All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

Patriot Summer

Is it just me or does summer feel like an especially patriotic time of year? As soon as the 80 degree weather rolls in, I’m ready to roll out all the red, white, and blue.

This inclination is likely for good reason: late spring and summer offer multiple patriotic holidays.

Cue a John Phillip Sousa march! 🎶

We just marked the solemn occasions of Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during WWII–both necessary and important reminders of the cost of our freedom here in this sweet land of liberty.

Now, we are on to more festive and jubilant holidays: Flag Day (also the US Army’s Birthday) today, June 14th and, of course, Independence Day on July 4th!! #partylikeits1776

As a bookworm and a history buff, some of my favorite types of books are ones about American history as well as memoirs of our presidents, military service members, and other notable figures.

What better time than these sun-drenched days of summer to lay on a hammock with a cool drink on a lazy afternoon and learn more about our nation’s history and the people who have helped to shape it both in the past and the present?

It may make all these patriotic holidays even more meaningful.

So without further ado, I thought I’d share some books I think are worth reading.

1) 1776 by David McCullough

1776 reads more like a novel than a history book. McCullough’s writing is engaging and vivid. He presents all the historical figures, American and British, in their full humanity with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, and idiosyncrasies. Ample recourse to primary sources such as letters serves almost as dialogue in this riveting story. I learned much about this pivotal year in America’s founding as well as the characters of its principle playmakers, especially the admirable, fallible, courageous tenacity and leadership of George Washington whose circumstances and obstacles frequently appeared insurmountable.

2) The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed by Alf J. Mapp, Jr.

I haven’t read this book in a few years, but I remember it as an interesting look at the Founders’ religious beliefs, which ranged from orthodox to definitely not-so-orthodox. It’s not a continuous narrative but divided up by individual, so it’s a book you can set aside and then pick up again without having to refresh your memory about what just transpired.

3) The Declaration of Independence

Okay, this one isn’t a book, but what more appropriate time than Independence Day to read the document that officially declared that our country was the United States of America! It’s kind of like our nation’s birth certificate. You can find it online.
Under this entry, I’ll also add The Patriot’s Reference: Documents, Speeches, and Sermons that Compose the American Soul edited by Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish. This book contains the Declaration and numerous other primary sources of American History. I have not read them all but it’s a good book to have on hand.

4) Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is the book on which the popular TV mini-series was based. It brings home the unthinkable realities of war. Well-written and engrossing.

5) When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

If you’re a voracious bookworm and a fan of WWII history like me, this book is a perfect combination. I had no idea of the tremendous impact that books, especially the Armed Services Editions paperbacks, had on the morale of our troops. Not only that but the books turned a whole sector of the population into readers and learners post-War. Books were “weapons in the war of ideas,” which this book shows was just as critical as the physical battles being fought. Books represented democracy and freedom in contrast to the Axis powers’ tyranny and oppression. Amazingly, the U.S. distributed more books to the troops than Hitler destroyed.

6) Over Here, Over There: The Andrew Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II by Maxine Andrews and Bill Gilbert

A more light-hearted but still informative look at the WWII years and just how much every part of society gave up to support the war effort. Makes one wistful for a time when the country was so united and everyone was willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.

7) American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice

I have not seen the movie based on this memoir but the book is certainly an eye-opening and gritty firsthand account of war.

8) Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robinson

Gripping and page-turning story of endurance and sacrifice as told by the Lone Survivor Marcus Lutrell. In recent years,his story was also turned into a movie (haven’t seen that one either.)
Both American Sniper and Lone Survivor are intense accounts of war but they offer authentic, thought-provoking perspectives for civilians who have never had to endure the unimaginable atmosphere of modern warfare. Both Kyle and Lutrell are gloriously unpolitically correct. They definitely pull no punches in their accounts in order to sugar coat harsh realities or to protect feelings. Yet they are not writing to sensationalize their experiences but to honor those who served alongside them. These aren’t always easy books to read but they are certainly impactful and profound.

9) Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service by Gary Sinise

You may know Gary Sinise from the movie Forrest Gump in which he played Lieutenant Dan or from the TV series CSI:NY but you may not know all he has done to support our military service members, veterans, first responders, and their families. He has gone on 100 USO tours to entertain the troops, and he has established the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has several different programs assisting our service members, veterans, and first responders. He is such a decent, good man and a true patriot. His story really inspires you to support those who protect our freedoms as well as to persevere through one’s own challenges.

10) My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas

Very interesting autobiographical account of the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He writes honestly of his own shortcomings and the obstacles he faced as an African-American man raised in the South and coming of age in the Civil Rights era. His determination and thoughtful opinions based on experience when it came to things like Affirmative Action are certainly valuable to today’s public discourse.

11) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem

I checked this book out at the library shortly after President George H. W. Bush passed away last December. It is quite the tome but Meachem’s writing is not dry and this book is a lesson not only in the life of our late president but also in how politics functions and in the historical and cultural changes that transpired during Bush’s life span which covered the back half of the twentieth century. Side note: Jon Meachem eulogized Bush at his funeral.

12) Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice

I’ve read this book a couple times. Rice’s journey from a little girl in the segregated South to her service in the national government is inspiring. Her attitude of never succumbing to victimhood in the face of prejudice and of striving always to be her best and pursue her passions is inspiring.

Note: Obviously, recommending a book does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of everything contained in said books.

Happy Reading and Happy Summer!!

🇺🇸😎

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All, Culture/Life, poetry

Dawn

This little poem began to formulate in my brain early one morning while I was still half asleep, and I decided to write it down once I really woke up. I’m definitely no Emily Dickinson but it was fun to compose nevertheless.

The birds twittering outside my window, often well before the sky is fully light, are some of the first signs that night is passing away.

Honestly, I do wish they’d sometimes sleep in a bit longer, haha. But they are doing what they’re supposed to do, and wouldn’t it be grand if we could all wake up singing and rejoicing in the new day of life we’ve been granted!

“Dawn”

In the early, grey hours when I’m snug inside my bed,

My little birdy neighbors commence their choral greetings near my head.

Like tiny, feathered midwives, in their tweeting, sing-song way, they cheer on Mother Nature giving birth to a new day.

“Come on, come on, come on!” They say.

Then to me: “Wake up, wake up, wake up!”

But I retort: “Go back to sleep! Go back to sleep!”

Yet these heralds of life and light persistently peep:

“It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!” as they announce the sun.

Darkness has relinquished its hold on the world. A fresh morning has begun!

P.S. I’ve also been watching a Momma Robin sitting on her nest behind my home for several days now, and within the last 24 hours, the babies have hatched!! Praying St. Francis of Assisi keeps Mom and babies going strong! 🙏😉🐣

All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Secret Wisdom of Nancy Drew: How the Teenage Sleuth Reminds Us of Important Life Truths

Have you ever noticed that re-visiting favorite childhood stories as adults allows us to pick up on so much that is easily overlooked as children in the sheer enjoyment of the plot’s action? Pearls of wisdom we may have missed or ways of thinking and talking that are now considered passé or politically incorrect.  This was the case for me when I recently re-read a couple books in the Nancy Drew mystery series. 

Written by multiple authors under the pen name Carolyn Keene, the books began to be published in the 1930s and have been popular reading material for generations of school-age girls ever since.  Penguin Random House’s website describes the books as “a cherished part of our cultural landscape” and “a noted inspiration for generations of women.”  The books have generated movie adaptations of the teenage sleuth as well as computer games and other items. One year, I even had a Nancy Drew wall calendar!

Though I haven’t come close to reading all of books, I periodically like to return to some of the older stories.  While outmoded elements can be found in descriptions of and references to characters, I also found myself recognizing positive messages that this perennial series subtly conveys.

There are many hallmark features of these books: descriptions of Nancy’s and her friends’ various outfits on different occasions, plentiful meals and snacks supplied by Nancy’s housekeeper Hannah Gruen, and mention of the title of the previous mystery Nancy solved as well as an anticipatory mention of the next mystery Nancy will tackle after she has wrapped up the current one.  And who can forget those classic cliffhanger chapter endings that made you read just a little bit more to see who had screamed or what would happen to Nancy after she was struck in the head and blacked out?

However, beneath the light-hearted fun and page-turning thrills, a few deeper messages emerge that are valuable reminders for readers of any age.

1.) The importance of family relationships. Nancy’s relationship with her attorney father Carson Drew is one of openness, respect, and confidence.  Nancy always discusses her mysteries and problems with her Dad, asking for his advice and help when needed.  In return, Carson Drew unfailingly tries to assist her.  He also just as unfailingly encourages Nancy and puts his trust in her abilities and judgment.  He has confidence in her, and she has the utmost respect for him.

Though it’s hard to imagine many real-life fathers agreeing to allow their 18-year-old daughters to attempt many of the things Nancy ventured to do in pursuit of clues and criminals, their relationship is a good example of a father-daughter bond.  Moreover, it underscores the importance of parents and mentors in the lives of young adults not only to advise and to warn but to encourage and to instill self-confidence.  Especially in the ‘30s when the books were first published, Carson Drew’s support of Nancy’s intelligent and adventuresome spirit is noteworthy and empowering. 

Meanwhile, Nancy’s rapport with the Drews’ housekeeper Hannah Gruen is just as endearing in different ways.  As we are reminded in each book, Nancy’s mother died when Nancy was a little girl and Hannah became a mother-figure to her.  Always fretful over the danger Nancy might be facing on her adventures and ready with revivifying food any time of the day or night, Hannah’s tender love and concern for Nancy exemplify the importance of always being there for family (blood-related or not) and of not being afraid to show you care.

2.) The need for loyal, supportive friends. Though our sometimes seemingly perfect heroine Nancy is clever, brave, and self-reliant, she could never have solved her many mysteries without the aid of her best girlfriends Bess and George and frequently her “favorite date” Ned Nickerson as well as Dave and Burt, Bess’ and George’s boyfriends, respectively. And Nancy would likely be the first to acknowledge that fact.  They were the ones alongside Nancy, “in the trenches,” so to speak, braving danger, contriving narrow escapes, and outwitting bad guys.  Bold George always jumped at the chance to assist however she could.  Bess, though usually more timid at the start, continually came through for her friend.  Of course, the boys always did their best not only to protect their girlfriends but also to help solve the case.

These friends’ willingness to help their pal Nancy through thick and thin reminds us not only of the need to have people in our corner to assist us in reaching our goals and overcoming our challenges but also of the need to be that kind of supportive person for our loves ones.  Everyone needs help along the way and the Nancy Drew books provide concrete examples of this truth through the lens of a group of friends teaming up to solve a mystery.

3.) Compassion for others.  In the series’ first book, The Secret of the Old Clock, Carson Drew states that Nancy loves to help people.  Nancy’s intelligence, affinity for mystery and her sense of adventure aren’t used for frivolous or selfish motives.  Instead, she puts them at the service of others.  She’s not hesitant to become involved in the problems of other people, even people she just met.  She utilizes her talents to help them.  While we obviously must exercise prudence in determining how much we insert ourselves into other people’s problems, these stories show us that good, old-fashioned love of neighbor can come in many forms.  We sometimes might think that charity only consists in volunteering with or donating money to a designated charitable organization.  However, Nancy demonstrates that serving others can be as simple and as creative as using our talents and interests to help those we meet, and she always makes new friends in process. This is certainly a message that is both timely and timeless.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” The truth is that quality children’s literature, seemingly simple as it may be, frequently contains a wealth of wisdom while also providing an entertaining tale.  Initially, the Nancy Drew mystery series may not seem like a candidate for such edifying literature, but a closer look at this famous teenage sleuth with her kindness, smarts, spunk, and respect for others, may just show that she is a worthy girlhood role model who will continue to stand the test of time.

All, Culture/Life, Faith

Lessons from “The Gift of the Magi”

The holiday season is a time of love and peace. A celebration of faith and tradition with family and friends. It’s a period of reflection, renewal, joy, and generosity.

Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.

Regrettably, the pressures of the commercialization and material expectations of this special season often make peace seem more like a dream than a reality for many people and often long before December even rolls around.

If you’re experiencing the stress of a hectic holiday and worrying excessively about checking off that to-do list more incessantly than Santa checks his list, a few minutes with O. Henry’s classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi” may help calm your jangled nerves.
     O. Henry, the pen name of William Henry Porter (1862-1910), was an American author renowned for his short stories, which frequently had a surprise or unexpected twist at the end. One of his best-known works is “The Gift of the Magi.”
     At fewer than ten pages, this story is ideal to pick up and read during a moment of down time amid the holiday bustle. You may just come away from it looking at all your tasks with fresh eyes.
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
     This brief but impactful Christmas tale centers on a young married couple, Jim and Della Dillingham, who don’t have much money to buy one another Christmas presents. Consequently, they both secretly decide to sell a prized possession in order to purchase a gift for the other.
     A witty narrator guides the reader through this domestic drama, focusing mainly on the experience and journey of Della. Through Della’s and Jim’s struggles and triumphs, the reader is reminded of some important truths that apply not only during the holidays but throughout the whole year.
1) People are more important than possessions.
This lesson may be an obvious conclusion from the basic plot of the story, but it merits pondering nonetheless. As already mentioned, both Jim and Della possess something of which they are extremely proud.
     Jim owns a magnificent gold watch, a family heirloom that had belonged to his father and grandfather. “Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard in envy,” writes O. Henry.
     Della’s point of pride is her voluminous, beautiful brown hair. “Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts.”
Clearly, these were valuable objects to the Dillinghams.
     The action of the story begins on Christmas Eve when Della realizes that the $1.87 that she painstakingly saved for Jim’s Christmas present will never be enough for anything she deems worthy of her husband.
     Suddenly a flash of inspiration strikes her, and, looking in the mirror, she resolves to sell her bountiful hair in order to buy Jim something he deserves. She receives $20 for her locks, a handsome sum, and she immediately scours the stores for the perfect item.
We later learn that Jim has sold his cherished gold watch to buy something for Della. (Notice I’m not yet mentioning what they bought in exchange for their prized possessions.)
Jim and Della’s actions of selling a treasured item in order to bring happiness to one another reminds us to check our priorities.
     Do we put material wealth, goods, appearance over the happiness of our loved ones? Do we really consider the people for whom we are buying a gift, thinking of what they truly need or enjoy? Or do we select something perfunctorily out of obligation? What are we willing to give up for those we love?
This last question brings me to the next lesson.
2) True love involves sacrifice. Any type of love, be it of the romantic, familial, or friendship variety, necessarily involves giving of oneself, sometimes painfully, if it is to be a real love that abides and grows. By humbling themselves through relinquishing their points of pride in self-denial, Della and Jim exemplify this other-oriented love.
      When Della resolves to sell her hair, O. Henry notes, “Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.” Yet he also describes her eyes as having a “brilliant sparkle.” Her countenance is an accurate depiction of the bittersweet nature of sacrifice. Giving up her beautiful hair isn’t easy and once the deed is done, she worries about Jim’s reaction to her altered appearance. However, the sparkle in her eye indicates a deeper feeling of grace and sweetness in sacrificing for a loved one.

     We don’t know any reservations with which Jim may have grappled, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that he also felt twinges of reluctance to part with something so high in monetary and sentimental value as his gold watch. Regardless, his action demonstrates that his love for his wife enabled him to give up a dear possession.

How do we serve those we love? Are we unselfish in giving of time and sharing our blessings, material or otherwise? Or do we like those people only because of how they can benefit us?

3) The most valuable gifts aren’t necessarily material goods. As you may have suspected by now if you’re unfamiliar with the tale, Jim and Della each selected an item for the other to complement his or her prized possession. Della bought an elegant gold chain for Jim’s watch, and Jim bought a lovely set of hair combs for which Della had wished. Materially speaking, their well-intentioned generosity was in vain since neither could use the gift. However, neither one is vexed for long.

Jim has a “peculiar expression” when he first sees his wife’s shorn locks. Furthermore, he must comfort Della, who is initially distressed when she unwraps her combs, but she soon smiles agreeably and remarks how fast her hair grows. When Jim sees his watch chain, he also smiles and suggests storing away their gifts temporarily. Della then prepares their supper.

As thoughtful as the material items were meant to be, Della and Jim’s sacrifice for each other was the gift of greater value.

O. Henry concludes his story by describing Jim and Della as “the magi,” saying that of all wise men this young couple is the wisest because of their self-sacrifice for each other.

We have been taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that we also receive when we give to others. However, we sometimes forget that the hidden ingredient behind the truth of these words is love. It is selfless love that animates sacrifice and makes it sweet and that empowers the act of giving to be something other than a mechanical offering.

O. Henry reminds us of this lesson through the fictional characters of Jim and Della.

The gift of self-sacrifice might entail giving up material goods like the Dillinghams did. Yet self-sacrifice could also mean we give up previously-made plans to take care of a sick loved one or to call a friend going through a hard time.

Self-giving could also come in the form of devoting time, energy, and resources to create something homemade (instead of store-bought) like a hand-knitted scarf, a home-cooked meal or a photo album of old memories accompanied by hand-written notes.

What better time than the holidays to re-ignite a more personal and selfless type of love in our attitude to gift-giving and in our interactions with loved ones and in our communities? We may find that our disquieting holiday stress melts into the joy and goodwill that this season is meant to celebrate.

Photographic Reproduction of Currier and Ives’ “American Homestead Winter.” Source: Wikimedia.
All, Culture/Life

How 9/11 has shaped our lives

As we approach the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it is quite stunning to consider how the repercussions of that tragic day are still being felt nearly two decades later.

Courageous first responders, who selflessly ran to Ground Zero to save others, have been and are continuing to fall ill and die because of the toxic air they inhaled that fateful day.

As a result of those appalling attacks, a galvanized and freedom-loving America became engaged in its longest war. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what the world was like before 9/11, what it was like for America not to be at war.

Some of those who are fighting this on-going battle were barely old enough to remember this century’s “day of infamy” that ignited the global war on terror.

Many beautiful human beings, who might otherwise be working civilian jobs, caring for and enjoying family and friends, have fought and died in the fray.

In some ways this war is markedly different from the wars of our parents and grandparents. Most of our lives are not consumed by the war effort like in WWII when victory gardens, rationing, and scrap metal drives were prevalent and every sector of society was doing its part to support the cause of freedom.

Nowadays, our armed services, amazingly, are all volunteer. This isn’t a war of conscription like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

Despite these important distinctions, our lives have been shaped and continue to be shaped by 9/11. Think of how much politics and national security are defined by the ramifications of that day. Every election cycle, candidates promulgate their ideas regarding the war, the troops, and how to keep America safe.

Think about how much the travel experience has been altered because of that day. Being born at the beginning of the nineties, I remember being able to go past security at the airport and wait to greet my grandma when she came to visit or to wave at the window as we watched the plane take off when she left. Now we can only accompany loved ones as far as the security line where we go through all sorts of safety measures that have changed and grown since 2001 and that have become routine.

We have been taught “if you see something, say something.” Sadly, numerous people have been lost in subsequent terrorist attacks since 2001, such as in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

Tomorrow as we reflect as a nation and honor the memory of those who died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania seventeen years ago, let us also ponder all that has happened in the wake of that day.

One good result of this national tragedy is perhaps that we as a nation are more grateful to our troops and have more of an awareness of what America means as a country and its role in the world. In the immediate days following September 11th, we did unite as a nation and come together in shared prayer and patriotism. We can hope and pray for a return to those sentiments in these days as well.

May God be with all those whose lives were lost or altered on and because of September 11, 2001.

Never forget. 🇺🇸🗽❤️

Setting out one flag for every person who lost their lives on 9/11. (2015)
All, Art, Culture/Life, Family

Hooray for (Old) Hollywood!

Just this weekend a classic old Hollywood film soothed a heartache for an evening. My Mom and I watched the 1945 Esther Williams flick “Thrill of a Romance.” It had been a tumultuous, emotional roller coaster ride of a few days, and maybe the sweet simplicity of that old film was just what the doctor ordered as a balm to our taut nerves. In any case, as soon as it started, we both immediately felt more at ease and slept better than we had in nights.

It’s no earth-shaking plot, just an old-fashioned romantic comedy of sorts but with plenty of yesteryear Hollywood glamour and elegance.

Jimmy Stewart, PC: Wikipedia

Think of some of the Hollywood stars of old: Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Esther Williams, the list could go on…

Audrey Hepburn, PC: Paramount-photo by Bud Fraker; Wikipedia

Elegance, style, glamour.

With my affinity for 1940s and 50s music, movies and fashion, I often quip that I was born in the wrong era.

I think there’s something to be said for the elegance of that by-gone time. We seem to take a casual approach to so many things nowadays. Sometimes people barely differentiate what they wear to church from what they wear to the gym #athleisure. Read this article for an interesting take on athleisure and manners.

Whether we like it or not, fashion choices are a reflection of us, of our values and personalities and tastes.

The generation of our grandparents and great-grandparents had propriety. Certain clothes for certain occasions and locations. Maybe it was a bit too formal, but I think the millennial generation could use an infusion of that polish and refinement. Really, it boils down to respect. How one presents oneself in dress and deportment conveys not only respect for the people and places one encounters but also self-respect.

Then there’s the music of yesteryear. My family and I were listening to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets the other day, and it struck me yet again how, generally speaking, the popular music of long ago was so much more romantic than nowadays. There were true love songs to which one could slow dance and be wooed and fall in love. They present true depths of emotions from sorrow and longing to love and joy to just plain silly fun.

Ella Fitzgerald, PC: Lewin/Kaufman/Schwartz, Public Relations, Beverly Hills; Wikipedia

Again respect and elegance and beauty. Moreover, those singers and musicians did not have the technology of today to alter and tweak their voices or their sound. Pure artistic talent was required.

Louis Armstrong, PC: Wikipedia (from Library of Congress)

A lot of contemporary music leaves nothing to the imagination (much like today’s movies) but rather mires itself in vulgarity.

I know I am speaking in broad strokes about past and present entertainment, but the general ethos is, I think, pretty close to accurate.

In my experience, taking a little “sentimental journey” via old Hollywood movies or music from another era might just be good for what ails ya.

If you’re looking for some suggestions, here are a few of my favorite old films and songs in no particular order. What are some of your old favorites?

Songs:

1.) “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

2.) “Sway” by Rosemary Clooney. I like Dean Martin’s version, too!

3.) “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby

4.) “L. O. V. E.” by Nat King Cole

5.) “Sentimental Journey” by Doris Day

Movies:

1.) “Singing in the Rain,” starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor

2.) “Roman Holiday,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck

3.) “Yours, Mine, and Ours,” starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda

4.) “Going My Way,” starring Bing Crosby.

5.) And since I just watched it and really liked it: “Thrill of a Romance,” starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson.

All, Culture/Life

A Capital Day in the Nation’s Capital 🇺🇸

Hello everyone!! A little over a week ago, a long-cherished wish of mine was fulfilled! I finally visited our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a day trip with a friend and fellow history-lover.

I live within a comparatively short driving distance from the capital, so it’s a bit unusual that I haven’t played the tourist there before now. But to everything there is a time and a season, and I am so delighted that the time arrived at last! Moreover, it had been an exceedingly wet, rainy week, but we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine for our adventure.🌤

If you’ve never visited D.C., I highly encourage you to make the journey. What I saw and explored only whet my appetite to return to see and do more. I believe it really takes multiple occasions to experience all that history-rich city has to offer.

Upon arriving at our Metro stop by the Smithsonian museums, I emerged from the stairwell to two patriotic, picturesque sights. I looked to my right and saw the Capitol building and looked to my left and the majestic Washington Monument greeted my eyes. It’s not an exaggeration to say this was a thrill. One of those “pinch me” moments!

Though obviously we couldn’t see the whole city in one day, I’m pretty proud of what my friend and I accomplished.

We took in some of the major exhibits at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (rocks & gems, mammals, and a whirlwind pass through the mummies and dinosaurs) as well as four displays at the American History Museum (Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies, American Presidency, and America on the Move: Transportation).

After revivifying ourselves with cold drinks and chocolate on a bench facing the architecturally magnificent Department of Agriculture Building, we set out for the pièce de résistance of our excursion: the National Mall.

In my inexperience, I had pictured the memorials and monuments of the Mall as more or less in a straight line along the length of the Mall.

No, no. Some are off on side paths which require purposeful walking. By this point, our energy was beginning to wane, so we had to be selective, and we saw four of the eight major sights: the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. We also stumbled upon a smaller memorial that is less well-known: the District of Colombia WWI Memorial. I think this somewhat humble monument deserves more attention. WWI was such a significant war, and the memorial’s plaque states that some big names like John Phillip Sousa were present for its dedication. Go search it out!!

All in all, this was a truly awesome day!! One can’t help but be proud to be an American when visiting D.C. No matter who is the president, it’s an amazing moment to look at the White House and think “wow, the president of the United States is in there!”

It is surreal to visit history museums and stand before artifacts like the flag that was flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner” or to look at the top hat worn by President Lincoln when he was assassinated or to see a pair of Teddy Roosevelt’s chaps. It’s humbling and exciting. It’s like time travel, a link through ordinary items to historical figures who shaped our country and, consequently, our own way of life. It’s a testament to the human need to remember from where we came and to our fundamental need for connection. And it deserves some pondering.

The Mall monuments are truly beautiful. The solemnity of the Lincoln Memorial. One can feel the weight he bore on his shoulders. The haunting expressions of the soldiers that comprise the Korean War Memorial. The wonder and expanse of the WWII Memorial with its pavilions and fountain and numerous stirring quotations from presidents and generals.

I just love it. It’s also plain cool to see and hear visitors from around the world touring the sights of America’s capital. For all its warts and struggles, America is still a beacon of freedom for the world, and it is a blessing to live in this country.

When many statistics and polls can be pretty disheartening about people’s lack of historical knowledge, it’s also hopeful to see young parents bringing their children to visit these important places of history.

I’m so grateful for my friend’s and my adventure, and I am eagerly awaiting our next trip to explore more of our nation’s capital. 🇺🇸

P.S. The cafeteria in the American History Museum serves really tasty food. Barbecue chicken and cornbread for the win! 😋🍗

All, Culture/Life

Celebrating “Old Glory”

The older I grow, the more I love patriotic holidays. Lucky for me, today, June 14th, the country has double the celebration because it’s the U.S. Army’s birthday and Flag Day! 🇺🇸

In honor of this double dose of festive patriotism, here are some fun facts about the Army and Old Glory!

1.) The Army is America’s oldest fighting force, even older the the country itself! Military.com tells us that it was founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1775 in order to protect the 13 original colonies’ freedom. That means that today is the Army’s 243rd Birthday! 🎂🎉We salute all our soldiers and all members of the military! God bless you, one and all!

2.) The American flag’s 13 red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies while the stars represent all the states in the Union.

3.) Though it is unclear as to the precise reason why the colors of red, white, and blue were selected to adorn the flag, the Congress of the Confederation chose the same trio of colors for the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 for the following representative purposes. Red symbolizes valor and hardiness, white represents purity and innocence, and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. (Source: ushistory.org.)

4.) Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the first American flag though it is unclear whether this is actual history or legend. Fun fact: in second grade, I did a project on Betsy Ross, complete with a written book report on a children’s biography about Ross and an in-class presentation for which I was dressed up as our patriotic heroine and distributed graham cracker flag cookies that my Mom had made! 😋

5.) The flag derives its nickname “Old Glory” from Captain William Driver, who seeing the flag unfurl on his ship as he was leaving on a voyage in 1831, exclaimed, “Old Glory!” (Source: ushistory.org)

6.) The American flag should not be allowed to drag on the ground. There are also numerous other guidelines for properly and respectfully displaying and disposing of flags. Google them!

7.) According to Wikipedia, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day, and National Flag Day was established by an act of Congress in August 1946.

8.) The lively, patriotic march “You’re a Grand Old Flag” was written by George M. Cohen in 1906 for his musical George Washington, Jr. (Source: Wikipedia).

9.) Today is also President Trump’s birthday! Whether you like him or not, it’s pretty appropriate that an American president was born on Flag Day.

In case these fun American history tidbits whet your appetite for more information about the emblem of our great nation, do some research on your own. Today is the perfect day to start! And remember to be grateful for the blessings of liberty we enjoy (and take for granted) in our country and for those who’ve fought and died to secure that freedom!

Image credit: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=134882&picture=american-flag-grunge)
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All, Culture/Life

“Ride the hobbyhorse”: Thoughts on Understanding

You know that feeling when someone just gets you, gets your situation. No need to try to explain or to justify. That person understands. What a rush of relief! A burden lifted off your heart. An untying of the defensive knot in the pit of your stomach.

Quite the contrast to when someone looks quizzically at you or gives you a semi-blank stare and a perfunctory, polite response. That person doesn’t get it. And he or she is not really interested in trying to do so.

Two of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of understanding are as follows:

A mental grasp: comprehension”; “sympathy.”

Sometimes the former is not possible. We can’t always comprehend everyone and their individual circumstances. The majority of us cannot fathom the experiences of a military combat veteran. It’s hard for me to grasp the mentality of someone who goes through life without faith in God. Sometimes it’s hard for a family member or friend to understand a loved one who struggles with depression or anxiety. The list is endless.

However, when comprehension is absent, sympathy or maybe empathy can and should fill up the difference.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee writes,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

One of my primary professors in college taught his students David Sanderlin’s concept of “riding a hobbyhorse” when writing a history paper. A “hobbyhorse” is someone’s individual perception or viewpoint of the world shaped by his or her unique experiences. We need to be aware of our own hobbyhorse as well as try to figure out the hobbyhorse of the author/historian whose work we are reading.

PC: http://www.reusableart.com/horse-images-22.html

Like with research, one can identify someone else’s hobbyhorse in real life while still maintaining the integrity of one’s own principles and viewpoint. Extending understanding to another person does not mean we must compromise what we hold to be right and true. It means we show respect to someone whose life experiences have been different than ours.

Understanding is something sorely lacking in today’s society and public discourse.

Everyone nowadays is labeled and pigeon-holed. Groups, demographics, identity politics. Us versus them.

We tend to be scared of what we don’t understand maybe because we’ve encountered something truly foreign to us or maybe because we’re apprehensive that it may challenge our thinking or lifestyle.

Racist. Bigot. Homophobe. Sexist. We hear these epithets thrown around on a daily basis in the media. Perhaps justifiably in some cases. Perhaps more often because we don’t want to admit that the situation or topic around which these ugly labels are used is complex and nuanced.

When we don’t understand a person or a situation or a way of thinking, we resort to petty mockery or personal criticism. We don’t debate an idea or a principle but go after a person. We let our emotions overpower our reason. We invoke flippant sarcasm or ad hominem attacks instead of intelligent wit and logical arguments.

We forget that understanding, whether comprehension or sympathy, is a gift we can give to another. If we can’t attain a “mental grasp,” we can still show sympathy. We can compassionately ask for that other person to share with us and we may find that our own understanding is expanded in the process. Maybe what we can share with that person will help him or her in return.

Whether we’re addressing a different way of thinking or trying to comprehend another person’s health struggle, it takes humility to admit, “I don’t understand, but I want to. Please explain it to me.”

Sanderlin offers this pearl of wisdom in Writing the History Paper,“We will never understand, much less learn from others, if we condemn them for not knowing what we know, rather than respect them for knowing what we do not know.”

We are all children of God. While we debate and hopefully endeavor to seek truth and the common good, we need to remind ourselves that we can all learn from one another.

Again, though he is referring to a study of history, Sanderlin offers sage advice when he states, “The historian strives to understand people in the past that he might better understand himself.”

Endeavoring to understand someone else’s viewpoint may lead us to a deeper gratitude for our own beliefs and life experiences or it maybe it will challenge us to approach some people and situations differently.

Offering support to someone living with with physical or emotional challenges can teach us to have greater patience and compassion and to learn to put someone else’s needs before our own.

We know how freeing and reassuring it is when understanding is extended to us. We need to pray and to strive to offer understanding to others in return.