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At the mouths of the Thames and Mersey rivers in the United Kingdom, you can still see what amounts to the remains of the Maunsell Forts. These forts are armed towers built during the Second World War to help defend the United Kingdom. At that time, they were operated as army and navy forts. They were named after their designer, Guy Maunsell. When the war ended, so did the need for the forts, and they were decommissioned in the late 1950s. They weren’t torn down, however, and were later used for other activities, including pirate radio broadcasting. Later it was found that they were not really stable enough for use, and the broadcasting stopped.

The Maunsell naval forts were built in the mouth of the Thames and operated by the Royal Navy. Their purpose was to deter and report German air raids following the Thames as a landmark and prevent attempts to lay mines by aircraft in this important shipping channel. There were four naval forts: Rough Sands (HM Fort Roughs) (U1), Sunk Head (U2), Tongue Sands (U3), Knock John (U4). In reality it was an artificial naval installation, and it is similar in some respects to early “fixed” offshore oil platforms. “Each fort consisted of a rectangular 168-by-88-foot reinforced concrete pontoon base with a support superstructure of two 60-foot tall, 24-foot diameter hollow reinforced concrete towers. The walls were roughly 3.5 inches thick. The overall weight of each fort is estimated to have been approximately 4,500 tons. Everything was a useful space. The twin concrete supporting towers were actually divided into seven floors. Four of the floors were used for crew quarters. The rest of the floors were used for dining, operational, and storage areas for several generators, and for freshwater tanks and anti-aircraft munitions. There was a steel framework at one end supporting a landing jetty and crane which was used to hoist supplies aboard. The wooden landing stage itself became known as a ‘dolphin.'” A dolphin is “a group of pilings arrayed together to serve variously as a protective hardpoint along a dock, in a waterway, or along a shore; as a means or point of stabilization of a dock, bridge, or similar structure; as a mooring point; and as a base for navigational aids.”

“The towers were joined together above the waterline by a steel platform deck. Other structures could be added as needed. That area was also the gun deck, on which an upper deck and a central tower unit were constructed. QF 3.7 anti-aircraft guns were positioned at each end of this main deck, and two Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns and the central tower radar installations atop a central living area that contained a galley, medical, and officers’ quarters. The design of these concrete structures is equal to a military grade bunker, due to the ends of the stilts, (under water) that are solidly locked into the ground. They were laid down in dry dock and assembled as complete units. They were then fitted out, and the crews went on board at the same time for familiarization, before being towed out and sunk onto their sand bank positions in 1942.” They also had some unexpected uses. Many species of fish live near the forts because the forts create cover…who would have thought about that. The forts have also provided landmark references for shipping…an added perk.

On the day of her birth, December 19, 2020, my grandniece, Hallie Joy Moore also went to Heaven to live with Jesus. We know that Hallie is so very happy with Jesus, and she is also very proud of her parents, Lindsay and Shannon Moore, and her big sister, Mackenzie Moore, who have continued to celebrate her special day for what it is…a celebration of her life. Hallie’s name was chosen for her with much love and happiness in mind. Her name Hallie means “Praise the Lord” and Joy, of course, means “happiness.” That is how her loving parents have chosen to remember their daughter’s birthday, and we are all very proud of them for it. They have named this special day “Happy Hallie Day” and they want to “invite you to celebrate her, by reflecting on your previous year and praising the Lord for all the GOOD He has done in your life – big things, small things and everything in between!” So, that is what we will do. Happy 2nd birthday in Heaven, Hallie!! Have a wonderful celebration with Jesus and your grandparents!! We love you so much!! Happy Hallie Day II.

First confined for killing a bartender in a brawl, Robert Stroud was sentenced to Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas, in 1909. His sentence was almost completed in 1916, when he stabbed a guard to death. Stroud claimed to have acted in self-defense, but in the end, he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to hang for the crime. Stroud’s mother was devastated, and she tried everything she could think of to have the sentence commuted to a lesser sentence. She was not having much success, until in desperation, she wrote a handwritten plea to President Woodrow Wilson, which finally earned Stroud a commuted sentence…with a twist. Stroud was now considered to be so dangerous that no one really wanted him to be allowed in the general population…especially not the guards. So, along with the sentence commutation came a stipulation…permanent solitary confinement. Most of us could not imagine spending the rest of our lives alone. The only people you might see would be a hand bringing you food. If that person chose not to be accommodating, they might not even speak to you, which means no true human contact. I don’t know if he had a television set later on, or a radio, but it could have been a very silent life.

With a death sentence averted, but another “almost as bad” sentence given, Stroud began serving solitary confinement. I guess he must have been allowed visitors, because for the next 15 years, he lived amongst the canaries that were brought to him by those visitors. I guess that is one way not to be completely alone. Stroud quickly became an expert in birds and ornithological diseases. His interest in birds actually began in 1920, when he found a nest of injured sparrows in the prison yard and raised them to adulthood, becoming the “Birdman of Leavenworth.” Basically, he was as happy as could be expected in solitary confinement, at least until he was ordered to give up his birds in 1931. I might be soft-hearted, and maybe the point is punishment, but making him give up the birds seemed like cruelty on top of punishment. They were his only companions!! Nevertheless, taking it in stride, Stroud redirected his energies to writing about the birds he loved. He later published his first book on ornithology two years later. For those who don’t know, and I was one, Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. I assumed it was just the study of the diseases that birds get. Truly, by the time Stroud was done, he knew everything there was to know about birds…and more, having lived among them too.

The book was a success, but the publisher was a crook. He failed to pay Stroud royalties, knowing that Stroud was barred from filing a lawsuit. That is just wrong, but undaunted, Stroud took out advertisements complaining about the situation. That didn’t help his situation, because prison officials retaliated by sending him to Alcatraz, the federal prison with the worst conditions. Serving one’s sentence is one thing, but abuse while in prison is clearly another. Stroud gained notoriety at Alcatraz too, being later nicknamed “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

Stroud gained widespread fame and attention when author Thomas Gaddis wrote a biography that heralded Stroud’s ornithological expertise. Then, in 1943, Stroud’s Digest of the Diseases of Birds, a 500-page text that included his own illustrations, was published to general acclaim. One might think that all this success would have made him feel better about himself, but in spite of his success, Stroud was depressed over the isolation he felt at Alcatraz. So many years alone, would take a toll on anyone. He attempted suicide several times, and finally, on November 23, 1959, it was decided that he could come out of solitary confinement. He stepped out of that cell for the first time since 1916…42+ years of solitary confinement. Of course, freedom from solitary confinement didn’t mean freedom from the prison. November 21, 1963, at the age of 73, with no cause of death, Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud died at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.

In loving memory of Laila Elizabeth Spethman. We love and miss you very much sweet Princess Laila. Happy 12th birthday in Heaven. How could it have been twelve years already. We can’t wait until the day we see you again.

If I had to describe my granddaughter, Shai Royce, in one word, it would be bold. Shai isn’t afraid of anything, and she isn’t intimidated by anything or anyone. Not many people can say that about themselves, and not many people can live their lives in that kind of boldness either. Shai (no matter what her name makes you think) doesn’t have a shy bone in her body. She is outgoing, bubbly, and fun. It makes people want to be around her. She has a very magnetic personality.

Shai was born on February 29th…a Leap Day Baby, and we absolutely love the uniqueness of that day in conjunction with her birthday. I don’t know that Shai always liked it, but I think for the most part, Shai, being our only granddaughter, felt picked on by the boys. They were all so close in age, and because she only got a “real” birthday every four years, the boys liked to tell her that they were older than she was…even the younger ones, and especially her younger brother, Caalab Royce. These days, I don’t think she minds being told she is younger, and that will be a bigger and bigger blessing as the years go by. While Shai is technically 26 years old today, she is actually only 6½ years old today. She has been alive 26 years, but has only had 6 “real” birthdays, and she is halfway to the next real birthday. That may not seem great right now, but when she is 60 years old, she will actually only be 15 years old. What 60-year-old woman wouldn’t love that?? So, today is Shai’s Nano-Birthday again, because in the nano-second between 11:59pm and 12:00am this morning…her birthday happened. Maybe that’s why I like to say that “Leap Happens” when she actually gets a real birthday. The really cool thing is that she can celebrate for two days, because either one counts as her birthday in a Nano-Year. I know that Shai has and will be celebrating her birthday in a big way, because it is a big deal.

Shai has had an interesting year. She is an insurance agent with Rice Insurance in Bellingham, Washington, and after Covid and the accompanying lockdowns, Rice Insurance realized that their agents can easily and effectively work from home. They are an agency without walk in traffic, so having their agents in the office is not necessary. So, now both Shai and her mom, Amy Royce, who is also an insurance agent with Rice Insurance, work from home, and they both really love it. The weather doesn’t matter to their commute, and that had been good this year, because oddly, they have had more snow than in many years past. Because they don’t get much snow, the roads are shut down when then get very much snow. The agents who work from home don’t miss a day of work. And the ones who don’t work from home can easily get going at home too when needed. It’s a win-win. Today is Shai’s Nano-Birthday. Happy 26th/6.5th birthday Shai!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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