Category Archives: Books

New horizons for 2020… reading more books

Well, it’s after 11 pm on New Year’s Eve and here I am writing, because I don’t want to end 2019 without getting a blog post finished.

After writing so much about politics, this blog post will be about books and reading, plus whatever else flits into mind that’s generally related to books and reading.  On various sites, including Twitter, there seem to be a lot of year’s end type stories about “best books of 2019” or “I read 127 books this year.”

While I peruse other people’s book lists and jot down books from their lists that interest me, my own reading tastes veer from historical romance novels to serious books on foreign policy, military affairs, U.S. history, spy novels, general fiction, and even the classics, so it’s doubtful anyone would find my reading list very useful.

Numerous articles have been written about General James Mattis’ voracious reading habit and I always find it interesting what books generals recommend, although most of them stick to military-themed novels, which is what makes Mattis so interesting to me.  He has mentioned The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye.  I knew I had that novel somewhere and I finally located it among some of my old historical romance paperback novels.  I bought this somewhere around 1979/1980, I think.  The copyright of this paperback is 1979 and hard to believe it cost only $2.95.  I read some of it, but never finished (it’s 1189 pages), so perhaps in 2020, I’ll give it another go.   Mattis also recommended Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon by B.H. Liddell Hart and I actually have that book too… along with Marcus Aurelius, another of Mattis’ faves.

The one stand out novel I read this year was the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a WWII story with characters who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.  The writing alone soars, but then there’s the captivating cast of characters, and a plot that was way larger than “just another WWII novel.”  It’s the type of story that can touch just about every human heart, even those who have no interest in WWII, I think.

Reading matters a great deal and while harping on reading sounds like a tired old public service message, being able to read truly does open doors of opportunity.  More importantly, it allows even the poorest people the chance to explore and learn about the world.  With books anyone can travel to new and fascinating places, travel through time, and even travel to imaginary worlds.  The ability to read is one of the great equalizers around the world, but especially in a republic like the United States of America.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818, but he died a world-renowned abolitionist, orator, writer and most of all a free man in 1895.  Teaching slaves to read was against the law, but after his mistress began teaching him to read, the fire was lit in Douglass to acquire an education despite the risks.  His master caught his wife teaching Douglass and forbade her to continue the lessons, propelling Douglass on a lifelong journey to acquire an education:

“Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom I met in the streets as teachers. I used to carry, almost constantly, a copy of Webster’s spelling book in my pocket; and, when sent of errands, or when play time was allowed me, I would step, with my young friends, aside, and take a lesson in spelling. I generally paid my tuition fee to the boys, with bread, which I also carried in my pocket. For a single biscuit, any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more valuable to me than bread. Not every one, however, demanded this consideration, for there were those who took pleasure in teaching me, whenever I had a chance to be taught by them.”

Douglass, Frederick (2009-10-04). My Bondage and My Freedom (p. 85). Public Domain Books Kindle Edition.

My Bondage and My Freedom is in the public domain and available free online at and in kindle format at

The love of books and reading is one of the best gifts you can pass on to your children and grandchildren. My four granddaughters are all teenagers now and all of them love to read.  My daughter made going to the library a part of their ordinary routine, which is what my husband and I did with her and her siblings.  When my granddaughters were younger, I bought them kindle fires, so imagine my surprise a few years ago when they told me they prefer reading actual books, because it’s more enjoyable holding an actual book.  My kids bought me a kindle many years ago, in hopes that I would buy fewer actual books, since my bookshelves are crammed full.  I still read kindle books, but I also still buy some actual books (some habits never die).

While it’s easy to get caught up in the constant doom and gloom prognostications about how everything in America is going to hell in a hand basket… because of evil Trump or the evil Dems, perhaps the truth is there’s still plenty for us to remain hopeful about.

Despite concerns about the demise of reading in America, Pew Research Center found that roughly 72% of Americans said they had read a book in the past year, across several formats and that statistic has remained unchanged since 2012.  Audiobook usage is up, but print books still remain the most popular book format.

In April 2019, I moseyed to my local public library and got a new library card, since I hadn’t been to the public library in several years.  My public library resides in a lovely, brand new building and a lot had changed besides the building.  I learned about free digital services, Hoopla and RB Digital, that I can access from my phone, tablet or desktop PC and sign out audiobooks and ebooks,  all with just my library card number.  I can renew library books and pay fines just by signing into my library account online.  Using Hoopla and RB Digital, I joined the audiobook listener ranks in 2019 and while I still prefer reading an actual book best, the production quality of some of these audiobooks completely exceeded my expectations and kept me captivated from beginning to end.  Of course, there were a couple audiobooks where the performer’s voice grated on my nerves and I just couldn’t finish the book.

We’re now into 2020, so let me wish everyone a very Happy New Year and if our crazy political sideshows get too tiring, just pick up a book, find an ebook or listen to an audiobook to escape the politics and media madness.


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Filed under Books, General Interest

Hurricane grumbles and book chat…

While sitting here in southeast GA waiting for Hurricane Dorian to hopefully make a turn northeast, here goes with a blog post attempt about some scattershot ponderings of mine.

First pondering –  The  modern media, modern weather reporting and modern politicizing everything,  leaves a worrier like me totally exhausted  trying  to make it through day-after-day of  evacuation notices and constant updates with Hurricane Dorian.  The media escalation started before the end of last week and now it  seems likely to dog the US until the end of this week.  The warning overload has me to the point of yearning for this stupid storm to hit, so we can just get it over with.

Second pondering deals with reading and my self-education efforts, which brought to mind a comment by former Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, while discussing his new book in an interview.  Mattis said:

The Strategy Bridge
“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” – James Mattis What are you reading this weekend? #TheBridgeReads #WeekendBridge


6:15 AM · Aug 31, 2019

As with just about everything in our culture today, this statement by Mattis evoked attacks against Mattis on Twitter, from partisans on both sides.  It seems like the extreme partisan voices want to tear down people more than they want to pause and look for some common ground.   

One of my favorite things to do when I visit the home of someone new for the first time is look around for reading material, to try figure out the people who live there. When I first learned of Mattis’ large book collection, the thought popped into my head that it would be very interesting to snoop around his book shelves. Even more interesting would be to have casual chats with him about books, especially find out what sparked his interest in reading.

I’ve read a lot of books over the years, but assuredly nowhere near as many as James Mattis has read. Even more than the sheer number of books though, Mattis is getting at something vastly more important than just reading.  He’s talking about reading leading to the development of critical thinking skills, which forms the core we need in principled leadership.

Several years ago, JK, a long-time commenter on my blog, recommended a helpful book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know, written by E.D. Hirsh. which can set anyone  on the path toward becoming  a well-read person.  Recently I was reading this book again and decided to work through another book, purchased many years ago, except I couldn’t find it… after searching through my books in the living room, computer room, bedrooms and in my sewing and craft room.   It will show up again, because, trust me, books rarely leave my house.

Anyway, I find a lot of older books at and with a $10 order, shipping is free there.  I found that book there  for $4.79, so I bought it, along with two other books.  Here’s the list:

The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind,  Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheimer

The Intellectual Devotional, American History, Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheimer

West With The Night by Beryl Markham

These intellectual devotional books are intended to be quick daily readings (a page or so) covering a broad range of topics and often there are additional facts at the end of each entry, which can point you toward other reading on the topic you might want to explore.  Despite all my good intentions to work my way through the classics and hoping to get through the entire “five foot shelf” of books, an early 20th century Harvard president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot, compiled in 1910, as a roadmap to acquiring a liberal education, often my reading veers toward popular fiction and even, way too many historical romance novels. Eliot believed that the average reader could acquire a sound liberal education by devoting just 15 minutes a day to reading through his list of classics.

Of course, that 15 minutes a day sounds easy, but just reading classics for a certain amount of time daily doesn’t work for me, especially when it comes to trying to absorb more complicated ideas and concepts.  Last week, when ordering another JK book recommendation, Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans, by Malcolm Gaskill, I ordered, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer. 

If you love older books Thriftbooks works great.  I found the Bauer book in hardcover, like new condition for $6.39.  Wise offers an organized way to approach reading the classics and she has this book divided into chronologically-based lists, to help you build a base of knowledge to give you the tools to digest the other books, as you work through the lists.

In a few months, I’ll let you know how this approach works out… if I can only devote more time to studying the classics than to reading romance novels and popular fiction, lol.

My last pondering is whenever you think you’ve seen it all, something will come up on the internet, that leaves you wondering, “what the hell is she thinking?”  So, here goes with just such a Hurricane Dorian story: Florida woman wrapping home in plastic ahead of Hurricane Dorian.  I sent this news link to my daughter in TX and told her that I think the wind will likely rip that duct taped plastic off her house in minutes.  My daughter responded, “Yeah… you can’t fix stupid.”

Tomorrow is supposed to be our hurricane encounter, so the power will likely be out and I have a stack of books ready to read


Filed under Books, Education, General Interest

Odds and Ends

“This is not who we are!”

My intention is to get more blog posts written soon, so we’ll see if my intentions turn into actual writing, lol.  For a long time I’ve been pondering how the internet and especially social media usage has changed my life.  One of the things I noticed over the years is a decrease in my attention span when reading in general, but particularly staying focused on reading books.  The constant click, click, click mentality of modern internet usage made me realize that I wasn’t spending enough time, sitting back, unplugged from the internet, and enjoying hours of reading.  So, once again, I’m recommitting myself to spending more time reading actual books, but also filling in the wasted online time listening to audiobooks.

For June, I finished 4 actual books and 3 audiobooks.  I’m working my way through two audiobooks and two actual books presently, hoping to stay focused on reading more books and spending less time online.  One of the books I’m reading is Ben Sasse’s, Them: Why We Hate Each Other And How To Heal,  which I bought a while ago, read a few pages, then sat it aside.  I’m halfway through it now and intend to write more about it after I finish the book and do some more research.

Sasse offers important information on the news media evolving into a massive infotainment business.  Trump’s reality TV show presidency seems like a natural evolution in this news as entertainment environment, but the real problem isn’t only “Trump is evil” and it’s not only this polarizing news media environment.  The main problem really is we, the American people.  Without a huge market for this combative news as infotainment and the American embrace of trashy reality TV, this media environment would not thrive and assuredly, Trump’s brand of petty name-calling and juvenile insults would never have acquired a large cheering section, that still fills up large stadiums with flag-waving Americans, who show up to see these Trump Rally Shows.

The corrupt way in which the media gave Trump billions of dollars in free media during the 2016 GOP primary to hype his “GOP Insurgency” still serves as the most glaring example of this toxic media environment, but there are plenty of other examples.  Trump’s opponent in 2016.  Hillary Rodham Clinton received liberal media deification in the early 90s, with the media overhyping her as the “smartest woman in the world”, America was “getting two presidents for the price of one” and on it went with the liberal media slobbering all over her, crowning her America’s #1 feminist icon.

Conservative media has done the same thing, like turning Sarah Palin into a conservative icon, but the liberal media due to its dominance seems to churn out more media-manufactured political sensations.  We now are regaled with the “rock star” Beto O’Rourke, America’s small town mayor, Pete Buttegieg, the always in our faces, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  and last week’s Democrat debates, crowned Kamala Harris as the latest media darling for her championing school busing… of all topics to grasp to try and galvanize Americans to vote for her in 2020…

Probably the most realistic liberal take on Harris came from, of all people, liberal icon, Willie Brown:

“The first Democratic debates proved one thing: We still don’t have a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.

California Sen. Kamala Harris got all the attention for playing prosecutor in chief, but her case against former Vice President Joe Biden boiled down in some ways to a ringing call for forced school busing. It won’t be too hard for Trump to knock that one out of the park in 2020.”

As the 2020 Democrats veer left, President Trump, is veering back to his 2016 fear mongering about America being a victim of “unfairness” at every turn, even claiming most of our closest allies are taking advantage of us.  He’s ranting about illegal immigrants.  Mostly, though he’s wrapping himself in the American flag at every turn, playing to his blue collar white audience, proclaiming that only he is there to save them from the crazy Left.

The 2020 Democrats running to unseat him, are trying to find “issues” to run on, doubling down on the most far-left ones out there.  Most of all, what they lack remains a stage presence that can push Trump from owning this reality TV show media environment.  Americans, especially those who follow the infotainment regularly and are more galvanized to vote, really want the drama and constant controversy that Trump generates.   Even while many of Trump’s harshest critics claim to despise Trump’s reality TV show presidency and constant antics, they still tune in to watch and they spend hours upon hours tweeting and railing about Trump’s latest outrage.  He still owns the American political stage and I agree with Willie Brown’s assessment.

That’s it for today.  Have a nice day everyone.  As for me, I’ll be sitting here sipping iced tea … inside this afternoon.  It’s 97 degrees, but feels like 105.   Even my dogs don’t want to step outside this afternoon.

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Filed under Books, General Interest, Politics

Inspiration can come from afar

First a short blog note before moving onto a new blog post.  On Thursday, I think my blog was hacked.  Don’t want to go into details, but a photo was posted on my blog and I didn’t post it.

Now onto the blog post, which is going to be about books and writing… sort of.  The technology revolution in the past few decades often leaves me a bit bewildered and unsure of how to navigate using new devices, new software programs, and new digital ways of communicating.  The technology revolution happened without me ever wanting to jump onboard.  In retrospect, it’s easy to admit to my insular attitude to new technology, but at the same time many of the my concerns about the disturbing aspects to digital technology  in our daily lives turned out to be well-founded.

We had two sons, who were constantly wanting new computer gaming systems in the 90s.  I didn’t understand why every time a new gaming system came out, their perfectly good gaming system was treated like old junk.  Coming from a generation where we went outside to play, not glued to computer games, I neither understood nor liked how much time they spent playing computer games,

We didn’t buy our first PC until 1997, strictly because I was adamantly against it.  My husband kept telling me how great a PC would be for the kids, but in my mind a PC sounded like  just another expensive toy.  I had this same resistance to getting cell phones too, but my husband went and bought cell phones and cell phone service, then handed me my cell phone.

Part of my resistance to this wave of technology stemmed from my being totally technology-challenged, which created a fear of high-tech gadgets and part of it was my natural reticence about spending a lot of money on “shiny new objects”, which we did not need and were in no way necessary.  In 1990. while we were living in Germany, my husband had gone to the PX and bought a home word processor, which used floppy disks to store information on.  Although, he bought it wanting to store information related to his work and he thought it would be great for the kids to use with their schoolwork,  I quickly became the main user of  that word processor, despite being the one who lectured him about wasting money on a gadget we didn’t need.

The PC purchase went the same way.  I quickly became hooked on using the internet, while my husband never did become much of an internet user.   With cell phones, neither my husband nor I ever became glued to our cell phones and both of us have always preferred our traditional landline phones.  Seriously, once landline phones moved to having cordless handsets, that was about as perfect a phone as we ever needed.

I use my PC for everything from paying bills to learning new craft and needlework by watching YouTube tutorials.  I have dozens of books in my kindle library, but I’ve also found plenty of free classics at other online sites too.  Somehow though, I never bought audiobooks, mainly because they’re pricey and I wasn’t sure I would like listening to them.  Our oldest daughter loved listening to books on cassette tape, that she could read along with the book, as a preschooler in the early 1980s.  We would go to the public library and she would select the books with tapes and then she would sit for hours playing the tapes on her own radio/cassette player.  It amazed me how many new words she learned quickly, reading along.

In May, I wrote a blog post about trying audiobooks for the first time and somehow that brings me to the topic of a recent Matt Lewis interview of George Will in a 38:10 minute podcast interview.  This interview covers a wide range of topics, one of them being George Will talking about his love of writing and his enjoyment of fiction, not just the lofty ideological, political, cultural topics I assumed occupied his thoughts.  Of course, Will is also an avid baseball fan, which he has talked and written about many times, but I had no idea that he loves fiction (at 2:32 in this podcast).  Will said he has about 40 Audible books on his phone at any given time.  Will also said  that after a day of being immersed in facts and politics , it’s really refreshing to the soul to have stories told to him.

George Will became an inspiration to me in my early teens… back in the early 1970s.

My rural school district in NE PA had a Jr.-Sr. high school for grades 7-12.  As long as I can remember libraries have been magical places to me.  I remember starting school, 1st grade, because it wasn’t until several years later that our school district added kindergarten, and that small school library became my favorite place in the entire school.

Trying to decide which books to sign out seemed like a  monumental problem and I recall the school librarian kindly explaining to me that books with the big Newberry Medal Winner emblem on them were always good choices.  That helped me a bit in selecting books, but for me the best help has  always been word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, who have similar taste in books as mine.  Here again, the internet expanded on that “word-of-mouth” aspect to selecting books with customer reviews, blogs and websites galore with genre specific book reviews.  These days, I even add books to my book list, that I come across on cross-stitch blogs, because many cross-stitch bloggers also seem to be avid readers.

When we were learning about American government(7th grade, I think), my history teacher told us to try to read national newspapers and news magazines in our school library, as often as possible.  My father was a devoted reader of our local newspaper, The Pocono Record, so I had already adopted my father’s newspaper reading habit.  My high school library is where I first came across George Will’s columns and his columns inspired me to explore, not only new ideas, but to learn new words.  Whenever I read his columns, it became a habit of mine to jot down ideas or words I was unfamiliar with or wasn’t sure of their meaning.  Later, I would look up the words in the dictionary and try to remember them or I’d check the encyclopedia for explanations of ideas Will had written about. Sometimes, I even had to use the card catalog to find books with more information about something Will had written about.

George Will has been not only an inspiration to me; he’s been a valued teacher.

As I got older and developed my own political views, there have been times when I disagreed with George Will’s take on an issue, but I have never doubted his integrity, his honesty in putting forth his heartfelt convictions, but most of all his dedication to striving for excellence in his writing and analyzing politics.

George Will’s latest book is titled, The Conservative Sensibility, and yes, it’s on my reading list.



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Filed under Books, General Interest, Inspirations

Trying audiobooks for the first time

Finished the In-the-Pink Zinnias tissue box cover

When our kids were growing up we spent a lot of time utilizing the Army post library wherever we lived.  When we lived stateside, we often frequented the local public library too.

After the kids left home and I was busy with a full-time job, I drifted away from going to the library.  Of course I still bought books and I have hundreds of books on my kindle, many of them free e-books, that I haven’t read yet.   I have piles of books, paperbacks and hardcovers, many that I haven’t read too.  For quite a while making time to read more has been another one of my goals, so I had been thinking about trying audiobooks, as a way to get through more books.

I suppose like many people, I have become wary of devices and subscribing to digital services, that I doubt I’ll use enough to warrant the cost.  I have an Amazon Prime membership that I truly don’t utilize nearly as much as I could, but I’ve looked at Audible many times… and hesitated.  

Somehow, my sister, telling my son about an app called Hoopla, that offers free e-books and audiobooks, available through many public libraries, motivated me to go to my public library recently.

I can’t remember the last time I had been to my local library. So, I got a new library card, since my old library card has been replaced with a newer card system.  My local library has a nice selection of audiobooks, so I signed out my first audiobook.  In a comment, I mentioned my first audiobook to try was a Brad Thor novel, Code of Conduct.  I enjoy thriller/spy novels (along with many other genres… not just historical romance novels).


Finished this Christmas Santa for another ornament

As I was stitching away and listening to this Thor novel, very quickly the dead bodies were piling up, as the main character, Scot Harvath, dealt with some unfriendly rebels in the Congo.  When I mentioned the dead bodies and vivid descriptions of  “head shots” and weaponry mumbo-jumbo to one of my sons (the one who is a gun-enthusiast), he asked me, “Did they deserve killing?”  And I said, “Well they were violent rebels trying to kill him.”  My son smiled and said, “Then it’s all good.”  Men are weird.

By the second CD of this Thor novel, I decided to check out the Hoopla thing, I signed up on my home PC, but there’s a Hoopla app for other devices too.  All I needed to sign up was my library card.  It was very simple to sign up and use. 

I quickly found a story more suited to working on needlework, A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner.  I also downloaded the Hoopla app to my tablet, so I can read e-books or listen to audiobooks on that too.

My library also offers RB digital, another free digital service of e-books and audiobooks . If technologically-challenged me could manage the sign-up, downloading the app and using these free digital media services, anyone can.

I’m on the 4th CD (out of 10 CDs total) in the Thor audiobook, which I’ve relegated to listening to as I scroll through Twitter and somehow the blood and guts action in this story goes much better with reading Twitter politics than it does with needlework, lol.

I’ve also started a second audiobook on Hoopla, Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, a novel by Patti Callahan and the title adequately describes the plot.

The world of books has certainly changed dramatically from my childhood of being thrilled with hand-me-down books to present day life awash in so many options to access books through my public library and that’s not even touching the many free e-books available online via just a bit of online searching. The ease of using these free digital services at home with my library card amazed me.  By all means, check out your local public library and you might be amazed too.

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Filed under Books, General Interest

Beyond Little Women

On November 1st Brad Thor tweeted, “Happy #NationalAuthorsDay everyone.”  He also attached a quote:

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.

– Richard Bach

Brad Thor is another author on my “need to read some of his novels” list, since the spy novel genre is one I do enjoy.  Don’t have any explanation for why I haven’t read any of his novels yet, but I’m moving him up on my reading list.

I admire successful writers.  For decades my writing dream has centered on writing historical romance novels, not the usual lofty aspiration of penning the next great American novel.  Of course, since I have yet to apply myself to actually writing any historical romance, my dream assuredly won’t ever come true, lol.  I hesitantly and with great trepidation began writing this blog in 2012 and thus far, that’s the extent of my writing effort.

I also admire great storytellers and I’ve met many entertaining storytellers in my life.  My great-grandmother, with her third grade education and very heavy PA Dutch accent was a gifted storyteller.  As a child I loved to sit and listen to her oft-told stories of  “when I was a young girl” or “life on the farm”.  She had a knack for using her voice to create sound effects to invoke the setting of her story, using her hands as an extension of her voice and a great sense of pacing her stories to hold your interest.  I wish I had jotted down some of her stories.

Sometimes I’ve met wonderful storytellers in doctor’s waiting rooms or even at informal gatherings.  My husband had one group of  friends when he was in the 82nd Airborne, who would often hang out at our house on weekends in the early 1980s.  These three guys would tell stories and jokes, that were more entertaining than whatever movie or show they had  playing on TV in the background.  The more they drank, the more hilarious their stories became, to the point that, me, the only one not drinking, was laughing hysterically like I was the one who was three sheets to the wind.

Last week, while browsing through my hundreds of unread and, um, mostly unopened free classics saved on my kindle, I decided to try Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott.   Alcott based the sketches on her short experience as a Civil War nurse in a makeshift hospital in Washington.  Considering the setting and subject matter, I began reading with a bit of foreboding.  Alcott did relate plenty of heart wrenching scenes, horrific injuries, primitive medical procedures, and the ever-increasing number of deaths, but along with that she added inspirational vignettes, witty observations and hilarious anecdotes.  I didn’t expect to laugh out loud reading about a Civil War hospital.

At only 60 pages, Hospital Sketches is a very quick read, but it’s enough to give you a taste of Alcott’s wicked sense of humor.   Around the Army, I found food was always a hot topic for dissection and ridicule, even though in all honesty I drew the winning ticket in the Army food lottery, during my short time in the Army.  I was sent to Fort Dix, NJ in 1979 for basic training,  My mother understandably, considering she had no familiarity with Army life, beyond TV and movies, worried that I would wither away having to eat horrible food, so she started sending care packages with homemade cookies and such.  I told her to desist, since we weren’t allowed to have that – just our mess hall food.

Actually, my Fort Dix mess hall food, being part of my winning ticket in the Army food lottery, was excellent for institution food.  I kept reassuring my mother in letters and calls that the food is very good and being one who really likes to eat, I had to worry about putting on weight, even in basic training.  When my parents came to Fort Dix for my basic training graduation, there was a food spread in the mess hall for graduates and their families.  My mother’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw a table with desserts and fruit choices replete with a fancy ice sculpture in the middle.  It was really quite impressive.  Fort Dix was where the Army trained Army cooks.  My first duty station in Germany, again, a very good mess hall and luckily for all of us, we even got some hot chow, that was tasty and plentiful,  when we went on field training exercises.

Here’s poor Louisa May Alcott’s recounting of the food during her Civil War nursing experience:

“For a day or two I managed to appear at meals; for the human grub must eat till the butterfly is ready to break loose, and no one had time to come up two flights while it was possible for me to come down. Far be it from me to add another affliction or reproach to that enduring man, the steward; for, compared with his predecessor, he was a horn of plenty; but—I put it to any candid mind—is not the following bill of fare susceptible of improvement, without plunging the nation madly into debt? The three meals were “pretty much of a muchness,” and consisted of beef, evidently put down for the men of ’76; pork, just in from the street; army bread, composed of saw-dust and saleratus; butter, salt as if churned by Lot’s wife; stewed blackberries, so much like preserved cockroaches, that only those devoid of imagination could partake thereof with relish; coffee, mild and muddy; tea, three dried huckleberry leaves to a quart of water—flavored with lime—also animated and unconscious of any approach to clearness. Variety being the spice of life, a small pinch of the article would have been appreciated by the hungry, hard-working sisterhood, one of whom, though accustomed to plain fare, soon found herself reduced to bread and water; having an inborn repugnance to the fat of the land, and the salt of the earth.

Another peculiarity of these hospital meals was the rapidity with which the edibles vanished, and the impossibility of getting a drop or crumb after the usual time. At the first ring of the bell, a general stampede took place; some twenty hungry souls rushed to the dining-room, swept over the table like a swarm of locusts, and left no fragment for any tardy creature who arrived fifteen minutes late. Thinking it of more importance that the patients should be well and comfortably fed, I took my time about my own meals for the first day or two after I came, but was speedily enlightened by Isaac, the black waiter, who bore with me a few times, and then informed me, looking as stern as fate:

“I say, mam, ef you comes so late you can’t have no vittles,—’cause I’m ‘bleeged fer ter git things ready fer de doctors ‘mazin’ spry arter you nusses and folks is done. De gen’lemen don’t kere fer ter wait, no more does I; so you jes’ please ter come at de time, and dere won’t be no frettin’ nowheres.”

It was a new sensation to stand looking at a full table, painfully conscious of one of the vacuums which Nature abhors, and receive orders to right about face, without partaking of the nourishment which your inner woman clamorously demanded. The doctors always fared better than we; and for a moment a desperate impulse prompted me to give them a hint, by walking off with the mutton, or confiscating the pie. But Ike’s eye was on me, and, to my shame be it spoken, I walked meekly away; went dinnerless that day, and that evening went to market, laying in a small stock of crackers, cheese and apples, that my boys might not be neglected, nor myself obliged to bolt solid and liquid dyspepsias, or starve. This plan would have succeeded admirably had not the evil star under which I was born, been in the ascendant during that month, and cast its malign influences even into my “‘umble” larder; for the rats had their dessert off my cheese, the bugs set up housekeeping in my cracker bag, and the apples like all worldly riches, took to themselves wings and flew away; whither no man could tell, though certain black imps might have thrown light upon the matter, had not the plaintiff in the case been loth to add another to the many trials of long-suffering Africa. After this failure I resigned myself to fate, and, remembering that bread was called the staff of life, leaned pretty exclusively upon it; but it proved a broken reed, and I came to the ground after a few weeks of prison fare, varied by an occasional potato or surreptitious sip of milk.”

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches (pp. 38-39). . Kindle Edition.

As I was reading this book, it dawned on me that I should be well-versed on Alcott’s writing, considering I bought a 6-volume Louisa May Alcott set, somewhere in the late 70s or early 80s, I think.  Yes, of course I still have the set, but it shames me to admit that I have never read a single one of the books in this set (pictured at the top).

Of course, I googled her bio too, to refresh my memory and see what else I didn’t know about her life and work.  Like many writers and intellectuals of her time, Louisa May Alcott became an ardent abolitionist and early feminist.  Considering necessity compelled Alcott and her sisters to find employment to help the family survive, due to their father’s financial failures, she came by her convictions about fairness in education and work opportunities from a very tough school of hard knocks.  She approached her writing as a means to put food on the table.  Her other jobs included teaching, domestic work, and working as a seamstress.  Her sisters also had to work to help supplement the family income.

Alcott’s rung on the economic ladder sounds very similar to Harriet Beecher Stowe, another of those 19th century female social justice warriors, who seem cut from a more serious mold than so many of our modern version hysterical activists fixated on ridiculous pink pussy hats, online hyperventilating,  and taking to the streets to “raise awareness”  Slavery and women not even able to vote or have much legal footing in any aspect of their lives, including financial matters, education and career opportunities, ring much clearer  as causes for justice than most of our current muddled messages carried by far-left radicals.

Even with her “feminism” Alcott strikes me as a person, who was rebellious by nature and being one of those types myself, I can relate completely to her chagrin at being talked down to or treated like she was a helpless and hapless idiot.  However, here again Alcott describes herself as a pragmatist way more than a committed ideologue. He hilarious description of her fruitless quest to acquire the “free ticket”, required for transport to Washington, to report for her volunteer nursing stint reminded me of many of my own dealings with a situation where it was easier to toss the problem to a man, who cheerfully handled the situation without any fuss.

My situations weren’t difficulties acquiring a “free ticket”, but instead were always car problems that vex me, cause me a lot of anxiety and quite frankly, I don’t want to have to deal with changing tires or oil or doing diagnostics on why the engine is making that bizarre loud sound or God-forbid there’s smoke coming out from under the hood. I prefer to toss all car emergencies to the nice man at the car repair shop or the nice man who stops to take charge of changing my flat tire.  That’s just me.  Here’s Alcott’s feminism meets reality moment, after a day spent running all over the city trying to find the government man who handled doling out “free tickets” for military service transport:

“All in vain: and I mournfully turned my face toward the General’s, feeling that I should be forced to enrich the railroad company after all; when, suddenly, I beheld that admirable young man, brother-in-law Darby Coobiddy, Esq. I arrested him with a burst of news, and wants, and woes, which caused his manly countenance to lose its usual repose. “Oh, my dear boy, I’m going to Washington at five, and I can’t find the free ticket man, and there won’t be time to see Joan, and I’m so tired and cross I don’t know what to do; and will you help me, like a cherub as you are?” “Oh, yes, of course. I know a fellow who will set us right,” responded Darby, mildly excited, and darting into some kind of an office, held counsel with an invisible angel, who sent him out radiant. “All serene. I’ve got him. I’ll see you through the business, and then get Joan from the Dove Cote in time to see you off.”

I’m a woman’s rights woman, and if any man had offered help in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself. My strong-mindedness had rather abated since then, and I was now quite ready to be a “timid trembler,” if necessary.

Dear me! how easily Darby did it all: he just asked one question, received an answer, tucked me under his arm, and in ten minutes I stood in the presence of Mc K., the Desired.”

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches (pp. 8-9). . Kindle Edition.

This post has run on way longer than I intended, so by all means try some of Louisa May Alcott’s writing, beyond Little Women. 

Have a nice day!


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