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"Few people know the predicament we are in..." General George Washington -January 14, 1776

January 14, 1776. George Washington had another sleepless night. Encamped on the rolling green hills of Boston, he looked out over the harbor and saw British ships in control of the seas. King George III had declared all-out war on the colonies and ordered more ships to the continental shore. In the New England army, food supplies dwindled, gunpowder was in short supply, and "camp disease" killed hundreds of soldiers. The two armies were in a stand-off with no end in sight.

Washington had one hope. That hope relied on an impossible scheme proposed by a young book-seller turned junior officer named Henry Knox. A handful of Green Mountain boys from Vermont had captured British-held Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in upper state New York. Inside the abandoned fort were cannons, mortars, and cannon balls; total tonnage was estimated to be 120,000 pounds. Henry's idea was to haul the artillery from upper state New York to the hills of Boston, a distance of 300 miles. He hoped to accomplish this by floating the weapons 40 miles over lakes and then drag them by giant sleds over a cover of snow, cross the ice-covered Hudson River, and trek through the Berkshire Mountains and onto Boston. It could be some indication how desperate General Washington had become when he agreed to the plan.

Knox described the journey as one of "utmost difficulty." Immediately, one boat hit a rock close to shore and sank. The industrious crew was able to haul it up from the bottom, patch it, and restart their expedition. Men rowed the boats against strong headwinds. On December 17th they arrived at the southernmost tip of Lake George, a body of water connected to Lake Champlain. Awaiting them were 42 heavy sledges and eighty yoke of oxen. All they needed was snow. None came. Finally, on Christmas day, three feet of snow fell. They slogged through the drifts and arrived at the shores of the Hudson River. To their dismay, it had only a skim of ice on the surface. Time was wasting, but all they could do was wait. In early January, the temperatures plummeted. Cautiously, they moved onto the river. The ice broke and one large cannon sank to the bottom of the river bed. Undaunted, Knox and his men managed to haul the cargo up onto a sled. Now they encountered the steep slopes of the Berkshire and precipitous valleys. 

News spread of the remarkable parade of sleds snaking through the countryside. Knox and his crew arrived in Boston without the loss of one cannon. Pulitzer-prize winning author David McCullough wrote, "hundreds of men had taken part and their labors and resilience had been exceptional. But it was the daring and determination of Knox himself that had counted above all."

As I read McCullough's book 1776, I came to realize how easily history could have changed. Without Henry Knox's daring initiative, the British could have taken Boston and marched on through the colonies. Thomas Jefferson might never have written the Declaration of Independence and this land would have remained a British colony. 

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Time Machine at Dawn

Death first smacked me one day walking to school. I was a Shirley Temple-type kid with blond banana curls and wide, innocent eyes. Back in the olden days, neighborhood children walked to school with not a responsible adult in sight. In fall, I shuffled through dried leaves piled up on sidewalks, picking up horse chestnuts along the way. One spring day, I saw my first baby robin lying dead on the sidewalk. Teachers may have noticed that I looked somber that day. None could have guessed what images danced in my head.

Poor baby robin! His lifeless body lay flat on the cement, surrounded by broken pieces of pale blue eggshells. He never had a chance to breathe fresh air or to fly or to eat a worm. I honored that dead chick. I gently picked up bits of eggshells and put them in my pocket. Many years later, robins taught me another lesson.

Propped up by bed pillows, I gazed down at my infant daughter. In the darkness before dawn, I nursed this little one and longed to sleep-strange how loneliness creeps in at these moments. A bird song broke the silence. This solitary robin sensed the sun edging upward and announced the arrival of a new day. Gratitude touched my heart. Miracles awaited me. I watched my little one discover her dimpled hands. Perhaps today she would smile at me for the first time.

Now I am a grandmother and still wake up before dawn. It is dark, but I listen and wait for the first song from our friendly robin. That sound twangs my heart and acts like a time machine—zipping me back to old Cape Cod, to our starter home with weathered shingles and picket fence. In my mind's eye, I picture little children playing in the sandbox and our collie pup romping in the backyard. Those children have grown, moved away, and have lives of their own.

Life seems to be all about change, but I believe some things never change.I believe that nature draws us toward beauty and the transcendent nature of life. I believe that God's love is immutable, like the chirp of a robin at dawn.

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"Don't look at the screen!" shouts Elastigirl.

Incredibles 2 opened last week to glowing reviews and full movie houses. Robert and I took the plunge and went opening night at our favorite cinema- Narrow Gauge in Farmington. Popcorn and soda are under $4.00 there; summer vacation was about to begin. The theatre was packed with high-spirited young people. We settled in our seats, prepared to watch superheroes vanquish the villains.

Sure enough, Elastigirl jumps on a hovertrain that is traveling backwards, soon to crash into a populated city. Our curvaceous heroine stretches her way to the cab, makes herself into a parachute to stop the train, and confronts the engineer. She is shocked to discover that he appears hypnotized, exhibiting wide, unblinking eyes. A pulsating light on the monitor catches her attention, "Welcome back Elastigirl-The Screenslaver."

The next day, Elastigirl appears on a television talk show to tell of her hair-raising train adventures, interviewed by a cool dude name Chad. Suddenly, Chad's eyes glaze over and he talks in a robotic monotone. She follows his eyes and sees a blinking light on a screen. Elastigirl looks away just in time to prevent succumbing to the hypnotic spell of Screenslaver. Robotic Chad declares that everyone is being controlled by screens! Elastigirl shouts, "Don't look at the screen!"

I leaned over and whispered to my husband, "Can you believe this?"Yes, the villain was a person who invented computer screens to hypnotize unsuspecting victims. The villain has advanced hypnotic skills. Sound familiar? If you read my posts on the book Glow Kids (which you really should) you would get the connection. Now I am not saying computers are evil. Certainly, they can be put to good use, but as Elastigirl discovered, they can cast a spell.

So here we have a mainstream box office hit portraying computers with powers to hypnotize. Three days later, I flip on the car radio and hear a news headline. The World Health Organization announced that studies are showing digital screen addiction to be a major health risk. The report warns that too much screen time can damage both physical and mental health, trapping adolescents into sedentary life styles. One media source wrote "adolescents are effectively slaves to their hand-held devices." Slaves? Like Screenslaver?

That being said, I do not want to be a party pooper. Go see Incredibles 2. It is highly entertaining, well-made, and funny. My favorite movie reviewer, Steve Greydanus of decentfilms.com gave it a B+. And he is a hard marker! 

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The Not-So-Perfect Father and His Famous Son

Breezing Up is one of Winslow Homer's most famous paintings. It depicts a father out sailing with his three sons in choppy seas. Father is holding the mainsail tightly and his younger son is steady at the tiller. All of them appear relaxed as they look toward the horizon-a device used by the artist to express hope. In real life, Homer's father was anything but a steady hand at the sail.

Born in Boston (1836), Winslow Homer was the second of three sons born to Charles and Henrietta Homer. By all accounts, Winslow had a happy childhood and maintained average grades in school. Early on it became obvious that the young man had artistic ability. Dad ran a hardware store and mom kept the home fires burning. Henrietta was a gifted watercolorist and nurtured the talent of her middle son. One day, all this stability was disrupted. Charles Homer had a brilliant idea-he would head west to make a killing in the California Gold Rush. Unfortunately, this scheme did not pan out and he returned home, but not for long. Charles had another brilliant idea. This time he hopped an ocean liner to Europe in hopes of making money real quick. Once again, Charles met with failure.

At this point in the story you might be thinking that Charles was not the best of fathers. Upon his return home, Charles checked the Help Wanted section of the local newspaper and had another idea. A Boston lithographic firm was looking for an apprentice. The light bulb went off again. Winslow was 19 years old and looking for work. To Charles, it sounded like a perfect fit and he made arrangements for his son. This was a pivotal moment for young Winslow. For two years, he worked on covers for sheet music and soon launched a successful career as an illustrator for magazines.Harper's Magazine assigned him to illustrate battle scenes from the Civil War. This was not an armchair job. He was in the frontlines, where he sketched camp life and battle scenes, a dangerous and exhausting assignment.

Slowly but surely, Winslow Homer honed his skills as a painter, using the difficult medium of watercolors. In 1883, he moved to Prout's Neck, Maine where he established a studio 75 feet from the sea. Here he painted iconic seascapes of turbulent storm-tossed seas crashing the rocky shore of Maine. Critics called him the "Yankee Robinson Crusoe" and "hermit with a brush'.

In this move to Maine, Winslow entered another phase of his life. He lived in the family compound with his aging father. For more than a decade, he cared for his father, accepting these responsibilities and sacrificing time away from the easel.

Today, Winslow Homer is remembered as one of the foremost painters in 19thcentury art. In this brief story, we remember the impact his not-so-perfect father had upon Winslow's career and the loyalty of a son to his aging father.

Several years ago, The Portland Museum of Art purchased and renovated Homer's studio on Prout's Neck. The museum now offers the grand opportunity  to visit  this historic landmark, offering shuttle service. Not too long ago my husband had an idea for my birthday. One lovely June morning, we rode in a swank Mercedes Benz van to visit the site, standing on rocks where the great painter stood. I wonder if Winslow Homer contemplated the stormy seas of nature and of life, as I did on that early summer day.

Here is my favorite Winslow Homer quote: "What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way." 

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Miraculous Remedies?

Here is the good news. Yes, there really are miraculous remedies for those trapped by electronic addiction. In Glow Kids, Dr. Kardaras shares hopeful stories of successful interventions. In his work with severely addicted clients he writes of one "who was slowly killing herself with crystal meth addiction, had the most amazing and transformative experience when she took a slow, mindful beach walk and just experienced a spectacular sunset." Kardaras describes her healing as a "shift" in which this self-destructive addict felt a deeper connection with the universe and herself.

It is amazing to read Kardaras' last chapter of Glow Kids, entitled "The Solution". I have always believed that it was important for kids to get outside and play. Now I read that there actually is a term "nature deficit disorder". We human beings are hard-wired to feel connected with nature. Kardaras has witnessed "something truly magical and potentially life-changing when a disconnected kid connects with the natural world."

"The Solution" has specific advice on weaning a young person from video games, texting, and Facebook addiction. Parents can't just yank the plug and watch their kids twiddle their thumbs. There needs to be fun alternatives. An advocacy group, The Alliance for Children has wise advice. They recommend nature exposure and unstructured play. It is also critical to maintain loving communication with your children. Find what your child enjoys. Get them involved in sports, bike riding, running, music, drama, painting, or crafts. An appendix has a bullet list of warning signs for tech addiction and strategies for digital detox.

Out in my own garden, I thought about Glow Kids and had a deeper appreciation for digging in the dirt and pulling up weeds. I felt the sun on my face and swatted a few mosquitoes. I thought about my own summers as a child. From sunup to sundown, we were outside playing with the neighborhood kids, climbing trees, bouncing balls, playing hopscotch, and jumping rope. I would not see an adult for hours until Mom rang the bell for lunch.

I worry that the current generation will not know of a childhood like this. Dr. Kardaras gave me hope. Here is a closing statement. "Health and happiness are indeed possible in a tech-saturated world; we just have to be informed and be careful about the traps -lest we-and our children-fall in too deep."

I highly recommend this book to parents, grandparents, and anyone who cares about the future of our children. 

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