Not proud, but pleased, to be an American.

One day, when my younger son was about seven or eight, he told me, “I’m proud of being tall.”

I told him that he couldn’t be proud of being tall because he hadn’t done anything to earn it.  I told him that he could be happy that God made him tall, but not proud.  He could proud of being kind, or working hard, or being a good friend, but he couldn’t be proud of something that was a gift to him.  That would be like saying, “I’m proud of getting a bike for Christmas.”

He replied that he was very happy he was tall, and would try not to feel proud about it.

I’m sure it was a struggle, as he was already taller than his older brother, but I think he understood what I meant.

Not proud, but pleased to be AmericanWhen my husband and I were dating, I told him that I wasn’t particularly patriotic.  He was taken slightly aback, and asked how I could not be proud to be an American.

I told him I like being American.  I feel incredibly blessed to have been born here.  Compared to most of the world, I have it good, and I know it, but I didn’t do anything to deserve it.  How can I be proud of something that was given to me?

Now, if I had emigrated here, if I’d had to endure hardships to get here and pass a test to achieve citizenship, I’d be proud and rightly so.

Or if I’d served in the military, if I’d fought for the freedoms I enjoy, I think I’d have good reason to be proud.

But that’s not me, so I’m pleased and I’m grateful, but I’m not proud.  I’m also certain the citizens of other nations are just as affectionate for their homeland as I am for mine.

Because I do like this place.  I think we have all sorts of problems, as all people do, but we have all sorts of good, too.

We have wonderful sanitation.  Have you ever been anywhere with so many free public toilets?  Or the abundance of clean tap water?  I like that about us.

I'm pleased, not proud, to be an American.I love our freedom of religion and speech and how cheap our groceries are.  Peaches for 49 cents a pound?  Incredible.  Choose your own beliefs and talk about them as much as you like?  Fantastic!

I love how generous Americans are.  We can be in debt, but we’ll still give money away to those in need.

I like how optimistic we are, always looking for the next big thing, always convinced things are about to get better.  It might be naive, but the alternative seems like a gloomier way to live.

I like how ridiculously large our idea of personal space is.  I like our big beds and how we do our best to leave empty seats between strangers at the cinema so we don’t have to share armrests.  Perhaps this makes us weird to the rest of the world, but I like it.  It’s comfortable; it’s home.

Maybe I’m more patriotic than I once realized, or maybe it has grown in me with the years.  Or maybe I just realize now that patriotism and pride are two different things.  Patriotism is a feeling of affection and gratitude, not pride.

Is patriotism pride?Tomorrow night, as I watch the fireworks, I’ll be thinking about how blessed I am to live in a country where I am free to be myself, to complain loudly about the things I don’t like, and quietly take for granted the things I do.

No, I won’t.  I’ll be oohing and aahing and wishing I knew how to capture fireworks on film.  But I’m thinking about them now, and I’m happy to call this nation home.

I hope you feel the same way, wherever you live.

Happy? Memorial Day

For most of us, Memorial Day is the launch of summer. Our neighborhood pools open. Picnics and bbq’s abound. Maybe we’ll even shop the big sales.

For Memorial Day, I wish you peace.For most of us, the meaning of Memorial Day is so far from our minds that we don’t bat an eye when someone wishes us a “Happy Memorial Day.”

Memorial Day isn’t happy.  It needn’t be morbidly depressing, but happy?  That doesn’t quite capture it.

I’m grateful for the sacrifices made by members of our military, but happy?  No, I’m not happy.

Often, I think of their loved ones as those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  They live with their loss every day, those husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends, siblings, lovers.

I imagine it is even harder on the day that has been set aside for remembrance, to see that so many of us do not care to remember at all.

So, what do we say?  I’m choosing peace.

I wish you peace this Memorial Day weekend, and I pray for the safety of those who serve the cause of liberty.

Last Minute Mother’s Day Gifts

Mother’s Day is only two days away, so my pinterest and twitter feeds have been filled with gifts ideas for the past week.  Recipes for breakfasts in bed and brunches, suggestions of jewelry or spa weekends.  All sorts of ways to celebrate or be celebrated by the ones you love.

I haven’t paid attention to any of them, so here I am, wondering if I should send my mother in law flowers yet again.

For myself, I feel so blessed to be a mom, I really don’t need flowers or gifts, and the idea of eating in bed is repugnant to me.  The best gift I could ever want is to see my children thriving.  I think most parents feel that way, even the ones who enjoy a day of pampering.

We cannot imagine the pain of watching our child go hungry, of not being able to give them an education, basic medical care, a future.

I cannot think of a better way to honor moms than to alleviate the suffering of mothers and children who know those sorrows on a daily basis.

Once again, I’m turning to my World Vision Gift Catalog.

If there is one thing that reading Holocaust memoirs does for a person, it is to make them aware of genocide as an ongoing issue in the world.  So, for Mother’s Day, I chose to send support to refugees from the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Because of corporate and government grants, my little gift will be multiplied nine times.  I hope and pray that this will ease the daily burdens for another mom, far away, who has never even dreamed of a day spa.

I also wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.  However you choose to celebrate it, I hope you feel appreciated and loved.

Riding in the Car, with Dogs

I wanted to share Easter music with you today, but the youtube choices were not appealing.  Besides that, I am not really celebrating Easter this year because I’m spending today in the car, heading back to Colorado.

Yes, we drive from DC to Colorado.  More than once a year.  With dogs.  Or, this spring, with a dog.  Trixie came, but Jeb stayed home with my son.

Jeb will jump in the car with us at any time, but once there, he hunkers down and pants, obviously motion sick. He has never once put his head out the window of a moving vehicle.

Trixie, on the other hand, travels like a pro.  A pro who alternates between looking out the window, sleeping on my lap, and mooching for treats.  In other words, she acts like she does at home, perfectly content and at ease.

Do your pets enjoy being in the car or merely tolerate it?

Let’s All Be Irish Today

Nothing says Happy St. Patrick’s Day like a Scotsman singing about Irish girls.

As you know, I’m a redhead.  So are my sons.  This makes celebrating St. Patrick’s Day a given for us, as people would assume we’re of Irish descent no matter what.

Why do people associate red hair with Ireland?

According the experts in everything, Wikipedia, the highest concentration of gingers is in Scotland.  Thirteen percent of the population have red hair, and 40% carry the gene for it.  Ireland is second, with 10% of people having the hair, but maybe 46% carry the recessive gene.

In the US, we only make up 2-6% of the population. It makes spotting your kids easy in a crowd.

An Irish BlessingHow do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?  Not with green beer, or green food.  We celebrate the way we do every holiday:  with small gifts or candy!  I bought the boys shamrock boxers and my girl green fake-keds.

If I was home, I’d coerce my daughter into watching The Quiet Man instead of Star Trek tonight, but since I’m at my mom’s, no coercing will be needed.  She owns the dvd.

In case you don’t recognize it, this Sunday Song is from Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Sean Connery’s best movie ever.  😉 If you watch the dvd, don’t miss the bonus feature about the special effects in this movie.  It is fascinating to see how they achieved those effects pre-CGI.

Presidents Day Reading

Since today is President’s Day, I thought I would share one of the books I read last year about a president.  (I only read three books about presidents, and the other two books were both small episodes of Theodore Roosevelt’s life.)  Actually, my husband and I listened to Destiny of the Republic on last summer’s road trip.  I probably did not convey just how fascinating this story was.

In other words, I’m on a holiday break, and I’m copying this review from my Goodreads account.  There’s a little link thingie over on the right if you want to befriend me on Goodreads.  I’ve been lazy about writing reviews lately, but I do keep my reading list up to date.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a PresidentDestiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

When you know perfectly well that the protagonist dies, and you still get teary eyed when it happens, that is a well told tale. It’s not only that James Garfield was thoroughly likable, but my heart ached for his devoted wife and children, two of whom were with him when he was shot.

Destiny of the Republic is more than a biography of James Garfield. It is also an account of the life of his assassin, Charles Guiteau. Candice Millard manages to portray Guiteau with neither sympathy nor antipathy. Egotistical, and unlikable, he was clearly mentally ill.

However, it was not Guiteau’s bullets that killed Garfield. Lingering for months after being shot, Garfield was ultimately killed by infection caused by the aggressive and unsanitary medical care he received at the hands of the egotistical Dr. Bliss.

Throughout, Millard places the story in the context of its day. The relationships between Garfield and those around him, the political climate and intrigues, the state of medical knowledge and practice, the technology of the day. She shows how Garfield’s assassination and death led to changes in these various realms.

If you’ve read anything good (recently or not) about a President, please share, especially if it might be available an audio.  I need about 60 hours of listening for our summer road trip, and my husband and I both enjoy biographies and history.

Giving Up or Giving Out?

Did you celebrate Mardi Gras yesterday?  Shrove Tuesday? Carnival?  If I’m honest with myself, I do indulgence rather well every day, and don’t need a special occasion to encourage me.

Then there’s today, Ash Wednesday, preceding St. Valentine’s Day this year, leading many to postpone those Lenten fasts for another day or two.

Every year, friends both religious and not observe Lent by fasting.  Often they tell me, “I’m not really religious, but I’m giving up ___ for Lent.”  There seems to be a universal appeal to self-sacrifice, at least in small doses.

The reasons given and types of fasts differ, but most resemble a self-improvement plan.  Fasting from Twitter or Facebook; from chips, candy, or caffeine; from cursing; or from meat on Fridays, will, they think, somehow make them a healthier person, a more disciplined person, a person, perhaps, more pleasing to God or themselves.

I understand.  For most of my life, I’ve fasted for Lent.  Some years I’d fast one day each week; other years I’d give up favorite foods.  Sometimes both.  I always started with the best, penitential intentions, but a few weeks in, I’d begin to wonder if I was losing weight.  I was much better at sacrificing food than my vanity.  I never did lose weight, nor did I feel spiritually improved by my fasting.  I kept thinking, “If only I could fast and not think about the potential weight loss… If only I could humble myself.”

Then, a few years ago, I truly heard Isaiah 58, where the people ask God,

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

And he answers (highlighting mine, for the skimmers; I understand how that is.)

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

God seems unimpressed by merely not eating and praying and makes his usual request:  take care of the poor and oppressed.  Share what you have.  Be just.

Does that sound like fasting?   It certainly isn’t giving up Starbucks or Facebook for six weeks.  It’s not about discipline or self sacrifice for their own sake, or for your own sake.

However, when that daily $2 cup of Starbucks not purchased equals $80 you gave to charity, that is fasting that shares with the hungry.  When that former FB time is dedicated to tutoring at-risk students or delivering meals on wheels, that is fasting that undoes the straps of the yoke.

Last year, as a family, we gave up eating out for Lent.  Honestly, if we’d only be doing it as an exercise in spiritual discipline, we would not have lasted the first two weeks.  Having selected a cause at the outset that would benefit from our sacrifice, the Hope for Sexually Exploited Girls, it was easy to stay motivated.

Unlike my years of giving up sweets and treats, I didn’t dream about eating out, or debate whether Sundays should count.  I didn’t think about how I might benefit, and then feel bad that I was thinking about myself.  Again.  For those six weeks, I thought about those girls, and how much help they needed.  I could not stop praying for them.

I hadn’t given something up; I was giving something out.

When I see the material and spiritual poverty in the world, I know that my sacrifices and efforts are puny, and, even when done for a just cause, they do not make me righteous in the sight of God.  Yet I feel privileged that I can make even a small contribution in his name.

I also know that the righteousness of Christ goes before me.  His light rose in the darkness.  He poured himself out for the hungry and afflicted, of which I was one.

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.

St. Valentine’s Day – Isn’t it kinda fun?

Do you do anything special for St. Valentine’s Day?

My husband doesn’t really like holidays, but I enjoy spreading a little extra love in honor of St. Valentine.  I like to make homemade cards for him and my kids, or buy them something sweet.  Nothing big, just a little something to remind them how much I love them?

Sweets aren’t as special now, but when they were little, and I did not routinely keep candy in the house, they were a big deal to my children.

This week, I want to put together a care package for my son who lives on a campus back east.  I’ve already bought him a water bottle, and I’ll include some of his favorite candies and a grocery store gift card.  I might bake cookies, but, then again, I might not.  I’m also sending him photos of his dog.  (Costco sells those great Contigo water bottles in a three pack for $20.)

My mom is also getting a handmade card and photos of her grandchildren.  She’ll be surprised, because I rarely send cards in the mail.

I printed off some vintage Valentines for the occasion.  (I love vintage Valentines; I have a few framed that I enjoy all year round.)  I’ll send Valentine’s to my sister and nieces, too.

For you, I will be sharing vintage, not so serious, love songs every Sunday this month, starting with this one, “Isn’t It Kinda Fun,” by Rogers and Hammerstein.  This clip is from the original film version  of State Fair.  (State Fair was their only production not written for the stage.  There was a later version filmed in the 60’s, and it was pretty awful.  So if you’re going to watch one, watch the 1945 production.)

You may have noticed the blog’s new look.  That was a Valentine for myself.  This time of year, surrounded by brown, I crave flowers.  The cherry blossoms I photographed last spring seemed the perfect pick-me-up.

A New Definition of Greatness

Martin Luther King, Jr.
How do you define greatness?

How do you want to be remembered?

In his last sermon, Rev. King spoke about greatness and how he wanted to be remembered at his own funeral.  You can listen to the sermon in full, or read a full transcript here.

I hope you will, but I know you might not have time, so at least listen to his closing (abridged) thoughts. These are probably the most famous portions, where he spoke of how he would like to be remembered.