The Benefits And Joys Of Doing Puzzles

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 18, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

There’s something about a human being that likes to solve a mystery or a puzzle. Mystery novels and spy thrillers are probably the most widely read books in the country. As kids, my brother and I used to love to read the Hardy Boys series, as these teenage detectives solved mystery after mystery, so even as children we were turned on to mysteries. Coupled with that is the insatiable human demand for puzzles, — puzzles of all kinds, from crosswords to Sudoku, jig saw puzzles to electronic iPhone puzzles.

            Most historians of trivia agree that the most popular of all the many different puzzles, worldwide, is the jig saw puzzle, which was invented in 1760, — I don’t know which was the most popular before the 18th Century. The largest jig saw puzzle available today was made by Ravenburger, with 40,320 pieces. The smallest jig saw puzzle, according to trivia experts, was created at Laser Zentrum Hannover, and is the size of a grain of sand (now I’d have to see that to believe it). My wife and I, being avid jig saw puzzle doers, prefer puzzles made by Ravenburger, though there are three or four other companies which make well-fitting puzzle pieces. Nothing is more annoying than trying to build a thousand-piece puzzle with the pieces constantly coming apart!

            The good brands of jig saw puzzles, like Ravenburger, are quite expensive, but puzzle addicts solve that problem by buying used puzzles or exchanging them with friends who share the same passion for doing puzzles.

            Nobody seems to know which puzzle is the second most popular puzzle in the world, and there are many, many different ones, including these: Rubik’s Cube and Soma Cube, Sudoku, Slitherlink, Kakuro, Number Link, Masyu, Shikaku, Scrabble, connect-the-dots, cryptic crosswords, get-through-the-maze, and many more. Educators tell us that they favor using puzzles with kids, because there are great benefits, — they help improve cognitive skills, promote problem-solving, foster fine motor development, and improve hand and eye coordination. Some people even believe that doing puzzles helps to prevent the onslaught of dementia.

            Of those puzzles mentioned, the one I have always enjoyed as much as jig saw’s is the crossword puzzle. No doubt as a former English teacher, wordsmith, and dictionary nut, I would be attracted to a puzzle which calls for synonyms, though I may have caught the crossword bug from one of my aunts, who worked through an entire book of crossword puzzles each day. She had stacks and stacks of crossword puzzle books by her living room couch, and since she did them in pencil, would allow me to erase them and do them myself (this was subject to cheating because the answers were not always thoroughly erased).

            Most of my life I was too busy working at some job or other to finish a whole book of puzzles a day, so my habit was to do the daily crossword in The Houston Post or (later) The Houston Chronicle after supper. As a school teacher, I never had time to do it before breakfast. My puzzle-doer aunt was a stay-at-home homemaker, who, I’m afraid did more crosswords than homemaking. Back in those days, people believed “a woman’s place was in the home,” – apparently, I guess, whether you baked, sewed, canned, cleaned house, or worked crossword puzzles, it mattered not as long as you stayed home. She did have a sharp mind and wrote a column for the local newspaper.

            My mother, on the other hand, had no use for crossword puzzles, but enjoyed putting jig saw pieces together, thus kindling my interest in jig saw puzzle building.

            Mama loved maps, globes, and geography, which is a bit odd since she was terrified of traveling anywhere outside of Lee County, Texas. No doubt her love of geography was her motivation for buying “geography puzzles” for my brother and me. My favorite puzzle as a child was a map of the United States, so, even before I went to school, I knew the names and locations of all the states (at that time) in the Union. We also had a World Map puzzle which was more difficult for us. When you haven’t gone anywhere outside of Lee County, it is difficult to envision the world and match the pieces.

            My wife loves Sudoku and iPhone puzzles, but some of the most enjoyable days in the winter of our life are those days when we do a huge jig saw puzzle together.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor and is the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

For The Love Of Cedar, The Godly Wood

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 11, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

   A few days ago, I received a belated birthday present, — a T-shirt depicting a couple of wood-carving knives with the caption: “THE BEST WAY TO CARVE WOOD IS WHITTLE BY WHITTLE.” It’s a perfect gift for me, as I have argued many times, “I am not a wood sculptor, I am a whittler.” When folks ask me about my wood art, I tell them, “I don’t sculpt, I whittle.” In fact, when I began doing wood art some years ago, because of my love of the beauty of wood, I bought an expensive set of blades, chisels, scoops, etc., but after a few months, tossed them aside and started using my 19th Century pocket knife (from my father-in-law’s father). They don’t make knives like that anymore!

            Just as many women I know love fine China, dainty porcelain, and arty ceramics, a lot of men I’m acquainted with have a passion for working with wood, making everything from chicken roosts to step ladders out of planks of white pine or whatever their favorite wood happens to be. And the old-timers like my father and grandfather just loved to whittle with their pocket knife, making useful items like wooden spoons and paddles. Some even liked to do arty things, but each one had his favorite wood. My daddy’s favorite wood was cedar.

            Maybe that’s why my favorite wood to work with is also cedar. When you slice off a piece of cedar and sand it, the grain is splendid-looking, almost an object of art in itself. But then I grew up with cedar, there being many cedar brakes in the woods around Dime Box. My grandfather used cedar trunks as fence posts, convinced they didn’t rot as easily as other woods and sure of their insect repellent properties. In those days, every young woman had a cedar chest made by their father or an uncle, an excellent moth-free “hope chest.” At our church in Dime Box, a parishioner hand-made the baptismal font out of some beautiful cedar wood. Someone (probably my father) made a jewelry box for my mother, with hand-cut metal decorations on it. In Lee County in the good old days, cedar wood was highly regarded even though it was plentiful.

            There is a centuries-old Sumerian myth that speaks of the “wood of the gods,” which, of course, was cedar, the legend telling about how the demigods fought a great battle with humans over the cedar groves in Mesopotamia. I’m not sure who won, but I’m guessing it was the demigods.

            What was/is so great about cedar? In much of ancient history it was the most valued of all woods, — the Cedars of Lebanon are famous and are mentioned in the Bible. Egyptians used cedar for ship-building, and the Ottoman Empire did major construction projects with it, desiring it above all others. Solomon used the cedars of Lebanon to build his Temple, the only wood suitable for God’s House. If it were the only wood good enough for the Temple, then it was surely a Godly wood. Maybe the parishioner who built our baptismal font with cedar in Dime Box had that in mind.

            As far as whittling is concerned, I don’t find cedar difficult to whittle on, and can shape it easily. I actually prefer it to driftwood, though driftwood rivals its beauty, because most driftwood is very hard to carve, and requires a really sharp knife. I tend to use cedar for flat art and driftwood for 3-dimensional designs. The two woods don’t look good together. But driftwood created by the ocean and the sun from different kinds of wood has many different colorations and textures, often quite spectacular when sanded and shellacked. These different colored and textured woods look good together.

            You can buy slices from a cedar log, with beautiful grain variations showing, and these slices can be used very effectively in creating one-dimensional art, — it’s kind of like painting a picture with cedar wood, and is by far my favorite method of creating wood art. Some cedar slices have much more beautiful wood grains than others, and part of the artist’s job is to find the most exquisitely beautiful ones, which are certainly fitting for religious art. As September and our church auction grow closer, I hope to create some wood art out of this “Godly wood.”

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Freelancer’s Saga About Creating A “Page”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 27, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

When I served as pastor of a church, we had a “Website,” overseen by a Webmaster who knew how to perform all of the complicate maneuvers necessary to post items on the Site. We, who try to preserve our Wendish history, have a “Website,” wendishresearch.org, and a very gifted Webmaster. The one time I attempted to post something on our Website at the church (our Webmaster said it was “easy’ to do), I deleted everything else on the Site. Ever since that point in time, I have stayed away from trying to post on a Website, someone has to do it for me!

            Because of the mess I can create with a computer, I have, at times, vowed to stay away from computers entirely. But, being the incredibly stubborn German Wend that I am, again and again, I kept attempting new maneuvers on the computer, my first victory years ago being to discover how to post photos on Facebook! Learning by trial and error is obviously the hard way to learn, but, again, being an incredibly stubborn German Wend, I refused to take computer lessons or even read the instructions! After all, I keep telling myself, my mother taught herself how to read notes and play the piano, so why not be able to conquer a computer!

            So I have created a new “Page” for myself via Facebook! Several years ago, I was attracted to the much touted simplicity of creating a “Page” with Facebook, and convinced that Websites were beyond my aged brain, I tried to create a Page, which turned out to be such a disaster, I got hacked four or five times. Deleted the Page! But, being the stubborn you-know-what, it wasn’t long before I tried another Page, which I deleted soon after I started it. Wanting to promote the sales of my book, It Must Be the Noodles, I attempted a third Page. By then, I seemed to have made all the mistakes you can possibly make in doing a Page, so my Page sailed along rather smoothly. Until I started “boosting” certain posts and letting Facebook promote my Page, not realizing that was costing me money. Frugal as well as stubborn, I killed that Page, too.

            That brings me to my current Facebook Page, which is going well, which I am enjoying, and which hasn’t cost me anything. Just when I had come to the conclusion that I would permanently avoid doing Pages, as well as Websites, I viewed and “Liked” a Page, entitled “Lone Star Back Roads, Photographer.” I enjoyed reading and seeing (the photographs) so much that it became my favorite thing to visit regularly. Over a period of time, I became acquainted with the Page “photographer,” Jeremy Clifton, who to my great surprise was also the Webmaster of our wendishresearch.org website! To make a long story short, through his inspiration and suggestions, I was able to go forward with my Page, maintain it in a semi-professional manner, and really come to enjoy posting to it every day.

            Hoping to write and publish another book, doing other free-lance writing every day, planning wood art projects for our church auction, and continuing my pen and ink sketching, I wanted a name for the Page which would reflect all of those things. The word “author” and/or “writer” would cover both my prose writing and my poems, the word “artist” would cover both pen and ink drawings and watercolor, but what about the wood art? It would be an exaggeration to say I am a “Sculptor.” Aha! What do I do? I whittle! That did it! I entitled my Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler.” I couldn’t resist the alliteration, and the Page title seems to work, because many people seem to be attracted to it. I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Jeremy.

            I enjoy posting to my new Page, because it’s not just for the purpose of enticing folks to buy my book or the magazines in which my poems are published, or purchase my art (I donate most of my art projects to the church auction and I get no money from the poetry magazines), but it’s about reminiscing and sharing history and old photographs and Wendish stuff and about joy and kindness — the sorts of things I enjoy writing and posting and (hopefully) the kinds of things those who “Like” my Page want to read. After all, if my ambition were to make a lot of money, I would never have become a school teacher, preacher, and writer/artist!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

The Relativity Of Time And Back To The Past

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 20, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

When my cousin (related through my mother’s side of the family) came to see me recently, we talked non-stop for two days about the past, i.e., the “good old days” of our childhood. Several years ago, when six or seven of my cousins (related through my father’s side of the family) came to see me, we shared old family photographs and genealogies, and had long, exciting discussions about our forebears. Each of us saw old photos we hadn’t seen before and heard family stories previously not known. We all had this strong instinct to preserve our past.

            It seems that attitude is true of most people, — except, of course, for remembering the crazy things we did in the past we’d rather not remember. Most of our remembering is of the good and beautiful things of long ago, as we look at the era of our great grandparents (during which we did not live) through rose-colored glasses (I mean, what is so lovely about plowing a field with a mule). One of my cousins said that smelling the aroma of certain foods cooking on the stove triggers delightful memories of our grandmother’s kitchen. Not only do I have a similar response, but the aroma also fosters an urgent desire within in me to want to eat such food once again, like Grandma’s cooked homemade cheese on warm homemade bread.

            Like me, you may know people who do not care about the past at all and think it’s just a bucket of ashes. One of my friends once said he could care less about the past, he is only interested in the “now” and the future. He used to make me feel guilty about my penchant for reminiscing, until I decided I didn’t want friends who made me feel guilty about returning to the past, and now I have many friends who share my love of looking back and joyfully remembering. However, mooning over the past, avoiding the present, and dreading the future are not healthy attitudes either, — but that’s not what I’m talking about. We have to live in the present and realistically prepare for the future, but, at the same time, fully enjoy memories of the past.

            We can’t literally return to the past, can we? Well, there is the “relativity of time” versus “time” as most of us see it. In the “relativity of time,” a person can theorize that it’s possible to travel back in time to the past, but no one has ever found a way to make it physically possible, — though science fiction stories like The Time Machine by H. G. Wells in 1895 and the 1985 movie, Back to the Future, have presented fictitious ways. 

            Einstein once wrote, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein did believe that time exists, he just did not believe in a distinction between present, past, and future. Most of us believe time is flowing, and it continues flowing constantly, ever going forward. I think it was Einstein’s theory that provided the fodder for the movie, Back to the Future, wherein Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, travels to the past in a DeLorean, using plutonium (he doesn’t have any when he wants to return) as the means. The idea of traveling back in time and forward to the future is such a popular notion that the movie did so well at the box office, the producer made Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III.

            Of course, science fiction and reality are not the same thing, so we really have only one way to view the past and that is through memories, conversations with older people, and history books. That takes me back to the pleasure that many folks receive in looking back fondly at old memories. My brother used to chuckle and say after reading my newspaper columns about episodes in our childhood that I had “creative memory.” When my cousin and I reminisced recently about our maternal grandmother whom we loved so much, we pictured her as a saint, perfectly sweet and good and saintly in every way. So I reminded my cousin how Grandma would yell at the farm dogs when they didn’t behave, spouting off some really bad words in German. I knew enough German to know how bad those words were!

            Even remembering some of the naughty and ridiculous incidents and activities of the past is a joy, and if it produces laughter as well as tears and smiles, that’s a bonus! All you need is your memory (and maybe a photo album or two), — you don’t need a DeLorean!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

How A Pastor Became A Columnist

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for Thursday, June 13, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years was that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years were that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that mine became more and more like feature articles or essays, and they still are.            

Mine being a weekly column, I could never understand how on earth Leon Hale could come up with new ideas regularly for a daily column. I am in awe of him for that, as, after writing well over a thousand columns, I feel my idea bucket is almost empty. One of these days it may be.           

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

The Palaces, The Queen, And Our President

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 6, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

One of the things I have learned from teaching a college course in British literature for many years is an understanding and appreciation of the United Kingdom. You have to know the people, places, and traditions of England, Scotland, Ireland, etc., to understand their poetry and prose. When you immerse yourself in British culture and history, you cannot help but become somewhat of an Anglophile. On the day I am writing this, President Donald Trump is making an official State visit to the United Kingdom, his helicopter having landed on the lawn of Buckingham Palace in London about six or seven hours ago.

            President Trump’s official visit with the Queen of England and the Prime Minister today re-emphasizes the powerful and long bond between the United States and the United Kingdom. American roots are deep into British roots. President Donald Trump’s ancestors came to the United States from Scotland. President George W. Bush is the 17th cousin of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. My wife’s ancestors came from Ireland, as did President Ronald Reagan’s and President John F. Kennedy’s. My ancestors came from Germany, but like most Americans, I feel a strong bond with England.

            President and Mrs. Trump have by now had lunch with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and the Duchess of Cornwell in Buckingham Palace. Considering the time difference, they are probably at this moment, along with Trump family members, and the Queen’s son and grandsons, participating in an official State Banquet in the Palace. Our President was earlier greeted with an 82-gun salute.

            Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip (who has retired from public life) have two official residences: one is Buckingham Palace in London; the other in Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, England. Both residences are often the location for official State dinners and other special occasions. The Queen privately owns Balmoral Castle in Aberdeanshire, Scotland, and Sandringham House in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, as well as several other estates. Americans often wonder who pays for these State functions at the official palaces, involving heads of State from other countries.

            The Queen of England receives “a Sovereign Grant” from the British government, — basically an expense account which covers the cost of the royal family’s official travels, security for them, and staff and upkeep of official royal palaces. I don’t think this is coming out of the English tax-payer’s pocket, because the Sovereign Grant is made up of money generated from income from the Royal Estates (most of which goes into the Sovereign Grant and only a small portion to the Monarch). If I understand all of this correctly (which I probably don’t), President Trump is probably wealthier than Her Majesty the Queen.

            The surname for the British royal family is “Windsor.” Queen Elizabeth’s husband is called “Prince” Philip, because, as a descendant of a Greek monarch, he cannot be designated as “King” of England, so his official title is Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. Prince Philip’s surname is “Mountbatten,” which explains why the surname for Prince Harry and Meghan’s baby is “Windsor-Mountbatten.” It was not until 1957 that Philip was officially designated a British prince. Some ancient rule decrees that British royal children cannot be named “Mountbatten,” unless their parents decline royal titles. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan were able to name their child “Windsor-Mountbatten” because they chose that their children not have royal titles.

            Tomorrow, President Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May at her office on Downing Street, with a business breakfast at St. James Palace, in spite of the face that Prime Minister May has resigned and her last day as PM is June 6. St. James Palace is no longer the official residence of the Queen, but is used more for the affairs of the United Kingdom, housing a number of official offices, and, I think a few members of the royal family live there, such as the daughters of the Duke of York.

            On his final day, the President will participate in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth, led by the Queen and more than 300 D-Day veterans. This final ceremony underscores the powerful and deep relationship the United States has with the United Kingdom, and this is an official visit that reaffirms the relationship.

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 Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

The Artistry Of Lone Star Back Roads

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 30, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In order to make my experience with Facebook more interesting, I will frequently “like” and “follow” a Page, or a Community, or a Group, an action which often brings me enlightenment, entertainment, or inspiration. If the “Page” turns out to be uninteresting, I will “unlike” and “unfollow” it.

            Not long ago, I discovered and “liked” and “followed” a Page which I have enjoyed so much I wanted to talk about it in this column. When I “liked” the Page, entitled “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” I had no idea that the person behind the Page was the Webmaster for Wendish Research where my Blogs are posted. The Page is not to be confused with “Texas Back Roads,” “BackRoads of Texas,” and a couple similarly named sites. The photographer and the Page-Master is Jeremy Clifton, who lives in Hutto, Texas, but roams all over the State.

            I tend to “like” all of the sites such as this one that contain Texas history, Texas lore, Texas ethnicity, and Texas photographs. “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer” was different, however, from the others, and the photographs were done with such artistry, they seemed to reach out and grab you. I felt that the photos of small Texas towns on the “back roads” of the Lone Star State captured the very “soul” of the town, the community, or the church. Jeremy also posts pictures of County Courthouses, Texas eateries, and historical sites like the Alamo. He displays commendable photographs of many of the old churches, other old buildings, and festivities of the Wendish people of Texas. He grew up in North Carolina (parts of which remind him of rural Texas), and while he doesn’t have a drop of Wendish blood in him, he has two children who have a Wendish mother and grandmother, and who very likely are descendants of Rev. Jan Killian. Along with that, he has a passion for Texas, our history, and our ethnicities.

            As an artist (at least I think I am), I view his photographs as works of art, not only as they capture the light and shadows, the forms and colors, or the black and white starkness, but also as they capture the spirit, the mood, the essence of the churches, the towns, or the landscapes photographed. The photos tell a story.

One example that touches me is a black and white shot of Loebau, Texas, photographed as it looks today, now that only about 20 people still live there. The empty look of its one and only country store haunts me as I remember the town like it was during my childhood, when it was a thriving, bustling place where we Wendish Lutherans gathered for church and school picnics, oompa-pa music echoing through groves of pin oak trees.

Another of Jeremy’s photographs is a picture of Salty, Texas, consisting of a photo of the Salty Community Church (originally a Methodist church in the 1800’s), the strange, horizontal shape of the tree limbs, the diagonal cloud formations, and a cemetery barely visible in the background, all of it suggesting a long forgotten history. Jeremy comments that it once had three schools, three doctors, and a post office.

Jeremy’s night time photos make an incredible use of light in the darkness, such as the black and white photograph of the Lutheran church in The Grove, and the nighttime color photo of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor, Texas, the church of my forebears. This is a dramatic capturing of an old white church building, with lighted emerald green windows, the inviting structure surrounded by a splendid semi-darkness of purple, lavender, and indigo. He also captured the insides of old churches with elaborate altar work dramatically lighted in the darkness. In another shot, he caught the organist and his wife pulling on the multiple ropes ringing the delightful sounding bells in the stone bell tower. Often Jeremy gives descriptions and explanations with the photographs, and sometimes he lets the picture tell its own story.

Even though I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, I recommend if you enjoy Facebooking that you pull up “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” and that you “like” the Page and you “follow” it. You’ll enjoy its artistry.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

The Love Of Soap, Mama’s Old Fashioned Lye Or Modern Goat Milk

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 23, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Some years ago I went with my son-in-law to a goat farm near Kendleton to buy some goat milk, which I had read was the healthiest milk to drink; upon bringing a couple bottles home, I discovered after one big swallow of the stuff, I couldn’t stand the taste of it. However, the owners of the farm did also sell goat milk soap, so I was able to buy some really good goat milk soap, which is the only kind of soap my wife and I have been using for decades.

            By the way, over the centuries, there have been arguments among those who have a fixation on proper grammar, about the proper form for writing “goat milk.” Do you write “goat milk” (using “goat” as a noun adjunct), or “goats milk” (without an apostrophe), “goat’s milk” (singular possessive), or “goats’ milk” (plural possessive)? Singular possessive would say the milk is from one goat; plural possessive would say the milk is from more than one goat; thus many grocers advertized it without an apostrophe. Because the argument about to apostrophe or not to apostrophe or where to apostrophe, I choose to use the noun adjunct form, “goat milk.”

            My wife and I use goat milk soap mainly because health professionals have said it is good for the skin, because it doesn’t dry out the skin like other types of soap. Some even believe it is good for folks, like me, who suffer from eczema, keeping your skin soft and smooth. Freshly made goat milk soap does not lather as well as other soaps, but after it has aged for a while, it lathers quite well. Health professionals are also saying that it cleans your hands and body of germs just as well as anti-bacterial soaps do.

            However, I like goat milk soap, not because of all those highly praised health benefits, but simply because it reminds me of the homemade lye soap my mother and grandmother used to make and swear by. Now, Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap did not promise to make your hands soft and smooth, like goat milk; in fact, after using it to scrub clothes on a rub board, it left your hands pretty doggone raw! The good thing about Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap was that it got your clothes cleaner than anything else and it would get rid of bad stains. Because of the lye and animal fat, it could be used for soothing poison ivy, skin rashes, and bug bites.

            Mama, like Grandma, made her soap with hog lard, water, and lye; she wouldn’t let us help her make it because lye was “too dangerous” to use. Her homemade lye soap came out of the process a light tan color and had little dark-brown specks in it. I was told that the little brown specks were pieces of sizzled pigskin in her homemade lard. Except for the brown specks, the natural color of goat milk soap reminds me of her old-fashioned lye concoction, and that’s the main reason I like it, soft hands or no soft hands.

            Unfortunately, goat milk soap is usually more expensive than other types of soap, but you can get it cheaper at a goat milk farm than in a fancy lady’s gift shop. Of course, goat milk farms don’t smell as nice as fancy lady’s gift shops, and that’s all right with me. Because of the expense, I once thought of trying to make my own goat milk soap, but discovered that made from scratch, goat milk soap required the use of lye, just as Mama’s soap did, and I still have this fear of using lye. Because of the power of the lye, one of the goat milk making instructions said to freeze the goat milk first. The whole process sounded much to problematic for me to attempt. I have discovered, however, in recent years, that you can buy a ready-made goat milk soap base, which means someone else has already done the lye work for you. Oh well, I’m too old to make my own now, and try to order it directly from a goat farm, where you can get bigger ounce bars for less.

            My wife likes the way goat milk soap leaves your skin soft and smooth, and I like the way it seems to keep my eczema under control (and smells a lot better than Noxema, the old eczema remedy), but, for me, it’s got to have that Mama’s soap look to it! I even found some once with dark-brown specks, but don’t think they were pigskin bits.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Religious Persecutions and Its Tragedies

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 16, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

“No one should be in fear in a house of worship,” tweeted Vice-President Pence after the tragic shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This terrible attack involving a Jewish house of worship came on the heels of tragic bombings of Christian churches in the Philippines in 2019 and a fatal attack on a mosque in New Zealand.

            Just a few days ago, six people were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in Burkino Faso, in West Africa. Christian churches have been under attack for some time now all over the world. In 2019, worldwide, 1,266 Christian churches were attacked, and 4,136 Christians killed for their faith. Most of you probably remember that 26 Christians were killed in a Baptist church in Texas in 2017, so these fatal attacks have not just been on Catholics, but on different denominations of Christianity, as well as on synagogues and mosques. This is a alarming commentary on the 21st Century, isn’t it?

            One of the most horrible acts of violence against Christians in 2018 did not take place in a church but on a beach, when 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya for their faith. For the beheading, they were handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. Such things are as horrifying as the persecution against Christians by the Romans in New Testament times.

            The Coptic Christian (Orthodox) church is considered one of the oldest Christian churches, if not THE oldest, in the history of Christianity. It began in Egypt, and it is believed, based on non-Biblical historical sources, that the Apostle Mark was the evangelist who brought Christianity to Egypt, and it spread to other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia (where the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church now has many members and is very active). The first Christian converts no doubt where Jews living in Egypt. In fact, it was in Alexandria, where the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible was made. There were waves of anti-Jewish violence for many years in the region, and Greeks and pagans of all kinds made no distinction between Jews and Christians (they considered Christianity a sect of Judaism).

            Based on non-Scriptural sources, it is believed by some historians that Saint Mark was martyred, that is, killed defending the faith, during these outbreaks of Jewish persecution. When you try to connect the dots in the history of Christianity in Egypt and the rest of Africa, you cannot help but remember that Joseph and Mary fled with the Christ Child to Egypt. And you cannot help but wonder if this bringing the Savior of the world to Egypt did not in some way plant the first seed of Christianity in a non-Christian area.

            Today, it is a fact that there are more Christians in Africa than in any other continent in the world (Africa is a continent, not a country). Religious scholars report that while there is a huge rise in the Christian population in Africa, there is a steady decline of Christianity in Europe, the United Kingdom showing the largest decline. Why is this so? No doubt the fact that one of the oldest Christian groups in the world has been there for a long time, but also because of the many Christian missionaries who served in Africa over many years. Christian scholars predict that by 2060, the number of Christians in Africa will double, while declining on other continents. The old concept that Christianity grows and thrives where it encounters the most persecution may be a valid idea.

            Back in the old days when I was a youngster attending Sunday School, I remember being shocked and horrified when my Sunday School teacher told us about how the Roman emperors would imprison, torture and kill Christians (who would hide in the catacombs), and how emperors like Nero would feed some innocent believers to the lions and pour oil on others and light them as human torches. It was hard to believe, but we were happy we were not living in such an era. I pray that the many tragic events today do not presage a return to those times.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

Why Do We Name Babies The Names We Name Them?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 9, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Shortly before I began writing this column, the news came across the electronic media that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the birth of a son, weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Prince Henry Charles Albert David, affectionately known as “Prince Harry” (“Harry” being a nickname for “Henry”), announced the birth from Windsor Castle. When asked by reporters about a name, he replied they were still thinking about names.

            Like many of us, Royals are usually named after family members. For example, we named one of our daughters after my wife, and the other one after me. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, there were eight “Henry’s” who ruled as king, from Henry I to Henry VIII; not only were there kings named Charles, but Harry’s father is Prince Charles. There was only one British king whose name was “Albert,” – Albert Edward, — but he ruled as “Edward VII.” And there was a king of Scotland, David I, who was a protégé of King Henry I, keeping in mind that one of Prince Charles’ titles is “Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.” From this information, I would conclude that all four of Prince Harry’s names are family names.

            In past years, it was not uncommon in the United Kingdom and even in the United States to name a child after a European king or queen. Once Prince Harry and Meghan choose a name for the new baby, I’m sure there will be many new parents, perhaps all over the world, who will give that name or names to their infant. Naming your child after a royal person to some folks no doubt seems to foretell greatness for the child.

            When I was told many years ago that one of my aunts was named “Isabella” after Queen Isabella II of Spain (born in 1830 and died in 1904), I asked “why,” and my mother replied, “I guess because our mother liked Queen Isabella.” My Aunt Isabella was born in 1918, and Queen Isabella died in 1904, a long time after she had abdicated. Since my grandmother gave her other daughters German names, — Adele, Elda, and Malinda, — I was extremely curious about giving the youngest one a Spanish name.

            Why would Grandma like Queen Isabella II of Spain? It seems that Queen Isabella became Queen of Spain when she was still a baby, — no doubt at the death of her father. From the very beginning there was much opposition to her being Queen, not because she was a baby (a Regent would rule for her until she grew up), but because she was a female. The opposition to having a female monarch continued throughout her reign, so that she finally abdicated in 1870, and her son Alfonse VI became king. She lived for 34 more years. My grandmother never gave any indication of being a feminist, so upholder of women’s rights was not her reason. I guess, as my mother said, Grandma just liked Queen Isabella.

            Because they were avid followers of Elvis Presley, some fans in the 1950’s named their newborn sons “Elvis,” after the King of Rock and Roll. Less understandable are folks who give their babies the name of a hurricane after a major storm plows through their community. After Hurricane Carla in 1961, I recall that quite a few parents chose to name their daughters “Carla.” Likewise when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Did anybody name their son “Harvey” in 2017?

            Sometimes parents give their newborn a particular name for no real reason other than the fact they like the name. I suspect my parents gave me the very British name “Raymond” because they just liked the name; they certainly could not have foreknown that someday I would become an avid Anglophile (lover of all things English or British).

            During each era in history, certain boys’ names and girls’ names are trendy, so folks who like to be trendy often choose those names.

            In the 1930’s when my parents named me “Raymond,” the most commonly chosen names for boys were James, John, William, and Robert; hmmm, although not trendy, I think mine is more distinctive! The most frequently chosen girls’ names for babies in 1918 when my aunt was named “Isabella,” were Mildred, Florence, Irene, Mary, and Margaret. “Mary” shows up as a popular name in just about every era except the 21st Century.

            The ten most popular girls’ names in the United States in 2018 included “Isabella,” ranked as number 5, — can you believe it, after all these years, my aunt’s name is now trendy. The most frequently chosen boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2018 were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Grayson, Lucas, and Mason. I’ve come to the end of my column and Prince Harry still has not announced a name for Baby Sussex; I doubt he’ll choose any of the preceding seven.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor and author of It Must Be the Noodles.