How the Snake Lost Its Legs

how the snake lost its legs

A recent discovery of snake fossils proved that snakes used to have limbs, so let’s imagine how the snake lost its legs in a short story from the series Babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa.

The colors of the desert were red, its tall dunes were red, punctuated by green grass clumps. These were the colors the boy knew best. Oh, and the sky’s bright blue that the dune’s sharp crests profiled against.

These were the shades the boy knew best, darker under the first blinking of the sun, as if they still carried the night spirits on their backs. Paling when the sun yawned over the skyline, as if the boiling star sucked their vigor too, together with that of all moving life forms. And finally, turning into long stretching shadows that chased after the slaying sun, like snakes dancing along the dunes, snakes that never learn.

His favorite shade was that of the dunes before nightfall, the same as his mother’s skin. The grains of sand felt just as fine between his fingers, and the evening’s snake-like shadows reminded him of her braids framing her smile, tickling his face while she spun bedtime stories for him.

He missed hearing them, hearing the soft clicks of her speech, the dance of her hands as they became, in turn, elephant ears, horses, and beetles, and bucks… As soon as he measured taller than a hyena, his father, who was so tall that could look over a lion’s mane, took him hunting.

Days were long in the desert, among the shift changing dunes, the hot-hot sand, and him, alone with his thoughts. ‘A hunter with a loud voice will sleep hungry at night,’ was the first lesson his father taught him.

So the boy listened, kept quiet, and at night told himself his mother’s stories.

Tonight, after seeing the long snakes dancing in the sunset along the spines of the dunes, after spotting Mother Moon shedding a tear – one he had followed with his skinny finger all the way from there to there, knowing that ‘a hard day will come soon for one of the San’, and hoping it was not him – tonight, he will spin himself his favorite yarn.

Namib desert at night - How the Snake Lost Its Legs. Photo by Sergi Ferrete for Unsplash
Namib desert at night – How the Snake Lost Its Legs. Photo by Sergi Ferrete for Unsplash

How the Snake Lost Its Legs

‘Mother Moon, who was always watching over her brood, had shed a tear that night. But only those who looked, saw it. And from them, only those who believed, knew what it meant,’ his Mother once started this story.

‘During those times, Mother Moon, from her height in the sky, often looked into the future to see, learn and better protect her children. She does so today too, but – alas – her children know not how to listen to her anymore. Except for a few,’ his mother whispered further, with a nod towards his dad.

‘The Godly Mantis was one of them, arriving as soon as Mother Moon summoned. Putting her front legs together, bowing her head in respect, the Mantis listened then jumped, before the leaves even settled after Mother Moon’s speech, jumped to warn all. All the birds, all the animals, all the insects; warn them about the drought, urge them to pack food for the road, grab their young under their wing, and fly, crawl, run to safety. To water. To life. Before the desert will stretch its raspy hands and take over their land. Before it will be too late.

‘Had the creatures listened to Mantis? Yes. Had they listened because they thought of her as a leader? No. But because Mantis had warned them before, and with good cause.

‘All but one left. The one that led a solitary life. A long and rather bulky creature, whose snout was almost as long as a crocodile’s, but narrower; whose tail was as long as a kangaroo’s, but thinner, and whose four short legs had claws, although he never climbed a tree. Too much effort.

‘It was Snake, who in those times, still had legs.

‘So Snake, basking in his sunny spot, on lush, soft grass, kept his cool and chose to remain. ‘Why worry about tomorrow,’ he thought, gulping one of the juicy frogs hopping by. As a snack, but also to prove a point, that life was sweet here, where he lived.

‘And life was, indeed, sweet for Snake, until all the fat frogs hopped away right past him. Life remained sweet until the rain stopped falling and the grass stopped growing. Until even the land under his belly dried out and his skin, once smooth and shiny, was now raw and flaky from scraping against dry rocks.

‘I better move away,’ thought Snake one day when his tongue, so dry now, could smell nothing but dust and nearly stuck to the outside of his snout. ‘This land does not suit me anymore,’ he added, for he would never admit to be wrong.

‘So he hopped away on his feet, left then right, he hopped along the hot sand that had taken over the plains, left then right, under the boiling sun, left – right. Yet the more he advanced along those dreary dunes, the more he sank into their scorching sand. And the more his feet sank into the fine, fiery gravel, the more difficult it was to pull them out again, and place them on top of the slippery, searing soil. Until it became impossible for Snake to move.

‘And this was how night found Snake. Not at the end of his journey, but rather, stuck at its beginning, alone in the ever changing, slippery sand. Far from being warm and cozy, for the dunes were now as cold as ice. And Snake was chilled to the bone, after having being cooked during the day.

‘This is it,’ thought Snake, closing his eyes. Yet he could shed no tears, for all was dry; outside as well as inside.

‘Only, Mother Moon had other plans for him as she watched from her palace in the sky, her face round with affection, her eyes underlined with worry. And as she sang over the dunes that night, the sand rolled away opening a path for snake to slid away in the morning. Although, with the grains of sand that slipped away something else rolled too, never to be found again. Snake’s legs, all dried out and shriveled by now.

‘Had he missed them in the morning when he opened his eyes and discover a smooth path for him to wriggle on? Had he missed them further on, when he slithered away at top speed? Or when he finally caught up with the other animals, joining them through one final skilled slide?

‘He never said. At least not out loud. But I do hope that he thanked Mother Moon, at least in his heart,’ the boy’s mother had smiled.

That night the little boy fell asleep, feeling his mother’s hand over his forehead, thankful in his heart for her stories.

© Patricia Furstenberg, after a San legend.

Read further on The Conversation: Extraordinary skull fossil reveals secrets of snake evolution.

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Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

Kinda Pink, Poetry Like a Puppy’s Tongue

Kinda pink rose poetry

Enjoy reading this kinda pink, humorous poetry just like a puppy’s tongue. I do hope it will please most dog and nature lovers too, as it is accompanied by square photos of pink roses we are lucky to enjoy in our garden.

“I hear children laughing in the yard today,

I hear puppy barking, I hear a horse’s neigh.

The chickens are peeping, “all is good!

“It’s a birthday party; we’ll get bits of food.”

And puppy’s tail wiggles;

He sees IT… It is loose!

It’s oval, it bounces, it floats away,

It’s pink like his tongue, it wants to play!”

pink rose like a puppy's tongue and a poem

“I’m coming!” barks pup and off he goes.

Down the hill the pink shape flows

And puppy follows suit. It’s just within his reach,

Just above his nose.

As pink as a rose, yet as light as snow,

While puppy’s paws drum on the ground below.

Floating shape and furry dog, they’re one with the day,

It’s summer, I hear a donkey bray, “let’s play!”

“I’ll catch you! Just wait!”

And puppy jumps once more.

“Whoosh!” blew the wind, just as pup’s mouth came near,

And up flew the pink ball, as fast as a spear.

While puppy lands with a loud “splash”

Right in the pond, in the green, slimy marsh.”

“A drippy, green form comes out.

Where is pup?

The green form just drips, his ears lay low,

He stands on his feet, yet his heart sinks below…

The green form sighs twice, then looks up at the sky

Where the pink balloon flies away, its tail saying “bye-bye.”

And puppy whimpers.

And sneezes, once.

The children still play, up on the hill, all the way up.

How will he climb all the way back? He’s but a pup.

“Come here, you silly boy,” Mom picks him up;

She’s got a blanket; she gets him all cleaned up.

“The balloon might fly up with the wind,

But I’ve got my Mom to cuddle with.”

As Good as Gold, poetry for dog lovers

The above poem is titles As Pink As a Puppy’s Tongue and is an extract from my poetry book for dog lovers (and not only) As Good As Gold.

Squarres Photography

Kinda Pink, Poetry Like a Puppy’s Tongue is a contribution to Becky’s incredible October Squares #KindaSquare blog feature.

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The Story of the Giant Radish

the story of the giant radish

The Story of the Giant Radish sprang to my mind today, while I was seeing to our mini vegetable garden. It might be a children’s story, but it illustrates the power of many, when they are working together.

As a child I always wondered about this giant radish. How can it grow so big? And what meals can one possibly cook, since there is so much of it? Anyway, over here we eat radishes in salad, and we eat the leaves too since they come from our garden and I know they are, hmm, organic.

Before I share with you the story of the Giant Radish I must confess that, luckily for us, hubby has green fingers, mine are usually full of ink. But I can pull weeds, an addictive activity in case you were wondering.

The Story of the Giant Radish

The Story of the Giant Radish

Once upon a time there lived an old man who enjoyed tending to his vegetable garden.

One morning he decided to plant radishes. He prepared their beds, planted the seeds and watered them. Day after day he watered the seeds and pulled out the weeds, no matter how sore his back would get. And while he took a break from work, he’d pull out his whistle to play a song. Alongside his garden birds.

And every now and then he would stop from his work and from his music-making to look at the sky. And he would admire the blue roof of the world until his eyes grew full of it, and he couldn’t keep them open any longer.

And he did so day after day, while his radishes grew.
And they grew.
Until one morning when the old man stepped into his yard and couldn’t believe his eyes. One of his radishes was bigger than the rest. Much bigger. Much, much bigger.

The old man couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t believe his luck. He walked around it once. He walked around it twice. The radish was almost as tall as he was and twice as wide.

Indeed, twice as wide.

He rubbed his hands and made up his mind. He was going to pull it out. So he took a good grip onto its long leaves, minding little that they pricked his hands, and pulled. And he pulled and then pulled some more. Yet the radish wouldn’t yield.

So the old man called his old woman to help him.

She was very proud of him for growing such a giant of a radish. She was already thinking of all the food she will be able to cook out of that one radish. So she grabbed his waistcoat, and the old man grabbed the radish leaves again. And they both pulled. And they pulled.

But the radish didn’t budge, so they thought and they thought and then called their grand daughter to help.

So the granddaughter grabbed the old woman’s waist coat, the old woman grabbed the old man’s waistcoat, and the old man grabbed the radish leaves again. Not minding that they pricked his hands. Wondering how spicy it will be, big as it had grown.

And all three pulled. And they pulled.
Yet the radish would not yield.

So the granddaughter thought and she thought and she called their dog, who was snoozing under a tree, bored that there was nothing to bark at.

Dog grabbed the granddaughter’s jacket, the granddaughter grabbed the old woman’s waist coat, the old woman grabbed the old man’s back, and the old man grabbed the radish leaves once more. Not minding in the least that they prickled his hands.

And all four pulled. And they pulled. And they pulled some more, yet the radish wouldn’t move.

Eventually they stopped pulling and Dog, after panting a while, barked and called Cat. Who was sleeping on the window-sole, bored that there were no mice around for her to chase.

‘Come and help, Cat,’ barked Dog.

‘I don’t have time’, Cat complained. ‘I sleep.’

But Dog barked till Cat joined them.

So Cat grabbed Dog’s tail, Dog took hold of the granddaughter’s coat, the granddaughter grabbed the old woman’s waist coat, the old woman grabbed the old man’s back, and the old man grabbed the radish leaves once more.

Not minding in the least that they prickled his hands.

Yet the radish, still, would not budge.

So, when they all stopped pulling and grandma went to the well to fetch them all some fresh, sweet water, after the old man wiped his forehead with his handkerchief he kept for best, and Dog went to rest in the shade, Cat stretched, arched her back and called Mouse.

In his burrow at the end of the vegetable garden Mouse trembled a bit. Did someone wanted his cheese? So he gobbled it up before coming out.

So… Mouse grabbed Cat’s tail, Cat grabbed Dog’s tail, Dog took hold of the granddaughter’s coat, the granddaughter grabbed the old woman’s waist coat, the old woman grabbed the old man’s back, and the old man grabbed the radish leaves once more.

Forgetting all about their prickly leaves.

And they all pulled and pulled, never giving up till the radish gave up and came out of the ground. Whole. And big.

And they all cheered.

Only one individual might have no strength, but two have twice as more power and many are sure to be victorious together.

The Cheetah and the Dog, The Elephant and the Sheep, The Lion and the Dog, diversity stories
The Cheetah and the Dog, The Elephant and the Sheep, The Lion and the Dog, diversity stories by Patricia Furstenberg

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

life lessons I learned from my dog

Considering that 99 % of my books have at least one dog as a character, sharing with you some of the life lessons I learned from my dog was inevitable.

With my dog as a teacher, I learned…

When a loved ones comes home, always run and jump to meet him. It will make him smile. and this will make you smile. Smiling is contagious, ask any dog.

Never refuse a walk. Let the experience of fresh air and the wind that blows on your face bring you happiness.

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

When it’s in your best interest … listen! It is usually rewarded with a pat or a good word. Anyone needs a good word.

When someone invades your territory… give a warning before attacking. Don’t just snap, even if you are hard at work, snoozing or writing.

Play every day … because life is short. Ask any military working dog.

Silent Heroes of war

Let people hug you and accept the love you receive. Hugs are proven to boost the immune system.

On sunny days, stop and lie down on the grass. Stick out your tongue and enjoy the sun.

On hot days, drink plenty of water and throw yourself underneath the shade of a tree. Pretend you sleep. Listen to the sounds of life going on around you.

When you are happy, dance to express yourself and share your good mood with those around you. It is contagious.

Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog

When you are arguing, accept your mistakes but don’t stay upset for a long time. It is time wasted.

Eat with lust and enthusiasm. Eating involve all your senses, so you can enjoy what is in your plate five times over.

Stop when you feel tired and take a break. It will only replenish your energy so that later you can play… I meant work… harder.

Learn to be loyal. One loyal tail is worth more than ten dishonest ones.

You cannot pretend to be what you are not, any dog will sniff you out. Be yourself, it is less exhausting and you will always know you spoke the truth.

Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War
Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War – and their human handlers

And one of my favorite life lessons I learned from my dog:

No stick is too heavy to pick up. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do it if you set your mind to it.

When a loved one has a bad day … be patient and sit across their chest.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

There is so much to learn from history and dogs, so this time we will look at (only) 10 dogs who made and changed the history.

Dogs are Man’s Best Friend, as Illustrated by Art, dogs joined Kings in battles, they fought in trenches during WW1, helped as messenger dogs, sled dogs, or were simply cute war mascots. Dogs fought along soldiers during WW2, starting the history of the first K9 Unit, dogs became paradogs, suffered during the WW 2, and still went on, after the fall of Berlin Wall to become brave military working dogs during the Gulf War, Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.

Below are a few stories focused on unbelievable dogs who contributed to the enrichment of scientific data, the settlement of conflicts, and the onset of real state crises.

Peritas, Alexander the Great’s dog

From 356 BC comes Peritas, the puppy with a name worthy of the companion of a true leader. Peritas was Alexander the Great‘s dog, some call him a gladiator dog, who accompanied him during his military exploits. The name Peritas seems to come from the Macedonian word for January.

During the attack of the Persian troops of Darius III on Alexander the Great, Peritas jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master. Due to his faithful servant, Alexander survived and carried on his dream of conquering the world through.

Peritas could have been a Molossian, a breed of ancient Greece believed to be the the ancestor of the Mastiff. But Peritas could have also been the greyhound that Alexandre brought up himself.

10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History, Peritas of Alexandre the Great
Peritas, the dog who jumped and bit the lip of an elephant that wanted to attack its master, Alexander the Great

Donnchadh, Robert the Bruce’s dog

Donnchadh was the dog of Robert I of Scotland, or Robert the Bruce. It is said that what inspired Robert to never give up was watching a spider spin its web, while others say it was his dog.

In 1306, Edward I of England was fighting to overthrow Robert because who was advocating for Scottish independence. Edward had already captured Robert’s wife and faithful dog, so he came up with a devious plan. He was going to use Donnchadh, Robert’s own dog, to track him and catch him. Unaware, Donnchadh did led the king to the target, but then he turned on the English soldiers, defending his master. Robert escaped and lived to be King of Scotland for two decades.

Although four centuries later, the actions of the reckless George III, a direct descendant of Robert, who passed an act taxing tea in the colonies was the seed that bothered the American settlers enough to revolt. So this is how a Scottish doggo is one of the dogs who made and changed the history – of the United States, in his case.

Donnchadh, the faithful dog who saved the life of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Donnchadh, the faithful dog who saved the life of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. Source Hulton Archive

Urian, Cardinal Wolsey’s dog

14th century Urian is said to have been the dog that determined the rupture between England and the papacy.

Wishing to separate from Catherine of Aragon (who could not produce a son and heir), King Henry VIII sent Cardinal Wolsey (lord chancellor and chief adviser), to discuss with Pope Clement VII his marriage annulment. Cardinal Wolsey brought his beloved dog Urian along. When the Pope, who supposedly was siting on his throne, extended his big toe to be kissed by the Cardinal, as it was customary, Urian mistook the scene for an attempt at his beloved master’s safety. And he took a mouthful at the Pope’s foot. Needless to say, Henry lost any chance at an annulment.

Because of the Catholic Church’s refusal, Henry later founded the Anglican Church, declared himself head of the Church of England and appointed his own clerics who, of course, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine invalid. Apparently Urian was a greyhound.

The Dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey by 
Laslett John Pott, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Potter, Laslett John; The Dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey – and his dog Urian, who bit the Pope’s foot

The Silent Hero puppy who saved Napoleon Bonaparte

Even though he is an anonymous hero, I believe that the puppy who saved Napoleon from drowning in 1815, right after his escape from Elba Island where he’d been imprisoned by the Allies, deserves to be included among the other dogs who made and changed the world history. Perhaps this Newfoundland pup played one of the biggest roles in the history of Europe and that of the world.

Napoleon was aboard the Inconstant, a brig of about 300 tons, sailing over a rough Ligurian sea, when he fell overboard. A fisherman and his young but sturdy doggo were on board and the canine followed his instincts, jumping in the foaming waters to rescue the 41 years old Napoleon. Napoleon entered triumphant in Paris, but one hundred days later he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled by the British to St. Helena island where he lived till his death, six years later.

Waterloo was the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history, as after Waterloo and until the start of WW1 Europe witnessed a short time of peace, prosperity and progress.

Napoleon’s return from the Isle of Elba. Napoleon’s ship Inconstant, on the right. Painting by by Ambroise-Louis Garneray
Napoleon’s return from the Isle of Elba. Napoleon’s ship Inconstant, on the right. Painting by by Ambroise-Louis Garneray

Smoky, the dog given a second chance during WWII

Smoky was a hairball, a Yorkshire Terrier with a huge heart who contributed to the new US Air Force base during World War II. Smoky was found in an abandoned foxhole in Papua New Guinea by the American soldiers stationed there and was adopted on the spot. When the company moved to the Philippines during the island hopping, Smoky moved too. So it happened that the soldier who had to set base at Luzon had to pull a telegraph wire and the only way to do it was through a narrow, 21-metre pipe. And Smoky helped, being just the right size to crawl through with the wire attached to her collar.

The airbase remained safe and operational.

10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History, WWII Smoky
Smoky, the small dog with a bih heart who helped set up an US airbase during WW2

Jofi, Sigmund Freud’s dog

I think that Jofi, Sigmund Freud‘s puppy, is a dog who should have been given more recognition so I’ll include him along the dogs who made and changed the history, psychoanalysis in his case. But aren’t most dogs like this? Freud often took Jofi to his office during therapy sessions, then noted his observations, convinced that Jofi helped patients relax.

Freud’s notes laid the foundations of modern animal-assisted therapy.

Jofi & Sigmund Freud, 10 Dogs Who Made and Changed History
Jofi and Sigmund Freud

Charlie, the dog who helped defuse the Cuban Crisis

Charlie was a Welsh terrier and one of Kennedy family’s beloved dogs.

During the 1962 Cuban crisis (remember that the Soviet Union deployed some intercontinental ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba, only 144 kilometers off the coast of U.S.) President Kennedy lived some stressful days, trying hard not to start a nuclear war. It was during one of these moments that President Kennedy asked that Charlie be brought into the overheated War Room. The president took him in his arms and caressed him, which helped him calm down. In the end, Kennedy announced that he was ready to make a decision. A decision that defused the conflict.

As a peace offering following the Cuban crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, Russian Premier at the time, gifted young Caroline Kennedy a white puppy named Pushinka, from the litter of famed space dog Strelka (part of the Sputnik space program). Pushinka and Charlie later had four puppies that Kennedy called “pupniks.”

Charlie and Pushinka on the South Lawn - White House, after the Cuban Crisis.
Charlie and Pushinka on the South Lawn of the White House a few years after the Cuban Crisis

Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave

Robot and his owner, teenager Marcel Ravidat, were exploring the surroundings of their village of Montignac, southwest France, in 1940 while France was fighting in the World War II.

Suddenly Robot spotted a rabbit, chase after it but the game was soon gone down a rabbit hole. Although it appears that the four boys were actually intrigued by an old legend about a tunnel running under the Vezere River linking the old Castel of Montignac to the Manor of Lascaux. Ravidat threw some stones down the hole and a great echo returned. A few days later the teenager returned with a few friends and with ropes and they climbed down the hole only to discover an incredible amount of colorful murals perfectly preserved within a cave. Later study showed that this artwork was in pristine state as it had been protected from water by a layer of chalk, and that the paintings had been created during the Paleolithic era, between 30,000 to 12,000 B.C.E.

Some say that Robot the dog was not the one to discover the cave, some dispute the year when the caves of Lascaux were first spotted, but it does make sense to have a dog chasing a rabbit down the rabbit whole, towards amazing wonders.

The discovery of Caves of Lascaux is crucial because it helsp us understand what stood at the center of life of our paleolithic ancestors, hunting and religious rites. That perhaps such drawing guaranteed them plentiful herds and good hunting.

Robot, the dog who discovered the Lascaux Cave

Cairo, the Military Working Dog who found Osama bin Laden

Cairo was a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog, MWD, who together with his military human handler and SEAL Team Operator Will Chesney were part of the famous attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.

Navy SEAL Will Chesney met MWD Cairo in 2008 and shared many missions together in Afghanistan, forging an impenetrable bond. Working with Cairo, Chesney saw firsthand how valuable dogs are, when on multiple missions Cairo’s keen senses saved Chesney’s life and the lives of his team members. Cairo was even shot in the chest and leg, but made a full recovery and the two were deployed to Afghanistan again, they were that good and their country needed them.

In 2011 Chesney, Cairo, and a two dozen Navy SEALs team were sent after Osama bin Laden in what was known as Operation Neptune Spear. They stormed Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Chesney and Cairo were the only canine team on the mission as main job was locating hidden enemies. It was for sure the most dangerous and the biggest mission in history. None of the SEALs involved expected to survive the raid, but the thought of taking out the terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians overpowered any trace of anxiety or self-preservation.

Cairo always fed off everybody’s energy. Your emotions run up and down the leash. If you’re mad, the energy is going to run down that leash. For Cairo, it was just another day at work‘ (Will Chesney).

It is said that when a military dog handler puts their bullet-proof vest on, the MWD they team with knows right away they’re working, and when the human handler takes off the vest, the dog knows it is playtime again.

Cairo faced a well deserved retirement in 2013 and, finally he was adopted by his best friend Chesney. I think that you will agree that Cairo deserves a place of honor between the dogs who made and changed the history – for the good.

Cairo-WillChesney-UnitedStatesNavy.jpg

I wish my list was longer.T here are millions of dogs who made and changed the history, be it that of a community, of a nation or of the world, but the silent heroes that share our lives are also changing the history, with their genuine care and unconditional love, our personal history.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon
You will discover at least a dog in each one of my books. Joyful Trouble and Silent Heroes two of my novels available on Amazon.