Category Archives: Food for Thought

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

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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 alway 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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Filed under American Character, Civility, Food for Thought, General Interest, Uncategorized

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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A world without people?

Newsweek has a major scare cover, Who’s Killing America’s Sperm? The story, Male Infertility Crisis in U.S. Has Experts Baffled, delves into a decline in male fertility, not only in America, but throughout most of the world, particularly in the industrialized western world.  The article begins:

“Hagai Levine doesn’t scare easily. The Hebrew University public health researcher is the former chief epidemiologist for the Israel Defense Forces, which means he’s acquainted with danger and risk in a way most of his academic counterparts aren’t. So when he raises doubts about the future of the human race, it’s worth listening. Together with Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Levine authored a major new analysis that tracked male sperm levels over the past few decades, and what he found frightened him. “Reproduction may be the most important function of any species,” says Levine. “Something is very wrong with men.””

The Newsweek article portends great danger to human existence, a world without people.  Back in February, in a blog post, An extreme feminist Utopia, I wrote a book report, of sorts, on Charles Eric Maine’s  1958 dystopian novel, World Without Men:

“I reject feminism, because it’s not just some benign battle for “fairness” in the workplace or expanding opportunities for women, it’s about tearing down the entire framework of western civilization. Maine’s novel, set 5,000 years into the future, describes a world literally without men. Although sounding totally implausible at first glance, Maine offers snapshot-like short chapters into the past, that lay out frightening events along the way to how this “world without men” came to be. While novels like this aren’t to be taken literally or as prescience for what is to come, like 1984, Maine touched on some issues that are worth thinking about.”

Maine’s novel delves into what a world social order, where only females exist, would be like.  His novel centers on a world where humans, over time, began overproducing females, until males became extinct, except for male genetic material saved in labs around the world.  In Maine’s futuristic world, government-controlled scientists work tirelessly to try to reproduce a living male child, while the female world is indoctrinated into a media fed lie about parthenogenesis, that men became obsolete and unnecessary, with all their endless wars and exploration.  A world without men allowed for an evolution to an orderly, stable world of only women:

The official P.A.S. history teaches:

“There never could have been a Utopia while man survived and controlled human affairs, for his innate aggressiveness and insatiable curiosity forced him restlessly to pursue the ever-widening boundary of knowledge without giving a thought to the application of his newly found powers in the service of humanity.  In abolishing man, nature had opened the way to the permanent establishment of peace and plenty.  Several women scientists had pointed out that man had been necessary to nature’s purpose; he had tackled, with considerable energy and ingenuity, the problem of adapting his environment to himself, and had succeeded in wresting from the blind forces of the cosmos all the power he needed to secure the supremacy and ultimate survival of the human race as an entity.  And at that point man became redundant. Worse he became an obstacle to the wise and peaceful exploitation of natural power for the benefit of his species.  So man ceased to exist, and woman became mistress of her planet, and nature provided parthenogenesis to replace the outmoded reproduction mechanism that had vanished with the male sex.”

p. 35, World Without Men, Maine, Charles Eric

In his fictional novel, the catalyst for Maine’s fake parthenogenesis is the advent of female oral contraceptives, which, over several thousand years, led to human reproduction going haywire, overproducing females and the eventual extinction of males.  Oddly enough, the Newsweek article chronicles a lengthy list of concerns for the decrease in male fertility from obesity to chemicals, but it does not include any mention of female oral contraceptives, as something to look into, even though they dramatically alter female hormones levels and the female reproductive system.  The Newsweek article states:

“Most sperm will never come close to an egg—while a fertile man ejaculates 20 million to 300 million sperm per milliliter of semen, only a few dozen might reach their destination, and only one can drill through the egg’s membrane and achieve conception. The chemical makeup of the vagina is actively hostile to sperm, which can only survive because semen contains alkaline substances that offset the acidic environment. That’s the paradox of sperm counts—although one healthy sperm is enough to make a baby, it takes tens of millions of sperm to beat the odds, which means that significant declines in sperm counts will eventually degrade overall male fertility. Notes Swan: “Even a relatively small change in the mean sperm count has a big impact on the percentage of men who will be classified as infertile or subfertile”—meaning a reduced level of fertility that makes it harder to conceive.”

Of course, the article does offer feminist-tinged agendas about how poor women bear such a burden, “it is women who bear the medical and psychological burden of trying to get—and stay—pregnant”…  Despite, the scare headlines warning that human reproduction is at risk,  there’s nary a mention of the increased use of female oral contraceptives in the Newsweek story and that glaring omission bothers me.  You’d  think that scientists, who are looking for all sorts of causes, even cellphones, BPA and smoking, to explain the drop in fertility, both female and male, perhaps they might add looking into the impact of increased use of oral contraceptives on human reproduction too.

Would looking into the impact of oral contraceptives rock the boat of acceptable scientific inquiry?  I suspect, that although we aren’t living in a “world without men”, we, to include our scientific research, are rigidly controlled by politically correct, feminist-driven conformity.  Is our scientific research ideologically castrated, to be performed only by PC-indoctrinated eunuchs?

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Lovely Things

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In the July 2017  The Smithsonian magazine, there’s a very interesting article,  From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps, about the history of maps, written by Clive Thompson.  The article begins by relating some recent incidents of mishaps attributed to hapless drivers mindlessly following inaccurate GPS directions while driving.  Thompson writes:

“You can laugh, but many of us have stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are too intent on following directions. Some observers worry that this represents a new and dangerous shift in our style of navigation. Scientists since the 1940s have argued we normally possess an internal compass, “a map-like representation within the ‘black box’ of the nervous system,” as geographer Rob Kitchin puts it. It’s how we know where we are in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

Is it possible that today’s global positioning systems and smartphones are affecting our basic ability to navigate? Will technology alter forever how we get around?”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/brief-history-maps-180963685/#GwdJLeK41bIuW2jo.99
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The article is definitely worth a read and I don’t have the answer to whether our “smart” computer technology is making us dumber or more inattentive, but it sure does make us lazier and more inclined to take short-cuts.  A year or two after we had our first home computer, I lectured my kids for their insistence on checking the weather online in order to decide on their apparel for the day or whether to wear a coat heading to the bus stop in  the morning.  I told them to step outside and see how cold it was or to look at the sky and they could see it was likely to rain.  They scoffed at that, telling me how the weather report relied on “expert” meteorologists and besides, who wanted to walk outside, when they could find out more “accurate” information online.

I prefer to look at the sky or look at the leaves on trees, which can speak volumes about impending storms or even how the birds act, as my first barometric reading, so to speak.

One thing I have noticed with my use of computers for almost all of my writing is that my spelling has become atrocious without spellcheck and now with beginning my “gratitude” journal, my handwriting is beyond terrible and it felt very awkward holding a pen for more than a few minutes at a time.

One of the first books I learned to read was a small children’s book my grandmother gave me, as part of my Christmas gifts for Christmas in 1964.  I was 4 years old:

I think I was around 7 or 8 when the cover started coming loose and I took some of my mother’s bandage tape and taped it back together.  I remember this, because my mother told me that wasn’t a good tape to use to repair a book.  I kept that book all these years and I came across it recently, sorting through some old paper stuff in my decluttering efforts.  Perhaps, I will attempt a better repair job.  The prayer at the top of this post is one of my favorite prayers in this book.  I remember loving this prayer as a child.

It is a prayer about gratitude.

That brings me to my ugly, dollar store journal, that is now my “gratitude” journal.  Why I picked the ugliest journal to start a journal is part of how I always worry about messing things up, so I didn’t want to begin “journaling” in my nicest journal, in case I messed it up.  It’s the same reason I keep many very nice things and don’t use them, because they might get ruined.   The same applies to many of my sewing and craft supplies, where I purchased fabric I loved or a craft item I thought was wonderful, but then I put off using it, because I was afraid I would waste it on a project that turned out crappy or that I might mess it up.  So, I have many lovely things awaiting the perfect project or for me to feel that my crafting/sewing skills will do justice to them.

“Junk journals” might be the perfect project for me.  My first junk journal turned out nicer than I expected.  Now, with this gratitude journal,  where I’m starting with junk, if I mess up this ugly dollar journal – so what!   And besides it’s just for me to write in, look at and read.

From the time I was around 9 or 10, I began cutting out pictures and stories from old magazines, like Highlights for Children, that I wanted to keep.   I had folders and an old shoe box for my clipped items.  By the time I was a teenager, I still had folders and I had boxes that I had decoupaged clipped pictures or old, pretty wrapping paper onto, making them pretty, but still functional.

After gluing some pictures in the altered composition books for my granddaughters, the other night, as I was trying to think of what to write in my “gratitude” journal, I decided to cut out pictures from some old magazines to glue into my journal.  I always try to make everything perfectly straight and agonize over perfect color combinations, perfect page layouts and if the overall arrangement is perfect.   As I started gluing in pictures, I decided not to stress over it and just glue in some pictures.

I started with just a picture or two on the two-page spread of the journal, but the next night I decided to do some collages of pictures and I started with this one, with the very crooked edges on the left side:

Then I decided to do collages inside the front and back covers:

Usually when I think of collage art work, I think of those edgy artists, who paint bold sweeps of colors and combine dismembered body parts into odd new arrangements or who have some giant eye somewhere in the picture peering at you.   I lack artistic ability, so mine is just gluing in pictures I like, with a glue stick.

I had done the porch page on Monday or Tuesday night , then yesterday I found the words, “The Porch: The soul of the house lies just up the front steps”,  in another old, Southern Living magazine and knew it had to go on this page.

Funny how something like gluing in pictures from some old magazines made me realize how grateful I am to have grown up poor, in a large family, in the mountains of PA.  The front porch of our house was where I spent hours in the summertime cutting out pictures from old magazines.  We would carry my great-grandmother’s rocking chair out on the front porch for her in the evenings, because she didn’t want her rocking chair left outside.  It was a part of the routine to cart her rocking chair in and out, when she wanted to sit on the front porch.  My parents, brothers and sisters, cousins next-door, sometimes neighbors too, congregated around our front porch in the summertime.  Often, friends of my parents would stop to chat a few minutes, as they were driving by.

We were never bored, we talked a lot, we never wanted to go inside and we begged our parents to stay outside longer, long after it was dark.

And of course, I do get lost easily, so I pay close attention to everything when I drive, taking careful notes of landmarks, buildings, road markers of every kind, even distinctive trees.  I don’t use GPS directions, instead I keep road maps in my car and I write down careful directions on a piece of paper before I take any trip.  My father built roads for a living.  He taught me to keep track of the mile markers on the interstate, so anytime we are on the interstate, I can tell you which mile markers we are between and which direction we are headed.

There’s no way I am going to trust a GPS voice on my phone to guide me.   Years ago, I did a google mapquest search for a friend from work’s home.  I had never been to her house, so I typed in my street address and hers.  Those directions included a turn onto a street that does not exist.

And, amidst having so many gadgets,  gizmos and fancy things, I am going to refocus on being thankful “for the lovely things” in my life, like “the pretty flowers and the little birds that sing”.  Kind of odd that a “junk journal” brought all the real treasures in my life into focus.

Note: The prayer, For Lovely Things, was written by Edna Dean Baker and the book, Prayers For Little Children,  was edited by Mary Alice  Jones and illustrated by Suzanne Bruce.

Books with collages of all pictures glued in are often referred to as “glue books” and it’s a very relaxing pastime.  There are many good videos on YouTube explaining how to go about doing a glue book.  Here are a couple of videos that I found informative:

 

 

 

 

 

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