Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Bigger Picture: The value of genealogy

In the February 17, 2013 issue, Parade magazine contained a quiz, which was adapted from Bruce Feiler's book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More. The question asked:
When a team of psychologists measured children's resilience, they found that the kids who________ were best able to handle stress.
The choices were: A. Ate the same breakfast every day, B. Knew the most about their family's history, C. Played team sports, or D. Attended regular church services. The answer was B, with this explanation:
The more children know about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. The reason: These children have a strong sense of 'intergenerational self' - they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows
This was exactly the revelation that I had after doing genealogy for a number of years: that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves (I even put it just that way; I was so original!) and that creates a sense of continuity, but also a responsibility to our ancestors for their sacrifices and hard work and to our descendants, knowing that our decisions determine the foundation of their lives. I am thrilled to see an acknowledgement of the value that it adds to our children's well-being. In addition to the psychological effects, most of the people I've met who have done research for many years said that it helped them to love history (of those who didn't before) because they could see their family's place within the context of historical events, as well as increasing the respect that the elders in our families feel knowing that their contributions and stories are appreciated. If you don't know your family history, start now and if your children are old enough, have them research with you. The skills they learn will help them in school and beyond.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Philosophy of Breakfast from Laurel's Kitchen

Some of my favorite cookbooks are from the 1970s, with their woodcuts and natural eating. Only in these can you find "fresh" milk as a requested ingredient for a recipe. Laurel's Kitchen is one of my favorite cookbooks from this era. Flipping through it the other night, I began to read their chapter on breakfast. I found it worthy of being shared, as a reminder to slow down and enjoy our mornings, and each other. The authors go on after the quote to discuss specific food choices, cooking methods, and recipes for breakfasts. I felt more relaxed just reading and imagining mornings like this... Breakfast
Food is the fuel for your day's activity, so it makes no sense at all to eat your biggest meal at night when it's all behind you. Breakfast should include protein and carbohydrate - at least one third of your day's requirement of each - and a stretch of brisk exercise as well. The word 'diet' used to mean not just food, but exercise, too; for the Victorians, in fact, it seems to have implied a good stint of deep knee bends in front of an open window each morning. For a great many of us, admittedly, the sight of anything beyond juice, toast, and coffee is more than we can handle when we first wake up; so when the children refuse to eat more than a bowl of sugared cold cereal, it seems hypocritical to argue with them. The key to enjoying an ample breakfast is to be up and around for at least an hour before you eat. (A light supper the night before helps.) There are hidden dividends to this practice. The early morning hours are the loveliest of the entire day. The air is fresher then, and once you've broken free of the pillow, your mind is likely to be at its clearest too. This is traditionally the time of day which is thought most auspicious for meditation. If you don't meditate, the silence of early morning is still a perfect background for studying, writing letters, taking a walk, or doing those deep knee bends. The earlier you get up, the more leisurely your morning can be; that's all-important, because the pace you set in the morning is the pace you'll maintain all day. Keep your family's breakfast time as slow and tranquil as can be. It might take some hanky-panky with alarm clocks, but try to get everyone together at the table long enough to get a good look at one another. If eyelids are heavy, offer some incentive: a fresh camellia, or a bowl of bright purple plums....Just being together in a peaceful, warm atmosphere will make all the difference in how they get through their day. Food eaten in this relaxed and leisurely manner will be digested much more easily than when one eye is on the plate and the other on the kitchen clock....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Danger of Sharing Everything, a Warning from the Past...

I have NEVER come across anything that sums up the dangers of having everything posted or reported on via the Internet, whether through social media or the constant stream of "news" than the following paragraph. Shall we heed this warning and pull in the reins or continue to create an avalanche, suffocate, and lose some of the subtle beauty of humanity? Ironically, this revelation was published in 1940 by a small town newspaper editor, Henry Beetle Hough, in his book, Country Editor. Though he is talking from the standpoint of a newspaper reporter about a small town paper, I believe we all have those inklings of discomfort when every little thing, good and bad, but especially the special things that as he points out, should go on, unchronicled in a public that they remain precious.
There is a great deal that one cannot print in any newspaper, even in a country paper. Not the big things, not the things one might be accused of suppressing for gain or through fear, but the little, unceasing, significant things. Life itself is inexpressibly precious with its naturalness, its free play of impulses, ideas, plans, dreams, and there is a line beyond which an honest reporter cannot go. For life to read these things about itself would be to spoil them, to make them feel given away and cheap. For this reason a great deal that is most precious must go on, day by day, unchronicled; but here in the country one is aware of it and is rewarded for living and for seeing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chapter 7: "Shadows of the Old Order"

We are all aware that "things" were "different" in the past. Some of these things we know, e.g. people used horses for transportation before there were cars. Sometimes things surprise us. In reading Country Editor by Henry Beetle Hough, I was surprised by the following passage about the independent thinking and action when it came to providing a rural area, in this case, Martha's Vineyard, with telephone service and electricity, and the nature of transportation to and from the island. The book was published in 1940 and covers the first twenty years that Hough and his wife served as editors of the Edgartown Gazette. Unless, it's a harmful or dangerous, I like becoming aware of different ways of being and living from other times and/or other places. It's humbling and serves to shake one a bit out of complacency.
There were many survivals of the old order in the community as we found it. Dr. Tarry was still practicing. He was tall and thin, penetrating and sardonic. He went about with a tall silk hat, cutaway coat and striped trousers....Some years earlier Dr. Tarry had built himself a telephone line and founded a telephone company. The science and business of communication was not far along, and the Bell company did not care about extending its poles on the country roads in more thinly populated districts. But in these places Dr. Tarry's patients lived, and he wanted to reach them. Being of an energetic and determined nature, he went ahead and was soon operating successfully....Dr. Tarry had sold out his telephone company to the Bell System before we took the Gazette...The electric light company, too, had been started by local enterprise...The principal figure was a former steamboat captain and islander of the old school. The founding of these enterprises was simply a continuation of an old tradition, and there was something about it which seemed to characterize the whole community. One was aware of a strong individualism, a spirit of initiative and of self reliance. In the old days the steamboats linking the island with the mainland had been built and operated by local companies....the captain had as much say about operating his steamboat as anyone else. If he wanted to leave his route and give a tow to some becalmed schooner, or salvage the cargo of a distressed craft, he did so, and the passengers had so much extra sail and so much added experience of life, in return for their delayed passage...In the modern age the steamboats had become the property of a single company, and control of the company had been sold to a railroad system on the mainland. This was the modern trend....Centralization was sucking it out of small paces such as our island. The moving impulse was no longer to be the ideas and initiative of an individual in town, but something coming, like an electric current over a wire, from a city in the distance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A 19th Century View of Alpine, California

John R. Campbell, who ran a boarding house/hotel for a time in Alpine, California, provides a glimpse of that fair township and his hotel in this 19th century letter to a prospective boarder: "December 30, 1896. Dear Sir, ...The altitude where we are situated is, 1800 feet. The air is dryer than nearer the coast and more bracing. Our summers are pretty warm. Our winters are delightful. No snow and but little frost. Good water. Near post office. Stages daily, to & from Lakeside. Except Sunday. Our rates are $7.00 & $8.00 by the week and $30.00 & $35.00 by the month. We have made a reduction of one dollar a week for the winter as you will see by the enclosed card. Yours respectfully, J.R. Campbell"