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Archive for May, 2008

Blogging Vacation

I’m going on vacation from my blog for about 3 months. I have a lot of things I want to do this summer like playing baseball with my boys in the backyard, push my daughter on the swing, sit on the beach by the lake and read a book, visit some colonial houses and gardens, possibly even take a trip to Palmyra, and just enjoy the beautiful days of summer with my children. While I love writing, I just don’t want to think about blogging right now.

I should be back in the fall, so don’t give up on me.

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I should be doing a million things right now like laundry, but I read an absolutely fascinating article today that has been at the forefront of my mind the entire day. I just had to blog about it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1021293/How-mothers-fanatical-views-tore-apart.html

Please read the article first. I really can’t summarize it well and I think it is important to read.

I used to have pretty strong feminist leanings in high school and even through my college years. Time has change my perspective in many ways. Now I am wary of the label because I think that feminism happens to be one of the most destructive forces pounding away at motherhood. Please don’t bash me on this opinion. I think it is wonderful that women have more opportunity today. I think the wage gap is a problem. So there are some issues with which I agree, but others which are fundamentally problematic for me as a wife and mother.

I had never considered the issue of feminism and its leaders from the perspective of a child raised by a feminist leader. I have read Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple and consider it one of the most deeply troubling novels I have read. And believe me, I’ve read my share of troubling novels. I didn’t realize that Walker had such an aggressive stance against motherhood. What makes her stance truly appalling is that she was/is a mother and that she was so committed to her own idealogy that she turned her back on that child.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post, so please comment. I may add to this a little bit later.

 

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In memory

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to post the story of two of my great-uncles and why I honor their lives.

In the early 40’s,before the U.S. had entered WWII,  my great-uncle Elmer, brother to my grandfather, and my great-uncle Jack, brother to my grandmother, contracted with a large contracting firm to help build an airstrip on Wake Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. wanted to use it as a military base.

Uncle Elmer was in his mid-30’s. He was an experienced construction worker. He left behind his wife, Rhea. They had no children. Uncle Jack was a young man of 23. He was not married. Neither man had any idea that there lives would change dramatically.

Wake Island was attacked simultaneously with Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. The few Marines on Wake Island fought bravely but eventually surrendered on Dec. 23, 1941.  You can read more about the battle here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Wake_Island

All inhabitants were taken prisoner by the Japanese. The Japanese reinforced the island heavily against attack. The prisoners became a problem as they needed to be fed. Eventually, the majority of the prisoners, including Uncle Elmer, were transported to various POW camps in China and Japan.  The Japanese kept back 98 civilian POWs (construction workers) supposedly to work on the island. These 98 prisoners were blindfolded and shot to death. My Uncle Jack was among the 98 constructions workers murdered.

Uncle Elmer spent the four years of war as a prisoner in different camps. Life was difficult as a PoW. But the prisoners were fed, albeit very little. Uncle Elmer said that the people living outside the camps often brought the prisoners food. Surprisingly, my Uncle Elmer developed a love and respect for the Japanese. Sometime during the war, my uncle was on a broadcast of the infamous Tokyo Rose. He told his name, where he came from and said that he was doing fine. Americans throughout the country heard the broadcast and copied what he said and sent postcards to my Aunt Rhea telling her that her husband was alive.

Toward the end of the war, as things started to turn badly for the Japanese, the soldiers told the prisoners that the Americans were losing, but U.S. bombers flew over the camps, dropping candy and cigarettes. The sight of these bombers gave my Uncle hope. He felt sure that the war would soon be over. He was a dapper man and liked to be well-groomed. He went to one of his fellow prisoners who was a barber and insisted that he cut his hair and shave him. He was either going to die well-groomed or be released well-groomed.

When the war was over, the prisoners were released and my uncle was put on a large ocean steamer. The first morning he was so excited to eat a decent American breakfast of pancakes and eggs, only to get to the counter and find that they had run out of food. Philosophically, he didn’t complain as he had missed breakfast for 4 years and planned to get to the counter a little earlier next time. He had lost a tremendous amount of weight over the years. My dad said that he never quite recovered the muscles in his legs.

My uncle never expressed bitterness or suffered from nightmares. I believe this is because he forgave his captors and didn’t fall in the trap of hatred. He lived a happy life, starting a construction company with his brother, my grandfather.

I honor both of my great-uncles because they were ordinary men, caught in events that they could not control. They faced those challenges with dignity and courage. Neither man had any children, so I try to keep their memories alive for my children. Even though I never met my Uncle Jack and was a very small girl when my Uncle Elmer died, I still feel like I know them in a small measure.

So, thank you Uncle Elmer and Uncle Jack.

 

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I read this book for a book club and really appreciated it. The nonfiction story tells about Antonina and Jan Zabinski, the zookeepers of the Warsaw zoo before WWII and then during the war. The book is mainly about Antonina and her perspective. She kept extensive diaries and Diane Ackerman extracts from those diaries to put together an interesting, touching, and very sensitive picture of Warsaw, Poland during WWII.  The zoo was bombed during the war and when the animals escaped, were shot in the streets. The  Zabinski’s were Christians, but were horrified by the atrocities committed against Jews. Jan joined the resistance and was an active fighter. Antonina tried to keep things together at home, playing a cat and mouse game with detection as they literally were in plain sight of the Nazis. Some 300 Jews passed through the zoo, staying there for months, days or even hours as it was a stop on the network of hideouts. Antonina often demonstrated extraordinary understanding of the nature of humans and animals. Her understanding of animal psychology aided her in very terrifying moments. Her journals are very poignant.

The author, Diane Ackerman, is an essayist and has written about nature and humans. I am not going to discuss this book fully as most have probably not read it. But I do want to interject a few comments and impressions.

First, this book gives a very clear picture of life during war without going into the often horrifying and gritty details that often accompany such pictures. For that reason, I found this book much easier to read than Schindler’s List. I think it is important to understand the nature of what happened and we shouldn’t gloss over the horror of the people who were slaughtered. But there are times when it gets to be to much for my mind to process. So I appreciated this book because it walks a fine balance between presenting the brutal reality of war without becoming gratituously violent.

I found the book very enlightening. Ackerman would take an episode from Antonina’s life or diary and then expound upon it using the experiences of others in Warsaw. For instance, she weaves in the importance of animals and in the lives of Antonina, Jan and their son. She then contrasts it to the experience of the Jews living in the ghetto completely isolated from animals and nature. Another section in the book deals with how Antonina copes psychologically with what she experiences and then discusses the work and thoughts of rabbis in the area and what they taught about coping.

Finally, I found the story of an ordinary woman, striving with all her might to perserve her family and friends in such a frightening time very moving.

The descriptions are well-written and very vibrant. The language itself is very moving.

I think that The Zookeeper’s Wife is an admirable addition to the literature of WWII. It is a book I have purchased and will keep on my bookshelves.

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Because, as much as I love blogging, I do need to clean two wingback chairs that we got courtesy of craigslist and I would like to scrapbook today.

Anyhow, I wanted to recommend two books.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Both books are excellent and I promise more detailed summaries and thoughts but at a later time.

And please, if you have ever read North and South (this book does not have anything to do with the Patrick Swayze/Kirstie Allie t.v. miniseries), please tell me. I had never heard of the book until recently, and I studied English lit pretty intensively.

 

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In theory, I’ve always loved gardens. I love the romance and potential of a well-groomed garden and mystery of a secret garden. In reality, my experience with gardening is more prosaic. Each year, my parents dutifully planted a garden which we dutifully, though not joyfully, weeded and tended. Our only true gardening success was a time when my father had no work. We ate from our garden for an entire summer and into the fall. I now realize that success was entirely due to the blessings of heaven rather than any expertise we showed.

In Sweden, we had a tiny patch of land which DH lovingly tended. I was busy with babies and work so I left dh to his patch of land. The scope of the area was perfect for our busy and hectic lives.

Moving to New York has brought a change of tempo to my life. Our new home has brought new interests and challenges to the forefront of my thoughts. One of the most attractive features of our new home is that we have a nice area to garden. The area is not too large, but large enough.

As we have started working on our own garden, I am amazed at the things we are learning. A few weeks ago, my most impatient son (think instant gratification) patiently sat by my side and helped me sow pea and carrot seeds. For that small moment of time, he slowed down his entire way of thinking, breathing in the deep rich smell of the soil, and participated in the timeless process of sowing seeds.

Today dh and I tackled hedges, bushes and other growth. As I pulled at vines, sawed away at dead branches, and uprooted weeds, I felt  a new awakening in the process of creating. I discovered two beautiful rose bushes, nearly buried under vines. I am excited about the possibilities for the now cleared bushes.

My mind turned to thoughts of fairy tales which often deal with the forces of nature, both malignant and benign. I am reminded that there are often forces outside our control. I can plant, weed, and even water, but I can’t make the sun shine or control the weather. I just have to take what I get and make the best of it.

Perhaps, in the insulation of suburbia this is just one of the valuable lessons which we miss when we are seperated from the earth.

 

 

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