Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Double Talk

Having twin brothers, this story really got my attention!  It's about language development in children, especially in twins.  These darling little boys, Ren and Sam, were 17-months-old when their mom caught them on tape deep in discussion.  I think you'll enjoy this article and the accompanying videos from Good Morning America. Click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29

It's March 29, 2011.  Here are some things that happened on this day in history that you may not have known:

1795 - Ludwig van Beethoven, at the age of 24, debuted in Vienna as a pianist
1827 - 20,000 people attended Beethoven's funeral procession in Vienna

1848 - Niagara Falls runs dry!  "A massive assemblage of ice blocks formed upstream of Niagara Falls late on Mar 29, 1848, and by midnight had stopped water flow over the falls (which are actually three falls: the American, the Horseshoe [or Canadian] and the Bridal Veil). The ice jam held until Apr 1, when the waters of Lake Erie punched through and things got back to normal. Until that happened, hundreds of the curious swarmed into the now-waterless gorge to hunt for geological souvenirs while thousands of spectators watched from above. Although the American Falls had stopped flowing before, this 1848 stoppage was the first and only time the entire falls was affected.)"
Info from:

1908 - The comic strip Mutt and Jeff appeared in William Randolf Hurst's newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner.  It's considered to be the first successful daily comic strip and it ran for 75 years!

Now aren't you glad you read the blog today?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hope and Courage Across America

While I was changing out the dishes from the winter set to the everyday ones, a photo on the newsprint I used for packing caught my eye.  With only 1 limb, he'll bike across U.S, read the 2008 headlines.

It's a story about Bob Mortimer and his family who were getting ready to set off on a bike trip from their home in Gig Harbor to New York.  They hoped to make it to the Statue of Liberty by September 11.  I wondered if they'd made it, and what I could learn about this courageous man.  So I looked him up.  What I learned from the website and the article tell the following story.

Bob Mortimer was a party-er.  In 1976, when he was 21, Bob and his brother Tom were driving home from Olympia when Tom took a corner too fast.  Neither was injured when they hit a power pole and slid down an embankment, but when Bob climbed back up to the road in the dark he didn't see the power line.  When his left arm touched the downed line,12,500 volts of electricity zapped him.  Ultimately both legs and his left arm had to be amputated.

His party life continued for two more years.  Darla Hollis, whom he met through his sister, challenged him to deal with his problems rather than drink and do drugs.  She took him to church, and he heard the message that changed his life.  He placed his faith in Christ, who filled him with hope and courage.

Mortimer gave up the drugs and alcohol, married Darla and, in time, began to share his story.  In 1989 they started Bob Mortimer Motivational Ministries, and he has spoken around the country and overseas.

On May 17, 2008, the Mortimer family -- Bob, Darla, Nicole (19), Grant (15) and Chanel (10)  -- left Gig Harbor to cross the U.S, on bicycle.  They traveled the 2500 miles in less than four months, arriving at the Statue of Liberty on September 12, stopping along the way to meet people and share their story.  They estimate they made personal contact with 75,000 folks and untold numbers through newspaper, TV magazine, radio. and internet.

They will make their second trip, this time from LA to Jacksonville, Florida, from April through September of this year  Put your hope in Christ and have the courage to use that hope to face the challenges of your life is their message.  And their mission? 
  • to celebrate the undefeated human spirit
  • to inspire hope in a God that cares
  • to stir courage in the face of trials
  • to make a difference.
You can check them out and follow their upcoming trip at

Friday, March 25, 2011

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

It was in a little wood in early morning.  The sun was climbing behind a steep cliff in the east, and its light as flooding nearer and nearer and then making pools among the trees.  Suddenly, from a dark corner of purple brown stems and tawny moss, there shone out a great golden star.  It was just a dandelion, and half-withered -- but it was full face to the sun, and had caught into its heart all the glory it could hold and was shining so radiantly that the dew that lay on it still made a perfect aureole round its head.  And it seems to talk, standing there -- to talk about the possibility of making the very best of these lives of ours.

For if the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon our hearts there is an ocean of grace and love and power lying all around us, an ocean to which all earthly light is but a drop, and it is ready to transfigure us, as the sunshine transfigured the dandelion, and on the same condition -- that we stand full face to God.

-- from A Blossom in the Desert
Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Typist

I came across this story about an entrepreneur in Monrovia, Liberia, who is a street vendor offering typing lessons, and was impressed by his ability to put to use what he has at hand.  Not only is he earning an income, he is equipping others to do the same and helping rebuild his country.  You can hear the story here:
World Vision Report - Week of April 4, 2009 - The Typist

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Open Door Policy

For thirty years Dan and Carolyn Brannen have lived in a great big house on Beacon Hill where they have  welcomed hundreds of people into their home for meals, events, and as overnight guests.  Then there are the dozens of international students who have lived with them throughout the years.  With warmth and grace they have offered hospitality to all who enter through their open door.

This house is where Dan and Carolyn raised their daughter, Bethany.  She was a natural bridge to hesitant students who didn't know what to expect in an American home or event.  Now married, Bethany is a nurse in Seattle.

I first met the Brannens in the mid-80s.  Dan was the Seattle area director of International Students Incorporated (ISI) and I was anxious to get involved in that ministry as well.   They invited me to an event where I watched them and other volunteers mingle with the students and sensed their genuine interest in the lives of the internationals.  I was hooked.  From 1985 till 1991 my life was intertwined with international students and the people who loved them -- the staff of ISI, friendship partners (American individuals and families who were matched with a student to enrich their stay in Seattle), and other American friends of the international students.

Dan and Carolyn have been my mentors and friends.  They are unpretentious and culturally sensitive, yet they are not hesitant to share the love of Christ with others.  They take a keen interest in their students, especially those who lived with them, and have stayed in touch with them through the years.

Often students who have studied aboard find it as difficult to adjust to life back home as it was to get used to life in the US.  The return home can be especially problematic for those who have come to faith in Christ and are retuning to a nonChrisitan environment.  Most recently Dan has aided in that process, helping students find people back home to support them as returnees.

In a few days Dan and Carolyn will be moving to Tokyo, where they will combine the two things they do best -- provide hospitality and work with international students!  As managers of a guest house for TEAM missions, Carolyn will host folks from around the world who come to Japan while Dan will concentrate on student ministry.  Their roles will be much like they have been these past 30 years in Seattle.

And what will become of their house on Beacon Hill?  Bethany and her husband Jason plan to use it as a  place where people can stay while they or family members are in Seattle for extended medical help.

Even with Dan and Carolyn gone, the door of the house will remain open.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chambered Nautilus Bed and Breakfast

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm sitting at the desk in the library of the Chambered Nautilus, a bed and breakfast just east of the University of Washington.  We left home about noon, stopped for some Thai food, and then headed to Seattle's Roosevelt neighborhood for a little window shopping.  There are a couple of thrift stores I've seen dozens of times, but today was my first time to ever go in.  I was on sensory overload as Tom and I maneuvered through Found, a vintage shop on Roosevelt, so we didn't really spend the time I wanted to inside.  But I'll go back the next chance I get.  The other store, a couple of blocks south, is Cloud Nine, a consignment store of Saint Stevens Episcopal Church.  It was there that I made this wonderful $5 purchase!

We dreamed our way through Dania, trying out chairs to see which styles fit us, just in case we come into some serious money.  Exquisite taste, shallow pockets -- that's our problem!

At the Chambered Nautilus we settled into our room and came down to the common area to have cookies and tea.  We are enjoying the quiet, the elegance of this lovely home, and the hospitality of the retiree whose current occupation as an interim innkeeper finds her filling in at various bed and breakfasts around the country!

 Here's a look around the inn:

Sunday morning -- It promises to be a beautiful first day of spring.  We had breakfast with a young Seattle couple in the sunny dining room where they served a delicious three-course meal.  I appreciated their willingness to accommodate for special dietary needs.

We'll be packing up and moving on soon.  We're headed to Pike Place Market for some fresh air and maybe some flying fish.  Should be fun.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

We Love It In Seattle

If you are a Seattle native, you'll especially enjoy this video that was put together in the early 90s by 93.3 KUBE radio and Seattle Evening Magazine.  If you aren't a Seattle native, you might enjoy a look into Seattle's pop culture over the years.

Enjoy your rainy Saturday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In the Neighborhood

In an upscale neighborhood in Rochester, New York, on February 29, 2000, a man killed his wife and then himself as their children fled to the next-door neighbors' house.

Peter Lovenheim, author of In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time, says in his introduction, "Though the couple -- both physicians -- had lived on our street for seven yeas, my wife and I hardly knew them.  We'd see them jogging together.  Sometimes our children would carpool.  Some of the neighbors attended the funerals and called on relatives.  Someone laid a single bunch of yellow flowers at the family's front door, but nothing else was done to mark the loss.  Within weeks, the children had moved with their grandparents to another part of town.  The only indication that anything had changed was for FOR SALE sign on the lawn.

"A family had vanished, yet the impact on our neighborhood was slight.  How could that be?"

Lovenheim decided to find out how that could have happened and if he lived "in a community or just in a house on a street surrounded by people whose lives were entirely separate."  For him, it meant meeting his neighbors, spending time with them in their homes and daily lives, even spending the night, in an effort to get to know who they were.

And so he arranged his first sleepover. Dr Louis Guzzetta was the father of Lovenheim's childhood friend. Lou welcomed him into what he considered his boring life ("My life is zero," Lou told him), now that his wife had died and he was retired from his rigorous job as a surgeon, and a genuine friendship grew between these two men.

Not everyone he approached wanted to develop a relationship with him, much less have him spend the night.  But the several people he got to know firsthand gave him insight into community in general and his own neighborhood in particular.  Over the months and years that followed, a spirit of camaraderie developed on Sandringham Road, at least among some of the neighbors.  And this book tells the story.

But it wasn't just by knocking on doors or spending the night that Lovenheim came to better understand community.  He rode with the mail carrier and the newspaper delivery man; he spent time with a woman who had walked daily on their street for over 40 years, even though she didn't live there; and he met on several occasions, with the parents and brother of the doctor who had been shot.

I found this book to be fascinating maybe, in part, for the same reasons I studied Sociology in college: I want to know how people relate to one another and how societies function.  But I also enjoyed the care with which Lovenheim did his research, his genuine interest in the lives of those he interviewed, and the growth he experienced in this pursuit.

The epilogue includes an update on the people Lovenheim got to know and highlights several neighborhoods around the country which are successfully bringing people together.  In our 21st-century world where people can so easily get lost even when surrounded by others, it is refreshing to know that neighborhoods still matter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Moving Toward a Simpler Life

I just came across a great list called 60 Ways to Make Life Simple Again, posted on the blog, Marc and Angela Hack Life.  They offer a lot of good advice to help unclutter our complicated lives.  Here are 20 of their recommendations I particularly like:

1. Don't try to read other people's minds.  Don't make other people try to read yours.  Communicate.
5. Get enough sleep every night.  An exhausted mind is rarely productive.
7. Get off your high horse, talk it out, shake hands or hug, and move on.
16. Be sure to pay your bills on time.
19. Handle important two-minute tasks immediately.
22. Always be honest with yourself and others.
24. Single-task.  Do one thing at a time and give it all you got.
25. Finish one project before you stat another.
26. Be yourself.
27. When traveling, pack light.  Don't bring it unless you absolutely must.
28. Clean up after yourself.  Don't put it off until later.
35. Smile often, even to complete strangers.
37. Treat everyone with the same level of respect you would give to your grandfather and the same level of patience you would have with your baby brother.
38. Apologize when you should.
39. Write things down.
40. Be curious.  Don't be scared to learn something new.
49. Let go of things you can't change.  Concentrate on things you can.
56. Excel at what you do.  Otherwise you'll just frustrate yourself.
59. Build something or do something that makes you proud.
60. Make mistakes, learn from them, laugh about them, and move along.

Photo from

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Apricot-Mango Chicken and Veggie Medley

Too bad you didn't drop by for dinner last night.  You really missed a delectable meal.  So, just in case you'd like to create it for yourself, I'm sharing the recipes here for you.  You'll want to have the food all cut up in advance, or work with a buddy to get everything to come together at the same time.

Apricot-Mango Chicken

small onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
salt and pepper
sprig of fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp ginger
5 oz of apricot jam or fruit spread (we used Polaner All-Fruit)
1-2 mangos, peeled and removed from the stone, cut into small pieces

In a large skillet, cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is transparent.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add the rosemary sprig; brown the chicken, cooking till it's nearly done.  Remove rosemary sprig.  Spoon in the ginger and apricot jam and mix with the juices in the pan until the jam is dissolved.  Let it reduce for 5 minutes or so.  Add the mango pieces, stir well, let it simmer for 5 minutes.  Serve.

Veggie Medley

1 large onion, cut into 8 pieces
8 large mushrooms, washed and cut in half (we used crimini)
1 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise, then cut in l-inch slices
4 roma tomatoes, cut into quarters
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce

Heat a wok and cook the onion until it is transparent.  Add the mushroom and zucchini, salt, pepper, ginger and soy sauce, and saute till the vegetables reach your preferred degree of tenderness.  Thicken the sauce (optional)* then add the tomatoes, stirring them into the other vegetables just until they are heated through.  Serve over brown rice.

*(If you want to thicken the sauce, pour off the liquid from the vegetables then add cornstarch or other thickener to the liquid.  Add to the pan and bring to a boil.  Boil for one minute.)

Thanks to Lori Haugen for sharing her birthday dinner menu with us, inspiring us to make our own Apricot-Mango Chicken!

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Aftermath

My church family in Sendai, Japan, 1981
Like most of the world, I spent the weekend following the news of the recent horrific events in Japan.  Here are some thoughts on the subject.

I lived for a year in Sendai, from September of 1980 till August of 1981, where I taught English and Bible and lived in a house where my church offered women's meetings and children's programs.  It was a wonderful year for me, my third year in Japan and the year that I became conversant in the language and the culture.  I spent many hours a week in church-related activities, but also had plenty of time for neighbors and the few American friends I made.

My house was most of the way up a very high hill, but our church, the South Sendai Free Methodist Church, was across the road from a river.  I have recently become Facebook friends with a pastor in Japan whom I'd known when he was a seminary student.  Through him I have learned that the church relocated 20 years ago and that, since the tsunami, the pastor and family are safe but they do not yet know the outcome for the members of the congregation.  I suspect the building they used to occupy, the one in the photo above, was washed away.

This morning I watched a news report from Ann Curry of the Today Show, reporting from Minami Sanriku.  When asked how people were coping, she replied that they were leaning on each other, sharing what they had with one another, working together.  When asked about looting, she said there is indeed no looting, that "order" describes the character of the Japanese people.  She also remarked on their stoicism, which is a part of the Japanese character.

Our friends Jim and Pat were living and teaching in Taiwan in 1999 when an earthquake there took 2,400 lives, injured another 8,700, and left 600,000 homeless.  I asked what the emotional climate of the country was like -- how did people cope over the long term?

Pat told me that, after the big quake, her kindergartners would dash out the door of the classroom and some of the high schoolers even jumped from the balcony of the second floor to get out of the building if there was any kind of a tremor.  It took her and Jim five months to shop in the big supermarket, in a mall below a four-level underground parking lot.  (Much of the shopping in Japan is also underground.)  And even today, if they enter a building that feels insecure, they do not stay.

Now, as Japan struggles to find any remaining survivors, care for the thousands of victims, deal with the possible nuclear disaster, clean up the devastation, and rebuild, we can pray for wise leaders to make good decisions, for that spirit of cooperation to continue, and for the health and safety of this nation that has lost so much.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Beyond Extraordinary

While we were yet in weakness -- 
powerless to help ourselves -- 
at the fitting time Christ died for (in behalf of) the ungodly.  
Now it is an extraordinary thing 
for one to give his life even for an upright man, 
though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor 
someone might even dare to die.  
But God shows and clearly proves His own love for us 
by the fact that while we were still sinners 
Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, 
died for us.

Romans 5:6-8
The Amplified Bible

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Freedom Sunday

I sat down to write my blog, planning to talk about Freedom Sunday, a campaign to raise awareness of modern day slavery, sponsored by Not For Sale.  I'd been planning all week to prepare a post about it, to do my part to highlight this blight on our world.  But as I look over the statistics I'm finding that I can't breathe very well, and I'm having trouble seeing.  According to Not For Sale, there are more than 30,000,000 people worldwide being exploited through human trafficking, more than at the height of Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Fifty percent of them are children; 80 percent are female.  Over half of the slaves are found in Asia and the Pacific, but there are some as close as Everett, just 25 miles away.

The video below is clever, very well done.  If you get caught up in the amazing shadowhands, you might be able to watch it and go away without being too disturbed.  But it is disturbing, and it's a story all too common that's happening every day.

Not For Sale is willing to not only say the words that I can't bring myself to write but to work boldly against this evil so that men, women, boys and girls trapped in slavery can be set free.  Inform yourself, then take a step to be a part of this modern day abolition movement.

Not For Sale | Shadowhands from Not For Sale Campaign on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heaven is for Real

I just read a love story.  It was about a little boy, an almost-four-year-old, who was near death because of a misdiagnosed ruptured appendix.  Several months after the two surgeries that saved his life, he began to tell his parents about his experience in Heaven during his hospitalization.

Colton saw Jesus, sat on His lap, and met His cousin, John the Baptist.  He met his great-grampa, Pop, and the sister he didn't even know he had.  When his parents asked her name Colton told them that she didn't have a name because she died before they could name her.  Indeed, there had been a miscarriage before Colton but they had never mentioned it to him, and, not knowing the gender of the child, they had not named the baby.

Todd Burpo, Colton's father and a bi-vocational pastor in Imperial, Kansas, tells the amazing story that unfolds over several months in Heaven is for Real.  It is currently Number One on the New York Times Bestseller List.  People from all walks of life and from diverse points of view will read it.  They will form their own decisions about its authenticity, about this family, and about Heaven and the God who dwells there.  But will they read it as a love story?

When Jesus holds Colton on His lap and helps him with his "homework" and when He reminds Colton how much He "loves the children"; when Colton describes the appearance of Jesus, with His beautiful eyes and "markers" (nailprints) on His hands and feet; when Colton's mother finds divine comfort for the grief she has carried for years over the loss of an unborn child; I wonder, will people see this for the love story that it is?

It wasn't the revelations that Colton shared with his family that impressed me the most -- though they were incredible -- but that God should care so personally for people.  Throughout the book I had a growing sense of awe that Jesus looks at us in the midst of our day-to-day lives, and loves us beyond our comprehension.  We just don't get it.  God loves us and is aware of us in the most intimate parts of our lives.

I wonder, will readers discover in the pages of Heaven is for Real this sweetest love of all?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Great Clutter Battle

I can plan a tea for 60 ladies; manage the details of a weekend retreat; create tasty, gluten-free meals for my family.  But I find that the clutter of life buries me like an avalanche!  What to do to gain the upper hand?

I've gone on campaigns to conquer the clutter, but I wear out before I get going.

I've read The House that Cleans Itself, which offers practical and creative solutions to organizing your home, but my house refuses to cooperate.

I've adopted the motto "only handle it once" concerning papers.  When the mail comes, for example, look through it and decide where it goes on the spot -- to recycle, to the Pay pile, to the Respond pile, or to the Proper Person pile.  Great idea...

I've decide, "It's systems I need!" so I think though elaborate file systems, house cleaning schedules -- you know, stuff like that -- and promptly forget how the systems work!

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm going to give it another go.  I found this blog called Simple Mom and she's doing a decluttering series for the next five weeks called Project:Simplify.  Each Monday she'll reveal the area to work on for a week; I think I can do that.  This first week is attacking the wardrobe and getting it in shape.  What woman wouldn't want some encouragement to get her closet and drawers in order, and maybe even find a few favorite things she's forgotten all about!

Anyway, that's what I'll be doing for the next few weeks.  If I seem a bit grumpy on the blog during this time, don't be too alarmed.  By the end, my house may not have learned to clean itself, but at least it won't be swallowing up my paperwork!

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Riding a Trike in the House

Tricycles tied together,
I was being towed in circles
around the unfinished attic.
When the rope untied itself
I was approaching the top of the steps.
Over and over,
tricycle and little girl
tumbled down the stairs together.
We landed on the bottom step,
my trike and I.
After a trip to the doctor
and a few stitches
I got a whole string of suckers.
When I got home I kicked my trike.

Ginger Kauffman

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Annamaria Alberghetti

Fifteen-year-old Annamaria Alberghetti in Here Comes the Groom with Bing Crosby.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Evening with Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr, who never does anything in half measures, decided three years ago to replace his lawn with a kitchen garden.  Next to marrying Treena nearly 56 years ago, he says that first garden was the best experience of his entire life.

Last night at the Floyd Norgaard Center in Stanwood Graham Kerr talked to a large crowd about his new book, Growing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden.  He exuded sheer pleasure as he spoke about his 400 square foot garden, his greenhouse, and the excitement of watching seeds spring to life.

Up until 2008, everything he planted had died from his self-described "lethal thumb."  He relished memories of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables he had eaten around the world, but he had had no success in growing his own produce.  It took a dialog with his church community to give him the courage to take gardening seriously.  And after years of a life of travel and commitments, he finally had the time to dedicate himself to the project.  Now he is involved with a group of gardeners who share seeds and ideas, and who reach into the community with their bounty through the food bank.   "I harvest carrots at noon, eat some and take the rest to the food bank, and by 6:00 they've been eaten by our neighbors!" he said.

Autographing his book
His very first tomato -- his first gardening success -- warm and luscious, was ready to eat.  He topped it off with some fresh basil as he anticipated that first bite, but then thought better of it.  He really should share it. So he put it into a small basked and took it to the lady next door, a woman with whom he had only a waving relationship, and knocked on her door.  Like a proud papa, he offered her the tomato.  She thanked him, but seemed distracted.  When he asked if everything was OK she told him that she had just learned that her mother was dying.  He and Treena set down the tomato basket and comforted the woman.  "I probably wouldn't have known about her mother if it weren't for the tomato," he told the audience.

Growing at the Speed of Life tells the story of his conversion to gardening, the steps he took to get there, the fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers he raises, and 100 recipes for preparing them.  If reading the book is half as delightful as hearing him talk about it, I expect we're in for a real treat.  Better yet will be the gardens that are planted, and the delicious, fresh produce families will eat and share with their neighbors.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Growing Old and Staying Warm

Tim (left) with Ted, his twin
My brother Tim lives in Anchorage.  Yesterday I received this e-mail from him:

It's official, I'm old.  The thermostat on my fireplace keeps going off at night and when I get up in the morning it's in the 40s in my house.  One morning I got the fireplace going and was doing the dishes and I thought, Wow, my feet are cold.  They were still cold three hours later.

My first thought was I could replace the vinyl with cork.  I bet that would be warmer.  Until now I hadn't thought of getting a new thermostat.  What a dope.

So I decided maybe replacing the kitchen floor was too expensive right now and I don't have the time to do it, so I went out and bought slippers.  Even with the thick soles and sheepskin my feet are cold.

There is nothing less hip for a guy than wearing slippers, except an old man hat.  Now I just need a good place to hide them if someone comes over.  Maybe the dryer.  No one ever looks in there.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dear Friend

We've just completed a John Adams marathon.  First we watched a 13-part miniseries, produced in 1976, entitled The Adams Chronicles about John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and two more generations of Adams men.  Next came the 2008 miniseries, John Adams, with seven episodes.

This has been, for me, a refresher course in American history -- the founding of our nation and its struggle to survive the many threats from within and without -- as well as a glimpse into the complexity of the issues facing our fledgling nation and the strong personalities and convictions of the founders.  These men, formerly one-dimensional in my mind, took on flesh and blood, grappled with fundamental issues of independence and governance, and hammered out the ideals upon which our country would stand.

John Adams was portrayed as a man of strong conviction and integrity.  He was also a stickler for detail.  Among his first pursuits as vice president of the newly established nation was leading Congress in a discussion of what title to use when addressing President George Washington.  The debate was long and hot, as Adams wanted a title that showed due respect for the office and others felt anything but "Mr President" smacked of monarchy.  Adams relented, but it was such attention to detail that aided in his success as a strong colonial leader.

That, and his relationship with his wife Abigail.

Life was difficult for the couple from Braintree, Massachusetts.  Newly married, he set off to Boston to build his law practice.  Later he spent years away at the Continental Congress and, still later, in Europe as a diplomat.  Of the first 14 years of his marriage to Abigail (whom he fondly called My Friend), he spent half of it away from home.

The separations were difficult, with Abigail home tending to all the responsibilities of a homeowner, as well as raising their four children.  Not only did he miss her presence as his wife, but also as his confidant.  Over the years they exchanged more than 1200 letters.  It was the counsel of Abigail that helped him stay grounded.

In 1778 he was sent to France to help negotiate an alliance with France in America's battle for independence against Britain.  According to author Joseph J Ellis, in First Family: Abiagil and John Adams, his letters to Abigail were "short, businesslike, and devoid of just the kind of intimate expressions that Abigail craved to hear."  He was afraid the letters might fall into the hands of the British, providing military intelligence that would compromise America's interest.  But she made it plain how she felt about his lifeless letters:

"'The affection I feel for my Friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, sanctified by choise and approved by Heaven...What care I then for the ridicule of Britains should this testimony fall into their Hands, nor can I endure that so much caution and circumspection on your part should deprive me of the only consolor of your absence.'"

My hat is off to both John and Abigail Adams, for their profound influence on our nation.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has the original copies, along with transcriptions, of all of their letters.  You can find them here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hymn of the Month -- Sweet Hour of Prayer

I'm starting the month off with the Hymn of the Month.  All the parts of this quartet, in barbershop style, were sung by this one man, Vance Perry, who recorded each part seven times to give the sense of a chorus.  The full, rich sound of the music, along with the meaningful words of the song, make this a moving hymn.

Sweet Hour of Prayer
Text by William W. Walford
Music by William B Bradbury  

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
that calls me from a world of care,
and bids me, at my Father's throne
make all my wants and wishes known:
In seasons of distress and grief
my soul has often found release,
and oft escaped the tempter's snare
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
thy wings shall my petition bear
to Him whose truth and faithfulness
engage the waiting soul to bless:
And since he bids me seek his face,
believe His word and trust His grace,
I'll cast on Him my every care,
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.