Monthly Archives: May 2019

I think most people have heard of Big Ben, the famous clock tower in London, but what you may not know is that originally, there was no clock and no tower. The Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower, most often called Big Ben, are among London’s most iconic landmarks and favorite London attractions. Big Ben is actually the name that was given to the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons, not to the clock or the tower. At night the four clock faces are illuminated, and the effect is spectacular.

The British Parliament is located in the Palace of Westminster. In October of 1834, a fire destroyed much of the palace and it had to be rebuilt. At that time it was decided that there would be an spectacular addition of a clock at the top of a tower. The clock is magnificent. Each dial measures almost 23 feet in diameter. The hands are 14 feet long and weigh about 220 pounds, including counterweights. The numbers on the clock’s face are approximately 23 inches long. There are 312 pieces of glass in each clock dial. When parliament is in session, a special light above the clock faces is illuminated. Big Ben’s timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during World War II, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours. The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on December 31, 1923. It is a tradition that continues to this day. The Latin words under the clock face read Domine Salvam Fac Reginam Nostram Victoriam Primam, which means “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.” In June 2012 the House of Commons announced that the clock tower was to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

A massive bell was required and the first attempt made by John Warner and Sons at Stockton-On-Tees cracked irreparably. Big Ben first rang across Westminster on May 31, 1859. A short time later, in September 1859, Big Ben cracked. The metal was melted down and the bell recast in Whitechapel in 1858. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today, and the real owner of the name Big Ben. Elizabeth Tower stands at more than 105 yards tall, with 334 steps to climb up to the belfry and 399 steps to the Ayrton Light at the very top of the tower.

My great grand nephew, Jaxx Harman is a sweet little two year old boy, with smiling eyes, and a great personality. He is easy going, probably the result of being the youngest of the three children of his parents, Melanie and Jake Harman, and little brother to two sisters, Alice and Izabella. When a little boy has a mom and two sisters all “mothering” him, he pretty much has to grow up to be very patient. Nevertheless, according to his mom, he can also be whiny and that probably gets him a little bit of leeway when it comes to being ordered around by his sisters.

Alice, being a bit older never had a problem saying Jaxx, but Izabella, being just 17 months older than her brother, has never called him anything, but Bletta!! While I’m sure that name will someday go away, at least as far as Belle is concerned, it will always be one that his parents and grandparents will cherish, and who knows, it may always be his nickname…after all, it is cute. Some nicknames are just destined to stick. Jaxx must like it because he doesn’t say anything about it, even though he is speaking very clearly these days. Of course, just about anything his sisters do is ok with Jaxx, and these days he is capable of following them around, and he likes that new-found ability, and the freedom it brings with it.

While Jaxx loves his sisters very much, a guy really does need to have buddies who share the same interests, and lets face it, girls play differently than boys. That’s where Jaxx’s cousin once removed, Matthew Masterson comes in. Matt and Jaxx have a really great bond, and it doesn’t bother Matt to hang out with a cousin who is so much younger than his own 13 years. Maybe that’s because Matt is also the only boy in a family with three sisters, two of whom still live in the family home. That gives these boys something in common, and whenever Jaxx find out that Matt is coming over, or he is going to Matt’s house, he gets very excited. Finally, somebody who is on his side. Not to mention that Matt likes to hang out with him, which many times doesn’t happen with older boys and their younger cousins. Matt has a kind heart, and I’m sure that is in a big way the thing that attracts Jaxx to him. Today is Jaxx’s 2nd birthday. Happy birthday Jaxx!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, the world was still very aware of the dangers of travel by ship. The Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, and yet on April 14, 1912, it took more than 1500 people to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with it. Many safety precautions had changed since Titanic went down. The ship’s radio room had to be manned at all times, crews were trained extensively in emergency procedures, and ships were equipped more than enough lifejackets and lifeboats. Every precaution that they knew to take had been taken, making The Empress of Ireland one of the safest ships on Earth.

On May 29, 1914, The Empress of Ireland left Quebec Harbor on a transatlantic journey to Liverpool England. She was sailing in heavy fog down Canada’s Saint Lawrence River, carrying 1477 passengers and crew. The Norwegian freighter Storstad was also sailing on the Saint Lawrence River on that fateful day. Sailing in heavy fog, without the modern GPS equipment to keep everyone informed of the ships’ positions, is a seriously dangerous undertaking. I don’t know that the normal protocol was for sailing in fog, but it would make sense to me that they should drop anchor and wait for the fog to lift before continuing on. I’m sure that these days, the ships would have some kind of protocol.

The Empress and the Storstad spotted each other several minutes before the inevitable collision, but altered courses and confused signals brought them into the fateful moment of impact. I suppose that if each ship hadn’t moved in the same direction, they might have been able to avoid the collision, but unfortunately they did move in the same direction. The Storstad penetrated 15 feet into the Empress of Ireland‘s starboard side, and the vessel sunk within 14 minutes, drowning 1,012 of its passengers and crew in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It was one of the worst ship disasters in history. Only seven lifeboats escaped the rapidly sinking vessel, but thanks to the efforts of the crew of the Storstad, scores of survivors were pulled out of the icy waters.

Today marks a proud day in my life, as my granddaughter, Shai Royce takes the first steps in her journey to follow in my footsteps, by becoming a Commercial Lines Processor for Rice Insurance in Bellingham, Washington. The really cool thing is that to a large degree, she is also following in her mother, Amy’s footsteps too. My daughter, Amy is a Personal Lines Account Manager for Rice Insurance, and they will be working across the street from each other, which is awesome!!

Shai’s insurance career actually started when she was just 14 years old, and living in Casper, Wyoming. Her mom and I were both working for Jim Stengel at The Stengel Agency, and we needed a customer service representative to pick some of the slack in our busy office. Enter Shai, who worked for us off and on for a couple of years, taking only a short break when she needed a job with more hours after school. Shai did a great job for us in our office. She learned quickly and she was very helpful. We were sorry to see her go when she moved to Bellingham, Washington to be near her parents and brother. While in Bellingham, Shai worked at several jobs, with the longest one being Red Robin, and the last one being Mako Fly Reels. Shai liked her jobs, and especially the people she worked with, but the jobs just weren’t fulfilling for a girl with Shai’s abilities, and her prior training, so when an opening came up in her mom’s company, Shai applied for and won the job.

Today is the first day of Shai’s new career. I am very excited for her as she begins this great new journey in her life. Since I have been both a personal lines agent, and a commercial lines agent, I can say while there was much to learn in commercial lines, it feels great to be able to help a business owner with the coverages they need to protect their business, so they can focus on making a success of their business. I know that because Shai is starting this career at a younger age than I did, she will have the years ahead of her to become a great commercial processor, and maybe further than that if she is interested in becoming an agent or an account manager like her mom. I think it’s awesome that Shai is going to be working in the same great company as her mom, and following in her mom’s footsteps and in mine. Have a great first day on the job, Shai!! We are all very proud of you!!

Many people think of Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. They plan barbecues and trips with family because they have a three day weekend. Memorial Day, however, is really a day to remember the soldiers who gave their lives fighting for our freedoms in battle. While the work of every service member, whether in battle or in peacetime, is vital, and deserves recognition, Memorial Day is not the proper day to honor every veteran…Veterans Day is the day to honor veterans who came home from war, or who served in peacetime. Many people may consider that a technicality, but when you remember that the military is an institution of protocol and discipline. Things are always done in the proper order and for the proper reasons. That is what makes the military the disciplined, capable, and highly skilled organization that it is. Of course, to those of us who have never served, there is a feeling of wanting to honor all of our service members, and we don’t see the harm in adding those who weren’t killed in action, to the same memorial as those who didn’t make it home, but we would be wrong.

I have been listening to a book about the 8th Air Force in World War II. As the narrator tells the story of a bomber or fighter plane that will not be returning to base, and a crew who had a one way ticket to the war, I find myself thinking about how my dad, Allen Spencer must have felt each time the B-17 bomber, on which he was a top turret gunner, took off on another bomb run. The feeling in his gut as the plane took off, the prayers he was praying for himself and every other crew member on his and every other plane, the sickening feeling as the planes went down or exploded, and the long moments waiting and watching to see how many parachutes emerged from the stricken planes. I know that my dad and every other soldier who returned from the war, lost buddies over there. I don’t think you could ever forget those lost ones, and I don’t think you could see your way clear to honoring the living with the lost.

I know a number of soldiers, both retired and discharged, as well as some who are currently serving in the armed forces. These people know the meaning of each of the military holidays, and in fact, it was one of them who first told me the difference between the military holidays. Once you know the difference, you really don’t feel right about celebrating the wrong way, because each holiday has its proper purpose. This memorial Day, I honor all of our fallen soldiers of any war, and I pray for the loved ones they left behind when it was known that they got just a one way ticket to war. Your loved one was a great warrior, and you have every reason to be very proud. Honoring our fallen soldiers on this Memorial Day. Rest In Peace.

I suppose that most of the time, when someone sets out to invent something, they have a specific plan in mind, but maybe not. A number of inventors were trying to invent something completely different from what they ended up inventing, or they weren’t trying to “invent” anything at all, but ended up making something very cool.

One day in 1853, a chef at the Carey Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, named George Crum was at work, and making a meal for a customer. Apparently this customer was rather picky, which I can understand when it comes to certain things. The customer had ordered a plate of fried potatoes, and since my mom, Collene Spencer often made fried potatoes when I was a kid, I can attest to how great they tasted. Fried potatoes, however, must be correctly cooked to be really good, and I suppose that there are many differing views as to which way of cooking them is correct. Sometimes, its just a matter of personal preference.

Chef Crum fried the potatoes in the way he had always done so, but found that he was apparently unable to please this particular customer. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows that it is really frowned upon to have food sent back to the kitchen. The chef is given a goal of almost reading the mind of the customer…and expected to get it right. I know that this can be difficult from my own experience. I love what I would call extra crispy bacon, but when I tell them extra crispy, I usually end up with bacon that is floppy and, in my opinion, disgusting. I have long since learned that if I want to get truly crispy bacon, I must tell them that I want it burned. Only then will the bacon come out “crispy” enough for me, which, by the way, never has any black parts that would indicate that it was burned.

On this particular day, Chef Crum was having a bad day, at least from the perspective of pleasing the customer, who sent the potatoes back many times, asking that the potatoes be thinner and crispier. Finally in a fit of temper, Chef Crum sliced the potatoes insanely thin and fried them until they were “as hard as a rock,” before sending them back out to the customer. To his astonishment, the customer absolutely loved the potatoes, and wanted more. Now, for anyone who likes potato chips, the request for seconds comes as no surprise, because it really is hard to eat just one potato chip, as the saying goes. Since that day, I’m sure that these new fangled potatoes were a menu favorite at the Carey Moon Lake House. They must have been, because as we all know, they are still available to this day, and they show no sign of losing their popularity now either.

My niece, Cassie Iverson is a woman of deep convictions. She has researched her positions on things, including vaccinations, education, government, and a number of other things, and she has made up her own mind how she feels about all these things. Whether you agree with her choices or not, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and the right to make their own choices for their family, and especially for their children. Cassie and her husband, Chris have dealt with more medical issues with their son, Lucas, than anyone should ever have to, and they have done well with his upbringing. Having a child with disabilities is hard, but when those problems also include the need for many surgeries, it is really more than any parent should ever have to face. They are very much fighting for their child’s life and they are determined to win that battle. Any time a parent has to fight for the life of their child, I think they should be considered noble fighters.

Cassie have become a fund raising guru, and for anyone who has ever had to do and fund raising, you know how hard a job that is. Nevertheless, trips to Colorado for surgeries are expensive, and so sometimes you have to work hard to come up with the money for them. Cassie does what she has to do. It’s for their son, and that makes the work worth while. Anyone who has met Lucas knows what a sweet boy he is, and also that he is a fighter. Once you meet him, you can’t help but love him, and root for his victory in everything he has to deal with. While things are sometimes tough for Cassie and Chris, there are many good times too.

The take as many opportunities as they can to go camping, fishing, and photographing. Cassie loves to take pictures of nature, as well as having a business in photography where she takes family, baby, and graduation photographs. Those are great, but for me, it is the nature pictures that are amazing. Anyone can snap a picture of a mountain in the distance, but not everyone has an eye for it. If you have an eye for it, the scene really jumps out of the photograph and makes you feel like you are right there. Cassie has that ability, and that is what makes her pictures great…not to mention that she has so many great nature scenes to photograph in Wyoming. She even sells her pictures, which gives other people the chance to see things through her eyes. Today is Cassie’s birthday. Happy birthday Cassie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Prior to the Civil War, and even for years afterward, the black man was considered first a non-human, and secondly not very intelligent. Because of that, it was thought that the black soldiers would not be able to handle real combat situations. Nevertheless, the Union Army needed their help, and so they would have to take a chance on the black soldiers along the James River in the spring of 1864. My guess is that it was a rather tense moment when the Federal Soldiers faced off the Rebels on May 24, 1864. They stood behind the walls they had built with their own hands, and watched as the dismounted Rebel cavalry charged toward them. With their rifles trained on the enemy troops, each man knew that this was their chance to prove themselves. They were a brigade of mostly black soldiers, and it was vital that they be able to hold their own against an enemy who outnumbered them two to one. As well as an enemy who was party to their years of slavery.

The battle the black troops were about to fight was a small part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant’s Overland Campaign. The goal was to cripple the Confederate capital, and in doing so, bring down the Confederacy before the end of 1864. The Army of the James consisted of the X and XVIII Corps. About 40% of the army’s 33,000 men were black. Butler was confident his “colored troops” would do all the Union hoped and more, because he realized they viewed their service as a chance to gain rights they had never had before for themselves and for their families…making blacks free and equal to whites. Of course, fear of capture and a return to slavery, was a great motivator to win this battle and the war too. In early May, Butler and his army left Fort Monroe at the mouth of the James River and drove upriver toward Bermuda Hundred, about 14 miles south of Richmond. The general believed this was a better position to attack the capital from this strip of land, which lies at the point where the Appomattox River meets the James. From there, Butler’s forces could disable rail transportation south of Richmond and with it, communication between the capital and points south.

Late on the afternoon of May 5, a week before the army’s planned arrival on Bermuda Hundred, Butler reported to Grant that Brigadier General Edward A. Wild’s brigade of black troops had captured these two sites without opposition. Their arrival, Butler wrote, was “apparently a complete surprise” to the Confederates. The sight of former slaves coming ashore at Wilson’s Wharf must have almost terrified local planters, because many of the troops had once been held in bondage in the surrounding area. It could feel very intimidating to think of the former slaves motive for revenge. Shortly after the brigade’s arrival, the soldiers captured William Clopton, a wealthy planter known for his brutality. Wild, with his profound hatred of slavery, ordered his men to tie Clopton to a tree and expose his back. Then Wild ordered William Harris of Company E forward to flog his former master, Cheers echoed through the African Brigade. “Mr. Harris played his part conspicuously,” Sergeant Hatton recalled, “bringing the blood from his loins at every stroke, and not forgetting to remind the gentleman of the days gone by.” Wild described the lashing of Clopton to Hinks as “the administration of Poetical justice.” The fears of the plantation owners were realized that day, but whipping the planters was the least of Wild’s concerns at Wilson’s Wharf. He immediately put his troops to work on an earthwork fortification on a bluff over the James and named it Fort Pocahontas. The walls held against Confederates, and the Union would go on to win the Civil War, but no one would again be able to say that the black soldiers couldn’t do their job, nor would they ever doubt the depth of their rage over the cruel treatment they had been subjected to by the slave owners.

On this day, May 23, 1911, President William Howard Taft presided over a ceremony to dedicate the New York Public Library, which is the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States. The building occupies a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. The monumental Beaux-Arts structure took 14 years to complete at a cost of $9 million. The term beaux arts (pronounced BOZE-ar) means fine arts or beautiful arts. “The Beaux-Arts “style” emanated from France, based on ideas taught at the legendary L’École des Beaux Arts (The School of Fine Arts), one of the oldest and most esteemed schools of architecture and design in Paris.” The 20th century marked a period of great growth throughout the world, and new access to learning materials was needed. The first free continuous children’s library in the United States was funded privately, and was founded in 1835 in Arlington, Massachusetts. Nevertheless, libraries were in pretty short supply when the New York Public Library opened in 1911. One day after its dedication, the library opened to the public. It is thought that about 40,000 citizens passed through to make use of a collection that already consisted of more than a million books. It was a great day in the world of education.

Since that time, many advances have happen in the world of books. It is a matter of debate in many circles as to whether these changes are good or bad. I settle on the side of good, because I think that if technology is available, we should take advantage of it. Many of my writer friends tell me that they love the smell of the ink on the printed page, or the feel of the book in their hands, but I guess I tend to be more on the practical side of the argument. I like my kindle, and the fact that I can carry hundreds of books around in my purse, to be available no matter where I am, and without the necessity of packing around several books. When the Kindle came out, I saw it as “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” I can own hundreds of books and I don’t have to have room to store them all. Nevertheless, as a writer, I have found that I have very little time to be a reader, and that posed a problem. I had all these books I wanted to read, but I was always trying to finish the story I was currently working on, so time was scarce.

Enter Audible.com. I had heard of Audible long before I gave it a try, but on a “girls trip” with my sister, Cheryl Masterson and my niece, Liz Masterson, I was introduced to Audible by Liz, who is a member. Liz, like me has very little time to dedicate to reading a book, but while she is editing photographs for her job as a journalism teacher, she can listen to a book. “Well,” I thought, “So can I.” So I joined and I have really enjoyed taking my daily walk, while listening to a book, or writing while listening to a book. I am a World War II history buff, and I love listening to the history of that war the most, but I have also listened to many other types of books.

Knowledge comes to us in many different forms, and while the library has been responsible for bringing a world of books to the people, without the need to spend the money on purchasing the book, it also must change with the times. People lead very busy lives, and being able to check out an audible or a digital book is a great way to continue bringing books to the world. Unfortunately, many libraries have been reluctant to accommodate this new style of reading. That is sad for them, because like it or not, the digital age is hers, and if the libraries want to move forward into the next century, they are going to have to join the modern times. I hate to see buildings no longer be used as libraries, but there will always be the purist who loves the smell of ink and the feel of the pages, and there will always be schools who bring classes to the library to introduce them to the world of books, but you can’t discount the busy adult who wants to read, but doesn’t have the time. Digital books are the wave of the future that allows even the busiest adult the ability to access books and learning.

It is a rite of passage…turn 16, get your drivers license. For my grand nephew, Xander Spethman, today is that rite of passage day. Soon he will be able to take himself out on dates and not have to find a ride. He will be able to drive himself to school, and of course, run errands for his parents. I’m not sure how long that will be fun, but most kids like it for a while, because it means they get to drive. Nevertheless, I think that Xander’s younger siblings will reap the benefits of Xander having a driver’s license.

When it comes to school, Xander is all about football…with a little studying on the side. He is a great player, and already has colleges looking at him for recruitment, and offering every type of scholarship imaginable, to meet his every academic desire. Not bad for a kid who is just a freshman in high school. Xander has always been good in sports, and especially in football. He just understands the sport and what he needs to do to be successful in the sport. Last year, Xander went to football camp at Black Hill State University, and really learned a lot. He plans to attend the same camp this year, but he as also been invited to a camp at the Colorado School of Mines for their football camp. They are interested in looking at Xander for recruitment into their football program. It’s an exciting offer for a kid of his young age.

Of course it isn’t the only sport he is good at. Xander, like every member of his family knows how to shoot a gun and how to be safe with one. His dad, Steve takes Xander and brothers Zack and Isaac hunting very year, and this year they also plan to do some fishing. Xander and his family have always been close, and while Xander’s interests are changing, I know that he will always enjoy the “man sports” with his dad and brothers. And of course, Xander is an amazing gentleman to his mom, Jenny and his little sister, Aleesia, and to all women. They always know that the men of the family are there to protect them. Xander is quickly becoming a man, and he is going to do amazing things in his future life. Today is Xander’s 16th birthday. Happy birthday Xander!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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