Unfinished business

My writing has stalled over the last few weeks, both because of the Christmas holidays and because of the political and social turmoil from our recent election and its aftermath.

In the next few days, I hope to continue my posts on socialism. I have at least five more to write: “education: privilege or right?” “the Cold War and socialism,” “socialism and totalitarianism,” “socialism, capitalism and race,” and, “the freedom of free markets.” I also need to compose a concluding, draw-it-together post. Then I can start editing what I have written, including helpful comments from several of you readers, with the intention of eventually publishing it as a book.

Meanwhile, I have several other books in the pipeline. In 2017-2018, I had twelve posts about the twelve days of Christmas; then, in December 2018, I had a series of Advent posts. I had hoped to combine these into a book last fall, but things slowed down with the other book I was writing. So I edited and printed those posts and used them as family devotions over Advent and Christmas. Now I’ve set that work aside for a few months, but next summer or early fall I’ll pull it out again, edit one more time, and send it to the publisher.

During the quarantine last spring I typed up some presentations I had made in previous years called “Witnesses to the Passion.” Each told the account of our Lord’s suffering and crucifixion from a different point of view: Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the soldier at the cross, the young man who ran away, and so on. I plan to compose two more presentations—a Temple guard who witnessed the arrest and trials of Jesus and was also posted to guard his tomb, and Thomas the apostle. Then I need a good introduction, and I can send this work to the publisher.

I also have two projects to begin writing. The first will be a series of devotions parallel to the witnesses of the Passion but looking more at items involved in the Passion: the thirty pieces of silver, the crown of thorns, and so on. I have not yet made my list of details to cover, but I hope to have at least forty, to make a Lenten devotional book. No doubt I will share some of those chapters as posts. The second was suggested by a woman in my Bible class. She says I ought to write a book about love: what the Bible means by love, how love is understood (and misunderstood) in our culture, and how to respond to our culture’s distorted versions of love. I’m a bit nervous about that book—it would possibly strike some people as intolerant, which certain people will not tolerate, as we all know. Perhaps that is all the more reason for me to write it.

Meanwhile, we still wrestle with issues related to the election and to the really stupid and futile response last week. Efforts by Democrats and the mainstream media to link every Trump supporter and every conservative to violence in the Capitol could, in a worst-case scenario, lead to repression of the conservative viewpoint—arrests, loss of jobs, being denied access to social media, and the like. With that in mind, I still want to risk two additional posts beyond the socialism posts I have mentioned. One would explore the possibility of the United States turning to a five-party system; the other would analyze voting fraud in the last election and would ask if it was illegal but not immoral.

There’s no telling what the future will bring. But these are my writing plans for the immediate future. J.

Christmas in Chicago, 1905





From left to right—front row: my grandmother Cora, her sister Ruth, and their brother Clarence. Second row: their cousin Christian, their grandmother Pauline, and their uncle Christian.
The photographer was probably my great grandfather Adolph. My great grandmother Clara died a few months before this picture was taken.

Maybe now I can cheer up…

“So, J., what did you do this weekend?”

Well, aside from church and sleeping and eating, I also moved some chairs around the house. You see, I’ve got this comfortable chair that we bought when we moved into the house some years ago. It was my main chair for watching television. I’ve seen many movies from that chair. I watched the Chicago Cubs win the World Series while sitting in that chair. When this year’s virus crisis kept us from gathering in family groups, I watched my daughter get married while sitting in that chair. When the sirens were blowing, I generally sat in that chair and watched the television coverage of where the storms were hitting and who needed to take cover. (One tornado came within a mile of our house while I was sitting in that chair.)

This spring we replaced the carpeting in that room and ended up redesigning the room. We got rid of our old AV storage and replaced it with new shelving, and at the same time we mounted the television on the wall. Now the family sofa is centered in front of the TV, and my old comfortable chair had retreated into a corner. I rarely sat in it any more. I decided this weekend to move that favorite chair into the library/reading room and put the chair I had been using there into the corner of the den/television room.

I am not as possessive of that chair as Archie Bunker was of his favorite chair. Other members of the household—including cats—have used that chair without any objection from me. Even when it was a new show, I recognized All in the Family as political propaganda, an attempt to persuade Americans that conservative politics are inevitably linked to racism and intolerance. Fifty years later, many Americans still believe that message. So please do not mistake me for Archie Bunker, even if I do have a favorite chair.

Also, I helped my daughter with some body work on her car. Four years ago, she was legally stopped at a stop sign shortly before midnight, and a white pickup truck took the corner too wide and struck her fender. The driver was, of course, uninsured. All these years she has been driving a car with a dented fender, and the rust was increasing on the fender. So, she did some research about the cost of replacement. All along she and I assumed that the work would need to be done at a body shop and would cost several hundred dollars. Last week, though, my daughter found the part for her car available online for sixty dollars, and she found a YouTube video showing how to replace a fender. So, I helped—but she did most of the work. It took a long time to get the old fender off—it would have been far easier if the car was put on a rack and the wheel was removed, because many of those bolts are hard to reach with the wheel in place. We finally got it off, though, and got the new piece in place. She is very happy to be driving a car that is less damaged than it was. She has requested new seat covers as a Christmas gift.

Oh, and this weekend I also published my latest book on Kindle and Amazon. My writing project for 2020 was The Child of Light and the Black Dog: Depression and Christian Faith. The publishing effort was a struggle that took part of Saturday and part of Sunday, because the publishing software didn’t like my files. (Also, the car repair took some time away from wrestling with the publisher.) The book is finally available, though—three dollars for the Kindle version and six for the print version.

With the book finally out of the way, I hope I can escape the cloud of darkness that hovered over its writing. Of course the election is looming on the horizon; but once that is decided and out of the way, perhaps a cheerful holiday season is on its way. J.

Update

If one watches the Star Wars movies in the order in which they were made, one sees the ‘droid R2-D2 gain additional abilities and features in each movie, as scriptwriters thought of more ways to use him in their stories. But if one watches the same movies in the order they are numbered, one sees that R2-D2 loses many abilities from his arsenal between episodes three and four. Many of the things he could do in the prequels were missing from his capabilities when we meet him again in Star Wars: A New Hope. The usual explanation for this change is, of course, a Microsoft update.

My desktop computer had a Microsoft update this week. I was editing my book when a pop-up informed me that an update needed to be installed, asking if I wanted to do the update now or schedule it for later. I scheduled it for 12:15 the next morning, and when I finished my editing for the day I made sure to save the file and close it, hoping that the update would not interfere with the book.

The only obvious change to the desktop computer since the update is that the ribbon across the bottom of the screen is pale blue, whereas before it was a darker color. But, as is always the case with Microsoft updates, I have faced other glitches along the way. Thursday, after the update, I composed nearly half of a three-page paper I would need this weekend. When I returned to the computer on Friday, that composition was missing; the computer had no recollection of any unsaved work. This morning, I had to recreate and then finish Thursday’s work. Fortunately, my outline and research were vivid enough that I was able to create the entire paper on deadline and suffer no consequences. But I then had to restart the computer to help it find the printer; before the restart, the computer sent the file somewhere, but the printer sat idle. During the restart, the printer found and printed the file.

My experiences bring to mind, not only R2-D2 of Star Wars, but also a story told by Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway had several unfinished works in his possession when he died in 1961. One of them, the novel Garden of Eden, was edited and published roughly 25 years later. It was then made into a movie. While looking at other things on the computer this month, I came across a description of the movie and decided to buy it. While I waited for it to arrive, I reread the novel. (Spoiler alert) The main character in the novel is recently married, and his bride is eccentric to the point of mental illness. She delights in the knowledge that he is writing memoirs about their honeymoon, but she resents any other writing on his part that does not include her. During that honeymoon, the character also writes a short story based on a hunting expedition he and his father shared years earlier in Africa. The key event of the novel is that the author’s wife burns the story he has written. At first he despairs, saying that once he writes a story, it has left his mind and cannot be recreated. (And he knows that this story was one of his better works.) But, at the end of the novel, he finds that he can write the story a second time, and the new writing is as good as the original, if not better.

This morning was not the first time I have needed to recreate something I had written. Years ago, when I was working with a much older computer (one of the two computers Noah had with him on the ark), I finished a three-page paper, reached out my hand to turn on the printer, and instead flipped off the power switch for the entire computer set-up. I switched it back on immediately, but the paper was gone, erased, completely forgotten by the computer because of that brief loss of power. I had to type it again from the beginning. Again, I was able to write essentially the same paper in less time; where it was different from the original, it was probably better.

Now it is time for me to return to my current book and see what, if anything, the Microsoft update has done to that file. J.

Stowaway

I picked up a stowaway on my way to work this morning. (Oddly, the word “stowaway” would not come to mind for the longest time. I thought of “hitchhiker,” but that didn’t fit the situation. Next I thought of “smuggler,” but that wasn’t right either. What is it called when one smuggles oneself? The word, I finally remembered, is “stowaway.”)

Last night and this morning conditions were cool enough for dew to develop. Therefore, before I could drive to work, I had to clean the windows of my car. I opened the door, set my lunch and phone and badge and mask on the seat, grabbed my squeegee, and went to work. I bought this squeegee at Walmart for two and a half dollars. It’s just like the ones they supply at gas stations for washing windows, and it is very handy for clearing the windows on a day like today.

I had driven more than a mile before the moth appeared. He was not a large insect, less than an inch long, and as soon as I made sure he was not a wasp, I relaxed. Clearly this month did not understand glass and windows, as he persistently tried to exit the car through the windshield. I perceived immediately that this could be a traffic hazard—being distracted by the motion of a moth, I might easily miss seeing something in the road or approaching the road while the car was moving. But I did not want to kill the moth. As he crawled on the windshield, I could see the details of his head and legs and wings. Had he been a mosquito, I might not have been so kind, but I preferred to let the moth escape alive. I knew that even if I tried to snatch him with my hands to toss him out a side window, I was likely to wound him—probably fatally. But I could not do much to help him out of the car while he explored the windshield in front of me.

We spent a minute stopped at a red light, as the moth continued exploring and I continued observing him. Then the light changed and I started forward. The motion of the car startled him off the windshield to my left. Quickly, I pressed the button to open the side window. The moth flew out, and in the next instant I had closed the window again.

In all, this stowaway probably traveled three or four miles by car—probably farther than it ever would travel in a normal lifetime. Its sudden appearance in a new neighborhood could conceivably lead to biological changes in the population that might have results as soon as next summer. Little creatures travel great distances all the time, thanks to human transportation. Sometimes the results can be earthshattering. In this case, though, I think my friendly little moth stowaway will be relatively harmless. J.

Salvageable photobomb

A few years ago, I photobombed a street scene—not intentionally, but just by being at the right place at the right time.

I had given a presentation that morning, so I was dressed nicely—suitcoat, tie, and all that goes with them. I drove back downtown and was walking on the sidewalk toward my office. A car stopped on the street and three young women emerged—high school or college aged. Two of them posed on the sidewalk. Putting their feet close together, holding hands, arcing their arms over their heads, and leaning away from each other, they made the shape of a heart. The third young women snapped their picture, and then they entered a clothing store.

A professional photographer would have spent considerable time arranging the photograph, putting me in the right place to be framed by the heart, making sure the distances were perfect. But it happened so quickly that I could not duck out of the picture, and so I was centered in their heart. I’m sure they had a good laugh when they saw the picture. I wish I could have a copy of it… but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. Maybe they saved the picture; maybe they posted it online; maybe they discarded it. For me, it is merely a memory, the lunchtime when I did a photobomb. J.

Arkansas food traditions

The land now called Arkansas has been inhabited for many generations, and a good number of ways to study and examine the past help to cast light on life in Arkansas then and now. One of the newest subjects to be studied is foodways: what did people eat, how did they obtain it, how did they prepare it, and how did they preserve it? Contemporary Arkansas festivals feature some of the most interesting foodway traditions in the modern world.

Corn (maize), beans, and squash were the primary foods of the earliest dwellers of Arkansas, although they occasionally added meat to their diet. The first European explorers to enter Arkansas were led by Hernando de Soto, who crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in 1541 and died in Arkansas the following year. After de Soto came Jacque Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. These French explorers were responsible for the name of the state of Arkansas. After asking the Illini of the Mississippi River valley who they would meet in their travels south, Marquette and Joliet were told to expect the Ar-kan-saw, which was merely the Illini word for “people who live to the south.” Encountering the Quapaw villages where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi, Marquette and Joliet applied the Illini’s label to the Quapaw, and the name went on to designate the river, the territory (once a county of Missouri Territory), and the state. The first permanent European settlement in the region was Arkansas Post, located near the Arkansas River not far from its confluence with the Mississippi. Arkansas is included in the land acquired by the United States by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and American settlers began to join the Quapaw, Caddo, Osage, French, and Spanish families who already lived on the land.

While some settlers established large cotton plantations in the flatlands of southern and eastern Arkansas, others took to the hills where they lived off the land as best they could. (This is called subsistence farming.) They planted various crops and raised chickens and hogs, but they also gathered berries and fruits from the forests and hunted deer, bear, and anything else that moved and might be edible. The hillbilly image of the Ozark Arkansan is largely shaped by stories (many highly exaggerated) told by travelers who met these hardy pioneers.

Even as Arkansas developed as a territory and then a state, memories remained of the early foods eaten by Arkansas settlers. Among the annual festivals still celebrated in Arkansas today are the Trumann Wild Duck Festival, the Gillett ‘Coon Supper, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival, the Dermott Crawfish Festival, the Arkansas Rice Festival, the Hope Watermelon Festival, the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, the Camden Daffodil Festival, and the Malvern Brickfest, not to mention Conway’s Toad Suck Daze.

Actually, the ‘Possum Festival has a spotted history. Beginning in 1915 as a challenge to neighboring communities, the Polk County ‘Possum Festival had a long and honorable history through the first half of the twentieth century. However, during World War II, when much of the male population was out of state serving in the armed forces, remaining citizens re-established Prohibition, forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although the festival was attempted in 1945 and 1946, it was cancelled in 1947. A brief attempt to restart the festival occurred from 1995 through 2001, but with little success. Evidently for a ‘Possum festival to succeed, more than the meat needed to be marinated. J.

We used to home school

After twenty-five years of service, the Salvageable Family Home School has closed its doors. That’s not bad news—we celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest child and the successful educational paths they all have chosen.

All have been accepted into colleges. All who are not currently enrolled have completed their Bachelor’s degrees in four years or less. They graduated with honors. Two went on to complete Master’s degrees. All of them are currently employed, even during the virus crisis.

Our decision to home school was not made lightly, but in a sense we were led into it. At the time, I was associated with a church that had a private school, and our children were aware of school children outside the house at various times. They were interested in school, and they were mentally ready, but their birthdays put them just past the starting age as set by the state. I knew that schools sometimes made exceptions regarding those dates, but the school leaders said, “If we make an exception for you, we have to make an exception for anyone else who asks.” They did offer a compromise—two years of half-day kindergarten meant for four-year-olds before entering the full day kindergarten meant for five-year-olds. We declined.

We knew a family in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Two of their daughters sometimes watched our children. They were doing well, and we took advice from them. We agreed that we would evaluate the situation year by year and not commit to home schooling all the way through high school. Little did we know that we would be educating our children for the next twenty-five years.

Starting with a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, we began to assemble a home school library.  Saxon Math met our needs in that department, and we found other books that did the job. The summer after we started home schooling I had a job offer and we moved, so there was no pressure to put our children into the church’s school. From time to time we participated in home school cooperatives, but it often seemed that we could accomplish as much at home as we could gain from a cooperative.

One advantage of home schooling is being able to work at the child’s pace. Students who pick up a concept easily do not have to wait for their classmates before moving on to something new; students struggling with a concept can have extra explaining and practice before moving on without hampering anyone else’s education. Also, no time is consumed traveling to and from school or waiting for a bus; that gain in time allows more instruction, more leisure time, or more time to contribute to family chores. Life skills such as cooking and laundry become part of the educational plan. Interesting conversations at mealtime are part of home schooling, and field trips are easy to arrange with little or no planning required.

One concern some people have about home schooling is “socialization”: how will home schooled children learn to make friends among their peers? Home school cooperatives are one answer, church activities are another, and organized athletic events are a third. Several of my daughters took up Irish dancing and have reached the championship level. Moreover, not only in my family but in other home school families I have known, the children are more natural at socializing with people of different ages. They have not spent their days in a room with one adult and a couple dozen children their age.

Not every family should home school. Doing so requires a massive commitment of time as well as a financial investment. Public schools and private schools provide a valuable service for our communities. The irony has not escaped me that we finished home schooling at a time when many families are having their first experience of home schooling. Most will return their children to the public or private schools as soon as they open, but some families—including the students—may be finding value in home schooling. They may be considering continuing the home school experience even when schools reopen. For those in that position, I offer encouragement and best wishes. J.

Explaining cousins

From time to time I’ve noticed fellow bloggers expressing confusion about distant cousins. They will write something like “my second cousin twice removed (whatever that means).” As a professional historian who also assists with genealogical research, I am here to end your confusion.

People who share the same mother and/or father are brothers and sisters. People who do not share a parent but share at least one grandparent are first cousins. (Often, when we say “cousins,” we are referring to first cousins.) People who do not share any grandparents but share at least one great-grandparent are second cousins. People who do not share any great-grandparents but share at least one great-great-grandparent are third cousins. Tracing the human line back to Adam and Eve (or at least as far back as Noah), all people on earth are cousins to some degree, whether they are first cousins or thousandth cousins.

As for the distinction of “once removed” and so on: my first cousins’ children are my first cousins once removed. My first cousins’ grandchildren are my first cousins twice removed. My second cousins’ children are my second cousins once removed. My second cousins’ grandchildren are my second cousins twice removed. And so on. In other words, the levels of removal are differences in generation, even if (as is the case with me) you are closer in age to your first cousins once removed than you are to their parents, your first cousins.

The generational removal can go the other direction as well, but only if the kinship is not closer. For example, the parents of my first cousins are my uncle and my aunt, not my first cousins once removed. But, since the grandchildren of my first cousins are my first cousins twice removed, I am also their first cousin twice removed.

I hope this information is helpful. J.