Friday, January 1, 2010

How Many?

By John I. Blair

How many stars in the sky?
How many fish in the sea,
Grass stems on the plains,
Sand grains at Timbuktu?
You may as well guess why
I love you.
Yet I do.

©2009 John I. Blair

Consider This

By LC Van Savage

’Tis, as we all know, the season for being thankful, so Mongo and I, just like you, are thinking about all the things for which we’re grateful, and in our lives they’re pretty incalculable. Well, OK, we’re not actually doing that, although if the subject comes up, we’ll go for it.

In fact and in spite of really loud, rude groans, I force everyone drooling around the Thanksgiving table to state the things for which they’re most thankful before they dive into the food like snarling wolves. Most of the answers from our disrespectful progeny are fairly unprintable, all pretty funny, very loving and all of them, to a man as usual fix me with their well-rehearsed Death Ray until I release them to the groaning board.

But one thing I’m really most thankful for is the people who actually read this column and who send me or suggest “great ideas” for future columns. If any of you is reading this, thank you again. Any one of you planning on speaking to me in a public place with some great ideas, go for it! I fear no one. I carry Mace.

Sometimes the ideas are great, sometimes a little scary, and often, my apologies, they’re just idiotic. I was once asked by a teacher to come and give my ideas on column writing to her class once a week for a year and then write a column about it which would include a contribution from each of her 37 students. Daunting. She emailed me with this proposal and I asked her if I didn’t have to have some kind of certificate or something to go in and “teach” her class. Hey, if I had 37 kids to teach I might be looking for someone to come in too, once a week. But for a year? Yikes. I said no and I thanked her.

I was once asked by a happy woman who appeared to be in her 11th month of pregnancy if I’d like to watch her at-home birth with doula and midwife and write about that. Nope. Double nope. Heck, I wasn’t even keen on being there for our own sons’ births.

How would I like to put in a big backpack and hike Mt. Washington and then write about it? I would not, thank you very much. Isn’t that the mountain on all the bumper stickers that brag about having driven up there? If driving up that mountain is so laborious one has to boast about it with a bumper sticker, then I’m inclined to think LC hiking would be a major oxymoron. Can’t happen. Hiking? Ummm—no.

Would I be interested in going to a bar and getting wasted and then writing about the experience? OK, the inviter wasn’t too hard to look at, but, oh I don’t know, marriage to Mongo for 5 decades means never having to say you’re sorry. And since I don’t drink I think getting boozed up in a local pub would result in some marathon sidewalk hurling and I’d be really sorry about doing that as would the innocent passers-by.

”Hey LC!” this man said as I was leaving a hotel lobby, and I forget why I was in a hotel lobby. “I have got a great idear for your article.” (Now you should know that I get very pissy when anyone calls my column an article, but I’m too much of a lady to have made a scene.) “And that would be?” I said rather icily. I enjoy being rather icily when I can pull it off, which in general is never. But I shouldn’t have iced up on him. I mean after all, how could that well-meaning stranger know that the word “article” annoys me? “Well,” says he, “I ignored a restraining order and have to go to court tomorrow and will probably go to jail right after, so why don’t you come up in a few days and do a kinda day in the life article about a guy in prison? Me.” Well, I’m not sure,” I said. “I’ve never met you, so maybe that won’t be such a good idear. Idea. But what exactly was the restraining order for?” He told me. I listened. I blanched. I told him that in the main I pretty much agreed with that restraining order and walked rapidly away. Really, really rapidly, and as anyone who knows me knows, I do nothing with much rapidity.

I’ve been asked if I’d be interested in writing about the life of garden snails, of making beer at home, the sex life of deer ticks, the search for topless beaches in Maine, home brewed anti-wrinkle cream, how to make granola, and once someone asked me if I’d be interested in writing about her torrid affair with Pablo Picasso. I was really very interested until after a bit of basic math I realized she was born a year after he’d died, so an affair with the great artist would have been no easy trick. But wow, that would have been a coup of some sort, right?? I sigh. After that, someone wanted me to review some at-home movies and write about them, then someone’s at-home music CDs, someone’s grandchild’s book of poetry on gnomes, would I please write about someone’s favorite candidate, grandmother, pet, charity, illness, religion, etc. etc. No, no, no, no, no and no. Thank you for thinking of me. Nice of you. No.

I don’t mean to be flip about this because I’m truly thankful in this season and in fact all year to all of you for your remarkable suggestions. You do keep the home fires burning for me, reading this column and making suggestions. If this were not a family paper I’d tell you a whole lot more story proposals that were, let us say, a tiny bit on the blue side, but it is, so I won’t. I assure you that no one’s ever been obscene, depending on one’s definition of obscene, but, well, never mind.

So on Thanksgiving Day I embarrassed and annoyed everyone by forbidding them to take a single bite of anything until they’d said, out loud, reasons for which they were thankful. Now these confessions don’t have to make everyone all misty, but they have to be a couple of cuts above -– well, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

So folks, keep those cards and letters coming, emails too. I love your ideas and hope you’ll never be hurt or offended if I don’t or can’t use them. I give you my thanks anyway. Lots of them.

Click on Link below:
for author's bio and list of other work published by
Pencil Stubs Online


By John I. Blair

For years I’ve dreamed about you,
Thought about you, written
Letters, posted urgent pleas
For help to keep your kind alive

And roaming in the wild,
Uncounted miles from here,
Our cozy, sheltered home
Where wolves do not exist

Except as cute and fuzzy dolls
That sit on bookshelves,
Howling only when I squeeze
Their little bellies,

Hair-erecting records
That I play on Halloween
To frighten kids,
Poignant photographs on calendars.

I sometimes wonder (thinking
With a sector of my brain
That formed ten million years ago)
What feelings I might have

Alone in night-dark woods
With nothing but a pointed stick
If I heard your padded paws
Behind me on the path.

©2009 John I. Blair

When Baby Sparrows Fall

By John I. Blair

What do I do
When baby birds persist
In leaping from their nest,
Plummeting to my patio,
Then wiggling helpless,
Featherless, blind,
Without a clue or hope?

Do I stare at them in alarm,
Lying there, dying there?

Do I scoop them quickly
Out of sight and mind,
A premature contribution
To the compost heap behind my shed?

Do I transport them without ruth
To exposed slabs so
Blue jays, crows, rats
Can come to sup on fresh meat?

Or do I, probably in vain,
Trying to be kind and cause no harm,
Pick them up, one at a time—
Their fat little bellies,
Flailing wings and legs,
Limp heads in my warm palm—
Climb up the house side
And stuff them back,
There, most likely,
To expire, but at least
Calmed by the smell of home?

©2003 John I. Blair


By John I. Blair

The sand's so fine and light
It drifts across the beach
With any breeze.

But realize this sand is mountain stuff,
The ghosts of mighty peaks
That sheltered dinosaurs.

Inch by inch they crumbled.
Dinosaurs became just bones and tracks.
The mountains disappeared.

>But slabs of rock don't really vanish;
They wear to cobbles, pebbles, grains,
Then wash down to the Mother Sea.

There they tumble out and back
A hundred million years,
Sheltering clams and crabs,

Until they fuse
To form the spine
Of mountains yet to rise.

©2003 John I. Blair

Oh Where

By Mary E. Adair

Oh, Where does all the trash come from
That blows down the street, rat, tatty-tum
That piles up against the fences and walls
And when the doors open blows into the halls.

There are gum wrappers, circulars, bits of foil
And some are tarnished with dirt and oil
There are plastic bags that sail like a kite
And cans that tumble when the wind shows its might

The old newspapers left out on some lawn
By a paper thrower who came round at dawn
Are blown into bits and completely scattered
The news once reported now definitely tattered

I fear the trash represents our worst traits
Buying things just to toss into the grates
Letting go of whatever without even a glance
Once bought perhaps someone's beauty to enhance

Well, it doesn't beautify the path it now takes
When the wind rips off lids, and the trashcan shakes
Then over it rolls, and debris flies to the sky
Dead leaves, fireplace ashes, vegetable parings awry

And due to our advances making plastic so strong
It may last forever, at least for very long,
Leading some historian far in the future to ponder
If we really thought our bread was a wonder.

©2009 Mary E. Adair

Love is Lost

By Bruce Clifford

I see the signs all around me

Each warning shot across my bow

Truth and wisdom call out my name

This won't be the last time I know this somehow

You're not listening

You're not paying attention

What am I missing

This is not your latest invention

Treasure is lost

Treasure is found

Love has a cost

When you throw it around

It's not being mean

It's not being fair

Love is lost

And you don't seem to care

©12/07/09 Bruce Clifford

I Heard

By Mary E. Adair

I heard the voices
Of those passed away
And each only spoke
Of a brighter day..

Of the worries which
Plagued them here on earth
They never mentioned
Devaluing worry's worth
Then slowly I began
To understand more
It was as though
Someone opened a door

The answers are there
For questions uttered
And peace flows into
The belief that fluttered

Soon strength was built
Within my heart
For helping others,
I knew I could start

So daily I listen
And seek God's will
To guide my footsteps
Up over the hill.

©2009 Mary E. Adair


By John I. Blair

Word is out this week;
The Feds will finally knuckle under
To the sporting PACs
And agree to say
It’s okay
To kill as many cormorants as we want.

And after all,
Who has better right to fish
In American waters:
Common predators,
Or God’s own humans,
Given dominion over Earth
And all its creatures
By fiat domini?

So what if bird huggers
Pop a vein
And say that we’re insane?

That just makes me chuckle.

I plan to still be casting bait
When cormorants,
Like those tasty passenger pigeons,
Are just memories.

©2003 John I. Blair
(Originally published on


By John I. Blair

In January, 1953,

I found this dark stone
On the California shore
Amid the wrack and shells
Where chill Pacific surf rushed in
And the tumbled coastal range
Seemed to all but vibrate.

It was my first sight of the sea;
All the beach was built of cobbles,
Black as night,
A rough, funereal rim
To an inconstant continent
Accreted by apocalyptic
Collisions in slow motion.

I don’t know if this basalt
Was born of ancient agonies
Far out in the ocean
On some then-tropic isle
Or more recent gouts of lava
Jetted cataclysmically
From grinding, drifting plates.

All I saw at not-quite-twelve:
A preternaturally smooth
And silent rock, absorbent of all light,
That might take and shelter secrets,
Even mine. I pocketed the thing,
Still wet from surf, smelling
Of kelp, sticky with foam.

And now, another century,
I keep it at my desk,
Holding it from time to time
To feel the coolness, hardness,
Indifference to me, or life,
Gaia’s heart exposed
Here in my warm and human hand.

©2009 John I. Blair

Bad Advice

By Bruce Clifford

The way things were told to us was simply bad advice

The things we followed through with we should have never thought of them twice

Seeing lines through the window and minutes in the sky

Making love with madness as the days seem to pass us by

How did we get here to this place

Was it worth the time it took

Did we really need to take a look

The way things were told to us was simply bad advice

The makeup of this chemistry should have warned us to realize

Seeing daylight in the shadows as the memory soon fades

Wishing for this madness to go away so we can move on to better days

Bad advice

Why think twice

Bad advice

How did we get here to this place

Was it worth the time it took

Do we really need to take a look

©12/5/09 Bruce Clifford

Thinking Out Loud

Even after living eighty years a confirmed and committed Jew, I still find some things about “being Jewish” difficult to understand. For example, over half-a-century ago when my wife and I announced our engagement, gifts from the family started to pour in. Now understand that my future wife and I, both college students, had yet to earn our (symbolic) first dime and had a joint bank account with fifty bucks in it.

Still, most of the gifts were fit, if not for kings, then for dukes and duchesses. For example: a series of sterling silver serving trays; a set of six tiny olive forks (sterling, of course); a graceful, long-necked sterling coffee pitcher with matching cream and sugar bowls and a weighty chaffing dish cast in that ubiquitous metal. I remember using those tiny forks once or twice during the next fifty-odd years and still have them. But, the half ton or so of sterling – thoroughly blackened and never used – we threw out when we moved to Florida. In truth, we did try to foist them off on our cleaning lady of thirty-odd years who said ever so politely, thanks, but no thanks.

Yet in retrospect, this nouveau riche orgy had an impact on my wife and me, because the first time we had two-nickels to rub together we ran out and bought a complete set (service for 12) of fine china. But we never ate off them in fear of breaking a dish, which would be a shame because of the cost. So in effect, we had a set of dishes too good to use.

In her later years, my mother-in-law who retired to Florida in the ‘70’s, acquired a second set of dishes “too good to use” (and trust me, she never did!) with an eye, no doubt to having, when that day finally came, one set of dishes for each of her two daughters.

And so it came to pass that my wife and I ended up with a second set of dishes too good to use. This meant, and try to follow this as best you can, dear reader, that – because of lack of cupboard space – we had to throw away our every-day dishes and use our heretofore ‘too good to use dishes’ as our everyday dishes. So now as the years tumble by, my wife and I – because we have two daughters – are contemplating acquiring a second set of ‘too good to use’ dishes to avoid complications arising when that day finally comes. I guess one might say, “What goes around comes around” (especially with Jews!).

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

    " A kind Irish landlord reigned despotic in the ardent affections of the tenantry,
    their pride and pleasure being to obey and support him."

(Sir Jonah Barrington)

Karl Marx said that landlords love to reap where they never sowed and the landlords of nineteenth century Ireland got a bad press.

John Hamilton of Donegal was an exception to the rule. In 1821, at the age of 21, he inherited Brownhall Estate, 20,000 acres in County Donegal. Most of the estate was in the vicinity of Donegal town. He also owned a large area of land in the Finn Valley.

From the time he took over the estate until his death in 1884 his main concern was for his tenants. In 1841 Fr. Eugene McCafferty wrote that he hoped "that the Lord may grant you happy and lengthened days here among a people to whom you are and always have been so useful". And years later Fr. John Doherty, (who was no lover of landlords) wrote of how, "his many social virtues, the kindliness of his disposition, and the natural warmth and goodness of his nature have endeared him to his tenantry". It is said that, during the famine, only one of Hamilton's tenants died of starvation.

He kept a diary during his three-score years as a landlord which was published in book form, with an introduction by Rev. H. C. White, B.A. during the eighteen nineties. Rev. White wrote that when Hamilton took over the estate he found a very backward peasantry and, " . . . ascribed their wretched conditions to the demoralizing effect of penal laws that depressed industry."

He built a cottage on the island of St. Ernan and it is an indication of his popularity that his grateful tenants build a causeway over which, on completion, the landlord's carriage made a historic journey.

A stone plaque proclaims:

    mutual love between John Hamilton and the people of Donegal, both his tenants and others, through a time of bitter famine and pestilence.

    One historian summed up the great and generous man, "He devoted sixty years of his life to improving the conditions of his tenants. He moved freely among them, giving advice and listening to their complaints; he visited their homes and knew the particular circumstances of every family on his estate. Hamilton was not typical; indeed men of his stamp are rare in any community. But it is the very fact that he was untypical that makes his experiences instructive."

    He started his journal early in life and in it he showed a literary ability and a keen power of observation as well as a deep understanding of mankind:


    My dear good grandmother, Lady Longford, took
    us as her own, and her house was our own and her
    heart a mother's heart to us till ten years after my
    mother's death. I kissed my kind grandmother for
    the last time a few minutes before her death. Not
    long after my mother's death we had all three a
    severe illness, measles, I think, and after it we were
    taken for change of air to the Secretary's Lodge in
    the Phoenix Park by our kind aunt, Lady Wellesley,
    Sir Arthur being then Chief Secretary for Ireland.
    One evening, while there, a curious circumstance
    occurred, considering who one of the person s concerned
    came afterwards to be. Sir Arthur and my
    uncle Henry Pakenham (afterwards Dean of St.
    Patrick's) took my brother and me out to walk. Evening
    came on-dinner-time drew near, and the
    boys were weakly and could not run fast, so Sir
    Arthur took me on his back, and my uncle Henry
    took Edward and set off running. Soon it became a
    race. I was a good deal the heavier and my uncle
    Henry, then about twenty-two, was very active and
    left us far behind fort he first couple of hundred
    yards. But Sir Arthur had bottom and began to
    regain his lost ground . And at last came up close to
    his antagonist, shouting, and both put out their
    utmost speed and both shouted with all their lungs.
    The gate was to be the winning post and with a wild
    Hollah! Sir Arthur passed to the front and won by
    a few yards, but in half a minute was a prisoner in
    the custody of the guard mounted at the gate, and
    who in the dusk did not perceive who the disturbers
    of the peace were.

    The diary chronicling events over most of the nineteenth century covers such subjects as relatives deaths, the Duke of Wellington's advice on education, the author's time in Cambridge (he was fluent in six languages) and the state of agriculture. Detailed accounts of Orange demonstrations, 'educating and civilizing backward peasants' and a sermon by Dr. Newman are covered in an erudite and readable fashion. With, in-dept, accounts of the famine and the treatment of prisoners, one revealing entry deals with "Christianity and war." In the Barnasmore Bugle, of Friday 20th December 1884, the editor wrote, after Hamilton's death,

    " . . . six years ago when John Devoy called for the 'abolition of landlordism' and a year later when Charles Stewart Parnell said ' You must show the landlords that you intend to keep a firm grip on your homesteads' they could not possibly have been referring to men like John Hamilton. Had Arthur Young lived in the time of Mr. Hamilton he would have been reluctant to use adjectives like, lazy, trifling, inattentive, negligent slobbering and profligate to describe all Irish landlords. We, the people of Donegal, have lost one of our finest."

    THE LAST ENTRY in John Hamilton's diary made shortly before his death shows that he was, truly, a man before his time:

    The people to be worked upon
    are very different from the Irish population of 1798,
    and require different handling. Imperfect as their
    education has been, they are far in advance of those
    of former days. They can be got at to be raised in
    the scale of the peoples, as the insurgents of 1798
    could not be got at , -and they cannot be put down
    and quenched as the men of 1798 were by brute
    force. It is true that stirred up by agitating orators,
    they seek and some expect things which in no
    possible case they can get. Their leaders or mis-leaders
    generally know this well, but find it suits
    their purpose to excite - the masses by false hopes
    of rising suddenly into prosperous possessors of the
    land by throwing off the Saxon yoke. It is not to be
    denied that some who formerly led the insurgents in
    Ireland had some of the qualities of patriotism, but
    they lacked the judgment which goes essentially to the
    completion of a true patriot and so became
    miserable failures,-miserable themselves and
    involving multitudes in their misery, leaving also a
    legacy of vain aspirations of national glory as a little
    independent nation, instead of the truly glorious
    position of being an essential part of the United
    Kingdom, and having an equal share in the Government
    and in the prosperity thereof. Every time
    such agitators have stirred up the population of
    Ireland, their followers have shown less and less
    inclination to follow them to the bitter end,-and
    this for two reasons. The Irish of to-day are wiser
    ' both from better education and from bitter experience,'
    -and the English have become wiser and juster,
    more ready to admit their brothers of next door
    into their family. Still it has proved nearly if
    not quite as hard to root out English prejudice as
    Irish hostility, and unhappily these keep each other
    alive and the evil dies but slowly. There is, however,
    a kind of Home Rule which is looked upon as not
    only possible but desirable by many English statesmen,
    such as that a committee of Irish members
    should sit in Dublin and transact a quantity of Irish
    Parliamentary business, which can not be as well
    transacted, if at all, in England; or that Local Councils
    should be appointed for the four provinces of Ireland.
    Some such modification of Parliamentary powers
    might probably be of advantage to both countries.
    To conclude,--we must have patience. Every
    time the case of England and Ireland is considered,
    a brick is taken out of the wall of partition which
    separates the two countries, and even a few pages
    such as these, may have some effect in promoting
    harmony and banishing discord.

    The journals of John Hamilton,

    " Sixty Years of an Irish Landlord "

    are now available on CD-ROM.

    Details from:


    By Thomas F. O’Neill

    Getting to know you

    It was her tenth year as an emergency room nurse and she certainly earned her pay at the Hospital. But most nights Betty Almond dreaded working the emergency room shift. The overtime hours were taking a toll on her. Every night there were gunshot victims, assaults, and stabbing victims. They came through the emergency room doors and she treated them as if she was running on automatic pilot. She tried her best to keep a psychological distance from her patients but the harder she tried the closer she got to them. It just wasn’t part of her psychological disposition to be distant from people.

    She also did her best to maintain a routine in treating the patients. The emergency room environment was chaotic to say the least. It was not your normal nine to five office job that Betty’s husband was use to working. She was putting in long hours at the hospital and her husband began to see some negative changes in her attitude. She just wasn’t her normal optimistic self and life seemed to be weighing her down.

    The near death cases in the emergency room and those that did die on her watch came with the job. But those emotional experiences were not something she trained for or prepared for and ten years in the emergency room was beginning to weigh on her emotionally.


    She noticed that every evening a scraggly bum of a fellow would stroll into the emergency room’s waiting area. The coat, shirt, and pants that he wore looked as if they were never washed, and constantly worn. She wondered to herself when first seeing him. If the clothes that scraggly fellow was wearing were ever removed from his body. He was after all homeless, and she quickly noticed how his hair and beard were unkempt. He was just downright dirty, and he brought an odor with him of burnt ash.

    He made his daily visits to the emergency room because he liked their coffee which he didn’t have to pay for. When the coffee pot was empty he would politely inform the emergency room staff that the pot was in desperate need of refilling. He would also remind them if the powdered cream or sugar had run out. Most of the staff ignored the homeless chap but Nurse Betty enjoyed humoring the fellow who was known as, Phillip Hobbs. She saw something in his smile even though he only had two remaining front teeth.

    “You sure make good Coffee,” Phil said to her.

    “I’m glad you enjoy it,” Nurse Betty replied, “we like to please our repeat customers.”

    “Well I’ve been helping myself to the coffee here for five years now,” said Phil.

    “I see that,” said Betty, “so why do you come here for coffee.”

    “It’s so busy here it’s almost like I’m invisible,” he said, “no one cares I’m here and I don’t bother anyone, no one bothers me and besides you’re nice.”

    “Where do you live?” She asked.

    “Under a bridge,” was his reply.

    “My god! doesn’t it get cold?” She asked.

    “Naa we burn garbage in a large metal drum for heat,” he said a matter of factly.

    She refilled his cup and started to return to her duties.

    “I wasn’t always like this you know. I was decorated three times for valor in Nam,” he said with great pride, “boy was my Father proud. I ignored the baby killer comments from the college preppies because I was no baby killer. I was a medic during the war in Vietnam. I saved lives and helped people like you’re doing here now.”

    “I’m sure there are jobs that you could do for money so that you don’t have to live on the street,” she said, “there are agencies that can help you.”

    “Too many rules,” he said.

    “Too many rules?” she asked, “what do you mean.”

    “Those agencies have too many rules; they wanted to put me in a group home with a curfew. No beer and what not,” he said with some agitation in his voice, “I’m an adult not a child.”

    “Well you should apply for cash assistance and low income housing,” she said.

    “Well some of my friends sell their blood for money,” he said, “not me though I’m scared of needles.”

    “You used to be a medic,” she said laughing, “and you’re scared of needles.”

    “Those needles were being applied to the people I was helping not being stuck in me,” he said.

    “Nothing to it just a small prick,” she said, “not that painful.”

    “That’s okay I will pass on the bloodletting,” he said while taking a gulp of his coffee.

    Nurse Betty turned once again to enter the Emergency room.

    “You know, I wasn’t always like this,” Phil said to her, “five years ago I just broke down and lost everything. I was living back then from pay check to pay check. I lost my job, then my house, and my car, so here I am but I get by.”

    “It’s good getting to know you,” she said to him.

    “You’re a good Nurse, I see that in you,” he said, “you care about people.”

    “You’re a good person, too” she said to him, “I wish there was more I could do for you. No one should live on the street; everyone should have a roof over their head.”

    “I’m doing all right,” he said trying to maintain his dignity, “really it’s not that bad.”

    Betty told her husband about Phil as they ate breakfast at their kitchen table. She told him about the medals he received for his Valor in Vietnam.

    “The war has been over for ten years now he must have some serious issues,” her husband said while reading the morning paper, “the next time he comes around call the hospital security. He has no business being there.”

    “He’s harmless,” she said.

    Every day Betty made sure the coffee pot was full and each day she went out of her way to engage Phil with some small talk. Phil not only enjoyed Betty’s Coffee. He also enjoyed the feeling of being visible. He may not have been all that visible to the other staff but Betty treated him as a full fledged human being. There was just something about Phil she liked.


    There are those unforeseen circumstances that have a tendency to plow over us when we least expect them. One of those unforeseen events came to Betty on a November night in 1985 when a drunk driver careened his vehicle into her car. She was seriously injured and for the first time in her life she returned to the emergency room not as a hospital employee but a critically injured patient.

    Her husband arrived at the hospital shaken up and visibly distraught.

    “How’s my wife,” he shouted to a nurse.

    “Calm down they're working on her now,” a nurse said to him.

    A short time later a Doctor came out to the waiting area, “what is your blood type?” he asked Betty’s husband.

    “Type A positive,” he replied.

    “Your wife is in urgent need of a blood transfusion,” the Doctor told him, “but we can’t locate her blood type. She’s type AB negative, a very rare blood type.”

    “You mean she might die?” Betty’s husband said frantically.

    “We’re trying to locate type AB negative blood,” the Doctor said.

    “Are you Betty’s husband?” asked the scraggly looking, homeless man.

    “And you are,” came the sarcastic response from Betty’s husband.

    “Your wife makes the best coffee but I don’t know who made this it’s downright awful,” Phil said with a cup of Coffee in his hand.

    “Look what the hell is this bum doing here?” Betty’s husband said to the Doctor in an agitated voice.

    “He’s one of your wife’s associates,” the Doctor replied.

    “Is there anything I can do I used to be a Medic,” Phil asked.

    “We got everything under control,” said the Doctor as he turned to walk away.

    “Please locate that type AB- blood,” said Betty’s husband.

    “We are doing our best,” said the Doctor as he returned to the Emergency room.

    “You need type AB- blood?” Phil asked.

    “Get away from me you freak,” said Betty’s husband visibly angry.

    “You said you need type AB blood,” Phil repeated.

    “Look if you don’t get the hell away from me I’m going to call hospital Security,” Betty’s husband yelled.

    “Is this man bothering you Mr. Almond,” asked a Nurse, “are you bothering this man,” she said to Phil.

    “Sorry but I was just trying to say that I have type AB negative,” said Phil, “but I will just drink my Coffee over there in the waiting area.”

    “Look,” Mr. Almond said very loudly, “you don’t have any kind of communal diseases or anything do you?”

    “I just need a haircut -- you won’t catch anything from me,” said Phil.

    “It’s Betty I’m worried about; my wife is getting your blood,” Mr. Almond said. He paused for a second and stared in disbelief as the Nurse took Phil into the Emergency room.

    Well, Phil endured the needle and Betty received her transfusion.


    “Well we are practically blood relatives now,” Phil said to Betty in her hospital room.

    “That was awfully sweet of you Phil,” she said.

    “I sure miss your Coffee, Nurse Betty, I don’t know who took over making it since you’ve been laid up in this room,” Phil said to her, “the coffee down there is just downright awful.”

    “Hank,” Betty said to her husband, “I think Phil can fit in one of your suits.”

    “What,” Hank said in a shocked voice.

    “He’s about your size,” she said.

    “No, No,” Hank repeated, “he can get his own suit.”

    “Take him out for a haircut too and a Cappuccino,” she said to her husband.

    “Look now that’s going too far,” said Hank, “next you’ll be having him move in with us.”


    “I hope I’m not putting you guys out of your way,” said Phil at their kitchen table while wearing Hank’s pajamas.

    “No not at all,” Hank said angrily.

    “Now, Hank, be nice,” said Betty, “you look so much nicer now Phil with a haircut and shave.”

    “And not to mention my pajamas,” Hank said angrily. “You got him wearing my suits, dress shirts, ties…”

    “Hank,” Betty said in a stern scolding voice, “he needs to look professional if he’s to get back on his feet.”

    Not quite sure of the moral of this story, but it’s a nice story worth sharing. Phil did eventually get back on his feet during the dot com boom of the mid nineties. He did quite well for himself reselling designer computer mouses online. But unfortunately, when the internet bubble burst in the late nineties, so did Phil’s company. Phil is happy though, living out of Betty and Hank’s garage, and once a month he donates blood at their local blood bank.
    Betty and Hank had their only child a daughter in 1986, and they had their first grandchild in 2008. As retired grandparents, they enjoy spending time with their granddaughter. Their daughter Angela refers to Phillip Hobbs as Uncle Phil and she visits him often in her parent’s garage.

    Always with love, from Suzhou, China.

    Thomas F. O’Neill

    China Cell: 8615114565945

    Skype: thomas_f_oneill

    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by
    Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.




    Editor's Corner

    By Mary E. Adair

    Happy January 2010

    Christmas holidays were spent with family with eighteen for the meal, and only 12 or 14 bedding down each night. All the requisite menu items plus treats piled high on trays (isn't the news that dark chocolate is healthy a boon to entertaining?) wherever one looked. Pies, pumpkin, cherry, pecan, tempted grazing ever so often, and can anything duplicate the essence of Christmas aromas?

    Although the scales traveled along on the trip, they didn't shame anyone too badly, and back home again, they didn't prolong the holiday increases. Hurray for that. As your editor types, she is smelling supper that the cooking editor is preparing and soon all eyes will be trained on the televised celebrations and the traditional 'wait and count as the Ball drops.'

    Bruce Clifford shares a couple poems for this New Year, "Bad Advice" and "Love is Lost." John I. Blair, sent along six beginning with "Basalt," which is almost a meditation, and lovely. Other titles from him are: "Cormorants," "How Many?," "Sand," "When Baby Sparrows Fall," and "Wolf." The other two, "I Heard" and "Oh Where" are by yours truly.

    John I. Blair is donning a new role with Pencil Stubs Online - as columnist. Don't miss "Always Looking. . ." which details one of his more recent interests: Genealogy. We look forward to seeing what the future holds as he plans to include a variety of topics.

    Regular columnists, Leo C. Helmer with "Cookin' With Leo," Gerard Meister ("Thinking Out Loud"), Thomas F. O'Neill ("Introspective"), Peg Jones ("Angel Whispers"), Mattie Lennon ("Irish Eyes"), and LC Van Savage ("Consider This") add their perspectives for this last issue of Volumn 12. LC Van Savage also authored the column we are carrying as our sole article (winks at LC) for January, "Dinkum and Leppy."

    February begins the thirteenth year, or Volume for Pencil Stubs Online founded by Michael Craner and your editor. Mike also does the webmaster responsibilities and ably facilitates the publication in many ways. His own writing has taken a back seat the past year with job changes and relocating his family, but we keep hoping for it to blossom again.

    See you in February!

    Cookin' With Leo

    By Leo C. Helmer

    Skillet Scampi with Linguine

    Well now, you all know I don’t do too many fish dishes. My Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother might know of this dish, but then I ain’t heard from her since last summer, she must be in Aztec Annie’s territory somewhere in South America, staying warm, wherever. Now then, if you live deep in the heart of Texas where all the sand and oil is you wouldn’t want fish if it was give away. Fish, around here, is probably shipped in from the East or West coast, maybe even the Gulf Of Mexico, but we are too far away from all them places here in Sandy West Texas. By the time any fish got here it would be pretty dead. Well, there are a few lakes not too far away, but then I ain’t no fisherman. Seems one day, I found out some of them big stores in Odessa or Midland get some pretty good shrimp. Shrimp gets there in frozen containers from where it is caught, wherever, so it can’t be too dead. Anyway Shrimp is a bit different from your everyday fish. You can buy it still in the shell, or if you don’t want to mess with peeling and all that, at the deli counter you can get them all peeled and ready to boil and fix in a lot of ways. So here is one of them.

    Scampi is easy. It takes a little prep time with the shrimp but, from there, It combines intense flavors into an easy, one-skillet meal from stove to table. This takes about 30 minutes.


      Kosher salt

      1 ½ pounds linguine

      5 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

      6 tablespoons unsalted butter

      3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (about 8 or 9 cloves)

      2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

      ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

      ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

      ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley

      ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

      ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


    Bring to a boil a large pot of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, add the linguine, and cook until al dente, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain, run under cool water, drain again, place the linguine back in the pot and toss in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside, keeping warm. Melt the butter with the remaining olive oil in a 10” to 13” well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes, being careful not to burn. Add the shrimp, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and the pepper; sauté until the shrimp begin to turn pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with red pepper flakes, parsley, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese. Pour the shrimp mixture over the cooked linguine, tossing to combine, and serve immediately.

    Enjoy One Of Leo’s Few And Far Between Fish Recipes

    Angel Whispers

    By Peg Jones

    Happy New Year!

    Another new year is upon us. The first decade of our 21st century has gone by so quickly. A lot has happened in our world and in our lives the past ten years. There have been times of great difficulty, times of sadness, and times of great joy, and times of new beginnings and endings in our world. This ten year milestone in our world gives us the criteria to know how we may want to live out the rest of the century. We have global warming upon us. How are we going help our earth to heal and to get back on track? How are we going to help the hungry, the war torn and those living in poverty every day of their of lives. How are we going to help our economy heal, and become healthy again?

    Yet there is a lot to be thankful for in our lives and that is what I want to focus on in this column. We are survivors in all that has been occurring this past decade. We are learning to dust off and get back up. We are realizing how small our world is because of the technology we have at this time in our history. The internet has helped us to communicate to others around the world. Can you believe that it takes less than a minute for an email to arrive from overseas or halfway around the world? How great is that? Did you ever think you could send an email around the world in that amount of time?

    Our technology has surpassed all mankind’s dreams. We are finding ways and cures to heal the sick, to communicate with people of all disabilities through assistive technology. We are connecting with each other all over the world and this connecting has led to many friendships. We are finding that we truly are the same in our everyday affairs. I know that I never thought about how someone in Europe lived their everyday life. It wasn’t important to me. Why would it be that important? I now have the privilege of speaking with others across the seas and finding out about their everyday lives. It really is amazing when you think of it.

    I am finding that those living overseas are not so different from what my life is here in the USA. There are words that are used, that I don’t use in the same way; yet they are speaking English. I find that fascinating as I love to learn the many uses a word can have. I think the internet has helped us to become aware of other parts of the world in ways we never dreamed possible. Despite the many problems in our world, we have become more aware of how others are living; more that we ever have in the history of the world. Many are feeling a lot of empathy and they are able to express their concerns to each other.

    The ease with which we are able to communicate with each other is something that has not occurred until recently. Our world really is small. We can work together to be of assistance to each other, communicate, help, brain storm with each other, in our world. Together we can help the world economy to heal, help the sick, the poor, and bring peace to the world. By becoming more aware that we are all one and our interests and needs are the same, we can survive the future and put our best foot forward. God and the angels are guiding each one of us to do this and with the help of the technology that we have in our world, let’s make good use of it all. Take a moment to smile to a stranger, to say hi to the lonely and to share your knowledge with those who may be in need.

    We can start by mending relationships in our lives whether with family or friends. We can start with saying good morning, how are you today, in our homes, and doing the chores that need to be done, each day. If we can show love to our loved ones, think of how this love can trickle to all of mankind. Remaining positive and remembering what you can be grateful for is so important. The universe loves to hear how grateful you are. I think we are learning that all things are possible, but we have got to start the process. It’s hard when only one party makes the effort, because nothing is settled such as in a war or communication with all we come into contact. Just think of all of the possibilities, if we all put our best foot forward at all times.

    For this year, I pray and hope that this will be a year of promises realized and a year of stating goals or resolutions that are successful in fulfilling. May all your dreams come true and may you have a year of laughter, successes, abundance and love in your lives. May your health be strong and may you find the peace that you would like to have come true for you. Let 2010 be a year of positive energy for you and your family. Our angels are with us more than we realize because they know we are in need of their guidance. Please don’t hesitate to ask for help, they are waiting for you to ask.

    God Bless and Happy New Year

    Always Looking. . .

    By John I. Blair

    Always Looking For A Horsethief – Why I Study Genealogy

    A couple of lifetimes ago, when I was a little boy in Kansas, a great gift was given to me. My mother told me I was descended from Daniel Boone.

    Now at that age I didn’t even know who Daniel Boone was, so I wasn’t very impressed, and went back to picking my nose. A couple of years later, though, in elementary school (this was back in the day when kids actually had time to learn about history in school, instead of taking crash courses in computer apps, group dynamics, and the elements of cheerleading), we read a story about Daniel Boone and it clicked. This was my peeps! (Of course we didn’t actually talk like that in the 1940s. But you get the idea.)

    From that moment, I started taking a real interest in reading history books, for I had now gotten the notion in my head that history was about real people – family – and actually meant something to me. Ultimately, in college, I took enough history courses to qualify for a minor in the subject. I used to claim I was looking for the horse thief in my family tree.

    As the years passed, overwhelmed by the job of being a husband, a father and a wage earner, I pretty much gave up active history reading, letting my collection of history books collect dust along with the other volumes in our home library. But just a few months ago, retired after a life of desk work for hire, my only child long since grown and a father himself, free hours on my hands, I got an inquiring e-mail from a nice lady who had seen a couple of old photos I’d posted on a website showing my great-grandparents in Nebraska.

    She asked if I had more photos of these people. Turned out she was my second cousin, whom I had not only never seen, but didn’t even know I had. And she was interested in family history and introduced me to some other distant cousins who also were interested.

    Fired up by this link up, I started seriously looking again at what I already knew (or thought I knew) and how I might learn more. Names. Dates. Places. Events. Stories. Photos. Books. And I rediscovered how learning about family history is a golden path to learning about all sorts of things and to meeting new friends.

    Because my “new” cousins were from that branch of the family, I began by learning more about my father’s mother’s kin. All I had “known” before was that they were Pennsylvania Dutch, with Quaker connections, had once lived in central Nebraska in a sod house, and had associated on occasion with Indians. Interesting enough, but sketchy.

    What I found out was that they truly were from Pennsylvania (and also from New York and Connecticut and Ohio and Indiana and Iowa). They were not “Dutch” or even German. A couple of them had fought in the Revolution (one died at the Battle of Wyoming in 1778); several others had fought in the Civil War. At various points they had, indeed, lived among Indians, including Seneca, Miami, Sac and Fox, Kiowa and Cheyenne. I learned about Revolutionary War battles, about the Iroquois Confederation, about unscrupulous, land-grabbing treaties our government signed with Native Americans making it possible for whites to acquire farmland in the old Northwest Territories (and beyond). I took on my share of communal guilt in that area.

    Some of my people had, in fact, been Quakers, so I learned about the Quaker faith, its persecution in England and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and its spread west in this country in a belt from Rhode Island through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. And some of my people evidently were among the Huguenot refugees from religious intolerance in 16th and 17th-century France who found havens all along the eastern coast of America. I learned about other denominations my ancestors had joined and in some cases helped spread through missionary work and frontier church building in this land of freedom for (and from) religion.

    Because of the family link to Wyoming, Pennsylvania, I learned the story of Frances Slocum, a little girl kidnapped there by Delaware warriors, adopted and raised as an Indian, found years later by her birth family, an honored old woman among the Miami of northern Indiana, living by the Mississinewa River with her children and grandchildren. Frances was actually a neighbor to one of my great-great grandmothers in Indiana.

    And most of all I learned about the great “westering” movement in America in the 18th and 19th centuries that ended with the closing of the frontier around the start of the 20th century. So much of our country’s history focuses around this continuing migration of people from the original European settlements on the Atlantic coast into the sparsely populated lands to the west that didn’t stop until all the land was filled up to capacity (and sometimes beyond capacity) and the original inhabitants nearly exterminated.

    Along the way I revisited my old friend Daniel Boone (who had himself been raised a Quaker and was once adopted by Indians) and met some of his contemporaries like Captain James Piggott of Pennsylvania and Illinois, whose daughter, Assenath, born in Fort Piggott on the banks of the Mississippi opposite St. Louis, is my great-great-great grandmother. I met steamboat pilots, ferryboat operators, horse traders, carpenters, bakers, railroad engineers, mechanics, storekeepers. And battalions of the dirt farmers who were the foundation of pre-modern America.

    By now I have a greatly increased knowledge of where I come from, back to the 1600s, mostly in various parts of England ranging from Essex to Cornwall, and, far more important, a deeply enriched appreciation, one more time, of how all these people fit into the story of human movement from one land to another and in the new homeland affected other people, the landscape, ecology, the course of history, my own life and that of my descendants now living and yet to come. They’re all still my peeps.

    Oh, and the horse thief? Well, there appears to be some doubt whether one of my great-granddads actually owned the land he traded for 40 head of horses just before he lit out for Oklahoma Territory.

    Dinkum And Leppy

    By LC Van Savage

    In this week of gift giving, like most of us I’ve had to think a lot about gifts for all ages and have concluded after much deep thought that frankly, I don’t like to give baby presents for Christmas or because babies just got themselves birthed for any reason. Now don’t misunderstand, I really like babies. I’ve had some and I really liked them a lot. They’re just absolutely fine. Wonderful in fact. It’s not that. It’s just that when they’re born, or even before they’re born, everyone showers gifts on the little weenies, and while those gifts are often needed and greatly appreciated, I just refuse to give a baby a baby gift. Sounds chintzy, right? Frankly I’d rather give gifts to the already-there siblings or to the frantic parents. They really appreciate them!

    But wait. Here’s the story; I personally think babies get too much baby stuff when they’re still in Stage One Prune, and I for one don’t like to be responsible for turning those innocents into materialistic little greedheads. No, it’s not for me to bedazzle them with more receiving blankets when they’ve already received 31, along with 46 pairs of onesies and enough booties to shoe a large colony of octopi. Nope. The gift I give has to be different from all that infant stuff. But what?

    Not stuffed animals. Why does everyone give newborns stuffed animals? The babies have no idea what on earth they are, they don’t do anything like give milk or change a diaper, they’re just a big blob of fuzz and they don’t even move, so what’s the point? I think giving stuffed animals to a new baby is a cop-out because the giver couldn’t think of anything else to give. Or, that the giver fell in love with the little creature in the store and just couldn’t resist buying it, so in fact that cute stuffed toy is really for the giver and not the newbie givee, right? I wonder if those givers ever secretly resent having to give up that sweet little stuffed thing to a squalling, ungrateful newborn. OK, I’ll confess I’ve felt that way occasionally.

    I think stuffed animals should be given to older kids, toddlers, when they can imbue them with life, name them, take them everywhere, talk to them in bed at night, love and protect them and feel protected by them.

    I have a younger brother named Stuart Richardson. He too was given a lot of stuffed animals when he was born, but none of them took. However, when he was about three, he finally adopted two. One was a leopard he named “Leppy.” Leppy had button eyes which eventually fell off and my little brother was ever so grateful when I sewed new eyes onto Leppy’s battered face with thick black darning thread, just two buttons with huge lumpy centers, but at least they never fell off. Today my little brother is a seriously palmy stockbroker, but would he return the favor by giving me just the occasional wee tip on what’s hot and what’s not? Oh, noooo! Course not. Irrational insider trading issues or something. I should’ve let Leppy just go blind.

    Stuie’s other beloved stuffed pet was of all things, a platypus. His name was “Dinkum” which in Australia I think means honest or genuine or something. Dinkum was really adorable, and my little brother took him everywhere. Dinkum was a good replica of a platypus, an animal that’s continued to fascinate me since long before Dinkum got discarded the day my brother went to Yale. I really don’t know what all the fuss is about the origins of the platypus. Just because it’s a furry, web-footed, flat tailed egg-laying mammal with a bill, is no big mystery. It should be pretty obvious to anyone that a few zillion centuries ago, a lonely duck and a lonely beaver met on a lonely river. A couple of nice sunsets, a few delightful dry river martinis, and bammo, any duck in a storm as they say, and heck, all beavers look pretty good after dark. The obvious offspring of that one night stand turned out to be a platypus, although I can’t think how the name “platypus” is at all a blending of “beaver” and “duck” but there’s no accounting for how the minds of biologists work. Later I guess more beavers came along and met up with more ducks and well, the platypus population just exploded and that’s how platypi got invented. Simple, right?

    So from now on, I’m going to be giving all newborns something they can enjoy when they’re older, like a state of the art potty-chair or a good bicycle pump. OK, maybe also a stuffed toy, if I can find another Dinkum. Anyone out there know if there’s a platypus store anywhere around? Email me, OK?