Sunday, April 13, 2014

Foggy Bottom

I love taking photos and I especially love to take photos in fog.  As most of my readers know, I am a night owl.  I stay up all night and go to bed anytime between 8 am and noon depending on what I've gotten myself into during the night.

On Firday night ----well, Saturday morning ---I decided to go to the 24/7 grocery store.  I decided to leave the house while it was still dark to beat the early-Saturday morning crowds.  When I opened the back door, I was awed by the deep fog.  So I made sure I had my camera.  It was cool ---high 40ºs.  I didn't need to buy much that was cold, only some cheese and yogurt that I figured would last for an extra hour or so.  When I left the store it was barely light out.  I headed toward some back roads and started snapping photos.

These are some of the best ones I took. Click on any image to see larger views. (Then click on the X in the top right to return to this page.)
 I loved this line of bare trees and the sun trying to peek above the evergreen trees on the right.
The branches in the foreground contrast nicely against the hazy barn and trees.
The same broken fence is featured in this black and white photo and the colored photo below.
Same broken fence as above but the photo was framed differently.
A graveyard in front of a small church with the sun trying to break through the fog between tree branches.
These last two are the exact same photo of an old shed. I retained the color on this one and.....
...changed this one to black and white.
I like them both in different ways.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Recent Non-fiction Reads

I almost always have at least one actual book, one audio book on my iPod, and one book on CD in my car going at any one time.  I can read a good book in 2 days or linger over one for several weeks.  I currently have 16 items checked out on my library card, a combination of printed books, audio books, and DVDs.

Looking for a good non-fiction read?  Try these:

The Canals of Mars by Gary Fincke (a memoir)
Gary Fincke, a writer and poet, was the Flannery O'Conner Award winner for short fiction in 2004.

Disclosure: I knew the author when we attended the same high school, although we weren't close friends.

Although I'm sure I would have loved this well-written memoir anyway, what made it doubly enjoyable was that I am the same age as the author and grew up in the same suburb of Pittsburgh. Therefore, many of the locations, happenings, and people were familiar to me. Because I didn't recognize any names near the beginning of the book, I thought the author had changed them, but later I recognized a name I remembered from high school and soon I was reading about many of my high school classmates as elementary, junior, and senior high-school students. 
The memoir is not a continuous story of the author's life but individual episodes from his boyhood, that are related by place and time 
I'm sure many readers will recognize the activities and youthful pranks typical of an era before children were confined to supervised activities 24/7, a time when youngsters roamed the local woods, made up games, and resolved problems between themselves without adult interference. It was an era when parents set high standards that none of us could fully achieve. Although I never met the author's parents, I recognized them in my own mother and father who envisioned the same kind of perfection for me as his parents desired for their son and whose impossible expectations resulted in varying degrees of conformity and rebellion. 
Find this and other Gary Fincke books on the author's Amazon page.


Grant's Final Victory by Charles Bracelen Flood 
I high recommend this and the other books mentioned in this review.
I had recently read historian Geoffrey C. Ward's A Disposition to Be Rich about the author's great-grandfather, Ferdinand Ward, the man who swindled Ullysses Grant (as well as many others) of their wealth, bankrupting the Civil War general and former U.S. President in 1884. Ward, a charming con artist, ran what we now call a Ponzi Scheme, hoodwinking one and all into believing he was a financial genius. 
As a long-time Mark Twain aficionado, I was aware of Twain's part in publishing Grant's memoirs. Grant had been offered a 10% royalty on his proposed book, minus numerous expenses, but Twain offered him an advance and 20% of all sales. In addition, he promoted and sold the book by subscription with a choice of covers, which generated many more sales than would have been possible otherwise. 
It was recommended that everything be placed in his wife's name so that she would receive royalties after Grant's death. Eventually, Grant's wife was paid about $600,000 for Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, the largest amount ever paid (up to that time.) More about the friendship of two great men of the 19th century can be found in Grant and Twain by Mark Perry which covers the struggle of Grant to complete his memoirs and Twain's struggle to complete Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Grant's Final Victory summarizes Grant's early life and the events that led to his bankruptcy at the hands of Ferdinand Ward. However, the bulk of the book tells the moving story of Grant's decision to write his memories and his struggle to complete his life story, centered on his Civil War experiences, before dying of throat cancer, so that he could provide for his family. Grant had difficulty walking after a fall months earlier. He could barely swallow water, let alone eat. He could speak only in a whisper or not at all. Yet he battled on, completing his writing mere days before his death. 
The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant became an immediate best-seller and is still considered to be one of the best military memoirs ever written, sometimes compared to Caesar's The Gallic Wars.
 Find this and other Charles Bracelen Flood books on the author's Amazon page.

Jesus Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman 
Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of Religious Studies and a professor specializing in the New Testament at the U. Of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is a fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute graduate. He was warned against furthering his education at Wheaton College because that Christian school was not "Christian enough." Later those at Wheaton warned him that Princeton's theological program was full of professors who weren't "real" Christians either.
This book is subtitled: "Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)"
For over a century, Biblical scholars at seminaries have known and been teaching about the contradictions in the Bible and how it was written, yet it seems that as soon as ministers are ordained, they are afraid of imparting this knowledge to their congregations. Are they afraid believers will rebel? Are they afraid congregants will begin to doubt? Are they afraid of losing their jobs?
Ehrman expands on Biblical problems discussed in his Misquoting Jesus which explains how Biblical stories were first transmitted orally, then later copied by individual scribes. There was no standardized spelling. Sometimes one person read from a page and several scribes wrote from the oral reading. Some words were written incorrectly resulting in misunderstanding the intention of the test. Some were misheard. Mistakes were made, some accidentally and some to promote a particular view of an early Christian sect. In addition, the literacy rate was extremely low, so almost no one actually read religious papers or texts.
No one knows who actually wrote the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament.  The names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were given to the books to give them the aura of authenticity. Many people believe they are first-hand accounts of Jesus's life, but they were written decades after Jesus's death and most certainly were not eye-witness accounts. Some of the books of the New Testament were forged (claimed to have been written by someone other than the original writer) or misattributed. Scholars believe that only some of the books attributed to Paul were written by him. Besides great differences in style and word usage, several books espouse views in direct opposition to the views in other books that are believed to have been written by Paul. Paul never met Jesus, so most of his writings are mere opinions of what he thought Jesus believed.  
The books that make up the New Testament were chosen and put together in 367 CE ---that's about 4.5 centuries after the death of Jesus. Many religious texts were rejected. And of course, those chosen or rejected where decided upon by a very human committee. 
Ehrman suggests that one should read the Gospels horizontally instead of vertically. One should read each Gospel's story of a particular event (the resurrection for example) side-by-side, instead of reading each complete Gospel from beginning to end, and from the first to the last Gospel. That way, one sees the contradictions and impossibilities in the stories. I would even suggest one try to write a time-line of the individual events of those Biblical stories to determine what happened when and where.  Each Gospel has some differences, some minor and some major. The stories we know as the nativity, crucifixion or resurrection stories are really a compilation of the various stories in the four Gospels ---or sometimes three ---as all four do not relate all of the same events. 
Erhman used to believe in the Bible's inerrancy, but has since come to believe it is a very human book. He understands that the authors lived at different times in different places and each has a different opinion of what may have happened.  
Ehrman writes in an easy manner, making his in-depth scholarship accessible to a wide audience. He is not interested in convincing anyone to give up on religious beliefs, but rather to impart the historical information that has been left out of most Biblical studies or church sermons. Although the author is critical of the withholding of that information to the general public, he is respectful of religion and those who choose to believe. He hopes readers will fully understand and think about how Christianity began and grew based on historical evidence.
 Find this and other Bart D. Ehrman books on the author's Amazon page.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sketchbook Project's Illustration Friday

The Sketchbook Projects Illustration Friday theme for 3/21/14 is "RED."
This is my entry:

"The King of Broken Hearts"

Monday, November 25, 2013

2013 - A Nostalgic Year

Until a few days ago, it had been nearly a year since I have posted on this blog.  I got caught up in several huge projects that ate up nearly all my time.  However, as the year is coming to a close, I am thinking back over the year 2013, but I am also thinking back over the last 50 years. (See my previous post about Kennedy's assasination in 1963.) 

Besides adding two new posts within the last few days, I refreshed my image by creating a new header/banner for this blog.

2013 was a milestone year for me.  It marked 50 years since I graduated from high school, the year I began college, as well as the year JFK was assassinated.

In some ways I can hardly believe 50 years have passed.  Sometimes I look in the mirror expecting to see myself at about age 35 and am surprised to see an older woman staring back at me, one that increasingly reminds me of my mother.

My high school class has had 3 reunions, a 10th, 25th and 50th.  I attended the 10th.  I felt completely out of place.  Few of my best friends attended. I am a very talkative person, but I didn’t seem to know what to talk to people about.  I think, perhaps, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished what others had.  I had gained weight. I didn’t feel  comfortable in my clothes. Now, it seems silly to me, because, for one thing, I realize that every person takes a different path and our successes as human beings have little to do with our jobs or education.  It is all about who we are, who we care about, and how we behave.

And secondly, I had done some good things (graduated from college, become a teacher, got married) and one rather remarkable thing.  I had served for two years in the Peace Corps, teaching in a high school that had opened at my Peace Corps only 3 years before I arrived ---therefore I was teaching teens, but also adults who hadn’t previously had the opportunity to attend high school.

When my 25th came around, I didn’t attend.  I told myself I wasn’t interested, but I think I was afraid my previous uncomfortable feeling would return. By that time, I had divorced, remarried, and was still teaching.

Earlier this year, I offered to help to find people for my 50th reunion.  In 2011, I had searched for members of my Peace Corps group for a reunion in Washington, D.C. to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.  So I figured I had some experience in online searches.  Soon I volunteered to scan our yearbook pictures to create name tags for the reunion, and before I knew it I was creating a private blog for my classmates.

I scanned the entire yearbook. I made a blog post for each of our 254 classmates. I scanned programs and memorabilia from our high school years, and took photos of our now-renovated high school. I posted photos of our city for those who hadn’t been back for years. I scanned articles from our school newspaper when they were about members of our class and, when I found them, I posted obituaries of deceased classmates. (Approximately 14% of our class is gone.) It took me just about every waking minute for three months to create the blog and people are still sending items to post, so the work continues.

At one meeting with a friend on the reunion committee several months before the reunion, I found myself encouraging her to write a bio as was requested by another classmate.  She was feeling as if she hadn’t accomplished anything. As they were received, the bios were sent to the committee, were going to be sent out in a mass email closer to the reunion, and I was posting them on the blog, which didn’t go public until after the reunion.  

Some of our classmates had done pretty remarkable things.  They are doctors, professors, lawyers, and authors. They founded successful companies and made millions. But I told my friend that the first people to respond were the ones who had accomplished great things.  They didn’t even have to think about what to write ---their bios had already been written for other purposes. 

She had been on the commercial tract in high school. Her parents never encouraged her to go to college, which she now regrets.  But I reminded her that she had worked for some of the biggest and most successful international companies with headquarters in our metropolitan area.  When I taught school, there were times when the principal was at a conference for a week and I didn’t even know he was gone.  But if the secretaries were out, the place fell apart.  So she had done important work.  She got married and stayed married and raised two children who both attended college. She and her husband had been able to retire early and had spent several years traveling across the country, something I’m sure others would love to do but most don’t have the courage to do full-time.

Through the bios, I found it interesting that some people turned out just as I had imagined.  B, the high school math wiz, was a mathematics professor.  No one ever expected K to be anything but a doctor.  I knew A would have something to do with physical education or sports ---her dad had been a university coach and it was in her blood. I expected N to become an artist and E to become a nurse. I never did figure out what J had done with his life, but his bio was extremely witty and I remember him as the star of hilarious class skits that he wrote himself.

But some people’s lives took odd turns.  Our 1963 graduating class was full of men who had the choice of being drafted during the Viet Nam war or to enlist.  Many enlisted and ended up staying in military careers.  There were lots of classmates who were in the commercial or general tracts that had no intention of attending college, but many worked for a few years and then decided to earn their degrees. Two women with whom I had walked to high school nearly every day had done so. A woman who I remember as being mostly interested in classical music, ended up with a husband interested in auto racing ---now they sponsor some big-name race car drivers. A woman who had been a close friend in high school is involved with the committee that sponsors rodeos in TX ---a path I never imagined for her. 

So I attended my 50th reunion, was happy to be there, and had a great time. Some of our classmates look like they are 20 years younger than the rest of us.  A few look to be somewhat older than most.  Many have gray or white hair or almost no hair at all, and there are a surprising number of blonds among the women. One guy who had been overweight during high school (and even on the 25th reunion photo) has apparently given all his weight to some of the rest of us. 

I recognized most of my classmates immediately, and if I didn’t, a quick glance at a name tag gave me a name, and then I saw the face from the 1963 yearbook gleaming through. As soon as we started to converse, the years simply melted away. Behind the wrinkles and gray hairs no one had changed much at all.

My only regret is that I didn’t have the time to sit down with every individual to spend an hour catching up.  We’ll just have to stay in touch through the blog.  


A year ago, E, an old friend from college got in touch.  We had been in the art department with me, but he was an “older” student. He had worked and been in the military before attending college.  We went out together once in a while in college, but were never really romantically involved.  So after several phone calls in which we caught up, I took a short drive (about 90 minutes) to visit him one day about a year ago.  We spent an afternoon catching up on old times.

E called me last week to tell me that J was in bad shape and not expected to live. J was another older student who shared a tiny cottage with E at the university.  Like E, J had spent a few years in the military and worked at civilian jobs before college.  J and I also went out sometimes, but again, nothing serious. He was very smart and had in infectious sense of humor. We kept in touch while I was in the Peace Corps and when I returned, he invited me to attend homecoming with him in the fall of 1969.  He was working at the newspaper in our university town. That was the last time I saw him.

In 2000, I had retired from teaching and had signed up with a temp agency to keep myself out of trouble.  I was working at a business that did, among other things, gold leaf application, and they had been contracted to apply gold leaf to the cupola of the old courthouse in the town where I attended college. My boss asked me to call the local paper to see if I could persuade a reporter and photographer to go to the site.  It was a newsworthy story, but would be free publicity for my boss, too.  I told him I knew someone at the paper, if he was still there.  He was.  After we caught up with each other’s lives, J and I got down to the business of my call. As an assistant editor, he sent someone to cover the story.  That was the last time I spoke to him.

But even when I haven’t seen someone for decades, if we were once friends, I know we still are.

A couple of days ago, E called to say J had died, at age 75. I found a lengthy article about him in the town’s newspaper where he had worked for more than 40 years.  The writer interviewed E and also S, another guy I had gone out with in college, but I hadn’t seen since graduation.  J, E, and S, all in the same article. E and I both hate funerals, so we decided not to attend. I found J’s daughter’s address online and sent her a note including my memories of her father, along with a sympathy card.  

So, besides the 14% of my high school class who are deceased, another old friend has passed. And it will only get worse in the coming years.

However, I am still kicking and happy for those old friends who are still alive and well. I’m only sorry I didn’t stay in touch with most of them during the intervening years.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day JFK Died - 11/22/63

When a friend died a few days ago, I read a lengthy online article about him from the newspaper in the town where I attended college. He had worked as a columnist and assistant editor there for 40 years.

I happened to notice that the paper was collecting stories from readers, asking where we had been on November 22, 1963 when we heard the news that Kennedy had been shot.  Below you will find an expanded version of what I submitted to the paper.

I was a Freshman at Indiana State College in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1963.  (The school would become Indiana University of PA before my 1967 graduation.) That year, I had graduated from high school, had a fun-filled summer, started college, made new friends in my dorm, and had met and dated lots of interesting college guys. Most of my classes were rehashes of what I had learned in high school, so I was doing well without having to study much. The fall had remained beautiful and warm until November. It seemed like all was well with the world.  

On November 22nd, I had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning  to study for an 8:00 a.m. mid-term exam, so I took a nap before heading to my 3:00 test. I remember  having an odd dream in which the other girls in the dorm were upset because a war had started.  I think someone heard the news on the radio and ran from room to room to announce that Kennedy had been shot. I probably heard the frantic tones and turned them into the dream.  When I woke, someone told me that the President was dead. 

My family lived in a highly-Republican suburb of Pittsburgh.  In high school, I was the only student in my class to volunteer to take Kennedy’s side in a social studies' class debate.  My friends had teased me on the day before the national election in 1960, because in our school’s mock election, Nixon had won with about 90% of the votes.  

 At 2:30, I walked in a stupor  to the English Department building. The campus Oak Grove had been stunning in all it's autumn beauty just weeks earlier, but by the third week of November, the branches were bare and sad-looking. 

 The professor had not canceled the exam but gave us the option to take it at another time if we were too upset to concentrate. I decided to stay.  It took my mind off the national tragedy that had unfolded in Dallas, at least for an hour.   

 When I graduated from IUP four years later, I honored the memory of JFK by joining the Peace Corps which he had established in 1961. I served in an underdeveloped area of Brazil, living for two years without running water, electricity or a sewage system while I taught English as a foreign language and worked on community development projects. I still consider it the most rewarding experience of my life.  Returning to Brazil to visit old friends and former students in 2011 came in second. 

 On that November day in 1963, the country seemed to have lost its innocense and optimism. However,  I will always remember Kennedy as an inspiring and witty speaker.  And I will forever honor him as the founder of  the Peace Corps which provided me with the best experience of my life and the opportunity to do something important in the world.