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Penny Wise Almanac
Friday, 1 September 2006
Advice to an 18 year old
Topic: Parenthood

By Brian Eckard

This coming February my eldest daughter will be 18. This is quite a milestone, and she is the first of my children to reach adulthood pretty much in tact in spite of all the things life has thrown at her up to this point in time. I decided to write this article since she will most likely delete an email full of advice from her "old man" if I send it directly to her. Publishing it in the almanac makes it next to impossible for her to delete it, and it also opens the door for others to read my advice and possibly use what they can for their own situation.

To keep all of this in perspective, the dictionary defines advice as "An opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct, etc.: I shall act on your advice.  A communication, esp. from a distance, containing information: Advice from abroad informs us that the government has fallen. Recent diplomatic advices have been ominous." (advice. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Retrieved September 01, 2006, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=advice&x=19&y=18) So, my advice is my opinion, my recommendation offered from a distance to be used simply as a guide. It is not a requirement, and it is certainly not expected that it be taken as a directive or order on how to conduct one's affairs. I want to share what I have learned during my journey in this life and maybe there is something useful for the younger generation. After all, why re-invent the wheel if you don't have to?

Life is all about change, and the sooner you learn to adapt yourself to this change the more peaceful your life will become.  Regardless of whether you like it or not things change and learning how to enjoy the blessings that you do have and learning to do the best that you can with what you are given will make you stand out from the crowd. Crying into your tea about all of life's wrongs and all of the things that didn't go the way you wanted them to will only cause you to become bitter and angry. This will often lead to depression. Looking back, being angry and holding grudges will only lead to your destruction. You won't hurt the people you're angry with, only yourself. 

Have faith that things will get better and your current situation is only temporary. If you want to heal then seek a relationship with God. He is the only one who knows what to do to heal you, and He will also give you hope. Hope is what faith is all about. It is belief in things that cannot be seen, or proven to exist. Depression is negative faith, and is hopelessness. It is disbelief in things that are unseen. Just because you cannot see God, doesn't mean He does not exist.

I can tell you God lives within me through his Holy Spirit. He works through me to help others. So not believing in God would be not believing in myself. And, since God lives in us by the Holy Spirit, you simply cannot be successful in this life without the help of others. For it is by working together and forgiving each other that God is able to work out His will for your life and everyone around you.

In this life you must make a decision between the two--faith or hopelessness, and that will determine the type of life you have here and now, and what you will receive after you pass on to the next life. Claiming to not believe in God is simply denial and is choosing to be hopeless. It will only lead to destruction and a poorly lived life in this world. Most people who have chosen this path never find happiness and never reach their full potential. Only the fool has said that there is no God, and truly I tell you, you may choose not to believe in Him in this life, but you will believe in Him when you come face to face with Him at the end of this life. What account will you give Him?

Call on His Son, and He will save you from hopelessness. Am I forcing my religion on you? Nope. Simply telling you how to get His help. All who call on Him will be saved. I've already done this for my life. I cannot force anything on you and you always have the option to disagree with me. So, that is a weak argument to say that mentioning God to you is forcing my beliefs on you. I will not deny my beliefs simply because they offend you. How you choose to respond to my beliefs is always your choice. You are the one who will suffer the consequences. I have done what I was asked to do--if that offends you that is your choice--not mine. I simply don't care if you are offended by my beliefs.

Learn how this world works so that you can enjoy your life. Regardless of whether you believe in God, He has set up this world with a system that rewards faith and hard work. Being lazy and not believing in your future will only lead to destruction. Learn to dream about what you want and believe that you will receive what you want. A person without dreams will perish. Believe in your dreams and work towards them and they will happen for you at the appropriate time.

There is a time and a purpose for everything that happens in this life. Life is full of good times, bad times, rich times, poor times. You will get a taste of each of these times whether you want to or not. Look at your own life and you will see that it already has happened to you. You've been rich, you've been poor, you know what hunger feels like, and what it feels like to have food on the table every night. This cycle will follow you the rest of your days and there is no escaping it. So get over it that bad things have happened to you. You are not alone, everyone in this world has experienced bad times. How you respond is what matters, not what circumstances and people do to you.

Dream big and don't be afraid of failure. You cannot succeed in this life without risking failure. Learn from your mistakes and grow from them. Persistence is the secret that will lead to obtaining your dreams. So, never, never quit and you will never fail with your life. Quitting means you choose to lose. Not quitting will eventually lead to you winning. That fact is proven in sports everyday and if you look at people the world considers successful, persistence is the common factor that separates the winners from the losers.

More to come...


Posted by stuckjunction at 8:23 AM
Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006 7:56 AM
Wednesday, 2 August 2006
A feeling of loss
Topic: Reflections

By Brian Eckard

Today started out like any other day. It was cool here in the Pacific Northwest, and I was able to get up and get ready to go to work without too much effort. I arrived at work around 6:30 AM and the day appeared to hold such promise. By 8:30 people were filing into the office and start their days. The office filled with the noises so familiar in offices all over this land. Then around 10 AM or so I heard a woman who sounded like she was in shock. She had found out that her daughter had died. The poor lady lost control and she became inconsolable. You could not blame her. If anything her pain ripped at my heart. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child to death. I have no idea how I would even respond in a situation like that. My prayers went out for that poor soul.

Her friends hurried over to her to give her comfort. As soon as they got her off the phone they ushered her off the floor. I assume a coworker probably escorted her and helped her to get home. However, later in the day I heard that she had passed out from the shock and was taken to a nearby hospital. Her life now forever changed. I do not know the details of what happened, or how her daughter died. All I witnessed was the shock and horror of finding out that your child has died.

It got me to thinking about my daughter. I too have lost her, but my loss is a different kind of loss because there is always the possiblity that she will come back someday. Death doesn't give you that possiblity. It is simply over with, ripping apart the hearts that survive. My loss is a cruel loss because I know that my daughter is purposely staying away. She refuses to explain why and apparently is holding some sort of grudge.

Today's events are simply a reminder to me of how precious life is and how quickly it can be snatched away. None of us know when that time will come, or where death will find us. The closest analogy for me is that it comes as a theif in the knife. My only concern is will it catch me by surprise? This morning also reminded me of last year when I was driving to work one morning. My cell phone rang and it was my ex-step mother in law. Initially, I thought she was calling me about my former wife. She was calling to tell me about the passing of my ex-father in law. The news of his passing was shocking, and I was surprised that I cried. We had just settled a frustrating divorce proceeding and my last contact with him was two months before when he called to accuse me of renegging on my court agreements. He was sadly mistaken, and he was angry with me. Now there would never be an opportunity for reconciliation. I became angry over the fact that he would allow a 20 year relationship end the way it did. I was angry that he was still trying to fight with me because he apparently didn't like the final divorce decree.

I remembered the morning so long ago when I found out that I had lost my mother. My dad called with that news. After calling my work I quickly departed for Annapolis where my family was beginning to gather. I cried at my loss, and felt that it was so unbearable to have to deal with the fact that my moher had died. So I can empathize with the woman who today found out that she had lost her daughter. But, I still cannot understand the pain she must be feeling right now with the loss of a child. Whenever a child dies, it just seems that it is harder to cope with. It seems so unfair that such a young life can be snatched away. Just as she was about to start her life, it was snuffed out and over. Her life, like a fine linen, folded up and put away.

Loss is a painful ordeal that we must all confront. Death touches everyone and will eventually claim us all. Life is so precious that today simply reminds me of the importance of loving everyone around me and resolving any conflicts as quick as possible. We don't know when our last day is, and I don't want to leave this world with broken relationships. I don't want to leave my daughter in a position of anger because I died before she had an opportunity to come back. I don't want her to depart without ever coming back so that she and I can resume our relationship as father and daughter.

Just some thoughts on a somber day at work. A day that had started out with such promise.

 --Brian


Posted by stuckjunction at 8:52 PM
Monday, 31 July 2006
It's a choice
Topic: Self Improvement

By Archibald McSweeny

This summer I have been working with my son and teaching him coping skills. He suffers from what may be depression that has been triggered by some major life changes that happened to him in 2003-2005. During these changes he was 5 years old when the situation started, and he is now 8 years old. Things are starting to settle down for him as the adults in his life start to move on with their lives and rebuild what they lost. Divorce is always a horrible experience even when the parents do their best to shield their children from the more negative aspects of the situation. My family has pretty much survived, though there are some rough areas and issues that still need to be addressed.

My son, Scott, is a smart boy. He catches on quickly and does well in school. The one thing that tends to get in his way and hold him back is a negative attitude. His negative attitude often leads to anger issues that might possibly be related to slight depression over what has happened to him. He is being treated for depression and does take medicine to deal with mood swings and his ability to stay focused on one thing at a time (attention deficeit). What has been lacking are the skills that you and I use everday to steer our emotions through the maze of complex social encounters that people deal with day in and day out.

So, this summer I have been spending time with Scott teaching him how to control his anger, improve his behavior, and how to talk positively about himself. We have witnessed quite an improvement in his behavior and in his ability to accept criticism and discipline. He has stablized and acts just like how you would expect an 8-year old to behave. And, we have stopped some of the more disconcerting negative behaviors that where causing him to be admitted to hospitals on a regular basis last year. He had developed a habit of threatening to hurt himself in order to gain attention and manipulate a situation. We discovered that he didn't even understand what he was threatening to do. He had no concept of the consequences if he carred out these threats.

Now he does, and he has been taught how to properly share his feelings and ask for help when he needs it. Hopefully these coping skills will help him maintain a more stable behavior, help his mother in dealing with him, and start to help him gain new friends. Time will tell if my efforts have been in vain or not. I have discussed these things with his doctors and therapists and they seem to be encouraged by what has been going on this summer. With that said, let's explore some of the things I have taught my son, Scott.

You have to choose to be happy

Probably the most important lesson that I have taught Scott is that happiness in life is a choice that all of us have to make on a daily basis. It is so easy to allow the events of life and the actions of others affect our mood and how we feel about ourselves. When Scott first arrived he was always very quick to tell us when he was not having fun or he was feeling sad. We had planned all sorts of activities for him and if he did not want to participate, or if we didn't do something that he wanted to do then he would tell us that he was bored, not having fun, or sad.

Finally, I took him aside and told him that happiness is a choice, and that my responsibility as a parent to him was not to make him happy, but to provide him with opportunities where he could choose to be happy. It is not my fault that he is choosing to be bored, or choosing not to participate in an activity. He is responsible for his actions and how he responds to the situations and events that occur in his life.

I then started to teach him how to sit still and use his imagination to dream or think about things he likes to do. I told him that if he practiced this he would soon find that when he feels bored, he can change that feeling into happiness because his imagination can simulate the good feelings he has when he does something that he wants to do. As his visit comes to a close for this summer, he has learned this valuable lesson, and we are not hearing that he is bored as much any more. He seems to be choosing to become happy, and he is getting good at changing his mood and attitude when he is having a bad day.

Hopefully, when he returns home to his mother he will continue to practice these things and she will see an improvement in his behavior. Maybe he will become easier for her to handle.

Don't talk back

It seems like kids these days always have an opinion, and they seem to feel obligated to talk back. Especially if their parents correct them on something. My son is no different, and this summer he is learning how to accept discipline without talking back. It is still an obvious temptation, and I don't know if he will be strong enough when he gets back home to continue with what I have taught him, but hopefully he will remember.

It is frustrating when you are disciplining a child that they feel compelled to offer excuses or arguments. They don't understand the importance of discipline--that it is so much more than punishment regardless of whether it is time outs or spankings. When you get past the punishment aspect and concentrate on the discipline part it is a tool used by a parent to teach a child how to be civilized. It helps the child to learn social skills and ultimately acceptance into society as a whole.

This morning we had a break through with my son. He was wearing a red bandana and his step mother asked him to remove it. Normally, he would make a fuss over this and end up being in trouble for not listening. However, this morning he chose to listen and he removed the article and brought it into his bedroom. He had a smile on his face and he chose not to make an issue of this request. When he returned to the living room his step mother rewarded him by telling him, "since you listened to me and did what I asked of you, you may wear the bandana." Scott's face lit up with excitement as he ran down the hall to his bedroom to retreive the bandana. It seems that he is listening and making an attempt to do what he is being taught.

He's learning that he is in control and that everything that happens to him is the result of his choices. He can choose to listen and behave, or he can choose to not listen and misbehave. In either case, he will receive the consequences of his actions. Those consequences could be a reward, it could be absolutely nothing, or it could be punishment in some form if he chose to disobey.
He has learned that not only can he choose to be happy, he can choose whether or not he is a good boy.

Do everything without arguing or complaining

Probably the most important thing I taught my son was how to maintain a positive attitude regardless of what is said to him, done to him, or asked of him. My son has a negative outlook on many things, and when he is talked to about something he tends to see the negative side and sees it as more evidence that supports his negative attitude about himself. It is a real struggle to teach him to counter this, and I believe a single summer's visit is simply not enough time to do it any justice. But, it is enough time to plant seeds as it were, and get him to start responding more positively. We can pick up with it when he returns next year, and maybe over time we can turn some of his negative attitude around.

This summer, however, we have witnessed quite a change in his attitude. He is now able to quickly stop the negative talk and turn it around to positive. So, I believe there is hope that we will get this to turn around for him. He also no longer complains when asked to do things and he has become such a little helper around the house. We made if fun for him by having him sign off on a task sheet each day as he accomplishes his tasks and chores.

Manipulating the situation

Scott is good at taking advantage of the situations that he finds himself in. He is good at manipulating the situation so that he ends up with what he wants, or simply to get attention. This summer it has been a real struggle to get him to stop this behavior trait. I believe that it is possible to stop it, but it seems that it is going to take a frustratingly long period of time to get this to stop.

A typical example of this behavior scenario starts out with Scott being told not to do something by his step mother. He will usually obey her request until I show up. Then he makes his second attempt at getting his way. His advantage now is that I don't know the entire situation, or what he was told earlier. So he has a good chance of me giving him the green light. This of course leads to all sorts of friction in the house since he has manipulated the situation into his favor.

When he is at home with his mother he plays basically the same game. In this scenario he will become extremely repetitive in his requests in an attempt to wear his mother down. When that happens, he gets his way. If that fails, or he doesn't get the attention he wants, he will say things that are pervocative enough to upset people or escalate the situation so that he gets put into the hospital because he has threatened to hurt himself in some manner.

Then, the family responds and he is rewarded with all sorts of attention. As I said before, Scott is good at manipulating the situation so that he gets the attention he craves.

This summer I have been working with him to stop this behavior trait. We've made some progress, but there is still a long way to go. First off, I explained to him that it is inappropriate for him to threaten to hurt himself in this manner. That there are better ways to ask for help if he is feeling sad or in a crisis. I have taught him to come and tell someone if he has these feelings. So far this summer he has not exhibited these feelings, and he has not threatened to hurt himself.

On the other front we are still working with him. He is still playing one parent against the other, which causes all sorts of tension in the house. Communication between the parents is probably the best approach to stopping this behavior trait. And, it will most likely take time to get it to stop.

Conclusions

The summer went fast and Scott is now back home getting ready for a new school year. Hopefully, he will practice some of the things that we taught him this summer. Hopefully, his mother will see a positive change in his behavior and he'll be easier to deal with. It will take time for the seeds that I planted to take root, but after looking back at his visit my conclusion is that there is hope.

I talked with Scott's mother the other day and he is doing fine now that he's back home. It's time for him to get ready for the new school year, and he seems to have taken the things that he learned this past summer to heart. Yes, there is hope, and Scott will turn things around for himself as he too learns to move on from the hard times he has been through.


Posted by stuckjunction at 6:18 AM
Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006 12:57 PM
Thursday, 27 July 2006
Conflict in the middle east
Topic: Opinion

By Paul Barleycorn

Watching a conflict from the outside sometimes has its advantages. It allows you to formulate unbiased opinions and observations that are hard to see and understand if you are emotionally involved in a fight. As of this writing the conflict between Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinians, and the militant Islamic groups has been raging since July 12, 2006 when Israel went into Gaza in response to one of their soldiers being kidnapped. The conflict is still intensifying, and peace talks have failed to produce any worthwhile cease fire between the waring parties. It is a conflict that carries worldwide consequences, and a high possiblity of dragging the middle east region into the conflict. If left unchecked it could potentially become a worldwide conflict.

Watching the news as the conflict develops I am increasingly becoming appalled at how Israel is being treated by the rest of the world. Israel has shown so much restraint in their responses to their neighboring countries who are allowing militant Islamic groups to shoot missles into Israel, killing hundreds of innocent people. It has shown restraint when these militant groups send in suicide bombers to kill more innocent people. And now, these groups have become so arrogant that they have kidnapped Israeli soldiers. They have the nerve to then say in surprise, "we don't understand why Israel has responded so harshly?" Helloooo, your previous actions at any other time in world history would be considered acts of war. If you don't like Israel fighting you and destroying your cities then don't fire missles at them and don't send in your suicide bombers to kill innocent people. If you live by the sword, then you must be willing to die by it.

I was appalled to learn that the cease fire talks did not include Israel. They were'nt even invited. Fortunately, Israel's friend, the United States was there to at least provide some support for the Israeli position. But, it would have been more productive to include all the waring parties. The UN's behavior is ridiculous. They have failed in their responsibilities of protecting their observation posts. If they don't want their soldiers to fight in the conflict, then they should have removed them from the battle field. Accidents happen and people get killed in war. That is what war is about. It is a breakdown of civilized behavior, and it is extreme in its violence. It is imoral and it drives people to do things they might not do in normal situations. I don't believe Israel purposely targeted that UN outpost. They were caught in the middle of a battle and were struck by accident. Israel has announced that it is going to investigate the situation, so the world should back off and assume that this is an accident until it is proven otherwise. But, due to the world's hatred of Israel they are paying a price. A price they have been paying ever since it erupted on the scene during World War II. That is, a hatred and mistrust towards the Jews.

The United States is also viewed with suspicions. Here we were attacked on our own soil and the world is upset that we responded the way we did. Regardless of whether our response was right or wrong, the fact is, as a sovereign nation, a response was mandatory. Otherwise, if there is no cost to a hostile party for attacking the United States, what is going to prevent future attacks like what happened on September 11? I am proud that this country is willing to stand by Israel and support her in her hour of need. I hope that our support for her continues if this conflict escalates and spreads. It doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks of us if we are doing the right thing. Europe has forgotten what happened to it during World War II--the last time they tried appeasing their enemy. Hitler simply used their appeasement against them, and he almost succeeded in conquering all of Europe. If it wasn't for the British and the Americans, Europe would still be under a regime of hatred and oppression. Somebody has to stand up to these militant groups who believe they are on some sort of holy mission to force everyone to believe their limited and violent doctrine of hatred. I'm glad that Israel has the guts to face them. I'm also glad that the United States is also willing to stand up and face them along side our friend, Israel. --Paul


Posted by stuckjunction at 4:04 AM
Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006 12:14 AM
Wednesday, 26 July 2006
The Angel of the Odd
Topic: Short Stories

From The Columbian Magazine, October, 1844.

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)

It was a chilly November afternoon. I had just consummated an unusually hearty dinner, of which the dyspeptic _truffe_ formed not the least important item, and was sitting alone in the dining-room with my feet upon the fender and at my elbow a small table which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some apologies for dessert, with some miscellaneous bottles of wine, spirit, and _liqueur_. In the morning I had been reading Glover's _Leonidas_, Wilkie's _Epigoniad_, Lamartine's _Pilgrimage_, Barlow's _Columbiad_, Tuckerman's _Sicily_, and Griswold's _Curiosities_, I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid. I made effort to arouse myself by frequent aid of Lafitte, and all failing, I betook myself to a stray newspaper in despair. Having carefully perused the column of "Houses to let," and the column of "Dogs lost," and then the columns of "Wives and apprentices runaway," I attacked with great resolution the editorial matter, and reading it from beginning to end without understanding a syllable, conceived the possibility of its being Chinese, and so re-read it from the end to the beginning, but with no more satisfactory result. I was about throwing away in disgust

  This folio of four pages, happy work   Which not even critics criticise,

when I felt my attention somewhat aroused by the paragraph which
follows:

"The avenues to death are numerous and strange. A London paper mentions the decease of a person from a singular cause. He was playing at 'puff the dart,' which is played with a long needle inserted in some worsted, and blown at a target through a tin tube. He placed the needle at the wrong end of the tube, and drawing his breath strongly to puff the dart forward with force, drew the needle into his throat. It entered the lungs, and in a few days killed him."

Upon seeing this I fell into a great rage, without exactly knowing why. "This thing," I exclaimed, "is a contemptible falsehood--a poor hoax--the lees of the invention of some pitiable penny-a-liner, of some wretched concocter of accidents in Cocaigne. These fellows knowing the extravagant gullibility of the age set their wits to work in the imagination of improbable possibilities, of odd accidents as they term them, but to a reflecting intellect (like mine, I added, in parenthesis, putting my forefinger unconsciously to the side of my nose), to a contemplative understanding such as I myself possess, it seems evident at once that the marvelous increase of late in these 'odd accidents' is by far the oddest accident of all. For my own part, I intend to believe nothing henceforward that has anything of the 'singular' about it."

"Mein Gott, den, vat a vool you bees for dat!" replied one of the most remarkable voices I ever heard. At first I took it for a rumbling in my ears--such as a man sometimes experiences when getting very drunk--but upon second thought, I considered the sound as more nearly resembling that which proceeds from an empty barrel beaten with a big stick; and, in fact, this I should have concluded it to be, but for the articulation of the syllables and words. I am by no means naturally nervous, and the very few glasses of Lafitte which I had sipped served to embolden me a little, so that I felt nothing of trepidation, but merely uplifted my eyes with a leisurely movement and looked carefully around the room for the intruder. I could not, however, perceive any one at all.

"Humph!" resumed the voice as I continued my survey, "you mus pe so dronk as de pig den for not zee me as I zit here at your zide."  Hereupon I bethought me of looking immediately before my nose, and there, sure enough, confronting me at the table sat a personage nondescript, although not altogether indescribable. His body was a wine-pipe or a rum puncheon, or something of that character, and had a truly Falstaffian air. In its nether extremity were inserted two kegs, which seemed to answer all the purposes of legs. For arms there dangled from the upper portion of the carcass two tolerably long bottles with the necks outward for hands. All the head that I saw the monster possessed of was one of those Hessian canteens which resemble a large snuff-box with a hole in the middle of the lid. This canteen (with a funnel on its top like a cavalier cap slouched over the eyes) was set on edge upon the puncheon, with the hole toward myself; and through this hole, which seemed puckered up like the mouth of a very precise old maid, the creature was emitting certain rumbling and grumbling noises which he evidently intended for intelligible talk.

"I zay," said he, "you mos pe dronk as de pig, vor zit dare and not zee me zit ere; and I zay, doo, you mos pe pigger vool as de goose, vor to dispelief vat iz print in de print. 'Tiz de troof--dat it iz--ebery vord ob it."

"Who are you, pray?" said I with much dignity, although somewhat puzzled; "how did you get here? and what is it you are talking about?"

"As vor ow I com'd ere," replied the figure, "dat iz none of your pizziness; and as vor vat I be talking apout, I be talk apout vat I tink proper; and as vor who I be, vy dat is de very ting I com'd here for to let you zee for yourself."

"You are a drunken vagabond," said I, "and I shall ring the bell and order my footman to kick you into the street."

"He! he! he!" said the fellow, "hu! hu! hu! dat you can't do."

"Can't do!" said I, "what do you mean? I can't do what?"

"Ring de pell," he replied, attempting a grin with his little
villainous mouth.

Upon this I made an effort to get up in order to put my threat into execution, but the ruffian just reached across the table very deliberately, and hitting me a tap on the forehead with the neck of one of the long bottles, knocked me back into the armchair from which I had half arisen. I was utterly astounded, and for a moment was quite at a loss what to do. In the meantime he continued his talk.

"You zee," said he, "it iz te bess vor zit still; and now you shall know who I pe. Look at me! zee! I am te _Angel ov te Odd_."

"And odd enough, too," I ventured to reply; "but I was always under the impression that an angel had wings."

"Te wing!" he cried, highly incensed, "vat I pe do mit te wing? Mein Gott! do you take me for a shicken?"

"No--oh, no!" I replied, much alarmed; "you are no chicken--certainly
not."

"Well, den, zit still and pehabe yourself, or I'll rap you again mid me vist. It iz te shicken ab te wing, und te owl ab te wing, und te imp ab te wing, und te head-teuffel ab te wing. Te angel ab _not_ te wing, and I am te _Angel ov te Odd_."

"And your business with me at present is--is----"

"My pizziness!" ejaculated the thing, "vy vat a low-bred puppy you mos pe vor to ask a gentleman und an angel apout his pizziness!"

This language was rather more than I could bear, even from an angel; so, plucking up courage, I seized a salt-cellar which lay within reach, and hurled it at the head of the intruder. Either he dodged, however, or my aim was inaccurate; for all I accomplished was the demolition of the crystal which protected the dial of the clock upon the mantelpiece. As for the Angel, he evinced his sense of my assault by giving me two or three hard, consecutive raps upon the forehead as before. These reduced me at once to submission, and I am almost ashamed to confess that, either through pain or vexation, there came a few tears into my eyes.

"Mein Gott!" said the Angel of the Odd, apparently much softened at my distress; "mein Gott, te man is eder ferry dronk or ferry zorry. You mos not trink it so strong--you mos put te water in te wine. Here, trink dis, like a good veller, and don't gry now--don't!" Hereupon the Angel of the Odd replenished my goblet (which was about a third full of port) with a colorless fluid that he poured from one of his hand-bottles. I observed that these bottles had labels about their necks, and that these labels were inscribed "Kirschenwässer."

The considerate kindness of the Angel mollified me in no little measure; and, aided by the water with which he diluted my port more than once, I at length regained sufficient temper to listen to his very extraordinary discourse. I cannot pretend to recount all that he told me, but I gleaned from what he said that he was a genius who presided over the _contretemps_ of mankind, and whose business it was to bring about the _odd accidents_ which are continually astonishing the skeptic. Once or twice, upon my venturing to express my total incredulity in respect to his pretensions, he grew very angry indeed, so that at length I considered it the wiser policy to say nothing at all, and let him have his own way. He talked on, therefore, at great length, while I merely leaned back in my chair with my eyes shut, and amused myself with munching raisins and filiping the stems about the room. But, by and by, the Angel suddenly construed this behavior of mine into contempt. He arose in a terrible passion, slouched his funnel down over his eyes, swore a vast oath, uttered a threat of some character, which I did not precisely comprehend, and finally made me a low bow and departed, wishing me, in the language of the archbishop in "Gil Bias," _beaucoup de bonheur et un peu plus de bon sens_.

His departure afforded me relief. The _very_ few glasses of Lafitte that I had sipped had the effect of rendering me drowsy, and I felt inclined to take a nap of some fifteen or twenty minutes, as is my custom after dinner. At six I had an appointment of consequence, which it was quite indispensable that I should keep. The policy of insurance for my dwelling-house had expired the day before; and some dispute having arisen it was agreed that, at six, I should meet the board of directors of the company and settle the terms of a renewal. Glancing upward at the clock on the mantelpiece (for I felt too drowsy to take out my watch), I had the pleasure to find that I had still twenty-five minutes to spare. It was half-past five; I could easily walk to the insurance office in five minutes; and my usual siestas had never been known to exceed five-and-twenty. I felt sufficiently safe, therefore, and composed myself to my slumbers forthwith.

Having completed them to my satisfaction, I again looked toward the timepiece, and was half inclined to believe in the possibility of odd accidents when I found that, instead of my ordinary fifteen or twenty minutes, I had been dozing only three; for it still wanted seven-and-twenty of the appointed hour. I betook myself again to my nap, and at length a second time awoke, when, to my utter amazement, it still wanted twenty-seven minutes of six. I jumped up to examine the clock, and found that it had ceased running. My watch informed me that it was half-past seven; and, of course, having slept two hours, I was too late for my appointment. "It will make no difference," I said: "I can call at the office in the morning and apologize; in the meantime what can be the matter with the clock?" Upon examining it I discovered that one of the raisin stems which I had been filliping about the room during the discourse of the Angel of the Odd had flown through the fractured crystal, and lodging, singularly enough, in the keyhole, with an end projecting outward, had thus arrested the revolution of the minute hand.

"Ah!" said I, "I see how it is. This thing speaks for itself. A natural accident, such as will happen now and then!"

I gave the matter no further consideration, and at my usual hour retired to bed. Here, having placed a candle upon a reading stand at the bed head, and having made an attempt to peruse some pages of the _Omnipresence of the Deity_, I unfortunately fell asleep in less than twenty seconds, leaving the light burning as it was.

My dreams were terrifically disturbed by visions of the Angel of the Odd. Methought he stood at the foot of the couch, drew aside the curtains, and in the hollow, detestable tones of a rum puncheon, menaced me with the bitterest vengeance for the contempt with which I had treated him. He concluded a long harangue by taking off his funnel-cap, inserting the tube into my gullet, and thus deluging me with an ocean of Kirschenwässer, which he poured in a continuous flood, from one of the long-necked bottles that stood him instead of an arm. My agony was at length insufferable, and I awoke just in time to perceive that a rat had run off with the lighted candle from the stand, but _not_ in season to prevent his making his escape with it through the hole, Very soon a strong, suffocating odor assailed my nostrils; the house, I clearly perceived, was on fire. In a few minutes the blaze broke forth with violence, and in an incredibly brief period the entire building was wrapped in flames. All egress from my chamber, except through a window, was cut off. The crowd, however, quickly procured and raised a long ladder. By means of this I was descending rapidly, and in apparent safety, when a huge hog, about whose rotund stomach, and indeed about whose whole air and physiognomy, there was something which reminded me of the Angel of the Odd--when this hog, I say, which hitherto had been quietly slumbering in the mud, took it suddenly into his head that his left shoulder needed scratching, and could find no more convenient rubbing-post than that afforded by the foot of the ladder. In an instant I was precipitated, and had the misfortune to fracture my arm.

This accident, with the loss of my insurance, and with the more serious loss of my hair, the whole of which had been singed off by the fire, predisposed me to serious impressions, so that finally I made up my mind to take a wife. There was a rich widow disconsolate for the loss of her seventh husband, and to her wounded spirit I offered the balm of my vows. She yielded a reluctant consent to my prayers. I knelt at her feet in gratitude and adoration. She blushed and bowed her luxuriant tresses into close contact with those supplied me temporarily by Grandjean. I know not how the entanglement took place but so it was. I arose with a shining pate, wigless; she in disdain and wrath, half-buried in alien hair. Thus ended my hopes of the widow by an accident which could not have been anticipated, to be sure, but which the natural sequence of events had brought about.

Without despairing, however, I undertook the siege of a less implacable heart. The fates were again propitious for a brief period, but again a trivial incident interfered. Meeting my betrothed in an avenue thronged with the elite of the city, I was hastening to greet her with one of my best considered bows, when a small particle of some foreign matter lodging in the corner of my eye rendered me for the moment completely blind. Before I could recover my sight, the lady of my love had disappeared--irreparably affronted at what she chose to consider my premeditated rudeness in passing her by ungreeted. While I stood bewildered at the suddenness of this accident (which might have happened, nevertheless, to any one under the sun), and while I still continued incapable of sight, I was accosted by the Angel of the Odd, who proffered me his aid with a civility which I had no reason to expect. He examined my disordered eye with much gentleness and skill, informed me that I had a drop in it, and (whatever a "drop" was) took it out, and afforded me relief.

I now considered it high time to die (since fortune had so determined to persecute me), and accordingly made my way to the nearest river. Here, divesting myself of my clothes (for there is no reason why we cannot die as we were born), I threw myself headlong into the current; the sole witness of my fate being a solitary crow that had been seduced into the eating of brandy-saturated corn, and so had staggered away from his fellows. No sooner had I entered the water than this bird took it into his head to fly away with the most indispensable portion of my apparel. Postponing, therefore, for the present, my suicidal design, I just slipped my nether extremities into the sleeves of my coat, and betook myself to a pursuit of the felon with all the nimbleness which the case required and its circumstances would admit. But my evil destiny attended me still. As I ran at full speed, with my nose up in the atmosphere, and intent only upon the purloiner of my property, I suddenly perceived that my feet rested no longer upon _terra firma_; the fact is, I had thrown myself over a precipice, and should inevitably have been dashed to pieces but for my good fortune in grasping the end of a long guide-rope, which depended from a passing balloon.

As soon as I sufficiently recovered my senses to comprehend the terrific predicament in which I stood, or rather hung, I exerted all the power of my lungs to make that predicament known to the aeronaut overhead. But for a long time I exerted myself in vain. Either the fool could not, or the villain would not perceive me. Meanwhile the machine rapidly soared, while my strength even more rapidly failed. I was soon upon the point of resigning myself to my fate, and dropping quietly into the sea, when my spirits were suddenly revived by hearing a hollow voice from above, which seemed to be lazily humming an opera air. Looking up, I perceived the Angel of the Odd. He was leaning, with his arms folded, over the rim of the car; and with a pipe in his mouth, at which he puffed leisurely, seemed to be upon excellent terms with himself and the universe. I was too much exhausted to speak, so I merely regarded him with an imploring air.

For several minutes, although he looked me full in the face, he said nothing. At length, removing carefully his meerschaum from the right to the left corner of his mouth, he condescended to speak.

"Who pe you," he asked, "und what der teuffel you pe do dare?"

To this piece of impudence, cruelty, and affectation, I could reply only by ejaculating the monosyllable "Help!"

"Elp!" echoed the ruffian, "not I. Dare iz te pottle--elp yourself, und pe tam'd!"

With these words he let fall a heavy bottle of Kirschenwässer, which, dropping precisely upon the crown of my head, caused me to imagine that my brains were entirely knocked out. Impressed with this idea I was about to relinquish my hold and give up the ghost with a good grace, when I was arrested by the cry of the Angel, who bade me hold on.

"'Old on!" he said: "don't pe in te 'urry--don't. Will you pe take de odder pottle, or 'ave you pe got zober yet, and come to your zenzes?"

I made haste, hereupon, to nod my head twice--once in the negative, meaning thereby that I would prefer not taking the other bottle at present; and once in the affirmative, intending thus to imply that I _was_ sober and _had_ positively come to my senses. By these means I somewhat softened the Angel.

"Und you pelief, ten," he inquired, "at te last? You pelief, ten, in te possibility of te odd?"

I again nodded my head in assent.

"Und you ave pelief in _me_, te Angel of te Odd?"

I nodded again.

"Und you acknowledge tat you pe te blind dronk und te vool?"

I nodded once more.

"Put your right hand into your left preeches pocket, ten, in token ov your vull zubmizzion unto te Angel ov te Odd."

This thing, for very obvious reasons, I found it quite impossible to do. In the first place, my left arm had been broken in my fall from the ladder, and therefore, had I let go my hold with the right hand I must have let go altogether. In the second place, I could have no breeches until I came across the crow. I was therefore obliged, much to my regret, to shake my head in the negative, intending thus to give the Angel to understand that I found it inconvenient, just at that moment, to comply with his very reasonable demand! No sooner, however, had I ceased shaking my head than--

"Go to der teuffel, ten!" roared the Angel of the Odd.

In pronouncing these words he drew a sharp knife across the guide-rope by which I was suspended, and as we then happened to be precisely over my own house (which, during my peregrinations, had been handsomely rebuilt), it so occurred that I tumbled headlong down the ample chimney and alit upon the dining-room hearth.

Upon coming to my senses (for the fall had very thoroughly stunned me) I found it about four o'clock in the morning. I lay outstretched where I had fallen from the balloon. My head groveled in the ashes of an extinguished fire, while my feet reposed upon the wreck of a small table, overthrown, and amid the fragments of a miscellaneous dessert, intermingled with a newspaper, some broken glasses and shattered bottles, and an empty jug of the Schiedam Kirschenwässer. Thus revenged himself the Angel of the Odd.


Posted by stuckjunction at 12:12 AM
Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006 12:22 AM
Tuesday, 25 July 2006
Contracting
Topic: Career

By Brian Eckard

Are you looking for more freedom in your career? Have you ever considered contracting? Need to find a job fast? If you have a marketable skill, such as technical writing, you can make a lot of money contracting. Writers are in high demand and based on your skills and experience, you can gain competitive wages and a steady income as a contractor. Consider my experience...

For most of my career I have been what is called now days a FTE, or a full-time employee. FTEs are also know as permanent employees. Ironically, over the years I have learned that there is really nothing permanent about being an employee. The down side of being permanent is that you never know when the ax is going to fall and end your employement. Yes, there are actions you can take to minimize that risk, but it is always there. In most places, your employer has the right to let you go without notice. However, you too have the very same right. You always have the right to let your employer go with out notice too.

Two years ago, when I came to Washington state, I left a permanent job in order to make major changes in my personal life. I arrived unemployed and with no job prospects to speak of. I had a dwindling supply of money and the challenge that faced me was to find employment as fast as possible so that my income stream could be returned and I could start to rebuild my life.

When I arrived in Dallas, Texas nine years ago I was in a similar situation where I needed to find employment. I decided to try my hand at temping it, and was able to find a six-month contract that would go permanent after the initial period. It was a great way to find a job in a new job market where I did not know anybody to network with.

I did the same thing in Washington. However, here I have found that it is possible to stay gainfully employed as a contract employee. I have also discovered that I like the lifestyle that is possible in contracting that a permanent job prohibits you from having. For example, when I am in between contracts I can get some time off. Before I started my current contract, I was off for about four weeks during the Holiday season. The last time that happened was way back when I was in college. While I was a FTE I never was able to take four weeks off, and hardly ever was able to get decent amounts of time off during the Holiday season.

Even though my family was low on funds during that time, I truly believe it was one of the best holiday seasons that I can remember. Another aspect of contracting that I like is the flexibility it offers for my schedule. Right now, my boys are in town and I have been able to adjust my schedule so that I can work four 10-hour days and end up having three day weekends. This is valuable time with my sons, and being a contractor has made that possible.

I am not bound by PTO contraints. I take my vacations when I am in between contracts, and if time off is needed during a contract it is easy to arrange since my client benefits with a reduced cost. They do not pay for time off, so when I take time it is always at my expense. If I properly budget for it, this is really not a major concern.

The agency that I work for also provides benefits, so I also have access to medical insurance--just like when I was a FTE. For me, contracting has been a very positive experience, and it has allowed me to work for companies that I might not have had an opportunity to work for as a permanent employee. Plus the knowledge and experience I gain from each assignment is priceless and helps me to keep my resume up to date and very competitive in today's job market.

Pros and Cons of contracting

Pros

  • Flexibility in work schedules
  • Time off in between contracts
  • Arrange vacations around contracts
  • Learn new job skills quickly
  • Broaden your career experiences
  • Pays well

Cons

  • Contract has a start and end date
  • Sometimes there are no benefits
  • Short term employment
  • No job security (is there such a thing?)
  • Sometimes isolated in the work environment

Conclusions

Personally, I have found a new freedom with my contracting, and since I am a technical writer, I have also discovered that it works well in the contracting market. Here in the Seattle area many technical writers work on contract due to how the Microsoft Corporation hires writers. They do have FTEs, but the vast majority of technical writers seem to be working on contract. Turnover of contractors is fostered due to a Microsoft rule that a contractor can only work for one year straight and is then required to take a 100-day break. During that break many contractors will seek gigs at some of the other corporations located in the Seattle area. If you are diligent with saving some of your money, you can even take a break and have a nice 100-day vacation! Ahhhhh….this is the life! --Brian


Posted by stuckjunction at 7:03 AM
Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006 8:19 AM
Friday, 21 July 2006
Mental Telegraphy Again
Topic: Essays

By Samuel Clemens

I have three or four curious incidents to tell about. They seem to come under the head of what I named "Mental Telegraphy" in a paper written seventeen years ago, and published long afterwards.--[The paper entitled "Mental Telegraphy," which originally appeared in Harper's Magazine for December, 1893, is included in the volume entitled The American Claimant and Other Stories and Sketches.

Several years ago I made a campaign on the platform with Mr. George W.Cable. In Montreal we were honored with a reception. It began at two in the afternoon in a long drawing-room in the Windsor Hotel. Mr. Cable and I stood at one end of this room, and the ladies and gentlemen entered it at the other end, crossed it at that end, then came up the long left-hand side, shook hands with us, said a word or two, and passed on, in the usual way. My sight is of the telescopic sort, and I presently recognized a familiar face among the throng of strangers drifting in at the distant door, and I said to myself, with surprise and high gratification, "That is Mrs. R.; I had forgotten that she was a Canadian." She had been a great friend of mine in Carson City, Nevada, in the early days. I had not seen her or heard of her for twenty years; I had not been thinking about her; there was nothing to suggest her to me, nothing to bring her to my mind; in fact, to me she had long ago ceased to exist, and had disappeared from my consciousness. But I knew her instantly; and I saw her so clearly that I was able to note some of the particulars of her dress, and did note them, and they remained in my mind. I was impatient for her to come. In the midst of the hand-shakings I snatched glimpses of her and noted her progress with the slow-moving file across the end of the room; then I saw her start up the side, and this gave me a full front view of her face. I saw her last when she was within twenty-five feet of me. For an hour I kept thinking she must still be in the room somewhere and would come at last, but I was disappointed. When I arrived in the lecture-hall that evening some one said: "Come into the waiting-room; there's a friend of yours there who wants to see you. You'll not be introduced--you are to do the recognizing without help if you can."

I said to myself: "It is Mrs. R.; I shan't have any trouble." There were perhaps ten ladies present, all seated. In the midst of them was Mrs. R., as I had expected. She was dressed exactly as she was when I had seen her in the afternoon. I went forward and shook hands with her and called her by name, and said:

"I knew you the moment you appeared at the reception this afternoon."

She looked surprised, and said: "But I was not at the reception. I have just arrived from Quebec, and have not been in town an hour."

It was my turn to be surprised now. I said: "I can't help it. I give you my word of honor that it is as I say. I saw you at the reception, and you were dressed precisely as you are now. When they told me a moment ago that I should find a friend in this room, your image rose before me, dress and all, just as I had seen you at the reception."

Those are the facts. She was not at the reception at all, or anywhere near it; but I saw her there nevertheless, and most clearly and unmistakably. To that I could make oath. How is one to explain this? I was not thinking of her at the time; had not thought of her for years. But she had been thinking of me, no doubt; did her thoughts flit through leagues of air to me, and bring with it that clear and pleasant vision of herself? I think so. That was and remains my sole experience in the matter of apparitions--I mean apparitions that come when one is (ostensibly) awake. I could have been asleep for a moment; the apparition could have been the creature of a dream. Still, that is nothing to the point; the feature of interest is the happening of the thing just at that time, instead of at an earlier or later time, which is argument that its origin lay in thought-transference.

My next incident will be set aside by most persons as being merely a "coincidence," I suppose. Years ago I used to think sometimes of making a lecturing trip through the antipodes and the borders of the Orient, but always gave up the idea, partly because of the great length of the journey and partly because my wife could not well manage to go with me. Towards the end of last January that idea, after an interval of years, came suddenly into my head again--forcefully, too, and without any apparent reason. Whence came it? What suggested it? I will touch upon that presently.

I was at that time where I am now--in Paris. I wrote at once to Henry M. Stanley (London), and asked him some questions about his Australian lecture tour, and inquired who had conducted him and what were the terms. After a day or two his answer came. It began:

"The lecture agent for Australia and New Zealand is par excellence Mr. R. S. Smythe, of Melbourne."

He added his itinerary, terms, sea expenses, and some other matters, and advised me to write Mr. Smythe, which I did--February 3d. I began my letter by saying in substance that while he did not know me personally we had a mutual friend in Stanley, and that would answer for an introduction. Then I proposed my trip, and asked if he would give me the same terms which he had given Stanley.

I mailed my letter to Mr. Smythe February 6th, and three days later I got a letter from the selfsame Smythe, dated Melbourne, December 17th. I would as soon have expected to get a letter from the late George Washington. The letter began somewhat as mine to him had begun--with a self-introduction:

"DEAR MR. CLEMENS,--It is so long since Archibald Forbes and I spent that pleasant afternoon in your comfortable house at Hartford that you have probably quite forgotten the occasion."

In the course of his letter this occurs:

"I am willing to give you" [here he named the terms which he had given Stanley] "for an antipodean tour to last, say, three months."

Here was the single essential detail of my letter answered three days after I had mailed my inquiry. I might have saved myself the trouble and the postage--and a few years ago I would have done that very thing, for I would have argued that my sudden and strong impulse to write and ask some questions of a stranger on the under side of the globe meant that the impulse came from that stranger, and that he would answer my questions of his own motion if I would let him alone.

Mr. Smythe's letter probably passed under my nose on its way to lose three weeks traveling to America and back, and gave me a whiff of its contents as it went along. Letters often act like that. Instead of the thought coming to you in an instant from Australia, the (apparently) unsentient letter imparts it to you as it glides invisibly past your elbow in the mail-bag.

Next incident. In the following month--March--I was in America. I spent a Sunday at Irvington-on-the-Hudson with Mr. John Brisben Walker, of the Cosmopolitan magazine. We came into New York next morning, and went to the Century Club for luncheon. He said some praiseful things about the character of the club and the orderly serenity and pleasantness of its quarters, and asked if I had never tried to acquire membership in it. I said I had not, and that New York clubs were a continuous expense to the country members without being of frequent use or benefit to them. "And now I've got an idea!" said I. "There's the Lotos--the first New York club I was ever a member of--my very earliest love in that line. I have been a member of it for considerably more than twenty years, yet have seldom had a chance to look in and see the boys. They turn gray and grow old while I am not watching. And my dues go on. I am going to Hartford this afternoon for a day or two, but as soon as I get back I will go to John Elderkin very privately and say: 'Remember the veteran and confer distinction upon him, for the sake of old times. Make me an honorary member and abolish the tax. If you haven't any such thing as honorary membership, all the better--create it for my honor and glory.' That would be a great thing; I will go to John Elderkin as soon as I get back from Hartford."

I took the last express that afternoon, first telegraphing Mr. F. G. Whitmore to come and see me next day. When he came he asked: "Did you get a letter from Mr. John Elderkin, secretary of the Lotos Club, before you left New York?"

"Then it just missed you. If I had known you were coming I would have kept it. It is beautiful, and will make you proud. The Board of Directors, by unanimous vote, have made you a life member, and squelched those dues; and, you are to be on hand and receive your distinction on the night of the 30th, which is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the club, and it will not surprise me if they have some great times there."

What put the honorary membership in my head that day in the Century Club? for I had never thought of it before. I don't know what brought the thought to me at that particular time instead of earlier, but I am well satisfied that it originated with the Board of Directors, and had been on its way to my brain through the air ever since the moment that saw their vote recorded.

Another incident. I was in Hartford two or three days as a guest of the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell. I have held the rank of Honorary Uncle to his children for a quarter of a century, and I went out with him in the trolley-car to visit one of my nieces, who is at Miss Porter's famous school in Farmington. The distance is eight or nine miles. On the way, talking, I illustrated something with an anecdote. This is the anecdote:

Two years and a half ago I and the family arrived at Milan on our way to Rome, and stopped at the Continental. After dinner I went below and took a seat in the stone-paved court, where the customary lemon-trees stand in the customary tubs, and said to myself, "Now this is comfort, comfort and repose, and nobody to disturb it; I do not know anybody in Milan."

Then a young gentleman stepped up and shook hands, which damaged my theory. He said, in substance:  "You won't remember me, Mr. Clemens, but I remember you very well. I was a cadet at West Point when you and Rev. Joseph H. Twichell came there some years ago and talked to us on a Hundredth Night. I am a lieutenant in the regular army now, and my name is H. I am in Europe, all alone, for a modest little tour; my regiment is in Arizona."

We became friendly and sociable, and in the course of the talk he told me of an adventure which had befallen him--about to this effect:

"I was at Bellagio, stopping at the big hotel there, and ten days ago I lost my letter of credit. I did not know what in the world to do. I was a stranger; I knew no one in Europe; I hadn't a penny in my pocket; I couldn't even send a telegram to London to get my lost letter replaced; my hotel bill was a week old, and the presentation of it imminent--so imminent that it could happen at any moment now. I was so frightened that my wits seemed to leave me. I tramped and tramped, back and forth, like a crazy person. If anybody approached me I hurried away, for no matter what a person looked like, I took him for the head waiter with the bill.

"I was at last in such a desperate state that I was ready to do any wild thing that promised even the shadow of help, and so this is the insane thing that I did. I saw a family lunching at a small table on the veranda, and recognized their nationality--Americans--father, mother, and several young daughters--young, tastefully dressed, and pretty--the rule with our people. I went straight there in my civilian costume, named my name, said I was a lieutenant in the army, and told my story and asked for help.

"What do you suppose the gentleman did? But you would not guess in twenty years. He took out a handful of gold coin and told me to help myself--freely. That is what he did."

The next morning the lieutenant told me his new letter of credit had arrived in the night, so we strolled to Cook's to draw money to pay back the benefactor with. We got it, and then went strolling through the great arcade. Presently he said, "Yonder they are; come and be introduced." I was introduced to the parents and the young ladies; then we separated, and I never saw him or them any m---

"Here we are at Farmington," said Twichell, interrupting. We left the trolley-car and tramped through the mud a hundred yards or so to the school, talking about the time we and Warner walked out there years ago, and the pleasant time we had.

We had a visit with my niece in the parlor, then started for the trolley again. Outside the house we encountered a double rank of twenty or thirty of Miss Porter's young ladies arriving from a walk, and we stood aside, ostensibly to let them have room to file past, but really to look at them. Presently one of them stepped out of the rank and said:

"You don't know me, Mr. Twichell; but I know your daughter, and that gives me the privilege of shaking hands with you."

Then she put out her hand to me, and said:

"And I wish to shake hands with you too, Mr. Clemens. You don't remember me, but you were introduced to me in the arcade in Milan two years and a half ago by Lieutenant H."

What had put that story into my head after all that stretch of time? Was it just the proximity of that young girl, or was it merely an odd accident?


Posted by stuckjunction at 9:53 AM
Tuesday, 18 July 2006
On a wing and a prayer, there but by the grace of God
Topic: Life Style

By Brian Eckard

After traveling across the United States from Texas to Washington in four days, I found myself stuck in a small motel room with three children. I had two weeks to find a job or I would be out on the streets for yet a third time in 2004. With my American dream in ruins at my feet, I had been delivered on a wing and a prayer to a new state where I wanted to make my home and start over again with my life.

My first order of business was to find work. Once I established an income stream I could then locate housing and get my children into a more stable and secure situation. Once I had a residence I could then figure out what schools they would attend and get them back on track with their education. I was in a race against time and a dewindling supply of money that was rapidly running out. I was in Washington, by the grace of God.

The very next morning my job search started in earnest. I set up a spreadsheet to track my prospects and then I went out on the Internet to Monster.com. I located jobs in the area and started to send out my resume. Each day I sent out resumes, and before I knew it I started to receive phone calls from interested recruiters. I also called around to the various temp agencies. I knew from my experience in Dallas that locating a contract position might be the quickest way back to a pay check.

The kids watched television and played games together. We had very little money available for food, and we were limited to going to fast food places. It was expensive and only made us spend our money supply at a fast clip. We limited our meals to just breakfast and dinner. I paid for breakfast, and my friend, Melissa, paid for dinner. Somehow we were able to survive like this for about two weeks.

The first weekend in Washington was fun. I had searched for a job all week and had actually scored two job interviews during that time with temp agencies. So I decided that over the weekend we would relax and have some fun. My daughter teamed up with Melissa's daughter and went over to her aunt's place. They ended up spending the night over there and my daughter seemed to really get along with everybody. She was slowly beginning to calm down. Especially after she discovered that Melissa's family was large, and there were girls there who are close to her in age. My daughter even told me that she liked the area, so I felt she was getting past her issues with moving and starting to accept the new situation that she found herself in.

The money runs out

Our second week begins with a grave money situation. There was no money available for breakfasts or to do laundry. We started to feel the pinch of unemployment. Since I had quit my job I was not able to collect unemployment. I didn’t want to look into social services, and since I was new to the area I felt I probably wouldn't qualify for any assistance anyways. The kids started to get a taste of what it was like to be hungry, and to go without. The stress level started to grow rapidly as I tried desparately to keep things going. It was a struggle to keep sending the resumes out, but I knew that job hunting is a numbers game, and I had to get my resume out in front of people in order to score interviews and then job offers. So, the job hunt continued.

Melissa and I started to figure out how to come up with more money so that I could remain in the motel with the kids. We also started looking at other options. What would we do if we ran out of money? Where would we stay? We faced the fact that even if her family wanted to help out there really was no room for me and my kids together. I didn't really feel comfortable splitting everyone up since the kids didn't really know Melissa's family. We contemplated asking for money, but how realistic is that option? I called my family for help but they were not in a postion to help out since my dad was already helping his sister out at the time. She was in the hospital and he was handling all of her financial affairs and making all sorts of trips north to Connecticut to visit her.

With no where to go, I dropped to my knees in prayer asking for help. Melissa and I both prayed. Towards the middle of the week an idea came to me to call the children's mother. Reluctantly I did. You see, we were in the middle of divorce proceedings at the time and I really didn't want to send the kids away, but I also didn't want them to end up homeless. I called her and asked for help. After explaining the situation we were in to her, she said that she would call back after talking to her family.

Even in adveristy you shall find peace

That evening, Melissa took me out to dinner and a movie so that we could get our minds off of the dire situation that I was in. Before we left we went out and brought back dinner for the kids. Then, my daughter watched the boys along with Melissa's daughter. When we came back, later that evening my daughter told me that her mother had called, and I was to call her as soon as I returned.

I called, and ended up talking to her mother. She was very polite about everything. Our focus was united on the children and keeping them safe. All of the other issues were not important right now. We had to do what was right for the kids. She told me that the family was going to fly them to Maryland. I agreed. I also felt relief because I knew my children would be safe and in a more secure situation then there were in at that time. The tickets had already been purchased and all I had to do was get them to the airport the next morning.

The look on my daughter's face was one of shock when I told the kids that they were going to be flown to Maryland to stay with their mother and her family. Their ordeal was over and things would be returning to a somewhat more normal situation for them. I apologized to my daughter for having to send her to Maryland.

Originally, she didn't want to go and live there. In Texas, I had even promised her that I would not send her there. I was breaking my promise to her because it was a better option for her that she go live with her mother in Maryland than the one she faced with me if she stayed. This was the hardest decision in my life and I also knew I was doing the right thing. That night, I felt relieved even though my own situation was still percarious. I was at peace, and I slept well.

A tearful goodbye

The next morning came quickly. We had to get up early and get the car packed up. Not only was I taking the children to the airport, but I was also checking out. The money had run out completely and I could no longer afford to stay at the motel. Melissa had arranged for me to stay with her and her daughter over at her aunt's place. So I had a place to go even though I felt very homeless. After the car was packed up, Melissa said good bye to my kids and she and her daughter left. She had to take her daughter to school and then go to work. I took my kids to the airport.

After arriving at the airport, we grabbed their bags and went to check in. The lines were long and I felt the stress and worry of what if we miss the plane? Then what? Finally we get up to the counter. I'm informed that the flight is not a non stop and the children would have to make a connection. I didn't have the money to pay for the airline to escort them so my daughter was going to have to make this connection at O'hare in Chicago. I had all sorts of bad feelings about it, and she looked scared.

Then the attendant noticed the time and realized that there wasn't enough time for us to get to the gate. In effect with all of the security procedures, we had missed the flight. So, he quickly changed our flight over to a non-stop. Now the children were flying directly to Maryland, and my daughter could escort the boys without worrying about making connections. She looked relieved. And, the change in flight was made without any additional charges to me. The attendant handed us the boarding passes and we headed for the gate.

When we arrived at the gate waiting area there was about an hour left before departure. The children were hungry, but I didn't have any money to buy them anything to eat. We sat staring at each other. Finally it was time to board. I hugged my children and we said our goodbyes. I didn't know when the next time would be when I would see them again. They boarded the plane and I stayed to watch it take off. Then, I headed back to my car and drove over to Melissa's aunt's house. For the rest of the day enjoyed talking to Melissa's grand mother while waiting for her to come home from work. At around 3 PM I drove down to the elementary school where her daughter attended and picked her up. Soon afterwards Melissa arrived home and we went out to get something to eat.

My life quckly moved into a steady routine of waking up and checking my email. Then I went out to Monster.com to send out more resumes that were then recorded on my tracking sheet. Once the job hunt activities had been completed I spent the remainder of the day taking phone calls when received, and working on one of my hobbies. During this time I also went out on interviews as they were scheduled. One of those meetings led to a contract opportunity over at Microsoft. By Thanksgiving I once again had a job and was working my way towards that first pay check.

Looking back, I was unemployed for about three weeks in Washington state before landing my first contract with Microsoft. We finished the year by celebrating Christmas at the beach. My new life was already beginning. In January of 2005 we moved into an apartment and I continued to work for Microsoft as a contract technical writer. Things were starting to look better in my personal life. However, the divorce proceedings were starting to get bogged down in an attempt to manipulate the legal system and get the proceedings to move from Texas to Maryland where my children were residing. But, that's a different story.

--Brian


Posted by stuckjunction at 1:33 PM
Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006 6:56 PM
Tuesday, 11 July 2006
A whole lotta nothin
Topic: Life Style

By Brian Eckard

My journey west had begun. I had cast all the fear, the despair, my past behind me. Ahead of me was a future that I could just barely see. All around me was a desert--a barren land with nothing to look at for miles on end. The first day of our journey west was filled with excitement, bewilderment, and a growing realization of what God was doing to protect us. We were all due for a change, and our journey would end up placing us on opposite sides of the country.

I was in the second full day of a drive westward to the Pacific Northwest. The morning had started early in a cramped motel room. Looking around the room, the boys had ended up on the floor after their sister complained that she didn't want to sleep in the same bed with them. After all, they were traumatized and tended to wet the bed. So, a make shift bed was made of blankets for the boys who were six at the time.

Their sister was also struggling with what was happening to her. The anxiety and confusion was all over her face. Just three weeks before she still had her friends and a somewhat normal lifestyle. Suddenly everything around her crashed and she found herself out on the street, homeless with her two brothers and father. With no where to go we found shelter in a local motel.

The boys were traumatized by what they had experienced in 2003. The situation grew worse in the beginning of 2004 when their mother, who was suffering from severe depression, was removed from their home by her father and step mother. The remainder of that year was full of change, from moving into an apartment to struggling to make ends meet as I forced a two income budget down into one income. The financial fallout was enormous and stressful. All my children, as well as me, were dealing with a whole assortment of emotions. It felt like we would never be able to recover.

This time it had just gone too far. I felt like a broken man with nowhere to go. I was emotionally drained. And now, it had come to all of us losing everthing we owned except for what we could fit into my car. When would this nightmare end? Why was I being destroyed? The story of Job came to my mind, and boy, I felt like Job was my name. But, that was all in the past now. I was now on a desparate journey west in an attempt to not only start over with my life, but to also find someway of getting my kids back into a stable and secure environment. They had been through enough and it was time for us to move to the next chapter of our lives. God was saving us and delivering us to a new beginning--just as He did for Job when He rebuilt Job's life after he lost everything.

Morning was upon us and we needed to get on the road. We were in El Paso, Texas and needed to be in Los Angeles by nightfall. We faced a very long drive in a car exploding with all of our belongings, and barely enough room for everyone to sit. After packing the car we drove over to McDonalds for breakfast. Eating in the car we continued our journey west. Within minutes we crossed the border into New Mexico.

Crossing the desert

Crossing that border was such a milestone. We actually cheered. For the entire first day it just seemed like we would never get out of Texas. By night fall we were still driving in a straight line across a huge state. The darkness covered us with the only lights being the headlights of other cars on the highway and the occassional town that the highway passed through. It was just a whole lotta nothin! When we drove into El Paso late that night we could see the lights of Mexico across the Rio Grande.

That morning as we drove into New Mexico the terrain started to get interesting again. It was slowly becoming hilly and mountainous. It had a reddish dry look to it. We were entering a dry and arid landscape that would follow us all the way into Los Angeles. We were starting our trek across the southwestern desert. At least now there was something to look at outside the window.

It was a beautiful clear day as New Mexico started to unfold before our eyes. As the miles rolled by the terrain became more interesting with mountains and hills. After a couple of hours of driving we came upon an inspection area on the highway. All of the traffic had to pass through, and I guess the attendants would stop you and search your car if they felt you were suspicious. We slowed down as we approached the gates, and the attendant waved us through.

Around mid morning we came upon a road side stop that was a gift shop. We pulled over to take a break from the driving and let everyone stretch their legs. Entering the store, the boys started to escape from us and explore all of the interesting items that were set out for sale. The store had all sorts of indian jewelry and other assorted New Mexico souvenirs. We bought some gifts and some toys for the boys to play with. We piled back into our cramped car and continued our long drive west.

About an hour or so later we crossed the border into Arizona. It was getting close to lunch time so we started to look for a place to stop for our next break. By this time, our surroundings were starting to look like a postcard of the southwestern desert with cactus and tumble weeds. The terrain had turned to a more brownish dry color. It looked just like a desert should look, or at least what you would expect it to look like.

We spotted a KFC and took the exit somewhere in eastern Arizona off interstate 10. After everyone had their fill of KFC chicken we once again piled into the car and continued to head west. The kids were fairly good during the day, dropping off to sleep whenever they would get bored, or just staring out the window at the rough arid looking scenery that was whizzing by their windows.

We arrived in Tucson towards the late afternoon. We pulled off for another break and stopped at a convenience store. We grabbed drinks and some snacks to munch on. After fueling up the car we once again joined the highway and continued our journey west. Tucson is special to me since I have a cousin who lives there. It also looks nothing like what I remember it. Of course, the last time I was there was in 1977 when I visited my cousin with my mom and dad. That actually was the last time I had been in Arizona.

Towards early evening we entered Phoenix. The traffic, and the speed picked up as we navigated the interstate through a maze of exits as it made its way through the city. As the sun started to set we took our last break in Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. We stopped for some coffee so that we could drive deep into the night. We had to be in Los Angeles when we stopped for the night, and from Phoenix we still had a long way to go to meet that goal. We knew we would be driving late that night.

Once darkness wrapped the car like a blanket time seemed to fly by. Before we knew it we crossed the border into California. We were deep in the southwestern desert, but due to the darkness, couldn't see a lick of our surroundings. Suddenly out of nowhere came signs announcing the last fuel stop before entering the Death Valley desert. It was late evening now, so we stopped for a break, another hit of coffee, and some really expensive gasoline for the car.

Our journey continued into the darkness as we crossed Death Valley. We all held our breath that the car would make it across without breaking down. So far on this journey we had been fortunate, and had only a blow out in Texas as our only car problem. Around midnight we finally started to see signs for Los Angeles. We also started to climb the hills and mountains to the east of the city. The wound around the terrain as we made our way into the city.

Los Angeles is really beautiful at night. Especially when you come down the hills on Interstate 10 and can see all of the lights. I have never driven on the Los Angeles freeways and I felt confident that at midnight we would be in light traffic. How wrong I was. It was like rush hour with cars zipping around us as we tried to navigate the winding highway. These people were crazy, going 80 or more miles per hour zipping up and down these hills.

Finally we picked up our connection with Interstate 5. This was the final highway that would take us all the way up the west coast to Washington. We were finally reaching a good stopping point where we could begin the final leg of our long journey to a new home. In Burbank, we spotted a motel and pulled over for the night.

The west coast

On the third day we woke up to another beautiful sunny day. We were in Burbank and our goal was to be in Sumner by the end of the day. Would we be able to make that kind of distance? Would our energy remain strong so that we could make the long drive? Like Texas, California was our next large state to travel across. Since we were traveling north, we would have to drive the entire length of the state in order to get to Oregon.

Before we left, the kids called their mom to let her know everything was okay. After the phone call we packed up the car, checked out of the motel and drove down the street to a McDonalds for breakfast. Again, to save time, we went through the drive through to get our breakfast. We ate on the road as we started our trek north.

In California the landscape is brown, interupted by brief spots of green. It is a dry, arid landscape that is frequently interupted by lush green areas where farming is taking place. Farming in California is interesting because the only way they can do it is by bringing in the water for irrigating the crops. This is all possible because of an extensive network of canals that were built to facilitate farming in the region.

In the mid morning we decided that we needed to stop for some gas and coffee. We pulled into the coffe shop drive through, and my car sounded horrible. After getting the coffee we pulled over to the gas station/market. Melissa went in to get some things and I fueled up the car. I also checked the oil. To my surprise, the dip stick came out dry. We had run through most of the oil! I went into the store and bought enough oil to fill the engine back up. From that point onwards we regularly checked the oil. Our drive had caused a new problem with my car. It started to leak oil. In Texas, it had never had this problem before. We thanked God that the engine had not locked up due to no oil, and that He led us to stop and check the oil. Another potential problem was averted with His help. Our journey north continued.

By lunch time were were just short of being half way up the length of California. We found a place to grab lunch and fuel up the car, so we pulled over. After lunch, we piled into the car and continued our journey. We decided that we wanted to divert our drive a little bit and go over to San Francisco. My children had never been on the west coast and I wanted them to see some of it as we drove through.

Our side trip into the city started with us crossing the Oakland bridge. We then jumped off on one of the exits and promptly got ourselves lost in San Francisico. We stumbled onto Lombard Street, the crookedest street in America. We navigated down the steep hills as my car made all sorts of new noises as the brakes struggled to stop the car. It was used to the flatness of Texas so the brakes had never had this type of workout before. We made our way across town and over to the Golden Gate. We saw the Pacific which is absolutely beautiful in the San Francisico area. We crossed the Golden Gate and decided to make the next leg of our journey north on Highway 101, the Pacific Highway. It was nice to take a slower pace on our journey and do some sight seeing.

By late afternoon pine trees had started to line the road, almost like a path was being unfolded before our eyes leading us to freedom and a new beginning. we were ready for another break, and the car needed some fuel. So, we found another gas station/market and pulled over. The oil in the car was doing fine and with the car filled up with gasoline I pulled over to the store. We went in and picked up some food for dinner. We decided to eat there instead of in the car just so that the kids could stretch their legs a little bit.

After dinner we piled into the car and continued our journey. Our goal now was looking for our connecting road that would take us back over to Interstate 5. By early evening we found the road and we were headed east towards the freeway. It would be dark when we finally get back onto the interstate.

Once we were back on Interstate 5 we continued a northward journey. We still had quite a ways to go before we would cross the border into Oregon so this was once again turning into a long drive deep into the night. We also started to realize that we were'nt going to be in Sumner WA that evening. We made alternate plans and decided that we would stop in Oregon for a few hours sleep and then early Monday continue our trek north. We wanted to be in Washington in time for my fiance to be able to go to work late.

We stopped for some more coffee around 11 PM. After about an hour we started to drive into the mountains around Mt. Shasta. I have never driven in mountains on grades that were this steep before--especially on an interstate. It was quite an experience and nerve racking to say the least. We finally crossed over into Oregon around midnight. We continued our drive north but now we were looking for a place to stay for a few hours sleep. We came upon a motel and pulled over for our much needed break. It was about 1 AM and we were planning on leaving to finish our drive at about 4 AM that morning.

Washington at last

The dawn of our final day of driving came sooner than any of us wanted. Forcing ourselves out of bed we dressed and packed up the car. Once again we piled into the cramped confines of the car and continued our journey north. This part of the drive took us into the mountains and deep into the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest. The interstate twisted and climbed and dropped as it negotiated the terrain and elevations of the surrounding hills.

After the sun came up we stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds. It was cold, a lot colder than Texas and the kids were'nt dressed for the cooler air. People stared at them because of their shorts and t-shirts. After breakfast we continued northward. Later in the morning we stopped again for some coffee.

By late morning we arrived in Portland and saw our first rain on this road trip. As we crossed into Washington it was pouring. It would rain for the remainder of the trip to Sumner. When we arrived in Tacoma we took an exit and ran over to my fiance's parent's house. There we picked up her car. We followed her over to the motel she wanted us to stay in.

Money was in short supply and the rates were just too high. So we once again looked for a Motel 6. We found one over in Fife where the money we had would keep us in shelter for about two weeks. Once we got into the room and unpacked we all crashed on the beds and fell asleep.

We had done it. It took us about four days to drive from Plano, TX to Fife, WA. It was a journey of desparation, of despair, and of adventure. It was a leap of faith that would seem fool hardy to the outside observer. It was also a trip of necessity since we had no where else to go.

And, our adventure was only beginning. I now had two weeks to find some work or face being out in the streets with my kids. But, that's a different story for another time. --Brian


Posted by stuckjunction at 1:35 PM
Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006 1:08 PM
Friday, 7 July 2006
A phoenix in the valley
Topic: Life Style

A phoenix is a mythical bird that rises up from ruin. My story begins at the end of an 18 year marriage. It is mid January 2004 and I find myself alone with three confused and scared children. We are sitting in a house that I know I will lose. I didn't make enough money to keep us in our home. There was no child support, no extra money available. The choices I was forced to make were between putting food on the table or paying a mortgage and having very little money left for other needs. There were some in my breaking family that even told me that the financial mess I faced was my problem. 

I knew I would have to go this journey alone, and make some of the hardest decisions in my life that would ultimately affect my children. It would cause pain and suffering within my extended family, and for some, anger and dismay at my actions. Being a single parent is hard, and I was simply not prepared for what I faced.

There were good things that happened too. I met up with an organization and a social worker in Texas who helped me get my immediate situation to calm down. She also helped me by signing me up for parenting classes. You see, single parenting is a whole different ball game than parenting with a spouse.

Feeling abandoned, alone, and cold from the cruelty of this world, I watched my American Dream crash around me. The pain that I felt, and the loneliness I experienced caused me to believe my life was over. I was simply existing and taking each day as it came. My own family was there for me. They did not abandon me, and we talked frequently on the phone. They helped where they could, and at one point, my aunt even offered me her life's savings so that I could keep my children off the street. I simply didn't want to start my life over again. The darkness that I was in seemed like a thick murky soup of fog. It was very unclear what direction I should go. I was emotionally drained. I was exhausted and numb to feeling anything for anybody. These were desparate times, and it broke my heart to see the anguish and fear on my children's faces.  

Deep inside me there was a flicker of light. This light was actually hope--hope in a future, that my life was not yet over. This hope was kindled back in 1997 when God told me to go to Texas, for it was there that I would meet somebody. Until this point in time I never really understood what that preminition meant. Afterall, when I heard it I was married. At first I believed I was going to meet somebody in Texas and God had some mission or ministry for us to do there. Little did I know that God was simply pointing out that I would meet somebody there after my marriage had ended. He even told me that I would have sons in Texas just so that I would know this message was from him.

In 1998 my twin sons were born in Texas, fulfilling a promise that would kindle hope deep within my heart of a future and a purpose. This first year out of my marriage was a pivotal time. It was a time of change, a time of fear, and a time of despair. By spring of that year the creditors had started to descend on me like vultures. As each attempt was made to collect on a debt, threats were made, and all sorts of legal action threatened. This stress quickly became more than I could bear. My American dream had become a living nightmare.

It was a cool spring morning when I went online to check my emails. One caught my eye. It was from a person interested in becoming a pen pal with me. Of course, in the 21st century a pen pal is more an email pal. We quickly struck up an online friendship and swapped emails on a regular basis. Our ages were far enough apart that neither of us ever thought our pen pal friendship would go any further. She was a writer, and worked in a bank. She also lived on the west coast.

Our friendship continued to grow, and the more I found out about her the more I wished I could be with her. I kept my feelings to myself. During this time I also met someone else who happened to live in Russia. That friendship looked as if it was headed towards being the person I was to meet. I asked God for help. He told me that the one least likely was the one I was to meet. Russia seemed very unlikely to me, so it never dawned on me that it would be my pen pal.

One day I was telling my pen pal about the Russian, and she made a remark that exposed her feelings. I prayed to find the way I should go. The answer came with God moving the Russian out of the picture, and making a path for me to my pen pal. By early summer I knew I had met the person I was supposed to meet. However, she wasn't in Texas.

My kids went to see their mother in July of that year. My pen pal and I decided to meet. Originally I was going to fly out to the west coast, but she insisted on coming to Texas. It was agreed, and at the end of July--the last week before my kids returned I met my pen pal in Texas--just as God had told me would happen back in 1997. When we met it was like we were old friends and both of us knew we had a good match. Our age difference really wasn't an issue.

The phoenix had started to rise out of the ruins of an American dream that was broken and destroyed. It didn't matter anymore that I was losing everything, and that I was bankrupt with nowhere to go. God had given me a new life and the flickering flame of hope deep within me was starting to become strong.

After my kids returned from their visit they started back to school. We settled into a new routine as a family, and I started to prepare them for the fact that I was going to move on with my life. My daughter was upset that it meant she would have to leave Texas and her friends.

The end came in October of 2004. I lost my apartment and once again I found myself alone with three children. This time, with no where to go. We were on the streets. I put us up in a local motel, which provided us shelter while I figured out what I should do next. Even though my family told me to come home, I decided that I wanted to go to the west coast and start over there with my pen pal. The decision was made and I quit my job. My pen pal flew into Texas and together we made the drive with my three children to the west coast. The phoenix had risen and started to fly.

--Brian


Posted by stuckjunction at 3:36 AM
Updated: Monday, 17 July 2006 11:51 AM

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