Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not Just Child's Play: A Tea Party at Alice's Tea Cup

Did you have a tea set as a child? I did, and still have it. It's funny what you can remember from childhood. I can recall having a tea party with my older sister and parents in the kitchen when I was a little girl.

I adore tea out of a nice tea pot and pretty cup. When I was invited in someone's home recently the woman offered me tea and said I struck her as a tea person.

I've been to Alice's Tea Cup (Chapter 1 location) in New York City with some wonderful women from work to celebrate everything from the winter solstice to this outing, a Valentine's Tea Party, and I suspect I'm not the only one who instantly turns into a little girl when walking in the door. I don't think we have enough play and whimsy in our lives as adults, don't you agree?

I always stop to admire this shadow box table.

Admittedly, I was drawn to this tea by the name: Sparrow's Soul, $6 a pot. I wanted something with rose in it (this was a Valentine's party, after all). This tea had rosebuds, chamomile, French Vervain and linden blossoms. I feel relaxed just looking at this photo.

Half a roasted carrot cumin sandwich with goat cheese and olive tapenade, a cup of black bean soup, and a warm roll, $14. People ask me about vegetarian protein sources, and one of my favorites is beans: they're hearty, filling, and natural.

Warmly recalling this passage from the Prairie Winter chapter of Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek, which actually makes me long for a winter storm,

"All day the storm lasted. The windows were white and the wind never stopped howling and screaming. It was pleasant in the warm house. Laura and Mary did their lessons, and Pa played the fiddle while Ma rocked and kitted, and bean soup simmered on the stove."

I had been eyeing the Queen of Hearts lemon tart with berries when reviewing the menu, but I like to support vegan options when they offer them. Tonight they had banana blueberry vegan scones, but I couldn't say no to a vegan German chocolate cupcake, $3. Divine!

I might be too old for these princess costumes...

...and fairy wings, but you're never too old (or young) for a cheerful apron.

One thing I hope eReaders will never replace: print children's books. Another happy childhood memory: my mother reading a story to me on the couch. My mom stayed at home with me and my sister. I think "stay-at-home mother" (or "father"!) is our most underrated profession.

What were your favorite books as a child? Do you still read books for children and young adults? I've so fallen in love with the Little House series as an adult, and am happily incorporating children's books into my life.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Come One, Come All, to a Country Ball in Honor of George Washington's Birthday

Poor George Washington, your birthday so forgotten, now the Presidents' Day holiday just another sale day, and another day off from work (or for those who don't have off, to be angry they aren't). Not for readers of this blog! We shall attend a Country Ball in River Edge, New Jersey with the Bergen County Historical Society, complete with dancing, cherry pie, and merriment. Full disclosure: I didn't think much about the holiday at all until I got into the spirit by going to this ball the past few years. Re-enactors did the dancing this day, but I had warm memories of getting in on the fun on a warm summer evening in July at the Calico Frolic (flashback here).
I always feel like I'm watching a period movie being shot.

George presenting Martha. He would be the stepfather to her two children from her first marriage, and they would have none of their own (his earlier bout with small pox may have doomed chances for any bloodline descendants).

This American Centennial Quilt was on display, made by Sarah Cooper Hill in 1875 in Hackensack, New Jersey. A true work of art on par with any painting or sculpture.

The detail is extravagant. This is a show piece, but in general, I just love quilts, don't you? I'm not going to add quilting to my seemingly unachievable to do list: speak and write French, learn to tap dance, cook from scratch almost everything, learn to make my own clothes. It is a craft worth admiring.

In the Black Horse tavern, the barman is ready to quench your thirst with some cider.

On the cherry tree myth, Wikipedia notes,
"Apocryphal stories about Washington's childhood include a claim...that he chopped down his father's cherry tree and admitted the deed when questioned: "I can't tell a lie, Pa." The anecdote was first reported by biographer Parson Weems, who after Washington's death interviewed people who knew him also a child. The Weems version was very widely reprinted throughout the 19th century, for example in McGuffey Readers. Moralistic adults wanted children to learn moral lessons from the past from history, especially as taught by great national heroes like Washington. After 1890 however, historians insisted on scientific research methods to validate every story, and there was no evidence for this anecdote apart from Weems' report. Joseph Rodman in 1904 noted that Weems plagiarized other Washington tales from published fiction set in England. No one has found an alternative source for the cherry tree story, thus Weems' credibility is questioned."

Soldiers outside the Dutch Out Kitchen. We tend to not only forget the sacrifices of our founding fathers, but also those who did battle. This observation very much stuck with me on the web site for the Morristown National Park,

"The deep snow was the keystone in the arch of starvation. We were absolutely, literally starved. For four days and as many nights I did not put a single morsel into my mouth except a little black birch bark I gnawed off a limb. Some boiled and ate their shoes. Some officers killed a pet dog for food. If this was not starving, I wonder what was." - Joseph P. Martin

An simple adornment of Indian Corn on the door of the Dutch out kitchen pleases the eye.

The whole foods outside the kitchen, like apples, onions, potatoes and carrots, make you want to a) shun the processed foods too much in many of our diets, and b) go home and make a soup or stew or an apple crisp.

A soldier looks on at the feast being prepared: acorn squash stewed with pears; Brussels sprouts; chicken stew, a corn cheddar chowder, and fresh bread baking.

A woman spinning wool. Think how labor intensive this was.

Something about this piece of Buffalo Pottery just spoke to me in the gift shop. With my 10 percent membership discount, I picked it up for $18. From eHow, "Buffalo Pottery was named for the New York city in which it originated, but the reason the brand became so successful had nothing to do with bison or location. The Buffalo Pottery story began when the owner of the Larkin Soap Company decided to commission a limited edition soap dish to hype flagging sales while differentiating the brand from competitors. Over time, Buffalo Pottery products grew more popular than the soap so the same genius marketer who came up with the idea for the soap dish premium (Mr. Larkin) diversified his holdings and opened a pottery business."
An 18th century bed said to have been slept in by George Washington. A prediction: my IKEA bed frame will not have such a long lifespan.

A young girl walks down a gravel path toward a very modern world, with history in her heart, much like it is in mine.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Jersey Weekend Diary: Journal Writing, A Five and Dime Shop, Estate Sales and the Bendix Diner

Friday Night, February 10: Won a gorgeous diary in a tricky tray raffle with some other goodies (hand crafted coasters with apples on them, a sweatshirt which will come in handy for cool morning walks on the local high school track, instant coffee from Vietnam which I'll use at work instead of those horribly wasteful Keurig coffee pods) at a Hackensack Riverkeeper volunteer appreciation party. There was a nautical theme, and thought of the Keeping Up Appearances episode when Hyacinth invites everyone for nautical buffet on the Contessa 2, her son Sheridan's friend's "yacht" which turns out to be a dumpy old boat.

Not many entries for the journal. Historian David McCullough suggested to keep a journal since no one keeps them anymore. He said some historian will come across it and say, "Look a journal from someone in the 21st century!"

The diary looked really old fashioned, which was what drew me to it. Thought about your pioneer foremothers on the trail documenting the world around them for the ages. Wanting to record my life on paper form for permanence. Got an e-mail reply, "Sent from my mobile device, please excuse the brevity." Thought words are too beautiful for brevity.

Won all those great prizes, and sad I didn't also win the hand crafted clock with birds on them or the throw blanket with ducks. Talk about greedy!

Saturday, February 11: usual stops at Trader Joe's, the thrift shops and such. After failing to find a Valentine's Day card for Steve at the thrift shop (yes, I'm that cheap!), got one at the Five and Dime shop in Westwood. I still remembering going there as a kid to buy a pencil box and paste. Hope kids still have pencil boxes and paste in their lives today. Hope five and dime stores will always exist.

Sunday, February 12. Steve and I are still in our estate sale phase. Not politically correct to say as an environmentalist, but I confess: I love a Sunday drive.

Noticed how in almost every home an old sewing machine is to be found, and of course all the "Made in the USA" and union labels on clothes from just a few decades ago. That morning caught a CBS Sunday Morning segment about people using social media to protest changes corporate America was making. Some were valid, others ridiculous, like customers of the GAP clothing chain in an uproar over a proposed change to their corporate logo. Wish their customers would get in an uproar the majority of the clothes are made abroad in countries we couldn't find on a map by who-knows what kind of labor. Thought in the scheme of things, a logo isn't that important.

Had some cheese, bread, and Orangina to snack on to save money during our drive, but couldn't resist stopping by the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. Diners were on my mind: I had read a New York Times article about the Miss Albany diner closing in Albany, New York.

Something about counters at diners just pulls on my heartstrings. It's so wonderfully Americana. Like walking into many of the homes at estate sales, coming in here was like time traveling. I looked out the window and reflected how much change has occurred around this diner. The television was on. The lead story was the death of New Jersey native singer Whitney Houston.

Steve had French toast. Per usual, history loving dorky me looked up more about French toast from,

"The popular history behind French toast (aka German toast, American toast, Spanish toast, Nun's toast, Cream toast, Breakfast toast, Mennonite toast, Pain Perdu, Panperdy, Arme Ritter, Suppe Dorate, Amarilla, Poor Knights of Windsor) is that it was created by medieval European cooks who needed to use every bit of food they could find to feed their families. They knew old, stale bread (French term "pain perdu" literally means lost bread) could be revived when moistened with milk and enriched with eggs. The traditional method of cookery was on a hot griddle prepped with a little fat (butter, oil). Quite like today.

Actually, recipes for "French toast" can be traced Ancient Roman times. Apicius simply calls it "Another sweet dish." Linguistic evidence confirms the connection, as one of the original French names for this dish is "Pain a la Romaine," or Roman bread. Culinary evidence confirms "French toast" was not just a food of the poor. Recipes printed in ancient and medieval texts employed white bread (the very finest, most expensive bread available at the time) with the crusts cut off. In many cases, expensive spices and almond milk were listed as ingredients. This is not something a poor, hungry person would have eaten. It is also important to note that until very recently, cook books were not written for the the "average" person. Only the noble, wealthy, and religious leaders were taught to read. The recipes contained in them reflect the meals of the upper classes."

Comfort food: my lentil soup and grilled cheese with tomato.

Chatted with the engaging young man whose family owns the diner which he said has been there for more than 70 years. Got into a conversation about how under appreciated beets are and he recommended roasting them. Made a silent vow to try roasted beets. Remembered my American West road trip and all the interactions we had. Wanted to have more like the ones we were having now. What were other Americans thinking? He was sad diners are dying out. We are too. One in Westwood just got bulldozed to the ground and will soon be a CVS pharmacy. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Artist: More than Just a Valentine to Old Hollywood

Leave it to the French to pen a beautiful cinematic love letter to black and white silent films in The Artist. Have you seen it yet? I've seen it twice, and I have the soundtrack in regular rotation. I'd go see it a third time. I left the theater feeling infinitely better than I did before. For two glorious hours, I forgot about my troubles and stress.

The Artist is set between 1929 and 1932 and the Stock Market crash occurs during the film, yet people still flock in droves to the movies as escapism. I'm in the midst of Amor Towles' debut novel Rules of Civility, set in 1938 in New York City, and something he said in an interview struck a chord with me as I've been very drawn to old Hollywood films in the past year.

"It was a tough time for the country, we all understand that, but one of the interesting things about the thirties was as that was playing out - in that decade - was all of the Fed Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies...If you look at the seven most important Marks Brothers movies, Night at the Opera, and Duck Soup and Day at the Races, they were all from that decade. And swing music. So here's this period where people were losing their wealth and dispossessed and unemployed - very tumultuous timing - yet some of the most glamour sort of happy go lucky aspects of American culture history were happening simultaneously. It turns out there was a great appetite for getting lost in glamour at that time and the artistic community responded in kind. It was very different in Germany where you get German expressionism came out of that crisis and you know they were in crisis. Where we came from outerspace, you'd listen to swing music and you wouldn't guess this was a tough time for the country."

It's interesting to reflect now how the artistic community is responding to the economic turbulence. Hollywood is in a sentimental mood. Michelle Williams' brilliant turn as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris which wistfully remembers the artistic creativity of Paris in the 1920s with Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter and F. Scott Fitzgerald among its players. Even Meryl Streep's role as Margaret Thatcher, who like her politics or not, broke down barriers.

Overall, though, I don't understand our tabloid reality television culture and why amidst the economic woes we've gone down that road. I'll take the glamour highway over reality road myself. How much is shock value disguised as "art?" If aliens landed from outerspace in 2012, what would our culture say about us?

Like Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris, Gil who was a writer who so longed to be in the midst of a thriving arts culture, George Valentin, the silent film actor in The Artist, is overwhelmed, and often depressed, by the fast moving world around him, which is so different than the one he knew and loved. It was a world he took for granted until it so rapidly altered. I think that's why I related to it so much. When he saw what "talkies" were going to look like, he wanted no part of it. If that's the future, you can have it, he told his manager.

When I look around in our new intrusive world of socially rude and addictive behavior with handheld phones with internet, the slow death of real books and book stores, Facebook (sorry, I go with my sister's name for it: Stalkerbook!), I feel the same way: if that's the future, you can have it. I miss going out for a nice meal without everyone having a device by their glass of wine or ignoring the person they went to the movie with. When Borders existed. When having "friends" wasn't a numbers game. A friend and fellow writer said to me, "I don't like the way our society is going." I don't like it either sometimes.

Thank goodness I have films like The Artist to escape to.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Before Hallmark, Love through the Ages

Some stories are worth retelling. Here, last year's Valentine's Day post:

On this St. Valentine's Day, a tale from American novelist Keith Donohue's haunting Angels of Destruction, as told by Norah, who may or may not be an angel.

"The past is no more certain than the future. Little is known about the real Valentine, only this. There may have been two. Both were martyrs who died for what they believed. Both lived and died long ago. The first Valentine was a priest in the Roman times when the emperor outlawed marriages for young soldiers. This was done so that they would be more devoted to fighting than their sweethearts. But Valentine felt sorry for those men and married them in secret. When the emperor found out, he had Valentine killed! Off with his head, chop. Sometimes love means sacrifice."

"The Second Valentine was just a man who had been falsely imprisoned. He fell in love with the jailer's daughter and had to smuggle love letters in secret. He signed them, From 'Your Valentine.' These two stories are legends, and not much is known about Saint Valentine."

"The day of February fourteenth is related to love and fertility rites of the pagans. The pagans were people believe in more than one god or sometimes not at all. This is love and fertility rite is the time of the marriage of Zeus and Hera....It was also the feast of Lupercalia, when the boys of Rome ran the streets, striking women with a leather strap. This custom was continued by the Christians. In the Middle Ages, during the coldest part of long winters it became a day when men and women sent each other notes of their true love. These were the first valentines."

"It is a day to look forward to the end of winter and death and to celebrate a new beginning. The Middle Ages poet Chaucer said, "for this was on Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird chooses his mate.""

Learn more about Keith Donohue.

Isn't little Norah right, the past is no more certain than the future, but it is worth exploring so we don't just easily brush this day off as "Oh, that's just another Hallmark holiday." We can overlook the commercial aspect, which is ingrained into almost every aspect of American modern life.

Celebrate romantic love and the art of romance, which seems to be another dying American tradition. Courtship, does that word even exist in our modern age? Eating lunch Sunday at a restaurant, so many sweethearts were not engaged in conversation or looking into each other's eyes - they were looking at their gadgets. It kind of seemed to say, "Sorry, you can't hold my attention for a full meal. Let me check my e-mail!" Dick Powell may only have had eyes for Ruby Keeler in Dames and declared it in song, but eyes seem to stray toward an electronic in the company of others, romantic or mutual.

Look at your bird today, or consider this even if you don't have anyone in your nest: Give thanks that you have the right to choose your mate, which was not always the choice. Although not everyone yet can have their love recognized in the eyes of the law.

Today, give thanks for love.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

January Storytellers: A Month of Books

"The transforming power of a single book is beyond our reckoning," says historian David McCullough, author of works on Truman, John Adams, 1776 and more. Don't you agree? I think of how books form who I am. Some books can be life-changing, and lead you on a different path, others simply offer an enchanting tale. He spoke of Jefferson bringing 80 crates of books back to the United States from Paris to elevate the culture.

I think our culture in 2012 needs elevation. Most of us don't have the time or resources to go back to school, but reading, as much as it is about entertainment and escapism, is very much about continuing education. For last month's reading list, which I'm posting a bit belatedly since it took me into February to finish the last one, I'm including some observations in the context of my blog about the American dream and experience, along with some words from Mr. McCullough. He says he hopes he makes up for some of the bad history teachers people had in school who made it all about dates and memorization. He certainly does for me.

For some reason I was drawn to some New York stories, all stories about women and many about education. These were my storytellers and teachers for January.

Vector: A Modern Love Story, by J.J. Brown, a Christmas gift from the author, a friend.

An unconventional love story about the HIV/AIDS crisis set in New York City with a backdrop of Puccini's La Boheme involving a young opera singer Eva and a philanthropist Michael. Infatuation maybe more so than love for one of the two main characters, but love is everywhere around us in this book: of other people, of causes, of the lands traveled, of the beautiful things we fill our lives with.

This book raises some interesting ethical questions. For example, Eva struggles to understand why Michael helps those in Africa when the suffering and sick are all around him. Isn't this a common society question today? An American actress goes to Cambodia for a film and falls in love with its people and sights and adopts a child in need, but then always the question, but what about those in our backyard?

There is a sick, homeless woman who keeps reappearing who seems to act as some kind of conscience. Eva first seems to finds her repulsive, but later humanizes her and gives her a golden raincoat. Often at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, I see a mentally ill older woman pushing around a baby carriage with her possessions. She's in the ladies room sometimes in the morning wiping down the counter and floor with a paper towel. I want to help her but I'm not sure quite how. Is it easier to help those far away than to deal with someone we see all the time?

Brown's book also very much makes you consider where you get sick impacts your treatment and how long you will live. We now know AIDS isn't the death sentence it once was, but that's if you are born in the right place. If you die of AIDS or an end you brought on yourself by your own actions, are you judged by society and remembered for how you died versus the life you led? When you think of Robert Reed, the iconic father of The Brady Bunch, does how he died come to mind first? How about Rock Hudson? My generation mostly doesn't know his work (only recently did I see Pillow Talk and the other classic films he did with Doris Day). Does his AIDS related death and the fact he was a gay man define his life that strongly?

Vector has a strong moral tale for youth too who view life as being invincible and make bad choices. Many of us here have made some reckless decisions in our life, particularly at an earlier age, and it is only by luck, fate or divine intervention for some unknown reason that we didn't harm ourselves or others. This book, like my final January book, deals with the realities of consequences, and cause and effect, which Mr. McCullough says history is all about. Clearly, Brown's book, like her short story collection Death and the Dream, had my mind racing.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, 35 cents, library book sale.
First, did you know they made a film version in the 1940s? I'd love to do it for my Retro Matinee Movie column, but it's a bit hard to come by.

I know this book always gets summarized as "a coming of age story of a young girl growing up in the early 1900s," but if someone asked me what it is about, I'd say one word: education. I loved the passages on education, how when Francie was born her mother's mother told her to read a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare each day so they'd know their world was bigger than their small community. To tell them fairy tales and stories they know not to be true to inspire creativity. How Francie longed to go to a better school and was always on a path of knowledge and betterment. She is a role model for the ages.

Francie so loved the library, as do I. I can still picture her stealing away some alone time on the fire escape with her water and blue bowl of peppermint treats about to savor her next good read. How important libraries are to all income levels and ages to have access to learning.

"The basis of who we are and why we improved in the course of time - in our lifetime - is education. Education, education, education," says Mr. McCullough. He notes, "Jefferson said, 'Any nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be.' We must keep our education up to the highest standards. We're not doing as good a job as we should be and we can't leave it just up to the teachers. We have to take part ourselves as parents, as grandparents."

I also loved the savings thread. Remember that can Francie's mom would keep tucked away to save. I know so many women who are not saving.

Fifth Avenue, 5 AM, Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Dawn of the Modern Woman, by Sam Wasson, $13.99, Posman Books in Chelsea Market, New York City.
I purchased this book on a whim. I wanted to support bookstores and print books since the growth of all those eBooks is truly starting to frighten me.

This is an overview of the players behind Truman Capote's book-turned-film, and was a quick easy read. I haven't read Breakfast at Tiffany and don't really have a desire to, but Capote's In Cold Blood was a masterpiece. I didn't know Audrey Hepburn suffered from so many miscarriages and had a controlling husband. It is a reminder no charmed life is ever what it seems. Nor did I know about the censorship board of the 1950s keeping all the sex out of films and how groundbreaking some of these movies were. Some interesting tidbits: Capote supposedly wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Go Lightly, and Henry Mancini's famed "Moon River" met with resistance from studio heads. Can you imagine how different that movie would have been?

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 50 cents, Housing Works Thrift Shop, NYC.
Shortly after reading this book, when people complained to me about trivial things like walking to work in the cold in our pretty mild January, I wanted to respond back, "But what about when millions of grasshoppers invaded the prairie and destroyed the Ingalls' wheat crop (and next year's!) when their house wasn't paid for, and Pa had to walk three hundred miles to find farmhand work in his shoes that were falling apart, and Ma had to use a rope to guide her to the barn in the freezing cold and blinding snow to milk the cows, and when Mary and Laura had to use their shiny Christmas penny and had to share, share! the other remaining penny to buy a slate pencil. You can't imagine real suffering and hardship!" But I stopped myself. So good I stop myself.

While the book takes place in the 19th century, I think Mr. McCullough's sentiments about the century before apply here too,

"Anyone who studies the 18th century soon realizes that they were very strong people. Tough. You had to be. Life was as hard as can be. By our standards almost intolerably tough. Uncomfortable, inconvenient. They would look at upon us as softies. We're so coddled and protected. We whimper and complain and cry over the least little thing by their standards. In a day when disease was rampant, when every job had its physical dangers, when people were marked by work injuries, by childhood disease, by childhood accidents that left them with a permanent limp or head cocked to one side. You can read it in the description of what people looked like - pock marks from small pocks. They weren't figures in a costume pageant. They were real human beings."

Laura Ingalls and her family were real human beings too, and yes, their trials do make us look like softies.

I so loved the descriptions of nature in this book. We should all spend one summer on the prairie wading in a creek and eating corn dodgers (no lard on mine!) I worry about all these children glued to devices so young and what effect it will have on their creativity and appreciation of the natural world. Youth is the time to be out exploring nature. I need to explore it more in my adult world too.

Heart of the Trail, The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women, by Mary Barmeyer O'Brien, $9.95, purchased at Bryce Canyon National Park gift shop in Utah.
This was the only book I bought out West, and I wished I purchased more books about Western history and figures. These were short stories of women who migrated Westward. A good overview book that was a bit sparse in detail. So many women recorded what they saw in diaries and letters to loved ones which we now have as a historical record of their trials and also the natural beauty they saw on the trail. While this book is about women, as someone interested in animal welfare issues, I couldn't help hope there's a special peaceful place in the afterlife for the animals who lugged people, supplies and possessions over treacherous conditions for mankind's pursuit of gold, a better life, or many times, just wanderlust. They couldn't speak for themselves, but their plight is remembered in the letters and diaries too.

"You're reading their letters, you're reading their diaries. You can't do that in real life. And of course now today nobody writes letters, nobody writes diaries, so it's going to be tough sledding for the biographers and historians of the future" said Mr. McCullough of his research and the death of the written word. There's not the same permanence to Facebook or blogs. We don't have the moving or visual images of them, but we do have their language, as Mr. McCullough points out. And what a language it was, how people expressed themselves using the beauty of words. It wasn't about clicking "Like" and coming up with a short reply that other users will give a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" to.

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler, 25 cents, library book sale. This book came with high recommendations from Cate from Liberal Simplicity, so when it found me the same day she mentioned it on her blog, I knew it was a sign to read it.

"Between 1945 and 1973, one and a half million babies were relinquished for nonfamily or unrelated adoption," says the author, who was adopted herself. We tend to think of history as some faraway thing or about wars, presidents and religions, but this is personal history that happened in our lifetime. Like Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, this is a book that will stay with me always, and I'm sure might transform the lives of those who read it who have been impacted by adoption. I agree with a reviewer calling this group, "highly marginalized." I never even considered the plight of these women, and didn't realize what a national crisis this was. This is about lack of education on a different level - sex education.

The running thread is the societal judgment of who was fit to be a mother. Was a generation of babies surrendered simply because of what the neighbors thought?

There's a show on MTV called Teen Mom which documents the lives of teenage mothers. I watched some of season one, where a couple Tyler and Catelynn give up their child to a couple in the suburbs and it follows the aftermath. While they were clearly extremely young and had some turbulence in the household (one of the couple's parents had trouble with the law), to me it always smacked a bit of, "Isn't the child so much better off with that well-to-do white couple in the suburbs and not these poor folks."

This quote really stuck with me from a woman named Judith who was forced to give up her child and is now a therapist, "We have changed our idea of mothering. Now you're supposed to have enough money to have two homes and four cars and send your kid to graduate school. Where in the world does this come from? I mean, I see people in therapy who want to be stay-at-home parents when they grow up because both of their highly educated parents have not been around."

In a Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie and her brother actually feel sad their new baby sister will not grow up with the hardships they had. They looked back on their childhood, filled with so many hungry nights, with happy, grateful hearts. It made them who they were. Read any of the Little House books, and find simple pleasures everywhere, like Laura's first taste of lemonade.

I couldn't help think of our attitudes toward the less fortunate and judgement toward them even in 2012. The New York Times featured this ludicrous article about the Eisenhower family objecting to plans to include a barefoot image of the President as a young boy in a memorial.

"The family says Mr. [Frank] Gehry should portray Eisenhower as a man in the fullness of his achievements, not as a callow rustic who made good."

"He was chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States," said Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter. "It's in those roles that America has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him."

"The statue of Ike as a Kansas farmer-boy mocks the president as cornpone in chief, the supreme allied bumpkin," said the nonprofit National Civic Art Society, which focuses on architecture and urban design.

Callow rustic? Cornpone? Bumpkin? Am I the only one who finds this a slap in the face of those of humble means? Are we that hard on the poor or those from rural origins? It reminded me of when Rose told off Blanche on the Golden Girls to stop mocking her St. Olaf, Minnesota farm community and they were descent hard working people and if there weren't farmers there wouldn't be food and then Blanche couldn't go on a diet and what would she do for the rest of her life!?!

I think of Laura Ingalls walking to school barefooted with her sister Mary. I don't consider them callow rustics. Laura would grow up to be a great author who would enlighten millions of readers what it was like to be raised during the expansion of our young nation and give us in modern life a good dose of perspective.

Fessler's book made me grateful for the advances we've made, but sadly ignorance and discrimination are underlying currents in any society.

What great books have you been reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.