A Calculated Conspiracy

By David and Nancy Beckwith

        Will and Betsy Black move to the Florida Keys where they take new jobs in the local financial industry. This delightful book highlights the history as well as the lifestyle unique to the Florida Keys. Our heroes become involved with homicides resulting from shady real estate deals designed to cheat investors. Their financial expertise and common sense keep them from becoming victims, but not their neighbors and business associates. Along the way, they deal with New Jersey hoods and members of a Colombian cartel. While the book was entertaining, it wasn’t a great “who done it,” because the book wasn’t written to leave clues for the reader to solve the case. But what I especially enjoyed about this book is it serves as a primer on how many real estate and investment schemes work. Another interesting delight of this novel is it will make the readers want to live and work in the Keys.


There is a series on Netflix called Tiding up with Marie Kondo. It’s about how this one woman from Japan helps people get rid of the clutter in their lives. I started watching it, and found many of her tips useful. Naturally, I started going through all of the stuff I have collected over the years.

But there were two surprises. The first was finding the letters I had written to my mother when I was on active duty in the Marine Corps. She had saved them all. The second was finding the letters and postcards I had sent to my Aunt Louise when I was living and working in Japan.

What this proved to me is many people enjoy real letters. Of course email is good, but nothing replaces the joy a person feels when that individual opens his or her mailbox and finds a letter or card. I’m one of those people who believe you should send real Christmas cards, not email messages. A birthday card in the mail makes the person feel special, not like you are sending a message to let the person know you remembered his or her birthday. For those who are on my mailing list, they know I write a couple of letters each year and mail them out. When I meet up with them at reunions or on vacation, they always tell me how much they enjoy getting my letters. I had two relatives in assisted care facilities, and getting a letter or postcard made their day.

So my take away for this message is write a letter or send a card. Snail mail is a great morale boost, especially for military personnel serving overseas. Make someone feel special. A stamp is a small price to pay for the happiness you will bring to others.

Writing Letters

“Writers write.” I know this is a quote from the movie Throw Mama From the Train starring Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal. But I agree with the statement, writers do need to write, whether it is a journal, articles, working on a novel, or writing letters.

I believe in writing letters for several reasons. First, it’s good practice and something that every writer can do. It makes you to write sentences and paragraphs. It makes you express yourself in greater detail. The best thing is it forces you to take notice of the details in your life. Too many times we ask what happened yesterday or last weekend, and the answer we get back is “nothing.” Writing letters makes you take notice of the little changes in your life. For example, does your pet demand more attention for playtime? What about that shopping trip last weekend where you were so bored while your significant other was so excited about shopping for something. Then there is the party at a bar or some other social gathering that was a total bust – it was so boring. In short, you begin to notice what is happening in your life.

Another reason for writing is it helps you stay in touch with people in your life. Letters have helped me stay in touch with people from high school and from others when I was on active duty, both of these took place more than 30 years ago. To make a friend, you need to be a friend. And friends stay in touch.

Also, it is a historical record. I came across letters I wrote to my mother when I was in the Marine Corps. They reminded me of things I had long forgotten. I wrote lots of letters when I was living in Japan. These are a record of my adventures over there. Think about it—much of what we know about life hundreds of years ago comes from letters. Letters have outlasted all of our computer technology. Remember the first floppy disks, which gave way to smaller disks, which now have been replaced with memory sticks. We can’t access floppy disks any longer, but the letters written years ago are still available.

However, my big reason for writing is I know how much the person receiving the letter appreciate the mail. In the military nowadays, everyone has a mailbox. But when I was on active duty, nothing improved your morale like getting a letter from someone. My wife loves it when I send her a card through the mail. Of course she likes the card, but she loves getting something in the mail. It makes her feel special.

Furthermore, there is no excuse for not writing. With computers and the word processing programs, it is so easy to write. Many times the programs even correct your mistakes, which help with the grammar. While many may opt to use email, which I can understand, email still doesn’t replace the feel of real paper in one’s hand. But computers do give a person a chance to write more often and reach more people. Still I feel an email letter will never replace the smile snail mail brings to someone.

via Tips for Writers 

Writing Sentences – Every writer needs to start with the basics, and that is writing good sentences. Here are some tips I used when I taught English as foreign language in Japan and English composition at an American university. I hope they prove useful.

Zeid’s Rules (I created these, they are not found in any textbook.)

Every sentence has four parts – subject, verb, predicate, and a complete idea.

Many mistakes with sentence construction come from it either being an incomplete sentence (sentence fragment) and a run-on sentence. The idea of each sentence focusing on a complete idea helps resolves these problems.

First, let’s look at sentence fragments. It’s easy to see a sentence fragment when we leave out the subject of the sentence, the verb, or the predicate. Look at these examples.

            Bought a bag of apples. I a bag of apples. I bought a bag of.

Here information was left out, usually due to carelessness. However, a more common mistake is to include all of the information, but not a complete idea. Look at this example.

            So, I bought a bag of apples.

Here the subject, I, the verb, bought, and the predicate, a bag of apples, are present, but the sentence does not express a complete idea. We know the result was the purchase of the apples, but don’t know why. In order for this to be a complete sentence, we need to know why the apples were purchased.

            I ran out of fruit for breakfast, so I bought a bag of apples.

Take note that this complete sentence has more than a singular subject, verb, and predicate. Many may remember from English grammar there are four basic types of sentence, this one being a complex sentence with one independent clause and one dependent clause. The key here is many times the writer makes the dependent clause (in this case – so I bought a bag of apples) a separate sentence, thus making it a sentence fragment.

Next, we need to look at run-on sentences. I had a lot of fun with these in college when we were tasked with making the longest, grammatically correct sentence possible. A run-on sentence is when two or more independent clauses are fused into a single sentence. In other words, we are putting too much information into one sentence. Here is an example.

            At the store, I bought apples, I was out of fruit, which I like for breakfast.

Most run-on sentences can be fixed with simply adding proper punctuation and conjunctions. For example, the above sentence can be written as:

            At the store, I bought apples, because I was out of fruit, which I like for breakfast.

Another common run-on sentence error is the combination of clauses with including all of the necessary parts, such as leaving out the subject of the clause or part of the predicate.

            At the store, bought apples, I was out, which I like for breakfast.

These errors are caused by carelessness and the solution is again to ensure all parts of the clause, as well as the necessary punctuation and conjunctions, are included.

Do not make the mistake of thinking long sentences are necessarily run-on sentences. With the proper punctuation and conjunctions, long sentences are okay. The key is the logic and keeping to the idea that a single idea is expressed. Take a look at this example.

Although scientific study has failed to produce any empirical evidence to neither confirm nor deny that any state of mental illness or psychological condition provides any advantage to improving work performance or the ability to function in this specific work environment, the general consensus is that a state of mental unbalance does prove to be advantageous for those who are employed within this particular facility. In other words, you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.

The true key to improving sentence construction is to proofread. When time is a factor, such as writing a report that is due by the end of the day, ask someone else to proofread what you have written. That person will find the mistakes that you missed.

Zeid’s Rules (I created these, they are not found in any textbook.)

Most sentences follow the pattern of:   __1__ subject __2__ verb __3__ predicate __4__ .

Space one – front of the sentence – adverbs, time markers

Space two – front of the verb – auxiliary verbs, frequency adverbs

Space three – behind the verb – verb ending, frequency adverbs for the verb “be”

Space four – back of the sentence – adverbs, time markers

I find this pattern useful for explaining grammar, especially changes in verb tense to non-native speakers of English. For example, I walk to school changes to I am walking to school. I point out that the auxiliary verb am goes in space two, before the verb, and ing goes in space three, after the verb, to change the verb tense from simple present to present progressive. This pattern is also helpful for figuring out where best to place certain adverbs. For some people, this pattern is helpful. At the same time, for many others, it is confusing. If it helps, then use it. If it doesn’t, then forget it. There is no need to master this pattern to become a good writer.

Four types of sentences. Here is a brief review of the four types of sentences. All grammar books carry a more detailed explanation of these sentence patterns for those who need additional information about them.

Simple – The windows rattled.

I took the cat to the vet.

Compound – The windows rattled and the doors shook.

I took the cat to the vet, and it cost me 300 dollars.

Complex – As the storm blew, the windows rattled.

Because it was sick, I took the cat to the vet.

Compound-complex – As the storm blew, the windows rattled and the doors shook.

Because it was sick, I took the cat to the vet; and it cost me 300 dollars, so I am now broke.

Clauses – a clause is a group of words with a subject, verb, and predicate.

Independent clause – it has a subject, verb, predicate and expresses a complete idea. An independent clause can be a sentence all by itself. All sentences have at least one independent clause.

Dependent clause – it has a subject, verb, and predicate; but it does not express a complete idea by itself.


via Tips for Writers

That vs. Which (from http://www.dailywritingtips.com)

Just a reminder, who should always be used when referring to people.

The boy who threw the ball.
This is the woman who won the pie-eating contest.

When referring to objects, the rule for using that and which is simple.
That should be used to introduce a restrictive clause.
Which should be used to introduce a non-restrictive or parenthetical clause.

A restrictive clause is one which is essential to the meaning of the sentence – if it is removed, the meaning of the sentence with change.

Examples: Chairs that don’t have cushions are uncomfortable to sit on.
Card games that involve betting money should not be played in school.

A non-restrictive clause can be left out without changing the meaning of the sentence. Non-restrictive clauses are either in brackets or have a comma before and after them.

Examples: Chairs, which are found in many places or work, are often uncomfortable to sit on.
I sat on an uncomfortable chair, which was in my office.

Changing that to which or vice versa can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

My car that is blue goes very fast. (It is the blue car, not the green one or the white one that is fast.)
My car, which is blue, goes very fast. (My car is fast, and the color is blue.)



Mama Bear Takes on the Marines!
War games are designed for Marines to deal with bombs, bullets, and bayonets. But when it comes to wildlife, well that requires different tactics.
We were attached to the headquarters regiment, 800 Marines setting up everything needed to wage a five-day war against the Blue Force. We had strung up the nettings to camouflage the tents and communications network. We had set up roadblocks and listening posts. Furthermore, we had 200 Marines digging in to form a perimeter around the camp; a ring of protection designed to alert us at the first sign of danger.
My fellow Staff NCO, David, and I were inspecting the preparations, ensuring everything was going okay. As we came out of the communications tent, which was more than 150 feet inside the perimeter, we came face-to-face with our adversary.
David jumped back and slapped me on the arm. He pointed to something behind me. I turned and saw them.
Less than 20 feet from me was a mother bear with her two cubs. I took one look and stopped. “They’re so cute,” was my comment.
David leaned over to quietly say, “You do know they are dangerous, don’t you?”
Strangely enough, until he said that, I wasn’t afraid of the creatures, who obviously looking for food and had no fear of people. David and I courageously decided to back away from the bears. This must have spooked them because the cubs immediately climbed a nearby tree, and the mother roared.
At this time, several other Marines finally noticed the three bears in the midst of our camp. Many of them started shouting, alerting the entire camp of the intruders. This must have annoyed the bears, which now felt it was time to leave. The cubs came down from the tree and the three of them began to slowly walk towards the perimeter of the camp. Of course, they stopped at several of the tents along the way to check them out. The bears went into the tents, and the Marines came running out.
We now became organized and went on the offensive. Within minutes, there were dozens of Marines shouting, waving arms, and making noise in an effort to drive the bears out of camp. The mother bear would turn around and look at us. She gave us a look which seemed to say switch to decaf and calm down, we’re leaving.
One Marine saw this as an opportunity to get some pictures of the wildlife. The three bears courteously sat down and posed for the pictures. They were quickly becoming celebrities and took several more opportunities to stop and pose while we continued to shout and wave their arms.
The bears continued to stroll towards the perimeter and the Marines dug into foxholes and defensive positions. Two Marines saw the bear and jumped out of their foxhole, which the bears immediately took over. Several of the other Marines on watch decided to open fire and shoot at the bears. Because these were war games, everyone had blanks. They were able to make noise, but that was all. The bears came out of the foxhole and sat down, amuse by the nonfatal assault of noise and confusion. They seemed perfectly content to watch the battle, unaware they were the enemy.
The bears ambled over to another foxhole. They went in and the Marines jumped out. One staff NCO noticed the Marines didn’t have their rifles. When he asked them where their weapons were, one Marine responded. “The bear’s got them and I’m not going back in to get them.” A minute later, the bears came out, leaving the Marines’ rifles behind.
Now, several of the cooks, armed with empty pots and ladles, came to reinforce the frontline troops. They started banging on their pots with their ladles. This time, the bears got up and started to run away.
I was standing there amused that these bears posed for pictures and braved Marines armed with weapons, but ran from the cooks. Strange to think our greatest weapon against this threat was Marine Corps chow.


via War Stories That Won’t Get Me Free Beer

A humorous look at experiences and life in the military. How true are these stories – it depends on how much you’ve had to drink. (tag line)Toiger on couch 2
If you’re telling war stories, you’re buying the beer. If not, then I’m staying right here on the couch.

Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction

We were standing in line, shivering in the cold on a bright sunny morning, with the temperature barely in the teens. But then, this was the Marine Corps Winter Combat Training Course and I was excited because I was going to have my first skiing lesson. Our instructor glided to a spot about twenty feet in front of the group.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he bellowed. “Welcome to the United States Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction. Those big things on your feet are skis. The long things in your hands are ski poles. The white stuff on the ground is snow. That thing over there is a tree. Don’t hit the tree. Congratulations, you have completed the United States Marine Corps Schools of Ski Instruction. Now, everyone turn to your right.”
This may seem harsh, but the Marine Corps is not known for warm fuzzies and gentle instruction. But here we were learning to ski after a minute and a half of instruction. Still, I felt ready and eager for the challenge.
We all turned to the right, and the instructor showed us how to walk with our skis. We were shown how to walk sideways and how to walk with a “V” by turning the front of our skis outward. For the next hour, we worked to master these two skills. Instead, we managed to master the skill of going downhill backwards and getting tangled as our skis crossed each other. Then the instructor showed us how to glide over the snow for cross-country skiing. A skill we managed to turn into the ability to run into each other with great frequency. The final skill our instructor attempted to impart to us was how to point the toes of our skis in so that we could slow down or stop when going down a hill. I was unaware that our feet could actually cross and somehow we managed to go faster downhill. I did notice our instructor did not show us how to fall down. It seems we mastered that skill all on our own. Our major accomplishment was no one had managed to stab any one with the ski poles.

We migrated to a field where we practiced gliding for cross-country skiing. Our first attempt resulted in Marines running into each other. At one point we looked like a platoon of Marines in a giant pile of pick-up sticks. Someone pointed out we were really bad at skiing. Someone else pointed out the snow was cold and wet. A third person pointed out it was time for lunch.
Before long, we were able to make it around the field without any serious problems or injuries; so the instructor felt it was time for something more challenging. We took off on a trail through the woods. For the most part, the terrain was flat and we were able to make some progress. Then we came to the hill. We were to practice the techniques we had been taught earlier to make it to the top of the hill. This meant for us, we spent more time going downhill backwards than we did going uphill. Our instructor showed us how to use a zigzag pattern of skiing to one side of the trail, stopping, turning 180 degrees by hopping on the skis, then skiing to the other side of the trail. After an hour of being pin-ball Marines, bouncing from one side of the trail to the other, we finally made it to the top. The fact that it would have taken us only ten minutes to walk up to the top of the hill was irrelevant.

After we conquered this monument to Mother Nature, our instructor had another brilliant idea; either that or he relished the idea of us living life dangerously. He wanted us to ski down the hill. I do not know why this came as a surprise to me. After all, there is only way to get off a hill, and that is to go down it. One by one, we started down the slope. Soon it was my turn and I was celebrating my accomplishment of swooshing down the hill. I was proud of skill and ability until the trail curved and there stood a tree in my way. I started to will the tree to move. In my mind I kept repeating move the tree, move the tree, move the tree. Soon I was actually yelling out loud. The tree was not moving. Someone yelled back for me to shift my weight so I could turn the skis. I bent to the left, shifting my weight to my left side, I was actually starting to turn. I would be okay. I would miss the tree.

The tree moved. Honestly, the tree moved right into my path. I did everything I could to avoid it, but I ran smack into it, knocking me off my feet. I’m not sure how one of my skis ended up in the tree. The worst part, I was still attached to the ski. I think the lower branches pushed it up there just so I couldn’t get down without some help. I do know that while I was battling the tree for my survival, I had this sudden overwhelming desire to give up skiing.
Someone came up and asked if I was okay. At least I think that was what he was saying. Hanging upside down in a tree made it really hard for me to answer coherently. Before I could answer, the tree spat me out onto the ground. The instructor informed me I would have to go back to the medical clinic where they could check me out and maybe take some x-rays. I was really disappointed that he hadn’t made this suggestion before I had gone up the hill.
Turns out I was just banged up, no serious injuries, except to my pride and ego. I do know that the next time they asked for volunteers for winter combat training, I signed up for desert survival school.