer on his way home, drawn to a suspicious fellow on a dark street, is shot and killed. From there, we get glimpses of the killer. Played by Richard Basehart very early in his career, the killer, alternately known as Roy Morgan and Roy Martin,  seems to be a purveyor of electronics. Posing as an inventor, we quickly determine that he is more than likely a thief. As for the shooting. this movie crime originated as a real crime. This officer, Loren Cornwell Roosevelt, a California Highway Patrol, was shot nine times at the end of his shift Wednesday, June 5, 1946. 

The killer, Erwin Walker aka Machine Gun Walker, was eventually captured, sentenced to death, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, hours away from his execution, he attempted suicide. This eventually led to his transfer to a state hospital where he resided for a dozen years. Then, given a clean bill of mental health, his death sentence was commuted in 1961. A decade later, he was freed and died at the ripe old age of ninety-one in 2008. Not bad for a cop killer.

As much as I sometimes believe movies are real life, He Walked by Night does take a few slight turns away from it precipitating crime.

As both Without Warning and He Walked by Night are relatively short films clocking in at seventy-seven and seventy-nine minutes respectively, the action is reasonably fast paced. Especially He Walked By Night. Without Warning, having as it does a protagonist who is a gardener, there is a more plant-like pace. He Walked by Night is, by contrast,  frenetically paced. And darker. 

Perhaps the biggest leap away from the actual event is the beautifully done escape by the killer.  Trapped in his auto court room, he has a handy escape plan and makes a run for it, ending up in the delightful storm drains of L.A.

There the excitement is shadowy, violent, perhaps somewhat predictable. 

A favourite Sci-Fi film, Them, was also filmed in a similar watery hole in the Los Angeles ground. Whether giant ants or whacked out killers, sewers and storm drains offer little reprieve from extinction.

Killer Noir: Final Thoughts. You will notice should you watch the film that though the protagonist in Without Warning fits most definitions of a serial killer, this is not particularly the case with the character played by Richard Basehart in He Walked by Night. Neither in fact are mass killers. By that I mean, Adam Williams character kills women one at a time. Of course, murder of any kind is reprehensible. He fits the basic definition of a serial killer, that is, three victims or more. Basehart’s character kills in a more situational setting. He doesn’t necessarily plan to kill anyone, but he is more than ready if circumstances demand. And they did. I don’t know if I have tempted you to watch these two little films or driven you away. As a film lover I have often watched films many others would not enjoy. It is a burden I carry. A very minor final thought: Harlan Warde in addition to appearing in both Without Warning and He Walked by Night also had a bit role in The Sniper. I find that interesting. 

About the Author

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.

Lockdown literature: LGBT history

One of the hallmarks of a healthy society is our attitude to diversity. So whatever our sexuality and gender identity, we should care about LGBT rights. In February, LGBT+ history month provides the prompt to educate ourselves on how societal responses to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have fluctuated over time. It’s an opportunity to celebrate diversity and, lest we get complacent, arm ourselves against possible erosion of rights in the future. And the good news is we can do so through literature!

From ancient times

The ancient Greeks valued male to male romantic love and sexual activity (albeit often with a power imbalance we condemn today). Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles evokes the passionate love between Achilles and Patroclus beyond the battlefields of the Trojan War. While grounded in historical detail, the psychology of the characters renders this novel highly relatable for the contemporary reader.

The unnamed narrator of John Boyne’s A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom glides through history via multiple incarnations from biblical times to the election of Donald Trump. His tenderness and passion for projects traditionally the female province means he’ll never earn his father’s approval, while his sister, a better fit for the masculine stereotype, is ignored. Meanwhile, same-sex couplings, while officially non-existent and often invisible to the narrator, crop up again and again.

Traditions of gender fluidity

As far as I recall from my reading, John Boyne’s hero never lives as a hijra: a traditional male to female gender identity in the Indian subcontinent. The Parcelby Bombay-born Canadian writer Anosh Irani is by far the best novel I’ve read about the culture of India’s third sex. Madhu has fled her disapproving father as an adolescent boy to become one of the most celebrated prostitutes in central Bombay, but now she’s reduced to begging. And preparing trafficked children for penetrative sex, making this one of the most disturbing – but nevertheless important – novels I’ve ever read.

Fiction has also introduced me to cultures in which girls can pass as male, albeit to fulfil a social function rather than from personal preference. As I learnt from Nadia Hashimi’s novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, in the Afghan tradition bacha posh, a family with surplus daughters can give one a change of clothes and a haircut, and let her attend school, wrestle with friends and run errands to the market, while her sisters are confined to the home.

Same-sex love

Sebastian Barry’s novel, Days Without End, which won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year Award, is a story of migration and massacre; of bravery and brutality; of family, friendship and gender fluidity told in the unique voice of an Irishman in 1850s America. Teenagers Thomas and John work in a bar dressed as girls until, at seventeen, they join the U.S. Army, remaining a couple through peace and war.

War can bring opportunities to those stifled by sexual convention. With the men away, World War II spelt liberation for some women. Sarah Waters’ 2006 novel, The Night Watch, is a love story told in reverse about three lesbian women amid the excitement and terrors of wartime London.

Sex between men, however, seems to have been punished just as harshly during that period. Duncan, another of Waters’ characters, is imprisoned for his sexual liaisons, whereas Alec, the Alan Turing character in Will Eaves’ novel,Murmur, winner of both the Republic of Consciousness and Wellcome prizes in 2019, is made to submit to chemical castration.

Trans rights

In the same decade that Turing underwent the treatment that led to his suicide, Britain’s first trans woman, racing driver and former Second World War fighter pilot, Roberta Cowell was preparing for surgery. In 1972, Jan Morris, a renowned Welsh journalist and travel writer who had also served successfully in the military, travelled to Casablanca for gender confirmation surgery, as recounted in her memoir, Conundrum.

My own novel,Sugar and Snails, shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize, contrasts the secrecy around trans issues in the 1970s small-town Britain with the increasing acceptance during the early years of the twenty-first century, and highlights the still contested issue of adolescent transition.

HIV/AIDS

The final decades of the twentieth century saw the gay community devastated by a deadly disease. My reading features two books spanning Ireland and America. Anne Enright’s The Green Road encompasses various millennial issues through the stories of siblings whose mother wants them home for Christmas. Among the adult children is Dan, who, having ditched his original ambition to become a priest, grieves for friends and acquaintances lost to HIV/AIDS in New York. In Martin Sixsmith’s non-fiction book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, a woman’s search for the son she gave up for adoption, leads to the US where the author confronts Reagan’s Republicans’ complacency about the crisis.

In these eleven books, I’ve only touched the surface of LGBT history. Now it’s your turn to add your favourites and tell me what I’ve missed.

Anne Goodwin is an English author and book blogger. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Throughout February, subscribers to her newsletter can read Sugar and Snails for free.

Subscribe here: https://www.subscribepage.com/sugar-and-snails-free-e-book

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

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Dreams and Deathtraps: The History of Submarines

Welcome back, y’all.

Imagine you’re at Disneyland, 2015. You go in, and the first attraction you see is the Finding Nemo ride. You don’t know what the ride is about, so you get in line. Once you’re through the long wait, you see it: a small submarine. You get in anyway, because you waited so long.

But then they shut you in.

And then you feel like you sink.

And then you definitely don’t scream, unbuckle, stand up, and try to get out. You don’t frighten employees, and you definitely don’t run away and cry in Star Wars Land while the people you came to Disneyland with are confused. And you definitely don’t suspect the author of this column did any of these things.

If you’ve ever ridden the civilian death-trap known as the Finding Nemo ride, you’ve benefited from hundreds (or perhaps thousands!) of years of dreaming about underwater adventure. The first underwater adventurers were divers who breathed through reeds, and during the middle ages Europeans took this idea a smidge further: what if you could be in an underwater box? An entire ship, unseen, under the water?

Image: William Bourne’s submarine design was very clever but never built. The principle seems sound, but would you want to take a trip on a thing with only a leather pouch between you and a watery grave? Image by William Bourne, 1578, Inventions or Devises. Public Domain.

With Middle Age tech, this was going to be a hard beast to figure out. In addition to finding the right buoyancy so the underwater boat would neither sink nor float, there were issues of how to propel it, how to navigate, and this little thing called “how to breathe”. One of the first plausible attempts to answer these questions was made by William Bourne, who was a British Navy guy (of course) and mathematician. The diagrams of his planned submarine were published in the 1578 book Inventions or Devises. These drawings still exist, but the leather-and-wood craft was never built. The buoyancy problem was solved by including leather compartments that could be pulled inside the ship to sink and pushed outward to rise.

Image: Cornelis Drebbel invented an oar-powered deathmobile that navigated the Thames and thrilled the British heart. Because of course it did. The artist who drew this seems to be unknown.

This idea solved one of the four major problems: buoyancy. In the early modern period, similar ideas were devised and attempted. The first “successful” submarine ever built was made by Dutchman Cornelis Drebbel for (of course) the British Navy. These boats were oar powered. King James VI/I was interested in these submarines and, apparently, rode in one of these boats as part of an exposition. These boats weren’t useful for much more than show, and it wasn’t for many years that a “useful” one appeared.

That’s because an oar-powered submarine is a joke. It’s not easy to steer, and it’s definitely not easy to row while entirely underwater. You have to fight against the drag all the time. American inventor David Bushnell added the first screw propeller to a submarine, which solved a large problem of the earlier craft: propulsion. With this addition, he was able to design and build a one man craft known as the Turtle. It’s at this point that we must ask the question, “Why did he build it?”

Honestly, it was because he built underwater mines and thought a submarine would be the best way to use them. Yes, the man invented a ship as a ‘side project’ to go along with his bombs. To use against the British, because of course the British would be involved here.

Image: I wouldn’t be caught dead in this machine because look at it – dead is where I’d end up. This is Lieutenant Commander F.M. Barber’s 1875 drawing made based on David Bushnell’s descriptions.

In 1776 during the blockade of New York Harbor, Ezra Lee piloted Bushnell’s craft and tried to attach a mine to the HMS Eagle. He was unsuccessful because the currents were too strong for his single-man craft, and Bushnell was the only one who really knew how to navigate it. Bushnell was frail, however, and couldn’t keep the man-powered-screw propellers going for long.

At this point, it’s clear why navies wanted this invention: to blow things up. The French soon built one, Americans kept trying, British kept trying, and the Russians kept trying, but they still had the problems of steering well and, you know, breathing. The American Civil War saw a lot of development toward solving these problems.

Though it was lost in North Carolina’s Graveyard of the Atlantic and never found, the most famous of the Union submarines was the USS Alligator. It was French-designed (Brits, you’re letting me down!) and American built. Alligator was the first submarine to solve the breathing problem by using compressed air. It didn’t help anyone, though, when it was sunk in tow during a storm. They still haven’t found it.

Image: The CSS Hunley, built and financed by deathtrap designer Horace Hunley, was the first submarine to blow up another ship. This 1864 painting was made by Conrad Wise Chapman. Common Domain.

The Confederate ship CSS Hunley added navigability, control, and greater man-powered propulsion to the list of submarine advancements. (You probably want to be careful clicking that link, not because it’s virusy, but because it’s CLEARLY full of Confederate propaganda and will put you on a list. It’s too late for me, so save yourselves.) The Hunley was the first submarine to sink another ship (the USS Housatonic) in battle. Shortly after it sent the signal that it had succeeded in its mission, however, it sank for unknown reasons. Even after the submarine was found off the coast near Charleston, it’s unclear why she sank. This battle was the sign of things to come.

The next phase of submarine history is more well known. Inspired by recent advancements, the latent dreams of underwater discovery from ancient times, and Verne’s 10,000 Leagues under the Sea, inventors pushed toward perfection of the boats. Metallurgy, engines, chemistry, and more continued to improve all sorts of vehicles – including boats and subs. It wasn’t long before people of many nations were using compressed air, screws, and metal hulls to make underwater boats capable of great destruction. Unrestricted submarine warfare on the part of Germans during WWI made the U-boats (“unterseaboot”) infamous. Continued advancements that came along with many other naval inventions led to the diesel-powered beasts of WWII.

Note the great weakness of the above paragraph: diesel powered. Diesel-cycle engines burn oxygen, and even with compressed air, breathing is still a problem in a submarine. The diesel-powered submarines could go about as far as an ordinary ship, but they couldn’t stay underwater for long and they couldn’t support many sailors.

The nuclear age of submarines arrives with the Nautilus, and everything gets bigger, better, faster, more secret. I mean, look at that Turtle image, that Hunley image, then this one. Look at the size of the people in/on/next to them. SHIVER AT THE POWER OF HUMANITY. Image: USS Nautilus Launching into the Thames, released by the US Navy.

Enter the deeply controversial Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, so-called “father of the nuclear navy.” He pushed the invention of the pressurized water reactor, or PWR, a nuclear reactor capable of use on a naval vessel. The PWR powered the first nuclear submarine: USS Nautilus, as named after Verne’s fictional submarine. In 1955, Mamie Eisenhower christened her and sent her off on the first of many record-breaking voyages. Nuclear power doesn’t create carbon emissions and doesn’t require oxygen, so a submarine with scrubbers and compressed air can stay underwater an almost infinite amount of time. The (American, anyway – Soviets were kind of crazy) nuclear submarines were safe and effective despite this author’s horrible fear of deathtraps submarines. Aside from additional improvements in navigation and communication from computers, nuclear submarines are the current technologies we have today.

(The nuclear engineer husband reading over my shoulder wants me to remind you that Rickover’s push for PWRs scrapped development of sodium fast reactors, for which he blames the Admiral – not that anyone reading this probably cares).

About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, Dr. G’s greatest passions are writing and history. She has never cried at Disneyland and will vehemently deny it if you try to push the matter. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

Creativity Takes Courage

As defined by Wikipedia, creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object. 

Although keeping this creativity to yourself is like a common man doing his chore daily without having the guts for the world to take a peep at what he has created. 

After all, it takes courage to show your creativity. 

A Vibrant World

With billions of permutations and combinations, our genes have created 7.7 billion humans with a unique personality. Sure, there would be some overlaps of likes when random people are put together in a room. But to have 100% compatibility is a no-no. Even soul mates, identical twins would not have that quality, let alone best friends or a married couple.

When people choose to create something with their intellect while allowing their mind to be at rest: a piece that’s as precious as Mona Lisa or Alchemist, the novel or a COVID vaccine or Serenade by Mozart is presented to the world. 

To date, some have admired it, and some don’t. 

How many times have you often second-guessed yourself? Is your mind a swirling storm of contradictions and negativity? And then when you least expect it, your inner critic rears its ugly head, often very loud and mean. You have a fear of judgment that kept you playing small, forcing you to swallow your questions or ideas from one minute to the next?

Creativity is Intelligence having fun.

Albert Einstein

Here is a list of strategies you can put into action, one confident step at a time, when you have created something beautiful and want to showcase it to the world.  

Reframe your superpowers of creativity

You have created beautiful work; is it fair to keep it with you? Don’t you want to give it wings to fly? It’s just like when you give a bird flight; it’ll chirp and spread the music around. That music could be a melody for some, while some would frown upon it. To be able to see a mix of both is what creates a balance on this planet. Reframe your ideology, and embrace all forms of critics that come your way. 

Giving Voice to the Inner Gremlins

We often fuel our inner critic by fear and uncertainty. Our mind creates such useless dialogues within our organ, the brain, that many of us allow our manuscripts to gather dust, and eventually, dust mites eat them away. Our inner dialogue becomes a mash-up of limiting beliefs that keep us playing safe and free of harm. When we humanize our inner gremlins, we appreciate their value and break free of our ability to keep us stuck in the same pattern. 

Replace negative talk with encouraging words.

Connect with people who appreciate your work

The saying that like-minded people will always boost your confidence holds. Connect with them, allow them to beta read your work, take those suggestions, and try to improvise. 

Mind your Mind 

Reflect on your strengths and superpowers, and act with intention as you fine-tune your inner dialogue.

Always remember you’re the driver of your creativity. If you fall prey to your inner critic, you’ll be swirling down the drain endlessly with no chance of seeing the light any time of your life. Take control of the reins. You might hear the horse neigh over it, but you continue to keep those reins pulled. Pull them hard. Do some pep talk that will help dispel the mounting anxiety and uncertainty. The horse within will calm down and will be ready to take that step towards showcasing your work. 

On a personal note: I am a Biochemist turned self-published contemporary fictional writer with eight books. I have no formal training in writing. But I gather inspiration from society and write about issues that stalk a human’s mind while projecting each of my characters’ mental growth. With each book, I grow as a writer as I learn the tricks of writing. Even though my previous book would have the flaw (lack of POV, tell vs. show), I choose to shine a light on what I’ve accomplished in the past.

 Your superpowers are excellent armor and ammunition against that caustic inner voice. 

My two cents

Create what your Intelligence seeks. Your creativity gives you the confidence that serves the wings to fly, to soar high. 

  Life has no limitations, except the ones you make. 

Les Brown

==============

This post comes from Rough Writer Ruchira Khanna

A Biochemist turned writer who gathers inspiration from the society where I write about issues that stalk the mind of the man via tales of fiction.

I blog at Abracabadra which has been featured as “Top Blog” for five years. Many of my write-ups have been published on LifeHack, HubPages to name a few.

I can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/RuchiraKhanna01

Twitter: @abracabadra01

An ABC of Fun Holiday Activities for Families at Home

In this post (previously published on readilearn), I share suggestions for easy, fun and inexpensive activities you can do with family and friends of all ages over the holiday period. The suggestions aren’t new but are simply reminders of easy ways to have fun together that are often forgotten during hectic preparations and celebrations. They are great for the lull times and the ‘What can we do?’ times. Enjoy!

A — Acrostic

Write an acrostic poem for yourself. Each person writes their name vertically and writes a word or phrase about what Christmas means to them for each letter.

For example, here’s one for me:

Naughty or nice? Why, nice of course.

Opening gifts — loving the look on recipient’s faces

Recipes for celebrating — pavlova, everyone’s favourite

All the family together playing games and having fun

Home is the place to be.

B — Book

Everyone choses a favourite book, perhaps one received for Christmas, and reads uninterrupted for half an hour (or more!).

C — Charades

The oldest player goes first to give clues about the title of a book, song, TV, movie, or video game. The first to guess the answer is the next clue giver.

Here are some of the common rules of play:

The clue giver:

  • must not speak or make any sounds
  • holds up fingers for the number of words in the title
  • shows it’s a book title by holding hands with palms together then opening like a book
  • shows it’s a song by putting one hand on the chest and one hand up in the air with mouth open wide as if singing
  • shows it’s a TV show by drawing a square in the air
  • shows it’s a movie by miming an old-fashioned movie camera with one hand forming a circle around one eye and the other hand winding the camera handle
  • shows it’s a video game by moving fingers as if tapping quickly on a keyboard

If your children are too young to play charades this way, you could play animal charades in which children act out an animal but must make no noise.

D — Dominoes

Play a game of dominoes together.

If you don’t have a set, you are welcome to print the readilearn Christmas Domino Cards free until 31 December (usually $1.50). See below for details.

E — Elf, Tree, Gift

This game works best if you have a few people to play. One person is It. The other players spread out behind It who faces away from them. The players choose to be an elf (arms and legs spread wide), a tree (hands pointed together above their heads) or a gift (sitting on the floor with their arms around their knees). Once they choose, they must hold that position. It then calls out one of the three items and turns around to see. Anyone not in the position called is out until the next round. The last one in becomes It for the next round.

F — Freeze

You need someone to be in charge of the music. When the music plays, everybody dances. When the music stops, everyone must freeze. If anyone moves after the music stops, they are out until the next round.

You may download some variants and other suggestions from readilearn, How to play Freeze! (always free).

G — Grandma came to visit

This is a variant of the alphabet memory game, My grandma went to market.

Players take turns to recite ‘Grandma came to visit and she brought …’

The first player adds an item beginning with a; e.g. ‘Grandma came to visit and she brought an alligator.’  

The second player repeats what the first player has said, and adds an item beginning with b.

The game continues until Grandma has brought an item for all letters of the alphabet in order. As more and more items are added, it becomes more difficult to remember them and children may need reminders of the alphabet sequence.

To make it even trickier, you can request that all items be Christmas related, e.g. angel, bonbon, candy, drum …

An easier game may be for Grandma to bring items numbering from one to ten. For even younger children, you could simply play it as a memory game without reference to numbers or the alphabet. 

H — Hangman

Play Hangman using Christmas words.

Until 31 December, you can access readilearn’s interactive Hang Man-type game Turn on the Christmas Lights for free (usually $2.50). See below for details.

I — I spy 

I don’t think this one requires any explanation. Easy ways of playing are choosing something beginning with, or for younger children, something of a particular colour.

Until 31 December, you can access readilearn’s interactive I spy something beginning with and I spy a counting game (both usually $2.50 each) for free. See below for details.

J — Jigsaw puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are fun to do together.

If you don’t have a hands-on puzzle, you will find many free puzzles online, including these ones from readilearn: Little Koala’s Jigsaw Puzzle and Trees From my Backyard (always free). However, the hands-on puzzles are more fun to do together.

K — Kindness

Think of a kind act you can do for another without their knowing. Even a smile can lighten somebody’s day.

L — Laughter

Laughter is a great way to lighten the mood. Tell each other jokes or funny stories. Vote for the funniest story.

M — Music

Sing, listen to or watch your favourite Christmas songs.

N — NORAD Tracks Santa

On Christmas Eve you can watch where Santa is travelling around the world. Prior to that, visit the website for lots of interesting information, fun games and other entertaining stuff. (NORAD = North American Aerospace Defense Command. It has been tracking Santa’s annual journey for over 60 years.)

O — Origami

Make some origami stars. Use squares of origami paper or wrapping paper. Here’s a video from Red Ted Art with instructions. It involves folding only (no cutting) but some younger children may need help.

P — Play a game

Most families have a collection of board games on a shelf or in a cupboard. Is your family one of them? Take the game off the shelf and play!

What is your family favourite? Is it one of these?

  • Snakes and Ladders
  • Ludo
  • Monopoly
  • Scrabble
  • Cluedo
  • Draughts
  • Chinese Checkers
Q — Questions

Play a game of 20 Questions.

It thinks of a person, place, animal or object. The other players have to guess what It is thinking of. The players take turns to ask questions. Answers can only be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. A player may continue asking questions until they get a ‘no’ answer. Then it is the next person’s turn to ask.

The first person to guess correctly is It for the next round. If the answer isn’t guessed in 20 questions, players are told what it is and It has another turn (less obscure!)

R — Read aloud

Take turns to read aloud from a favourite book or poem. An adult could read to younger children or to all the adults and children.

S — Stick it on the head

This is another fun guessing game. You need some sticky notes and markers.

Players secretly write the name of a well-known person or celebrity on a sticky note. The sticky notes are then placed on the foreheads the other players who take turns to ask questions in order to guess who they are.

They may ask questions, but the answers can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’; for example: Am I living? Am I an actor? Am I in comedy movies?

Players continue to ask questions until they receive a ‘no’ answer. Then it is the next person’s turn. Continue around the circle, taking turns to ask questions, until every knows who they are.

Once everyone has guessed correctly, you can have another round.

T — Travel the World

This is another alphabet game. Players take turns to say a letter of the alphabet in order by naming a place they could travel to and something they could take with them that begins with the letter. For example, the first person might say, ‘I went to Africa and I took an apple.’ The second person might say, ‘I went to Bali and I took a boogie board.’ Continue until you reach the end of the alphabet.

U — Up. Keep it up!

For this game you need a balloon, a light indoor ball or a scrunched-up wad of wrapping paper. Throw the balloon into the air. Everyone must try to keep the balloon aloft and avoid it falling to the floor. For extra fun, time how long you can keep it aloft and try to increase the time on each turn.

V — Virtual Bingo

Who doesn’t love a game of bingo? You can play bingo with family and friends, even if you’re not all at the same location. It’s free for up to 30 players.

W — Wrapping paper

The three Rs — Recycle. Reduce. Reuse.

Recycle? Not all wrapping paper is recyclable and the rules for what is and what is not accepted for recycling differ from district to district, so check with the council in your local area. 

Reduce? If you carefully unwrap gifts, portions of the paper can be smoothed and stored for reuse next year, thus reducing the amount going into land fill.

Reuse? If you don’t want to reuse paper for wrapping gifts, it can be used in other ways, for example:

  • Cut into squares for making Christmas origami.
  • Cut into strips for making paper chains.
  • If pieces are large enough, use to cover school books or line the inside of drawers.

If none of these ideas appeal, simply scrunch the wrapping paper into balls and have a wrapping paper fight before distributing them to the recycle or general waste bin.

X — Noughts and crosses

Play noughts and crosses. It’s easy. All you need is some paper and pencils.

Y — You’re next

You’re next is a drawing game.

Everyone starts with a piece of paper and a pencil. Each person starts by writing their name and drawing a shape on their piece of paper. They then pass the paper to the next person who adds to it.

Continue in this way until everyone has added to every drawing.

For a large group, you may go around the circle once.

For a small group, you may wish to go around the circle two or three times.

When the paper gets back to where it started, compare the drawings.

Z — ZZZzzz

It’s quite okay to have a snooze after all that festive feasting and fun.

Or perhaps you’d rather have a Zoom party.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

Free access to readilearn resources

In the suggestions above, I listed some readilearn resources and promised free access until 31 December.

The resources are:

Christmas Domino Cards (usually $1.50)

How to play Freeze! (always free)

Turn on the Christmas Lights (usually $2.50)

I spy something beginning with (usually $2.50)

I spy a counting game (usually $2.50)

Little Koala’s Jigsaw Puzzle (always free)

Trees From my Backyard (always free)

In addition to these, I have included:

Christmas Crossword (usually $1.00)

Hang the Baubles (usually $2.50)

Who’s Hiding at Christmas (usually $2.50)

That makes a total of ten resources available to you for free until 31 December 2020. Of course, once you have ‘purchased’ them, they are yours forever. You will still need to go through the checkout to make these ‘free’ purchases, but when you use the coupon code *carrot* (just the word), you will not be charged anything for these products. The coupon is available for one use and these products only, so ensure you choose all products you would like before finalising at the checkout. Let me know if you have any problems. I hope you and your family enjoy them.

Happy Christmas to you and your family.

Best wishes,

Norah