Vintage Wisdom for Today’s Topsy-Turvey World

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. Neil Armstrong

The greatest wealth is to live content with little. Plato

Well done is better than well said. Benjamin Franklin

Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly. John F. Kennedy

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. Vince Lombardi

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. John F. Kennedy

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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A Wise Message From Andy Griffith For the World Today

There is a reason that The Andy Griffith Show, of the 1960s, remains in the list of Top Ten Classic TV Shows of All Time.

Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith), his son Opie (Ron Howard), Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and a host of others from Mayberry, North Carolina provided great life lessons with both humor and sometimes drama.

One notable episode focused in on the importance of parenting when outside influences come in to disrupt. It’s a wonderful lesson even today.

The episode, “Opies Hobo Friend,” aired on November 13, 1961:

🔹Deputy Barney remains determined to round up what he is convinced is a Chicago gang on the lam.

🔹A life lesson appears in learning how to tell good from bad.

🔹Andy makes certain that Opie learns that lesson.

🔹Earl Hagen’s evocative theme played on harmonica that captures the slowed-paced and seemingly innocence of small-town America just when the post-war 50s were giving way to the New Frontier of the 60s.

🔹Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” 1939 movie, before he became ill from the silver body paint), played the guest star role as hobo David Browne. He is dressed just a shade better here than he is when “The Beverly Hillbillies” television program starts its run the following year. 

Deputy Barney tells his boss, “Oh, Andy, everything’s breakin’ loose. First, Mrs. Tillman has an apple pie stolen from her window. Now, Jess Crawford just reported a chicken thief. It’s a regular reign of terror!”

David Browne, a hobo, appears in Mayberry and befriends Opie. It becomes obvious that Andy must put away the welcome mat when the likable drifter starts putting Artful Dodger-ish notions into Opie’s head.

David Browne: You know, I’ve grown awful fond of that young fellow. What’s wrong?

Andy Taylor: Well, there seems to be something wrong with his thinkin’. He’s gotten a little twisted on things lately, like bein’ able to tell the difference between right and wrong.

David Browne: Oh.

Andy Taylor: Not that that’s an easy thing. A lot of grownups still strugglin’ with that same problem, but ‘specially difficult for a youngster, ’cause things rub off on ’em so easy.

David Browne: Well, Sheriff, maybe I do look at things differently than other people. Is that wrong? I live by my wits. I’m not above bending the law now and then to keep clothes on my back or food in my stomach. I live the kind of life that other people would just love to live if they only had the courage. Who’s to say that the boy would be happier your way or mine? Why not let him decide?

Andy Taylor: Nah, I’m afraid it don’t work that way. You can’t let a young ‘un decide for himself. He’ll grab at the first flashy thing with shiny ribbons on it, then when he finds out there’s a hook in it, it’s too late. The wrong ideas come packaged with so much glitter it’s hard to convince him that other things might be better in the long run, and all a parent can do is say, “Wait. Trust me,” and try to keep temptation away.

Somehow, along the way, we have lost this basic truth. As parents, we must protect our children from harmful indoctrination and propaganda. Too many people are more concerned about being their child’s friend, than in being a parent.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

The ‘Hello, My Name is Jose Jiminez’ Eye Opener

When William Szathmary died on June 15, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee, millions of fans who knew him, did not know him by his birth name.

Eleven years prior to his death, meeting American comedian Bill Dana was a complete surprise, because I had completely forgotten about the entertainer.

Like many baby boomers growing up in the 1960s, Dana would make America laugh with his signature, “Hello, my name is Jose Jiminez” astronaut routine. It was so popular, another celebrity, a country and western singing star, would adapt his own stage introductions with “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash!”

In 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, Gene Krantz, and other space related notables at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Among some of the “celebrities” I talked with were movie and television stars James Drury (The Virginian, Disney’s Toby Tyler), Lana Wood (The Searchers, Peyton Place, Diamonds Are Forever) Clint Howard (Gentle Ben, Apollo 13), and Warren Stevens (Forbidden Planet). It was certainly an unexpected eye opener to spend some time with Bill Dana.

“Okay, José, you’re on your way!”


With those words, radioed to Alan Shepard as he lifted off to become the first American astronaut to fly into space on May 5, 1961, Bill Dana’s role in NASA history was sealed.

Because of his popularity portraying “José Jiménez,” Dana was bestowed the title of being the eighth of the Mercury 7 astronauts.

When he died on that June 15th in 2017, Dana was 92.

“He’ll be missed not only by the astronaut family, but many more around the world,” said Tammy Sudler, president and CEO of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. “Bill Dana was lovingly known as our honorary Mercury 8 astronaut.”

First created in 1959 for “The Steve Allen Show” and later appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” José Jiménez held several positions, including an elevator operator, a bobsled racer, a Navy submariner and a lion tamer, but it was as the shiny-spacesuited, reluctant astronaut that the Bolivian character became famous (Dana was of Hungarian-Jewish ancestry in reality).

“What do you consider the most important thing in rocket travel?” asked Ed Sullivan, playing the straight man during one of Dana’s better-known skits.

“To me the most important thing in the rocket travel is the blast-off,” said Dana.

“The blast-off…” repeated Sullivan.

“I always take a blast before I take off. Otherwise, I would not go near that thing,” Dana quipped as Jiménez.

Dana’s José Jiménez routine was later released on record albums, rising to the Top 20 on the Billboard charts, which drew the attention of the real-life Mercury astronauts.

“The astronauts, especially Shepard, absolutely loved the record, and listened to it in the office after intense training sessions,” author Neal Thompson described in “Light This Candle” (Crown, 2004), his biography of the first astronaut. “Shepard even tape recorded the album and during lulls between training exercises or during test launches at the Cape would play the tapes at full volume near the Mission Control loudspeakers.”

The astronaut and comedian first met at a Cocoa Beach night club, where Shepard — from out in the audience and without the prior knowledge of Dana — took on the role of the straight man, setting up Jiménez’s replies. Soon, fellow astronauts Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton joined in.

Dana, 3rd from left with Mercury astronauts



“The club was roaring as the three astronauts took turns,” wrote Thompson. After the show, Dana hurried to a phone to call his producer in New York.

“‘They know us. They know every word. And they love us,” exclaimed Dana, as described by Thompson.

Shepard and the other astronauts’ fondness for Dana and his character led to José Jiménez becoming the unofficial mascot of the Mercury program.

In addition to inspiring the 1961 launch call between Slayton (in the blockhouse) and Shepard (on top of a Redstone rocket), Dana performed at President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball with Shepard in attendance.

The comedian also inspired a “gotcha” – a practical joke – that Shepard arranged in secret for John Glenn to discover once aboard his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. Opening up a pouch while in orbit, Glenn was surprised by a small stuffed mouse floating free, a reference to the “leetle mice” Jiménez would cite as fellow test subjects in his routine.

Sammy Davis, Jr. Meets Archie Bunker

One of the most celebrated televised episodes of the classic and controversial All in the Family aired in 1972. It’s the tale about the time entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. stopped by to visit the Bunkers.

It begins with a briefcase he left in Archie’s cab and ends with the kiss of infamy. Very few people are aware that the writer of this episode was Bill Dana.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS



🔹Born William Szathmary in Quincy, Massachusetts on Oct. 5, 1924, Dana served as a gunner and mortarman in the U.S. Army during World War II.

🔹He began his career in comedy as a page and a writer for other comedians’ stand-up routines.

🔹Dana was also a screenwriter for television and movies, writing the Emmy-Award-winning “All in the Family” episode, “Sammy Davis Visits Archie Bunker” (1972), penning jokes for the “Donny and Marie” show (1977-1978), and co-writing the script for the “Get Smart” film “The Nude Bomb” (1980).

Dana also showed up as José Jiménez in a number of TV cameos, including as part of a 1966 episode of “Batman,” appearing alongside the late Adam West and Burt Ward.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

The Killing of Alfalfa,’The Little Rascals’ Star

CLEVERJOURNEYS AMERICAN CRIME CHRONICLES SERIES

Carl Switzer, 12, ended his run as a notable Little Rascal when the “Our Gang” short films series ended in 1940.

🔹He continued to appear in movies with various supporting roles, including I Love You Again, Going My Way, Courage of Lassie, and It’s a Wonderful Life and starred in the John Wayne film Island in the Sky where he coined the phrase “Whatever’s customary,” about the only line he spoke throughout the film, but one he repeated several times in it.

🔹Switzer’s last starring roles were in a brief series of imitation-Bowery Boys movies; he reprised his “Alfalfa” characterization, complete with comically sour vocals, in “Gas House Kids” comedies of 1946-1947.

🔹He returned to supporting roles, including a short stint as B-western sidekick “Alfalfa Johnson.”

🔹Switzer preferred not to recall his Our Gang work; in his 1946 resume he referred to the gang films generically as “M-G-M short product.”

🔹Switzer had a fleeting cameo in the 1954 musical film White Christmas where his picture was used to depict an Army buddy (named “Freckle-Faced Haynes”) of lead characters (Wallace and Davis) played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and also the brother of the female leads (the Haynes Sisters) played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. He also did some acting for television.

🔹His final film role was in 1958’s The Defiant Ones and on the television series The Roy Rogers Show, where he was called upon to reprise his off-key “Alfalfa-like” singing. Switzer’s difficult reputation and his typecasting as “Alfalfa” made it difficult for him to find quality work.

Deathday: ALFALFA (Carl Switzer) 1927-1959 RIP

🔹In the early 1950s, Switzer moved to Kansas. He lived and worked on a farm at Pretty Prairie, west of Wichita. There he met and married Diane Collingwood, the heiress of grain elevator empire Collingwood Grain.

The marriage only lasted four months, but did result in the birth of a son whose name was a well-kept secret. In 2002, it was revealed that his son’s name is Lance, per his cousin’s statement on ancestry.com.

🔹In addition to acting, Switzer bred hunting dogs and guided hunting expeditions. Among his more notable clients were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Switzer’s godparents), and James Stewart.

🔹In January 1958, he survived being shot in the arm while getting into his car. (His assailant was never identified.)

🔹Months later, Switzer was arrested in Sequoia National Forest for cutting down 15 pine trees he sold as Christmas trees. He was sentenced to a year’s probation and ordered to pay a $225 fine.

Deathday: ALFALFA (Carl Switzer) 1927-1959 RIP

TRAGIC DEATH

🔹Prior to a hunting guide job, Switzer had borrowed a hunting dog from Moses “Bud” Stiltz. When the dog was lost, Switzer offered a $50 reward for the dog’s return.

🔹A man found the dog a few days later and brought it to the bar where Switzer was working. Switzer paid the man $35 and bought him $15 worth of drinks from the bar.

🔹Several days later on January 21, 1959, Switzer and his friend Jack Piott decided that Stiltz owed Switzer the $50 paid to the man who found the dog.

🔹The pair allegedly arrived drunk at Stiltz’s home in Mission Hills to collect the money Stiltz “owed” him.

🔹Switzer knocked on Stiltz’s front door, demanding, “Let me in, or I’ll kick in the door.” Once Switzer was inside the home, he and Stiltz got into an argument. Switzer informed Stiltz that he wanted the money owed him, saying “I want that 50 bucks you owe me now, and I mean now.”

🔹When Stiltz refused to hand over the money, the two engaged in a physical fight. Piott allegedly struck Stiltz in the head with a glass-domed clock, which caused him to bleed from his left eye.

🔹Stiltz retreated to his bedroom and returned holding a .38-caliber revolver, but Switzer immediately grabbed the gun away from him, resulting in a shot being fired that hit the ceiling.

🔹Switzer then forced Stiltz into a closet, despite Stiltz having gotten his hands back on the gun. Switzer then allegedly pulled a switchblade knife and screamed, “I’m going to kill you” and was attempting to stab him with it, but just as Switzer was about to charge him, Stiltz raised the gun and shot Switzer in the groin. Switzer died of massive internal bleeding and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

CONTROVERSY

🔹Jack Piott’s version of events was different, telling investigators that he and Switzer went to collect a debt from Stiltz, when an argument broke out. Piott said a brief struggle ensued and Stiltz brandished a gun and shot Switzer, who was unarmed at the time, in the groin.

🔹According to police reports, only by begging was Piott able to save his own life.

🔹The killing was held to be a justifiable homicide. Switzer had allegedly pulled a knife; therefore, the shooting was judged to be self-defense.

🔹During the inquest regarding Switzer’s death, it was revealed that what was originally reported as a “hunting knife” was in fact merely a penknife. It had been found by crime scene investigators under his body, but with no blade exposed.

WITNESS COMES FORWARD

🔹On January 25, 2001, a third witness came forward and gave his version of the events of January 21, 1959. The witness, 56-year-old Tom Corrigan, son of Western movie star Ray “Crash” Corrigan and stepson of Moses Stiltz, was present the night Switzer was killed.

🔹”It was more like murder,” Corrigan told reporters. He said he heard the knock on the front door and heard Switzer say “Western Union for Bud Stiltz.” Corrigan’s mother, Rita Corrigan, opened the door to find a drunk and demanding Switzer complaining about a perceived, months-old debt.

🔹Switzer entered the house followed by Jack Piott and stated that he was going to beat Stiltz. Stiltz greeted Switzer with a .38-caliber revolver in his hand. Tom Corrigan claimed to witness Switzer grab the revolver and the two began struggling to gain control over it. Piott broke a glass-domed clock over Stiltz’s head whose eye swelled shut.

🔹During the struggle the gun fired into the ceiling and Tom Corrigan was struck in the leg by a piece of shrapnel. After the initial shot, his two younger sisters ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help.

🔹”Well, we shot Tommy, enough of this,” he remembers Switzer saying before Switzer and Piott started to retreat. Corrigan had just stepped out the front door when he heard a second shot go off behind him. He did not see his stepfather shoot Switzer, but when he turned around he saw Switzer sliding down the wall with a surprised look on his face — shot in the groin.

🔹Corrigan said he spotted a closed penknife at Switzer’s side which he presumed fell out of his pocket or his hand.

🔹He then witnessed his stepfather back Piott into the kitchen counter and threaten to kill him, but as the man begged for his life, they heard emergency sirens which is why Corrigan believed Stiltz didn’t shoot him again.

🔹Corrigan recalled that his stepfather, Bud Stiltz, lied in his account of the event to the authorities.

🔹Following the shooting, Corrigan claims a now-deceased Los Angeles Police Department detective, Pat Pow, interviewed him and asked him if he would testify before a judge. Corrigan claims to have agreed, although for unknown reasons he was never called before the coroner’s jury. “He didn’t have to kill him,” Corrigan said.

Deathday: ALFALFA (Carl Switzer) 1927-1959 RIP

Carl Switzer is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. His death went virtually unnoticed in the media, as Switzer died on the same day as the famous movie director, Cecil B. DeMille. Switzer received only minor footnotes in most newspapers, while DeMille’s obituary dominated the columns.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Interviewing Gentle Ben’s Owner and Ron Howard’s Brother

Or How to Tick Off My Teacher Without Really Trying…

Or Finding My Porpoise in Life

“This time find a book with porpoise, Jackie,” Ms. Nancy Lewis instructed me in 1965.

Purpose?

The previous time I checked out a book from the Harlandale School District Book Mobile, it was a brand new novel by Walt Morey entitled Gentle Ben.

Ben was a big brown bear in Alaska who befriended a boy named Mark. I imagined the boy looked similar to my fifth grade classmate, Mark Kuykendall, because he was somewhat adventurous.

Well, I supposed Ms. Lewis was upset about my book choices because she obviously didn’t think my Gentle Ben skit—performed in front of her fifth grade class in lieu of a book report— was as brilliant as the class did.

“GET MY PADDLE”

The week before, I had seen Ms. Lewis use her “discipline paddle” on Kenneth Andrews. Ken was upset because the recess bell rang– meaning we were to get back to class. It went off just as he had stepped up to bat during an exciting softball game.

I was playing second base when pitcher David Cardenas took the ball and walked back towards the second wing of Gillette Elementary School in south San Antonio that day.

The words that red-headed Kenneth screamed in anger, for not having the ball pitched to him, was dialect unfitting to a 5th grader, Ms. Lewis determined.

“Jackie, go get my paddle,” she directed me.

Why me? Kenneth is my friend. I don’t want to see his butt blistered by her spanking paddle.

I ran to our classroom and obediently brought out the paddle.

“What porpoise does that serve to cuss like that?” she asked Kenneth before the WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!

His buttocks were seared. All I knew was I wanted to make certain I had a good porpoise for anything I did around Ms. Lewis.

The next time the Book Mobile came to our school I made sure my book had porpoises in it.

I wasn’t certain what she had against bears, but as long as I never was on the receiving end of the teacher’s paddle, I would learn as much about porpoises as required.

CLINT HOWARD

A couple of years later, Gentle Ben became a TV series and the boy in that show didn’t look anything like the adventurous Mark Kuykendall at all.

The actor was Clint Howard, younger brother of Ron Howard, “Opie Taylor” of Mayberry and Andy Griffith fame at the time.

It was an okay show, but as long as Ms. Lewis wasn’t my teacher anymore it was all right by me.

Fast forward forty years later. It’s 2006, and I finally know the difference between Ms. Lewis’ pronunciation “porpoise” and the word “purpose.” That year I had the pleasure of meeting Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, Gene Krantz, and other space related notables at the St. Anthony Hotel in downtown San Antonio.

Among some of the “celebrities” I talked with were movie and television stars James Drury (The Virginian, Disney’s Toby Tyler), Lana Wood (The Searchers, Peyton Place, Diamonds Are Forever), comedian Bill Dana (Jose Jiminez), Warren Stevens (Forbidden Planet) and more.

It was certainly an unexpected eye opener to spend some time with the one and only Clint Howard. Although known to Baby Boomers for his role in Gentle Ben, he was at the Space conference for his part in the Ron Howard movie, Apollo 13.

The real life Apollo Mission control commander, Gene Krantz was nearby and in passing, called out to Howard: “Afternoon Sy!”

Clint Howard grinned and explained his role in Apollo 13 was the part of Sy Liebergot, a key member of the Mission Control crew under Krantz.

Howard loved the role acting with Ed Harris who played Krantz:

Sy LiebergotFlight… I recommend we shut down reactant valves to the fuel cells.

Gene Kranz: What the hell good is that gonna do?

Sy Liebergot: If that’s where the leak is, we can isolate it. We can save what’s left in the tanks and we can run on the good cell.

Gene Kranz: You close ’em, you can’t open ’em again! You can’t land on the moon with one healthy fuel cell!

Sy Liebergot: Gene, the Odyssey is “dying”. From my chair here, this is the last option.

INTERVIEW

Howard was kind enough to place his signature on a photo alongside his brother Ron Howard’s autograph and was willing to be interviewed for a few quick questions. Ready go:

Biggest influence?

My dad, Rance Howard is definitely my biggest influence. He has taught both Ron and I attributes of being a good man of the earth type solid human beings. We’ve learned to apply this to our work, the entertainment business.

The work can be hard enough in the morning but it is especially grueling by the end of a very long day on the  set. Through Dad, we learned to remain focused because all time counts.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this often, but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t ask, how was it working with Gentle Ben?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve never really heard of that question before (He winked and grinned).

Gentle Ben was really Bruno the Bear and he actually was a gentle bear. I remember he smelled bad and enjoyed drinking Coca-Cola and eating candy, especially lemon drops and sometimes Tootsie Roll.

I was already accustomed to acting and wasn’t starstruck at that age, but co-starring with a bear was cool. My dad was always on set with me down on a ranch in the Everglades, so I was away from my mom for a bit. When we would come back for Christmas break, our house was decorated to the max for the holidays. Good memories.

I would describe you as a character actor, with a diverse set of many different roles. How do you describe your acting persona?

That’s right on. You know, my great brother Ron, five years my senior, basically played all similar roles. There is Opie (Mayberry), Ritchie (Happy Days), Chad (The Smith Family) and the character, Steve from American Graffiti, basically.

We both started very young. By the time Gentle Ben was around, I had years of experience. I’m in my fifth decade of acting and now find myself in the position in my career as a character actor with a lot of experience.

When I walk on set and I think people look towards me, somewhat for some of a bit of guidance and mentoring. Now, I don’t stick my nose somewhere where it doesn’t belong. I’m there to act, my job. Thats my thing. I’m not going to step on anybody’s toes and automatically mentor. It is not my responsibility. But I realize now that some people do look up to me, and respect my experience. So I keep that in mind when I work on any project. I will be a leader and positive influencer for the director, crew, the actors if and as needed.

Like I said, I grew up with wonderful parents. My Dad mentored and I remain grateful.

Note: At the time of this interview Rance Howard was alive. He passed away on November 25, 2017. Clint’s mother, Jean Frances Speegle Howard, died on September 2, 2000.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Was Natalie Wood Murdered?

“…intentional accident,” said her sister Lana.

When Hollywood legend Natalie Wood starred in the 1983 movie Brainstorm,  there was no way of knowing it would be her last.

NOTORIOUS AMERICAN CRIME CHRONICLES is a CleverJourneys ongoing series exploring American history from a perspective that burrows deep into criminal profiles, the penal system, victim’s stories, crime prevention, forensic science, law enforcement and our justice system.

The science-fiction movie, co-starring Christopher Walken,  explored the intriguing and dangerous possibilities that came with intruding into someone else’s mind. 

Natalie died before the film was finished. Despite resistance from studio executives, the director, Douglas Trumbull, creatively found a way to complete Brainstorm

Walken and Wood in BRAINSTORM

Trumball used Natalie’s younger sister, Lana Wood, for some “long shots and shaded profiles” to successfully complete the movie. Brainstorm was a hit and went on to receive a total of six award nominations.

Natalie started out successfully as a child actor and by the 1960s she was featured in Hollywood classics such as West Side StoryGypsy, and Sex and the Single Girl.

She put her acting career on hiatus in the 1970s and had a child with Robert Wagner, whom she had previously married and divorced.

🔹While on a yachting excursion with Wagner and Brainstorm co-star Walken off Santa Catalina Island on November 29, 1981, Wood’s body was mysteriously found floating about a mile away from the yacht.

🔹An autopsy revealed that she had bruises and abrasions on her body, as well as a cocktail of pain medications and alcohol in her system.

🔹Her death was ruled to be an accidental drowning and hypothermia.

🔹To this day, no one is certain how Natalie got in the water in the first place, although then-Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi suggested that she may have slipped and fell given the alcohol in her system.

🔹Wagner claimed that there was no foul play on his part, although he admitted later that the two had a big argument right before Wood disappeared.

In 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, Gene Krantz, and other space related notables at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Among some of the “celebrities” I talked with were movie and television stars James Drury (The Virginian), Clint Howard (Gentle Ben, Apollo 13), and Warren Stevens (Forbidden Planet). However, I was especially excited to spend some time with Lana Wood.

Lana followed her sister into the movie business and as a child starred in The Searchers with John Wayne. She had a recurring role in the TV hit Peyton Place in the 1960s. My favorite role of hers was as Plenty O’Toole in the 1971 James Bond spy movie, Diamonds Are Forever with Sean Connery.

I gave her my business card and we chatted for a good while. She was very open and candid during the interview, especially when asked about the death of her sister.

My autograph from Lana Wood

“First, Natalie was absolutely terrified of the water and swimming, so I never bought into the idea she went out at 10 o’clock at night in a dingy,” she said.  Additionally, Wood’s sister asserted that Wood was terrified of water and under no circumstances would have gone in on her own accord.

“The things they (Wagner and Walken) were saying that Natalie did that night were just not credible,” Lana was certain. “Searchers found her in her nightgown about a mile away. That totally goes against her personality, her character.”

“I knew her all of our life and she was always concerned about how she looked and where she was going,” Lana continued. “Our mother, was an aggressive stage mom, especially with Natalie. It was drilled in her head to be dressed right, day or night, here or there.”

“Do you think her death was an accident?” I asked point blank.

“No, if it was an accident, it was intentional because of their fight on the yacht,” she responded. “I believe her death was intentional and the man who killed my sister was not Christopher Walken. It has been over 20 years now and it continues to haunt me.”

🔹In 1983, the coroner officially ruled Natalie Wood’s death as an accident.

🔹Her death certificate reads, a “probable drowning in the ocean.”

🔹In 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation into the mysterious death.

Since the night of her death, more information has come to light:

🔹The yacht captain and Christopher Walken both heard Wood and Wagner fighting that night, per Vanity Fair.

🔹Questions about why no one called for emergency assistance when Wagner discovered his wife missing have never been answered. It wasn’t until a few hours later when the incident was reported.

🔹Over time, new witnesses, including people who were in their own boats at that time, came forward indicating they heard arguing and a woman shouting for help on that night.

🔹Natalie’s death certificate was amended in 2012 to change the cause of her death from “Drowning” to “Drowning and other undetermined factors”.

Finally, during the last week of May 2022, the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. announced they cleared Robert Wagner, 92, in its investigation into the death of Natalie Wood.

“All leads have been exhausted and the case remains open,” they said. “If additional leads surface which have not already been investigated, the case will be reassigned for investigation.”

WOOD’S AUTOPSY

🔹When Natalie Wood’s death investigation was reopened, her cause of death was changed to “undetermined.”

🔹Her body was found dressed in a plaid, flannel nightgown, argyle socks, and a red down jacket.

🔹Wood’s blood alcohol content was 0.14%, which was higher than the legal driving limit.

🔹Pain and motion sickness medications were found in her bloodstream.

🔹Bruises were found on several parts of her body, such as the ankles, knees, and wrists.

🔹In the 1981 report, the bruises were attributed to hitting her body on the side of the yacht, as she struggled to get back up after falling over.

🔹However, the new coroner’s report, after the reinvestigation, states that the bruises occurred before Wood even fell into the water.

“The location of the bruises, the multiplicity of the bruises, lack of head trauma, or facial bruising support bruising having occurred prior to entry in the water.”

🔹The yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern, revealed in an interview that he lied during his police interrogation. When asked whether he thought Wagner was responsible, he answered, “Yes, I would say so. Yes.”

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Three Fingers and a Bird

The True Story of the Profound Lesson I Learned in 1963 on a Barber’s Chair

Just eight miles south-southwest of where I thought John Wayne fought at the Alamo was a spot in San Antonio where serious thinking and deciphering came into my life.

Slightly west of the halfway point along the street I saw President Kennedy on the day before his assassination–between the San Jose Mission and Kelly Air Force Base–is a region where my father was considered “patron.”

Starting on the Southeast corner of Southwest Military Drive, and heading south for eleven blocks on Commercial Street, was the first of five business pillars of our community.

Three proprietors were the foundation of commerce on Commercial Avenue and gaining the kind of momentum two others, Joe Barry and Mr. Stacey had held for a number of years. 

The first was Raymond “Bud” Jones of the “Meal A Minute” 89 cent All-You-Can-Eat -Fish fame. Bud, who passed away in October 2018, opened his legendary restaurant in 1959 at the Military Drive/Commercial southeast corner. Today, this South Side institution still serves the All-You-Can-Eat-Fish for $9.75 with his daughter Cathy and family running it.

Joe Barry owned the Terrell Wells grocery and gas store that eventually became the original VFW Post 8541. My daddy, Walter “Corky” Dennis, would go in to buy a pack of Camels (later on, he graduated to Salem’s) as I would sit in the car and look at the screen on a front door. It was painted yellow and blue with a gingham dressed girl smiling with bread in her hands proclaiming that we should “Reach for Sunbeam Bread.” 

Mercy, did I have a crush on that pretty blond haired-blue eyed beauty! I wondered often if she was kin to Dorothy of Kansas and Toto fame. Perhaps a blond cousin?

Later on, when I became at least as good at ‘cipherin’ as Jethro Bodine, I figured her out. I deduced she was the older sister of another girl and her dog– the little tan one on Coppertone signs who was embarrassed about having her panties almost torn off.

Across the street from Terrell Wells Grocery was Stacey’s Barber Shop. With a prominent barber pole on the south front lawn, Mr. and Mrs. Stacey lived on the north half of their shop in a small white wood framed house.

It was a matter of honor, but mostly courage, to sit up high on the board placed on the white arms of the barber chair of Mr. Stacey. I proudly received my trims from the same man who had cut my great grandfather John’s, grandpa Jack’s and father Corky’s hair.

I liked to go there with Daddy. But Mom, not so much. Momma would always make me sit close to the front door as we walked in. It just did not seem quite right for a girl like Momma, to be in a barber shop. There was nothing really wrong with it. Other mothers and even Mrs. Stacey came in. But a guy could not really appreciate the “feel” of the place with women in there.

There seemed to be more laughter and the men could talk about men’s things like “baseball,” or “a missile crisis” when the women were away.

In early December, Dad took me in. Grandpa Dennis was in one of the waiting chairs at the far right end facing the barber chairs on the left.

Without Momma around I could penetrate farther in and get away from the front door where the Porky Pig, Zorro or Superman books were. Sitting between Daddy and Grandpa I could scan the cover of nearby True Detective magazines. Mr. and Mrs. Stacey would never allow anything more manly than that. But to a guy just about to turn eight, True Detective was very mannish. (Note: The word “Macho” had not been invented yet as far as I know).

As each customer walked in, they were passed an 8 x 10 black and white glossy of what was purported to be the “last picture of JFK before he was shot.” One of the barbers had bought it for a dollar at the drug store located next to St. Leo’s Church on South Flores Street during their 1963 Fall Festival and Tamale Sale. Dad let me look at it and I felt important.

“Okay, Jack, you are next,” said one of the barbers. He was talking to Grandpa, who got up and sat down in a man’s size barber’s chair.

I did not notice who just walked in. I was determining if Daddy would let me go next, after Grandpa, instead of him. If so, Mr. Stacey would cut my hair. Then my odds for getting a sucker were better. Some of the other barbers did not always remember to pass out the suckers. Mr. Stacey never forgot, plus he would let me choose the color. I would leave the yellows or browns for the poor kids that were stuck with the other barbers.

Richard Floyd, my step grandfather sat down beside me grinning.

“Paw Paw,” I grinned back. We hugged.

Paw Paw was a tall human being.   With only one good eye and a few good teeth, he was not much for the world to see, but to me he walked on water.

“What are you doing, gettin’ your ears lowered, Booger?” He waved his hand from front to back over his head.

“They only charge Paw Paw half price, because I only have half my hair.”

What a treat it was to have two grandfathers and a father in the same barber shop all at the same time.

“Are you ready for your birthday?” Paw Paw asked.

When Grandpa Dennis heard that, he called me up and reached in his wallet. He handed me a dollar bill.

“Grandpa didn’t forget your birthday,” he said. “You tell your daddy to get you something with this.”

Paw Paw saw what was going on and he pulled TWO dollars out of his billfold and handed it to me with Happy Birthday instructions to tell my Mom to get me something with them.

Three whole dollars in a matter of seconds and it was the most money I had up to that point in my life. (Note: That amount in 1963 is worth $25.36 today).

When I sat back down, secretly enjoying the $3 in my pocket, my mind immediately jumped to disenchantment. Suddenly, my brain realized what people meant when they said “bad luck or trouble comes in threes.” And it had nothing to do with the money.

I had been waiting for the third calamity to reveal itself ever since my beloved cockerspaniel Blackie died on November 4th and John F. Kennedy on the 22nd.  Within a little over a month’s time, there I was, in the middle of the prohibited end of the barber shop and suddenly going through trauma numero tres!

It was at this moment I discovered that BOTH of my grandfathers had three fingers missing from their left hands.

What was this? Why hadn’t I really noticed their left hands before? Or maybe I did, but it did not register until I saw them both in the same room. Or was it because I was almost eight and noticing more adult things? After all, I had just scanned the covers of two True Detectives.

For at least the next few weeks I was terrified of everything my hands touched. Perhaps this was some kind of omen or family curse? What were the odds? Two grandfathers with the same hands missing three fingers!

My Daddy, policeman Walter “Corky” Dennis, was one of the motorcycle escorts next to the President’s car on the Kennedy motorcade during his San Antonio visit the day before his assassination in Dallas.

Just in time for Christmas, Daddy explained that Paw Paw was only my step-grandfather, so it really did not count—-there was no family curse.

“You do not have to worry about it any more.”

Thank God for Daddy’s explanation. I didn’t know how much longer I could have held out keeping my left hand in my pocket everywhere I went. Each morning when I awoke, I would look to see if those fingers on that hand were still there. Somehow it would sneak out from under the pillow during my sleep.

Definitely, I would not dare do what the other boys were inventing in the cafeteria.   By placing a pencil on top of their middle finger and bending the adjacent fingers over the pencil, they could “shoot the bird.”

Not quite understanding what that meant, as far as I was concerned if I shot that bird it was sure to be a recipe for the family curse. I knew that bird had wings for a reason. Around me it was going to just have to fly away. I did not intend to lose my three fingers over a bird.
     

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Happy 82 Birthday Sir Tom Jones, From My Mom in Heaven

Knowing I’m an advid autograph collector, my mother, Geraldine Dennis was always on the lookout and obtained several signatures for me.

In April 1969, she took me to a Tom Jones concert with my cousins Carolyn Sanders Gerland and James Johnson at the Hemisfair Arena in San Antonio, Texas. Gladys Knight and the Pips and comedian Norm Crosby also appeared.

They performed on a stage, in the center of the arena, with an amazing orchestra on one side. I was only 13 and the entire show was incredible. Tom Jones sang such hits as “It’s Not Unusual,” “Delilah,” and “Help Yourself.”

I was mesmerized by the strength in his voice and boldness of his showmanship. (It would be three years later, in April 1972, when I would see Elvis Presley for the first time at that same arena…and up until that concert, never did I believe Tom Jones could be beat. LOL.)

Elvis & Tom, 1969

For years Mom would laugh and say, “When I die I want to come back reincarnated as a gospel backup singer so I can stand behind Tom Jones and watch him work on stage.”

She meant it.

On her 50th birthday we took her to the Magic Time Machine restaurant. It first opened in 1973, the year I graduated from high school, and continues to be a fun favorite in San Antonio.

 The Time Machine is like no other restaurant I’ve ever seen, with no two seating areas alike. In San Antonio, you can sit at the Sweethearts Table, in The Attic, a Thatched Hut or even an old Refrigerator. Mom loved the salad bar, a shiny red 1952 MG-TD Roadster modified to serve as a soup and salad vegetables.

“The thing that sets The Magic Time Machine apart is our zany cast of characters who transport our guests into another point in time,” their website bills themselves. “Our servers dress in costumes representing popular pop culture icons from the past, present, and future. The entertainment comes from the humorous interaction with your server in a family friendly environment. Pirate or Princess? Hero or Villain? We have characters for every occasion and group. At The Magic Time Machine, ‘Laughing Aloud is Allowed’!”

It was a fun night that January 17, 1988. Elvis was in the house and Mom told her friends Wayne and Betty Lewis, “I wished Tom Jones would make an appearance too” and explained her reincarnation wish.

We had great laughs but it was especially joyful to see her open my present to her—an 8×10″ glossy personally autographed picture of Tom Jones. The smile and happy tears on her face endure in my thoughts even today.

I took mom to see Tom Jones two more times (she had even seen him in Las Vegas) both in San Antonio’s Majestic Theater and the Laurie Auditorium. Each time she repeated her reincarnation wish–“gospel singer behind Tom Jones.”

When Mom died in September 2006, the funeral at First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas was full. My sister Bobbi Shipman and I both addressed our dear family and friends, some we hadn’t seen in decades. Of course, there was great emotion and sadness.

To end it all, a gospel group from a Black San Antonio church led by Janet Givens (she has sang to royalty and backed up Michael Bolton) practically blew the stained glass windows out of the church with their songs. They concluded with “Oh Happy Day!”

Mom’s funeral was appropriately uplifting…just like her.

Happy Birthday Sir Tom Jones

I imagine that as Sir Tom Jones celebrates his 82nd birthday here on Earth June 7th, Mom will be wishing him good will and happiness from Heaven–and looking at his behind.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

America Celebrates a Century of ‘Our Gang’ Comedy Classics

Who Can Name These Little Rascals?

It All Began in 1922 by Film Producer Hal Roach

.

The first long term contract ever given to a Black actor in Hollywood was written for Fred Morrison.

Frederic Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, born in New Orleans started out in films called the Baby Marie Osbourne series. He earned his “Sunshine Sammy” nickname for his big smile and easygoing personality. 

Producer Hal Roach had originally planned on giving him his own series, but “The Sunshine Sammy Series” failed after a few attempts. Hal and his wife brainstormed the idea of expanding it, not on just one character, but to a band of “Rascals.”

Mrs. Roach, very impressed with Morrison, suggested that her husband should get the 7-year-old under their studio contract. With the addition of more children, the “Our Gang” series was born.  Sunshine Sammy Morrison ended up working in the aerospace industry and died of cancer when he was 76.

When Roach first started making the shorts way back in 1921, the “Our Gang” the short films were shown in theaters prior to the main picture. When they eventually made the jump to television, the series became “The Little Rascals.”

After the 23 years of “The Little Rascals” run came to an end, 220 films had been made. Reruns ensured generations of fans would continue to enjoy the series.

PETEY THE CIRCLE EYED DOG

Who remembers Petey, the adorable dog with the black circle under his eye?

He was portrayed by a pit bull named Pal who had the naturally-occurring marking—accented with makeup to complete the ring.

Pal was introduced into the series as just a 6-month-old pup. He became a massive star and the beloved family pet of trainer Harry Lucenay. Tragically, in 1930, Pal passed away after being poisoned.

“The Little Rascals” was still going strong, and the gang needed their Petey. Pal’s own son, Peter, stepped in as the new “Perry.” Makeup artists drew the distinctive circle around Peter’s opposite eye, in tribute to his much-loved father.

ALFALFA

Carl Switzer spent five years portraying the very popular role of “Alfalfa” in 75 films. When he became to old for the part, his intention in 1940 was to continue his career in show business. Often uncredited, Switzer appeared in small parts in nearly sixty films, including My Favorite Blonde (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Going My Way (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), State of the Union (1948), Pat and Mike (1952). Switzer even played a slave in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).

In early 1959, Switzer was breeding and training hunting dogs. He was hired to train the hunting dog of a man named Moses Stiltz. While training the dog, it took off. Desperate, Switzer offered a reward.

The dog was returned, Switzer ended up paying up, then decided to go to Stiltz to try to get his reward money back. The two men got into a fight, and Switzer was shot in the groin. He died when he arrived at the hospital.

JACKIE COOPER, A TOUGH RASCAL

Jackie Cooper passed away in 2011 and the world mourned the loss of the Superman film’s Perry White. Older fans knew Cooper had been one of “The Little Rascals.” 

Director Norman Taurog, told the young actor that he would shoot his dog if he didn’t cry on command during the filming for a 1931 film.

In “Our Gang,” Cooper was called “the little tough guy,” and unlike many of the kids who came and went through the “Rascals” roster, Cooper stayed in show business. (Which wasn’t entirely surprising, as his father was a studio production manager, and his uncle was the director that threatened to shoot his dog. He’s pictured signing his contract with MGM.)

OTHER NOTABLE RASCALS

🔹Norman “Chubby” Chaney died of a heart condition when he was 21.

🔹Billy “Froggy” Laughlin was riding a scooter when he was hit by a car and killed.

🔹Alfalfa’s brother, Harold “Slim” Switzer, took his own life at the age of 42. 

CAN YOU RECALL THESE RASCALS?

Then & Now, Cast of 1994 Movie

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

The Attempt at Being Indoctrinated That I Remember Most

With a long, overdue message to a university professor…

Texas State University in San Marcos, between Austin and San Antonio, was known as Southwest Texas University during the summer of 1976. Barely beginning my junior year, a significant paradigm challenge and among the first major attempts at indoctrination took place in a Flowers Hall Sociology class.

“Is God so powerful, that He can create a rock so heavy even he can not lift it up over His head?” our professor asked the class.

Several classmates attempted to answer but were torn into by the professor’s stern logic.

I took a moment to bow my head.

A girl in the desk to my left, did the same. Several others also followed.

“Oh, come on now, please spare me,” he theatrically clinched his two fists together and began shaking them below his waste. “What do you believe? Did your Jesus, your God, shake himself like this and spew out a universe?”

The girl next to me picked up her belongings and walked out into the hallway. He slammed the door behind her.

“Any of you children, still sucking your momma’s teats, after this had better get out now and prepare to drop out for good.”

Flowers Hall entrance

A few students walked out and politely closed the door behind themselves.

He turned to us and sarcastically asked, “So how does this Jesus purport to be the almighty God anyway? When he prays to God is He praying to himself?”

Of course, gullible as some of us were, none of us had the knowledge and ability to debate him. The professor’s word was the final discussion and ruling on the subject. I’m guessing he voted for William Jefferson Clinton later that year, and if still around, voted for Joe Biden and the likes of Beto O’Rourke in 2020.

Decades later, I know the answer to the mad professor’s question.

How could the prayer of Jesus to the Father be the same as us praying to the Father when he demonstrated to us that he himself answers our prayers in John 14:13?

WHATEVER YOU ASK IN MY NAME, THIS I WILL DO, THAT THE FATHER MAY BE GLORIFIED IN THE SON.

John 14:13

Now if we took the professor’s meaning of prayer, we were limited in our ability to debate him. His term for “pray” really just means a human speaking to God. Of course, this wouldn’t make sense because Jesus himself says He answers our prayers.  So if Jesus can answer our prayers, He couldn’t be just human.  

The fact that He can answer the prayers of humans, yet prayed Himself, shows both that HE IS GOD and that His prayer to the Father is of a different nature than ours.

A human being can’t both answer human prayers and pray to the Father as a human being.  Either he can’t answer prayers (but He can), or His prayer is not just a human-to-God interaction.  So the fact that Jesus can answer prayers proves that He is God while also being able to talk with other persons in the Godhead.

Along the years, I read this statement when studying the Bible:

that will I do; he does not say, that he would be a Mediator between God, and them, an advocate with the Father for them, and would intercede, and use his interest with him that it might be done, which would have been saying much, and all which he does; but he declares he will do it himself, which is a proof of his deity, and an instance of his omnipotence.”

Jesus’ prayer does not negate his Deity

🔹The word pray does not always have to mean a communication between God and Man.

🔹Jesus used the term “pray” as being a dialogue between two individuals of the same essence.

🔹One of the methods of instruction employed by Christ was leading by example. Hence if Jesus prayed, then all the more should we.

🔹If Christ prayed to the Father in like manner to our appeals and requests to God , then it wouldn’t make any sense because Jesus said that He, himself, could answer our prayers.  

🔹If He can answer our prayers, He must not be separate from God.  

🔹If He can answer our prayers, His prayer to the Father is of a different nature than our prayer to the Father.

Dear Professor, There is no contradiction between Jesus praying and the idea of Him being a member of the Trinity, (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the Word made flesh.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

The Dress Code to Enter Johnny Cash’s Bar & BBQ

John and June Carter Cash

Now this is a place for good ol’ red blooded Americans and patriotic country music lovers from around the world to enjoy.

The Johnny Cash Bar and BBQ is located at 121 Third Avenue South, right next door to the Johnny Cash Museum in Nasville, Tennessee.

The food, drink and decor is impressive. We especially like posted dress code and house rules.

DRESS CODE & HOUSE RULES

  • No extra long t-shirts or hoodies that hang below pockets.
  • No excessively low or baggy pants/shorts such that a person’s undergarments or buttocks are exposed. 
  • No athletic style pants/shorts (sweats, nylons, joggers, etc.)
  • No sleeveless shirts to be worn by men after 8PM.
  • No large chains. 
  • No clothing that management considers vulgar, offensive or otherwise likely to cause a disturbance.
  • No motorcycle club or gang affiliation displays of any kind. 
  • Sandals and flip flops are permitted, but not recommended.
  • Footwear must be worn at all times. 
  • No outside food or beverages. 
  • No large bags, backpacks, suitcases or gym bags after 6PM. 

*Management reserves the right to deny admission to anyone suspected to be intoxicated or deemed likely to cause a disturbance or for any other reason at its sole discretion. 

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.
Click For Johnny Cash

21 Ways to Increase & Preserve Brain Power

USE IT OR LOSE IT

1. Meditate: the #1 brain exercise! Stress clouds your thinking, so relieve stress with meditation. It’s easy! Put on your headphones, press PLAY on your meditation music download, and let the technology put you in a meditative state.

2. Work on being ambidextrous. Brush your hair, write, use the mouse and eat/drink with the “wrong” hand.

3. When something is broken, find creative repair solutions using common objects. Make do with what you have; make repairs with odd items and ingenuity.

4. Learn to convincingly argue every side of an argument.

5. Write with the wrong hand. Write backwards with both.

6. Read upside down (the text, not you).

7. Hydrate. Water enhances the brain’s electrochemical activity – dehydration slows it!

8. Change your perspective. Turn the pictures in your home upside down for a while.

9. Doodle and draw visual solutions to problems instead of using numbers or text.

10. Mentally estimate the passage of time.

11. Listen to classical music.

12. Power nap.

13. Stop procrastinating!

14. Move and motion daily. (We don’t prefer the word ‘exercise’.)

15. Eat exceptionally well. Give your brain energy and nutrients, not fillers and chemicals from junk/processed food.

16. Solve math problems without a calculator.

17. Remember phone numbers.

18. Mix up your routine. (We dare you.)

19. Play chess – especially a prolonged email version.

20. Solve optical illusions.

21. Play brain games like crosswords or Sudoku.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.