Oh Really!! by John E. Stack

Hey.  Sorry I missed last month and if I’m intruding on anyone today, I apologize.  Having a baby with colic is not a lot of fun.  That, with school winding down and teen attitudes going up, I missed it.  So, here I try again.

When a baby has colic it usually lasts around four months, ours is 5 months.  For those that do not know what colic is, it is gas that causes severe abdominal cramps.  Now, where some enjoy a good bout of gas, little ones are not so appreciative.

Anyway, our local newspaper published a article this week that said, “Parents abusing drugs led to more than half of (our county’s) foster care cases.” The article went further to say that state-wide of the 16,500 children in foster-care in 2017 that 39% were placed due to opioid use by parents or family members.

Of all the babies that we have had in care a large majority were born addicted to multiple illegal drugs, prescription drugs and/or alcohol.  I don’t know if you have ever seen an adult go through withdrawal, but it is tough.  Imagine going through that being only days old.  Many start seizing within hours of being born and continue to detox for three to four months.  It is truly pitiful, with what these little ones are put through.

More often than not, these parents will have several children in foster care, all born with drugs in their systems.  In North Carolina, it is not against the law for a mother to give birth positive to drugs or her baby to be positive to drugs.  If the mother would give the child drugs after they gave birth, she would go to jail.  This does not make sense to me.

The law-makers here need to open their eyes.  If you just look at the monetary costs alone, the state pays over $1500 per month per child in foster-care.  This does not take into account the social programs that also spend their budgets for the same.  Do the math:  $1500 x 12 months (average time in foster-care) x 16,500 children.  That is around $300 million per year just for foster care in North Carolina alone.  The birth parents pay nothing.

Parents that abuse drugs and in-turn have babies born addicted should go to prison, even on the first offense.  Allowing this is wrong and the law-makers know it.  They just refuse to do anything about it.  Should they never sleep well until the children become more important than their other pet projects.

Well, that is my soapbox.  Children are more important than the parents rights to abuse drugs.

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Olivia’s Sweet Adventure, and Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

 

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Understanding My Epiphany

I was reading a book a couple of days ago when suddenly, in a clear flash of understanding; I became aware of what propels me most in making choices and decisions. I found that especially shocking since I’m seventy-five years old. One would imagine, by that age, one wouldn’t be surprised at all by anything they might choose or decide. Yet, I was blown away.

The book’s passage had to do with how different people relate to life. Some people are practical and stoic and are led by natural laws following virtue alone, or through reason, fear, boredom, led or indifferent to other’s opinions, passions or emotions. I’ve always considered myself a rather practical person, most of the time, weighing pros and cons to make good logical choices. So I thought.

Instead of reading on in this book, I found myself dwelling on the dialog of one character to the other when he said to her that she was the kind of person who had to have passion when she picked her friends, selected favorite music, decided what to eat, even when decorating her abode. Those choices were what made her, her. But, she thought, if she believed hard enough, could she choose to follow convention or settle for security and not incorporate her passion?

What suddenly hit me was, the choices and decisions that have made me the happiest and most satisfied in my life have been the ones made with passion first, and not necessarily with thoughts of security or convention or so-called common sense. And I’d never really thoroughly thought this out before.

Not long ago, I attended my 55th high school reunion and our former class president asked several of us to each tell the group what we were passionate about now. One classmate said he wasn’t passionate about anything in particular. He was the only one of us who had not retired and when asked about that, he wasn’t sure what he would do when he did retire.

I remember feeling immensely sad for him when he said that. Here was a well-educated man, nice looking, healthy, very comfortable financially, with potentially lots of years left to him. The former class president asked him what he liked to do and the answer was, sail. Later I found out he’d bought a sailboat and I was so happy for him until I learned he was in the process of selling it. Too much trouble keeping it up was his reason why. He was divorced and didn’t have anyone to care about except two grown children. I kept in touch for a while, but the last time I spoke with him on the phone, he told me he wouldn’t want to live if something ever happened to his kids. Gosh!

I have a son, daughter-in-law, grandson and a sister and her family and I look forward to talking on the phone with them and visiting whenever possible. I don’t think about negative things that might happen to them or me. I just enjoy them and look forward to sharing my life with them and vice versa, now and in the future. There still are so many things I want to do, experience and share.

Although I’ve tried to be sensible, passion has made my life more rewarding and fulfilling. My mother taught me to be a “Save for a rainy day, but also enjoy each and every day to the fullest” kind of gal. But, for me, the special ingredient of passion has made “fullest even fuller.”

How about you, have you ever analyzed what drives you in life? I’d love to hear.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Those Eyes (Black Eyed Children) – Part 2 by LV Gaudet

twins black eyed children

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

The shed door creaks open, the blazing sunlight outside burning my eyes and blinding them as they flutter open.  My head feels like it had been stepped on.  A lot.

“What the hell are you doing in the shed?” a man’s voice growls at me.

My whole body is stiff and I wonder why I am huddled on the dirty floor of a wooden shed.

Trying to move with the least amount of pain in my joints, I flex gingerly, sitting up and rubbing the blurriness out of my eyes.

It takes them time to adjust and focus on the angry face of Mr. Alfred Gordon, my neighbor from up the street.

“I asked you a question.  What the hell are you doing in the shed?”

I half expected the belligerent “buddy” to be added to that.  But that would have been suggestive of an angry stranger, not neighbors who have shared a neighborly sometimes casual indifference, sometimes aloof friendly relationship for years.

“Sorry,” I manage, wondering why my voice sounds so strange to my own ears.

Filled with embarrassed shame and still with no memory of how or why I ended up in the neighbor’s shed, I manage to stagger stiffly to my feet.  Hanging my head in shame, I apologetically walk past him, wishing I were anywhere else in the world at this very moment.  Ducking my head in further shame as I squeeze by, I avoid looking at him.

I don’t want to see the curiosity.  The weird questioning look.  The irritation at the irrational crazy neighbor he found hiding in his shed.

A vague recollection comes to me of having locked the shed door from the inside.

How did he open it?  I must have dreamt that.  Or only thought I locked it.  It doesn’t seem like the kind of shed that would lock from the inside.

I can feel his eyes on me as I do the walk of shame out of his yard.

He calls after me in a less angry tone.

“Why are you barefoot and in your pajamas?”

I shrug.

“I must have been sleepwalking I guess.”

I feel like this must satisfy him at least a little.  Maybe even salvage our neighborly relationship.

Turning up the street, I walk up the sidewalk.  Ahead is the wonderfully bland world of normalcy.  A tidy residential street with well-trimmed yards, mature shade trees, and nice middle class homes with nice middle class cars parked in their driveways and on the street.

The house ahead has one of these nice mature shade trees spreading its branches to shade the ground beneath it.  With the bright morning sun, its shade stretches across the sidewalk.

I slow, stepping out into the street, keeping my feet to the sun-warmed concrete beyond the reach of the tree’s shadow.  I walk around it on the street.

The rude honking of a car horn startles me, intruding and insistent.  I turn and look, the driver looking at me oddly as he has to swerve to go around me.

I know what he is thinking.  Why aren’t you walking on the sidewalk?

I don’t know.  I just could not bring myself to step into the shadow of that tree.

Or he may be wondering why I am walking down the middle of the street in my pajamas and bare feet.

I don’t know that either.

I am past the shadow of the tree and meander back to the sidewalk, leaving the road to the occasional car.

I can feel their eyes on me.  The drivers as they pass, neighbors in their houses and yards looking at me, adults, kids.  I am sure even the Harrel’s dog, who seems to always be outside rain, shine, or snow, is looking at me like I am some strange creature.

It is a strange feeling.

I walk on, stiffly, pretending to ignore the eyes watching me until I reach my house.

Entering the house, I can’t help but note its sullen silence after the bright sun, gentle breeze, full of life morning outdoors.  The lights are all off; the sun through the windows more than adequate to light the house.

For some reason I cannot fathom the soft shadows behind and under furniture have a subtle threatening quality to them they have never had before.

Entering the kitchen, I flip the light switch and nothing happens.  Frowning at the switch I flip it a few more times, although this never helps in a case like this.  Again to no effect.

“Circuit must have popped.”

I try another light.  Poke at the switch for the coffee maker.  And settle on looking at the dark and silent microwave, who’s green glowing time is not lit.  Pressing buttons there does nothing either.

“Circuit must have popped.”  I say it again as though I only just realized it and did not just say those same words.

Going to the basement door and opening it, I look down at the darkness below me with a feeling of dread that is alien to me.

“What is wrong with me?  I have never in my life been afraid of the dark.”

I have to force my hand to reach for the light switch on the wall just inside the stairwell, flipping the switch.

Relief floods through me sickening and heavy in the stomach with the snapping on of electricity and the sudden glaring of the light below filling the darkness and pushing it to nonexistence.

I start down the stairs and the vague sense of dread hangs around me like a moth fluttering vulgarly against a flame, drawn inexplicably to that which will kill it in a most violent death.

Reaching the bottom, I move across the basement, avoiding even the faintest of shadows, to find the fuse panel.

Opening the panel, I study it carefully, working to read the faded printing next to each of the fuse switches.  The one for the kitchen is slightly out of sequence.  The fuse is blown.

Flipping the switch off and on, it stays put.

Heading back to the stairs, I freeze in the middle of the basement at the very moment the world goes black.

Blinking in the blackness; there is not even the light of the sun filtering in the basement windows; I swallow hard.

Somewhere from far away is a sound I can hear only in my head.  Softly.  Gentle.

“Please, let us in.”  The words are so quiet I am not sure I hear them.  I have a sense that they come from another time, another place, outside the door.

“There is no door.  I’m in the middle of the basement.”

I feel eyes on me.  Darkness.

I think I can almost see them, those eyes.  But they are wrong.  They are only liquid darkness which cannot shine with the light as eyes do.

“There is no one here.  I am alone, in the dark.”  I whisper it quietly, as if afraid the shadows themselves might hear.

 

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Restart, Relax, and Rejuvenate by Sherrie Hansen

Someone once told me that one great way to restart your brain is to take a shower. I’ve had it happen more than once. I’m working at the computer with whatever I’m working on open on the screen and I can’t think of a thing to write. No matter how hard I try, nothing comes. Then, I get in the shower, with no way to write anything down, and no sooner does the water start to rain down on me than the voices of my characters start to jabber inside my head and new plotlines magically form.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

Over the years, I’ve learned that a vacation – especially one to a far off destination – can have the same effect, only in a much more profound way. Here’s what seems to happen when I take a trip, and how to enjoy a traveling adventure that refreshes both brain and body.

 

1. Let go of expectations. Anything can happen on a vacation. I like to plan our trips and enjoy researching places to eat and stay, as well as things to see and do, but I’ve also learned that it’s fairly impossible to predict what will happen on any given day, how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, and what things we might encounter along the way. Once I let go of my stubborn insistence that things have to be a certain way, it’s amazing what can happen!

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  1. Forget about staying focused and enjoy the distractions. You may not be able to tell it from looking at my house (creative minds are rarely tidy as the old saying goes), but I’m a highly organized person, at least when it comes to my professional life. I make lists and cross things off when they’re done. I thrive under deadlines. I plan events with an intricate timeline based on what things I can do ahead down to the tasks that have to be done at the last minute. When I go on a trip, it’s a challenge and a pleasure to be able to relax and realize that nothing matters but having fun.

  1. Open your mind to new ideas, possibilities. It’s kind of sad, the way I go to the same restaurants and order the same exact foods and wear the same few shirts and skirts until they’re worn out from washing. I like being in my comfort zone, but when I’m forced out of my established ruts and have to try new things, I experience a wondrous feeling of freedom and discovery!

  1. Bloom and grow. I try NOT to grow any wider when I’m on vacation – it’s difficult when every corner grocery has caramel shortbread (Millionaire Bars), Battenberg Cakes, Meat and Fisherman’s Pies, pâté, amazing cheeses, and oddles of creamy Cadbury milk chocolate delights. But I love widening my perspectives, learning new things and stretching myself. It’s so easy to become stagnant. Letting a Chinook wind blow in and infiltrate my mind is like spring coming to the soul after a long hard winter.

  1. Meet new people. Stir the pot. I think the older we get, the harder it is to meet new people and make new friends. Most of us have lived in the same place for quite some time, and the people already have their established circles. Adult children and grandkids occupy people’s time after a certain age, and the sad truth is, I’m often so worn out after I do what I have to that I’m too tired to want to get out and socialize. When I do go out, I have to think long and hard about what we have to talk about because we’ve already spoken about everything under the sun at least a million times. But when I’m on vacation, every day is an opportunity to participate in new conversations about different topics, to hear what different people from other countries think and feel about things. It’s a great way to not only liven things up, but to gain a new perspective. I love listening and learning from the “chance” people I meet when we’re traveling.

  1. Strip away the mundane and set your sights on the extraordinary.Letting go of old things is almost a requirement for being able to embrace new things. If you’re clutching at what you have, you can’t open your hands and accept something new. If you’re always looking down, you’ll never catch sight of a rainbow. If you don’t walk away from your work or your possessions, your family, or whatever it is that tethers you to the ground, you will likely never fly, accomplish your dreams, or sail off to uncharted waters.

  1. Let your senses be reawakened. Open your eyes. I’ve written several articles urging people to look for the beauty in their own backyard. It’s a wonderful thing to do. But the fact is, after looking at the same garden or flowering tree or porch swing every day for a quarter of a century, it’s easy to get desensitized to even the most lovely scene. Traveling, seeing different sights and fresh images, and taking the time to walk about and relish the beauty in unfamiliar locations not only jumpstarts my creativity, it makes me notice things through fresh eyes.

If you haven’t taken a good long vacation lately, I highly recommend that you find a way to get away. For me, escaping the familiar and journeying to unknown realms is the best way to rejuvenate.

S - Drum Castle Wisteria

(As you read this, Sherrie and her husband, Mark, are in Scotland enjoying a much-anticipated vacation. Watch for Sherrie’s next book, DAYBREAK, a sequel to NIGHT & DAY, coming from Indigo Sea Press in July. All photos are from our home and previous vacations to Scotland, Romania, Kentucky, and England.)

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Time to Choose, by Sheila Deeth

The professor called me into his office. I didn’t want to be there. I’d just finished my post-grad year in the math department, and now I wanted out. But I knew, as everyone else did, he was going to ask me to stay. Would I find it in me to say no?

It wasn’t that I didn’t love math anymore. But the math I dreamed of had just slipped beyond my grasp, as I’d known it would. I ached for black holes and cosmological constants, but I’d come eleventh in the final exams, and those who came higher had already claimed those places. No studying under Stephen Hawking for me. I couldn’t prove I was good enough.

Climate science, fluid flow, partial differential equations and computer programs… Okay, the computer programs bit was interesting, but studying computers in a math department didn’t feel right. So I really did say no. I left my Cambridge enclave and entered the real world, using computers to design missile guidance systems!

Soon I was back in Cambridge, working for a small computer firm (no more weapons), dreaming how I really could have tried for that PhD if I’d been in the Comp Sci department… and writing stories, because sometimes it takes a long time for the changes to compile. Some programmers read the news. I wrote dreams. Still do (sometimes it takes a long time for the washing machine to run).

And I dreamed.

I had kids, told stories to kids, wrote stories for kids, resurrected those pre-math dreams and wrote more, found a publisher (more than one publisher), tried to advertise, and realized I’m still in that room. The professor’s still waiting for my answer. I’m good enough to follow my dream and work with that famous dreamer who’s now died. But I only came 11th in the exam. Those who came before me have taken up those places, and I shall always be invisible behind the scenes, running their programs (writing my code or writing novels), error checking (and editing), writing reports (or blogposts), just being me.

I have a choice, wherever, whenever it seems. And I choose to be me.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum and Subtraction, all published by Indigo Sea. She came 13th in her undergraduate finals, so 11th was kind of a triumph, if a small one. And she’s posting this blog on the 14th instead of the 13th because time (publishing, computers, stories and dreams all) slipped away from her.

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Words & Coco-Words

For some reason or other, many times I’ve failed to find a dictionary word that would work for me, so I guess I’ve always made up words to better explain what I‘ve wanted to say or do, and I figure, at my age, why change. So, I’m still doing it.

My son, Rob, and his wife, Florence, recently married and shortly after the return from their Hawaiian honeymoon, their employer moved them to a new location two and a half hours south of me. They had been only forty minutes away. I was sad to see them go, but I was also happy for them, because the opportunities in the new location are better. I also knew that it would take a while to unpack and get settled in their new home, all the while working full time and learning the ropes of the new job and location.

The three of us are close, but I figured there would be less phone calls and visits at least for a while, so I’ve busied myself with all sorts of projects to keep my mind occupied. But to be honest, I’ve really been missing them! I called them a couple of times, but I didn’t want to bug them. Nothing worse than a “Needy” mama.

So, a couple of nights ago, I was in my kitchen whipping up my evening meal and the phone rang. My caller ID said it was my son. Yeaaaaaay! So I danced on over to the phone and answered with my most cheerful, “Hi!”

Rob said, “Hi, Mom, how are you doing? What have you been up to?” After we caught up a bit, I told him in great detail all about the projects that had been occupying my time; the cleaned gutters, new backyard privacy fence, the Solar skylights I had put in my living room, and said I’d even had my regular check-up with my doctor and all was fine, except I had been suffering from symptoms of Flob withdrawal. At this point I stopped talking and there was dead “pin-drop” silence on the other end of the phone. Finally about four seconds later, Rob burst into laughter which went on and on. Well, you know how contagious laughter is. I started laughing, too. Pretty soon all three of were laughing.

Rob told me that when I said “Flob” withdrawal, he was frantically trying to figure out what the heck I was talking about. During his thought process he turned and looked at Florence and she had this subtle, deadpan smile on her face. He suddenly realized what I meant. FLOB was a combination of her name and his. I’m usually better as an audience participant, but every now and then, I come up with a perfect zinger. The three of us enjoyed another few seconds of laughter and when we eventually hung up, my heart was cured. At least until next time.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Rwanda and Uganda – My Favorite Things By: Maribeth Shanley

               So many people have asked me what were my favorite parts of my trip to Rwanda and Uganda that I decided to make them the theme of my May blog. 

                The entire trip was my favorite, but, okay, okay, I’ll be more specific as I break it down into two parts. 

                Part One – Significance of Family 

               I enjoyed meeting Edwin’s friends, most of whom were family members.  I especially enjoyed experiencing the African “family” theme that resounded on a continuous basis.  In a few words, the family is the core of every African’s existence.  Children grow up with relatives, for example,  as they identify their cousins as their best childhood friends. 

                 In the U.S. we claim the importance of family, however, for many of us in the U.S., that’s an overstated theme. 

                 While we are children, we yearn for the day we grow up and can move away from our family and hometown.   Instead of concentrating on our childhood, we long for adulthood, freedom, and independence.  Americans are the ultimate cowboys and cowgirls.  We’re fiercely independent to the detriment of our core family.  Not so in either Rwanda or Uganda.  The family is central.

                  A few days after arriving in Rwanda, Edwin and I made a day of driving to Uganda to visit with his mother’s side of the family.  We stayed three nights with Edwin’s favorite uncle, Emmanuel.  A flamboyant man, I found him to be proud, caring and full of mischief.  Shortly after arriving at his farm, Emmanuel informed Edwin that another uncle and aunt were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  In fact, an elaborately planned event would take place on the second day of our visit. 

                  Before leaving my home in South Carolina, I thought about packing a dress but decided I would probably never wear it while away.  I did pack a pair of black leggings and a nice tunic.  I was glad I did; and, I was also happy I thought to pack it for the trip to Uganda.  The celebration was amazing.  I felt a sentimental joy in being included. 

               Bob and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary two years from September of this year.  I feel the fiftieth-anniversary folks belong to a special club, regardless of where we live.  For me, it’s amazing to recognize that I’m married to my first husband and that, after all these years, we still love each other to the moon.  It was evident that Uncle Geofrey and Aunt Jemima also share a special love.  It was wonderful watching Geofrey’s attentive gentility as he guided his wife, decked out in a long, elaborate gown, tackle the bumpy ground on their way from the event entrance to the stage where they both sat.  They were, after all, the king and queen of the day.

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                While visiting with the couple for a few hours the day after the celebration, Jemima and I exchanged thoughts on how much work is involved in keeping a relationship going for that long. However, we also agreed that we wouldn’t have it any other way.           

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                Too, the day after their celebration, I was able to meet Edwin’s godfather, Christopher, and his family as well as two of Edwin’s best childhood friends who also happen to be his cousins.  I had forgotten all about Uganda’s eight years of tyranny under the rule of the monster, Idi Amin. 

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               Christopher told us a chilling story about how he and his family became the targets of Amin.  In fact, as an act of retribution toward Christopher’s brother who fought with the rebels in their effort to  overthrow the brutal dictator, Amin focused on Christopher.  Amin’s people couldn’t find the brother so, because Christopher was conveniently available, and physically resembled his brother, he and his family became targets for Amin’s revenge. 

               On one particular day, Christopher discovered from a friend and informant that he and his family were destined to be slaughtered that evening.  Fearing becoming trapped, they left their home and wandered out into the bush where they hid the night.  Christopher’s and Anna’s (his wife) had a baby with them.  Their first child, a daughter, was just a few months old at the time.  Christopher related how Anna had to hold her hand over the baby’s mouth as they heard the soldiers who were searching for them in the same vicinity.   

            As Edwin and I sat with Christopher and Edwin’s two cousins, I listened to the four men talk in their native language.  Although I couldn’t understand any of their conversations, I intuited from their body language how much they all love Edwin in addition to feeling protective of him.  I also recognized that Christopher was sizing me up.  He wanted to make sure I was the best writer for Edwin’s autobiography.  In fact, when Edwin said, “Maribeth, feel free to jump in and ask any questions you would like answered,” my heart skipped a few beats as I thought, “Oh, geez, what am I going to say that won’t sound stupid or lame?”  I wanted to crawl under my chair.  Instead, I asked an open-ended question about Edwin’s childhood.  “What was Edwin like as a child?”  To my surprise and pleasure, the question opened up a lively discussion as I learned about Edwin’s mom and how Christopher became his godfather.  I also learned of the Amin threat which made the hair on my neck crawl with fear.               Christopher now had a second daughter, Angel, a precocious little girl who sat glued to Christopher’s lap for most of our visit. 

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                I was thrilled when, in my presence, Christopher commented to Edwin that he was fortunate to have me writing his autobiography.  My sensitivity toward people and the pain they experience touched his heart and soul.  In fact, Edwin later told me Christopher said, “The next time Maribeth visits, she’s staying with me.”

                The following week, Edwin and I were scheduled to meet with one of his father’s relatives and friends.  We had to cancel seeing the one relative in the Kigali, Rwanda area.  Our schedules simply couldn’t mesh.  However, we did travel about an hour from Kigali to visit with his father’s best friend, Patrick Byabagamba.   He’s known as the family’s historian.  He has a wealth of knowledge with a bear-trap mind for details.   His face, manners and gentility endeared him to me.  I hope to see him again one day.

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              Last, but not least was meeting Edwin’s youngest brother, Enoch. What a sweet young man and not at all bad looking. Enoch works with Edwin on his Rwanda Eco Tours venture. In fact, he’s Edwin’s right hand man. For me, he’s my go to guy when Edwin, who is extremely busy, can’t be reached.

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Part Two – The Amazing Animals of Africa              

                My second favorite part of my trip were the animals we were able to see.  Actually, seeing the animals was not at all my second favorite part.  It’s right up there and equal to my first favorite part. 

               My entire adulthood I have dreamed of going to Africa and seeing all the exotic animals  untethered and in the “WILD!”  Animals doing what they are designed to do; live normal lives without fear of entrapment and being slaughtered.  Rwanda does not allow trophy hunting.  They honor and value their wild animals and for me, seeing them was an absolute dream come true.  Thank you Rwanda.  Thank you. President Kagame, for your intelligence and compassion to know the value of these special creatures.  I only wish more African countries did as well and that they too banned hunting these animals for nothing more than a trophy, a purpose I can’t fathom a reason for wanting to hang a beautiful animal’s head on a wall or wear it as a coat, or walk on it as a rug.  The animals of Africa are living monuments to be cherished and shot through the lens of a camera and not by the end of a rifle.

* * * * * * *

                On our way back to Edwin’s home, we spent the evening at Akargera National Park.  The 463.32 square-mile Park is fenced off to keep the animals from wandering into a local village where, before being fenced off, the wild animals would wreak havoc. 

                We were fortunate to see one or more of the majority of most the animals that inhabit this massive park including a 30-foot tall giraffe, several antelopes, baboons, hippos, a crocodile swimming with the hippos, zebras, more giraffes, and many unusual and beautiful birds.  We also saw a small monkey who sat on a clay mound looking as if he was waiting for a cab or uber to come pick him up.

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              When it was nearly time to leave the park, Edwin lamented that we had not seen elephants.  He knew these beautiful creatures were among my favorite.  I was concerned that Edwin felt bad about not seeing the elephants.  I said, “Edwin, don’t worry.  I’ll be back and will see elephants.  Besides, they are here living their lives.  They’re not here for our entertainment. I’m good.”  We were all resigned that the elephants were hiding when our guide spotted a humongous male elephant walking out of the bush into a clearing.  I got out of the car but climbed back in when I realized how massive the bull was.  So, at a safe distance, we stayed a while longer watching him tare down a tree and devour all the vegetation.  The crunching sound of the vegetation and then some of the tree itself was incredible!  Seeing the elephant meant that we had seen all the animals except the rhinos and lions.  We were happy and content.  I was thrilled and can’t wait to see them all again.

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                Several days later, I had an incredible experience and the thrill of a lifetime!  

                With a group of eight individuals and guided by a wonderfully energetic, fun man, Francios Bigirimana, who spent fifteen years of his life working side by side with one of my heroes, Dian Fossey, I trekked up the mountainside to visit with a troop of mountain gorillas.  What an amazing experience!  After taking several photos, I stood still just watching their behavior when I recognized that they were aware that they are related to us.  In fact, I walked over to where Francios stood and said, “Am I right?  I think these guys know they are our cousins.”  He said they did indeed as he also took my camera relieving me of the burden of taking photos so I could be with the gorillas.  I think my thoughtfulness gave Francios pleasure.  Having the ability to observe the gorillas gave me pleasure.  I loved being in the presence of my not too distant cousins with whom we share 98.8% DNA!  I hope to return one day with my husband and my sister, Gail,  to visit again with these incredible beings.  Below is the troop’s silverback.  What a clown he was.  He loves posing for photos.  Beautiful cousin!

Silver Back

            One last thing deserves mentioning because it left a lasting impression on me and my soul.  I stayed in the front-room bedroom of Edwin’s home.  It faced a hill that led down, then back up another hill to the city of Kigali.  Unlike the U.S., Rwanda does not discriminate or disparage other people who are different.  Instead, they embrace difference.  

               The evenings in Rwanda are cool enough to leave the windows open.  It was wonderful to wake to all the beautiful birds the country has to offer.  In addition to the birds, however, I would wake each morning around 4:50 a.m.  That’s when the Imam of a local mosque would climb the stairs of the tall tower called a minaret to announce the call to prayer.  His announcement was not spoken.  It was sung.  I absolutely loved waking to his song.  His voice was low and gravely, but romantic as well.  The first morning I listened I couldn’t help but choke up a bit as I thanked the country for it’s acceptance and tolerance of one of the four most important and historic religions of our world, Islam.   It filled my ears with pleasure and my heart with joy.   I will never forget my 4:50 a.m. beautiful ritual.

               In summary, I’ve never cared about traveling anywhere else in the world except Africa.  I’ve wanted to experience the continent for as long as I can remember.  My trip was a dream come true.

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Francios Bigirimana

                Note:  There is a section on my website, www.maribethshanley.com, where I posted daily blogs and included lots of photos if you care to see and read more about my wonderful month in beautiful Rwanda and Uganda.  I can’t wait to return.  It’s where I left part of my heart.

 

 

 

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Those Eyes (Black Eyed Children) – Part 1 by LV Gaudet

twins black eyed children

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

As I stand in the damp shadows of the night looking through the muted sheen of drizzle in the night lights, a darker shadow comes into view.

It moves as if apart from the world around it.  Coming slowly towards me.  It cannot be more than four feet high.

I turn and scurry, ducking to hide behind a large tree spreading its darkly leafed limbs in the front yard of a house behind me on the street.  Peeking out, I look up the rain slick street.

The clash of cool rain against the warm night air thickens into a fog, filling the air with its ghostly aura.

The light of the street lamps still glow sallow and mute despite the rain misting them and the fog folding them into its thickening embrace.

The shadow moves, untouched by the dim light, the rain, and the fog.

I am filled with the urge to duck deeper into the tree, to become one with it, hiding like the little grey squirrel who I know lives in this very tree.

Fear breathes from my mouth and I imagine I can feel the little squirrel trembling in fear inside its tree home, holding its breath and listening.

I look again and the shadow is closer now.  It has split into two somehow.  Identical.  Almost.

The urge to laugh at how stupid I must look sits heavily in my chest.  I have no idea why I am afraid.

Swallowing the sick bile of fear in my throat, I force myself to move, darting for the darkened house behind me.

Yanking at the door is useless.  The door is locked.

Ringing the bell brings no solace with the impotent pushing of that little button on the wall next to the door.  No one is there to let me in.

Looking around quickly, I remember there is a shed behind the house.

The shadow twins are still there, closer now, in the middle of the road where the street lights reveal them to be nothing more than two children, a boy and girl.

A laugh bubbles up my throat, filled with the tension of unease.  I feel foolish.  They are just a couple of kids.  The smile that cracks my face is a little sickly looking.

I move to step towards them.  I should greet them and ask what they are doing out here in the middle of the night, in the rain.  Are they lost?

They are staring at me.  I know this by the way their bodies look in the dark and the rain, the dim light glittering with a fiendish wet sparkle that touches everything but them.  They are facing me, staring at me, although I cannot see their faces, their eyes.

As we face off in the rain glistening in the street lamps’ haloes of light in the dark of night, the warm air loses its clash against the chill air brought by the rain, and the fog thickens.

The other night shadows recede, but somehow the two children seem to be shadow and real at once.  An aura of shadow that is a part of them.  They are untouched, somehow, by the street lights.

Fear oozes through me, slithering dark and oily.

They move towards me in perfect unison, taking a slow step, unhurried.  They have all the time in creation of the planets and the universe.

I don’t know when my feet moved.  I only know that somehow, inexplicably, my feet are moving beneath me.  Running.

It feels like I cannot take my eyes off those children.  I feel bad that I am not offering to help them.  They should not be out here.  Yet, I know I cannot be looking at them because the house passes to my right in a fear-fogged blur.  The driveway moves beneath the slap of my feet. The rain soaked grass of the back yard dampens the bottoms of my pants legs.  I see the shed coming at me, the hand that moves as if it is not a part of me reaching, grasping, and pulling the door open.

The darkness of the shed’s interior with its lawnmower squatting like some strange alien bug, the rakes and shovels, and the spindly spokes of a bicycle rearing suddenly before my eyes, hanging from the roof or the wall, I am not sure which.

My breath is panting raggedly out of my mouth and I am certain I can smell my own stink of fear sweat.

The two kids are outside of the shed as I pull the door closed, jamming a gardening utensil into the handles on the inside to lock the doors closed, even as my displaced thoughts wonder why those handles are even there on the inside of a small shed.

Utter blackness fills the shed with the closing of those doors.

I can feel them out there, staring at me.

The last image of them is burned into my eyes, my mind.  Their faces, so strangely devoid of emotion, of life, of whatever it is that magically makes the living feel animated.

Their eyes, twin orbs of blackness staring out of twin pale moon faces.  Expressionless.  Lifeless.

Soulless.

Their eyes are all black.  The pupil, the iris, the sclera, the part that is supposed to be white.

Their voices come through the rough wood door, close on the other side; hollow, surreal and weirdly dreamlike.  As if they are speaking to me through some strange mutant sound muffling and distorting mist from far away.

“Please, let us in.  We only want to come in.”

“Let us in out of the rain.”

“It is dark out here.  Please let us in.”

Everything that is human and decent in me tells me that I should open that door.

The slithering dark oily fear filling me holds me prisoner.  I cannot move.  I cannot scream.

I somehow manage to look down and wonder at my bare feet.  The bottoms of my now wet pajama pants.  I am dressed for bed?  Did I go to bed?  I don’t remember.

How did I get outside?  I don’t remember.

I can only see those black eyes.  Strange and lifeless, staring at me without expression.

The all black eyes.  Football shaped marbles of black that do not, cannot, glisten in the light the way eyes do.  Light cannot touch them any more than it can touch the strange children or the shadows that became them.

They are the absence of light.  Of life?

I want to scream.

I can only see the eyes.

 

 

Gaudet is the author of Where the Bodies Are and The McAllister Farm
where the bodies are

 

What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions? Find out in Where the Bodies Are.

 

The McAllister Farm-cover 1

Take a step back in time to learn the secret behind the bodies in Where the Bodies Are:  The McAllister Farm reveals the secrets behind the man who created the killer.

 

Link to purchase these books by L.V. Gaudet

Link to reviews of Where the Bodies Are on Angie’s Diary

 

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A New Day is Dawning by Sherrie Hansen

If one thing can be said of my life, it’s that I can’t go through a single day on autopilot. Some days, I wake up in the parsonage next door to my husband’s church in Hudson, Iowa to the sounds of tractors and trucks driving by on our gravel road, the creak of old farmhouse floors, or the sound of the wind whistling across the fields. Other days, I awake 85 miles to the north in a cozy, but comfortable cottage next door to my B&B in the small town of Saint Ansgar.

Sometimes I get to sleep in, or maybe even spend the day lounging around in my nightgown, writing or painting. Other times, I wake up to the demanding b-b-b-b-ring of an alarm clock reminding me that there’s breakfast to serve, lunch to prepare, or a church service to rush off to.

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The one thing that’s consistent about daybreak at my house is that when I wake up each morning, the past is behind me and a fresh day awaits, brimming with new opportunities and unique experiences. No matter which of our homes I wake up in, what’s done is done, and daybreak is a chance to start out fresh.

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I’ve been very fortunate in my life to work in a career where every day is different and filled with new challenges. I’ve always appreciated the fact that my work offers me the joy of interacting with a variety of people, the chance to participate in a broad assortment of tasks, and the opportunity to experiment with creative menus that I can change as often as my heart desires.

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Since my first novel, NIGHT AND DAY, was released, I’ve been telling people it starts when it’s “midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark.” Since the sequel, coming out this summer, begins in Denmark, it seemed logical to call it DAYBREAK.

Night and Day (1)

Daybreak is about new beginnings. To begin fresh, you have to turn your back on the past and look forward. It’s a choice we make every day, in little ways, and every so often, with extraordinary, life-changing transitions. For Jensen, daybreak means leaving her comfort zone in Minnesota, moving across the ocean to a different country only to find out that Anders won’t be there to help her adjust. For Anders and his son, Bjorn, daybreak means suffering the indignity of losing a career and being forced to look for a new job. Both have to let go of their expectations and forge a new path.

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For the Christiansen family, it means moving on after an unexpected death changes the entire perimeter of their world. For Leif Unterschlag, it meant giving up the woman he loved, and starting over in Solvang, California, halfway across the world. If Leif hadn’t had the courage to walk away from his heartache and embrace a new love, Jensen never would have come to be. The choice to look toward the rising sun and move forward can have great repercussions!

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

I won’t say more for giving too much away, but I think if you’ve ever had to give up something familiar and beloved so that you have your hands free to grasp a new opportunity, you know what I mean about daybreak. Just like Jensen and Anders’ lilac bushes, sometimes our branches have to be pruned and cut back before we can grow. What does daybreak – or the dawn of a new day – mean to you?

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Twenty-six years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, she has ten books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Daybreak, a sequel to Night and Day, will be released in the summer of 2018. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

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Examining My Own Mortality by John E. Stack

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that I’ve seldom gone through.  I read the name of a friend from long ago in the local obits.  It really threw me off since it was a person that had helped change the direction of my life.  It also from a time over thirty years ago and two thousand miles away on the far side of this United States.  He was distant kin and I was almost half way around the world when I chanced to meet him. Out of respect, I called him “Chief” due to military rank, and he called me “Cuz”.  Often times when old friends pass, particularly when they are not that much older, it sets your mind off on an excursion to rediscover the things that you went through, especially those things that may have had an impact on the lives of others.

I was about halfway through my Air Force career, stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. I would have been described as an arrogant and self-centered young sergeant.  I worked on the high side of construction and design.  We often went on temporary assignments and completed construction projects, such as buildings, roads and utility systems.

Not long after I was stationed in Las Vegas, I came across a brass, cigar-smoking chief master sergeant who had the same last name as my mom’s maiden name “Whitlow”.  A short while later I asked if he was kin to the Whitlow’s from North Carolina.  To my surprise he said he was.  He also said that my grandfather was his uncle.  What a coincidence!  It always gave us something to talk about.

The other things we often had opportunities to talk about was my mouth and attitude.  Both were horrible.  Not a time I’m proud of.  I often wonder now how my wife could stand to be around me back then. I won’t go into everything, but after the second time I lost my temper and said some very unprofessional, rude things to a young lieutenant he came to my rescue.  The lieutenant was extremely angry because of the name I called him and threatened to put me up on charges.  Chief saw (heard) what was going on and moseyed over to where we were having our conversation. He said that I was needed back on the job site right away because there was a problem. I think I was the problem.  As I walked away, I heard, “Excuse me sir, could I speak to you for a moment?”

I don’t know what was said in their conversation, but I do know that after I apologized to the Lieutenant, he agreed not to file charges.  After the butt-chewing I received from Chief, all I could say was thank-you.  I still remember some of the words he told me.  He said, “Stack“, I knew I was in it deep. “This is the last time I save your ass.  You are the best at what you do.  You don’t have to tell people, they can see it in the quality of your work.  You need to grow-up and make sure that you want to make the Air Force a career, because if you keep on this path you won’t last.”  I was surprised that he cared enough to call me out, and I’ve never forgotten.  It was more than just being family.  Even though I lost track of him, I never lost respect.

I often wonder if I have touched people in this way (the caring part, not the rude part).  I started to turn my life around and eventually I became a Christian.  After retirement, I went back to school and became a middle school teacher.  I felt that God pulled me in this direction and now I’m completing my twentieth year.  I’ve taught hundreds of middle-schoolers.  When I think back I question whether my old-school ways had positive effects on these students or was I too tough?  Did I care enough?  I like to think I did but often felt that my standards were a lot higher than the parent’s or kid’s expectations.

And then I think about the children that have lived in our home.  God provided us with a house way too large for just my wife and I, and then asked “what are you going to do with all these rooms?” (no, God did not speak directly to us but as we talked this was what we felt.)  We became foster parents about eleven years ago and have had twenty-two babies get their start from our arms.  I hope these beginnings have been positive.  I often ask myself, “have my fallings and failures affected these babies?”

As a teacher we are supposed to reflect on what we do.  Self-examination is much more difficult, and I hate them both.  I don’t like the feelings of inadequacy that I have when I question myself.  Will I get past this before I’m called to account that final time?  I know that I can’t please everyone, but will I meet my own standards for me?

 

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and co-authored with his daughter Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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