The Identity of Miss Angela Vespers

Today’s 1894 story from the 223B Casebook is unusual by creating a sort of female Sherlock Holmes. It was one of two that appeared in The Student, a journal for university extension students published at the home of Durham University in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, It stars the widow of “Herlock Shomes,” taking up her husband’s business after his death.

female sherlock holmes

How not to create a female Sherlock Holmes.

There were few women writing in the detective field at the time, and even fewer women acting as detectives. Those that were acted like Holmes, as “consulting detectives,” because women weren’t allowed on police forces. It’s surprising, then, that the first American crime novel was written by a woman: “The Dead Letter” (1864), by Metta Victor writing as Seeley Register.

While we don’t know if “Ka,” the author of these stories, but the presence of Mrs. Shomes adds weight to the argument.

As this story opens, Mrs. Shomes had just succeeded in solving her first case, recounted as “The Adventure of the Tomato on the Wall.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

“I wonder who will be our next visitor,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes. She was in good spirits that afternoon, and had assured me several times that our discovery about the tomato, though galling to the landlord, was quite a feather in our caps.

“We were not at all to blame, my dear,” said she, leaning back in her chair and putting her finger-tips together in a judicial manner, “except in underestimating the extreme waywardness of Human Nature. Man is perpetually full of surprises; it is that which makes him so interesting. Once let us thoroughly understand a man; and no matter how much we may admire him, the element of curiosity is lacking, and we are bored.”

“Julia,” I said, “you talk like a philosopher.”

“Who would not,” she replied, “who had been the wife of such a man as Herlock? Life with him was as interesting and as full of the most delightful unexpectedness as a sixpenny raffle. Just fancy sitting waiting for him to come into tea, and never knowing whether a visitor was he or not till he’d been in the house half an hour! I’ve several times rushed to welcome a man and kissed him, thinking it was Herlock, only to discover afterwards that the creature had committed some terrible crime.

“The life you have led together must have been most interesting,” said I, sighing, and wishing that Mr Wiggins, though a kind husband, had not been so commonplace. In considering the late Mr Shomes one felt that, as a spouse, Darby himself would have been unsupportable. Why, oh why, should the latter have been “always the same!”

“Oh, very interesting indeed,” said Mrs Shomes, shaking her head pensively; “sometimes a Rough, sometimes a Costermonger, and sometimes a Gentleman! There is not a charm peculiar to any station of life I did not occasionally find in Herlock. And now they are all gone — all.”

I thought of Macduff’s touching “What! all my pretty ones?” and sighed. Julia was certainly unfortunate in having lost such a man. But after all, was it not better to have had a Herlock Shomes and lost him, than never — “How you must miss them,” I said, suddenly recollecting my duty to Mr Wiggins, “him, I mean.”

“I do indeed,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “I don’t know which of him I miss the most! And never do I miss him more, Lucilla, than in trying to solve the questions brought before us. I seem to feel more and more at every turn the need of his almost supernatural powers of observation.

“Is there no kind of rule that one could go by in solving these mysteries?” I asked, munching a biscuit. We had decided that it would not be professional to have afternoon tea, and I felt famished.

Mrs Herlock Shomes reflected profoundly, and then said: “It seems to me that in trying to clear up a Mystery one can count upon one thing only, and that is, that what at first appears to be the most improbable solution will prove to be the true one.” She paced up and down the room as she spoke, occasionally pausing to look out of the window in the street below.

“Aha! here is someone at last,” she cried, as a thin young man wearing spectacles came round the corner. He looked up at the numbers on the doors in a short-sighted manner, and after minutely examining our nameplate, rang the bell.

“Have I the honour to address Mrs Herlock Shomes?” he asked, bowing most respectfully as I opened the door to him.

“You have not,” said I, judging it best to keep my own name of Wiggins in the background; “Mrs Shomes is upstairs, considering her cases, but might spare you a few minutes, I daresay.”

“I should be greatly obliged,” he said, bowing again, “Mrs Shomes’ success in connection with the famous ‘Tomato on the Wall’ is not unknown to me.”

I ushered him in, and Julia, after gracefully bending her head, eyed him over with the most minute and yet abstracted attention of which she was capable. “Why should you have on your elder brother’s clothes?” she asked, letting her eyelids droop over her eyes, and looking at him in rather an ill-used way. The young man started violently, and examined his clothes with misgiving. “They — they are my own, I think,” he said, looking up at her again; “but I had an elder brother who was lost in infancy. It is most remarkable that you should know anything about him.”

Mrs Shomes did not reply. She took a ruby-tipped pencil from her pocket, scribbled the following words and handed them to me.” In mercy aid me, Lucilla, and suggest, if you can, why the suit he has on is so big for him.”

Of course I made up my mind to do the best I could, but oh, for Herlock! “I should like to know, sir,” I said, looking at him with all the intelligent abstraction which I could muster, “why within the last six months you have taken to wearing corsets?”

“‘Corsets’ madam!” repeated the young man, glancing from one of us to the other, with an expression of curiosity tempered with respect; “I-I’ve seen the name in tradesmen’s bills but I’m not quite sure that I can define the term. Pray explain yourselves, ladies.”

“It is no matter, cried Mrs Herlock Shomes — rather too hastily, as it seemed to me, for he might have known the corset by some other name — “It was just a little idea of my friend’s, that is all. And now, sir, may I ask you to proceed with your story. “

The young man sighed pensively, groaned once or twice, and then began: “About seven months ago,” said he, addressing himself to my friend with an air of the most touching confidence, “I had occasion to change my lodgings. My new rooms were comfortable and the cooking good. Do I make myself clear?”

“Entirely so,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, folding her hands in her lap. “Your statement is remarkably lucid.”

“My landlady was elderly and very plain,” went on the young man in a melancholy tone, “she was also not a little mysterious. Even when she personally opened the door to the tax-collector she would sometimes insist that she was ‘not at home’ and when she went out with her husband, which she did every evening, she always put on a very thick veil. I had only been in the house three days when the servant handed me a playbill. It exhibited the portrait of a lady of remarkable beauty, stated that she was the sensational skirt-dancer, ‘Miss Angelica Vespers,’ and described in glowing terms a performance in which she had appeared the night before, and which she was to repeat that evening. Madam, I went to that performance, and was at once bewitched by the beauty and agility of the fair Angelica. Attired in a filmy cloud of lace, and seeming rather to hover in the air than dance upon the ground, she appeared to me divinely beautiful, and not above eighteen or nineteen years of age. ‘She is my affinity!’ exclaimed my heart, enraptured at her charms; ‘she shall become my wife,’ said I before Angelica had done more than poise herself, and gaily pirouette upon one toe. In all she did I seemed to follow her with my heart as well as my eyes; and when, after lightly vaulting in the air, she leant suddenly back and. three times touched the stage with the crown of her lovely head, a mist floated before my eyes, my breath came in one gasp of admiration, and I vowed that she and none but she, must sit at the head of my table.

“From this time forth I haunted the hall in the hope of seeing Angelica. I sent her bouquets, bracelets, notes, occasionally receiving a few scribbled lines in reply which set my heart aflame. In these messages she stated that she admired my presents and personal appearance; but was averse to matrimony, intended to dance till she was ninety, and could not bring herself to grant an interview. At this treatment, my excitement became intense. I tried to bribe first one attendant and then another to make them divulge by what secret exit Angelica left the hall; but without success. They informed me that my landlord and landlady were the proprietors of the place, that the two scene-shifters who slept upon the premises were their sons, and that none but these four persons were ever permitted to speak to the dancer.

“What was the appearance of the two scene-shifters?” asked Mrs Herlock Shomes. “Did you ever see them?”

“Frequently,” replied the young man; “they were dwarfs, and squinted horribly. They were not above three feet high.”

“It never occurred to you that either of them resembled Angelica?”

“It did not.”

“Pray continue,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, noting down these particulars, “you interest me extremely.”

“During the next six months I not only spent every penny I could afford on presents for Angelica, but in order to make these as handsome as possible I began to restrict myself as to diet, coming down latterly to two meals a day.”

“Ah!” said Mrs Shomes, looking thoughtfully at his suit of clothes, “I see it all now.”

That's better.

That’s better.

“Madam,” cried the young man, “your words fill me with the utmost confidence in your powers! — but I will resume. The waywardness of the fair dancer, her beauty, and the mystery that surrounded her, were driving me frantic, and I went to the hall one evening determined to bring matters to a crisis. The dance which she performed on that occasion was called ‘The Devil’s Horns.’ In it she wore a whirling robe of black and shimmering gauze, which set off her dazzling fairness to perfection. Never shall I forget her as she then appeared with her long robes coiling round and round her lovely form, enveloping her snowy arms, and rising at last to a great height on either side like two demoniac horns. Faster and faster played the music, higher and higher danced Angelica. A weird red light was suddenly flashed upon her from the side. The audience cheered; but as she danced on their faces began to blanch, and sinister whispers of ‘witch’ and ‘demon’ could be heard among them. Just as she gave her final pirouette and was about to leave the stage, she turned in my direction and blew a kiss into the auditorium. This was too much for my excited nerves. With one bound I leapt upon the stage; but was immediately followed and held back by several members of the Orchestra. ‘Let me see her!’ I panted, ‘where does she go? I insist on following her!’ There was a shriek, a slamming of a door, and all was still. Then a great hubbub arose amongst the audience, the curtain fell, and I was taken by two of the attendants and thrust into the street.

“Well?” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, as the young man looked at her and paused, “well?”

“From that day to this,” he said impressively, “Angelica Vespers has disappeared! Her name is no longer on the bills, other performers are on the stage, and all my enquiries after her have met with no response.”

“Have you asked your landlord and landlady about her?”

“Oh, repeatedly; but they profess to be as much in the dark as I am.”

“Do you happen to have a specimen of your landlady’s handwriting here?” The young man produced a bill for a week’s board and lodging. “Thank you,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “and now give me one of Angelica’s letters.” She carefully compared the documents, and put them into her pocket. “Have you anything more to tell me?” said she.

“There is only one fact more, madam, but it is a most important one. I have twice seen my landlady wearing a bracelet which I could swear was one of those I gave Angelica.”

“Ha!” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “what sort of woman is this landlady of yours to look at?”

“Very ugly; she is slim and active, but has grey hair, small eyes, a nose to one side, and a complexion of walnut shells.”

“That will do,” said Julia, affably; “I quite see the whole thing.”

“Eh!” cried the visitor, falling back a few steps, “you can find Angelica?”

“I can put my finger upon her at any moment,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes firmly. The young man bowed with an air of stupefaction and took his leave.

“I begin to be afraid of you, Julia,” I said, when he was gone. “Where do you think she is? What are you going to do?”

For an answer she went to the bathroom tap and filling a bottle with water placed it upon the table. Then she went to the cupboard, and got out a piece of coarse flannel and a large lump of washing soda. As I looked at these preparations I felt in a state of utter collapse. My hands fell limply by my sides, and I emitted a low gurgle of amazement.

With an unpretending leather bag in our possession we went to the somewhat shabby hall that night and asked to see the proprietress, Mrs Delaware, on important business. We were taken to a small room where we found her renovating the theatrical wardrobe; and no sooner were we alone with her than Julia pounced upon the key of the door, turned it, and put it into her pocket.

“So you have locked the door have you?” said the lady, pausing in her work. “You seem to be rather an extraordinary person. Why have you come here?”

“I have come, madam,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, with perfect calmness, “to wash your face.

Mrs Delaware sat and stared at us both for several minutes. “To wash my face,” she repeated musingly, “are you a professional face-washer then?”

“I am not; but I’ve every intention of removing that mask of yours,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, getting out the flannel.

“M-mask!” murmured Mrs Delaware.

“Yes,” said Julia firmly. “What looks like your face you know. Don’t imagine we are deceived. That hideous mask is merely a cosmetical preparation warranted to ensure all sorts of charms beneath. Your secret, Angelica, is discovered!”

Almost before my friend had finished speaking, the lady went off into violent hysterics, and I had much ado to bring her round. “There, she is better now,” said Julia. “You hold her and I will try her face with this.

She had been vigorously rubbing the flannel on the soda, and no sooner did Mrs Delaware hear the words than she sprang from her chair at a single bound and positively screamed for mercy. “Anything but that,” she cried, clasping her hands in supplication. “You terrible person, I am as wax in your hands. Anything but that awful — awful soda!”

“Well then,” said Julia, seizing her opportunity, “Are you, or are you not, the lost Miss Angelica Vespers?”

“I Miss Vespers?’ returned the lady much amazed. “I the lovely Angelica? Certainly not.” She seemed to be still much agitated; and at a sign from me Julia put down the flannel.

“Then what have you done with her?” asked my friend. “Your writing is identical with hers, which should not be. Produce her at once, or I arrest you upon the spot for forgery.”

“But Angelica had no education,” cried Mrs Delaware, “I had to write her letters.”

“No matter,” said Julia, unabashed, “Produce her at once, or I arrest you for stealing her bracelets, one of which you have on.”

“I never knew anyone like you!” said Mrs Delaware, looking from the bracelet to the face of my friend in uncontrollable agitation. “And must we suffer?” she went on, “and must our little ruse by which we hoped to gain a fortune be exposed to all the world?”

“Ha!” said my friend, looking at me in triumph; “It need not be, if you will produce the lady.”

“And will you not arrest me if I produce her?” cried the other.

“Not if she does not accuse you in any way. It all depends on how you’ve treated her.”

With this Mrs Delaware appeared to be content. “I can and will produce her, quite unharmed,” she said. Thereupon she unlocked a large press which stood in the room, and emerged from it bearing in her arms the apparently lifeless figure of a dancing girl. The face and arms were exquisitely moulded, the hair fell in a shower of golden ringlets to the waist, and the whole form was enveloped in black-bespangled gauze.

“Angelica is a perfect triumph of mechanism,” said the lady, taking one of the girl’s hands in her own, and turning the fingers about in all directions. “She can vault three feet higher than any living lady on the stage, and has danced us out of bankruptcy over and over again. No one ever suspected us,” she went on, carefully dusting the face of the figure of a dancing girl with her pocket handkerchief; “but her accomplishments are of the kind that take with men, and they were constantly pining away on her account. Three noblemen and two poets have committed suicide because of her; and as my own lodger was becoming skin-and-bone, and had begun to make things most unpleasant, we did not like the idea of an inquest at our house, and we’ve agreed to sell her.”

“Then she’s neither more nor less than a marionette!” cried I.

“And there’s our second Mystery cleared up,” said Mrs Herlock Shornes.

Categories: Sherlockian Parodies and Pastiches | Comments Off

The Adventure of the Two Collaborators

A failed attempt to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert and Sullivan lies behind this J.M. Barrie Sherlock parody.

Barrie Sherlock parody

Conan Doyle and Barrie

“Sir James Barrie paid his respects to Sherlock Holmes in a rollicking parody,” Doyle wrote in his “Memoirs and Adventures. “It was really a gay gesture of resignation over the failure which we had encountered with a comic opera for which he undertook to write the libretto. I collaborated with him on this, but in spite of our joint efforts, the piece fell fiat. Whereupon Barrie sent me a parody on Holmes, written on the flyleaves of one of his books.” The book, by the way, was “A Window in Thrums.”

The comic opera in question is “Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize,” for which Doyle and Barrie wrote the book and Ernest Ford the music. Although it ran for seven weeks at D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Theatre, it was considered a failure. But because it inspired this delicious parody, in which the authors appeared, it was worth it to Sherlock fans.

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

In bringing to a close the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes I am perforce reminded that he never, save on the occasion which, as you will now hear, brought his singular career to an end, consented to act in any mystery which was concerned with persons who made a livelihood by their pen. “I am not particular about the people I mix among for business purposes,” he would say, “but at literary characters I draw the line.”

We were in our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out “The Adventure of the Man without a Cork Leg” (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice. It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.

I happened to look out of the window, and perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into the figure 8, replied:

“They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph.”

I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:

“My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant’s Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading.”

I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: “Amazing! But they may be mere authors.”

“No,” said Holmes, “for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists and actors get them by the hundred.”

“Then they may be actors.”

“No, actors would come in a carriage.

“Can you tell me anything else about them?”

“A great deal. From the mud on the boots of the tall one I perceive that he comes from South Norwood. The other is as obviously a Scotch author.”

“How can you tell that?”

“He is carrying in his pocket a book called (I clearly see) Auld Licht Something. Would anyone but the author be likely to carry about a book with such a title?”

I had to confess that this was improbable.

‘I have him — at last!’

It was now evident that the two men (if such they can be called) were seeking our lodgings. I have said (often) that my friend Holmes seldom gave way to emotion of any kind, but he now turned livid with passion. Presently this gave place to a strange look of triumph.

“Watson,” he said, “that big fellow has for years taken the credit for my most remarkable doings, but at last I have him — at last!”

Up I went to the ceiling, and when I returned the strangers were in the room.

“I perceive, gentlemen,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “that you are at present afflicted by an extraordinary novelty.”

The handsomer of our visitors asked in amazement how he knew this, but the big one only scowled.

“You forget that you wear a ring on your fourth finger,” replied Mr. Holmes calmly.

I was about to jump to the ceiling when the big brute interposed.

“That tommy-rot is all very well for the public, Holmes,” said he, “but you can drop it before me. And, Watson, if you go up to the ceiling again I shall make you stay there.”

Here I observed a curious phenomenon. My friend Sherlock Holmes shrank. He became small before my eyes. I looked longingly at the ceiling, but dared not.

“Let us cut the first four pages,” said the big man, “and proceed to business. I want to know why —”

“Allow me,” said Mr. Holmes, with some of his old courage. “You want to know why the public does not go to your opera.”

“Exactly,” said the other ironically, “as you perceive by my shirt stud.” He added more gravely, “And as you can only find out in one way I must insist on your witnessing an entire performance of the piece.”

It was an anxious moment for me. I shuddered, for I knew that if Holmes went I should have to go with him. But my friend had a heart of gold.

“Never,” he cried fiercely, “I will do anything for you save that.”

“Your continued existence depends on it,” said the big man menacingly.

“I would rather melt into air,” replied Holmes, proudly taking another chair. “But I can tell you why the public don’t go to your piece without sitting the thing out myself.”

“Why?”

“Because,” replied Holmes calmly, “they prefer to stay away.”

A dead silence followed that extraordinary remark. For a moment the two intruders gazed with awe upon the man who had unravelled their mystery so wonderfully. Then drawing their knives —

Holmes grew less and less, until nothing was left save a ring of smoke which slowly circled to the ceiling.

The last words of great men are often noteworthy. These were the last words of Sherlock Holmes: “Fool, fool! I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs, where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!”

The brute sunk into a chair aghast.

The other author did not turn a hair.

To A. Conan Doyle.
from his friend
J. M. Barrie

Categories: Sherlockian Parodies and Pastiches | Comments Off

Long-Range and Long-Term Water Storage (part 3)

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Suburban stockade introduction

In the long term, the easiest, cheapest way to store water is in the ground. There are two ways to go about this. For household water, i.e. drinking, laundry, hygiene, cooking, and some irrigation, you need a cistern to catch rainwater. If you live in dryer portions of the country and you expect to be at least partially off-grid, a cistern is a must. A cistern is an enormous tank holding thousands of gallons of rain. They are usually buried, both to protect the water from contaminates and evaporation and to keep it cooler. Think of an underground swimming pool with a layer of dirt on top.

Cisterns are not normally do-it-yourself projects unless you have an army of sullen teenagers with shovels to dig the hole, brick it up, line it with tile, build the cover, and then landscape over top of it.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Locating the cistern can be troublesome as most, if not all, of your house gutters need to drain into it to keep it filled. It is probably easier to dig the cistern first and then build the house rather than retrofitting it into a small yard with trees, driveways, underground pipes and what have you all getting in the way. Sometimes cisterns have to be built above ground as there is no other place to put it.

Cisterns need pumps to get the water back out for use. An electric pump is easy to use but you must have a manual back up. If you lose power, and you can’t get to the water, you don’t have any water.

Do a lot of research before installing a cistern so you know how to use and maintain it. Get plenty of references from the builder and visit his installed cisterns so you can see how big they can be and how they work. Bigger is always better when it comes to water storage. If you can count on only fifteen inches of rain a year, in one or two big storms, you need to be able to catch and hold every drop.

The second way to store rainwater is in the ground itself. If you have a well, then — in a round about way — you are storing water for household use. Soil that catches and holds onto water lets you go longer between waterings when the rains are not reliable. As well as watering less often, this means watering less in terms of quantity. Less run-off and evaporation means more soaking into the soil for your thirsty vegetables. Improved soil leads to being more drought proof.

The way you improve your soil is with tons of organic material, deep rooted plants, no bare soil ever, and never turning over soil if you can avoid it. You want a deep, rich, humusy loam and you can turn that dead dirt in your yard into this gardener’s dream.

Step one is to set your lawn mower to it’s highest setting. Taller grass means deeper roots. Deeper roots let water soak down deeper, and air too. Taller grass shades the soil better, keeping it cooler. Use the mulching setting on the mower and let the clippings spread around. They will rot in place and return organic matter to the soil, improving its tilth. For optimal grass health, don’t cut off more than about 1/3 of the blade when you mow. That is, if your lawn mower is set to three inches of depth, cut when the grass is about four inches high. Aerate the lawn if it seems to need it, either with one of those mechanical things from the rental store or with a sullen teenager and a broad fork. Enhance your lawn with regular top dressings of compost, either home-made, or purchased. Spread it thin and let the rain work it into the soil. If the lawn is covered with leaves in the fall, have your sullen teenager run them over with the mulching lawnmower a few times. The leaves disintegrate into the grass.

Step two is to keep ALL of your planting areas, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, berry bushes, heavily mulched. Wooded areas mulch themselves every fall when the leaves drop. Rake them from the grassy areas back underneath the trees and let them rot in place. Collect leaves from the neighbors in the fall. Get them from landscaping services. Collect chipped and shredded branches when the power company does tree topping. Ask! The crew is usually happy to dump a load of shredded trees in your driveway. In the fall, you should not have to purchase mulch. Nature is giving it away. Collect this fertility from your wasteful, profligate neighbors. All of this organic material will rot in place, slowly building up the humus in your soil.

For this reason, don’t use plastic or landscape fabric. They do nothing to build soil and as they deteriorate, you end up with bits of plastic all over the place. Stone and gravel will allow rain penetration but they don’t build soil. Shredded rubber is terrible too. It does nothing to feed the soil, and as it degrades over decades, it breaks up into little rubber bits that will be there forever.

We are learning to do no-till. This means that we don’t spade over the soil in planting areas any more. Instead, we pull back the mulch a little, make enough of a space for the seeds, and leave the soil as undisturbed as we can. Soil is alive. It is a complex web of critters from small to microscopic. A web of funguses binds it together. Break up this complex community by spading it over and you change how well the soil functions.

We have been on our property for thirteen years. My soil has gone from hard, dead clay to a complex, humusy topsoil up to a foot deep in spots. There is never any standing water even after four inches of rain. It all soaks in. That means that every drop of rain that falls on my yard, stays in my yard. I loose very little to run off or to evaporation. Where I have grass, it is healthy and green with no feeding, amendments or spraying. My vegetable beds are better than ever. I have berry bushes, trees, some wilderness areas, ornamental flowers, hedges, shrubbery screens.

As the soil improves year by year I do less and less supplemental watering. I don’t have to! We water only when something is newly planted, vegetables when needed (from captured water in the cube) and, and, that’s kind of it. I certainly don’t water the lawn and the thicket, hedgerow, hazelnuts, and berry bushes take care of themselves. Improving the soil so it does the work is letting this happen.

You can store water this way too. The more organic material in your soil, the more water it collects from the rain. Eventually, much of this water makes it way down to the aquifer. If you have a well, then you are making sure it continues to provide water for your household. So capture all of your rain. It isn’t hard and the returns are huge.

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The Day A Newspaper Scooped Mark Twain

In 1868, Mark Twain was busy: launching his career, courting his future wife Livy, and anticipating the publication of his first travel book, “The Innocents Abroad.”

Mark Twain lectureHe was also a public lecturer, a profession which caused him a problem when he visited Washington, D.C. He discovered that a friend had booked him to give two lectures. He hastily cobbled together a lecture titled “The Frozen Truth,” about his trip to the Holy Land aboard the Quaker City.

The first night, to his relief, went well, but when the Evening Star published the article below on its front page, he was forced to cancel his second show, costing him several hundred dollars. “[O]ne never feels comfortable, afterward, repeating a lecture that has been partially printed,” he wrote, “and worse than that, people don’t care about going to hear what they can buy in a newspaper for less money.”

But if newspaper reports can hurt Twain at the box office, they can also help him. That week, Twain was a guest at the Washington Newspaper Correspondents Club. Among the dozen toasts given to round out the dinner, one of them by Twain. The toast “To Women” was printed in newspapers nationwide and helped to burnish Twain’s reputation as an after-dinner speaker. Anthologies still republish it.

Below is the story from the Evening Star, drawn from the page on the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” site, that gives us a bit of the flavor of experiencing Twain on stage.

Washington News and Gossip

The Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] Jan. 10, 1868

“Mark Twain.” — Almost everybody who fancies he knows a good thing, in the humorous way, when he sees or hears it, was on hand last night to assist at the debut of Mr. Clemens, otherwise known as “Mark Twain,” as a lecturer.

The subject announced was “Frozen Truth,” but as in the case of the well-remembered “discursive” [style] of the lamented “Artemus Ward,” upon “The Babes in the Wood,” in which the audience were favored with only a single allusion to the babes, to the effect that they were the children of poor, but respectable parents, and died young, so in this discourse of last night, the promised gelid facts never made their appearance, though anxiously looked for by literal sort of hearers.

The thread of the lecture was a running review of the renowned excursion of the New England pilgrims, per steamer Quaker City, to the Holy Land, and this trip, illustrated from the “Mark Twain” point of view, afforded matter for a most successful attack upon the rustics. His description of the sea-sick pilgrims, (the pilgrims he liked, but didn’t “dote” on;) or the aggravating doctor, who was continually making himself disagreeable by having the tooth-ache and the heart-disease, though remonstrated with; of the fellow-traveller who sat up all night, on the watch for Scylla and Charybilis; of the breakfast with the Emperor of Russia; his personal description of the Emperor, who treated him so kindly and frankly, telling him he “could leave whenever he wanted;” his rough experience in Syria, the only pleasing reminiscence of which was the time he had the cholera at Damascus; his mathematical comparison of the proportion of arable land to desert in Syria, to that of absolute lemon in the pies known as lemon pies, at his Washington hotel; his warmly expressed detestation of the villainous camels “that were always trying to bit you when you hadn’t done anything to ’em”; his unanswerable argument against matrimony, found in the fact that the Sultan “has 900 wives and isn’t happy;” his ad captandum appeal to his bachelor auditors apropos to this muchness of matrimony “How would you like your sleeping apartment lumbered up with a bed six feet long and thirteen hundred feet wide!”; his comparison of the public institutions, buildings and monuments of the U.S. to those of the Old World; his proud claim that no quarter of the Old World has such a monument as the Washington Monument; and that no officials there are more efficient and patriotic, or collect their salaries more promptly than our members of Congress ? these and a thousand other kindred touches and points, served to give piquancy to the lecture. In the didactic portions he was not so effective, his voice and style being not favorable to the expression of sentiment or pathos.

“Mark Twain” in a certain grotesque fanciful humor reminds one of “Artemus Ward,” and though not in any sense an imitator, his humorous description of the inconveniences and perplexities experienced by the Sultan with his surplusage of wives, was much in the same vein as “A. Ward’s” description of the kindred tribulations of Brigham Young. In person Mr. Clemens is not the kind of man the spectator “expected to see.” Of medium size, a cast-iron inflexibility of feature, grave face, eyes that lack expression from their neutral hue and the light color of the brows, a drawling speech, and a general air of being about half asleep, “Mark Twain” has a very unpromising look for humor. Many of the audience last night supposed that his slowness of speech and movement was stage mannerism but that was a mistake. That imperturbable drawl is habitual to him; and he is probably the laziest walker that ever stepped. In his most fluent and vivacious moods he has never been known to disgorge more than ten words per minute; and the saunter of Walt Whitman is a race-horse pace compared with his snail-like progress over the ground.

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The Adventure of the Table Foot (Victorian Sherlock parody)

Little is known of Allan Ramsay, who published the Victorian Sherlock parody “The Adventure of the Table Foot” in The Bohemian magazine (January 1894) under the pen name “Zero.” His father and mother moved from Scotland to Constantinople, where he was employed by the sultan in the naval arsenal. Ramsay was born there and lived there many years, eventually becoming director of the state tobacco company. His work apparently pleased the sultan, for in 1904 Ramsay sought permission from King Edward VII to accept several decorations from him. He put his knowledge of Turkish to good use by writing “Told in the Coffee House, Turkish Tales” (1898) with Cyrus Adler. One of the stories, “What Happened to Hadji, a Merchant of the Bezestan,” was retold by short-story writer Katherine Anne Porter as “The Adventures of Hadji: A Tale of a Turkish Coffee House.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

Victorian Sherlock parodyI called one morning — a crisp cold wintry December day — on my friend Thinlock Bones, for the purpose of keeping him company at breakfast, and, as usual about this time of the morning, I found him running over the agony columns of the different newspapers, quietly smiling at the egotistical private-detective advertisements. He looked up and greeted me as I entered.

“Ah, Whatsoname, how d’you do? You have not had breakfast yet. And you must be hungry. I suppose that is why you drove, and in a hansom too. Yet you had time to stay and look at your barometer. You look surprised. I can easily see — any fool would see it — that you’ve not breakfasted, as your teeth and mouth are absolutely clean, not a crumb about. I noticed it as you smiled on your entry. You drove — it’s a muddy morning and your boots are quite clean. In a hansom — don’t I know what time you rise? How then could you get here so quickly without doing it in a hansom? A bus or four-wheeler couldn’t do it in the time. Oh! The barometer business. Why, it’s as plain as a pikestaff. It’s a glorious morning, yet you’ve brought an umbrella thinking that it would rain. And why should you think it would rain unless the barometer told you so? I see, too, some laborer pushed up against you as you came along. The mud on your shoulder, you know.”

“It was a lamppost that did it,” I answered.

“It was a laborer,” quietly said Bones.

At that moment a young man was shown in. He was as pale as death and trembling in every limb. Thinlock Bones settled himself for business, and, as was the usual habit with him when he was about to think, he put his two long tapered hands to his nose.

“What can I do for you, sir?” asked Bones. “Surely a young swell like you, with plenty of money, a brougham, living in the fashionable part of the West End, and the son of a Peer, can’t be in trouble.”

“Good God, you’re right, how do you know it all?” cried the youth.

“I deduct it,” said Thinlock, “you tell me it all yourself. But proceed.”

“My name is St. Timon —”

“Robert St. Timon,” put in Bones.

“Yes, that is so, but —”

“I saw it in your hat,” said Bones.

“I am Robert St. Timon, son of Lord St. Timon, of Grosvenor Square, and am —”

“Private Secretary to him,” continued Thinlock. “I see a letter marked Private and Confidential addressed to your father sticking out of your pocket.”

“Quite correct,” went on St. Timon, “thus it was that in my confidential capacity I heard one day from my father of an attachment, an infatuation that someone had for him, an elderly —”

“Lady,” said Thinlock Bones, from the depths of his chair, showing how keenly he was following the depths of the plot as it was unfolded to him by his peculiar habit of holding his bloodless hands to his nose.

“Right again,” said the young man. “Mr. Bones, you are simply marvelous. How do you manage it?”

“It is very simple,” Bones replied, “but I will not stop to explain. Whatsoname here understands my little methods quite well now. He will tell you by-and-by.”

“It was an elderly and immensely wealthy lady, then,” Robert St. Timon continued, “named the Honorable Mrs. Coran —”

“A widow,” Bones interrupted.

“Wonderful,” said St. Timon, “the Honorable Mrs. Coran, a widow. It was she who was simply head over ears in love with my father, Lord St. Timon. He, although a widower, cared little for her but —!’

“A lot for her money,” said the quick-witted detective.

“How do you divine these things? You guess my innermost thoughts, the words before they are out of my mouth. How did you know it?” St. Timon asked.

“I know the human race,” Thinlock Bones answered.

“Well, if he could manage he wanted to inherit her money without marrying her. Would she leave him her riches if he did not propose, was the question? How to find out? He was a comparatively young man and did not unnecessarily wish to tie himself to an octogenarian, although a millionairess. But he mustn’t lose her wealth. If when she died he was not her husband, would he get the money? If the worst came to the worst he must marry her sooner than let the gold slip out of his grasp. But he must not espouse the old lady needlessly. How was he to find out? A project struck him, and the means offered itself. We were both asked to a dinner party at the Countess Plein de Beer’s where we knew the Honorable Mrs. Coran would be present, and —”

“You both accepted,” interrupted Bones. “Oh,” he went on before the other could ask the reasons of his swift and accurate deductions, “oh, it’s very simple. I saw it in The Daily Telegraph’s ‘London Day by Day.’”

“Yes, we accepted,” continued St. Timon, “and this was our plan of campaign: I was to take the old doting lady down to dinner and to insinuate myself into her confidence — aided by good wine, of which she was a devoted admirer — in a subtle fashion and thus to extract the secret out of her. I was to find out — by the time she had arrived at the Countess’s old port — whether my father was her heir or not. Whether she had left him her money without being his wife. Time was short, and if she had not my father was to propose that very night after dinner. The signal agreed on between my father and me was that if he was her heir without being her husband I was to kick him under the table and he would not propose — otherwise he would. Oh! Mr. Bones,” he sobbed, turning his piteous white face to Thinlock, “this is where I want your great intellect to help me, to aid me and explain this mystery.

“The plan worked admirably,” he went on, “I gleaned every fact about the disposition of her money after her death from her when she was in her cups — or rather her wineglasses. My father was her absolute and sole heir, and I thanked the heavens with all my heart that I was spared such a stepmother. I kicked, as arranged, my father under the table, but oh! Mr. Bones, immediately after dinner my father went to her and asked her to be his wife and she has accepted him! What does it all mean, what does it all mean!!”

“That you kicked the foot of the table instead!” quietly replied the greatest detective of modern times as he unraveled the intricate plot and added another success to his brilliant career.

Categories: Sherlockian Parodies and Pastiches | Comments Off

Efficiency and Cutting Water Waste (part 2)

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Suburban stockade introductionThe next stage in water management is efficiency and cutting back on waste. The reason for this is the less water you use, the less water you need. This can also save you money two ways. Water is certainly cheap enough, a penny a gallon or so, but why pay for more than you actually need? And, you pay for it again with your sewage bill. Your sewage bill is based on your water usage, as the sewage company assumes that all the water that comes into the house leaves it through the plumbing. People with large swimming pools or who water their lawn religiously (!!!) often have a second water line installed so as to not pay for sewage treatment for water that goes onto the grass.

A water cube can store plenty of water to take care of your garden's needs.

A water cube can store plenty of water to take care of your garden’s needs.

The first thing to do is check for leaks in your system. Find your water meter. It will most likely be in a dark corner of your basement. Wipe off the decades of dust and you will see a meter that clicks over, counting your usage. If no water is being used, then the meter doesn’t change. The best test is to get everyone out of the house for several hours or more. Just before you leave (and after everyone has gotten that last bathroom break, hand wash, and glass of water), wait till the meter stops spinning. Write this number down. When you come back, hours later, it should be the same. If it is not, you forgot your automatic sprinkler system or your ice-maker, or, quite likely, you have a leak somewhere. A pinhole leak may take hours to register on the meter, but it does cost you some money as it never stops on its own. Tiny leaks have the bad habit of becoming big, damaging, expensive leaks so that is another reason to check the meter. The difference between the two numbers will give you an idea as to how large the leak is.

Your water meter should be co-located with the main water shut-off valve into your house. Everyone should know where this is, so if you have to, you can shut the water off, keeping it outside your house and your plumbing lines. If you need to do plumbing work, and the fixture you are working on does not have it’s own set of shut off valves, you will have to shut off the water to the entire house! Old houses often have this problem. As you upgrade and do repairs, install shut-offs to every sink, toilet, dishwasher, ice-maker line, washer, etc. Having to shut the water off to the entire house in order to do repair work is yet another reason to be prepared with some stored drinking water.

If you know you have a leak, the next step is finding it. Do any faucets drip? Does the toilet run? Is there a suspicious damp spot that keeps recurring on the basement floor? Stains in the ceiling underneath the second story bathroom?

Leaky faucets can often be fixed by a handy person with a plumbers guide from the library. If your faucets are in terminal condition, replace them with better quality ones that will hold up better. If you replace faucets, choose a single brand (see Consumer Reports for ratings) throughout your house. That way, they all work the same, and they all have the same repair parts. Ten different brands mean ten different sets of washers and other fittings.

Toilets may have very slow leaks. Test by putting a bottle of red food coloring in the toilet tank. Keep everyone away from the toilet being tested. If the water in the bowl turns red on its own, (and not with the assistance of your toddler) then there is a slow leak in the toilet tank guts. Again, many of these can be repaired or replaced by a handy person with a plumbing book.

If your toilet is in poor shape, consider replacing it with a low-flow toilet as old style toilets use a LOT of water per flush. Be very careful what you buy as some models work much better than others. A toilet that will only flush liquids will make you nuts as you flush and flush and flush in a vain attempt to get more solid items down. And, you will use up lots more clean drinking water. Toilet technology is changing rapidly so check out what is current before spending any money. When you do choose a toilet, see if you can get one installed with a four inch diameter throat as opposed to the standard three inch throat. Family members who have a larger output will spend less time plunging the toilet so that someone else can use it.

Traditionally, you cut down on water usage in old style toilets by sinking bricks or half gallon jugs of water into the tank. This seems of dubious merit as the bricks might crumble over time and mess up the works of the toilet and then you have more problems. If anything bumps around in the tank, it can mess up the guts and then they have to be replaced. Also, toilets are designed to use a certain amount of water to flush and clear the bowl. Changing the amount of water in the tank may mean the toilet doesn’t work as well.

The other standard response to cutting back on the multiple gallons of water per flush is to follow the little saying: If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. This is a decision that needs to be agreed on by every member of the household for it to work at its best. It will be troublesome to guests, toddlers, and pets. It isn’t that sanitary. You will save a lot of water, but again, at a penny per gallon (or five cents a flush) how much are you saving? If you pay more for your water, you will of course, save more pennies, both on the water bill and the sewage bill. This option may best be reserved for water emergencies and if you really need to save every penny possible.

Leaks in the pipes will have to be repaired by a plumber. If you find leaks of this kind, do NOT put off the repair work. Tiny leaks can suddenly become catastrophic leaks that pour water into your house; far more costly in every way than the plumber will be. Leaks may show up in the dishwasher lines (a stain on the ceiling below may be your only clue) and in the ice-maker line in the fridge.

I had an ice-maker in an apartment refrigerator many years ago. It failed while I was away and flooded the apartment kitchen below. The landlord was responsible so it didn’t cost me anything. I now purchase refrigerators without the ice-maker. This is the most likely part to fail, and may cause extensive damage due to flooding. Not buying the ice-maker attachment saves money upfront and possible damage down the road. How do I make ice? Like your grandmother did, in trays that get emptied into a bin in the freezer compartment.

Once you have tracked down and repaired all the leaks you are ready to be more efficient in actual intended water usage. There are loads of ways to cut back but they are all, essentially, the same. Don’t let water run down the drain without using it.

That is, don’t run the water to get a cold glass to drink from. Use a pitcher in the fridge. Don’t run water to shave. Fill the sink and use the stored water. Don’t spend forty-five minutes in the shower. Full loads in the washer and dishwasher only. Scrape your dishes into the compost bin before you put them into the dishwasher rather than rinsing them under running water. Washing your car? Do it on the lawn or use a car wash that recycles the water. Is it absolutely necessary to wash a garment if it has been on your body for less than a day? Underwear and socks? Sure. Pants that the only physical work you did in them was sitting at a desk? Maybe not. Do you need a thirty minute shower twice a day? If you work in the bilges of a ship, then oh yes. In an air-conditioned office? Doubtful. Every single time you turn on the tap, use only what you need. Pay attention to what you are doing and be mindful of your money washing into the drain.

Next we start catching water inside the house. If you have a dehumidifier, don’t dump that water into the drain. Use it for houseplants or outside ornamentals. If you hand wash dishes, use rubber tubs to wash and rinse in. Dump the water outside on ornamentals, trees, or grass. If you are more serious (and in a worse drought), plug up the bathtub when someone showers. Bail out the water into buckets and use it outside to keep your trees alive or to flush toilets. Some people shower with a Rubber-Maid bin at their feet to catch the extra water. Is it easier to not do this? Sure. Once again, you are using your energy so as to spend less money and waste less water. Think of carrying water as part of your exercise routine if that helps. It is also good practice, because if you HAVE to cut back on water usage, having the habit of being mindful of how you use water will make it easier.

Water is considered to come in three types. Clean water is what comes out of the tap and it is drinkable, pure, free of contaminants. Our houses are set up to use this water for everything, including our toilets.

Gray water is water you don’t want to drink. You washed dishes, your body or clothes in it; it has some detergent residues, food particles, stuff you would rather not drink but your fruit trees won’t care. Black water is what comes out of your toilet. It is contaminated with urine and feces and is not reusable as is on anything.

Catching clean or gray water in Rubber-Maid bins is easy to do and doesn’t involve replumbing your house. Catching gray water from bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers, and washing machines for reuse requires much more effort. Many municipalities frown on replumbing your house to route used washing machine water onto your lawn. It doesn’t meet the building code and you have to be very careful what detergents and soaps you use as you could contaminate the ground water or poison your garden.

If you live in town in a place where it rains regularly, gray water replumbing will be complex and expensive and not hugely useful. If you live in Arizona, where every drop counts, the thousands of gallons of water your household uses every month may mean a lot to your garden. It may be the only source of irrigation water you can afford. There are books available (****see amazon ****) on the subject so study up before calling a plumber. You also have to be sure if it meets your local building code. Some places don’t care. Some places care a lot and you won’t be able to resell your house without returning it to it’s original condition.

Gray water systems do need more maintenance than just using the sewage system for all your household’s used water. They are, by definition, more complex. They dump large amounts of water all at once in one place (like when your washer finishes a cycle). Soaps, detergents, shampoos, anything that goes down the drain has to be biodegradable in a way that regular laundry soap may not be. These products may cost more and may not clean as well. Gray water systems do work and work quite well for many people. Do your homework so you can be one of them.

Once you have caught all the water inside your house for reuse, it is time to move outside. Roofs, even small ones, can collect thousands of gallons of water in a heavy rainstorm. This water can be captured and saved to water your garden between rains. There are two ways of dealing with this water to keep it from being lost to the storm drains.

Six people could easily lift this empty water cube. It can hold 250 galleons.

Six people could easily lift this empty water cube. It can hold 250 galleons.

The first way is to install rain barrels or water cubes at downspouts. The amount of water you collect will vary depending on the size of the collection unit, the amount of rain, and more subtly, the square footage of roof that is being drained. If the gutters and downspouts are draining a small roof area, you won’t collect as much rain. If you have a complex roofline with many sides, gutters, and downspouts, you can have huge variances in the amount of rain that flows through the downspouts. If you have a choice in location, put larger collection units (like 250 gallon cubes) under larger flow downspouts and smaller collection units (like 50 gallon rain barrels) under the lesser flow spouts. It doesn’t take much of a storm to fill a 50 gallon rain barrel to overflowing. Install a 250 gallon cube in the same location and you may discover that a typical rain only delivers 100 gallons to that spot.

Rain barrels and cubes only work when you use them! They are an active system and require regular management and maintenance. Therefore, a few days after each rain, you need to have a sullen teenager empty the barrel into buckets and water everything that needs to be watered. If your rains are regular in nature (and you pay close attention to weather forecasts) you can empty the barrel or cube at the midpoint of each rain/dry cycle. Or, you can water the garden with the stored rain when it needs it and hope it rains in time to refill the barrel for the next dry spell.

All rain barrels and cubes MUST have an overflow valve for when the monsoon comes. Make sure any overflows are directed away from your foundation walls. If you get huge amounts of rain at irregular intervals, use as many cubes and barrels as you can fit into your space to catch all that precious water for later use. Rain barrels and cubes can be chained together so you can catch more water.

All rain barrels and cubes should have the gutter opening screened off to keep out mosquitoes. If someone complains to you that you are running a mosquito farm, point out your screens. Then point out that mosquitoes can breed in a tea cup of water in four or five days so the real problem is standing water in sand box toys, litter, and unmaintained piles of junk. If your climate requires it, rain barrels need to be drained when the temperature goes below freezing. The screens need to be cleaned occasionally.

You can buy rain barrels ready made or convert RubberMaid trash cans using the wealth of online instructions. Make your rain barrel or cube easier to empty into a bucket by putting them up on concrete blocks. The faucet is at the very bottom of the container and if you put the barrel right on the ground, you will have about two inches of room for a hose or bucket. Don’t do this to yourself. Rain barrel water should be strained and purified before drinking (think of what the birds do on your asphalt shingles!) but, in a water emergency, it will work fine to flush toilets.

There are, apparently, some areas that get nasty about collecting rainwater that lands on your property. Check first! If it is a home-owners association (HOA), then why are you living there? Most of these places also dislike vegetable gardens, clotheslines, and compost bins; all items so necessary for fostering your resilience. Either get on the board and change the rules, or sell the house and move someplace less restrictive. If it is the local government, then you can be very discreet so the neighbors don’t rat you out, you can move, or you can run for local government office and change the laws.

The second way to easily catch rainwater from your downspouts is in the ground. This is NOT going to be drinking water. This water will keep your garden going longer between rains. Walk around your house and note where all the downspouts are. With time and a sullen teenager with a shovel, you can dig shallow, mowable swales to divert the water into your landscaping. The only active part of this method is the digging. After that, gravity does the rest. Why do this? Because rain water that drains from the downspout into the neighbor’s driveway is lost. Rainwater that drains into a swale (moving it away from your foundation) aimed at the vegetable bed or the berry bushes will have a chance to soak into the soil. Better water penetration will help your plants make it between rains more easily.

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There was a time, kids, when saying ‘motherfucker’ was edgy

That was back in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the air on college campuses were perfumed with incense, pot, patchouli and tear gas. Before George Carlin made a hit with the seven dirty words you couldn’t say on television, they were already being screamed, along with worse creations, on our college campuses.

Columbia University board game

Click on each image to embiggen them (they’re huge!)

For proof, let me show you my copy of “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker,” a Columbia University board game published in 1970 by the Columbia Daily Spectator. It’s now for sale on ebay, to finish on Sunday (8/31/14).

My version is not the original, but a reprint sold by Simulations Publications, Inc., at the Origins national wargame convention sometime in the late 1970s. It’s probably the rarest game they made, because it was sold only at that convention. Considering it consisted of a few sheets of paper, that was probably a good idea. It was intended more as a historical curiosity than a real product.

This game holds a particularly vivid memory for me. I was attending the seminar the company held every year at the convention. It was a fun gathering, because they were remarkably free with their opinions, about their boss, about the games (good and bad), and about the world in general. SPI sounded like the coolest company in the world to work for, much cooler than Apple (who wants Jobs are your bully/dictator?) or Google (spying on you? controlling your life? fuck that noise).

At the end of the seminar, they surprised the audience by announcing that they were selling copies of “Up Against the Wall” at the booth in the convention. I burned rubber, streaking down the hall, to be first in line to buy a copy.

It All Started At Columbia

2011_03_colprotHere’s the story: in 1968, Columbia was rocked by demonstrations involving the war in Vietnam, the presence of the ROTC on campus, civil rights, and other causes. The next year, a 25-year-old history major by the name of Jim Dunnigan created a simple game based on the clashes.

Dunnigan went on to found SPI, a company that published hundreds of wargames on nearly every topic possible, from ancient Greece to the science-fiction future. Then a little lizard named Dungeons and Dragons came along and swept up the fantasy crowd. The company ran into financial trouble and went out of business.

But SPI, along with other companies such as Avalon Hill, Games Design Workshop, Yaquinto, Victory Games, etc. left behind an interesting legacy. I’m not sure how many wargamers there were, but while pushing the counters around and reading the magazines, we received a hands-on seminar in military history. We learned about orders of battles, about the need for effective supply lines, about the value of training and how different cultures clashed on the battlefield. We learned about the Hittites, Vikings, Samurai, Saxons, Huns, the Old Guard, the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, the Red Army and the White Star. We could see how advances in technology played out on the battlefield, why generals hung on to the old ways of fighting. We saw how the U.S. Army would get its ass kicked time and again at the beginning of a war, but learn from their defeats, improvise new tactics, and press on to victory (when the politicians allowed them to, that is).

In short, we got a bird’s-eye view of history in a unique way.

auction 006

Administration versus Radicals

So “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker” is not just a simulation, but a story. The game is simple. On a map of the campus are several tracks, representing organized groups: trustees, black students, tenured faculty, conservative students, administration, alumni and so on. There are two players, representing the radicals and the administration. Each turn, after consulting a chart, they move counters on the tracks of their choosing in an attempt to get the various groups on their side. In the beginning, the radical student has the advantage; the chart gives them more points to play with than the administration player. But over time, the momentum will shift toward the administration (reflecting the second thoughts each group has over shutting down the university).

My favorite part of the rules is called “The Motherfucker Gambit”:

At the beginning of his turn, each player may choose to up the ante by shouting, “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” You should call a UAW, MF! with feeling, as it is usually the high point of the game. For the ADMINISTRATION, it represents calling in the cops or worse; for the RADICALS, it means calling a strike, or taking another couple of buildings. After calling a UAW, MF!, the player rolls the die and consults the University Conflict Outcome Matrix, but the results apply across the board, not just in a single track.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

The game also comes with “contingency cards.” They act like Chance or Community Chest cards in Monopoly, only more timely (at least for 1970):

Mayor Lindsay Sends Urban Task Force to Campus to Cool Things. Add 9 LAWs this turn.

Rap Brown Appears at Community Protest Rally. Add one RAD this turn.

Daily News Reports Demonstrations are Peking-Directed. Add 5 LAWs this turn.

Norman Mailer Appears at Strike Fund Party. Add 5 RADs this turn.

“Up Against the Wall” was not the only political game SPI published. In their magazine, Strategy and Tactics, they published “Chicago, Chicago” pitting the police against the demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Party convention. I never bought that one. Even then, there were so many games that a kid like me couldn’t buy all of them.

I’ll miss these games. But to put out the books I want to publish, the way I want to publish them, I have to let them go. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be opening my stash and selling them off, along with other kinds of weird pop culture.

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Home Water Storage

You cannot live without water. Your garden, everybody’s garden, will die without water. Every single living thing on earth has to have water or die. Every industrial product uses water somewhere in its processes, and sometimes quite a lot of it. Cooling steel after forging? Water. Dying the wool from the sheep you sheared? Water. Building a loom from scrap lumber? Those trees grew with water. Mixing concrete? Water. Making adobe bricks? Water. Growing wheat and then shipping it world wide? Amazing amounts of water. Fracking natural gas? Flushing toilets throughout the western world? Gargantuan, amazing, astounding amounts of formerly drinkable water.

My point is that water usage is everywhere even if what we see isn’t alive or wet. Water was involved somewhere. Now on the surface, water doesn’t appear to be a scarce resource. Oceans are full of it; indeed, about 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water.

Sadly, unless you are a saltwater fish, ocean water is useless for almost everything people need to do. Saltwater is very corrosive and so isn’t used for industrial processes. It poisons the soil so it can’t be used for irrigation. You can’t drink it. If you are going to use sea water for anything but saltwater aquariums and mining sea salt, it has to be purified at huge costs of energy and money.

Fresh water falls out of the sky as rain. Quality may vary depending on how polluted your air is (Chinese acid rain) but usually rain water is OK. Streams and lakes are usually sweet enough but you can’t drink from them without purification (bacteria, intestinal parasites, heavy metals, manure as anywhere in the world, you are downstream from something). Fresh rain water, if given a chance, soaks into the ground into aquifers. These are sort of giant spongy parts of the earth’s crust. They are everywhere and range in size from billions of gallons to trillions of gallons of clean, pure, fossil water.

Notice that phrase, fossil water. It takes millions of years for a big aquifer to fill up with rain water and only a few years for industrious people to pump it dry for irrigation and industry. Wells in India and Pakistan that were fifty feet deep fifty years ago are now hundreds of feet deep. The water was pumped out onto the fields, where most of it evaporated or ran off into the sea. Very little actually got past the thirsty plant roots and sank back down into the aquifer. This is happening in the United States too.

The Ogallala Aquifer covers much of the Midwest. Some sections get enough rain water to recharge it. Other sections are being drained dry. As well as draining aquifers, busy industrious people divert rivers to suck up every drop. Both the Colorado River and the Rio Grande don’t empty into the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico respectively anymore. Every single drop of water gets used for irrigation, industry, toilet flushing, lawns, golf courses, swimming pools, you name it. Some of it actually gets used by people drinking it too. Very few of these uses allow the water to sink back down into the soil, down, down, down, and back into the aquifer.

Weather patterns don’t seem to be as reliable anymore. There is some thought that the last ten thousand years of human life — since the development of farming, in fact — the earth’s climate was unusually stable, consistent, and calm. This may be changing and not for the better. It may mean bigger, longer, harsher droughts followed by torrential rains that are lost to the seas due to runoff into streams.

Your garden, your farm, agriculture in general really prefers a regular amount of rain on a regular basis. An inch or so a week is what all the gardening books say and that certainly seems to be true for my garden. This is not at ALL the same as four or five inches all at once, every thirty days. Alternating flood and drought is terribly hard on you, your garden, your community, your agriculture. Monsoons and dry seasons can be managed with sufficient time, effort, and knowledge but regular rain, an inch a week, is way, way easier.

I. Emergency Storage

So how do we manage water better? The first step is to store water for your family for emergencies. The Red Cross says a gallon of water per person per day will allow enough water to drink, and maybe wash your hands once or cook a little. Notice that this does not include toilets, showers, dishwashing, laundry, pets, pools, plants, livestock, or anything else. In my household of five, plus pets, houseplants, and a large garden, we use about forty gallons of water per person per day. Most people use more, a lot more in some cases.

The Red Cross says you should have a minimum of three days of water on hand, planning for a gallon per day, per person (plus extra for pets). Water takes up a lot of space and it is heavy. Using this ratio means that my household of five, plus pets, should keep six gallons a day. Times three days means eighteen gallon jugs of water. This is the rock bottom minimum, and doesn’t allow for toilets, showers, dishwashing, or very much cooking. A five day supply would be better as it gives you more margin for error.

When you are next at the supermarket, look at those shelves of bottled water in gallon jugs and see how much space three days of water for your household would take. Look around at home and see where you are going to put all that water. As with everything else, water storage is best where it is cool, dry, and in the dark. I have gallon jugs of water tucked away in my basement in two separate locations as that is how it fit best. My water is still in the original plastic jug as it came from the store. I have never had them leak or fail and some of them are now ten years old. I may have to boil the water if we need to drink it and I will certainly need to aerate it for better taste but I know that water was clean, pure, and safe when I stored it.

Stored water will taste better if it is aerated. Pour the water from container to container a few times to “air it out” (after any boiling or bleach treatments) and it won’t taste flat when you drink it or use it to make tea. Flat water is fine for hand washing or cooking so don’t bother aerating it for these uses.

You probably won’t have the space to store more than twenty or thirty gallons of water. It gets heavy fast so make sure the shelves are reinforced, keep the water on the bottom shelves, and don’t put anything breakable underneath the water jugs.

If you are having a water emergency, remember that the water in your toilet tank (NOT THE BOWL) is still potable as is the water in your hot water tank. To keep that water clean, you will have to shut off the water coming into the house to prevent potentially contaminated water mixing with your clean water. If you need to replace your hot water heater, water storage is a good reason to get the biggest unit you can fit into your space. This is also why I don’t recommend those hot water on demand instant heating units. They store no water at all, and encourage certain family members to take even longer showers than they already do.

If you know that a water emergency is coming, you can temporarily store water. The easiest way is to get a rubber disk to cover the closed drain in your clean bathtub and then fill the bathtub. The disk will slow down the water leakage through the drain; you will have potentially another fifty or sixty gallons of water available for use. You will have to keep little kids away from this as it is a potential drowning hazard. You can also get huge plastic bags that fit into the bathtub to store the water. This would keep the water cleaner and be less of a hazard. I think those might also be harder to use and drain when the emergency passes. I believe they are single use only and of course have to be stored somewhere. The rubber disk seems easier.

Have clean, empty water containers with lids on standby and when the emergency threatens, fill them up and then fill all the empty spaces in your freezer and fridge. Leave some head space in the containers for the increased size of the ice. The mass of cold water and ice will help maintain the temperature in your freezer and fridge if you loose power, and the water will be available to drink. In fact, if you regularly have freezer space open up with the gardening and hunting seasons, plan on filling the empty space with jugs of water. It will keep everything colder in the event of a power outage and make your freezer more efficient.

While you are filling the freezer jugs, don’t forget to hunt up all your camping water storage jugs and fill them up with ice and water too. This is why I keep a five gallon Coleman Water Jug in my basement. In the event of an emergency, it gets filled with ice and water and then sits on the table waiting to be used.

If you have a swimming pool, you have many thousands of gallons of water. You may not want to drink this water (depending on its purity and algae load) without straining, standing, aerating, and boiling but it will work perfectly well as is to flush toilets and wash dishes.

During the water emergency, cut back on water usage as much as possible! Stop doing laundry, stop watering plants, use paper plates and paper napkins and disposable flatware, hand washing only, let the gentlemen fertilize the compost bin and only flush the toilet when feces are present. By the way, toilets can be flushed with the stored water in the bathtub. Dip out a bucket full, and pour it into the toilet bowl and it will flush. Use up the table top storage water first (your camping water jugs) followed by your bathtub, emergency storage water and water in the hot water heater. As you use up the purchased jugs, try to keep getting more water. You may have to save your empty jugs for reuse, if the only source of replacement water is the National Guard water truck. They will not supply you with empty containers, so don’t ask.

It is unbelievable inconvenient to not have water, fresh and safe, available at the tap on demand. We actually got to experience this first hand many years ago in York, S.C. There was a problem in the reservoir and suddenly, with no notice, there no water was available at all. After a day or so of panic — every store for miles was immediately stripped clean of water in every single size container — the city got the reservoir system going again. The water was brown as weak tea and smelled dreadful. You could at least use the flush toilets although the water looked so bad, it didn’t necessarily look as though you had flushed the toilet.

Because this affected only a relatively small area, local stores were able to get tons of water shipped in for sale. Over a two week period the water gradually shifted in color and odor until, at about the four day mark, you could wash laundry without it being permanently stained and wash dishes without them smelling bad afterwards. The city said the water was safe to drink as it was heavily chlorinated although no one did so. By about the one week mark, you could easily take a shower again and by the two week mark, everything was completely back to normal. It was definitely a learning experience — Thank God we could still use our toilets! — and since then, I have always had a dozen or so gallon jugs of water on hand.

You never tell when you might need it, either. Within the last year, there was a massive chemical spill in West Virginia into the stream-fed reservoirs; no one could use their water for weeks. the coal companies claimed the water was perfectly safe even when it was brown, thick, and reeked.

If you are on a well, you may think this doesn’t apply to you. It does! What are you going to do when your electric pump stops working because of a power outage or a mechanical failure? You should have some kind of manual back up to get your water. If your well is too deep for a manual pump, then you need a generator backup to the pump and emergency water stores just like a household using city water.

So, find a place to store several days worth of gallon jugs of water, keep water frozen in your freezer, get rubber disks for all your bathtubs, keep insulated camping jugs for water on hand in your basement and pay attention to news and weather reports. If you don’t need them? That’s great! If you do need them, you will be so grateful you were prepared.

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Review: India Black and the Widow of Windsor

India Black and the Widow of Windsor. By Carol K. Carr.

There are plenty of Queen Victoria mystery novels that focus too much on getting the details right. Judging by the second book in the India Black mystery series, Carol K. Carr knows when to stick to the historical line and when to veer off into reader-pleasing areas.

queen victoria mystery India BlackIndia Black is young, beautiful and the madam of an exclusive brothel in the better part of Victorian London. She is also a secret agent, recruited by no less than the prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, through French, his agent (and her potential love interest).

It’s an absurd, ahistorical set-up, but it allows Black and French to play their parts in foiling plots against the British Empire, with Disraeli acting as Charlie for his two Angels.

This time, Queen Victoria is maneuvered through a séance with her late husband to visit Balmoral Castle in Scotland for the Christmas holidays. A Scottish independence group, led by its mysterious leader (natch), plans to assassinate her there. Disraeli catches wind of this, and sends French to suss out the aristocrats trailing in the queen’s wake, while Black impersonates a maid to check out the servants.

It’s not a job that Black looks forward to, but she’s become bored with her business and relishes the chance for a little excitement. Nor is she concerned so much about protecting the queen. She lists “Vicky’s” unhealthy obsession with her dead husband, the presence of her Indian retainers, and her constant companion John Brown. There’s also her list of prohibited activities, which includes talking loudly in her presence, coal fires or bringing bishops to lunch. “Just like my potty old aunt Dorothy,” Black muses. “Completely harmless.”

That’s the first sign that Carr is not above pulling out the rug instead of tugging her forelock. Once the action shifts to Balmoral, “Widow of Windsor” shifts closer to realism. The castle is ill-heated by the queen’s orders. The guests are boring and bored. The queen is dull when she’s not stuffing her face at the table. Then there’s Bertie, the future king, who’s chasing after every woman in skirts when he’s not dodging his wife. After awhile, you’re hoping for an assassination attempt. At least it would liven the place up.

Meanwhile, Black spends her time as a maid chivvying an ancient marchioness with a disastrous taste for snuff, exploring the castle, and following the servants. While she’s sneaking about and attempting to avoid the wandering hands of the Prince of Wales, French gets drunk and ingratiates himself with the young bloods.

queen victoria mystery novelist Carol K. Carr

Carol K. Carr

Told in Black’s acerbic, sometimes witty voice, “India Black and the Widow of Windsor” is a cozy mystery that expertly dodges the implications of having a sex worker as its heroine. At the same time, it gets the important bits right historically. Victoria’s court was shallow and boring. The assassination attempts, instead of being brilliantly planned by supervillains, are low-key and similar to the eight attempts Victoria encountered. Even the agencies tasked with protecting her engaged in keeping secrets of their own and bureaucratic turf wars that feel sadly all too real.

Writing a realistic novel that also encourages the reader to turn the pages is a difficult task. Many authors fail because they indulge themselves so much in getting the details right that they forget to tell an engaging story. It’s a lesson Carr did not forget. “Widow of Windsor” is an amusing journey and India Black is an engaging companion.

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Swimming Against the Tide

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

Cultural norms tells us to go into debt shopping.

It may be better for the economy for everyone to shop till they drop, but that is not better for the individual household.

We are not mainstream at Fortress Peschel. We do odd things. I stay home to run the domestic economy (a fancy way of saying housewife). Our television is not hooked up to the outside world. I do things manually (knives vs. food processors, clotheslines vs. dryers) that take time and effort. I mend clothes. I patch sheets. When Bill went to the newspaper job as a copy editor, he packed homemade lunches and brought leftovers home. He brought beverages from home instead of buying from coffee or soda machines. We planed our car trips to minimize gasoline usage. We have two vehicles for three licensed drivers. I don’t shop for recreation. We take staycations where we rest and relax and work on home-improvement projects. The only traveling we do is to visit the grandparents in Delaware. We go to movies once a year or less. We rarely eat out.

Does this make us boring, dull people? Maybe. It certainly means that we don’t consume, consume, consume goods and services as economists say we should. It may be better for the economy for everyone to shop till they drop, but that is not better for the individual household. I have heard that the best possible person for the gross domestic product (i.e., spend the maximum amount of money) is a cancer patient going through a divorce. I don’t believe that creates happy people even though lots of money changes hands.

We don’t owe any money to anyone. Our mortgage is paid off and we own our cars. The one, lone credit card is paid every month and I make every effort to not use it. If I can’t pay cash, why am I buying the item? Hardcore thriftiness is letting us reach our goal of financial independence. We work hard, every day, and still have time to relax and have a life.

What I am getting at is that our culture — the water we swim in — tells us to do things that are not good for us.

What I am getting at is that our culture — the water we swim in — tells us to do things that are not good for us.

What I am getting at is that our culture — the water we swim in — tells us to do things that are not good for us. Why do you need the biggest mortgage you can qualify for on the biggest house you can find? I know the argument that the mortgage as a percentage of your salary will go down as you get those pay raises. Maybe. And maybe you won’t get those regular pay raises, and maybe that money is always needed elsewhere and you never, ever manage to pay off the mortgage.

You have to live somewhere, even if it is under a bridge. Your home is not an investment. It is where you live. If you want to get closer to financial security and independence, minimize the cost of your dwelling place. Buying a smaller house with a smaller mortgage that you can pay off early leads to your monthly expenditures being smaller. You will still have your utilities, groceries, insurance, and taxes but the mortgage is gone. Renters pay forever. Serial movers and refinancers pay forever. How can you retire — or quit that job you hate — with half your previous income if you still have the huge mortgage? You will have to sell the house and maybe, maybe, clear enough money to pay cash for a smaller house. Or you get a new, smaller mortgage and pay until you die or you rent an apartment and pay until you die.

Why do you need student loans to pay for your education? I find the idea of borrowing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a college degree pretty scary. Will you earn enough money to pay back $200,000 in loans (plus interest)? Maybe if you are a cardiologist it will. If you are going to be a social worker, a teacher, or a photographer? No. You will be in debt until you die. Like back taxes, student loan debt cannot be discharged in your eventual bankruptcy either. You owe them until you pay them off or you die.

If you are old enough to go to college, you should be old enough to do basic math and estimate future earnings as compared to your college debt load. If they don’t match, it is time to rethink your future. As a parent, I do not believe you are doing your children any favors by saying “don’t worry. Do what you love and the money will follow”. What drivel. Life and the universe do not care if you adore philosophy. Money will not appear. You will be applying your philosophy behind the counter at Starbucks and living at home with Mom until you pay off the loan or die.

You are also not doing your college children any favors by picking up the tab for their expensive college education. Are they going to work harder, knowing that you made it all possible by sacrificing your financial independence and retirement? Maybe. Maybe your student won’t party hearty through four or five years to get that BA. And when they get the good job, you can move in with them as you are now bankrupt. Maybe. This inability to connect current desire with future costs leads to financial problems. Part of growing up is learning that things have to be paid for, one way or another. Don’t send your children out into the world not knowing this.

Heretic!

It is heresy to say that not everyone is college material. But it is true. If you want or need further education, start with the local community college. The cost is infinitely less, you can live at home, and possibly hold down a part-time job to cover some of the costs. It accustoms you to a college-level education. In high school, students get used to lots of handholding, encouragement, rah rah rah, and follow-up to be sure they show up and do their work. The college doesn’t care. Their only concern is that the check clears. Students are supposed to be adults who show up on time, do the work, and hand it in when it is due.

As a parent, look at your student. Is he or she really going to work hard, independently, without constant supervision and management?

As a parent, look at your student. Is he or she really going to work hard, independently, without constant supervision and management?

As a parent, look at your student. Is he or she really going to work hard, independently, without constant supervision and management? If they can’t do it now, for free, why will it be better five hundred miles away with a truckload of borrowed money?

If you are contemplating college yourself, you need to be very honest. Are you studying hard now, taking advantage of all the free education being offered to you by people who want you to succeed? Are you stretching yourself with the fullest course load the high school will let you take? If you are not, get your head out of your ass and get to work. College will not be better, easier or more rewarding than high school if you are lazy and shiftless. If you don’t have a future career in mind (cardiology), then take the widest array of classes you can. Taste everything to see what you like. Work hard, ask questions, and get the best education you can while it is free. The highest GPAs lead to potential scholarship offers which can cut your costs drastically.

Rejoin the Real World

Boring, dreary Mundania. Who wouldn't want to avoid it?

Boring, dreary Mundania. Who wouldn’t want to avoid it?

Another message our culture sends us is that we need constant stimulation. Do you really need earbuds in place all the time lest you accidentally hear the people around you? Why are you more involved with your phone and ignoring the people sitting besides you? You know, the ones you claim to care about deeply. Isolation in a technology bubble certainly means you get what you want and when you want it. You don’t have to interact with pesky, live family members who might misunderstand you or want you to do something you don’t want to. Boring, dreary Mundania. Who wouldn’t want to avoid it? But your social skills, your people skills, your real-world abilities to do and achieve do not improve when they go unused. They atrophy and it becomes ever harder to cope with messy, irritating humans and their petty wants and needs. If you are genuinely concerned about the difficult future bearing down on us, then you should break the electronic apron strings and rejoin the real world.

We do this by not playing. Our television is not connected to the outside world. It can only play games and DVDs. It is an effort to use it so it doesn’t get used that much. The TV certainly doesn’t get left on to play to an empty room.

I don’t do social media. I have no Facebook page, I don’t tweet, I spend very little time on-line. I don’t even text. Bill has a Facebook account he ignores and a Twitter account he rarely uses. He does maintain the website PlanetPeschel.com as it acts as a platform to promote his writing and mine.

Our household does have a cell phone. My sister insisted. I do use it when traveling to say I am on the way home. Otherwise, it stays off and tucked away. I do not like to be on an electronic dog leash and so I am not. Somehow, the world gets by without me being one hundred percent available one hundred percent of the time. Older son has a smartphone that he bought and paid for himself. No one else in the household does. We don’t live under the threat of constant kidnapping so why do I need to keep constant tabs on everyone? Even more than cell phones, smartphones distract the user away from the people in front of him and into the virtual world. If you are serious about connecting with the people you claim to care about, you need to be there with them in spirit as well as in body. Not talking to someone else who isn’t there but is clearly more interesting.

I hear people claim all the time they don’t have time to cook from scratch (admittedly this can be time consuming), garden, sew, wood-work, exercise, be thrifty, get organized or volunteer. Stop spending several hours a day with your TV or your social media or aimless surfing or hunting Orcs online and time will magically appear.

Everyone gets 24 hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more either. Subtract eight hours for sleep (don’t kid yourself; you need every minute), another hour or two for eating and hygiene, eight to ten hours for job and commute and you have only five or six hours left per day. Are you going to watch TV or study hard to learn more marketable skills? Are you going to exercise, work out, learn self-defense, go to the shooting range and improve your abilities or hunt Orcs online? Guess which option will make you stronger and more resilient. Will playing games on Facebook teach you how to darn socks or grow food? Subtract out what you have to do and then decide how valuable the remaining time is to you. Use it to learn and grow or fritter it away aimlessly. You choose.

Does avoiding electronic time sucks make us boring and dull? Maybe. But I am pretty well read and reasonably up on current events. I can walk into a kitchen, cold, and turn out a complete meal for five in an hour or so. I can repair almost any piece of clothing and make it last longer. I exercise and improve my fitness and health. I write Fortress Peschel. I walk my dog and learn all about my neighborhood and even meet my neighbors. I volunteer with the Derry Township EcoAction Committee and plant trees and arrange recycling workshops.

Examine your life. Is it what you want it to be?

Examine your life. Is it what you want it to be?

The culture around us, the water we swim in, values certain things. Are those things what you value? If you don’t want to emulate the Kardashians, then why are you watching them? If you say you want a comfortable retirement, then why are you deep in debt? Examine your life. Is it what you want it to be? If you say you want closer relationships with your family, then you need to be physically and emotionally present. Pay attention to them and not the virtual world. If you want to grow your own vegetables, then you need to start a garden and actually get your hands dirty. If your health concerns you, then start eating a better diet and exercising every day. If you want more knowledge or skills, then start learning and working. You can choose to swim against the tide and improve your life. But you have to be mindful, aware, and work to do it.

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