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The Quiet Miracle

It was the year 1921 and the place was the Indianapolis Speedway-site of the International Balloon Race. Elmer Cline looked up at the clear blue sky, filled with awe. To be specific, he was filled with "wonder" (his word) at the sight of hundreds of red, blue, and yellow hot air balloons. Now Elmer was no run-of-the-mill fan of hot air balloons. In fact he was the vice-president for Taggart Baking Company, a business in need of a slogan to promote a new loaf of bread. Inspiration struck. Surely, if balloons can fill a spectator with wonder, Taggart's new product could do the same. Wonder Bread was born and with it came an ingenious ad campaign. Taggert trucks delivered helium-filled balloons to children living in the city of Indianapolis. Attached to the balloons were letters inviting families to try their new bread. Elmer's inspiration was a hit and Wonder Bread became a national sensation. In addition to the clever ad campaign, Wonder Bread was a novelty. For the first time consumers could buy pre-sliced bread. If you ever hear the expression-"the best invention since sliced bread"-you now know where it comes from.

Wonder Bread was one of the first baking companies to enhance white bread with vitamins and minerals. Bread enrichment became known as "the quiet miracle", nearly eliminating the disease Beriberi. This is not a trifling event. In researching this post, my sister helped out by sending me photos of this horrible skin disease that looked like the beginning stages of leprosy. As kids, we used to joke about Wonder Bread "building bodies twelve ways." No more jokes from me. If this is not enough to convince you of the wonder in this bread, there is more to learn. Wonder Bread invented a revolutionary way to bake bread without holes. Wait. There's more. In the 1970's, Wonder Bread was one of the first companies to clearly label freshness dates and product ingredients.

So the next time you buy a loaf of sliced bread and read the label for freshness and ingredients, think of Elmer Cline and his sense of wonder at hot-air balloons and the invention of sliced bread. 

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8:46 AM

Ask those old enough to remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 and they will tell you where they were and how they heard. I first heard from a neighbor who called to say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Immediately I thought a small sightseeing plane had gone off course and nicked the towers with a wing. I turned on the television to follow the story. We all sat transfixed in front of the television watching the planes crash into the famous twin towers. Smoke billowed out from the buildings. People jumped from windows. Debris crushed first responders racing to help. To me, it was incomprehensible. I was in shock. Many people felt the same way. Yet some witnesses did find a way to respond. That way was through music. That way was through Mozart's Requiem, his unfinished masterpiece written as the great composer lay dying.

Four months later, in January 2002, a woman sat in a Seattle concert hall listening to the singers perform the requiem. As she listened, a vision came to her. It was a vision of 3,000 singers-one voice for each person lost- circling Ground Zero on Sept 11th, singing Mozart's piece. She shared the vision with chorale members who ran with the idea, although they revised the vision to encompass choirs singing at locations throughout the globe. E-mails were sent out to choirs around the world. Computers lit up as e-mails poured into the Seattle chorale. As one singer said, "It was like Christmas morning." The Rolling Requiem was born-a shining tribute to the power of music to bring people together.

One of the first to respond was a professional choir from Latvia, a country that had suffered attacks for thousands of years. A spokesman said, "We respond with art. We sing against our enemies." And so it was for all the world.

On Sept 11, 2002 at precisely 8:46 AM- the time when the first plane hit the north tower, the requiem began in Auckland, New Zealand. Mozart's music circled the globe, traveling through 20 time zones, each starting at 8:46 AM local time. It involved 40 states and 23 countries, ending in American Samoa 24 hours later.

Back in Seattle, a sell-out concert was performed at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners. Singers wore heart-shaped badges, each bearing the name of one person who died in the terrorist attacks.

The Rolling Requiem was a global phenomenon, testimony to the power of music to bring people together in circumstances that are beyond words. 

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Meet my hero...Jim Trelease.

Back in the 1960's Jim Trelease was a journalist and young father who derived enjoyment reading to his children every night. At that time, he did not know that those moments cozied up on the couch with a good book had many cognitive and emotional benefits for his children. He read because his father read to him –a cherished memory. Jim began to visit classrooms and discovered that the children loved to be read to and to talk about books. Not every classroom had enthusiastic readers, but there were isolated pockets. What classroom environment made the difference? Eventually he solved the mystery. In those classrooms where children loved books, the teacher read to them on a regular basis. He also found that parents and teachers had no idea where to find good books. Jim took the bull by the horns and self-published his first read-aloud book that eventually was published by Penguin Books. On one momentous day, a young parent sent a letter to Dear Abby- the syndicated advice columnist, extolling the virtues of his book. Overnight, Penguin received 120,000 orders. The Read-Aloud movement was born.

Trelease emphasizes the importance of parents reading to their children. Don't wait for miracles from teachers. He looks at the math. Children spend 900 hours a year in school and 7800 hours outside of school. He asks an important question. "Where is more time available for change? Reading aloud is the catalyst for the child wanting to read on his own, but it also provides a foundation by nurturing the child's comprehension." When children like the experience, subject matter, and see their parents reading aloud, they are motivated to read. Trelease emphasizes the importance of fathers reading to their children, frequent trips to the library, and having many books around the house.

I still remember my father talk about his favorite author Albert Payson Terhune and his series of books about dogs. Simple encouragement from dad and I was hooked. One day in fifth grade I opened the top of my desk and hid my head inside while I read, absorbed in Terhune's book, Lad a Dog. Suddenly, I felt a presence looming over me. Miss Palazzi was standing akimbo trying to get my attention. Gulp.

It is the start of the school year, but it is important for parents to foster the love of learning all year round, learning that lasts a lifetime. Start a read-aloud program at your house. It is easy and fun. You don't have to figure out how to do this yourself. His website has free materials and other resources.


Consider buying The Read-Aloud Handbook.You won't regret it. 

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This post is risky...

...because I am writing about the 2004 Boston Red Sox winning the World Series after a drought of 86 years. As many of you know, the 2018 Red Sox have the best record in the major leagues. Mookie Betts is tops in batting average, and J.D. Martinez leads in homers and RBIs. Reds Sox fans are excited, but nervous. Red Sox fans are always nervous, no matter how well the hometown team is doing. They know things can go south quickly. Remember Popeye-gate? Remember Aaron Boone's homer? Remember Bill Buckner's bungled bouncer through his legs? True Red Sox fans carry these moments in their hearts. At best, they can only be cautiously optimistic. Some serious fans will consider this post a jinx. Why mention their beloved team in connection with the World Series? Do most Red Sox fans dare say that they will even make it into the playoffs? No way.

However, I do think it is safe to write about a remarkable book published in 2004. Faithful: Two Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.Those two fans were Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. What I find incredible is the timing of this book. In early 2004, neither knew what lay ahead, not an inkling that an historic summer awaited them. Stephen King's son even questioned why he would waste his time writing about these perennial losers. Still, hope stirred in their hearts. Pitchers Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke were new acquisitions, along with an unproven manager Terry Francona. The table was set; let the writing begin.

O'Nan explained "this book should reflect the depths of our obsession as well as how quickly the tone of a season changes. To get the emotions while they were fresh, the book is in double-diary form…We did our best to have a regular Sox-filled summer…In baring our relationship with the Sox, we hope to illuminate readers' feelings for their favorite teams." It is written in the first person and in the present tense. Even now, a fan can read this book and relive the 2004 season.

They are a quirky pair. O'Nan obsesses over catching foul balls in the stands. King is asked to throw out the first ball at Fenway, but agonizes over whether to accept the offer. After all, the last time he threw out the ceremonial first ball, the Sox lost. We all know how it all ends. The Red Sox reverse the curse, making an historic comeback against the Yankees and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. Giant headlines adorned the Boston newspapers. AT LAST! HELL FREEZES OVER! I remember walking into the supermarket and seeing a huge cardboard photographic image of Sox star Johnny Damon standing in the potato chip section.

I don't know if any Red Sox fan would read this book in the midst of a potentially hopeful season (notice my careful wording). You see, to read the book could possibly be a jinx. I know what you are thinking. To read this post could also be a jinx. The next sentence I say in a whisper so no one hears. If things don't turn out quite the way we kinda, sorta hope, don't blame me. 

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The Perseid Meteor Showers! Don't Miss Them!

 I am the world's worst observer of the Perseid meteor showers. I mark my calendar for its August arrival, wait for dark, and step out onto the porch to study the heavens, joined by my husband, Robert. After several minutes nothing happens, except the buzzing of mosquitoes around my ear. I make the mistake and blink. Robert gasps at the beauty of the first shooting star. He looks into deep space and sees a clean streak of white on the celestial chalkboard. I miss it. I vow to really keep my eyes open this time. My eyes get dry and I have to blink. Zoom! I missed one again. I look to the right and it flashes to the left. I look to the left and it flashes to my right. Next Robert reports that I missed a beauty that appeared behind me. Now my neck is sore. It is time to go inside to take a break, pretending to need a drink of water. Of course, during that time I miss the most spectacular meteor shower of the century.

Every now and then I do get lucky and see flashes across the glittering night sky. Science tells us that we are not really seeing shooting stars, but streams of debris that stretch across the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year, the earth passes through this debris. The debris heats up as it enters the earth's atmosphere, traveling at 37 miles per second. Voila! We have a shooting star traveling from the constellation Perseid, named after the Greek hero Perseus-slayer of monsters.

Another name cropped up when researching this August light show. It is also called "the tears of Saint Lawrence." Every year, the Perseid meteor showers coincide with the feast of St. Lawrence (August 10). He was a Christian martyr who died in the year 258 AD, burned alive on a hot gridiron. Shooting stars represent sparks from that ghastly fire. Cooled embers that landed on earth were called the coals of Saint Lawrence.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke has some recommendations for this celestial event. Go to a dark area with no city lights. It takes 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Plan to sit out there for several hours and watch for meteors appearing at a rate of 60-70 per hour. Make yourself comfortable, take some snacks, and enjoy the show. Friday and Saturday night will be the best viewing. The crescent moon will have set by early evening, thus making it easier to view.

I did learn that the best time to see the show is the pre-dawn hours, which just happen to be my favorite time of day. Guess I'll be up early with a cup of coffee to watch the fireworks. As I gaze into glittering jewels dotting the black sky, my soul is captured by this glimpse at eternity. Now I wait and try not to blink.

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Woodchuck Stew

I write a blog on beauty, an exercise that brings an air of transcendence to my life. In this endeavor, I try to be fair and write about art, literature, music, sports, acts of courage, acts of charity, and nature. Today, I grit my teeth and will try to be tolerant about a four legged creature that raids our garden. This resident groundhog has chewed off green bean leaves and feasted on broccoli and cabbage plants. It is not fair. I diligently till the soil, plant the seeds, weed, and keep it watered. This takes many weeks. Mr. Groundhog emerges from his burrow and heads for our garden, filling up his chubby little jowls with our carefully tended vegetables. In the interest of forgiveness, I decided to put my grudge aside and find something good to write about this mammal. Here goes:

  • His eyes are full and bright.
  • He is a fast runner, especially when pursued by an aggravated gardener.
  • He has a short, bushy tail that acts as a tripod. He does look cute sitting on his haunches surveying our garden, deciding upon his next meal.
  • He makes short, grunting sounds of contentment when eating-glad he's enjoying himself.
  • Babies are called chucklings.
  • He can whistle a high, shrill, birdlike sound resembling music.
  • He is a skilled engineer and builds a network of tunnels underground, including an excrement room, thus gaining him points for cleanliness.
  • The Joy of Cooking reports that woodchuck stew is quite tasty. The author and cook extraordinaire, Irma Bombauer, instructs us to field–dress it, hang the unfortunate victim for 48 hours, skin it like a rabbit, soak it overnight in salted water, and wipe dry. Be sure to remove the 7 to 9 kernel-like glands on his forelegs. Cook like any recipe for rabbit or chicken. I am sure that you would surprise dinner guests when you reveal the secret ingredient.

I was going to be a wise guy and end the post with that recipe. However, I stumbled across an anecdote that actually softened my hard heart toward this voracious nemesis. My source is the late Anna Botsford Comstock, founder and first head of the Department of Nature Study at Cornell University. She states that there are plenty of reports that woodchucks like music. One professor at Wellesley College, a Mr. Ingersoll, confirmed that premise. A woodchuck often was seen on the chapel lawn joining in morning song. I know that you are wondering if our furry friend was an alto or soprano. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he was definitely a "clear soprano." 

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Hitting a baseball as a work of art...

…that is if you have a swing like Red Sox legend Ted Williams. He made it look effortless-smooth yet ferocious, the ball exploded off his bat. It is a swing studied over and over by professional players who watch films and break the motion down frame by frame. How did he become a master of the swing? He recommended using a lighter bat to increase swing speed and hit the ball on an upwards angle. Power-hitting players of today, like Yankee star Aaron Judge (pardon my French Red Sox fans), still follow his advice.

For those of you who have never tried to hit a baseball, this claim that a swing can be a work of art may seem like hyperbole. Consider the facts. Some baseball fans, including my father, insist that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. This statement stirs up controversy. Some say boxing is the toughest. Physically, that could be true. As a sensitive soul, I can not even watch boxing. Others say getting that perfect golf swing requires great precision. Ice hockey fans have an interesting argument. It is the only sport played off the actual earth, the skate blade is 1/8 of an inch thick and players must balance on a slippery surface, travel at 20 miles per hour and wait to be hit by other players traveling at the same speed. Here I digress. I loved watching Boston Bruins star Bobby Orr skate. His moves were so quick and graceful that opponents literally bumped into each other trying to catch him. Yes, I had a crush on Bobby Orr.

Back to the baseball swing. Notice that I do not say baseball in general. I say the act of hitting a baseball, not pitching, running, or fielding. Here comes a small leather sphere toward a plate smaller than your spaghetti bowl. Modern pitchers like Red Sox star Chris Sale routinely throws the ball at 97 miles per hour. New York Yankee pitcher Aroldis Chapman has clocked speeds of 106 miles per hour. That gives the hitter .362 of a second to react. In that instant, he must determine the seam rotation, release point from the pitcher's hand, and rotation. For a person like me that has trouble swatting a swift house fly, this seems impossible. That is about the best I can do to prove my case.

This past Monday, PBS ran a documentary on Ted Williams in their American Masters series. It was entitled, The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.

If my father was still alive, I would show him this post and he would have added many more cogent details. For the record, I will just say one thing-you were right Dad. 

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This day in history...July 20,1944

Wolf's Lair field headquarters, East Prussia

With all the calm he could muster, Claus von Stauffenberg, a decorated war veteran and officer in the German high command, closed the bathroom door behind him. He opened a briefcase and pulled out two plastic high explosives wrapped in brown paper. As mastermind of a plot to kill Adolph Hitler, it was up to him to set the timer on the bomb. He was then to bring the briefcase into a conference room, place it next to Hitler's feet, and then wait for a planned phone call that would draw Stauffenberg out of the room. Setting the timer was difficult. War wounds slowed him down. He had only one eye, no right arm, and only two fingers on his left hand. Someone knocked at the door. The meeting was about to start. Hurriedly, von Stauffenberg set one timer, but was not able to set the second explosive.

As planned, the young officer placed the brief case next to Hitler's chair. This was not the first time German resistance conspirators had tried to kill Hitler. In 1943, a bomb was placed on Hitler's plane, but it did not detonate. The fuehrer could not be poisoned because his food was carefully prepared and tested. He could not be shot because it was rumored that he wore a bullet-proof vest; he also was heavily guarded. Between the years 1943-1944, five assassination attempts were made, but all failed. Many officers in the German high command knew Germany had lost the war, but none wanted to make another assassination attempt. Only von Stauffenberg stepped forward. As a soldier loyal to his country, it was not an easy decision. Even if the plot failed, he believed it important to show that all Germans did not support Hitler.

German heritage ran deep within the young man. He was born in a castle, a child of nobility. To kill the leader of his country seemed unthinkable, until he witnessed Hitler's violent, unjust regime. He saw systematic extermination of Jews and the suppression of religion which deeply offended his sense of Catholic morality and justice. After much reflection, he came to the conclusion that the death of Hitler could shorten the war and save millions oflives.

All was ready. Hitler sat in his chair with the bomb at his feet. Von Stauffenberg was notified of a planned phone call and left the room, walking briskly to a waiting car. The bomb exploded, sending a massive plume of smoke and wood splinters out the window. Claus sped off in the car to an airplane, thinking Hitler was dead. He was wrong. Once again, Hitler had miraculously escaped an assassination attempt. Inadvertently, another officer had moved the briefcase next to a leg of the heavy oak table, protecting Hitler. The fuehrer sustained a perforated eardrum and singed pants. Four men were killed and many injured.

Hitler's fury knew no bounds. The Gestapo rounded up 7,000 people suspected of conspiracy, executing 4,980 of them. Among those was Claus von Stauffenberg who was executed on July 21 atBenderblock courtyard in Berlin, location of Nazi headquarters.

In 1980, the German government established a museum and memorial to the anti-Nazi resistance movement. It is located at Benderblock, renamed Strauffenbergstrasse. In the courtyard stands a bronze statue of a young man with hands symbolically bound. It bears a strong resemblance to Claus von Stauffenberg. 

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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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Electronic Cocaine?

 Beep…beep…beep. We interrupt this blog to deliver an important message from the emergency broadcast system. Your children are in danger. I repeat. Your kids are in danger, not from lightning strikes or speeding cars. Danger lurks in a backpack or a pocket or on a desk. Trouble is hidden in those shining monuments to human ingenuity: those iPods, iPads, smartphones and desktop computers.

For many years, addiction specialist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras observed the "glow kids" phenomenon. He watched children in restaurants, playgrounds, and in homes staring hypnotically at computers, their faces reflecting the glow of illuminated screens. In his clinical practice, he began seeing glassy-eyed teenagers stumble into his office, disconnected from the real world, living in a trance of virtual reality. He decided to dig deeply into scientific studies that examine technology and its effect on the human brain. Whammy! He got answers, but not what anyone wanted to hear.

In writing his groundbreaking book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Highjacking our Kids-And How to Break the Trance, Kardaras found himself buried in a mountain of brain imaging research, all pointing to one conclusion. He writes, "recent brain imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person's developing brain in the same way that cocaine addiction can." He goes even further to call screen addiction "electronic cocaine". Glowing screens activate dopamine in the brain, also know as the pleasure center, that can begin the vicious cycle of addiction. Research also shows that excessive screen use correlates with disorders like ADHD, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, and even psychosis.

Glow Kids is a readable, authoritative book that looks closely at the addictive nature of video games such as Candy Crush, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft. Kardaras includes chapters on texting and social media, video games and aggression, and the Newtown school massacre. One scathing chapter makes a knockout punch (I hope) on the educational industrial complex pushing computers into the schools, with disastrous results.

As I write this post, it is a sparkling spring day with swallow-tail butterflies flitting onto purple lilac blossoms, tiny apples have begun to sprout. This morning, I dug trenches for chieftain potato seeds and dumped cow manure into a pile of dirt. Here are the trenches where I desire to stay, but I can't stick my head in the sand forever. It is time for me to understand this new addiction: some call it a scourge, others call it a plague. Children are a precious treasure, made in the image of God.Tragically, some young people have become guinea pigs for technology. Oh sure, we can make excuses. We can plead ignorance. To some extent that is true, but not anymore. Brain research is leading the charge, pointing to hard facts. By writing this book, Nicholas Kardaras has issued a wake-up call to parents, grandparents, and teachers. Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University called Glow Kids"a paradigm-shifting, mind-bending account of excess and tragedy …reminding us that technology can insidiously turn against us."

So what is a concerned adult to do? For us to help break the technological trance, we have to break our own trance. No longer can we afford to think that all is well. It is vital to become educated on screen addiction. Reading Glow Kids is a good place to start, but there are other books on the subject. Spread the word. Hey, you could even share this blog post on Facebook-less than 600 words, takes 3 minutes to read.

Here is one last point. I will not leave you on a discouraging word. In next week's post, I will write about ways to break the glow kid trance. Some of the solutions may come as a surprise, some may be simpler than you imagine. 

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The Secret of Christmas Cove

An old woman walked down a dirt road to check her box at the local post office. She had a secret hobby, easy to keep hidden on this quiet country road. Wildflower seeds filled her pockets. Every few minutes she tossed a handful of seeds along the roadside. If you read my last post (you really should), you may have guessed the identity of these seeds. Yes, they were lupine seeds and yes, there really was a lupine lady that inspired Barbara Cooney to write her award-winning children's book, Miss Rumphius.

Her name was Hilda Edwards, an English immigrant who arrived in Maine at the age of fifteen. After settling in her adopted home, Hilda went on to graduate from Smith College in 1915 and married Talbot Faulkner Hamlin, a college professor and librarian. Like Miss Rumphius, Hilda traveled the world and lived in a house by the sea. Her uncle, a retired English professor, offered her family the chance to summer in a shingled cottage perched high above Christmas Cove on the coast of Maine. That is where lupine got their start in coastal Maine. Every August, Hilda cut stalks from fading lupine and shook seeds along roadside and fields. All this she did in secret, until one day a car pulled up next to her as she walked to the post office.

"Who planted these wildflowers?" the tourist asked.

Hamlin replied, "At the end of the road lives a queer old bird who has so many hundreds of lupine on her land that she has acquired the habit of cultivating the seeds when they open."

The tourist said, "I would like to shake her hand."

Hilda extended her hand, "I am Hilda Lupina."

Readers of Yankee magazine got a glimpse of Hilda. Back in 1971, W. Storrs Lee visited Hilda, and the interview was featured in the popular regional publication. Her story brought unwelcome fame to the quaint village. The little post office in Christmas Cove was inundated with letters from readers requesting seeds. In a later issue, editors reminded readers that Hilda was not in competition with Burpees seed catalog nor was she up to visitors suddenly appearing at her doorstep. Like Miss Rumphius, she enjoyed the solitude of her cottage by the sea.

Hilda Edwards Hamlin died before the publication of Miss Rumphius. Although I am sure she would have enjoyed this beautifully illustrated children's book, I feel certain that she would not have appreciated the fame it would have brought her. 

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Make the world more beautiful...whatever it may be.

Be ready! You will now hear from me of lupine-that flower of June seen in meadow and by roadsides, with purple, pink, and white spires-true heralds of summer in Maine. Why is it not our state flower? After all, it is tough, thrives in poor soil, and survives drought and insects. Maine towns even hold Lupine celebrations. Deer Isle holds a Lupine Festival complete with a pickleball tournament and a Lupine cake contest. Sorry to say no state flower here, though; lupine are not native to Maine.

Yet truly, lupine must be Maine's most celebrated flower thanks to the late author/ illustrator Barbara Cooney and her classic children's book Miss Rumphius-winner of the 1983 National Book Award for best children's picture book. In this beautifully illustrated book, Cooney weaves the magical tale of Alice Rumphius who makes a promise to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and make the world more beautiful. For those who have not read the book (you really should), Alice wanders down paths and into fields spreading bushels of lupine seeds. Upon seeing bursts of lupine adorning hill and dale, Alice Rumphius has wise advice for us all -make the world more beautiful, whatever that might be.

Author of 100 books and two-time winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, Cooney was a self-taught artist. She credited her mother with nurturing her talent. Much like the lupine that thrives without much fussing, Cooney's mother gave her materials and time to herself. Her mother only required that she clean the paint brushes. Barbara Cooney's life was dedicated to the pursuit of beauty, not only in her own illustrations, but in the lives of children. Upon acceptance of the Caldecott Award in 1959 she said, "I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting…it does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things they understand…a man's reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child's. For myself, I will never talk down to –or draw down to- children."

A resident of Damariscotta, Maine, Barbara Cooney died in the year 2000 at the age of 82. The Bowdoin Art Museum in Brunswick, Maine holds a permanent collection of her paintings. 

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A Mother's Day Story

April 28, 1962-Monza, Italy- Pietro Molla watched the deathbed scene with a broken heart, for his worst fears had come true. His beloved wife Gianna was near death. Only days after the birth of their daughter, Gianna was dying from septic peritonitis.Two months into pregnancy with her fourth child, she had been diagnosed with a fibroma on her uterus. Doctors gave her three options-abortion, complete hysterectomy which would have killed the unborn child, or remove the tumor. She chose to have them remove the tumor, although it put her own life at risk. After the surgery, complications plagued her throughout the pregnancy. On April 21st-Good Friday-Gianna felt the first labor pain. Despite the pains of labor and infection, her mind was clear. Above all else, the baby must be given a chance at life. This fervent belief was made clear to the doctors. She said, "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate - choose the child- I insist on it. Save the child." Gianna gave birth to a healthy daughter, an infant she was able to cradle in her arms for only fleeting moments. Gianna died with her husband at her side. Four little children slept peacefully in the next room.

Many years later, in an interview, Pietro spoke emotionally, his voice shaking with emotion. He recalled, "In the final moments, she was very reserved with me, as I found out later in comparison as to how she was with her sister, Virginia. She asked Virginia if she knew what it was like to die and to leave behind four children. The last gesture I saw Gianna make was when she was holding Gianna (their newborn) and Gianna looked at the baby with both eyes, I don't know how to tell you, I can't explain it. She was saying goodbye to the baby with her eyes. That expression really moved me…I don't know. On Thursday morning Virginia told me 'Pietro, I was afraid she was going to cross over to the next world, because of the pain, the pain that she was suffering…' Gianna said to me, very serenely as usual, Pietro I was already over there….do you know what I saw? No, no, I won't tell you now. She never told me. But you see," she continued. "Over there (in happier days) we were too content, too happy, too much in love and God sent me here to suffer a little bit because we cannot live without suffering."

Many home movies exist of these happy days. There is Gianna always smiling, children running into her arms, dancing with little ones, hugging them. She is also pictured wearing a white coat, for Gianna was also a pediatrician.

The child born on that day in 1962, Gianna Emanuela, went on to become a physician and was present at the canonization of her mother on May 16, 2004. Pietro and their other children were also there. It was the first time the husband of a saint was present for such an historic event. 

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Miracles at Your Doorstep

​      Miracles happen every day right under our noses, but we often take them for granted. I am guilty of being too busy, not noticing nature's wide array of beauty in my own back yard or in this case my own front porch. Every May we hang a hummingbird feeder from the rafters of our old farmer's porch and wait. Faithfully, this tiny winged spirit of the air –the ruby throated hummingbird-arrives to sip sugar water from our red-topped feeder. Recently, I learned that not everyone ignores this smallest of birds. Scientists have conducted extensive studies and come up with surprising results.

Soon we will witness the courtship dive that does stop me in my tracks. I look out the kitchen window and see this wild air show, as the male zeroes in on a willing female. He dives at 385 body lengths per second- the fastest known speed (relative to body length) of any vertebrate. That equates to 49 miles per hour, creating 10 g of gravitational force. Fighter pilots experiencing similar g-force nearly black out under similar pressure.

The rufous hummingbird-west coast cousin to the ruby throated- migrates 3900 miles from southern Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico-which makes the record books for longest migratory journey of any bird in the world. Our local species migrates to Mexico and has been monitored flying 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. This mystifies scientists who note that humming birds have high metabolism which requires frequent nutrition. Hummingbirds are vulnerable to starvation and thus are highly tuned to food sources, including neighborhood feeders. I have noticed how territorial they are, perching on our rhododendron and aggressively attacking other birds trying to take a sip. Even in rainstorms, they maintain their post, shaking water off their heads just like dogs.

These tiny jeweled sprites with shimmering feathers have been subjected to high-tech study. High speed photos reveal that they have micro-pumps in their tongues. These tubes open as they go in and close on the way out, trapping nectar in a pumping action. Electromyography captures hovering maneuvers. Flight studies using high speed cameras in wind tunnels record aerodynamics, perhaps in hopes of learning more about flight. The Wright brothers used wind tunnels and close observation of birds to created their famous Wright flyer, on display at The Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Scientists are not the only ones to appreciate the beauty of humming birds. Poets are captivated, too. Emily Dickinson wrote of them as did Mary Howitt. She makes me want to see with a poet's eye. Here is a little gem.

The Humming-bird

By Mary Howitt

The humming-bird the humming-bird!

So fairy-like and bright; it lives among the sunny flowers,

A creature of delight!

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The Deadly Beauty of Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest, 1970- Japanese alpinist and skier Yuichiro Muichiro meditates in his tent as vicious winds howl around him. He is in the death zone of Mt. Everest where the air contains little oxygen; he is preparing to do something no man has ever attempted-ski down the south face of Everest. It looks like his extraordinary feat will have to wait for another day. Gusts of 100 miles per hour could blow him off the mountain. Suddenly, the wind ceases; Muichiro unzips the flap of his tent. As he gazes out from the rooftop of the world, he knows that he could be a doomed man. He pushes on, straps on skis, adjusts his fighter pilot helmet, and inhales deeply from an oxygen mask. With one push, he starts down the slope. A multi-colored drag parachute opens behind him. Within six seconds, he is traveling at 100 miles per hour.

Of course, Muichiro is not the only climber to risk death on the peaks of Mt. Everest-29,029 ft above sea level-the highest summit in the world. It is located in the Himalayas-the international border between China and Nepal. As of 2017, nearly 300 people have died on Everest; many of their bodies still remain on the mountain. That does not seem to stop alpine adventurers. Over the last few decades, extreme sports have become popular. Dare devils hang-glide, paraglide, flyover in hot-air balloons, fly up in helicopters, and snowboard off cliffs. In 2013, a man with no arms made it to the top. That same year Eli Reimer, a teen with Down syndrome climbed 17,600 feet to raise money for children with disabilities. In 2014, one of the worst disasters ever recorded on Everest occurred when 16 Sherpas were swept to their deaths by an avalanche.

Why do people risk their lives climbing Mt. Everest? Sir George Mallory, who died in his third attempt to climb the summit famously said, "because it was there." Much has been written on this topic. Documentaries, books, poems, and science articles speculate on what drives human beings up Everest. A lengthy article appeared in LiveReal: The LastGreat Frontier is Yourself, in which the author wrote about the transcendent nature of human beings, who function beyond animal instincts, beyond status-seeking, "there is more to us than that; there is something holy and transcendent beyond the power of words to describe". They are drawn by the terrible beauty of Mt. Everest. Peaks soar into the earth's upper atmosphere, covered by a world of pure whiteness, and dazzling ice sheets. Sherpas revere it as a holy place.

In 2008, Mt. Everest was officially named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Oh, and you wonder what happened to that daring Japanese skier? On that treacherous ski run, Muichiro descended 4,119 feet in 2 ½ minutes, hit a rock, flew 30 feet into the air and slid within 250 feet of a deep glacial fracture and certain death. Six Sherpas died on that Japanese expedition yet Muichiro continued his quests, climbing Everest at age 70 and 75. Despite three heart operations, extensive surgery on a shattered pelvis, and a struggle with diabetes, he climbed to the summit at age 80. Still active at 86, he hopes to climb Everest in his 90thyear. 

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The Most Humble Man on Earth

 Sofia, Bulgaria-Winter winds beat down on the old man. He pulled a threadbare coat tightly around his stooped body and shook snow out of peasant sandals. Despite fierce weather, he held out a tin cup to gratefully accept coins from pedestrians, never taking a penny for himself. Even at age 100, the beggar walked 12 miles to his post outside Sofia's churches. His name was Dobri Dobrev, called by some "the most humble man on earth". Others call "Grandpa" Dobri a living saint. With his long white beard and torn clothes, he did not look like a great philanthropist, but he was just that. In 2009 he donated $22,500 to the local cathedral-the largest single donation ever received by the church. Over decades, Dobri collected nearly $50,000 to restore churches in Sofia, keeping it in the bank account of a relative.

Born in 1914, Dobri was inspired by his parents' acts of kindness. His mother worked in an orphanage. If the orphanage ran short of money, Dobri's father paid the power bill to protect orphans from the cold. As a young man, Dobri served as a bodyguard to the king of Bulgaria. One day a miracle occurred that changed Dobri's life. Terrorists set off a bomb, attempting to kill the king. Inexplicably, Dobri survived and came to believe that God had a special mission for him. He devoted his life to God, eventually living in a cell attached to a monastery, giving gifts to the poor and homeless. During World War II, he helped shelter Jews from Nazi persecution. All of these works he tried to keep hidden, but the world discovered him.

Admirers established Facebook pages that garnered 300,000 followers. Documentary films were made depicting the life of a man who gave away all his possessions to rely on the mercy of God. Images of Dobri have appeared on Youtube videos and Twitter. Probably unknown to him, Grandpa's kind face has been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. His message was always the same. He said, "The good will is just and true. Everything in it is good. We must love each other as God loves us."

Dobri Dobrev died on February 13, 2018 at the age of 103. His name comes from the Bulgarian word for good. 

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