Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day

Someone once asked me to describe my favorite part about the Fourth of July.

My answer:  It is the one day of the year when there is a peaceful use for gunpowder.

I am an historian.  I know and appreciate the fact that gunpowder has been used to defend many of the rights and privileges  that I have been blessed with.  I watch the battle reenactments where the participants use a small fraction of the gunpowder and ammunition used in the actual event. 

And I cringe at the smoke, and the noise, and the chaos and the destruction.

And can't begin to imagine the real event.   
And because of the time and place in which I live, I do not have to.   But others must.

Here in the United States we are celebrating Veterans' Day.  We thank our current and former military members for their service and sacrifice.  Please don't confuse this with Memorial Day

In Europe they are marking the 98th anniversary of the Armistice of WWI.  Please don't confuse this with a Peace Treaty.

100 years ago this week, we were re-electing Woodrow Wilson because he "kept us out of the war".
April 2, 1917 that same President goes to Congress to ask for a Declaration of War. 
 For a comprehensive timeline of events in WWI please see this link:
You'll notice quite a few places that are still in our news feeds today.

Armistice Day was when the troops stopped shooting each other, but not when the war was over.
Political Peace would take much longer.  Some would argue (myself included) that it never really came.  

And here we are.  November 11, 2016. 

Can we call an Armistice?
It is not a surrender, but a cessation of hostilities.   So that talking can get more results than shooting (our guns or our mouths).
But this time let's do it better than 100 years ago.   Let's not just talk, but listen.
Let's not send us straight into a political WWII.

I can think of no better way to honor our military veterans, than to be a part of the peacemakers who also help protect the country they defended.

Because political warfare can cause just as much smoke and noise and chaos and destruction as military warfare and is just as hard to heal from.
I have 100 years of history to learn from and I didn't miss the class on that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Election Day

The end of 3 years, 11 months and 27 days of campaigning.

Hey....I live in is ALWAYS campaign season.  (we take a few days off to watch some college football lol)

I know we all think this one has been a particularly brutal campaign.  Tweets, wikileaks, FBI investigations, SNL skits (ok...those were sadly funny) and all the blocking and unfriending on FB could make a person wonder why we pay attention anymore.

We all have it......the undeniable phenomenon known as Election Syndrome.

Unfortunately we are not done with it.   We have to survive today, with it's wall-to-wall media coverage and post game analysis.  The potential lawsuits and result challenges hover like a grey specter over our beautiful fall day.  It feels like we are hanging on by one collective polyester-singly-ply thread of sanity.  If we hear one more rumor of an FBI investigation or rigged election we will snap.

Except we won't.

Because we are better than that.

Six days ago I woke up to a 6 a.m. national news report focused on my usually quiet and sane part of the country.
Just so you know.....hearing the names of cities near you, on a national news outlet, at that time of the day is never a good thing.

Overnight, we had lost two officers in an unspeakable act of violence.

But we had not lost our human decency.  In the hours and days that followed, the communities of Urbandale and Des Moines and neighboring towns came together to show support for the families of the officers. Flowers, cards, prayers, and financial donations from private individuals and local corporations came pouring in. 
And by the very Police Departments that were impacted, a request for privacy and safety for the family of the suspect.
Simple human kindness.  Because we will not stoop to the lowest common denominator.

We expect it from our political candidates, and yet we don't always expect it from ourselves.  Mostly preaching to myself here....but sometimes we gossip.  Sometimes we cut someone off in traffic.  Sometimes we yell at our kids, or our  spouse, or our dog.  Sometimes we lie, or cheat or steal.
Why are we surprised when our politicians do the same?
If we are not willing to hold ourselves to a higher standard, why are we surprised when our national elections turn into the political equivalent of Middle School Student Council elections?
 Wait.....that's insulting to the Middle Schoolers.  They behave better.

So today....if only for one day.... and if "only" out of respect for those officers being buried this week and the departments and communities they represent, choose kindness.

Because kindness IS a choice.  On a day when we have some important choices to make, start with the most important personal one.

And because it's Iowa....these are posted within 100 yards of my polling place.....
'Cause WE didn't miss the class on that...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

changing the routine.....

Traditions are important to me.  Predictability even more so. 
Combine those two together and you've got a bona fide  "stick-in-the-mud" on your hands.

Since we now live in Iowa, we of course have to have a predictable tradition to go along with our adoptive home state.  

And "Nothing Compares" to the tradition of the Iowa State Fair.

For the past four years we have had our comfortable, traditional process of attending the fair.  As I am also an social introvert who usually avoids anything with crowds of more than three people, we typically head to the fair early on opening day instead of the weekends.  We go to the same buildings and exhibits, eat the same food and walk the same route through the grounds....we even use the same entrance/exit gate every year. 

This year things went a bit haywire.

I forgot to ask for a day off on Opening Day.
The family calendar was packed for the entire remaining days of the fair.  The only day left open on my schedule was Sunday, Aug. 20th.

Also known as the last day of the 2016 Iowa State Fair.

Which is also known as half-price day.  And Free Concert night. And it was the best weather we've had in the last three months.

Which mean everyone and their cousin was going to be swapping oxygen molecules with the equivalent population of a small European country.

But I couldn't not go.  It's the Sate Fair.  In a state known for being nice, it's the one time a year I can think of when Iowans get just a bit competitive with each other.  Quilting, canning, photography, baking, agriculture, animal breeding, horsemanship, 4-H and FFA everything, and the world famous Butter Cow are all not to be missed.

So we broke tradition and headed to the other side of the county to join thousands of our closest friends and neighbors for the afternoon. 
Considering the fact that  we were already breaking with tradition with our attendance day, this stick-in-the-mud went hog wild and suggested a few more changes for the day.

We went in a different entrance.  Gasp.  Then....we went to the top of the hill instead of starting at the bottom.....double gasp!

We toured the State Fair museum....and liked it.

We went to Pioneer Hall and saw all the antiques....and...found this new treasure...


Then we did a few more traditional stops on the hill since I am never one to pass up a free egg-on-a-stick and a quick glimpse at the Butter Cow.

From there we strolled down for our annual pilgrimage to the Varied Industries Building.
We did stick with tradition and freely sampled the popcorn and coffee.
After all...who would pass up free popcorn and coffee???

Keeping with the theme for the day, we tried something new in the Fabrics and Threads area....we all helped in the quilting for charity room.   These quilts are made with donated fabric and volunteer hours and are sent to different children's charities throughout Iowa. It had been on my "State Fair Bucket List" for the last four years and today was the day to get involved.

                                                                     ALL of us ;)

The group spends all ten days of the fair making comfort quilts for children. They also spend all ten days relentlessly recruiting anyone who walks in the door of their work room. Saying no to them is like saying no to your sainted grandmother. It just ought not to be done. Today we helped un-pin the quilts that had been layered and sewn to get them ready to be trimmed and bound. The total blanket goal was 425 this year. When we left  they were at 385 and still had a few hours to go. I hope they made it.  It was fun, our help was appreciated and there was no special skill or talent required.

And when your daughter asks, " many days can we come back and help next year?"  the "never-change, stuck-in-a-rut, stick-in-the-mud" quickly adds this new activity to the Traditions category of State Fair activities, with a mental note to relentlessly recruit some of her friends.

Because while the State Fair has plenty of ice cream, walking tacos and fried candy bars, it also has plenty of room for people to try something new and help a child in need.

And I didn't miss the class on that.  :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

....enjoying the latest techno-trends....

Dear Niantic,

Let me introduce myself.  I am the curmudgeon who gripes and complains about the mindless mobs of manic gamers roaming the streets of my town.  I am the one who uses words and phrases like "durned whippersnappers" and "uppity upstarts" when referring to those who play your game.
I am also the one who could become your single best weapon in terms of planning the PR campaign for your next update/release of Poke-whatever....

No.  Seriously.   Stop laughing so hard.

I know I can barely figure out how to answer the incoming calls on my cell phone.
I know I am the one who still insists on writing paper checks and using envelopes and stamps to pay her bills.
And yes, I am the one human left on the planet  who still has a land line.

Which makes me the perfect consultant for your next product launch.
You see, us techno-grumps have a unique skill set that you need. 
It's called "vision killing" and it will save you countless hours of company time and untold millions in corporate profits as I help you avoid bad publicity and lawsuits associated with the release of your products.

Had you hired me before the launch of your latest, hottest techno-trend I could have helped you with the following situations as they triggered my inner "grump-o-meter".....

Had I been allowed to see that you had (inadvertently, I'm sure) placed Poke stops at places like Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, my in-born, over driven sense of appropriateness would have immediately sounded the alarm and begged you to re-consider that option.

If I had but known in advance that you had alarmingly confused "open to the public" and "public space" (again, honest mistake, I am assuming), I could have helped you locate and apply the legal definitions of public vs private property, trespassing, and personal responsibility.

I would like to make you an offer you can't refuse:
Hire me.

OK.....stop laughing......again....

Hire me to be the one who Poke-holes all your ideas before they hit the www.

Hire me to remind you of all the pitfalls and problems that come when you don't Poke-check in with all the private business, organizations, property owners and individuals that were not allowed the option of having Poke-thingys on  their lands or persons.

Hire me to help you remember that while you are Poke- possibly contributing a good thing to society, it should never be at the cost of respect and common decency.

Hire me because it will be less expensive than negative PR and the lawsuits you will surely face.

Hire me because I could use the money, and you could obviously use the help of a few curmudgeons.

Hire me, because, while I am all for more family time, exercise, fresh air and foot traffic directed towards some of my favorite non-profits, I do think we can try to achieve these goals without stomping on everyone's Poke-toes in the name of progress and entertainment.

'cause I didn't miss the Poke-class on that ;)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Gift Giving.

At least....being on time with the gifts.

In my mind, I have these wonderful plans of perfectly selected tokens of my love and appreciation.
In reality I have a pile of unfinished crafts and a shopping list a mile long.

Take Christmas, for example.
As in Christmas 2014.
As in the present from 2014, intended for my sister, that is still sitting in my "to be finished" quilting stash.

Or birthdays.
As in our daughter's 12th.
As in that being the age where we told her she could get her ears pierced.
As in 12+ months later .....and no extra holes in her head. 
(I DID buy earrings though....AND remembered to give them to her.)

My excuse is that I am paralyzed by wanting everything to be so perfect and fear failure so much, that I never just DO something.

I should probably get over that.

You see, my husband is great at getting things done on time.  Birthdays,  Christmas, Mother's Day, Anniversary.....

Like today. 
Today marks 18 years of him surviving moments like this morning:

Him: Good Morning
Me: Happy Anniversary. 
Him: Happy 18th Anniversary
Me: Wow.  That's a long time....... I mean....I Love You!*

He then proceeded to chuckle at his fuzzy-brained wife and hand her his pre-planned, pre-purchased anniversary gifts.  Which were prefect.

I, on the other hand, am still "shopping" for the table saw he wanted for Father's Day.

I think I can get that done before another 18 years pass.....

Because while I may not be the best shopper-co-ordinator-present-giver, I do love him very much, and would love to see him have a new "toy" to play with as he works so hard to make our house a comfortable home.  I did NOT miss the class on appreciating all his efforts.

Happy 18 Wonderful Years Calvin!

*not to be held responsible for anything said before being properly caffeinated

Monday, July 4, 2016

 Bunting, Banners and Baseball

I was recently asked if I missed celebrating Independence Day in Boston...because being the Cradle of the Revolution, it must be so much more exciting to celebrate in New England rather than the quiet and sedate mid-west.

Honestly, the question caught me off guard.  I hadn't thought that much about it before, but suddenly that question became a niggling whisper in the back of my mind this weekend.

Do I?    

If I had been in Boston this week I could have seen:

Boston skyline
The Old State House

Old Ironsides

Instead.... I was in Iowa where I was able to see:

Yankee Doodle Pops
Des Moines July 1

Ready for our town's parade!  July 3

F.D. History :)

What's a parade without farm equipment???

and where else could I have this.....?

1875 Suffragettes
"Votes for Women!"
July 4
1875 Baseball
July 4

 and best of all.....

I "caught" the pitcher!

So while I may miss the security of knowing that any fireworks in Boston are shot off over the the muddy water of the Charles River instead of the not-so-muddy soil of a sun-baked Iowa corn field, I am not missing out on anything else.
We have it all right here.  A community of people who gather to celebrate our Freedom and those who have sacrificed to protect us.  Which is what Independence Day is all 1776, 1875, or  2016.....regardless of your geographical location.

'Cause I didn't miss the class on that!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Screen Doors, Sacrifice, and Sacred Freedoms

I work for a 500 acre open air-living history- museum.  It is what I only half jokingly refer to as my #bestsummerjobever.   Since most of the buildings to which I am assigned are from the 1870's or 1900, they have historically accurate fixtures, lighting, appliances and....screen doors.

The same screen doors that your mom yelled at you to NOT slam on your way out of, or into the house.

The same screen doors that you slammed anyway, because life seemed to be in too much of a hurry to worry about how the door closed as you moved on to your next adventure.

The type of screen door whose closing sound identified who was entering the building according to the velocity and volume of the door hitting the jamb.  And the same type of solid, wooden "bam" that triggers memories of summer nights at Grandma's as you hurry in the house from playing outside after your dinner because the mosquitoes think your are their dinner.

We typically see our guests have one of two reactions as they come through our buildings and the screen doors announce their entrance....

Oh..sorry...I didn't realize it would do that!  or...  Little Johnny....don't slam that door!

As if slamming a door that is supposed to close that way while at a museum is some sort of breach of museum etiquette....

A second, but slightly less popular reaction (and most often shown by adults) is to purposely go out of and into a building  just to hear the door.  Most often this is because they remember that sound as part of their childhood.  Before air-tight, pressure-loaded storm doors and weather tight house doors made to keep the cold A/C in and the cold IA winter air out became the norm in our modern, quiet-doored homes.
It is an unintended historical interpretation point of our "Touch-See-Hear" focus. 

Quite honestly we, as staff, have tuned out the sound of the doors in our buildings.   It has faded into the background, along with the ticking and chiming of our clocks and the crackling and snapping of the fires in our wood burning stoves.  It is just a part of our every day "normal" museum life.

Until last month.

Last month we had a visitor to our 1900 Farm site.  Our site staff was eating our noon meal and as often happens, a few guests were inside the house having a look around as we were eating at the table under the tree outside.
This particular guest came back out of the house and over to us to remark (in a delightfully French accented speech pattern) how much this house reminded her of the farm home in which she had lived as a young girl.

Now, we hear this often in our jobs.  We get a sense of professional satisfaction from these types of remarks, as it helps us "whippersnappers" gauge how well we are doing our studying and research.

But what we don't  often hear is how she finished her comment.....

"It reminds me of the house we lived in as I was growing up in the 30's and 40's in .............Normandy,  France.
It took us a bit to absorb what she had just said....  It may be the only time that a group of people who are paid to talk about living history were dumbstruck by the living history in front of them.

She was gone before we collected ourselves enough to realize that we should have been hosting her and her memories.  And I, for one, regret not getting her picture or signature for our site journal. 
It was a heavy reminder of how the mundane, everyday, oft' ignored routines can sometimes be the most profound part of our guests' experiences and are part of our responsibility to preserve.

So today....on this anniversary of D-Day.....
...on this anniversary of the sacrifice of so many
...on this anniversary of the beginning of triumph over unspeakable evils....

In honor of those who had the screen door slam behind them on their way to Basic Training, but not behind them as they never  made the journey home....
In honor of those who  did get to hear the door slam upon their return, but who spent years trying not to startle at the sudden, sharp "Bang!"
And in honor of our sacred freedom to live in relative peace and security affording us the ability to excitedly move on to our next adventures as we hurry out of our doors...

I say.... 
Slam the Door and Remember

'cause we can't afford to miss the class on that.

Saturday, March 19, 2016 to be on vacation.....

You would think this one wouldn't need a class.  After all... how much trouble can a history major get into when taking an innocent family vacation?   What could be the problem for a farm museum employee/part-time retail associate/homeschooling mom from the mid-west when she wants to "get away from it all" for a few days?

Leave it to me to find out ;)

Try a quick mental exercise for me.   Think of the top three things people usually do when they travel for vacation....

Go ahead....

I'll wait...

But I bet your list may include some of the following activities:

1.  Visiting historical sites

2.   Shopping

3.  Anything that is the complete opposite of what their daily life back home encompasses.

Well....I work at a farm/museum.  I also work for a national retail chain.   We also home school....which means my kids study strange and foreign subjects such as Latin and Logic.

In short....there is no escape...   And I kind of like it.

We plan our vacation routes and travel times to take advantage of the national historic sites (known in our family as "ugh..Mom is stopping at a Brown Sign Park..a.g.a.i.n.") and museums along the way.

This time we stopped at a Civil War site where they were hosting re-enactors in period clothing  (score!) and had monuments and museum  displays inscribed with Latin mottoes.
Can't you just hear my children squealing with delight at the chance to show off their dead language skills???

So I played tourist and snapped the photos of the period clothing and accessories....purely for the memories of family vacation,  and NOT AT ALL for further study in museum work.
Because remember,  I was on vacation.

From there, we continued on to our final destination in a small, rural town in South Florida, where they apparently have these new-fangled cell phone things that my in-laws used to call and tell us that the baby goats needed to be bottle fed twice a day, the baby chicks were hatching and the donkey was about ready to have her baby.
Sigh.   I was supposed to be on vacation from the farm.
So I bribed the kids (mine, not the goats').   No Latin this week if you do all the farm chores.
Now you can imagine their shouts of joy. :)  Also notice my children's impeccable use of their logic skills in agreeing to their mother's terms.

In the midst of visiting family and "relaxing" on the mini farm, we did some shopping.  Our best souvenir is the orange blossom honey sold in my husband's home town.  We buy as much as we can afford and then covetously hoard the liquid gold when we return to Iowa.  
While making our purchase at the Honey Store,  (see...touristy shopping) I  glanced outside at the building across the street.  The same street and historic buildings that we have been driving by for 18 years worth of visits to this town.   The same town where my husband grew up.  The same location across from our honey source mecca.

This time I saw the building across the street not through my 2016 retail worker's eyes, but my 1875 General Store operator's filter.   

"Hey Hon.", I squeaked, in all my museum-historian-geekness. "What does that look like to you?

Yes.  There it was.  A 1911 General Store still in it's original location and complete with the same needed repairs as my own beloved store back in IA.   We had somehow missed it's significance all these years.  But now we can appreciate the importance and dignity of an original retail building standing in the same spot for all this time despite hurricanes, floods and "development progress".

So to answer my original question,  NO a farm/museum employee/retail worker/ home schooling mom never gets to truly take a vacation.

But if you love what you do, you don't want to stay away from it anyway.

And since the past is all around us, affording us many educational and life lessons, we can't  "get away from it all", no matter how hard we try.

Some of us even visit the modern retail gift shop to buy the tacky tourist magnet to prove it....

'cause we didn't miss the class on that ;)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Retail Therapy......

I know I missed this class because I seem to be in the minority of the female population that sees shopping as a "git-er-done" chore rather than an all-day, shop-till-you-drop extravaganza.
I'm pretty sure I'd have to take a double dose of anti-histamine to survive a trip to the local mall and you might as well fully sedate me if you want to get me anywhere near Mall of America.

Which is why I am perpetually puzzled by the number of people that come into the modern day retail store where I work and aimlessly meander through the departments for hours at a time.

That's in multiple increments of sixty minutes.  At. A. Time.

After two years working in the Children's Clothing department I started noticing a theme to my evening retail hours.  I wound up spending a majority of my shifts playing "Parent and Family Therapist"  Turns out that sometimes Grandma needs to be gently told to just get what the daughter-in-law said would fit.  Sometimes first time parents need a little help understanding that size 4T is not just for a 4 year old Toddler, and that size 4T and 4 are two different sizes and that you should probably buy that summer outfit on the clearance rack in February in a size larger because kids...grow...

Also turns out that pre-teen girls and moms need some sales-staff intervention at times, and dads need a bit of help buying their socks and ties during the 30 minutes before the Daddy-Daughter dance they have known about for two months.

Sigh.   No wonder I was coming home exhausted.
My manager, noticing my stress level, switched me to the jewelry department to give me a chance to recover.  I thought it would be a breeze playing with the sparkly inventory and un-packing new baubles to put on display......

Nope.  Turns out people need more than just sales help here too.  

Instead of Parent and Family Therapist, I have now switched to "Marriage and Relationship Adviser", in which I gently remind the young men that yes, rings do come in sizes, and yes, your girlfriend will be more likely to wear the ring if it fits.  You may also overhear conversations where I diplomatically remind the husband that fact that the ear rings she wants are more expensive than the vacuum cleaner that is on sale really. doesn't. matter.  It is also possible that you could witness the return of an expensive watch and watch  me talk the husband down from the wall over the frustration that she had bought him a watch for EVERY Father's Day for the last. five.years.

Sigh again.  Still coming home tired.   I need to  go back to school for a Phd in Psychology just to survive Christmas and Valentine's Day.

But, I think I have finally solved the riddle of Retail Therapy.  
They come, not to feel better by buying clothes in the wrong size and color, but to have us barely qualified, barely above minimum wage retail employees walk them through the complexities of life.
Which, in a bizarre way, is oddly rewarding.

But still doesn't convince me that anything longer than 20 minutes of shopping for anything more than groceries is worth my time and stress level.

I would rather spend my time with book-coffee-yarn-therapy.   It's cheaper.

'Cause I didn't miss the class on that :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

....the Iowa Caucus....and Date Night

They have more in common than you might think.....

I like to think of myself as a simple, no-muss, no-fuss female. (Ok dad...stop choking on your coffee.  I am NOT high maintenance!)
A cup of coffee, some chocolate and  a ball game on TV counts as a date night for me.   Throw in a trip to a museum, yarn or book store and I'm set for the year.

I am also a semi-junkie when it comes to politics and current events.   I can frequently be found yelling talking to the radio or television, trying to explain why the newscaster or caller is wrong since they have clearly missed the class on history, government, economics and/or common sense.
My family has learned to ignore me ;)

That's what makes living in Iowa so wonderful for low-maintenance wives like myself. (OK can stop trying to smother your laughter...)   February during an election year is the perfect combination of  news, candidates, political gatherings, call-in radio shows and newspaper Op-Ed pieces.  You can imagine that by now everyone in my house except the dog has tuned out the sound of my voice as this opinionated New Englander debates any and all points being made by any and all sides on any and all issues.  Isn't my husband lucky to have me around?  ;) 

Since he has adopted the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy of living with my low-maintenance hobbies, (OK kids...thank you for not even trying to pretend to smother your hysterics...) he planned the perfect 14 hour date for his no-fuss wife. 

The Iowa Caucus and Morning Edition.....

Yes folks, nothing says "I love You" more than an evening of gathering in the elementary school gym to listen to your neighbors stand up and explain why you should vote for their chosen candidate.

And then he made the ultimate sacrifice.
He got up at 4 A.M. to take me to a coffee shop where a favorite national morning radio talk show was broadcasting coverage of the Iowa Caucus. 
  4 A.M. folks.   
Then sat with me for FIVE hours while I knit and listened to the radio show production.
Five hours everyone.

                                     That's Buttercup and Wesley true love at its finest.

This can only happen once every 4 years.....this romantic combination of politics, coffee, analysis and True Love. So as a New Englander who got to have an Iowa Caucus Date Night, I would like to offer this piece of advice to those  participating in the New Hampshire Primary today.

Grab your spouse, your ballot and a cup of coffee.  This extravaganza only happens once every four years and you wouldn't want to miss the class on that..... :)