Archives for category: Western Civilization

Public domain image of a page from The Book of Kells, courtesy of Wikipedia.

1. My father John Ambrose Campbell Kell once introduced himself to a stranger who asked if he was an aborted Irishman. The aborted (cut off) part is true. The name is more often a prefix than a surname.

2. Sixty-eight variations of the name are recorded in Cowlitz County, WA, US and the province of Ontario, Canada alone:
Kellaby, Kellachan, Kellackey, Kellahan, Kellam, Kellamaki, Kelland, Kellar, Kellard, Kellas, Kellatt, Kellawag, Kellawan, Kellaway, Kellebrew, Kelleby, Kelledjian, Kellers, Kellen, Kellenburg, Kellendonk, Kellep, Keller, Kellerher, Kellerhouse, Kellerman, Kellers, Kellery, Kelles, Kellesis, Kellessis, Kellestiine, Kellet, Kelleway, Kellewill, Kelley, Kellefeltz, Kellia, Kellie, Kellegan, Kellicutt, Kelliher, Kelling, Kellingbek, Kellinger, Kellington, Kellins, Kellio, Kellip, Kellison, Kellman, Kellner, Kello, Kellock, Kellogg, Kellond, Kellop, Kellough, Kellow, Kelloway, Kellows, Kellroy, Kells, Kellsey, Kellum, Kellway, Kelly, Kellys

3. It is not true every Kell is an Irishman, in spite of the famous relic at the University of Dublin, The Book of Kells. It is not the name of an Irish clan or tribe.

4. The Kell prefix comes from the Greek word, keltoi, which means Kelt or Celt. They were the “barbarians” (according to the Greeks) populating the land north of the Mediterranean Sea in ancient times.

5. Here are dictionary and encyclopedia meanings and etymology for “kell”:
English: The caul. That which covers or envelopes, like a caul; a net; a fold; a film. The cocoon or chrysalis of an insect. A kiln, kale, spring or river, trowel
Norse: a cauldron or kettle
Breton and Cornish (from Latin): testicle, cell of a prisoner or monk
Estonian (from Swedish): clock, bell
Hungarian: to be necessary, need to, must, be obligatory

6. Kells is a place name in the Rhineland of Germany and Ireland. As an Anglo Saxon surname it was first found in the county of Hampshire and then a hamlet in north Yorkshire, England. My father’s great grandfather came from there.

7. Second cousins of mine have done a great job on the family genealogy and farms. More research is on the way. A Farming Life (Life Stories — Memoir Writing) by William J. Kell and Farms of Innisfil (Innisfil Heritage Society) edited by William M. Kell are excellent resources. They recount the lives of the descendants of William and Mary Kell from Yorkshire who emigrated to Yonge Street, Ontario, north of Toronto, in 1850.

8. At our annual family reunion, co-president Dr. John Kell wore a “Book of Kells” T shirt. It is our rallying cry. It is the 9th century manuscript which preserves the elements of Western culture from architecture to zoology and has been the pride of Ireland since it was found buried in the mud there without its gold cover in 1868.

To sort out my identity and write about my parents I grabbed the whole bag of clues and ran with it. My family is a people whose achievements were illuminated and buried by a community of monks and who miraculously sprang up and became famous centuries later.

A trowel symbolizes the digging up of our book. Our strong Protestant faith protected us, like a caul or cocoon. The cell and testicle imagery represent the fertility of great uncle William who produced seven sons to continue the name. We work hard, aware that the clock is clicking and the bells will toll. My Hungarian husband was attracted to me because, in one of his native tongues, my name meant “I have to have Margaret”.

An upcoming event is the 23rd Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference, September 29 – October 1 at Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, featuring England & Wales & Research Methodology. A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and I will be at the book table. We’re eager to share our communal story and interested in learning how other family scribes record their past.

Happy Reading, Writing & Family Story Telling from Cozybookbasics! virany

Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Is it time for Celtic Swirls of Love to Replace Straight Roman Lines in Our Infrastructures?

In Copulating Cats and Holy Men: the Story of the Creation of the Book of Kells UK author Simon Worrall sees parallels to our times. He approaches “the most richly ornamented book ever created by man’s hand” as a riddle full of a series of visible clues.

It is a “holy comic strip,” a “beguiling Noah’s Ark of animals and birds that kick and flap and stamp, like the blue wolf that pads along a path of Latin script; or the moths that flit behind a curtain of braided ornamentation,” Worrall says. The monks saw in the cat an analogy to godhead.

Google’s doodle page used a Kells detail as a welcoming image for St. Patrick’s Day. Computer scientists and art historians digitalizing its pages for popular applications have posted their  video on YouTube.

By 791, A.D., Western civilization had been brought to the brink of destruction by barbarians and Vikings. Everything must be coded into a visual data bank and saved. One genius Irish artist had his fingertips on the entire repertoire of Celtic art and metal work. Another, a southerner, knew the art of the ancient Mediterranean world. Nine artists worked together.

It celebrates the facial expressions of love instead of power and preserves the continuity of European culture. After centuries of victimization, abuse, burial, romanticization, neglect and oblivion until it was miraculously stored at Trinity College, University of Dublin, the relic is being cast in a new role.

Worrall sums up, “The Greco-Roman world order and all that it brought us — straight roads, the subjugation of nature and other civilizations to our material will; cultural narcissism — is faltering. The new house of Europe, open from Manchester to Moscow, is the Celtic geography restored.”

Is the oldest, most tenacious of European cultures your  “in” look  too?

This blog post adds to the mystery of why anyone would entitle their family memoir A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I grew up as a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether or not our family originated in a community of ninth century monks).

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the queen

I don’t know about you but I think lots of little things that boost ordinary people add up to important reasons for retaining the monarch. To the Queen! She’s a symbol of steadfastness & civility. (Full disclosure: I’m a war bride’s child named after a Princess.)

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!


At least one man is trying to analyze the big problem at the crux of recent killings in France, and even solve it. Abdennour Bidar (his first name means ‘Bearer and Herald of the Light’) is a 44-year-old French philosopher who has written books and articles. Most famously, after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, he tenderly wrote an “Open Letter to the Muslim World”.

Bidar works for the French Ministry of National Education on devising a model curriculum for a lay (non clerical) society. He consults with other governments and organizations wherever it is safe for him to travel. He was interviewed by the French-language newspaper Le Devoir on Nov. 9 while in Quebec and I have loosely translated his nine main points. He said his work in France is going badly and here’s why:

  1.  France cam’t find a national consensus for a multicultural society where people live together in spite of their differences around an agreed set of shared values. 
  2. We seek to find a formula that lets those who believe in heaven and those who do not live together with the same rights and duties. 
  3. An ideal state of equilibrium would do justice to both unity and multiplicity. It would recognize the right to be different and, at the same time, investigate what the people have in common.
  4. We French have never really seized the notion of ‘fraternity’, although we talk a lot about ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’. 
  5. Fraternity is at the heart of the proposed reform because it has an ethical dimension.
  6. Enmity and disunion are evident at the extreme.
  7. He defends an individualizing conception of faith and spirituality — a sort of protestantizing of the Muslim’s relationship with Allah.
  8.  Today, the individualizing of belief has reinvented the ways of belief. From this comes the crisis of the sacred dividing West against East. 
  9. The cancer which gangrenes Islam comes out of Saudi Arabia. This country is charged with being the guardian of sacred places and the center of the diffusion of the true intelligence of Islamic culture but it is the incarnation of anything but. virany

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!


Tom and Jerry title card for the Chuck Jones s...

Tom and Jerry title card for the Chuck Jones shorts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our one Sunday in Ireland we chose to go to the ‘sung service’ at Christ Church cathedral, the oldest in Dublin. It was beautiful, ritualistic and welcoming. The 400-year-old choir sang forth from its loft high over the 12th century crypt and site of the Vikings’ original 6th century wooden church. We were delighted when a friendly church member invited us down for coffee and a cookie afterwards; maybe we’d find out why they kept a mummified cat and a rat there on display!

As my English mother would say, “Thereby hangs a tale.”

1. Chasing Around inside a Pipe Organ Tube

In the 1860’s, long after the site had been updated to a 17th century Gothic cathedral, the wardens decided to have the organ pipes cleaned (perhaps they smelled something.) Wedged inside the tubes they found the bodies of a cat and a rat, evidently trapped in the narrow space in mid chase. One can only imagine the horror of the scene.

2. Being Mummified Like Kings

In a gesture of  humanity, the wardens decided to exhibit them in a glass case in the crypt near the tombs of bishops and statues of kings. Local people who came to see them nicknamed the duo Tom and Jerry, the names caught on and the story spread. In his novel, Finnegan’s Wake (1939), James Joyce wrote that one of his characters was “as stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ.”


3. Being Put on Public Display

When I saw the mummified cat and rat in their case I was struck by their positions and attitude, reminiscent of God stretching out his hand towards Adam’s in Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine chapel ceiling. It did not seem incongruous because I was in Ireland, the country whose famous Gospel manuscript, The Book of Kells, depicts cats even on its most solemn pages — as if  “In the beginning was suppleness” and they had the “absolute confidence and grace” of the godhead. (See Simon Worrall’s The Book of Kells: Copulating Cats and Holy Men).

3. Having Their Identity ‘Stolen’

Was it pure coincidence that the MGM team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera invented a cat-and-mouse animated cartoon series called Tom & Jerry in 1940? Or, did the names have a familiar ring for the Irish-American Hanna? We will never know and it doesn’t matter to the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have laughed over and loved to watch the hilarious, violent gags and adventures of the begrudging rivals. To their credit, they have seven academy awards, a feature-length movie, a long-running TV series, games and product names and are not yet finished.

5. Becoming a Model for Peace

Deep underneath the spectacular American fame and success is the haunting story of two real-life animals who had been “chased, got stuck, became friends, slowly died together and became frozen in time.” These last words belong to J.W. Ocker who in his blog Odd Things I’ve Seen also says, “It is a reminder of how every episode of Tom and Jerry should end.”

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author

This blog post adds to the mystery of why anyone would entitle their family memoir A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I grew up as a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether or not our family originated in a community of ninth century monks).

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Dunmore East Harbour and Lighthouse

“A Drinking Village with a Fishing Problem”  Dunmore East Harbour and Lighthouse (Photo credit: Wikipeda)

When we visited Ireland in May, 2013, the economy was bad but that could not deflate Irish buoyancy. After Tom and I left Dublin Airport, our first four steps on Irish soil were to pick up our rental car and drive 15 km to cousin Clara’s home in pouring rain only to find it deserted. We nearly ran down a bicyclist and his mom at a crosswalk in the panic of searching for a toilet and phone book. Thank goodness we found a helpful angel at Goggins’ Pub who gave us our first taste of wit and humor.

#1 “Two beers!” I called out when I had regained control and the publican replied, “What kind: Heineken, Murphys, Beamish, Budweiser, Kilkenny, Rickards …? ” I said, “We’re from Canada and…”  “Two glasses of Guinness”, he said, plunking them down instantly. We took two sips, gave thanks and within minutes were ecstatically on Clara’s doorstep, ready for dinner before collapsing into a midday nap. We had gotten lost because we had written her address down as no. 1 instead of no. 11.

#2 Who Stole Mother’s Long-lost Dish?  After we woke up, Clara led us to the Avoca Restaurant for supper — our treat this time. It was the night before Mother’s Day in North America but Ireland celebrates that feast in April. Feeling that something was missing and I might find it in writing, my eyes lit on a chalked message up on the blackboard. It was not the usual menu. It read, “My mother was a wonderful cook who fed our family leftovers for thirty years. The original dish was never found.” The name of the writer was Calvin Toolin. We ate fish and seafood, as we did almost every night in Ireland because it is excellent.

#3 A Clerk’s Confession in a Buried Crypt At the close of the Sunday morning sung service in Christ Church Cathedral, the elder I sat beside invited us to stay for coffee and a cookie in the crypt where there is also a gift boutique. The clerk, a professional of the tourist trade, chattily asked us about ourselves and then spilled out his own confession:  “I didn’t get very far in school. They kicked me out of kindergarten because they didn’t have hot water for shaving.” When I stopped laughing enough to ask how much the Irish linen tea towels cost, another Irish voice cut him off by quipping, “How long is a piece of string?”

#4 Getting Directions  This trip was part pilgrimage for my family memoir, brazenly entitled A Book of Kells. Trinity College, where the original manuscript of The Book of Kells is displayed, accepts donations for its annual scholarship book sale and I needed to find the drop-off spot so I could leave a copy of my book with a note and email address inside. We went from the Cathedral to the right intersection but were still lost so accosted a policeman (garda). He pointed down the street and said, “You see that building with three storeys and a red roof? Well, if you get to it you have gone in the wrong direction.”

#5  An Unforgettable Night of Celtic Music  We settled into our holiday cottage on the south coast and sight-saw nearby Waterford for two days. We craved the sound of Irish music, and heard the place to be was  Powers Pub on Main Street, Dunmore East on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.  We  followed the locals in past the bronze plaque on the door which said, “A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” Soon the musicians trouped in, one by one, nine men and one woman, carrying their instruments: two violins, four guitars, an accordion, a soprano voice, a mandolin and a banjo. Until long past midnight they sat in a circle, strumming their music, improvising, taking requests, performing in turn, always playing in perfect time, pitch and harmony. Their music was their hobby and love. They were happy to play for nothing more than the few drinks patrons bought them. This night was the accordionist’s birthday and the cooks in his family had prepared deep fried onion rings, breaded chicken, dips and cake for all to share. We were mesmerized and felt sorry when the night ended.

#6 The Way & Why to Read a Newspaper  Each morning we had breakfast at the Bay Café, with a good view of the Celtic Sea. On Thursday The Irish Independent was published and all the regulars picked up a copy and read it from cover to cover, sitting at tables indoors or out. The writing on the newspaper box egged them on, “The Irish Independent: Before You Make Up Your Mind, Open It Up.”

#7  Moving Up from 25% to 100%   The friendly blonde waitress and receptionist at Dunmore’s  Strand Hotel wanted to know who we were so I told her I was a one-quarter-Irish Canadian. She insisted we buy a full bottle of wine with our dinner and said we could take what was left with us. On the way out she helped me pack up, patted the outside pocket on my bag with the opened bottle in it and said, “There, now you’re 100% Irish.”

The Secret of Irish Wit and Charm  As a finale, we visited the oldest lighthouse in the world, the Hook Head Lighthouse which blinked at us night and day from across the St. George’s Channel.The tour guide led us up to the top and when we parted I told her we had had a wonderful week and found the Irish cheery and helpful, always ready and willing to tell a joke. Her Irish eyes smiled knowingly as she said, “It’s because we’re not in a hurry. We’re not going anywhere.” And who can blame them? Because they feel that way, being a tourist in Ireland is great fun; it’s such a pleasant place to be, even though we visited at a time when the economy was doing badly.

This  blog complicates the  mystery of why anyone would write a family memoir entitled  A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I grew up as a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether our family originated in a ninth century community of monks.)

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folio 124r

folio 124r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Kells has exploded onto the digital stage and is challenging St. Patrick as an Irish icon.The St. Patrick’s Day  website of Trinity College, the University of Dublin announces that everyone may now experience the Book of Kells online, for free, in its new Digital Collections.

  • The Book of Kells for I-pad, released in December, 2012 is a top seller in Apple stores. Anyone can buy a copy of the priceless manuscript.

Early History  After St. Patrick established the first Christian mission in Ireland in the fifth century, Irish monasteries spread their spiritual and cultural influence far and wide.

  • Celtic monks living on the Isle of Iona created a 680-page manuscript of the Four Gospels (Latiin Vulgate version) early in the ninth century. At the same time, it codified their entire civilization.
  • The sacred Word of God had a gold cover and was designed to sit on the altar at the high holidays of the Christian year.
  • Vikings raided and savaged the monks’ colony; the surviving monks fled to Kells, County Meath in Ireland.
  • Thieves stole the book, ripped off its cover and buried it in a bog 1,000 years ago.
  • When found months later, the Annals of Ulster called it “the greatest relic of western civilization”.  No one challenges that description today.
  • The Roman Catholic church took it for safekeeping in the 16th century, then brought it to Dublin 100 years later.

The Art  Four extremely talented artists, one of them from the Mediterranean, worked together with 50 or so assistants, researchers believe.

  • The monks wrote on vellum prepared from the slaughter of 185 calves and used ten vibrant pigments, some from distant lands. A purple-brown-black ink was made from iron salts and local vegetable sources, such as oak apples (galls).
  • Mind-boggling in complexity and ornamentation, the book combines figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts with Celtic knot-work and interlace. Motifs swirl, letters evolve into pictures and pictures into letters.
  • Along with technical know-how and Christian iconography, the monks had fun. A letter M is two monks pulling each other’s beards; an  illustrated rhyme compares a writer choosing words to his cat chasing mice.
  • The lavish, intricate, minute, illuminated art and calligraphy overwhelm even the Holy Script.

Update  Since the mid 1800’s, the book has been on display, now bound into four volumes of 33 x 25-cm pages. It has some water damage, is extremely fragile and has lost substantial pigment. The folios bend or contract if the temperature changes the least bit, threatening adhesion of the colors.

  • In 1989 Facsimile-Verlag Lucern published a limited edition of 1480 copies (740 reserved for the British Isles). Two copies, valued at $18,000 each, were presented to Texas Christian University and Austin College in 1990.
  • In March 2012, 120 people came to a lecture on the Book of Kells at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.  At the University of Dublin, Professor Roger Stalley debunked the idea that the book was created in quiet seclusion.
  • Simon Worrall published The Book of Kells: Copulating Cats and Holy Men, a highly entertaining, informative, short book, in 2012.
  • We traveled to Ireland in 2013. Check the ‘Home’ tab above to read the blogs and look at the pictures of the tower and graveyard we explored.
  • Hay Festival Kells, in County Meath, will return for a third edition in 2015, from 26 to 28 June.

The energy, wit and beauty of the pages carry a Saint Patrick’s Day message of  irrepressible joy into hearts, a living celebration of the culture and heritage of the Irish Celts.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

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A 1939 Canada Grade One/Two Lesson in Gas Chambers Being Bilingual

First Day at School in Toronto, Canada 1939

On Sunday, September 3, 1939 Germany defied a British ultimatum to withdraw its troops from Poland and World War II broke out

Next morning Father sat glued to the radio at our breakfast table in Toronto and solemnly told us, “This is the darkest day in the history of the British Empire.” Outside the window the sun shone brightly, daring to differ.

I danced, not walked, with my sisters up the quarter-mile cinder path along Dufferin Street to Briar Hill Public School for my first day of school on Tuesday, September 5.

Grade One teacher Jeannie McDowell had shoulder-length, loose,  wavy black hair and was a little preoccupied, plump and lopsided. She wore a black sweater coat and brightly flowered dress with a white background. She was colorful and dramatic compared to the housewife mothers I knew.

At first I was seated near the front which was particularly good on the day we had a substitute teacher. She was wearing an egg in her bosom to see if it would hatch and that kept our attention.

We did our sums with a choice of two colors from the crayon box. My favorite combination was purple and green, although some days I was in the mood for yellow and orange, or red and blue.

Miss McDowell loved to have us do art but always insisted we draw a black frame around our creations, as if they were important and permanent.

She didn’t read stories to us; we stood in a line at the front and took turns reading out loud ourselves.

One day she turned solemn, like Father, and told us Jews were being gassed to death in Nazi concentration camps, their bodies burned and turned into soap. I knew from her eyes she was telling the truth and trusting us the way she would adults.  In my heart I decided not to ever join with people who made comments about Jews. This was a decision about who I was, made without my parents’ input. I was sure they would agree but they were too passive.  I felt very grown up, thanks to Miss McDowell.  I thought the Campbell side of our family should stop having its reunions at a camp site on Lake Simcoe with a ‘Gentiles Only’ sign.

Another day, after I had been moved back to the grade two corner of the class, Miss McDowell picked up the chalk to begin writing on the blackboard beside me. We sang O Canada in English every morning but now she taught it to us in French. This was a giant step outside of the curriculum box. For good measure, she taught us La Marseillaise as well.

The Five Teaching Keys

Jeannie McDowell was a very smart teacher.

  1. Her classroom was colorful and fun.
  2. She shared adult facts with us but made us feel secure.
  3. She visualized the future and helped broaden us to be good citizens.
  4. Thanks to her, I started to become my own person.
  5. From art to antisemitism and bird-birth to bilingualism, I learned a lot and felt very stimulated in her class.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of language and literature, note-taker of Northrop Frye, journalist, editor, author

For More Details of Fascinating Lives, Read Margaret’s Books: Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, a war bride’s answer to a call of love in the wilderness; A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, a 20th century Canadian confession.


The  biblical English poet William Blake didn’t believe in either God or Man as separate entities but in Divine Humanity as a union of creative effort. The divine being takes the initiative. At the point of communication the two become an identity. Man must let go of  his ego to be resurrected. The self-surpassing of human limitations is infinite.  Paradise can  be made here.

IMG_0490_1 Blake saw the American (and later French) revolutions as victories for humanity against established authority and the message of Jesus as one of social liberation. In his 1790 poem The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (where the exuberance proverb appears) left-wing and right-wing political forces are wedded when the right is converted.  The ‘left’ are the Devils and the ‘right’ are the Angels. Blake was on the left, supporting Voltaire and Thomas Paine.


Blake is a complex poet and no one really understood him until Northrop Frye came along. In this  blog I am relying on “Blake’s Bible” which is published in Robert Denham’s Myth & Metaphor: Selected Essays by Northrop Frye 1974-88

Blake’s rules are radical but as our civilization crumbles they make more and more sense for us writers and concerned citizens:

  1. Throw away judgmental, conforming morality.  It is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ which God warned Man against in Eden
  2. Don’t be prudish about sex or nudity; this attitude came from having eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree
  3. Pursue your abilities to love and to create. Make them your highest goals. They are the center of potentially divine powers.
  4. Destroy your own grasping and clutching ego. That also will  make you more human.
  5. Realize that the old, metaphorical cosmology of the Bible is not historical or scientific. Paradise and the Apocalypse are scenarios to be enacted on earth by human creators with a spiritual partner. Hell is what we have now.

Thanks for dropping by.The roses are blooming at my home as I write. I’ve helped them a little by fertilizing them and discarding the leaves ruined by black spot and pests.  Please leave a comment below, as  exuberant as you wish.

Margaret Kell Virany   lover of lang and lit, note-taker of Norrie Frye, journalist, editor, author, almost octogenarian

Self-Congratulations, USA!


(The all-inclusive ‘we’ means all of us living on the North American continent, both above and below the 49th parallel.)

Almost half of all Americans were hoping fervently that Mitt Romney would be elected and we got Barack Obama instead.

Why were so many of us hoping for Romney?

1. He looks like us and like all American presidents have up until 2008; his skin is white.

2. He’s a multimillionaire and carries the aura of success about him; give him power and we’ll be white, rich and successful too 

3. Fears had been drilled into us; Obama stood for darkness, mongrelism, paganism, otherness, shiftlessness, socialism, communism, nazism, atheism, apocalypse, the chaotic nightmare of debt, laziness, dependency and flooded boundaries …

So how come Obama won?

1. He looks good; he smiles and cries.

2. He became a winner in life, even without advantages; give him power and we’ll work our way up out of trouble too

3. Confidence and trust surged unhidden; on November 7, 2012 we woke up from a nightmare. We are back on real, familiar ground and feel optimistic about starting a new day.

 Thank you for spending your precious time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, comment.


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