Category Archives: Food for Thought

Quest for common American values

“In the military, and in a military family, you learn to do something very hard and not of your own choosing, for a cause bigger than yourself. You’re working for a cause determined by the mechanisms of democracy, standing side by side with others who are fully committed. Current U.S. civilian life has a striking absence of “common causes”—tasks that remind us that there is more that unites us than divide us.”

– Kathy Roth-Douquet

America’s Elite Needs to Get Back in Uniform

I’ve had this link saved for over a week, intending to use it in a blog post, but really there’s not much I can add to this excellent piece written by Kathy Roth-Douquet.

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Pie in the sky musings…

In many past blog posts, I’ve mentioned my PA Dutch (not Amish, but PA Germans) heritage.  My father’s family settled in northeastern PA, before the Revolutionary War, making my family tree’s roots in the Pocono Mountain soil very deep.  While many of these PA Dutch relatives and neighbors greatly influenced my life, I have always felt truly fortunate that God blessed me with what I have always considered a wise, Jewish grandmother figure too (mentioned in previous blog posts: here, here, here, here).   My childhood UCC Reformed pastor was married to a lovely Jewish lady from New York City, who was educated at Teachers College Columbia University.

The parsonage for St. Matthew’s UCC Church in Kunkletown was not next-door to the church, but was on the edge of the village (yes, Kunkletown was officially designated a “village” in PA):

Hamlets and Villages[edit]

Villages in Pennsylvania are often small communities within a township that chose not to incorporate into a borough. Many villages are identified by the familiar PennDOT sign along a state highway. Lahaska is an example of typical village in suburbanPennsylvania.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_government_in_Pennsylvania

The parsonage was directly across the road from my childhood home.

Our pastor and his wife.  Rev. and Mrs. Boehner,  had collected a very nice home library, which Mrs. Boehner kept meticulously organized and maintained.  They also subscribed to several magazines, some of which their subscription went back to the 1920s.  When Rev. Boehner retired in 1969, he turned a large building next to the parsonage, which  he had built for his woodworking, into a small retirement home.  In this small open floor plan design, with a small kitchen area, dining area, and living room area, they designed a long wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, with a built-in desk area centered along the wall, to showcase their home library.  Mrs. Boehner had her piano on one end of the living room too, which added to the air of culture, when you walked into their home.

Mrs. Boehner dedicated her life to doing good works, in a tradition long familiar in pastors’ wives.  She also became neighborhood children’s go-to source when writing school reports or needing information.  Kunkletown did not have a public library and I believe the nearest public library, when I was a kid, was in Stroudsburg, PA. (half-hour drive away) Later there was a local branch in Brodheadsville, PA (10 miles away).  Mrs. Boehner allowed us to use their home library like our own personal library and she graciously served as our volunteer librarian, project advisor and mentor with teaching us how to research topics.

Often, if we told Mrs. Boehner our report topic, she would search her home library and magazine collection, which she had organized on small bookcases in their attic, and she would have the stack of books and magazines, with article pages bookmarked, waiting for us.  If we wanted to do some sleuthing ourselves, she allowed us to scamper up their attic ladder and spend hours up there looking through her magazine collection.  She often would climb up to check on us or join us in our efforts.  She was a great teacher.

By the time I was a teenager, she had singled me out as her favorite pupil and I am thankful everyday for the efforts she put into teaching me to think about many things larger than my little village.  She would often have books and magazines, neatly stacked, waiting for me, where she would smile and say, “Susie, I thought of you when I read this.”, then she’d proceed to explain an article or a book or often a quote she had jotted down, which she thought was memorable or important to what she believed was the best education –  a classic liberal arts education.

She allowed me to borrow her Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and of course, I have a copy of my own now.  She told me that it would be a good idea if I started a notebook to keep my favorite quotations all in one place.  I immediately got a Mead spiral organizer notebook, with pockets to serve as my very own quote notebook.  I still have it:

Mrs. Boehner subscribed to Yankee Magazine, often having articles marked, in the latest one, waiting for me to read.   I developed a soft spot in my heart for that Yankee Magazine and later their books.  Even though Yankee Magazine is about New England, I felt a deep connection to much of the homespun advice and stories.   Her love of Yankee Magazine led to my love of it too, but also my interest in learning how “everything” was done in the “olden days”.  I acquire books like:

And, another fascination of mine is what nowadays they call “repurposing”.  That is the process of taking old junk and turning it into some sort of other usable item.  I think this book title is more honest:

However, you might find real gems, so a book like this is handy too:

All of this brings me to the one thing that I laid claim to as a definitive PA Dutch habit – one I grew up embracing wholeheartedly and one my husband never understood, no matter how often I told him, “Pie is the best thing to eat for breakfast. PERIOD!”  I grew up eating pie for breakfast, even though my mother cooked traditional breakfast spreads and we had plenty of cold cereal, oatmeal and even Cream of Wheat options to choose from.

My favorite pies for breakfast were shoofly pie, which is the PA Dutch molasses crumb pie and funny cake, which only the PA Dutch would embrace, with its total disregard for piling in as many extra calories and fat into one dessert as possible.  Funny cake is yellow cake, marbled with chocolate syrup, which pools in a nice gooey layer on the bottom, inside a flaky pie shell – yes, it’s a cake baked in a pie shell.  I used to bake both often when my kids were little.

Funny Cake

Cake batter:

2 1/4 c. flour

1 2/3 c. sugar

3/4 c. milk

2/3 c. Crisco vegetable shortening

1 tsp. salt

3 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Beat, then add:

1/2 c. milk

3 unbeaten eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Pour batter into 2 – 9″ pie plates lined with unbaked pie shells.  Pour funny cake liquid over each pie and bake at 375 degrees or 30-35 minutes.

Funny Cake Liquid:

1/2 c. cocoa

1 c. sugar

1 c. boiling water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

(Do not cool before pouring over batter)

Then I realized that eating pie for breakfast wasn’t really just a PA Dutch thing…

“A Yankee, to a European, is any American.  To a Southerner, it’s  a Northerner; to  Northerner it’s a New Englander; to a New Englander, a resident of Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont.  But to those of us who are still not excluded by other definition, it’s someone who eats pie for breakfast.

The breed is getting rarer, since most people don’t eat anything for breakfast anymore — or not so’s you’d notice.  Pie for breakfast is a custom from the days when breakfast was a full and hearty meal eaten after a couple of hours of pre-dawn work had already taken place.”

Pie For Breakfast by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers, p. 168, The Yankee Magazine Cookbook

Well, even if eating pie for breakfast isn’t just a PA Dutch thing, let me assure you that shoofly pie or funny cake are way better with a cup of hot coffee in the morning than apple pie or some other not-PA Dutch pie selection;-)

Failing that, my mother baked homemade cinnamon rolls that were to die for…

Have a nice day:-)

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Destiny…

Looking through quotes this morning.  Here’s one I like:

“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands.  But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters; you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny'”

— Carl Schurz

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Another tale from my doctor’s waiting room

This morning I went to my allergist for my allergy shot, but I was a bit alarmed that my right eye and right side of my mouth were drooping and felt weird, so my allergist examined me and told me he thinks it’s Bell’s palsy.  He told me to go to my primary care doctor or ER, because they’ll want to do an MRI.  So, I went from there to my primary care doctor.  Usually these days I sit and read on my phone or tablet, but my eyes are bothering me, so I decided to pick up a Reader’s Digest magazine sitting on the table.  I started to read a delightful story, but my doctor saw me so fast that I didn’t get to finish it.  My doctor’s diagnosis is Bell’s palsy.  Weird to have one eye not want to move & my mouth feel stuck on one side, but my doctor told me in most people the paralysis goes away.

Tonight, I searched for that story and I located the same story at The New Yorker and finished reading it.  The story is about several topics that are near and dear to my heart – letter-writing, pen pals, and reading encyclopedias.  And what is more inspiring than a story about someone in poverty working hard to become self-educated?

This true story is titled, The Encyclopedia Reader, written by Daniel A. Gross.  The story is about the unlikely friendship between a prison inmate, who writes to an encyclopedia editor about an error in the encyclopedia.  Without giving away the rest of the story,  here is how the prison inmate described his education in school:

“Eventually, the school transferred him to a special-education program. As he progressed through the grades, Woods says, instead of learning to read and write, he was given chores like collecting attendance slips and stacking milk in the cafeteria refrigerator. These tasks earned him mostly A’s and B’s. “Now, of course, I didn’t learn nothing,” he said. In high school, whenever a teacher asked him to read aloud, Woods would put his head on his desk in shame. “They say it takes a community to raise a child,” he told me. “It takes one to destroy a child, too.” Woods dropped out of school.”

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-encyclopedia-reader

Definitely go read this story.  You’ll be glad you did.  If this encyclopedia editor and a prison inmate could not only find some common ground, but actually strike up a friendship that began in 2004 with a letter and they finally met in 2016, then there is hope for all of America to find some common ground.


Update:  Well, here’s another inspiring piece at National Review to end January:

Remembering Frederick Douglass, Champion of American Individualism, by George Will

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“A few leaves of grass” for remembrance

20171125_132102-1.jpg

We had a very quiet Thanksgiving and only one of our kids could come home.  I cooked the complete turkey meal and baked a couple of pumpkin pies that morning too.  By early evening our son had gone home.  All of the dishes were cleaned up and the leftovers put away.  I spent a few hours working in my sewing/craft room, then picked up a book that I like to read bits and pieces from often.

I keep War Letters:  Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll, on a small table by my recliner.  A few years ago, I mentioned General Pershing’s famous WWI letter to his young son, Warren, which I came across in this book.   General Pershing’s letter to his son was a father explaining the important values Americans fights to protect and preserve.  It’s probably my favorite letter in the book, but a close second is a letter written in 1918,  by Maude B. Fisher, an American Red Cross nurse.  She penned one of the most touching letters to Mrs. Hogan, the mother of a young soldier, Richard Hogan, who died of influenza in their hospital.  This wonderful nurse took the time to pen a very personal letter, so that a grieving mother would know how her son died.  The letter includes details of how brave and cheerful the dying soldier was, the care he received, and even more than that this nurse wrote the details of the soldier’s burial:

“He was laid to rest in the little cemetery of Commercy, and sleeps under a simple wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country.  His grave number is 22, plot 1.  His aluminum identification tag is on the cross , and a similar one around his neck, both bearing his serial number, 2793346.

The plot of the grave in the cemetery where your son is buried was given to the Army for our boys and the people of Commercy will always tend it with loving hands and keep it fresh and clean.  I enclose here a few leaves of grass that grows near in a pretty meadow.

A big hill overshadows that place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy.”

page 171, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll

No one required this nurse to write to this grieving mother, because the Army notified fallen soldiers’ families, but she cared enough to want this mother to have more details.  The book offers a few details about each letter.  Mrs. Hogan lost two of her other children back home in Woburn, Massachusetts, during the 1918 influenza epidemic.  It must have been a great comfort for her to know her son far away was dutifully cared for as he lay dying and that he was given a proper burial.  And imagine her relief knowing exactly where her son was buried.

Thoughtful good deeds, like Maude Fisher’s, used to be very common when most people were reared to put other people before themselves and when quietly doing the right thing was drilled into children and served as the cultural norm.

Almost every good deed now is posted on social media, hyped as some fake gimmicky publicity stunt for attention, or used to sell oneself as more caring than someone else.

Maude Fisher reminds me of the same kind of nurse my mother was.  My mother sent me a little book of Psalms and prayers in 1980, when I was far away from home and going through a hard time in my life.  My mother explained how she came to have this little book:

“… died in 1964 and this booklet was unclaimed by her relatives.  She was a lovely old lady and it was a rewarding experience caring for her.  I am giving this to you Susie, as over the years I found pleasure in reading psalms and prayers.

As you know I’m not a person to force religion on anyone.  I do have faith in God and you will find comfort in reading psalms in times when you’re distressed and unhappy.”

In 1980, I was young and considered myself more agnostic than faithful, but my mother was right.  Over the years, I have picked up this little book or my Bible and turned to the Psalms when I feel  “distressed and unhappy”.

In 2001, my mother was hospitalized for several weeks and I began to worry a great deal, even though she and my sisters assured me that she was improving.  My mother kept telling me there was no need to come to PA, because she would be out of the hospital soon.  Still, I worried and I mailed this booklet to PA and asked my sister to take it to my mother in the hospital.  My mother was happy to see it again and to read it.

My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly on the day she was supposed to be discharged to a local rehabilitation facility for some follow-on care.

My mother quietly helped as many people as she could.  She never talked about it, she just did it, because it was the right thing to do.  People like Maude Fisher and my mother used to be the rule, not the exception.

I don’t have the religious education to argue Christian theology and truthfully if something doesn’t make sense to me, like so much in most religions, I refuse to say, “I believe.”   However, I think having rules or guidelines to serve as guard rails in life, to keep you on track, and sign posts to keep from getting lost, are very helpful.  I reread the Sermon on the Mount often.  I can understand that.  Matthew 6:1-4 has served as the guide for how I try to live my life and it assuredly was how my mother and Maude Fisher lived theirs:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205-7

Watching America’s endless game of partisan one upmanship has caused me to reevaluate my own strident partisan views.   Truly, so much of the extreme emotional investment in these “political hills to die on” won’t matter at all if the country is filled with raging partisans, who hate each other.  The hate bodes poorly, with many Americans who refuse to even talk to anyone with opposing political views, some want those with opposing views silenced, and there are even some wishing those with opposing partisan views were dead.

We could all take a page from Maude Fisher’s and my mother’s book.  Caring about other people is about more than clicking “like” on social media feeds or posting about every shallow thought that pops into your head.   I wonder how many people attending a funeral today would take the time away from their smartphone to even notice that the sun was setting when a young soldier was buried or the pretty meadow.   Assuredly, I doubt hardly anyone would take the time to pick “a few leaves of grass” for remembrance and pen a letter like this to a grieving mother.

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A deep breath of fresh air

Andrew Sullivan wrote a compelling piece, The Danger of Knowing You’re on the ‘Right Side of History’, in New York Magazine.  Sullivan begins:

“I have to say I was deeply moved by the New York Times op-ed yesterday by an evangelical law professor from Alabama. The piece, by the wonderfully named William S. Brewbaker III, moved me because it was the first genuinely Christian thing I’ve heard an evangelical say about the Roy Moore scandal. It did more than renounce the tribalism that has led so many alleged Christians to back Moore; it presented Christianity, properly understood, as the core alternative to tribalism, as one way out of tribalism’s dead end. Brewbaker’s critical and deeply evangelical point:

To begin with, sin is a problem from which no one is exempt. If God’s love required the suffering and death of the Son of God in order to redeem us, we should not underestimate the consequences of sin in our own lives. The world is not divided into “good people” and “bad people”; to quote St. Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or, as the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

It is thus wrong to attack one’s critics, as Mr. Moore did recently on Twitter, as “the forces of evil” and attribute their questions about serious allegations to “a spiritual battle.””

Sullivan steps back from our myopic hyper-partisan politics and takes a long view of civilization, covering a lot of ground, historically and theologically.  This piece is a much-needed breath of fresh air.

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Katie was right

A friend of my youngest daughter since her teens, Sarah, is a military spouse.  She is pregnant with her fourth child and they are stationed in Germany.  Her 25 year-old brother died in a tragic car accident, October 19, 2017, here in GA.  Sarah comes from a large family.  Her mother, a deeply religious lady, penned a message for family and friends who are angry or sad about her son’s death.  She reminded people that her son has just gone on ahead and she expressed gratitude that she had 25 years of joy having her son with her.  She lives her life with devotion to God and her family and gratitude for all of the many blessings in her life.  She also lives her life committed to forgiveness.

This morning I read a sad story, written by Jason F. Wright, about a mother who died in a tragic car accident, with a drunk driver.  This mother in California died on the drive home from visiting her premature twin daughters at the hospital.  She left behind her husband, four young sons and two premature infant daughters.  The story is an interview with the grieving husband.  The husband also penned a letter when he heard co-workers were expressing anger about his wife’s death:

“Obviously this is a difficult time for me and my family. It has been more difficult as I have heard that some are angry with the driver who killed my wife. Katie would not have wanted that. She was the embodiment of compassion. The hateful activities reported in the news recently troubled her greatly. She felt there was already too much anger in the world. I want you to know that I forgive the driver of that accident. Of course I am sorry that it happened. Of course I wish I could go back in time and change it, but we are all best served by moving forward with today’s reality and the best way to move forward is to honor Katie’s memory and focus on how to take care of her six children. Trials and tribulation are mandatory. Misery is optional. Happiness is a choice, sometimes a difficult choice. I confess I feel little in the way of happiness at the moment, but I am determined to be as happy as I can be and for now that is found in my profound gratitude to a generous and supportive community for the love they have wrapped around me and my family during this challenging time.”

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/10/28/katie-evans-loving-mom-killed-in-car-crash-following-visit-premature-twins-leaves-behind-beautiful-legacy.html 

All around us, we have leaders and media bombarding us with messages geared to fuel animosity and rage.  Sarah’s mother and Katie’s husband sparkle like small glimmers of hope in an America, where too many people live consumed by anger and hate.  Their message will likely resonate only within their small circle of friends and family, but it’s a message worth passing on to as many people as you can.

Katie was right.  There already is too much anger in the world.  We should all dedicate ourselves to showing more compassion for other people, looking for the good in others and trying to make the world a better place.

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