Another Book

July 14, 2015

Beliz Pyramid

I recently uploaded a new book for both Kindle and Nook readers. It is called “If the Sky Should Fall” and is my first step into the world of science fiction. The following is the blurb I wrote to encourage people to read it:

Semir (Sam) Osmanagic is a Bosnian American archaeologist. He has spent years studying the pyramids of Latin America and believes that certain mountains in Bosnia are, in fact, also pyramids. Of course, the ‘experts’ have scoffed at the idea… just as the ‘experts’ scoffed at the idea that dinosaurs were birds rather than reptiles. One of Osmanagic’s findings showed that electromagnetic pulses were emanating from the top of the Bosnian pyramids. What if that is true? What purpose would such signals serve?
After visiting ancient ruins in Mexico, Belize, and Peru, the author of “If the Sky Should Fall” has his own thoughts and theories about ancient aliens, UFOs, and pyramids. If you’re a fan of television shows such as Ancient Aliens, History Unearthed, Hanger One, The Unexplained Files, and Ancient Discoveries, or books such as “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken, you will find “If the Sky Should Fall” a compelling read. While it may well be a book of science fiction, the author raises a number of questions to make you stop and ask yourself, what if it were true? Life on our planet and throughout our solar system may, in fact, depend on the actions of aliens. They may be living among us and keeping us alive. Why would they be doing that? That’s a topic for another discussion.

Obviously I am a fan of all those TV shows I mentioned as well as a reader of books similar to “The Chariots of the Gods.” But watching those shows and reading those books, combined with traveling to ancient ruins and seeing the amazing constructions done by ‘primitive’ people, leads me to ask even more questions. And I can’t help wondering why mainstream scientists are so quick to laugh off the possibilities. Those are the folks who believed that uranium was a worthless metal prior to the 1940’s.

It’s difficult to watch these programs and not ask how the ancient Egyptians, Mayan, Incas, and others could build such structures. More importantly, I kept asking myself WHY? Did these folks have nothing better to do? Then I found myself wondering if there might not be pyramids right in my own backyard? The ones that have been discovered in Central America, for the  most part, had been hidden from view for centuroes by dense vegetation. How many mountains in the United States are also covered in dense vegetation?

IMG_0955This mountain in North Georgia sure looks like it could be covering up a pyramid. And there are many more like it.

Sam Osmanagic really got me thinking when he discovered electromagnetic pulses emanating from the tops of the ‘mountains’ in Bosnia. What if they really were signals to aliens? What if that mountain was serving as a light house for space craft navigation? The more I thought about such things, the more “If the Sky Should Fall” wrote itself!

I am in a comfortable point in my life where I am retired and, although living on a fixed income, my lifestyle does not require lots of money. My bride and I own a lot at a camping resort and a small trailer. We love taking our grandchildren camping for a week or so at a time. Otherwise, we are basic home bodies who take one or two trips a year.

We are extremely active in our church and community. Currently we are deeply involved in a program called Family Promise, which aims to help homeless children and their families. That is why I am dedicating 50% of any royalties to that charity.

If you are at all interested in the ancient aliens theories I think you’ll like my book. More importantly, if you’d like to support a program that helps homeless children, I ask that you buy the book for their sake.

Cover for bookLet me know what you think of it and how many questions it raises in your mind.

 

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Preparing for Another of Life’s Milestones

May 14, 2013

In a few months, my bride will retire from her job and I will change my status from “semi-retired” to “fully retired.” In the past I’ve written about “Rites of Passage” and this is one for which we’ve been preparing for many years, but it’s a bit more frightening than all the previous stages of my life.

In the first place, there are the retirement savings accounts. My oldest account was started more than thirty years ago. It saw me though a long period of unemployment when I had to borrow from it to pay my bills. I’ve managed to repay those loans and add to it. But in a few months, I will stop adding to it and, (GASP!) begin withdrawing from it.

At the same time, we will transfer my bride’s 401K to a dividend paying mutual fund and virtually end the growth of that account. Hopefully, the dividends we collect from our retirement accounts will supplement our Social Security payments so we won’t have to move in with our kids… for at least a little while.

Many people who retire, do little more than sit in front of the TV and wait for the final curtain. I doubt if my bride could ever do such a thing, which means she won’t let me do it either. That’s one of the reasons we bought our new toys.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new tow vehicle

Our new tow vehicle

Some retirees go out and buy a two seater sports car and drive off into the sunset – stopping at fancy hotels along the way. Lu and I prefer to travel more frugally, and also hope to be able to take a few grandkids along with us to some of our as-yet-to-be-planned destinations.

To give those grandkids and their parents something to think about… our potential destinations include Tybee Island, Georgia, various parts of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Yellowstone National Park, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, Texas, and a number of Canadian provinces.

In 1984, I dragged my first wife and our four children on a cross-country camping trip. That was done with a pop-up camping trailer and an 8-passenger van. We saved a lot of money by staying at camp grounds, but strained a lot of relationships by having to deal with a daily allotment of chores, dirt, flat tires, dead batteries, lost pieces of the trailer, and spartan meals. I think I’m the only one who absolutely loved the adventure, but, then again, it was my idea. I had to love it!

That 1984 trip was carefully planned almost down to the number of miles to be driven each day.

Now, we’re looking at a trip that has no definite destination and no detailed advanced planning. However, technology has advanced significantly over the last 29 years. We now have cell phones, GPS navigators, Wi-Fi computers, and 29 years of experience in the art of living. We also have a better financial picture and hope to keep that improved picture by keeping our travel expenses as low as possible.

Some of my readers may take that last statement to mean “We’re coming to visit you and expect you to house and feed us for some period of time.” I promise you that we won’t stay long. So don’t worry.

In 1984, I had to estimate how many bills would be delivered in our absence, and how much we would owe. I paid most of the bills in advance and wound up with credit balances on most of them. Today I can review my bills on line and pay most of them by simply making a few keystrokes on the computer. Hopefully, our bank account will not run out on us.

Needless to say, even with all the advancements in technology, our additional knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, and all the other assets in our possession, our future remains a vast unknown and leaving home is a somewhat scary proposition.

Fortunately, we have family, friends, and neighbors who we can count on to drive by the homestead from time to time to let us know that things are OK, but I’d hate to be in Timbuktu when we learn that a tree has fallen on the house. Perhaps that is why many RVers sell their homes and take to the road on a permanent basis.

Perhaps that will be our next significant rite of passage.


Another Busy Weekend

September 26, 2012

Looking back, my bride and I first got to know and like each other while camping. We both enjoy spending nights listening to the tree frogs, crickets, and other night creatures.

When we first married, one of our first joint purchases was a pop-up camping trailer. At the time we had a Ford F-150 pickup truck that was more than capable of pulling that trailer anywhere we wanted to go. But then the cost of gasoline began to skyrocket. (Obama said that skyrocketing is necessary!)

We decided to sell the truck and buy a fuel-efficient Toyota Yaris. The car is five years old and we’re still getting around 40 miles to the gallon. However, we had to sell the F-150 to pay for the Yaris. Without the tow vehicle, it soon became necessary to sell the pop-up. We did.

A couple of years ago we replaced a Mitsubishi Diamante with a Ford Ranger. That little baby truck is a 1997 model and had around 77,000 miles on it. We now have it up to over 90,000 and were concerned about its towing capacity.

But, we bought the 4,200 pound travel trailer anyway.

Our new travel trailer.

Since we had nothing better to do, we took four grandchildren along for the ride when we went to the dealer, Peco Campers, to pick it up.

Some of our future camping buddies.

Thanks to good friends, Ed and Carol Terry, we learned of a camping resort, Unicoi Springs Camping resort and are now proud members of the place.

Yesterday we hauled our new baby up to Cleveland, Georgia and left it at a storage place that is much closer to the resort. Eventually, we’ll be able to leave the trailer at Unicoi Springs and won’s have to haul it anywhere until Lu is fully retired and we hit the road to look for America!

In the meantime, while all of this was going on, I published the first two chapters of my family history book “Quakers, Politicians, and a Pirate (or two)” as an e-book.

It is available at Amazon.com for Kindles or Barnes & Noble for Nooks.

 


E-Publishing

March 20, 2012

Aspiring authors know how difficult it is to get something from an idea to the pages of a hard back book. Some might say it’s impossible. I, like many others, have never put forth the effort it takes. One of the main reasons is the frustration created by the roadblocks put up by the industry.

Most legitimate publishers will not accept submissions directly from unpublished authors. Such submissions must come from an agent.

Since most agents will not accept new clients unless they’ve been previously published, it’s almost impossible to find an agent. Self-publishing through the “vanity” presses doesn’t count.

So, what does that aspiring author do? If he or she found a way to be a celebrity of some sort – professional athlete, well-known recording artist, or politician – he or she wouldn’t even have to possess writing skills. He or she could find a ghost writer (with the help of that agent who can’t be bothered with people who write well) and lead everyone to believe that the celebrity has multiple skills.

Fortunately for me, and many others like me, I never needed the money badly enough to grovel. After several futile attempts, I just let my work gather dust.

Then along came the e-readers and self-publishing was given a new meaning. No longer does an author need to pay a vanity press thousands of dollars to print a stack of books that will gather dust unless the author is really good at marketing his or her own work. The author can now simply go to one or more of several sites and upload the work for free. After that, it’s a matter of watching to see how many copies are sold.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this free process is determining what price tag to attach to each book. If a person has invested a year or two in creating his or her masterpiece, he or she might want to see people pay the kind of money they would pay for a Stephen King novel. But, how many books by an unknown author would people buy – especially if the price is high.

On the other hand, if a bargain basement price is attached, people might not think it’s worth anything.

So, you pick a number that sounds reasonable – reminding yourself that the reader isn’t even getting a hard copy of the work. Then, you sit back and hope it will continue to sell after all your friends and relatives have been shamed into buying a copy to help you out.

Short of buying an ad in USA Today, I’m hoping the people who read my work will provide glowing reviews to their friends and relatives and encourage others to read my work. Social networking and blogs supposedly have ways of causing things to go “viral” – a term with which I’m not totally enamored. So, for now, I’m going to avoid the USA Today ad and see what happens.

Before I end this post, I will include some information on each of the books I currently have available for sale. When you see the list of choices, you might think I have yet to find my niche or genre. That may be true, but I have my own thoughts on that.

Ian Fleming is famous for the James Bond novels he wrote. I know for a fact that Ian Fleming wrote in other genres – “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is one most people would not have guessed. At least Fleming continued to use his own name regardless of what he wrote. Many other authors used pseudonyms when writing something other than the genre for which they were known.

The truth is that all writers like to write about lots of things. Establishing a “voice” is more important than getting boxed into a specific genre. If you like the style of someone’s writing – it’s easy to read and makes you feel comfortable with the use of the language – it doesn’t matter what he or she is writing about.

So, that should explain the works I have published to this point.

The first to hit the stage was:

This work was born out of a dinner conversation in New Orleans. A friend of my bride was asking us about various trips we’ve taken and finally suggested I write a book about how to have a great trip at a reasonable price. This book is available for both Kindle and Nook readers.

Next came my murder mystery.

This book was written in 1996 shortly after I learned that my teenaged daughter had been raped and was pregnant. I was out of work and depressed and started thinking, “What could be worse?”

The ordeals experienced by the little girls and their parents in this book are far worse, and should be a warning signal to all parents and grandparents.

Every time I see a parent simply drop off a child and go off to do their own thing, I shudder to think what could happen. People need to wake up. “Stranger Danger” is a stark reality!

Currently, “Shattered Princesses” is only available on Kindle.

Next came this:

This is a collection of magazine articles and essays I’ve written over the years. It clearly demonstrates that we writers like to write about anything that strikes our fancy.

Like my travel tips book, this one is available for either Kindle or Nook readers.

So, there you have it. The three books I’ve published so far. There will be more.

The most expensive of the three is the murder mystery. It sells for $3.99.The other two sell for $2.99.

With all three, you can download the first several pages and see if you’d be interested. If you like my style or get caught up in the plot, you can go ahead and buy it.

Finally, if you buy it and like it, please encourage your friends and relatives to take a look. I’d appreciate all the support I can get.


Putting the FUN Back in Fund-Raising

July 19, 2010

My first efforts at fund raising were designed to put money in my own pocket. Mom helped me make some sort of pot holders that I then tried to sell door-to-door. Since I’m no longer in that business, I assume the money I made did not seem worth the effort.

Eventually I learned that the best way to raise personal funds came through employment… although the entrepreneur in me still yearns to try my hand at something. If the government doesn’t stop spending my social security on things like buying Pakistan’s friendship, I may be left with no choice.

In high school I belonged to the Key Club – a group of teens sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club – and we raised money for underprivileged children by delivering free neighborhood phone directories and asking for donations. I have no idea where the money we collected went, but we did a pretty decent job of laying guilt on people to get them to drop paper – not coins – in our boxes.

As an adult, I belonged to the Lions Club and became very adept at selling over-priced brooms, light bulbs, and fruitcakes. I’ve also sold more than my share of raffle tickets.

As a member of our church’s Out Reach committee, I’ve sold tickets to Irish Dinners, Gourmet Dinners, and various dances. (In our church, most forms of dancing are permitted.)

And then we discover SCRIP!

Gift Cards - Just as good as Cash!

My bride and I attended a church service in Akron, Ohio and saw that they were selling gift cards after each service. We investigated and convinced our church in Cumming, Georgia to give it a try.

We’ve been selling scrip for about eleven months and have earned a little over $11,000 for our efforts. It’s taken us a while to convince all our members to participate, but as more and more people take the time to buy some cards, our profits are beginning to increase.

So, what’s so great about this type of fund-raising? Simple. A person pays $100 for a grocery store gift card and receive $100 with which to buy groceries. The only thing it costs that person is a few minutes to trade a check for a piece of plastic.

So, how are the funds raised? Again, simple. The grocery store sells the cards to us at a discount. The merchant can then write off the discount as a cost of doing business or a charitable contribution.

There are literally hundreds of retailers who participate in this program. We can get gift cards for restaurants, clothing stores, home improvement and hardware stores, on-line shopping sites, and just about anything else you can think of.

Currently we are looking for other churches in the area to pick up the same project. If we can combine our purchasing power we may be able to get bigger discounts. We’re also trying to contact local merchants who are not yet participating in the program. We recently added a local Greek restaurant that has become one our members’ favorite places.

Any one who has ever sold a fifty-cent candy bar for a buck and a half should take notice of this entry on my blog. There are much better ways to raise money than selling magazine subscriptions to grandparents.

The economy is tough. Why ask people to overpay for anything – no matter how worthy the cause? For every card shown in the photo, I paid face value and the church received a donation. When I take those cards into those merchants, I’ll get exactly what I paid for.

What a deal!


Are You Satisfied?

March 11, 2010

Here’s something I wrote in 1997.

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When I got into mischief as a child, my mother would always ask me if I was satisfied with myself for what I’d done. If it was something that caused my older brother some sort of agony or discomfort, my answer was usually, “Yes. Now we’re even.” However, I never spoke those words. I thought them… but had sense enough not to say them. As I grew older, my answer to the question changed. Instead of being satisfied, I was, more often than not, ashamed.

I’m sitting in a motel room in Bethel, Connecticut. I just got back from a grocery store. The experience of the trip got me to thinking about satisfaction.

Stew Leonard's Granite Carving

“Rule # 1: The customer is always right. Rule # 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule # 1.” These words are carved in a massive granite boulder at the entrance of Stew Leonard’s in Danbury. Above the boulder is a huge sign announcing that Stew’s is the largest dairy store in the world. Because the words carved in the rock are true, I’m inclined to believe the other claim as well.

I first heard about this store, and its boulder, in the late 80’s. IBM was encouraging its employees to improve the quality of their products and services. The emphasis was on keeping the customers satisfied. Stew Leonard’s success was used as a model of what can be achieved by putting the customer first.

Shortly after Stew Leonard opened his business, so the story goes, a woman came to return a gallon of milk. She said it was sour. Stew took the milk from the patron, examined the date (which had long ago expired) and noted that most of the milk was gone. He asked the woman why she waited so long to return it.

She didn’t answer his question. Instead, she became irate and told him she would never shop in his store again. With that, she was gone and Stew was left holding the bottle.

Stew then asked himself a question. Was the cost of a gallon of milk worth losing a customer? His answer was a resounding “NO!” He vowed he would never lose another customer over something so trivial. He has kept that vow … and thousands of customers. The store has expanded several times and he built a second store in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Contract employment brought me to the Danbury area, and I had to see Stew’s emporium for myself. It is everything the IBM executives said it was. The closest thing to it, that I know of in Georgia, is Harry’s Farmers Market (today known as Whole Foods). But Stew’s is bigger and has a wider variety of products. As for the dairy store claim, they process and bottle milk right on the premises. (I looked for the cows, but didn’t see any.)

I mentioned “contract employment” because there is a definite connection. From 1966 until 1992, I was a full time employee. For the last five years, I’ve been a consultant working on a contractual basis. As a contractor, there’s a world of difference in my attitude. I’ve come to realize that my attitude prior to 1992 was wrong.

As a consultant, whoever I’m working for is my “customer.” My primary job is to keep that customer satisfied. As long as the customer is satisfied with my work, I keep working – and keep getting paid. One contract I had was for sixty days. The contract was terminated after eleven months. My customer apologized for having to let me go. Then he threw a “going away” party for me. He was quite satisfied.

There are times when a customer asks me to do things I consider a waste of time and money. I find such assignments boring and unimaginative. I think someone with less talent and experience could be found to do the meaningless tasks – and probably save the company some money. But before I get upset and say something I might regret, I remind myself that the customer is paying my bills. The customer is always right.

When these instances occur, I examine the situation and try to find a creative solution. If I can discover a task that allows my skills to be better utilized, I sit down and present my recommendations. More often than not, the customer appreciates my honesty and is happy to let me do things that are more productive and beneficial to both of us.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t react this way as a full-time employee. Like so many others, I’d gripe to my fellow workers, friends, and family members. Sometimes I’d even complain to my boss. Complaining isn’t bad if you can offer a solution, but a complaint by itself does nothing to endear you to the person in charge. In fact, it can get you in real hot water if your boss is feeling the same way about his or her job.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d look at my boss as my customer. I would bend over backwards to keep my manager satisfied with my work. If the boss gave me an assignment I didn’t like, I’d either find a better way to do it, or try to find, and suggest, a better use of my skills. Above all, I’d try to maintain a positive attitude and make sure the boss recognized that attitude. I would constantly remind myself that the boss is my number one customer and my primary job is to keep that person satisfied.

Mental attitude means so much in our lives. The late Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest from India, liked to say, “You can’t teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you, and irritates the pig.”

When an idiot cuts me off in traffic, or a moron forgets to leave the pickles off my sandwich, I can get upset, and yell and scream. But if I think of that singing pig, I smile and see the minor inconvenience for what it really is – minor.

If the fools in our lives apologize and remedy the situation, we might feel better. More often than not, the fools get angry themselves. Then we get madder. It’s a vicious cycle. No winners. Lots of losers. However, if we think of the singing pigs, we can get through life’s irritating moments much more easily. We can take the pickles off the sandwich ourselves, and get on with more important matters.

Whether the dimwits we deal with are our employees or employers, we’re better off  if we maintain a positive outlook. Just consider everyone you encounter as a customer and remember, the customer is always right. If the customer orders a product you don’t carry (or would rather not sell), it’s your job to “sell” your customer something else or direct him to another establishment.

Let’s take it a step farther. Let’s see if this would work with family members.

Let’s say your spouse wants to do something that you don’t want to do. You could bluntly say so and get into a heated argument, or you could open up your sales kit and try selling an alternative solution. The solution may not totally replace the original idea, but it may make it less unpleasant for you. There’s nothing wrong with honestly stating why you are proposing something different. In fact, it’s important to let your spouse know your true feelings.

Just be sure you propose another option. Don’t simply refuse to consider your spouse’s desire. Find a compromise solution that will keep you both satisfied. Remember, your spouse is always right, but there’s no reason why you can’t be right also. The problems start when one or both parties are dissatisfied, and an attempt is made to prove that one or the other is wrong.

Talk is cheap and that’s exactly what it takes to resolve problems. Try to be calm as you describe your feelings about the subject and listen intently as your spouse does the same. Then, work together to arrive at a compromise.

The thing I find most interesting about trying to satisfy the people you deal with is that you find that you are very satisfied with yourself.

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To learn more about Stew Leonard, click here.


We Need Your Help

March 3, 2010

A home built sixteen feet above sea level

About three thousand families remain homeless along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Most are probably living in government provided trailers, or with friends or family, but they’d all love to be able to move back to their own homes.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. While New Orleans got all the headlines, the brunt of the storm hit Waveland, Mississippi. There, a thirty foot storm surge totally wiped out many homes and businesses. New Orleans could blame much of their damage on the failure of their levees – after Katrina had moved on. Mississippi could blame nothing other than the hurricane.

So, after nearly five years, why are there still three thousand families unable to go home? The main problem: insurance companies found reasons to avoid paying the claims. In that area of the country, normal homeowner’s insurance means very little. One must also carry flood insurance and wind insurance, and then hope that your home is destroyed by something other than a “named” storm. Families need additional insurance when the storm is given a name.

In addition, charitable relief groups have run out of money. Government funding and grants from other sources have dried up. The only hope families have is to save enough money to pay for the materials to rebuild. There are still plenty of volunteers coming from all over to help. Personal savings and volunteer labor can put people back in their homes… eventually.

Last week, I stayed at the Mission on the Bay camp in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and worked on two homes. One, in Gulfport, was nearing completion. It was located about five miles inland and might have survived the storm… until the roof collapsed. The insurance company wouldn’t pay the claim because the owner didn’t have flood insurance. The owner pitched in and helped us whenever he could. His job involved twelve hour days working with mentally handicapped children at a state hospital.

The second home I worked on was the heartbreaker. It was in Waveland. The owner had built the home himself, and he certainly built it to last. It was approximately twenty-five years old and held together throughout the storm. There was no wind damage to mention, but that thirty foot surge of water left it in ruins.

The authorities declared it inhabitable and the family was provided with a very small trailer. With no money to rebuild, they could do nothing until our volunteer group was able to place them on our schedule. In the past few weeks, they were able to watch as we dismantled their home.

Our supervisor made it clear to us; we were not demolishing the home, we were deconstructing it. We carefully reversed the building process, pulled nails out of boards, and stacked the lumber neatly. The hope of the owners is to use that lumber to rebuild their home.

After being under water (salt water no less) for hours and open to weathering for more than four and a half years, you can imagine the condition of the lumber. We had to discard more than half the boards as totally useless.

And yet, the owners were thrilled to have us bring down their home. They’ve known for years it had to be done before they could take the next step, but they couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it.

Realistically, the lumber that remains is a drop in the bucket of what they need. For one thing, the current concrete slab (all that remains) is about six feet above sea level. The local ordinance (changed after Katrina) requires homes be built at least sixteen feet above sea level. Thus, the first thing they must do is put in some sort of piers to raise the house ten feet about ground level. (Do the math, a thirty foot surge would still put the houses under water, but building any higher would be unrealistic.)

The contractors working with Mission on the Bay tell us it would take approximately $60,000 dollars worth of material to rebuild that one home in Waveland. Right now, no one has that money.

As for the labor… that was another heartwarming part of our trip. Our group of nine representing Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia was joined by a few folks from California and a small contingent from another state. In addition, there were about thirty college students who had flown in from New Hampshire and about fifty high school students from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Those Canadian kids had raised $20,000 to pay for the trip. They came by bus, spent a day in New York City and ate one meal in New Orleans. Otherwise, their mid winter break from school was spent helping others. There is hope for the future!!

I invite my readers to visit the Mission on the Bay web site. Take the time to learn what this group is doing. Then, if you can find it in your heart and wallet, send them a donation. Even if you can only afford a dollar, if we can get 60,000 people to do likewise, we can rebuild that home in Waveland.

If you are reading this article because of a link on Facebook, the effort is working. I’m asking all my friends to spread the word and I’m asking you to do the same.

When you send your donation, please mention my name. I’m hoping we raise more than $60,000, but I’d like the first $60,000 to go to rebuild the home I helped take apart.