Monthly Archives: July 2013

Answering the Ultimate Paradox

Book Review ~ God’s Problem by Bart D. Ehrman, Available for under $15.00

problemAlthough I write because I have read, I also read in order to write better.  Consequently, even with pages and pages of notes collected through the years regarding my own developing interpretation of the Book of Job, I still seek more information.  Some of that is technical.  Meaning I seek out the people who are working on the language of the Old Testament.  People who know something about the structure of the oldest version of the text before us.  People who know something about the archaeology and anthropology of the time periods involved.  This is where I start.

After I have the “setting” of my project I move on to what other people think the lessons might be, or if there is one at all.  This is my method in my current work, Why Me? Come let us Reason with Job.  As I move through my draft I have researched the history of theological and philosophical thought regarding this passage of the Hebrew canon.  Now, I have reached a stage in that research that is leading me through the more modern thinkers, some very well known, some rather obscure.  One of the writers I chose to read is a rather popular author and a James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill.   He is Professor Bart Ehrman and this is not my first experience with his writing. I have always found him informative, easy to read and challenging.  He makes me think and I happen to enjoy thinking.

As mentioned, I have read a number of Professor Ehrman’s books and watched several of his lectures.  As a scholar he is passionate about his subject matter.  Whenever I read or listen to his work I feel like he is taking me on an exploratory journey that will challenge the way I think.  I always learn something, even if I disagree.  And, sometimes I do.

I sincerely believe that a book such as God’s Problem should be read, and studied.  I believe that the questions that Ehrman raises should be confronted and addressed.  In fact, some of the questions he raises are the very reasons I am writing my own rendition of just what went on all those centuries ago when in fact or in literature a man stood and demanded an audience with his Maker.  Let’s talk a bit about what Ehrman has to say.

Beginning with the prophets of the Hebrew bible, we are reintroduced to the things that we don’t really pay much attention to when we are preparing Sunday School lessons.  The Old Testament is a violent and bloody book.  The “bad” guys are not always the ones causing murder and mayhem.  There are many passages that, unless you choose to bend things in uncomfortable angles, the God of Israel takes direct responsibility for the devastation of people, creatures of all sorts, ecologies and whole countries, if not the entire globe.  Too often we write this off as justice (since it came from God) without really considering the innocent lives involved.  Many modern day “prophets” use this scenario as an excuse to blame every disaster on someone’s sin – rarely, if ever their own.

Another answer to suffering analyzed in the book is the apocalyptic view.  This is the view that here on earth there is suffering and travail because evil powers are being allowed to rule the earth for now.  Someday, however, God’s judgment will fall and all evil with be done away with, all suffering will end, and a new world will take form where there is no suffering. In the meantime, it will be hell on earth.

A third interpretation brought out in scripture, and discussed by Ehrman, is that there really isn’t any answer to suffering.  In this case we just have to make the best of what is here because there really is no logical, theological or philosophical reason to support why we should suffer.  At least not for all suffering.  It is certainly reasonable to understand that when we do certain things there is a piper to pay.  If we drink and drive, we can injure ourselves and others.  If we smoke, we may get cancer.  If we choose not to care for our bodies, we will get sick.  This is a cause and effect we can understand.  But in the case of much of the suffering in the world, well, we’re still searching.

Last, but certainly not least, Ehrman explores the answer called redemptive suffering.  This teaching looks at suffering as a temporary evil that prepares us for a greater good.  Or that through one person’s suffering another person finds a greater truth.  This point of view could cause nightmares.  I actually find the author’s journey rather compelling.  He tells how he first became challenged by the simple act of thanking God for his food.  Why, he thought, should I be so special that God would feed me and let millions more die of starvation?  What right do I have to such a special dispensation?  What right do I have to be thankful for something that 850 million people in this world do not have?  Especially when I live in a world where that is not necessary?  In case you’re wondering, he actually does try to do something about it.  If you are interested, his support foundation can be found here.  I think, though, you get the point. A sensitive person may look at his or her relative comfort and feel something more deeply than a simple, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Now the thing I find interesting is that the interpretation of these teachings of scripture, and they are indeed, what scripture has to say about the matter, are all predicated on one assumption.  That we understand what it is that God “is.”  We base all of our assumptions on an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving Sovereign of the universe and then attempt to figure out how such a being could know everything, and love each and every one of us – and allow suffering.  Therein we find the paradox.  A paradox which arises from our own reasoning.  A paradox that Job faced and just might have solved.

I recently read a book entitled God and the Philosophers.  In an article by David Shatz, an orthodox Jew, there is a quote that goes something like this, God does not follow us around looking at each and every action in order to pass out spankings and lollipops according to our daily performance.  A kindred spirit.  Although I may see this somewhat out of context, I interpret some of Ehrman’s point of view as casting God in a domestic violence case.  Someone who beats up his children for every infraction and sometimes not bothering to tell them what the infraction was or because someone else needed to learn a lesson.  This, of course, is not how I view a Sovereign deity at all.

I firmly believe that at the heart of the matter is our interpretation, our “assumption,” of what God is or does.  I believe if we spend a little time with Job, if we “gird” ourselves and prepare to answer the questions put to us, we just might find some answers.  They may not be the ones we want.  They may, however, give us a better sense of what our place in this vast universe really is.  I can tell you that I don’t believe it is crushed and groveling in the dirt.

I am always open to feedback and love to see your comments.  I will not approve attacks, rude commentary or baseless profanity.   Other than that, I am on a journey, just like you, and I don’t mind being challenged.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, My Journey with Job

The Songs of Kiguli Return

The countdown begins. In one week, August 3, 2013, we will launch a fundraiser to help us publish and market The Songs of Kiguli – 2013. We will also be reissuing the first volume and adding a DVD. This DVD will be something special as it includes footage from the school and of the students reading their poetry. As a special treat, the DVD will include three pieces for Qwela, a jazz and traditional band from Kampala, Uganda. The campaign will be hosted on Indiegogo – stay tuned for the link. And just to tease you? Here is the trailer.

This will be the second year PDMI Publishing has produced a book of poetry written by the students of the Ugandan Kiguli Army School under the direction of their volunteer teacher, Philip Matogo. Last year we sent each student a copy and spread the word through newspapers and Amazon. This year we are organizing a much larger effort. We are adding a DVD with footage of the students reading their poetry backed by the Kampala band, Qwela. We are also developing a marketing campaign to turn their hard work into dollars for their school. Help fund the future by supporting these talented young people.

By going to the public (including our friends and acquaintances) for funding, we will be able to expand the marketing reach of both last year’s and this year’s publication. We will also be sending extra copies to the school so they can add them to their new library and to sell them locally to raise funds for other needed books. We have developed personal relationships with the teacher and his charges and we want to accomplish something financially effective for them. We also want to support the students that work so hard to pour out their hearts and give voice to their lives. We’d love to have you on board!

The school has a number of items on their wish list and proceeds from the sale of these publications could help in a very real way. They need reliable transportation, renovation of current buildings and additional class rooms. Sales of the books and DVDs will help them reach these goals and does so in a way that involves the students themselves.

You can help by spreading the word of this fund raiser, the books, and the DVDs. You can also help by contacting Africa heritage museums, cultural centers and art centers to see if they would be willing to stock the books in their gift shops.

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Introducing Dementia – A Glimpse from the Eyes of the Afflicted: Final Installment

Part the Third – The illusion of visual interpretation

The illustrations for this part were used in a previous post, but I’ll be sure to include them again.  These are examples I have collected that may be familiar to you but will also remind you of the tricks our brains play on us when it comes to what we see – or don’t see.   We often play games with optical illusions to see if the eye is tricked into following the focal point, of if we can focus on the reality that is hidden.  These exercises illustrate two concepts I’d like to address in this section.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in my writings, our brains do an incredible job of interpreting the world around us by using our five senses. Everything we know, after all, starts with seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling. Although that input seems seamless to us it really isn’t. In order to save “storage space” and to process things quickly, our brains pick up pieces of what we see and convert that to a whole picture. And, while it seems instantaneous it actually does take a measurable amount of time between sensory input and mental interpretation. It also creates a “story” to inform you about what that thing you see/hear/feel/taste/smell means and what you should do about it. There is only one problem with this marvelous creation – our brains lie. Yes really.

The illustrations I have included here are simple.  In the first graphic, your eye tends to believe that the parallel lines are bent.  They are not.  The radiating lines trick your brain into seeing something that is not there. parallel lines

The second illustration is that of a light bulb.  Look at the drawing for the count of 15-20 then look away.  I wouldn’t recommend much longer because the image will last a little longer than comfortable.  You will find that your eyes see a “negative” of the graphic and that the image is somewhat burned into your vision. When your mind is no longer tracking time correctly, or correctly interpreting the visual information you receive, images from your memory can interfere with the real world around you.  Again, this interpretation of reality is every bit as real in the mind of a person with dementia as things that you see are to you. lightbulb

This group of photographs is a collection of owls perched in various natural habitats where they can be completely camouflaged.  How easy is it for you to locate each owl?  How easy would it be if you could not picture what it was you were looking for and accurately compare that image with what is in front of you?  The brain can only interpret the input provided based on what it is able to draw from memory.  If that memory is corrupted or no longer functioning at all, the world becomes less and less meaningful.owls

It is for these reasons that I have learned to do more showing rather than telling in our home. The point here is to keep aggravation and emotional triggers at a minimum. For instance, I make sure that when we are at the grocery store I show him each lunch I am purchasing for him in hopes that he will eat it.  He will read about the contents and look at the pictures. For instance, he knows he doesn’t like a lot of fancy looking vegetables. I am also not always certain that he knows what is in the box.  He does, however, know that I have asked him to help me pick things out and he is more likely to eat something because of that.   Showing, reinforcing and repetition (without increasing volume) will go a long way to reducing confusion.

The important thing to understand is that when a person loses the ability to comprehend abstracts, that person’s interpretation of the world becomes filtered through an entirely different thought process than what we use every day.  If you cannot understand abstracts how can you understand that what you see may not be what is really there?  Can you comprehend that something is a shadow or a reflection?  Once you “see” something in a certain order, how easy is it adjust your view?  Even when you have reasonable cognitive control?  After all, you do see it don’t you?

This is something that I have understood in some ways for quite some time.  I think, though, I didn’t internalize it and see it for the problem it causes the person suffering from dementia.  Take for example a case where he believes that there are people sitting in our car which is parked in our car port.  Is it a reflection his eye is not interpreting correctly?  Is it a timing sequence thing and he actually sees us sitting in the car as we might look on occasion?  Is it a memory in his mind that has floated free of its roots and attached itself to the most convenient interpretation?

Whatever the cause, what the person afflicted with dementia “sees” is every bit as real in their brain as what you see and firmly believe to be reality.  Belittling or dismissing the event will accomplish nothing.  If it means that one or both of you must go check the car, check the basement, open doors or turn lights on or off, then that is what you must do.  The more confidence you build in the individual that you take them seriously; the more responsive they will be to you when you try to explain that you have handled the situation.  I constantly remind my husband that I am the only lady that lives in our home.  Although he will insist that is not true, he seems far more comfortable with that solution than having me tell him I don’t know who these people are, where they have gone or if they might come back.  Look for the solution with the lowest aggravation and emotional impact.  Sometimes it takes a day or two, sometimes it comes back.  I know that it is a constant effort for me to explain that I am “that woman” wherever and whoever I am throughout the day.

Part the Fourth ~ Humor and the art of not “managing” by not managing.

One of the things I am often asked is “how do you manage.”  My short answer?  I don’t.  “Manage” in this context sounds like something you drag yourself through, hour by hour.  Or, perhaps something that requires a huge amount of effort and exhausts every part of your being.  It is hard? Do I get frustrated?  Do I cry? Yes, oh, most definitely yes.  Do I miss him, the man I married?  Oh, yes, with all my heart and soul.  But, I am no good to him or myself if I don’t start from where we are, acknowledge the limitations and find ways to move forward.  I don’t “manage.” I find ways to enjoy where we are now.  If you are dealing with a patient, look for pieces of remaining personality.  If it is a loved one, cherish the little odd things of the day that give you something to smile about.  Above all, do not blame the person or yourself.  That individual is not sitting around thinking up ways to irritate you or to fill your days with endless requests, minor upsets, and changes in mood or attitude.  They live in a world that is no longer anchored in reality.

Once you are able to truly separate what was from what is you are far better equipped to see the lighter side wherever it can be found.  You are also better prepared to automatically seek the less emotional option in any situation.

You also find yourself more sensitive to changing moods and when it might be time to quietly step away for awhile.  Asking a person with dementia what is wrong is a futile exercise.  They do not know and you only confuse the issue by pressing.  Always seek the simplest answer and provide only the amount of information required for the task at hand.  You are not going to win a logical argument; logic no longer plays a part in the function of a brain affected by dementia.  Deflect, reassure, support.  It will be a lot easier on both of you.

I’ll close with this little tale.  One night I was sitting at my computer trying to finish something or other I thought important and I heard him digging around in our bedroom.  Doors and drawers were opening and closing – I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.  In those cases it is usually best to check on things.  When I opened the door to the bedroom he was standing there with one of our decorative cushions in his hand.  I asked him if he needed something.  Yes, I can’t find any pillows.  But, dear, there are pillows on the bed.  Well, yes, but that other woman uses them and I want you to have pillows.  He had actually made a space in the middle of the bed, next to him, where he could add a pillow – for me.  I started to giggle.  I told him I didn’t think it would be a problem, I was sure I could use those pillows.  No, he was certain, there had to be more.  So, (giggling) I showed him where we kept the extra pillows and assured him that when I got ready for bed if the pillows were taken I knew where to get more.  This seemed to satisfy him for the moment.  Somehow I got terribly tickled by the notion that he wanted all of his ladies to have pillows.  I giggled so hard I got tears in my eyes.

Humor.  It doesn’t mean you are laughing at your loved one or a patient.  It means that you look at life with a sense of the practical joke it can sometimes be.  It is what changes things from “managing” to living through a different phase of your life in the best way possible.

This series is now being presented as a talk to several organizations in the Seattle metro area.  If you would like someone to speak to your organization, then by all means leave a comment.  Either myself or my hard-working promoter would be happy to make arrangements.

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Introducing Dementia – A Glimpse from the Eyes of the Afflicted: Part the Second

I posted the first segment of this series on June 9.  The title was Launching my Speaking Career: Part the First and it provided first segment of a talk that I give.  This is the second part of that talk, a piece that I hope will give my readers some understanding of how the mind suffering from dementia handles the concept of time.  So here we talk about Time, the biggest abstract of all.

Time is such an elusive concept that even philosophers, neurologists, physicists, cosmologists and mathematicians have difficulty trying to describe exactly what time is.   It drives us, eludes us, and holds us captive.  Unless, of course, our mind no longer understands just what it is that this thing “time” demands.  Some very good resources that describe what we do and do not know about time are Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene (in Book and DVD form) and an episode entitled “Does Time Really Exist” from Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman(among others). And yet, with all of the complexity we are discovering about time or space-time, those of us with basic cognitive abilities manage to work within its constraints.  Even tribes in the deep of Amazon jungles which have no terms for “time” do have a concept of which season follows which and what activities one does during each of those seasons.

Time as a concept in any form fails almost entirely within the mind affected by dementia.  When that happens, an amazing number of anchor points in our lives no longer exist.  You might think of a ship at sea suffering from a sudden loss of navigation systems when it’s too cloudy to see the stars.

Losing the “navigation” system of our lives causes a number of issues.  For instance, one of the things time does is provide a sequence of events.  It provides a logical framework for cause and effect in the activities going on around us.  I have included some photographs in this article to better illustrate my point.

 

climbing

The first one in the series is a sequence of a person climbing on a rock.  Looking at the picture, can you tell if the sequence shows the person climbing up or down the rock?  Can you be certain of where the sequence begins?

The second photograph shows a sequence of a girl in a swing.  Is it evident when the camera first started to record the action?  Did the action in the shoot start at the top of her swing to the right, the left?  Was she at the bottom of her swing?

swing

 

 

 

 

 

The last photo is easier.  You can tell what the appropriate sequence is once you look closely enough.  However, was it immediately apparent?  Did your eye automatically travel from left to right before you stopped and looked closely enough to see the direction the skateboarder was really traveling?

skateboard

(All photos are examples used by Photoshop to illustrate sequence photography and the use of the program).

For an individual that still retains their cognitive abilities exercises such as these are merely quirks of perception.  However, they illustrate a very real problem when discussing the perception of a person with dementia.  The inability to correctly identify the order of a sequence of events can have far reaching impacts.

I find that my husband goes from understanding that an event will not take place until later today, tomorrow, or next week, to having no concept of “wait.”  Whatever it is must happen right now this minute.  Or, knowing that we are going somewhere at 1:00, he’ll be ready to go a 10:00 and will get frustrated at me for waiting so long to leave.  Often he decides he is not going at all.  This happens with doctor’s appointments where I don’t have a lot of time flexibility.  So, I try to schedule as early in the morning as I can. This kind of planning reduces stress on both the care giver and their charge.

Time warping (if you will) also impacts sleep patterns.  So far my husband and I have managed well most of the time.  I will not get up before 4:00.  If he presses the issue I will start his shower and go back to bed.  Sometimes he is very apologetic, sometimes we just work through the situation.  If you live in an area where the seasons cause a large variation in the daylight hours, it can be even more difficult.  I know that sometimes in the far north I will wake up thinking I have overslept and yet it is still “night.”  Think of how that works out in a mind no longer able to track time.  Occasionally I have a very difficult time convincing him it is still the middle of the night with or without light.  I have learned that to some extent I have to let him be up and around.  I no longer take it personally if he gets upset because I remain in bed.  He will, eventually, get over it.

I mention in my book that I feel that time displacement could be a factor in Sundowning.  This is a condition experienced by many folks with dementia which causes them to sleep during the day and be up and wandering around most of the night.  I don’t think that is the problem that I currently face.  I do feel, however that this, and other types of time disorientation can be mitigated by using routine.  Depending on the severity of the situation, routine can conquer a number of issues.

To the best of my ability we do the same or similar things every day, week day or not and we do them at close to the same times and in the same order.  I realize that can’t always happen; life doesn’t come in neat packages.  However, to the best of your ability, keeping a regular schedule, every day and in a similar order helps a person with dementia develop a set of simple expectations.  I notice that when I put things out of order my husband gets terribly confused and works to bring things back to normal.  An illustration might help in this instance.

Not so long ago I found it necessary to replace my husband’s file cabinets with something easier for him to operate.  He no longer understood that you can only open one drawer at a time. To him, they were broken.  After trying a number of solutions to the problem I finally gave up and ordered some storage cabinets with doors.  Through the whole process, emptying old cabinets, moving old cabinets, waiting for new cabinets, reloading new cabinets, he was almost constantly agitated.  He was so upset over the whole affair that he completely lost his appetite and ended up taking naps a few days.

The real problem came the first day the cabinets were expected.  I received a brief, automated message that said my cabinets were late and would be delivered on the 15th.  That was the day they were supposed to be delivered.  All day on the phone and I never received a firm answer as to whether or not the cabinets would arrive that day.  I even fixed dinner before we went to the store so we wouldn’t keep him up too terribly late and so I could still wait to the last possible moment a UPS truck might arrive.  They never did.  In the meantime the routine had been broken.  When we returned from the store, as late as it was, he began setting the table for dinner.  It was far easier to fix a bedtime snack than to try to explain that our “routine” had been disturbed and we had already eaten.  Habits are life savers and you should try your best to create and maintain them.

Another tool I find useful is calendar counting.  Whenever it is obvious that something is important to him I mark it on the calendar and we count each day as it goes by.  This method doesn’t solve all issues (such as “no one told me we were going to the dentist then”).  It is a way of imposing structure where there is none.   As a side note you need to remember that “reminding” a person with dementia that you have told them certain things and have done so a thousand times is counter-productive.  It will infuse the situation with emotionally charged reactions that accomplish nothing.  I have learned to respond with something like, “Well, someone was supposed to, I will try to find out what happened.”

We talked a bit about sequences of events.  There is another aspect to drawing correct conclusions from what you see or think you see and in what order your brain interprets them. I recently watched a program which presented the work of an Associate Professor of Psychology.  Donna Rose Addis works at the University of Auckland and her research involves using MRI scans to see how our hippocampus contributes to our ability to construct future events.  The hippocampus, you may know, is the seat of our memory.  This is the storage room for all the things we know and can recall.  What her research has shown is that when we are asked to build a possible scenario about a future event, we rely quite heavily on our past experience.

This all seems reasonable when you think about it.  We learn by analogy.  We compare new things to the things we know and draw conclusions based on similarities.  What happens, though, when the storage room no longer functions adequately?  How do you envision a future event if you can no longer track the sequence of events that might lead up to it?  Going on a trip to visit your children or relatives in another state doesn’t mean much if the mind can no longer draw reasonably successful comparisons based on previous trips.  It’s that time thing again.  Losing the grasp of the sequence of life, of what actions cause what outcomes, sets the individual adrift on a cloudy sea without a navigation system.  Consider this when your patience wears thin.

I am being asked to publish and expanded version of Who I Am Yesterday.  The project will include a re-write of related articles from my blog, some poems, and photos from our week on Vancouver Island; the point it all suddenly changed.   Projected release is sometime late this fall.  In the meantime, the original can be found on Amazon.com or at the link provided on the page dedicated to the work on this blog.  Do you have an experience you would like to share?

This series has one more post in it:  the shifting sea of who we are and all those extra people.

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Book Review ~ Life at the Turn of the Century (no, the previous one)

Some time ago I posted a blog about my friend Connie’s book, Wild hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock.  She wrote the piece as a part of a series I was running about research for historical writing.  The book intrigued me and I wanted to return one day to give it a read.  I’m very glad I did.

CraigieCoverSmOne of the things that history books cannot give us a real feel for is what it was like to be an every day, ordinary citizen, traveling this life at any particular point in time.  Most of our history is written after the fact by scholars or during the event by journalists, reporters, kings and leaders, the folks that get attention.  Every now and then, stored in an attic, left in some forgotten storage unit we stumble upon a gem.  Some small window into the past told in the words of the “every day guy” that lived it.  Charles Henry Craigie is probably NOT what some people would consider an “every day guy” but he is an excellent guide into a world now gone.

Craigie was born at a time when America really was wide open for opportunity.  His father was the type of person that wanted his children educated, but if they could find a job where they could learn a new skill or learn to live and work with different people, then school could wait.  Craigie took that opportunity and ran with it.  As he tells us his story he invites us on his mental journey as well.  Talking to his future reader in a conversational tone about the things he sees and what he thinks should be done about it all.

Craigie travels to the Philippines during the Spanish American War.  This is a time before an organized military and things were a bit “every man for himself.”  Having had quite a bit of experience in the National Guard and in management before entering the war, Craigie soon gets involved in all sorts of special activities.  The US government didn’t always deliver on promises to get fellows home in a hurry, so Craigie took a leisurely route through Japan.  Rather than pursuing the usual shore leave pastimes, he took the opportunity to learn about a people and a culture much different from his own.

Timing puts him in Europe during the WWI, as well.  He keeps us by his side as he maneuvers through a military that still isn’t all that organized.  This time he was told he couldn’t go home because he might be needed; so he organized an education program for any service man that wanted it in English and Scottish universities.  By now you know him well enough that you know he has plan in mind.  He spends the remainder of his overseas service attending university and absorbing all he can of the culture of the British Isles.  By now he is becoming quite a connoisseur of foreign cultures.

The book is a delightful rendition of Craigie’s own words, carefully edited to keep his spirit and his times and to bring the period alive for the reader.  There are notes about historical events that fit within the story (duly researched by Mrs. Pierce).  The best part, though, is the flavor of Craigie’s opinions on life, economics, war, production, the way of the world and the love of his country.  It is a quick read that, for a moment, transports you to a parlor in a sprawling farm house sometime in the late 30s early 40s to hear your favorite Grandpa tell you stories.  He was a perceptive fellow and I think you will enjoy getting to know him.  In his own words:

“It’s been a good life, an extremely interesting one.  This is the life story of an American working man; not fiction, but the facts of life as ay honest man can find, if he is interested enough in his own affairs to run his life as a free man.  As the old recipe for cooking a rabbit says: First, catch your rabbit!”

Craigie can be found on Amazon.com and on Facebook

 

 

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