Tag Archives: writers

2 Important Truths About This Season

solstice

Every year I celebrate Winter #Solstice quietly; contemplating what this time of year means to me. One of the things I have learned from Winter Solstice is that sunrise will always come, if we hang on. If we keep putting one foot in front of the other; if we refuse to give up, we will see that glorious sunrise. I learned from my biological mother and my grandmother to “never quit”.
One friend of mine years ago commented that I was much like a bulldozer–I would go around, over, under, or through any obstacle in my path. Sometimes, tenacity is the only thing between failure and success.

The second important truth I have learned about this season is—

gifts

Growing up in the midst of poverty, I watched my grandmother literally share her last piece of bread with another. My mother regularly went down to the train yard and gathered up produce from broken crates. She brought it back to our neighborhood and shared it with everyone.
On the other hand, I have lived among those who had more than they needed; those who hoarded material things until they had to create more storage, yet they were unwilling to part with a single item to someone who had nothing. Others who had plenty sometimes grudgingly parted with a pittance to those in need.

giving-freely

Here is a story of a person who gave freely when she had so very little to give.

old dog

THE GIFT

By Aya Walksfar

Sixty-eight-year old Marybelle Brown pushed the rattling grocery cart filled with plastic bags of aluminum cans through the square next to the #Seattle Aquarium. That summer vendors had hawked sparkling necklaces and handmade toys and flamboyant scarves. Now it lay beneath the full moon, deserted except for a few pigeons huddled on a low wall near the water. Moving slowly so she wouldn’t disturb their rest, she made her way over and leaned against the cold concrete. She’d always loved Puget Sound. The gentle lap of the waves soothed her.

After a few minutes, she turned her cart and headed across the empty space. In the center stood a twelve-foot tall #Christmas tree. Red and green lights twinkled amid the plastic ornaments and glittering tinsel. Marybelle gazed up at it, at the star blazing white on the top. At last, she sighed in contentment and moved on.

fuzzy xmas tree

Today had been a wonderful Christmas Eve. She’d found three partially eaten cheeseburgers in one of McDonald’s trashcans. They were stashed in the ragged canvas shoulder bag along with French fries from a dumpster and two, whole pieces of cod from Ivar’s trash. A smile sat lightly on her cracked and chapped lips. Tonight she would feast! She patted the side of the shoulder bag and felt the bottle of Starbucks mocha and the bottle of Arrowhead water that a kind man had given to her with a smile and a Merry Christmas. Yes, tonight she would feast.

She bent her head back and gazed upward. Stars flung across the black heavens. Some people likened the stars to diamonds on black velvet, but she knew better. The stars were all the souls who had gone ahead, smiling down on those they’d left behind. Someday when it was time for her to leave this bent and painful body, she’d fly up there and be with them. Her momma and granny would be waiting. She wondered if the critters she had nursed would be there. Of course, they would! Her granny had told her that the souls of animals always went to the Bright Place because they lived as God intended.

She shuffled along. Time to get to her spot under the viaduct. Thick blackberry bushes hid the hole she’d dug out up against where the concrete met the earth. It had taken her a long time to make a roomy depression in that hard ground with a broken shovel. Hidden at the far back of the hole were all of her most precious belongings, safe from discovery by others, safe from the rain.

She crossed the quiet street and the cart jarred over the trolley tracks. Where cars parked during the day was mostly deserted now and filled with deeper shadows. The fat round concrete pillars that held up the overhead roadway too often hid bad things. She veered away, cornering her eye so she could keep watch while she passed.

As Marybelle came abreast of one spot of darkness a darker shadow moved within it. Her heart leaped into her throat. Her chest constricted with panic and squeezed the breath from her lungs. There! Who’s there? Her feet froze as her mind shouted, “Run!”

Just as her feet started to move, a whimper floated out of that darkness. The loneliness in that small sound dragged at her heart. “Leave, Marybelle. You can’t help whoever it is.”

In spite of herself, her hands left the cart and her feet shuffled toward the darkness. Her heart galloped like a crazed horse. “ Oh, Lord, I feel like my heart’s gonna bust.”

As she drew closer, a stray beam of moonlight shone against the pillar. Crumpled at the base of that cylinder of concrete lay a black dog. It lifted forlorn eyes to her face. The very tip of its tail tapped the ground twice then stopped like that was all the energy the poor thing had.

In her mind the years fell away and she once again saw her momma open the door of their tiny apartment. “Oh, Marybelle, you can’t help every critter you see,” her momma’s gentle hands tending to Marybelle’s latest rescue belied her words. Momma and granny had always tried to save the animals she dragged home–starved and beaten and broken.

She edged closer and the dog cringed, trying to melt into the ground. She knew the feeling. Carefully, she lowered herself to her achy knees. Never looking directly at the dog, she held out a hand. “It’s alright. I know just how you feel.” The dog’s body relaxed and it stretched its black nose toward her hand. “That’s it, little one. Come on over to Marybelle.”

She slid her shoulder bag to the ground then dug around until her hand touched the wrapping of one of the half-eaten burgers. Eyes still averted, she held a small bite on the palm of her outstretched hand. The dog sniffed the air and gave an anxious whine. “I know. It’s scary, but honestly, this is for you.”

The cold seeped through the three pairs of thin pants and chilled her arthritic knees. Still, she knelt there, hand out in offering. The dog stretched its neck toward the food. It crept one step, two steps. Now Marybelle could see the ribs jutting out under the patchy hide.

“Poor thing,” she crooned.

The dog trembled as it came close enough to snatch the food. It took the rest of the burger for the poor thing to creep close enough for Marybelle to put her arms around it. The dog was big, bigger than her German Shepherd had been. She felt the resistance of its stiff body, but kept humming and stroking one hand down its thin side. At last, the tension drained from it and it nestled against her chest.

After a while, she gave its sharp nose a kiss. “Gotta git up, little girl. My knees don’t like this kneeling.” She pulled a ragged wool scarf from around her neck and made the dog a soft collar and leash.

At her hideaway, Marybelle laid out the sleeping bag that a young, white girl had given her that past fall. She never carried this precious gift for fear of it being taken from her. But every night since early fall she’d blessed that child, and wished her well as she fell asleep. The dog immediately curled up on one side, the shivers wracking its body subsiding.

She sat next to the dog and lit the stub of a candle she’d found and saved for a special occasion. This surely was a most special occasion. “We’re safe here, Dog. With all the blackberry bushes around us and being way up under here, no one wants to crawl this far back.” She draped the two blankets she had scrounged from a Goodwill donation box around her shoulders and over Dog’s back.

From her handbag, she took the food and set it on the sleeping bag in front of them. She filled her dented quart pot with the bottled water and set it in front of Dog. She raised her head and drank deeply as Marybelle opened the bottle of Starbucks Mocha Coffee drink. She tapped the bottle against the pot rim. “Here’s to our friendship, Dog.”

Carefully, she divided the hamburgers, the fries, the fish: half for her, half for dog. Dog quickly ate her half, but sat politely, not begging for Marybelle’s food. She took all but one piece of the fish and laid it in front of the gray muzzle. “Merry Christmas, Dog.”

Dog cocked her head and fixed her clouded eyes on the old woman. “Go on, Dog. An old woman like me don’t need so much food. Probably would make me sick to eat all of that. This piece of fish’ll do me just fine.”

Feast over she stuffed the trash in the paper bag and set it to one side. She lay down and Dog cuddled against her chest. With the blankets spread over the two of them and the sleeping bag zipped she draped a sleep heavy arm over the old dog’s side. “This has been a lovely Christmas Eve, Dog. Thank you.”

Singing woke Marybelle. Beautiful singing that called to her. She opened her eyes and got to her feet. Dog leaned her head against Marybelle’s leg. A bridge lay before them. Dog looked up with cataract whitened eyes and whined. She took a step toward the bridge and twisted her gray muzzle over her shoulder as if to say, “Come on.”

The bridge shone like a golden light lit it from within. Marybelle shivered. Fear rose up and wrapped chains around her legs. Dog padded back to her side. She pushed her cold black nose against the palm of Marybelle’s hand and gazed up at her. “Oh, Dog, I know you wanna go that way, but I…I can’t.”

Dog sat next to Marybelle’s leg and sighed. She rubbed the old dog’s grizzled fur and knelt in front of her. Staring into the dog’s dimmed eyes, she cradled the gray muzzle between her knarled and arthritis twisted hands. “I know you want to go that way. And…and it’s probably a good place, Dog. But, I…” she inhaled a deep breath and let it ease from her. “I know it’s a good place, Dog. I can feel it; like I know you can, too. But, I don’t deserve to go there.”

Dog flicked out a warm wet tongue and licked the tears that traced the lines of Marybelle’s weathered face. She pressed her face against Dog’s then kissed her muzzle and stood up. She took a half step away from Dog.

Courage gathered like a tattered garment, she looked into Dog’s eyes. “I can’t go there, Dog. I haven’t been a good person. There’s things…” she glanced away and swallowed the lump in her throat. When she looked back, she blinked away the tears. “There’s things I’ve done; things I’ve said that were wrong. I’ve…I’ve hurt people. Over there,” she raised a thin arm and waved toward the shining bridge. “Over there is for good people, people like you, Dog. Go on. You deserve to be there.” She turned and moved away from the dog.

She’d only gone a few steps before she felt the cold nose against her dangling hand. She squatted next to the dog. “Oh, Dog.” She buried her face in the brittle black fur. When she lifted her face, she hugged the dog and stood. “Looks like you aren’t going to go, if I don’t.” Heart pounding, she gave a slight nod as if confirming her own decision. “I’ll go with you, Dog, because you deserve to be over there.”

Dog pressed tight against her leg as they walked onto the glowing bridge. The golden light enveloped them, warmed them.

Halfway across the bridge Marybelle stopped and gazed over the railing. Below, a broad, placid river flowed. As they drew nearer to the far side, a beautiful meadow ablaze with blue and yellow and orange flowers rolled out as far as she could see. Her eyes rounded.

When they reached the end of the bridge, a melodic voice spoke. “I see you’ve helped her to Cross, Dog. I knew you could. Well done.”

Marybelle raised her eyes and gazed into the milk chocolate face and dark chocolate eyes. “Momma?”

The woman spread her arms and Marybelle ran into them.

The End

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PHOTO CREDITS: Old dog–Anne Lowe    Christmas tree–Anna Langova  (all-free-download.com)

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The Seventh Generation

Among the trees

As Labor Day and the celebration of the workings person’s achievements end, we need to recognize an even greater achievement of the everyday person: the legacy of our world to the children of the seventh generation yet to come. Whether that achievement becomes a positive or a negative is yet to be determined.

Among the ‘Haudenosaunee’–the Native Americans of the Mohawk, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas and the Tuscarora–called the Six Nations by the English and called the Iroquois by the French, is a teaching from The Peacemaker, their spiritual teacher from around a thousand years ago. This teaching says: ‘When you sit and you council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself nor of your family nor even your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming….’ (Listen to the entire speech by Oren Lyons, Chief and Faith Keeper, Onondago Nation, from which this quote is taken at https://nnidatabase.org/video/oren-lyons-looking-toward-seventh-generation )

If we heed the words of The Peacemaker, we need to assess every action we take against how it will affect those children yet to be born in approximately 140 years (if each generation is born when the mother is 20 years old). One of the issues that we need to view critically is how we are safeguarding, or not safeguarding, the natural world.

Let’s look at the production of oxygen. According to Luis Villazon, a mature sycamore tree is roughly 12 m tall (one meter equals 3.2 feet) and weighs around two tons, including roots. Seven to eight mature trees are required to produce enough oxygen for one person for one year. (see entire article at http://www.sciencefocus.com/qa/how-many-trees-are-needed-provide-enough-oxygen-one-person )

Environment Canada, Canada’s national environmental agency says that “On average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature (emphasis is mine) trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four.” There are “millions of trees” in the world; surely we have plenty of trees to produce enough oxygen for everyone? Unfortunately, we need to factor in the reality there are 6 billion people on earth—give or take a billion. According to some estimates, only around 700 trees can be grown per acre. And, that is only if the land is healthy enough, if there is sufficient rainfall, and if pollution does not negatively impact the growth/health of those trees.

But production of oxygen is only one part of the equation. Water is another critical part. “A large redwood tree—a 200 foot redwood with a trunk 5 feet in diameter—holds 34,000 pounds of water and transpires (gives off water vapor) up to 200-500 gallons of water each day.” (see entire article at http://www.shannontech.com/ParkVision/Redwood/Redwood2.html ) A mature oak absorbs around 50 gallons of water in a day. Without mature trees the amount of water absorbed and then transpired is greatly lessened. This results in damaging runoffs during rainy seasons and in less water available over a dry period.

Whether we believe that life originates from the primordial ooze and has evolved over millions of years or if we believe that Creator created all of life, what we cannot escape is that all life is intrinsically linked.

Creators wild flower

We are bound to all of life–the plants and animals, the birds and insects, the reptiles and the fish–either due to dependencies that we have yet to discover because we evolved, not in a vacuum but with the rest of life, or we are bound together because we all belong to the same Great Tapestry of which we can only see a very small portion. Consequently, every time we destroy, or stand aside and allow others to destroy, a part of the natural world we are forever negatively impacting the quality of life not only for ourselves, but for those who are yet unborn. What type of world will we leave those of the seventh generation?

But why is a mystery writer, a writer of novels, talking about responsibilities to the seventh generation; about the science behind the production of oxygen and of water?

I am an optimist. It is one of the great motivations behind my writing. I believe that people can change, can grow, can become more than what they are. People can reach heights of compassion and generosity; of concern and of care beyond anything ever seen before.

I am an optimist. I believe we can change not only our own destiny, but the destiny of the world. I believe that if we choose, we can leave our world a better place, a more beautiful place, a more just place, a more compassionate place than the one in which we were born. This optimism is the message underlying all of my work. This optimism fuels every book I write. Every blog I write. Every sentence I write.

But all the optimism in the world cannot change a dead earth. An earth without oxygen. An earth without water. An earth without the beauty of the birds and the animals. All the optimism in the world cannot bring back those dozens of species that are becoming extinct nearly every day. And even an author cannot survive on a dead world.

But, I am an optimist. I speak about these harsh facts because I believe we can change the growing darkness on the horizon. I believe we can overcome that darkness with light, with hope, with a new reality. That optimism, that belief in the ability of people to change for the better, is why I write.

Journey you make
What kind of footprints will you leave behind?

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Some Things Need Said

First day of your life
As a writer, a lesbian, and a woman, it is time for me to say a few things. As those of you who have read my novels, visited my Facebook pages or even just read my blog know everything I write has the underlying motivation of empowering women and girls. I address those issues that affect women and girls on a daily basis.
With the elections looming closer every day, I find myself compelled to weigh in with what I have seen and heard and think. What many of you may not realize is that simply being an out lesbian has cost me an education, my home, everything that I had worked for years to acquire. I have been fired for being a lesbian. I have endured harassment on my job for being a lesbian. And, I know without a doubt, if Trump is elected I will lose more. I will once again live in an environment where violence against those who are different is either ignored or in some cases actually encouraged.

I am not the only lesbian to have lost things and people that matter to us simply for the crime of being a lesbian. I have known women who have lost their children. In the repressive and violent environment that Trump would encourage as president–has already encouraged through his campaign of hate–all of the civil rights gains that we have made will be negated. It is for that, as well as for many other reasons, that I am compelled to speak out.

I have heard people say they might abstain from casting a vote because they like neither candidate. Rest assured that NO DECISION is a DECISION BY DEFAULT. Others say they will vote for a party that has no standing in this current election. That is the same as making NO DECISION–you are making a decision for a major political candidate by deciding on that action. When you do cast your vote, I want you to remember those people you know–those people are lesbian, gay, those people who are female, those people who are Muslim or some other minority religion, those people who are of a different race or ethnic background than you. Ask yourself: what will my vote mean for them as well as for me? Will it bring about peace? Will my vote count for securing civil rights for ALL Americans? Or only for the privileged few?

Trump has made it abundantly clear that he considers anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, and Christian to be inferior. He has made statements that make it clear that he does not believe anyone different than himself deserves to have their rights, and their well-being, protected.

YET, when we look at the natural world we can see one grand truth:
diversity (2)

If you are a woman, or if you have a daughter, mother, aunt, sister or wife, here is what Trump thinks about women. To one reporter’s question do you consider women to be human beings, Trump’s response was: I would have to consider that on a case-by-case basis. Some people might try to excuse this statement by saying he was only joking, but such a statement is not a joking matter, especially for a candidate for the highest office of our country.

He has threatened multiple times to deport millions of people and has led the American people to wrongfully assume that such deportation of “illegal aliens” would help the economy and provide more jobs. In reality, the jobs that illegal immigrants hold are the meanest, the lowest paid, and the hardest jobs such as migrant workers in the fields. There are plenty of those jobs for the asking; all you have to do is apply. What such deportation will mean to our economy is that farmers, especially the larger farmers who depend on migrant, and yes on illegal immigrants, will lose crops due to a lack of workers. Though I do not approve of such exploitation of illegal immigrants, the fact remains that they a necessary labor pool. Deportation will inevitably harm our economy. (Much moreso than say meeting the basic needs of those workers!)

He wants to ban people of a specific religion from immigrating to our country. Yet, this nation was founded by men and women seeking to avoid religious persecution. Remember, not all sects or practices of Christianity were tolerated in the Old World.

Even forgetting the beginnings of the United States, let’s examine refugee impact on one American city, St. Louis, Missouri. During the Bosnia war, thousands of refugees fled their homeland and some of them came to America. Over twenty-two thousand of those refugees who came to America landed eventually in St. Louis. At the time, St. Louis was a “dying city”.

The results of the flux of Bosnia immigrants into St. Louis, according to a 2012 Saint Louis University paper titled “The Economic Impact of Immigration in St. Louis” resurrected that city. (Please note that the immigrants they are speaking of were mostly Muslims)

They (the refugees) revitalized parts of South St. Louis City and South St. Louis County by moving into older neighborhoods, opening businesses and rehabbing housing. Bosnians opened many thriving small businesses including bakeries, butcher shops, coffee shops, construction and heating and cooling companies, insurance companies and a truck-driving institute, and continue to be a key source of high skilled production work. To read the entire article go to: http://fusion.net/story/238682/the-miracle-of-little-bosnia/

According to Trump poor people are poor because they are genetically coded not to succeed; they are doomed to remain poor for the rest of their lives. This statement came from a man that some people would vote into the presidency because they believe he is a good businessman. Good business people know that hard work and determination frequently overrides the circumstances under which a successful person is born.

While I am on the subject of Trump’s so-called business acumen–Trump has bankrupted a number of his own companies. (And some folks want him to run the business of our country?!) One interesting business deal which he instigated was with the Scottish government. He promised the Scottish government that he would build and run a golf resort in Scotland that would employ 600 people, yet the resort foundered. At no time did he employ more than 300 people on that project and even that was temporary. He blamed his own failure on the fact that the Scottish government refused to FORCE a citizen of Scotland to sell his property to Trump. When Trump sued the Scottish government, they allowed the suit and subsequently, Trump, of course, lost the suit.

He has proposed building a wall between Mexico and the United States. Drugs come through tunnels (some of the best engineered tunnels in the world, by the way) to the United States more often than across the border. What makes him think that illegal immigrants would not also come through those tunnels if he builds a wall? A costly wall. A wall that mimics the futile wall that once divided Germany. Surely, the Berlin Wall is not so far in the past that we have forgotten it.

He has shown blatant disrespect toward women. Such disrespect of the more than half of our population does not bode well for women’s rights and freedoms.

And, he’s lied about charitable giving. According to the Washington Post, there’s no record of Trump donating any of his own money to charity in the last five years.
“Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money,” the Post reported. “Many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.”
Specifically, Trump listed nearly 3,000 rounds of golf as charitable gifts, even though some of the golf passes were given to his business clients and wealthy celebrities. As the Post explained, the donations list “reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests. Read the entire article at: http://www.salon.com/2016/04/16/the_charity_double_standard_partner/

Everyone can undoubtedly agree that the First Lady is an important asset to the president. Every president that we have had, so far, has proven that to be true. The First Ladies are nearly as well known and are definitely judged by the world community. With this in mind, what do you think the impression of our nation will be if we have a First Lady who plagiarized another First Lady’s speech? Trump’s wife did just that. She plagiarized the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama. Such a move indicates two things: she could not think on her own and she had very poor advice from her advisers. First Ladies have a delicate and important job to do for our country. They need to be widely read, intelligent, perceptive, and able to think on their own. (And that is just a few of the attributes they must have)

Trump’s campaign has been based on divisive, racist, misogynistic and plain hateful rhetoric to the point that England debated whether or not to allow him into their country.

For the past months I have heard many negative things said or written about Hilliary Clinton. What is not so widely known and spoken about are the many good works she has performed out of the glow of the limelight. I learned about some of those endeavors from a video on this site: https://www.facebook.com/TheDaily.BuzzOnline/videos/1062989120456530/ I learned that Hilliary has championed women and girls worldwide from Northern Ireland to North Thailand to Senegal to the United States. She was the driving force behind the passage of laws against human trafficking. And all of this from a woman who as a little girl once wrote to NASA and said she wanted to be an astronaut. NASA’s reply was: girls can not become astronauts.

For years, Republicans have used taxpayer money—thousands upon thousands of dollars—in a witch hunt against Hilliary Clinton. After wasting all of that money—money that could have been better used for the American people—they FAILED to prove any wrongdoing by Hilliary.

Even the latest so-called scandal that claimed she had sent classified information over unsecured email servers has been proven false. She did not send classified information over unsecured servers. Likewise, she was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Benghazi affair.

People who value family should rally to Hilliary Clinton. In spite of everything, she stuck with her husband when many women, myself included, would have felt she was justified in leaving him. Hilliary has proven her commitment to family.

Whether you like Hilliary or not, if you are a woman or an LGBT person, or if you care about the civil rights of ALL Americans, be aware that during the upcoming presidential term three Supreme Court justices will be appointed. This will greatly impact the civil liberties of ALL Americans! For women, for those who have children, for minority people, for lesbian and gay couples, and for all LGBT people, this should be an enormous consideration before voting.

Change (2)
Will you be an agent for positive change?

ChooseToBe

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Things That Go BOOM!

Lieutenant Chris Knurr took on the scary (nearly as scary as disarming bombs!)task of teaching a roomful of writers about things that go boom.
Here is the brave individual! Chris Knurr Bomb Squad WPA
I’m not real sure that he should have told us about Macgyver bombs, though. Those are things of which nightmares are made. These little explosive devices are also called acid bombs or bottle bombs. And, they are one of the scariest bombs out there. Why? Not because they are the most destructive–not even close. What’s so scary is that these highly unstable and unpredictable bombs can be made from readily available supplies found in many homes! Chris showed us a short video clip of one young man who put the chemicals for the bomb in a plastic bottle and then shook the bottle. The bomb exploded in his hand. Though these are not even close to the most destructive explosives, they can still maim and kill.

Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in thinking about the explosives used to create bombs–things like dynamite and C-4–that I, like many others, are unaware of the danger present in those small or long, thin devices called detonators. Chris passed a non-el or shock tube around so that everyone in the room was holding it and then he set it off. It was startling with a small zap, but if it had been part of a bomb it would have been used to initiate a detonator or blasting cap.(please note: things in bold are corrections made to original post per information from Lieutenant Knurr. Thank you, Lieutenant Knurr, for passing along these clarifications! You rock!)

Det cord is a high explosive wrapped in a plastic coating, needing a detonator or blasting cap to initiate it. When it is set off by a blasting cap, it sends a detonating wave to other blasting caps or explosive charges. This cord is commonly used to connect explosives together.

After that fairly benign demo of a shock tube, he passed around inert blasting caps—little metal tubes not more than a couple of inches long and smaller in diameter than my little finger. Though they look harmless, they are small, sensitive primary explosive–woe be to those who forget this part of the description–devices used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less sensitive secondary explosive such as TNT, dynamite or plastic explosives.

One man did forget the description of blasting caps. Chris showed us a photo of what was left of the man’s face after he bit down on a live blasting cap. We could just about make out his eyes above the ruin of his face. Nose, lips, mouth, cheeks, and chin were gone. Blood was streaming down the red mass that had been his face. It was nothing short of a miracle that the man survived.

Since I am writing a thriller where homemade explosives play a significant part, I was especially interested in the part of the lecture dealing with ANFO, or bombs made from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. Several thousand pounds of a slightly different formulation of this type of explosive–ANNM which is ammonium nitrate with nitro methane fuel–was packed in the vehicle that Timothy McVeigh parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19,1995. He lit a two minute fuse and when the explosion occurred it killed 168 people, including 19 children and injured another 684 others.

Two of the most popular, homemade high explosives currently seem to be TATP and HMTD, both hydrogen peroxide based. Chemicals to make these bombs are fairly common. Unfortunately for law enforcement, the labs producing these high explosives may appear to be meth labs since TATP is a white crystal and HMTD is a white powder. These explosives are unstable.

Chris’ lecture covered many other types of explosives as well as such topics as what defines the ‘explosive train’, but those things would require a lot longer post and much more skill to explain than I have to make it as understandable as Chris did for us. (Just because I could understand it, doesn’t mean I can explain it! Chris is a talented teacher and an accomplished expert in all things that go BOOM!)

There were some things that really snagged my attention, though.

  1. I had no idea that a suitcase full of firecrackers, if set on fire, could blow up a full size car!
  2. Car bombs in a downtown area is a bomb squad’s nightmare.
  3. It is way too easy to buy the ingredients to create a bomb! Scary!
  4. There are 2700 civilian bomb techs trained by the FBI.
  5. A “dirty bomb” is not one that needs a bath; it is an explosive that has radioactive material on it.
  6. Grenades, and high explosives, create pressure waves/shock waves that go through a body. This, in turn, creates fluid waves (we are mostly water) that shred the inside of the body. This is what kills.
  7. The bomb suit—Explosive Ordnance Disposal suit (EOD)–weighs over 80 pounds and someone has to wear it! It is hard to move in it and is very hot! (I tried on the helmet and the coat part. Do you remember what it felt like when you were a little kid and your mom bundled you up for cold weather and you could barely move? Yup, a lot like that.)The helmet weighs about 8 to 10 pouunds. The bomb suit, in order to maximize dexterity and mobility, has no gloves. This leaves hands and forearms exposed to danger.
    Aya bomb coat WPA
    (This photo is used courtesy of Tom Middleton)

EOD technicians wear the suit during reconnaissance, when trying to ‘render safe’, or disruption procedures on potential or confirmed explosive devices. These suits protect the wearer from fragmentation, blast overpressure, thermal and tertiary effects should the device explode. An interesting note: technicians back away from explosive devices not because they are “afraid” of the bomb, but because most of the protection resides in the front plate of the suit.
Tom in bomb suit WPA
Tom Middleton models the EOD suit next to the robot used by the bomb squad.

Though I have only been able to grasp a mere fraction of the information he conveyed, Chris gave me something more valuable even than knowledge of explosives; he gave me a better understanding of the dangers faced from international and homegrown terrorists who have easy access to the information and ingredients to create explosive devices; and he gave me a better understanding of the pressures the people of a bomb squad face as they work to protect the public.

Aya Bomb Squad helmet WPA

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#2016WPA A World of Mayhem and Murder

WPA—a world of murder, arson, guns and explosives! A place where at the next corner you’ll be faced with a man lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood; his brains oozing out of his eye socket, bits of brain matter flung across the floor.

This was the world in which I immersed myself for four days.

Writer’s Police Academy utilized the facilities of the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College where real cops, EMS, and fire fighters train. The first night of WPA, we were treated to a chance to interrogate police officers about the equipment they use—everything from guns, rifles, battering rams, (let me tell you—that battering ram was heavvvvy!) SWAT shields and vehicles. They went through the procedure for forced entry by SWAT.

Throughout our classes at WPA, our instructors were cops, fire fighters, arson investigators, ballistics experts, and emergency medical experts. John Flannery taught my first class, Blood Spatter, (spatter; not splatter!)
John Flannery WPA

Dry book learning was not on the menu at WPA. A homicide scene greeted us as we walked into John’s class. A bullet hole in the window, blood spatter on the wall behind the couch, the body of a male—late twenties—lying in a pool of blood, brain matter coming out of one eye socket, the skull and clumps scattered on the floor.
WPA Blood Spatter Victim

We were the officers investigating the homicide. What clues did we see? Who did we suspect was the assailant? Why was there a bloody handprint on the bookcase? Did the victim make it after being shot through the eye? Didn’t people immediately die from such a gunshot wound? Did the jar with marijuana have anything to do with the murder? Why was there a revolver close to the victim and a shell casing from a 9 mm off to one side? Did either have anything to do with the murder?

Those were the obvious clues as we first encountered the scene. Other clues slowly came to our attention under John’s careful guidance, as did the possible meaning of each clue as it pertained to the crime. Blood spatter behind the couch linked to the bloody handprint on the bookcase. The victim had been shot through the eye as seen by the blood spatter behind the couch. (No brains oozing out yet) Holding his bleeding head, he had staggered across the room, placing his bloody hand on the bookcase to stay upright, then eventually falling to the floor where we then saw his body. He was not dead at this point—contrary to what a person might think knowing about the grievous head wound.

Blood spatter WPA
Someone had entered or had been present in the apartment when the victim fell. That person had then proceeded to kill the victim. This person’s presence became clear from the blood spatter on the ceiling above the victim’s body and the spatter on the wall to the right of the victim’s body. The spatter on the ceiling created four dotted lines of blood. This pattern was also seen on the wall to the right. We learned that this was cast off blood—blood flung from the instrument itself– blood streaks made when a blunt instrument is drawn back to hit the victim again.

The assailant had used a blunt instrument to beat the victim once he had fallen to the floor. The beating was the cause of death, even though the head shot may have killed him eventually. What kind of instrument was used to beat the victim? Was it still in the apartment?

A pool cue was used to beat the victim. The blood had been carelessly wiped off, leaving a pale pink stain at the pointed end of the stick. The felt tip was responsible for the blood droplets on the floor, the droplets that were fairly round with just a faint tail. This let us know that the assailant, after beating the victim to death, had walked away from the body with the end of the cue pointed down toward the floor. The diameter and shape of the blood droplets told us that.
Blood droplets from weapon being carried

A bloody footprint indicated that someone, perhaps the assailant, had stepped in the victim’s blood. The shoe print had a pointed toe, was small—like maybe a size five or six—and had a definite heel which was square—like a woman’s pump.
WPA Shoe print in blood

After examination it was revealed that the victim had shot through the window at someone or something outside of his apartment. This accounted for the bullet hole in the window and the revolver close to the victim.

We still had the 9 mm shell casing which indicated that a 9 mm had been used inside of the apartment to shoot the victim. His assailant had then, after the victim fell, proceeded to viciously beat him in the face and head with the pointed end of the pool cue. This beating resulted in the brain oozing out of the eye socket and the caved-in look of the right side of the victim’s head. Further investigation revealed a woman’s driver’s license tossed or fallen in the trash can in the living room where the victim lay. The beating was vicious and had continued far beyond just immobilizing or killing the victim warranted. It demonstrated that this crime had been committed with passion; it was personal. We concluded that we should look at the victim’s girlfriend, wife, lover, and exes.

Though this murder had been a scenario set up by John, he also showed and explained real crime scene photos which were horrendous. The first crime scene photo was of a woman in a cabin. The woman’s body had been found crumpled between the wall and the bed. From blood stains on the bed it was obvious the woman had been resting or sleeping when the attack began. She next fell or rolled out of bed in an attempt to elude her attacker. She was standing when the attacker hit her with a sharp instrument in the head. Blood smeared down the wall as she crumpled to the floor.

The assailant continued his attack after the woman was on the floor. One of the wounds was a hacked open thigh which left the muscles gaping with blood pooled in the wound. The pooled blood indicated that the wound had been made perimortem. The heart had stopped pumping before the blood drained over the edge of the deep wound. The assailant had also removed the woman’s left hand—post mortem fortunately for the victim–and it was found next to the wall. The viciousness of the attack indicated that it had been personal.

This led the investigation to the woman’s estranged husband. The estranged husband had followed the woman to the cabin, waited until their children had gone down to the beach, and then entered and attacked the sleeping woman. The severed hand was the hand with the wedding band still on it.

Unfortunately, the couple’s young children found their mother when they returned from the beach.

In the second set of crime scene photos, a mother and her child had been killed in their home; their throats slit. John was sensitive to the fact that the death of the infant might be troubling to some people. He announced that in the coming photos that an infant had been killed and if anyone wanted to leave for this part, it was perfectly all right and they could return after this particular crime scene had been examined. A few people who had small children at home did leave for this part of our session.

John then walked the class through the crime scene photos, explaining what the blood on the woman’s arms meant—she had grabbed at her slit throat in a vain attempt to save her own life. Next we explored the baby’s photos. On the side of the child’s face, there was blood—which went with the slit throat—but there was also a clean space called a void where no blood had run. This indicated that the child had been sleeping with his head turned to the right side when his throat had been slit, but at some time after that—perimortem which means at or close to the time of death–the child had turned his head until his face pointed upward. The void occurred because when the blood was running, the turn of the head placed a small part of that cheek against some object that the blood ran around—the bed was most obviously the object. The child, before dying, had turned his head to where his face looked up and then he died.

The assailant, who turned out to be the estranged husband and father, claimed that though he confessed to the crimes that his sentence should be mitigated because he killed his wife and son with humane means that resulted in instant death and that they did not suffer—ie: a slit throat.

The woman’s bloody arms and the void on the child’s cheek proved that both victims had struggled after their throats were slit and therefore had not died instantly.

The Blood Spatter class was packed with information and this short blog post cannot give it justice. Suffice it to say that I learned a ton of stuff! John was one of the best instructors I have ever encountered. If you want to read about John’s extensive credentials go to http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/john-flannery/

Sisters in Crime was one of the sponsors for the #WritersPoliceAcademy. To learn more about #SistersInCrime go to http://www.sistersincrime.org/

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5 Rules for Juggling Life

5 Rules for Juggling Life
1. When you wake up, decide on your attitude for the day. Sometimes, we all have days when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe we had unpleasant dreams or ate the wrong kind of food for dinner; whatever the reason, we are irritable. Such irritation sets the tone for the day. If you allow it to continue, it will taint all that you attempt to do. Take a few minutes, grab a cup of tea or coffee and look out your window at the magnificent day! Even if a cold wind is blowing and rain is slashing down, it is still a glorious day. You have these hours of life ahead of you. This moment, right now, is the beginning of the rest of your life!
what moment waterfalls imagequote
2. No matter how positive we determine to be, sometimes life happens. Sadness invades our hearts; perhaps a friend dies or a senseless act of violence rips through the community. You feel impotent, angry, lost. Reach out to someone and ask for help in dealing with such events, whether those events are personal or more widespread. We all need help sometimes.
IAmHappy
3. Prioritize your day. No day is ever long enough to accomplish everything we want to get done. If we fail to prioritize, we spin our wheels leaping from one emergency to another and getting nothing completely done. By the end of the day, we are exhausted and feel as if we’ve failed. Don’t do this to yourself! Sit down with that cup of tea or coffee, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Make a list of everything you want to do then go back through it and number it. The “have to get done” thing is number 1. Number 10 or higher is reserved for those things that will inevitably wind up on tomorrow’s list.Remember, to get where you are going, you have to know which roads you need to take and in what order.
no distance too far
4. Be sure to leave time for loved ones; take time to say I love you. Take time to hug that special someone. Life is not guaranteed to any of us. This moment is all that we own. I think of those poor relatives of the Orlando victims—their loved ones will never return home; there will never be another day, or even another hour, in which to tell them they are loved; they are valued.
loveisagift
5. Make time for yourself. If you don’t allow yourself time to heal, to regenerate, you will eventually have nothing to give to anyone else. You are one of Creator’s children, too, and you are worthy of care; of love, both from others and from yourself.
creator's child

Per Rule 1: I realize that it is easier to expound on “rules for juggling life” and all of its many demands than it is to actually put these things into practice. I have found that if I take time for a cup of tea in the mornings, before I begin my day, then it is easier to keep a positive attitude. There are times that translates into getting out of bed a few minutes earlier. In my experience, such measures are well worth the reward.
Per Rule 2: This past week has been rough; emotions swing wildly as the full impact of the massacre in Orlando, Florida becomes devastatingly apparent. As a lesbian, I have faced violence before, but the pure hatefulness–such as the protesters at the #Orlando funerals–that has come to light staggers me, heart, mind and soul. Then love will shine through the darkness and my emotions swing back the other way. Trying to maintain a positive and/or productive attitude in the midst of this tragedy, has been challenging. There have been times I have had to simply shut down any input from outside to give myself a breather to regroup. I have talked about this attack to friends and that has helped to a certain degree. I have turned to my pagan beliefs and that, too, has helped as my spirituality always does. And, I have written. Writing has always been the staff that steadies me against the greatest of storms.
Per Rule 3: I have a easy-to-carry-with-me calendar. I write down everything in the calendar from stopping at the store to doctors’ appointments to what I need to do for my writing. Then I break those things down farther, such as writing becomes write one chapter in new WIP (work in progress), respond to three readers’ questions, contact beta readers about newest novel, and so on. Not only does it help me not to forget important steps I need to take, but it is satisfying to run a line through each item that I accomplish.
Per Rule 4: The people and dogs that I love recharge me. When I hug my wife, I am energized. I feel as if I can climb Mount Everest. Throwing a ball for my dog or taking one of them for a walk or simply cuddling one of them on the couch, centers and refreshes me. I usually don’t set aside a large amount of time all at once, except for things my wife and I have planned, but instead I take fifteen minutes here and there. Those minutes help me to clear my mind so that when I return to my work, I often find the solution to the problem that had previously had me stumped.
Per Rule 5: I must admit–I am not very good at this one. I find it difficult to take the time I need for myself. For example, my occupational therapist says I have to do certain exercises throughout the day, but when evening arrives I often find that I have not performed those exercises. Literally scheduling in time for such things on my calendar goes a long way toward achieving my self-care goals whether that goal is exercise, a long soak in the tub, vegging out with a book, or taking time to make a greenie Smoothie for myself instead of eating a Danish roll.

These five “rules” help me to #ManageStress and accomplish more.

What rules do you have for juggling your life? I would love to hear. Please, share.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:
1. Arundia Returns, Book 2, the Vampire War, will be released July 8, 2016. I am offering a FREE pdf of Artemis’ Warriors to anyone who would like to do a review of Artemis’ Warriors, Book 1, the Vampire War. Simply drop me an email at ayawalksfar@gmail.com In the subject line put: Reviewer’s Free Copy Artemis’ Warriors. This offer is only good until July 7th.
2. Death by Dog, #SpecialCrimesTeam, goes ON SAle for $0.99 from July 1 through July 9.
3. Are you a member of Audible? FREE #Audible download codes for Sketch of a Murder, Special Crimes Team; Street Harvest, Special Crimes Team; and, Old Woman Gone, Special Crimes Team, in exchange for a review on Audible and/or Amazon. Simply email me at ayawalksfar@gmail.com In the subject line put: Free Audible download code In the body of the email, please specify which book you would like to have.

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We Become What We Read

BookWingsSoarJust finished reading a book that at first glance appears to be a fun-to-read, graphic sex, romance novel. On closer inspection, however, the book is revealed to be a #novel that portrays women as weak and childlike and not only embraces but glamorizes some very damaging myths about women and relationships between men and women.

The Synopsis of the Subject Novel: A werebear cub is found in a woman’s house. The child/bear has obviously been abused. The clan leader, a very large, male werebear arrives at the woman’s house and demands that she turn over the child so he can “reunite the child” with the child’s uncle. The woman refuses to turn over the child because when the child heard his uncle’s voice at the door, he peed himself in fear.

The clan leader is so taken with this woman that he “and his bear” (his bear gets a lot of blame in this novel for violent behavior) decide they have to get her to stay at his house though she has said “no thanks” a couple of times already. Using his physical strength, he scoops up the now-changed-back-to-child werebear and starts to leave the woman’s house. When she protests, he tells her that he is taking the child (and she is human and therefore no match for an adult werebear) and if she wants to continue to be with the child to provide nurturing she will have to stay at the clan leader’s house.

For the sake of the child, the woman goes with the clan leader to his house for the clearly expressed purpose of taking care of the child. The next day, the clan leader, without the woman’s consent, has his brother break into her house and gather clothes and other necessities for her to continue staying at the leader’s house. The woman is angry when this fait accompli comes to her attention, but the leader successfully uses “his hot sexiness” to sidetrack her anger. After all, women are unable to continue to focus on complaints or issues if the man uses flattery and attention to distract them.

The leader continues to pressure the woman to have a sexual relationship with him. Though he stops short of forcible rape, he does climb naked into her bed in the guest room without her consent and refuses to leave her bed. Throughout the early part of this book, it is made clear to the reader that the leader intends to relinquish the child to a very possibly abusive male relative simply because “it is what is expected since the child is the only heir to the male”, though this is contraindicated when considering the child’s welfare. However,in order to placate the woman and entice her to remain at the leader’s house, the leader continues to foster her belief that he will assist her in keeping the child with her where the boy can receive the nurturing he needs. (His mom and dad were murdered shortly before all this and the child is only four years old.)

Throughout the novel the clan leader pushes more and more intimate contact–just short of forcible rape–with the woman though she is, at best, unsure, and at worst, makes it clear she wants him to desist. Her “no” is ignored.

Every time she attempts to leave his house, he makes it clear that he won’t allow her to take the child though he knows the child is better off with her. She continues to remain at the house for the child’s sake.

Early on in the book, the clan leader frequently loses control of his temper and begins to change into a werebear with the clear and express purpose of committing violence toward others, including members of his clan and his own brothers, for very minor infractions. Each time this occurs, ONLY the WOMAN can “soothe his savage beast” and thereby halt his violent behavior.This statement bears repeating: She is responsible for stopping his violence.

Eventually, it comes out that if she stays with him it increases her chances of maintaining care and custody of the child. She is prepared to do that; and, of course, over time and exposure she finds the man “hot and too tempting to resist.” At the end, she realizes she can’t live without him and “begs him to claim her”.

The problem with this story is not the graphic sex which is consensual and well within reason as far as roughness, and so forth. No, the problem is that this book puts forth these erroneous statements:

  1. When a woman says “no,” it really means “yes”. All the man has to do is continue to insist that she does what he is telling her to do.

  2. A man’s coercion by using the safety of a child to force a woman into a position she declines to be in, is very acceptable.

  3. A man can continue to ignore and override a woman’s decisions about her own life because the man knows what is best for the woman.

  4. A man is right to keep secrets from a woman if it is, in his estimation, better for her not to know XYZ, even though the XYZ affects her life tremendously.

  5. In stressful situations, women will always faint and need to be carried to bed and tucked in like a child. Also, they will need physical rescuing as they are unable to even use a gun in their own defense.

  6. Women are responsible for keeping men from escalating in their violence toward others. Women must “soothe the savage beast” in order to keep others safe.

  7. There is a happily ever after as long as the man is in charge. He only needs to pretend he is consulting her about her life and only tell her what he believes she should know.

These are myths about relationships, men, women, intimate communications, rape, coercion, use of children to force women to do what a man desires (this all too frequently occurs in divorces!), that need to be shattered beyond repair!

As long as literature, movies, television, and music continue to glamorize these #myths and make the actions they represent seem like the “norm”, unhealthy relationships will continue to thrive. As much as we may not want to admit it, what we watch, read, and listen to, affects our subconscious minds and implants either healthy or unhealthy beliefs.

  1. Healthy relationships respect both parties. Communication is used to facilitate respect.

  2. “No” means no. Stop. Desist. Do not continue. Not wanted. Unless it is a solid, non-coerced “yes” then the answer is “no”.

  3. Children should never be pawns in adult relationships.

  4. Women are NOT responsible for men’s violence. Men are responsible for controlling their own violence.

  5. Each person–be they a woman or a man–have the right to make their own decisions about their own lives. No one knows what is “best” for another person because we are not the one living that person’s life.

As an author, I am not only obligated to write entertaining stories, it is also my responsibility to dissect what I write and to determine its probable impact on others. I have a clear commitment to write stories that bring about positive change and which glamorize healthy relationships.

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