HOW MUSIC EVOKES MEMORIES.

ImagePeople have often asked me how I could remember so much of my childhood and even recall conversations in my memoirs. While taking a writing course in 2004, I learned a technique that helped me sharpen my memories and experiences as if they happened yesterday.
 
A small print-on-demand (POD) company in America called BookLocker advertised a memoir-writing course. When I enrolled, the lessons were sent to me via e-mail. One chapter of the curriculum dealt with memory triggers. We all have sounds, scents, and textures that evoke memories from the misty confines of our minds. Music is one of the strongest memory triggers, at least for  me it was.
 
When I wrote Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind school, I listened to top forty tunes from the sixties. Images came into my mind of where I was and what I was doing when I heard those songs.
 
ImageFor my How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity memoir, Bible verses on cassette reminded me of where I was and what I did at the time we studied them at the house church I once attended. Some of the memories were painful and some filled me with anger at the injustices I suffered.
 
Not all musical compositions remind me of the hard times in my life. Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield is one of my favourite albums because of the good memories I had when I heard it. A local announcer played the whole LP on his show one evening in 1974. I sat amazed as the music played. Never had I heard such an interesting piece as that before.
 
I scraped together my coins and bought the record as soon as I could. At my parent’s home, I played it over and over. Being in electronics class that spring, the end of the first side always reminded me of capacitance and how it was used in electronic circuits. I was also working on a table-top transistor radio that I bought at a second hand shop. It had some loose connections which I managed to solder back together. Even today, I can still picture that ivory-coloured multi-band receiver with the teal-coloured slide rule dial.
 
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from courses, this one is the most useful. By using memory triggers, anybody can resurrect long-buried memories. This is especially helpful for writers but anybody can make use of it.
 
I wrote extensively about that house church in my newly-published memoir, How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Please check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

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WHY SAFETY DEPOSIT BOXES ARE A WISE IDEA .

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Wildfires never seem to burn big cities. News bulletins usually report small towns being destroyed by fire but rarely are there reports of large metropolitan areas decimated by flames.

So what has this to do with safety deposit boxes? Back in May of 2002, prairie fires raged across the province. It was the third year of lower-than-normal precipitation. Worse yet, certain drivers disregarded the warnings and flicked their cigarette buts out their car windows into the tinder-dry weeds.

On the day before life-giving rain fell, the temperature was 28 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) and a strong southeast wind was fanning the flames. One fire was only a mile away from my house. I knew if the wind shifted to the southwest, I’d have to run for my life.

As the scorching wind roared outside, I prayed fervently that it wouldn’t change. I listened attentively to the radio scanner to find out where the fire was and which direction it was heading.

Complicating matters, I had three house rabbits and no transportation. I called a friend from church and asked if he could help me evacuate if the fire changed direction. He agreed, putting my mind at ease.

At church next Sunday, the pastor gave thanks to the Lord for the rain. Afterward, a friend told me how she franticly stomped out little fires that burned just a few meters from her farm house. There too, God helped by sparing her home.

Soon after this frightening experience, I rented a safety deposit box at a branch of my bank. In it, I placed all my important papers, disks containing my crucial writing files, and copies of my electronic music compositions. Having all those important articles there gave me some peace of mind. If I did lose everything in a future wildfire, at least my important documents would be saved.

Though services such as Carbonite and Dropbox are handy, they can’t replace the physical documents such as birth certificates, diplomas, and the like. I still have my safety deposit box. Thankfully, I haven’t had the need to open it so I could retrieve my house deed and other documents which insurance companies might need.

I didn’t mention this incident in my newly-published How I Was Razed book but I did write about my journey from cultic superstition to the freedom I enjoy in Christ. Visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers to find out more about my amazing testimony of God’s grace.

WHAT IS A DXPEDITION?

ImageAs in any hobby, jargon is used to summarize activities or concepts which the members partake in. “DXpedition” is a term describing a journey into the wilderness to receive distant signals called DX. The only official DXpedition I was on was to a place called Seven Mile Flats, an out-of-the-way place in British Columbia.

On the Victoria Day long weekend, Joseph Gudz and I drove to a collection of shacks which some radio astronomers had used for their work. I could tell the place was remote by the narrow road we drove along. At one point, the car nearly fell into the river. Thanks to Joseph’s masterful steering, we made it to the camp site.

Joseph and I shared one room of a fourplex. As earlier arrivals from the Canadian International DX (CIDX) club chatted, Joseph and I set up our equipment. Once both of our radios were connected to Joseph’s car battery, we began scanning the shortwave frequency for those hard-to-hear signals impossible to hear through city static.

I, and the other CIDXers, had radios which covered a wide range of frequencies. Poor Joseph wasn’t so fortunate. The DX-160 he had purchased from Radio Shack lacked the marine band. That was where many of the DXers found rare stations. He did find a few interesting signals but nowhere near the amount we did.

Though the prairies were green with new spring growth, the mountains were still recovering from winter. No snow lay on the ground but it felt to us like April. Consequently, I shivered as I tried to sleep. It seemed like I had never felt so cold.

Saturday and Sunday were sunny days but the temperature only rose to about sixty degrees Fahrenheit (fifteen degrees Celsius). Even so, the sun was hot enough to warm water that I had poured into a military surplus canteen.

Then the sun ruined our fun. While I went to the latrine on Sunday afternoon, it belched out a solar flair. When I returned to my radio in the shack, the signals were very weak. As I went out to find the break in my antenna wire, I met up with a fellow club member. He told me not to bother checking my antenna because there was a solar flare

Since there was nothing much to hear, I took photographs of the camp, a mountain stream, and the remains of the radio astronomers’ antenna set-up. I also appreciated the lack of traffic noise as I strolled around the camp and along the stream. How sublime it would have been to live in such a place forever.

The drive home on Monday was uneventful. As I listened to my radio in my apartment, I thought how nice it was not to hear everybody’s TV interference. The DXpedition was like leaving a smoky room and breathing clean air for a change.

I mentioned my shortwave listening hobby in my three memoirs. When a Man Loves a Rabbit and Deliverance from Jericho are featured on the left side of my Bruce Atchison’s bookspage. My recently-published e-book and paperback, How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

WHAT CLIMATE CHANGE?

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So much hot air has been spewed about climate change that it’s amazing the earth hasn’t overheated. A growing crowd of climate scientists are finding that the environment is actually cooling since 1997. From my own experiences with spring coming so late the past few years, global cooling makes much more sense than heating to me.

The climate has always been changing. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the land my house presently sits on was a tropical forest. Later on in history, it was covered with a mile-thick ice sheet. There was a time in Greenland, about eleven-hundred years ago, when the Vikings were farming the land. A few hundred years later, the mini-ice age gripped Europe. From around 1670 to 1721, the sun had no sun spots on its surface. That corresponded with another stretch of cold weather in Europe and a drought in the southwest part of what would become America.

People also have short memories. My mom showed me a photograph of her family’s farm house taken on May 15, 1945. A heavy layer of snow fell overnight, producing an odd effect of leafy trees covered in snow. I thought this was a rare weather event until 1987. On the Victoria Day long weekend, I woke up to snow covering everything. About six inches of the white stuff fell, breaking many tree limbs and downing power lines. I ventured out and took many photos of the nearby Mill Creek Ravine Park.

The same thing happened again on the Tuesday after the May long weekend. I had been in my yard on the weekend, raking the lawn and digging up the garden soil. The snow began falling in the morning and by the end of the day, we had about six inches. Many trees were damaged by the wet snow that day as well.

During both dumps of snow, the white stuff hung around for a few days. I’ve also noticed that We Albertans can expect some sort of storm during May. Only during the drought of 200-2002 did we have no dump of rain or snow in May. This leads me to believe that the climate will always do odd things at times.

In My new book called How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity, I mentioned many times when I thought the weather portended soon-coming disaster. Decades later, we’re still here and doing just fine. For more information on God’s amazing work in my life, visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers. My previous two paperbacks are featured on the Bruce Atchison’s books page.

WHICH AUDIO MEDIUM IS BEST FOR THE POOR?

ImageBack in 2006, somebody somewhere said that cassettes would no longer be manufactured. I guess National Audio Company and a few other firms didn’t get that memo. The good news for cassette users is that you can still buy them. Googling the subject of cassette tape manufacturers brings up a considerably long list of firms still making and selling this venerable format.

“Why use such an old fashioned technology?” many people ask today. With the Internet delivering MP3 files and the popularity of MP3 players, there doesn’t seem to be a need for magnetic analogue recordings.

One benefit of cassettes is that they can be re-used. You can’t do that with a CD-R and CD-RWs don’t work in CD players. Companies did try making portable CD players but they had problems with the recording breaking up when they were bumped. Though vehicles have CD players, CD-Rs often won’t play in them. With portable cassette players, the only worry was the battery dying. Some cheap models did eat tape on occasion but careful winding of the tape into its shell often worked to restore the cassette.

Another benefit is that they can be stopped and then started again without losing their place. With CDs, you have to fiddle and diddle until you find the point where you stopped listening. This is especially annoying when listening to long spoken-word pieces or sermons.

Cassettes can take a fair amount of abuse. If the tape is mangled and returned to the shell, it still will play. The whole recording isn’t ruined like it would be with a scratch on a CD. I’ve been able to revive a tangled tape many times using this method. On the other hand, I’ve had whole CD-Rs become unplayable because the foil started flaking off.

People in Third World countries often lack CD players but have access to cassette players. I’m currently taping the sermons of John MacArthur and episodes of Unshackled off the Internet and sending the cassettes to a friend in Alabama. He distributes them to missionaries in various countries. One man in Nigeria translates Unshackled episodes into one of the local languages and says the people deeply appreciate the dramatizations. The cassettes also bless the missionaries.

Cassettes are also easier for seniors to use. Computers fluster them, making it hard for them to make their own CD-Rs. It’s a lot easier to push buttons than work one’s way through menus on CD-R burning software. Most of these elderly folks grew up in a world of dial telephones, vacuum tube radios, and vehicles with no electronics. They’re much more comfortable pressing “PLAY” than clicking an icon.

As long as I can, I’ll use and listen to cassettes. I recently purchased four boom-box-like recorders from a bargain shop just so I can keep listening to the hundreds of cassettes I recorded over the years. Additionally, I can use these machines as computer speakers because they have a “line in” jack. One thing is for sure, I won’t lack a cassette player for years to come.

WHEN THE PHONE WAS A FRIEND.

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What a shame we have to live dreading the sound of the telephone. Time was when the phone was something that brought friends and family together. Alberta Government Telephones, bought by Telus in 1996, once had an ad campaign promoting dialing long distance. “Your Voice is a Visit” was their catch phrase and it certainly resonated with people.

Then businesses began bugging us for their custom and charities for donations. I remember back in the eighties when I’d pick up the receiver and instead of a friend or family member, a local sales person tried to sell me subscriptions to a newspaper or get me to donate to some charity.  The occasional polling company would call for my opinion but I usually received sales calls.

Scammers caught on and offered supposedly incredible deals. I was burned by one of those in 1987 when an investment firm called Principal Group offered twenty percent returns on investments. Established financial institutions only offered three to five percent, depending on the risk involved. Fortunately for me, I only put in fifty dollars and was repaid twenty-six dollars when the firm was taken to court. Now I realize it was a Ponzi scheme. If something seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Now we have phone robots being used by political groups and scammers alike. It’s rather hard to tell which is which. Thanks to my talking caller ID, I can hear if it’s a friend or a fiend calling me.

I regret that I was also using my telephone for less-than-honorable business purposes. The promise of riches by prosperous Amway distributors drove me to call every contact in my address book. When I evaded people’s questions about what I was asking them to come to my house and see, I lost almost every friend. I persisted with Amway for another five years before giving up.

Though I plan on getting a cell phone, I much prefer e-mail replies. I can compose my ideas much better with it. Answering calls puts a person on the spot and usually interrupts something which the recipient of the call is deeply involved in. With me, the phone seems to ring when I’m in the bathroom. It’s usually a friend too. When I’m waiting for a call, that’s when the scammers and phone robots appear to bombard me.

I wrote about losing all my friends on account of Amway in my new book. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers. My previous paperbacks are featured at Bruce Atchison’s books.

THE JOYS OF BUNNIES WITH TOYS.

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Because many rabbit owners keep their pets locked in small cages, they miss out on much of the joy that house bunny owners experience daily. One aspect of rabbits is that they enjoy playing with toys.

When bunnies are allowed to live in a room or even a large exercise pen, they become more outgoing and playful. When given some noise-making toy, such as plastic keys on a ring, they happily toss them one way and then another. I had one long-eared companion named Mark who liked to push a cylindrical rattle around his pen. Gideon, my first true house rabbit, loved picking up cardboard tubes from paper towels and letting them drop to the floor.

In a sense, cardboard box houses with doors at either end become a plaything for rabbits. Not only does such a simple toy give them the satisfaction of enlarging the doorways but they feel a measure of safety while lying inside them. When a old phone book with the covers removed is placed inside, bunnies have a wonderful time shredding them. I’ve spent many mornings listening to Deborah, my current house rabbit, joyously ripping paper in her cardboard hideaway.

The best thing about toys for rabbits is that they can be made at home or bought cheaply from thrift shops. With a little imagination, anybody can make playthings which will keep bunnies occupied. After all, they need mental stimulation. If they aren’t provided with toys, they’re more likely to get into mischief.

One toy I invented for rabbits is the CD top. I took a ruined CD-R and sanded off the aluminum coating. Then I flattened a toilet paper tube and rolled it into a spindle. Next, I put the spindled tube through the hole in the centre of the CD-R. Not only does this simple object give rabbits something to toss but it rocks back and forth. That adds to the rabbit’s  fun.

I wrote about these and other bunny distractions in When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living With Bunnies. It’s available through the Bruce Atchison’s books page. I briefly mentioned my rabbits in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Amazon and Barnes & Noble distribute the e-book edition while Virtual Bookworm Publishers stock the paperback version.