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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What I Don't Want to Hear After Las Vegas

   I'm leaving the television off tonight.  I don't want to hear about the perpetrator of the Las Vegas shootings, and how he planned it all out in great detail, and how many guns he had and rounds of ammunition her fired off. I don't want to hear about his girlfriend, and what she did or did not know, and how she was guilty or not guilty, and how nobody suspected anything, and how he was just a normal guy who happened to own a stockpile of firearms and modified them so he could kill and maim hundreds of people in a matter of minutes.
      I also don't want to hear about the innocent lives that were lost, and the fatherless and motherless children that must now spend the rest of the lives without their parent, and the mothers who lost sons, and the wives who lost husbands, and the communities that the victims had contributed so much to and how much they will be missed.  I don't want to hear about how kind and loving they were and how they never did anything to deserve being mowed down and shot like fish in a barrel.
     I don't want to hear how the investigators are looking for answers and trying to find the motive.  (What does it matter? What possible motive could there be besides insanity?)  And how they are combing through details of the lives of countless people to understand how and why this happened, and to figure out what would lead an otherwise "normal" person to want to cause so much death and dismay in the lives of so many people he has never met.
      And I don't want to hear that our president commends all the first responders for doing such great jobs, and how it was a miracle that happened there that night.  (What kins of miracle causes the deaths of 58 people and injuring of so many more?)
     I also don't want to hear about the shrines that have popped up in Las Vegas  and how people are sad but things are returning to normal, and the casinos are open again, and the tourists are coming back out of hiding.
   The only thing I want to hear is the one thing they are not talking about.  I want to hear that our President and Congress will do whatever it takes, move heaven and earth, pull out all the stops, put politics aside, and start tonight to pass new gun laws that will prevent ordinary citizens from owning automatic or semi-automatic weapons and silencers; that will prevent sale of items that allow people to modify guns and turn them into automatic fast firing killing machines; that will double down on background checks and limit the amount of guns or ammunition that any one person can possess; that will prevent the mentally ill from owning firearms, that will protect our citizens and our children from the fear of the next mass shooting.  I don't want to hear how sorry people are and what a tragedy this was. I want to hear what somebody is going to do to stop this insanity in our country.  I want to hear that we are following the lead of Australia and the UK who have passed laws that have greatly reduced the amount of incidents like this in their countries.  I want to hear that the rights of our citizens to live in peace and without fear is more important than the rights of killers who want to make names for themselves.  That, my friend, is the only thing I really want to hear, but the silence is deafening.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Paris - A City for the Senses

    Our stay in Paris began with a bus tour of the city.  Our guide, Madeleine, explained to us that Paris is a very sensual city, in that Parisians like to enjoy the finer things of life through the senses.  That is why almost everywhere you look in Paris, you find beauty and extravagance.  From the statues and fountains, to the soaring cathedrals and churches, right down to the lamp posts and bridges, almost every surface of Paris is the result of artistry and craftsmanship way beyond the norm.  There are very few things that are purely functional in Paris - almost everything is a work of art to be appreciated and admired.
    Let me show you some examples:


     Bas relief carvings on the Arc de Triomphe, which was built by order of Napoleon Bonaparte



This highly carved container was affixed to the stone wall near the entrance of Sacre Coeur Basilica.  I'm unsure of what it was meant to hold.


Fancy brickwork on a building. I snapped this picture from the bus as we were leaving Paris.

The base of a bridge we passed under while on a boat tour of the Seine. 




A room that was once used by royalty in the Louvre Palace/Museum.  This room is about 50 yards long (I'm guessing) and every square inch including the ceiling is this highly decorated.



Pastries and quiches in a patisserie where we stopped for lunch one day. They are as delicious as they look!

Intricate wrought iron railings on the balconies, and notice the carved faces above the windows. Each one is different.


A shop or cafĂ© in the Monmarte neighborhood behind Sacre Coeur Basilica.  If you read French maybe you can tell me what kind of place this is. We did not have time to go in.


One of the most decorative of the many bridges over the Seine.

    Since Paris is a city for the senses, I cannot do it just by writing and talking about it. It must be seen, felt, heard, and tasted to be appreciated.  If you ever get a chance to go to Paris, by all means do so.  Just beware of the pickpockets and scam artists who abound.












  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Across the Channel to France

  When I left off my story, we had risen to an early breakfast, packed our bags, and were just departing from London in the morning chill.  In order to reach Paris we first traveled by "motor coach" (not "bus") through the English countryside, which looked very much like I imagine the Ohio countryside looked at the beginning of the 20th century.  There was not much to see except road, grass, trees, and the occasional herd of pure white cattle grazing in a farmer's field - no brown Herefords or spotted Guernseys in the bunch. The bucolic scenery was not spoilt by gaudy billboards, strip malls, or urban sprawl.  After a few hours of gazing at the monotonous landscape, we reached the port of Dover and boarded a ferry, bus and all, for the crossing.  It was an overcast gray day, but ceiling to floor ferry windows allowed us to catch a glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover for a few minutes after leaving port.  They were lovely to see, and must be a dazzling sight when the sun shines brightly on the coastline.
   The crossing was uneventful, with the passengers busying themselves with card games, shopping, and beverages (coffee and alcohol) for the roughly 2 hour crossing. When we reached France, we were hustled through customs and loaded back onto the coach with our newly stamped passports in hand..
    At first France's landscape was much like that of England's, except for the appearance of clusters of wind turbines in groups of two, three, or up to a dozen.  Then I began to realize where Van Gogh had gotten his inspiration for his "wheat fields" series, because jarringly bright yellow wheat fields began to dot the landscape, along with the spire-like cypress trees so prevalent in his art.


     We continued on. Most of my fellow travelers had been lulled to sleep by the constant hum of tires against pavement, the now near noon day heat, and the shooshing of the air conditioner that only worked part of the time. We stopped at a rest stop for lunch, where we found small shops with ready made sandwiches, fresh fruit, and drinks.  We enjoyed making our first purchases in French francs and had our first encounter with French pay toilets, which we would encounter often during our stay.  (Most cost a Franc or a Euro.)  I spent a few pleasant minutes watching a group of teenage girls play a game of tree tag in the area of the parking lot and marveled at their carefree innocence.  Then it was back on the bus again for more monotony, until the road signs finally began toindicate we were nearing Paris.
   I don't know from which direction,. but I do know we entered Paris through a seedy side of town.  Judging by the run down ramshackle buildings, garbage piled high around unattended trash cans, and the appearance of the inhabitants, this was the low rent district.  I don't wish to be unkind or appear xenophobic, but this neighborhood was inhabited by immigrants.  These people were not French born or of French descent.  I would not have wanted to walk down any of these streets alone at night.
     As our coach wound it's way through ever more dense traffic, the neighborhood improved, but not by much. The streets was still rather dirty with litter scattered about.  The sandstone colored buildings though were now a bit more elegant with the trademark wrought iron balconies at each window.  To our surprise the bus parked and we disembarked.  This was where we would eat supper every night of our stay in Paris.
     We were directed to a modest restaurant where we were served an evening meal of chicken cordon bleu with chocolate mousse for dessert. The meals here were of uneven quality but I imagine it's hard to find a budget restaurant that can server 160 people at a reasonable price.
  Thus began our three day stay in Paris, a city of many contrasts which I will elaborate on in my next post. 
    
         



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Visiting London - A City With a Past

    
     The first stop on our grand tour of Europe was London England - the city of pomp and circumstance.  Rather than give you a blow by blow account of our every move, let me just give you my impressions.  London is very proud of her past. That is evident in the huge amounts of time and effort spent showcasing the palaces churches, and abodes of the royals, living and dead.  The many historic buildings, from ancient old Windsor Castle to sprawling Buckingham Palace to the fairly modern looking Kensington Palace, are scattered over the city like jewels on a crown.  Being an American and having never really thought about it much, I didn't realize how much real estate the royal family owns in London, and that it's not all bunched together in one little area of the city.  Each building is miles away from the others, with the sprawling city between.  
     When I asked our tour guide the reason for this, he stated that when William the Conqueror came to London he had to lay hold of as much property as he could as quickly as possible, and he could only do that by having a fort every few miles or so.  You must remember, back in those days there was not much in between them except maybe a few peasants huts, I would imagine.  The city has grown up between them over the ages.   So if you want to see all the royal forts, towers, and homes, expect to do a good bit of walking or driving from spot to spot.  And don't expect to get too close to many of them.  There is plenty of barbed wire, spiked walls, electric fences, and iron gates to keep the public at a safe distance, and if there is any doubt, there are warning signs anywhere you get treacherously close to trespassing on royal property.
  Not so say the royals don't allow the commoners to share in the beauty of their properties.  The sunken garden at Kensginton is open to the public, and lovely now as it is adorned in white blooms in remembrance of Princess Diana on the 20th anniversary of her death.  You can take a tour through the public areas of Windsor Castle, for a price, which we did not have time to do.
   One can't help but wonder how it feels to be living within that bubble of royalty, surrounded by all that barbed wire and security. It's no wonder the royals have a reputation for being a little odd at times.  They are as much caged into their lifestyle as we are caged out.
    Apart from, or maybe because of the presence of the royals, London is a very clean city.  It's the only town I've actually seen paid workers on the streets sweeping up cigarette butts and bits of stray trash, in an effort to keep the place tidy.
     Everywhere you look in London are statues - most memorializing some battle or King or Prince or Queen, many covered in gold leaf paint.  There are lots of open public parks, such as Green Park.  The story is, when one particular queen (I forget which one) found out her husband had picked flowers in this park to give to his mistress, she forbade the growing of any flowers there from hence forth.  It's only been in the last few years that Queen Elizabeth has allowed daffodils to be planted.
   The food in London is decent but expensive.  I didn't have any fish and chips but I did have a pretty good "steak & stout" meat pie in Covent Gardens one particularly rainy evening.  You had to be quick and persistent to get a table at the fish and chips joint there, and we were neither, we were just hungry.
  Our breakfasts in the hotel were buffet style with scrambled eggs, sausage (better than Bob Evans), pancakes, cereal, baked beans and tomatoes....wait.....what??  Baked beans and tomatoes for breakfast???  We weren't quite sure what to do with those.  Some put them on their eggs. Some mixed them together and ate them like that. Some just avoided them.  That's what I did.
     London is doing its best to roll out the red carpet to it's guests, despite certain recent terrorist scares.  Chartreuse vested police are everywhere on bikes and on foot.  We were told that only a small percentage carry weapons, but there presence was reassuring just the same.  When we had to cross the Thames River to get to the London Eye, I noticed there had been steel barriers placed between the roadway and the sidewalk, to prevent cars from driving up onto the sidewalk.  I never really felt unsafe, but I was with a tour group and may have been lulled by the "safety in numbers" mindset.  Our bags werechecked thouroughly before we were allowed entrance to any museum or public building. It seems that London officials are making a serious effort to keep the public safe.
     The weather was rainy most of the days we were in London - and that's not a stray shower or tow.  It was an all day drizzly drippy wet rain, with chilly temperatures for June (mid sixties farenheit during the day.)  If you forgot your umbrella and didn't have a raincoat, you were pretty miserable by the end of a long day sightseeing. We felt that the drizzle just contributed to our full London experience.
     I enjoyed London immensely. There's so much to see and do there, and so much history to soak in.  The theater district is a musical lover's dream, with the Globe theater, Queen's Theater, and many others.  London shows are some of the best musical productions in the world!  We were lucky enough to see Les Miserables and it was by far the best live musical I've ever attended.
   But alas! our few days in London soon came to an end and it was time for our next stop, so we gathered together our things, boarded our buses and set off for the City of Lights - Paris!
    
    

      

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Impressions of a Novice Traveler - Preliminaries

   
 At the ripe age of 59, having never left my home country of the U.S.A. except for brief childhood jaunts across the Canadian border to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side,  I recently took my first trip abroad. While raising a family, vacations always were of the camping variety, always within driving distance.  This year when my youngest son was invited to be a part of a traveling concert band touring Europe, my husband decided this was a good time for all of us to take the trip. We would be traveling with a group of 120 young choir, band, and string orchestra students, plus numerous directors and chaperones.
    We signed up well over a year in advance which gave us plenty of time to obtain passports and assemble the appropriate gadgets and paraphenalia for a 2 week whirlwind tour of Europe. We were to visit 7 countries, stopping to perform concerts in about 5 of them.
     It also gave me plenty of time to fret and worry about certain recent terrorist events in and around London and Paris.   My husband finally convinced in the end that, although horrific to those affected, the likelihood of any one person  being caught up in one of these incidents was slim. Nevertheless, when another deadly attack occurred a few weeks before our departure, I visited my family doctor and got a prescription for non-addictive anxiety medication which could also be used as allergy pills and for motion sickness. I was set.
     I spent much time prior to the trip reading up on smart packing and travel capsule wardrobes, which focus on color coordinated separates that can be mixed, matched, and layered to get the maximum number of outfits from the minimum number of articles of clothing. The majority of my wardrobe was bought in s second hand store, where I also purchased a Travelon  purse which doubled as a carry on bag. I also bought a money belt, travel lock, an inflatable neck pillow, and travel insurance that covered multiple issues including trip cancellation, lost baggage, and repatriation of my remains were I to suffer an untimely demise while traveling (a sobering thought.)
     Having done all the necessary preparation well in advance, all that was left was to wait for the day of departure. I packed and unpacked my bags weeks in advance to make sure it all fit, with room left over for souvenirs.
     Finally the day arrived. We were up at & for the 4 hour drive to the Detroit airport. Our flight left at 2 p.m. which meant we had to be there by 11.  Upon arrival, we met the other members of our group, said goodbyes, and proceeded through baggage check and security. Having not flown since before "9-11-2001", the intense scrutiny required today was a bit disconcerting but understandably necessary. We finally boarded the plane, made the short hop to Minneapolis, and settled in for a 7 hour layover where we passed the time by window shopping, sitting in sports bars, and walking the huge airport with it many moving sidewalks.
      Next: "Long Night Crossing the Pond", and "London Arrival"



   

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Let's Make Donald Trump a Figurehead President

     Let's face it   Donald Trump never wanted to be a real president.  He was attracted to the position by the glitz and glamour, the appearance of superiority to other human beings, the ability to rub elbows with the rich and powerful, and to fire people.   He thought it would be like the ultimate reality show, with him as center of attention and people hanging on his every tweet.
     But as for actual governing and policy making, he is not interested.  He does not want to bother with daily intelligence briefings which are a bore.  (Why hear the same thing over and over again?)  He never realized that issues like health care and national security could be so complicated.  And he had no idea it would all take so much effort and be so difficult!  Running his one-man real estate business, with the help of his children, was so much easier.
     Due to all these reasons and more, his presidency so far has been a miserable comedy of errors. He has made one grievous error after another, the latest of which involved inviting the Russian diplomats (spies) to his office, kicking out all the American press, and then proceeding to spill classified information to the Russians.  He has no clue his responsibilities and boundaries are.  He does not understand his role or the consequences of his actions.  He has no plan.  The more time passes, the more obvious it becomes that there is the real potential that he will do serious damage to our democracy sooner or later.
    There is already talk circulating in Washington of impeachment, but given the spinelessness of the Republicans in Congress, it will be difficult to garner enough support for that to actually happen.  And it's such a messy, long, drawn out process. He could do lots more damage in the mean time.   I have a better solution: let's make Donald Trump a one time only figurehead president, much like the royalty of England.
      He can live in the White House surrounded by all the opulence and air of importance that his ego craves and feeds upon. He can act as the welcoming committee to foreign dignitaries, posing for photo ops, sitting in the wing chairs before the fireplace, flying them down to Mara Lago to play golf and eat chocolate cake and lots and lots of ice cream.  (One for you, two for me.)  He can do all the "fun" things he envisioned he would be doing as president, without the bothersome responsibility.  He need not sit through any more boring intelligence briefings.   In fact, the less he knows the more secure our country will be.  He doesn't need to hold any more press conferences and be asked impolite questions by nasty journalists.
   But who will run the government?  Well, we have Mike Pence and Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.  We have Congress. There are hundreds of people in Washington D.C. that have spent their careers doing just that.  They'll do fine without him.  Just keep Trump busy golfing, eating cake and ice cream, watching himself on t.v., and "playing" President, and when he has time he can pop over and have tea with the queen.


Friday, May 12, 2017

A Sinkhole of Lies and Deception


    Our U.S. government is embroiled in a quagmire unlike any in the history of our country.  The man who said he was going to “drain the swamp” in Washington is now involved in one of the seamiest scandals ever to hit the front pages of our newspapers.  Even before Donald Trump took office, there were questions about his relationship with the Russians. Why was he so unwilling to express any criticism of dictator Vladimir Putin, when he had no qualms about berating and ridiculing just about everyone else? Just what did the Russians "have" on Trump, that they were the only group he seemed to respect.

     I am convinced that the investigators looking into Trump’s ties with Russia have only begun to scratch the surface.  There must be some kind of political bombshell he’s hiding.  Otherwise why would he have such a visceral reaction anytime someone gets close to uncovering something?  His recent firing of FBI Director James Comey is just one example of that reaction. 

     I shudder to think of how much time and effort is going into meetings of the White House staffers trying to figure out how to do damage control.  It makes me not want to pay my federal income taxes, to think that I am supporting such behavior.  Sean Spicer has been reduced to hiding in the bushes and asking the press to turn the lights out before he will give them a briefing.  Other surrogates including once-banished Kelley Ann Conway regularly appear on news shows to spew the latest "official" White House version of events, only to be contradicted hours later by other surrogates.  When one fails to be convincing, even more able liars like Sarah Huckabee Sanders are trotted out with brand new updated smoke and mirrors, saying anything they can to obfuscate the truth and confuse the issue.  Journalists are having a field day trying to keep up with all the twists and turns in the story.

     Meanwhile all that grandiose rhetoric about “making America great again” is echoing down empty corridors.  Nothing much is getting done in that regard. The Great American Experiment has gone off the tracks and is barreling toward a chasm of self interest and coverup, dug by those occupying the highest offices in the land.  Someone with courage and conviction and a knowledge of the Constitution and governmental checks and balances needs to grab the helm and direct our country back onto the road that the Founding Fathers set us on some 241 years ago. Unless that happens we as a country are headed for certain destruction.

Friday, March 17, 2017

What's In YOUR Wallet?

    As anybody who has reached a certain age can tell you, the older you get the harder it is to remember things.  It could be that our brain cells are wearing out and just aren't as nimble as they used to be.  Or it could be that we have tried to pack too much information into what is most certainly a limited storage space in our head.  By the time you've reached middle age, you have already had to remember a vast amount of information such as all the names of all your children's teachers from kindergarten through high school; passwords for 27 different accounts and systems that you only log into once every six months; how to do every job you've ever worked at since the age of 16; the birthdates of all your friends and relatives and their favorite colors; all the state capitols that you memorized in the 7th grade; how to program a VCR in the 1980s; combinations of 11 different combination locks used at various times in your life - the list goes on and on. 
    It's time to admit that your memory bank is maxed out.  You just can't cram one more bit of information in there if you tried, so you resort to cheating.  You write down your passwords in a secret location, even though every security expert advises against it.  You start leaving yourself post-it notes in conspicuous places.  You call yourself on the phone and leave yourself messages to remind you of appointments.   You set reminders on  your cell phone and your tablet, and write them on your calendar.  You find a hundred different ways to compensate for your dwindling capacity to remember things.
      Personally, I take this even further.  For random bits of information that I just may need someday, I have resorted to the habit of writing them on small slips of paper and sticking them in my wallet.  My wallet is in the same condition as my memory bank - it is already jammed full of too much stuff.  First, there are the normal things everybody carries: a few odd pieces of paper money, which takes up hardly any space at all;  my driver's license; credit cards; insurance cards, stamps, and receipts from my latest purchases.  There's a library card, courtesy cards from stores that I frequent, a few business cards from local businesses and my doctors.  But now there's a stack of papers containing random bits of information that started out small but seems to be growing:  one slip of paper contains the names of my senator and state representative, in case I feel the urge to contact them.  Another contains the name of a rare medical condition that a friend told me she has.  There are a couple business cards of new acquaintances at church who I readily admitted I would not be able to remember their names to.  One slip contains the brand and size of aquarium filter I use. Another contains the row and seat number of my husband's season ticket at the local high school football stadium.  I used to have one that held the brand name and size of xylophone mallets that my son wanted me to buy in the 8th grade.  I kept that one for about 3 years before tossing it.   For the last 3 months I have been carrying  around a product warranty card written in hilarious Ching-lish that I will pull out in case I ever need something to entertain somebody with.  I also have a want ad for a job that I decided I could not afford to leave my current job to take, but I'm saving it in case something happens to change my mind.  (I'm sure the job will be long past filled by then.)   And last but not least I have the "I Love Voting" sticker that was handed to me at the polls in the last election, to remind myself that even thought I did not like the election outcome, we still live in a country where we have the right and the privilege of voting for our government officials.
     My wallet is more than just a place to carry money.  It's a depository of bits and pieces of my life, some important and critical, some random and perhaps unimportant.  But you never know when you're going to be stuck in an broken down elevator with three strangers, and need to lighten the mood and kill some time by pulling out that hilarious Chinese-butchered-English product warranty manual.  It's certainly worth carrying it around for five years, just in case!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Signs of Spring....Robins, Taxes, and New Grandbabies

    It's been awhile since I have posted on this blog. I apologize for that, but I have been so befuddled by the antics in Washington of our newly elected officials that I haven't been willing or able to comment on that or anything else. There are just so many crazy things going on right now, it's beyond my ability as a mere amateur to provide any meaningful insight. I will leave that up to the professionals, who are having a tough enough time making any sense of it themselves.
    But that unhappy situation for the professional frees me up to focus on more lighthearted topics, like the impending coming of spring.  February's unseasonably warm weather in this part of the country has heralded an early return of one of the earliest signs of spring - the appearance in our yards and neighborhoods of robin redbreast! I saw 5 or 6 of them while out and about today. The warm weather of late has brought them back north a bit early.  (For those outside of the U.S. who may not know, "robin redbreast" is a cheery little grayish bird with bright orange underbelly and breast feathers that return to these parts every spring.)  Unfortunately the summer-like temperatures we enjoyed a few weeks ago have reverted to more seasonal winter-like weather. The robins looked rather chilly hopping about in the snow today. I hope they can find enough food and warmth to survive the next few nights which are predicted to drop down into the teens, with more snow on the way  Hopefully the blizzard which is predicted to hit New York will bypass us and the warmer temps will return soon.
     Along with robin redbreast, another sure sign if spring is the looming April 15th deadline for filing our taxes. Tax day seems to roll around more quickly every year. (Didn't  we just do this???) I hope you have your paperwork in order and the tax gods smile on you.
     I have vowed never to turn this blog into grandma's brag book but I would be amiss not to mention the birth of my first grandchild last month. For those who have experienced it, you know what I'm talking about.  Pure joy!  There is nothing else like it!  Seeing your children have children of their own is a fascinating thing and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. I hope you indulge me for bragging just this once!   
    I've heard it said the a new baby is God's affirmation that the world should go on.  Even with the crazy shenanigans going on in Washington and the whole world seemingly in an uproar, we can still take solace in the sure knowledge that, just like last year and every year before it, spring is on the way, with robins, daffodils, and walks around the block with new grandbabies to look forward to.  As mixed up as the world sometimes seems, the circle of life continues, as sure as birth and taxes.  God has affirmed that life in all it's craziness and beauty should go on.  Hope your spring turns out to be wonderful, as I'm sure mine will be.

photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/Jillian-McKenzie-Photography-165381480265318/

   
    

Friday, February 3, 2017

Old Protest Song Seems New Again


      For some odd reason, I woke up this morning with this old Pete Seeger song in my head.  The words used to seem kind of corny, but in this new political climate they seem oddly appropriate.  If someone would make a new recording, they could have a hit on their hands, and it could become a new rallying cry for the "opposition."  The popular version in the 1960's was recorded by Pete, Paul, and Mary.

If I Had A Hammer

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land, uh

If I had a bell
I'd ring it in the morning
I'd ring it in the evening
All over this land
I'd ring out danger
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land, oh

If I had a song
I'd sing it in the morning
I'd sing it in the evening
All over this land
I'd sing out danger
I'd song of out a warning
I'd sing out love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land, oh

Well, I've got a hammer
And I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing
All over this land
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's a song about love between
My brothers and my sisters
All over this land
It's a hammer of justice
It's a bell of freedom
It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I Feel Like I'm Losing My Country Because....

   Maybe you've been listening with me to a new radio program on NPR called "Indivisible Radio." It's  a call-in talk show designed so that listeners of all political persuasions  can join in and discuss their reactions to what's going on during the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Tonight's host stated that he's heard both Republicans and Democrats alike express the feeling that they are "losing their country", so tonight's theme was "I feel like I'm losing my country because____________."  (Fill in the blank.)
     It's  easy for me to answer that. I grew up in the sixties. Back then every school child by the age of 8 knew  the stories of our two greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  We celebrated both their birthdays in February by having class parties, eating cherry pies or cookies, and retelling their stories. The teachers tacked up the same dime store cutouts of their faces on the bulletin boards every year, but the tales of their stellar character never faded.  For Washington, it was how as a boy he cut down his father's favorite cherry tree. Upon being questioned about it, he answered with complete and utter honesty. "I cannot tell a lie. Yes, I cut it down."
     For Lincoln, it was how he walked many miles to return the book he had borrowed from a neighbor.  His honesry was so legendary he earned the nickname "Honest Abe."
    Of course we learned the other details of their lives as well:  of Washington's brave leadership during the Revolution, and how Lincoln steadfastly steered the country through the tumultuous Civil War. But as children we were most impressed with the simple stories of the character they displayed as boys.  It was this sterling moral character that made them great leaders of our country during times of trouble and distress. They both seemed to possess an inner compass that enabled them to stay the course and determine the right action to take in times when others may not see the clear path.  Washington and Lincoln are considered two of our greatest presidents because  of their honesty, integrity, and courage.  Can we say the same of any of our current leaders today? I'm sure there are some honest politicians in Washington today, but I do not see these  traits in our highest elected officials. "I feel like I'm losing my country"....... because we no longer hold up the high ideals of honesty, integrity, and courage like we once did. We no longer look for leaders with great character who will lead us through any storm. Now we settle for the one who promises us the biggest payback for our vote. We base our political choice on how we think it will affect the stock market and our own bank account.  We look for the leader who promises to put us ahead of the pack and focus on our interests before the interests of others.  And politicians running for office promise us the world and brag about their own popularity despite their moral lapses. ("I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone....")
    May we make it through the next four or eight years with our country more or less intact, having learned a hard lesson that character does count when it comes to electing our leaders. And may the dark period we are now experiencing help new leaders emerge who have a better moral compass and a sense of what is right and good for our country as a whole and the world in general.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What is True American Greatness?

     We all know them: the neighbor guy who spends all his time working so he can amass more "toys" and is so preoccupied with himself that he doesn't even know your name.  And then there are the relatives who can't let you forget about their fabulous vacations and luxurious lifestyle, but who never give a cent to a charity organization. These people have the best of everything. They lack for nothing materially, but would you consider them "great?" Of course not. They may have fashioned successful lives for themselves, and there is nothing wrong with being materially successful in and of itself, but they do absolutely nothing to enhance the lives of others.  No one would describe them as "great".
     True greatness is hard to define, but  when we think of a great individual we think of someone  who has done extraordinary things for the good of others. America's "Greatest Generation" is defined by journalist Tom Brokaw as those men and women, many of whom are still with us, who put aside their own plans for themselves and gave large parts of their lives to fight tyranny in World War II. They were common, ordinary  Americans but when called upon to make sacrifices to ensure freedom and democracy were safeguarded at home and abroad, they did so willingly and unselfishly.
     The dictionary has various definitions for the word "great" but the one that applies particularly well is "notable, remarkable, exceptionally outstanding." When America was at its greatest was when we were standing up to defend freedom and the rights of those who could not defend themselves, or when we showed great courage in the face  of adversity. Think "Civil War and the abolition of slavery."  Think of Ronald Reagan saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Think of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Think of U.S. soldiers liberating the prisoners at Dachau. Those are examples of true greatness in Americans.
     A country could have a zero crime rate, the most highly educated citizens, the best health care, the most wealth, and the lowest unemployment rate and not have any traits of greatness. If we are only concerned about ourselves and the quality of our own lives, we are not being "great", we are only being self centered. True greatness means wanting the best not just for yourself, but for all people, not just materially but spiritually.  It means wanting others to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of their definition of who "God" is, what they think "marriage " looks like, and where they came from. True greatness puts aside  self interest and works for the good of others.  I'm not sure when some people think America stopped being great, but if we want to be great "again" we need to look beyond ourselves, stay engaged with the rest of humanity, and resist the temptation to be concerned only with our own happiness.. Isolationism  will not make us great, it will  only make us self absorbed and irrelevant to the rest of the world.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Melania Watching Begins

     Okay, maybe the world is not going to end now that Donald Trump will occupy the Oval Office, at least not immediately anyway, which means we're going to have some time time to observe the royal family,...ahem, I mean "first" family for awhile, until Armageddon sets in. I've especially enjoyed seeing how Melania, Donald ' s Slovenian born wife, handled herself during the inaugural festivities today. At this moment the Trump family is in the reviewing stand watching the inaugural parade, so we've only had a glimpse of her wearing one outfit so far, a stunning powder blue suit reminiscent of styles and colors worn by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy during her stint in the White House. I can imagine Melania months ago sitting down with her wardrobe team, looking over pictures of past first ladies on inauguration day.

    "How about this one?  This is Mamie Eisenhower."
    "No, not that one. She looks kind of frumpy."
     "Here's Rosalyn Carter."
     "Too plain. I don't like the boots."
      "Lady Bird Johnson was  very elegant."
       "Red's not my color."
        "....and here's Jackie Kennedy..."
       "That's it! I love it! Make me look like her!"

     And so a look was born.   I have to admit, Jackie immediately sprung to mind when I saw the boxy suit with the matching long gloves and hair pulled back in a chignon. She pulled it off very well. 
     Although she is a former fashion model and should be comfortable in front of the camera, Melania does not seem to seek the public eye. She appeared very little with her husband during the campaign. Today she seemed nervous coming down the steps to face the crowd. Maybe she knows her husband is not that popular and is apprehensive about filling the roles vacated by a hugely popular president and First Lady. The demands of the First Lady are really quite simple. Stay in the background and look nice. That's all that's really required, though many First Ladies choose to use their position to champion a favorite cause.
     Melania will surely find her way and grow into the role.  She has four years to make herself at home in the White House and decide how involved she wants to be in the public discourse. If nothing else, she will surely be a fashion icon and be a beautiful and elegant distraction from the sometimes ugly business that is politics.