Monday, February 21, 2011

Today is Presidents' Day

Dear readers,

I am writing to you again in letter format, since a letter would have been more appropriate for the times I'm speaking of. Anyway, my blog is outdated already it seems, according to the New York Times, as people, particularly the younger set, are moving more toward Facebook and Twitter for instant, brief communications. Being the old-fashioned type who won't confine my thoughts to 140 characters or less, I'm writing a letter from my desk in the great state of New Jersey (which is nothing like it is portrayed on television).

As the world focuses on sweeping, fast-moving people's revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere, I'm thinking of our own bloodied American revolution for Independence, which was just a wink of an eye ago. Looking at the snow falling, I'm reflecting on the snow and harsh conditions of the winter in 1777 and 1778 at Valley Forge that faced George Washington and his troops.

"If there was ever one person who was absolutely indispensable to the American Revolution and American independence, it was George Washington," said historian David Walker Howe. Washington showed the world an army of farmers could take on the mighty British.

The Bergen County Historical Society held its annual county ball for George Washington (whose birthday is February 22nd), filled with dancing (the re-enacters were dressed for the occasion) and crullers and cider for guests in the tavern.

Do you know how to dance? I know some more modern couples dances, and the great exercise, joy and social aspect of dancing. In school years, exercise is so often just about competitive team athletics like baseball, football and basketball. But not all exercise needs to be about competition, and I think some form of dancing should be taught in schools (given our lack of emphasis on the arts, yes, I realize I'm dreaming).

In an age of mass production (which has yielded overflowing landfills), consider the craftsmanship of everything in earlier life - from candles to shoes to quilts, some simpler and others showy, like this one, made in 1875 in Hackensack, New Jersey, and was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

In the Dutch out kitchen, potato leek soup was simmering on the kettle.
Reflect on your life now and what it would have been like in Washington's time. Think your dinner routine is complicated? Most of us don't have to harvest our own food, and we definitely don't have to kill our own animals - we leave that work to underpaid labor who have come here for their piece of the American dream. I recall a quote at Ellis Island I once read from an immigrant who said they believed the streets of America were paved with gold, then realized they were not paved at all, then the reality that they had to pave them.

Let us not forget Abraham Lincoln, who made an appearance at a prior Bergen County Historical Society event. His birthday was February 12. With an upcoming film in April, The Conspirator, and Daniel Day-Lewis set to play Lincoln in the Steven Spielberg-directed film adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin' book Team of Rivals, Hollywood is smitten with Lincoln, and I'm grateful for that.

It seems almost every holiday, the true meaning is being lost on most Americans, who think little about veterans on Veterans' Day or the war dead on Memorial Day. It doesn't help retailers try and persuade us it is just another sale occasion (I stick by a motto I once heard, "It's not a bargain if you don't need it"). I also think Americans are becoming more overworked, and in our technological age, boundaries are becoming erased between home and work life. No leaving the briefcase at the office - your gadget is always with you, and to finish your work, more are expected to be on them as employers try to get more out of fewer workers and capitalize on employees' fears over job security. Any day off - understandably - is cherished.

But I also think knowledge and wisdom are just not really valued by our culture. A lot of lip service is paid about education, but a lot of it is meaningless. Possessions are bragging points, or how a child did on their latest basketball game, but I'm more impressed by: What book did you just read? Is a news story provoking thought or outraging you? What art form - film, music, dramatic, and such - is making your soul smile? Are you reflecting on Presidents' Day?



  1. You said it. That is the question: what was the last book you read? I have had the gumption to ask this question of some people at dinner parties whose conversation is primarily focused on material gain, usually theirs. Oh, how I always knew that I was in the wrong company! Some people need to be reminded that People Magazine is not literature and that there are societies on this world where one's worth is measured by how much he/she has given away.

  2. Dear Catherine,

    Thank you so much for your lovely letter. I always enjoy reading your words, as they always remind me of the intricate fabric of life that we all weave and how important it is to remember all that came into creating the patterns that make up our lives.

    I was disheartened to hear (surely it's not true?) that there are some considering including the former president Ronald Reagan into our Presidents' Day celebration, alongside the beloved George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. As an avid fan of both Washington and Lincoln, I'm horrified. Reagan was one of the most destructive presidents and revisionist history cannot convince me otherwise. Oh, I hope it's only a horrid rumor.

    Funny you should ask about recent reads. I just finished "The Moneyless Man" by Mark Boyle. It recounts his year living completely without using money and how he and a group of like-minded folks set up a Freeconomy Community. Extremely interesting stuff. I thought of your posts of finding wonderful items that had been tossed in the trash as I read his book.

    Oh! And music! You just have to hear Adele's latest song, "Rolling in the Deep." Her big, gorgeous, voice is in full force on this song.

    Look at me. Yet again, taking up reams of cyber paper. I hope this note finds you well and that you will share your latest reads and musical loves with us as well.

    Peace and chocolate,

  3. Ted, you said it! I find it hard to know what to say when being shown a new television which replaced a perfectly good one, or how quickly everyone can talk about pop culture over all else. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people spoke so braggingly about charitable endeavors or pursuits of wisdom?

    Dear Aldra,

    Thank you for your letter and such kind sentiments.

    I had no idea of this plan about Reagan, and hope he is not in the company of Washington and Lincoln. Some marketing scheme is likely involved (isn't it in everything?)

    This book you speak of sounds so intriguing. Just yesterday, Steve and I rescued two perfectly good bikes by the dumpster, and as I saw how many threw recyclables like plastic bottles, cans and glass in with the regular garbage (the recycling bin is right next to the garbage bin), I was saddened that it's too much "work" to recycle. I can never understand if it's ignorance, laziness, apathy or a combination.

    I will look up this song by Adele!

    Doing well - engrossed in Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, a sweeping World War II drama. Enjoyed all those Busby Berkeley films, and figured I'll have to take 1,000 tap lessons to be like Ruby Keeler, so I'm living through her vicariously. I don't know why history has forgotten her.

    All the best to you, and thanks for the chocolate!