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  • Rebekah James 8:00 am on May 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Memorial Day, , , , Veterans, World War I, WW1   

    Origins of Memorial Day – by Mike James 



     

    It’s the 3 day weekend that officially kicks off the summer season!  A time for hanging at the beach, Bar-b-que, even catching a few laps of the Indy 500.  But Memorial Day is also the most solemn American holiday.  A day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending their nation.

     

    The Civil war, America’s bloodiest chapter, with over 600,000 soldiers killed in action.  Almost every community in every state suffered the loss of young men. As the war came to an end, mourners in both northern and southern states began placing flags and flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers.  The town of Waterloo New York is credited with officially starting the holiday.  On May 5th, 1866, its citizens closed their shops and businesses so that everyone could decorate the graves of everyone killed during the war.  Then an old war general had an idea…..

     

    John A Logan was the leader of the Union Veteran Association.  He spearheaded an effort to unite all the decoration services into 1 national holiday, designating May 30th as Decoration Day.  On the first National Decoration Day in 1868, 5,000 war widows, orphans and other mourners gathered at Arlington National Cemetery.  They placed flowers and ribbons on the 20,000 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  Two future presidents and fellow Union veterans, Ulysses S. Grant and James A. Garfield, attended the ceremony.

     

    Throughout the 19th century, Decoration Day grew.  Ceremonies were held on civil war battlefields like Gettysburg Pennsylvania and Antietam Field in Maryland.  By the end of the century, the holiday was renamed Memorial Day.  But war wounds ran deep, most southern states refused to commemorate a holiday they regarded as honoring Union soldiers, so each state commemorated their war dead with different Confederate Decoration Days.  Some states continue this tradition to this day.

     

    World War 1 ushered in the art of modern warfare.  America lost over 130,000 soldiers in the global conflict.  This shared experience finally bonded Americas north and south.   When the war ended, May 30th became a day to honor ALL American soldiers who died in battle as far back as the revolutionary war.

     

    America interred its first unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice day 1921.  Every Memorial Day, this soldier and other unknown soldiers are honored with a wreath laying ceremony conducted by the President or Vice President.  They are reminders of all those who never made it home.

     

    Memorial became a federal holiday in 1971 and congress shifted it from May 30th to the 4th Monday in May, giving Federal workers a 3 day weekend.

     

    All across America, civilians and Veterans still gather in parades and vigils to remember the generations who gave their lives for their nation’s freedom.

     

     
  • Rebekah James 2:23 pm on May 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    S is for Silence 


    I make it no secret that I am a big fan of Sue Grafton. I think I may want to be Sue someday when I grow up. In the last couple of months, I have been revisiting her work, starting with the first in the series, and working my way through the alphabet. Over the course of the series, you get to know Kinsey Millhone, the practical, tough, and very human private investigator who lives in the idyllic town of Santa Theresa California. In her earlier books, Grafton worked very hard to disguise the lovely Santa Barbara, surrounding towns, but apparently, the secret is out after 19 books, and this time the main action takes place in Santa Maria, further up the coast from Santa Theresa.  As far as I know, there is no actual town of Serena Station.

    S is for Silence is by far my favorite of the series. There is a film noir quality about the book as the action shifts not only from the “present” day of 1987, but 34 years earlier to 1953 and the disappearance of a woman who is widely believed to have run off. Kinsey is called on by Daisy, the woman’s daughter who was 7 years old when her mother disappeared. Daisy has decided it is time to answer a very simple, but profound question – Did her mother simply abandon her?

    Unlike the previous books, in which the story is told strictly from Kinsey’s viewpoint, this time, we are treated to the events from the viewpoints of those who lived them. The contrasts between the past and present are drawn clearly, both underscoring how far we have come, and how little has really changed.  (There are several lesbian characters in the book, which would have been shocking in 1953 but is never made an issue in the slightest in the 1987 scenes, while the promiscuity of the central figure and missing woman is still causing ripples of shock and dismay.) It is easy to picture the older, flashback scenes as if they were done in black and white, and the character of Violet as some Hollywood starlet, while the more modern scenes are clearly in color, with more up to date characters.

    More than anything else, this book is about relationships: The relationship between parents and children here, the complexities of friendships, relationships between spouses, and looser relationships among long-standing acquaintances. It is about how our perceptions shape our reality. The pacing is fast, and even as a re-read, I found myself pushing through to the end. We weave in and out of the lives of the players in a relatively small town.  Kinsey is her same self, though perhaps a gentler and as is appropriate, more mature Kinsey than we have seen before. We are still led on a merry chase of misdirection and frustration as she struggles to put the pieces together. I will say, in this case, while the endings to Grafton’s books always surprise me, this one really did catch me off guard.

    My review – 5 of 5 stars this time.

     
  • Rebekah James 12:49 pm on May 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Q is for Quarry, ,   

    Q is for Quarry review 


    Q is for Quarry.
    In my ongoing re-read /inspiration/learning quest (and in anticipation of the soon to be released V is for Violence in November of this year) I picked up Q is for Quarry over the weekend. This is 17th book in the Kinsey Milhone series and while I adore Sue Grafton’s work, this was not exactly my favorite of the series. Grafton is a master of pacing, giving both Kinsey and the reader just enough time to catch our breath in between scenes. I found this one just a tad slower than the usual pace of the books. That being said, this is still excellently crafted. The plot is complicated, with players coming and going throughout, but no end is left loose. Misdirection and mounting frustration build throughout the book until I wanted to throw it around the room (fortunately calmer senses prevailed and I didn’t propel my Nook across the room.). Even if I had though, I would have picked it right up again. Only one complaint, there is a subplot involving Henry that seems a little less gracefully worked than usual.  The answers are found later in the series, but it is a bit confusing if you were a first time reader. I also found myself getting a little annoyed with Kinsey and her attitude toward family. She has questions and there are living relatives to answer them. Perhaps I am projecting my own adoption issues onto Kinsey, but I wanted to tell Kinsey, stop whining, just sit down and have a talk already, it won’t kill you. Fortunately, 17 books into the series, I think that Grafton has earned the right to extend her questions across books, and even let her characters while just a little bit.

    My review: 4 of 5 tars this time.

     
  • Rebekah James 11:35 am on May 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Spring Road Trip 2001 – Day 2 


    Day 2

    On the second day of our road trip, our goal was to reach Farmington, NM by early afternoon as we had something we wanted to do there. We also wanted to find a Starbucks (well I did) because it was Earth day and they were giving away free coffee to anyone with a travel mug, which I had clenched in my hand. There was no Starbucks in Santa Rosa where we had spent the night, but I did snag a half cup from the Days Inn we stayed at the night before. (They won out over the Travel Lodge since they offered waffles with their free breakfast and free Wi-Fi so I could bemoan the uncomfortable bed and the less than hygienically clean room on twitter.) We had two options available to go through Taos or Albuquerque. Even though Taos was a little farther, we decided that was our preferred route and we would end up only an hour and a half away from Farmington. I take full responsibility for what happened next. Not having a specific place in mind, I put “Taos” into the GPS and when presented with an array of choices for streets I randomly picked one assuming that we could adjust as we got closer. My bad.

    Our GPS is nicknamed Maggie. It is a Magellan, and speaks in a female voice, so Maggie. Not very creative I know but that is what we call her. Maggie doesn’t understand concepts like take us to the downtown area of a city, or even take us to a city. She will guide you to the exact pinpoint on the planet that you specify. You have the option to choose fastest route, shortest route, avoid freeways and most use of freeways. I personally think that this particular trip was revenge for all the time she said, “Turn left here” and I ignored her. Maggie offered a street labeled Fifth which sounded pretty much like city to me. I also selected shortest route. For a while, we were on a narrow two-lane highway that was marked on the map as being not necessarily a direct route, but pretty much the only route from Santa Rosa to Taos. We passed through Las Vegas NM where there was some kind of long pilgrimage going on. We counted over 100 people all walking along the highway in groups for nearly 5 miles. This was very puzzling for a while until we remembered, belatedly, that it was not only Earth Day and Pesah, but that there were a few people who were celebrating that little known holiday – Easter. We weren’t sure of their destination but many were carrying crosses and other ornaments so we guessed it had something to do with Good Friday. (No radio reception in this area in English, so we were simply guessing.) Oh and by the way, there is no Starbucks in Las Vegas NM, which probably explains why everyone looked so depressed; the coffee at the gas station where we stopped was terrible.

    Then, about an hour past Las Vegas, the trouble started. There was a point where Maggie told us to turn off from the highway we thought we were going to take for another 20 miles. Mike turned and I tried to pull up the map on the iPad only to discover that we were out of 3G ranges (Guess the few cows we saw weren’t considered possible subscribers.) There was a sign that marked the road we were turning on, but it was not marked on our paper map that we had brought as a backup. The road wound off behind a mountain and disappeared. We decided that since Maggie was still blithely tracking 15 satellites and following “shortest route” that perhaps she knew something we didn’t and after all what is a GPS for? “It’s an adventure,” Mike told me as we barreled off the highway and onto the new road.

    The road was paved for the first mile. Lines, dashes, a shoulder all of that stuff that makes you think you are on an actual road. That was just to lure you in. It quickly turned into a gravel road, and narrowed down quite a bit. Maggie was still pointing in the general Northwest direction we thought she should, so we kept going. The gravel gave way to dirt, and the few houses we were passing disappeared. The trees were thicker. Still no 3G to check the map – in fact we lost signal altogether. The paper map and compass said we were headed in the right general direction. The “road” narrowed even further, it was barely one lane wide and in some places we had to ‘squeeze’ by since there were often steep drop offs on the side. (For those of you wondering how a truck manages to ‘squeeze’ on a narrow road like that, don’t ask, I am not sure how we did it either. I was getting more and more worried by the moment – Mike was having a ball. At one point (thankfully at a flatter spot on the road), it was so narrow our wheels were off the road on the grass to either side. Mike cheered our truck on and didn’t even pause to slow down when we had to ford across a stream that was going over the little bridge we crossed. His argument was we were only going 25 MPH anyway, why slow down. Mike reassured me by pointing out that our progress was being witnessed by cattle – and generally speaking, cattle aren’t wild, someone is going to round them up eventually so we really weren’t out in the ‘middle of nowhere’ as I claimed. Somehow, the idea that future leather seats were about to witness our plunge into a ravine wasn’t really very comforting to me. Maybe those placid looks that we were getting were really cow for “so that is Cousin George you have there on the front seat, serves you right to fall in the ravine.” I tried to remember it was Pesah (Passover) and that it was somewhat appropriate that we spent nearly 2 hours wandering through the wilderness.

    I nearly squeaked with relief when Maggie announced that we were coming to a turn, and as we rounded the corner, we could see that beautiful ribbon of actual asphalt. There was even a house visible on the far side. We turned as directed and breathed a sigh of relief. This road was actually on our paper map, we knew roughly where we were and only 2 hours behind our loose schedule. Then about a mile down the road, Maggie started talking about turning again. What? We went to the maps. No 3G available to get the close up and again the road we would be turning on wasn’t on the paper map. Even the ever-adventurous Mike paused at this. We stopped to consider – the dirt road was little more than two worn wheel tracks. Cattle were standing to one side as if daring us to take it. We looked at Maggie. Fifth Street, Taos NM was still the intended destination. We drove a few more feet further and Maggie started recalculating. Ok, this was good, she was going to keep us on the paved road, and we liked that. Another 100 feet or so, there was another dirt track to the left and Maggie cheerfully announced, “PING-PONG, You have arrived.”

    I can’t really tell you the response this got from Mike and me because it involved a lot of words that aren’t fit for printing along the lines of “What the **** and degenerated from there. I think even the truck joined in for a minute. We pulled over again, looking around. Two-lane highway, dilapidated barn, a few cattle, cliffs on one side, nothing but trees and ravine on the other. On the far side of the field with the cattle, there was what probably was a house, but this did not fit any of the travel brochures we had seen about Taos. Maybe the mailing address was Taos, but this was definitely not what we had intended. Mike decided to continue on the paved road on the logic that it was at least headed in the right direction according to the compass. I began digging in our stash of travel brochures for something that had an actual address in Taos that we knew was in the city itself. Maggie mournfully started recalculating, urging us to make a u-turn at the next legal opportunity and we put her on mute until we had some idea of what to do. Finally, I located a brochure for a winery that proclaimed the presence of its store in “downtown” Taos. I reprogrammed Maggie who now agreed that we were on the right road, and we arrived in Taos only an hour later.

    Just FYI, there was no Starbucks in Taos either. We wandered around for a half an hour looking in overpriced boutiques that were clearly aimed at fleecing tourist money with very few actual handmade pieces and very little of the art that the area is so famous for. In one store, I actually saw clothing that was mass-produced in India with the labels still on being offered as handmade Native American clothing. While I am sure that there ARE actually talented craftsmen and artisans in the area, we didn’t find any and were pretty far behind schedule so we grabbed lunch at the local Burger King (which actually has passable veggie burgers) and headed onward.

    We arrived in Farmington shortly after 6 pm, much later than we expected. Our first stop was the cemetery, but it was already too late for us to do what we wanted there, so we scouted out a hotel (the winner today was motel 6, which was just as uncomfortable and marginally hygienic as the night before). Nothing of interest really happened on the way there so we were just tired and after foraging for food, just went back to the room and crashed.

    Estimated travel time for the day – 6 hours. Our travel time, closer to 9 hours.

     
  • Rebekah James 11:18 am on May 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Spring Vacation – Day One 


    Spring road trip 2011

    One of the things love most about my husband is a healthy sense of adventure.  One of the ways this manifests itself is that at least once a year we take a road trip. Note I didn’t say plan a road trip.  We pick an end destination, figure out how long it would take normal people to get there – I.e. People who actually care if they reach the final destination or not, and double the time it would take them to get there.  Then we pull together a travel kit of comfortable clothes, a few snacks, and the first aid kit to prove we are responsible and head out.  This year our destination was a small town near Durango, CO with a planned stop in Farmington, NM.

    After a flurry of last minute packing and instructions to the people caring for our menagerie at home, we tucked ourselves into bed with the intention of getting up super early and beating the morning traffic.  The third time I hit the snooze alarm I finally extracted myself from a dream state enough to remember why I had been silly enough to set it in the first place.   Only an hour later than we had intended to leave, we topped off the gas tank, pointed the GPS toward Taos, NM which seemed reasonably close to Farmington, and headed onto the open road.

    Our first stop on these adventures is usually breakfast and of course coffee for me. (My husband manages to function reasonably well without coffee which is, as far as I am concerned one of the great mysteries of the universe.)  We picked Whataburger this morning since road trips always require something that is decadent and off diet to start out with so you are in the proper mood.

    After creeping along with traffic for an hour to get out of the Dallas area, accompanied by much muttering under the breath and grumping about the misty, rainy weather on the part of my husband, however we played our favorite game on the road – creating dialogue for other drivers. We usually get a lot of confused looks as we do this since we often get into character with odd facial expressions and gestures.  We made it as far as a Love’s truck stop about two hours north of Dallas where we stopped for “supplies” and a quick bathroom break. Supplies this time were in the form of trail mix (for me) and beef jerky (for him). The first serious stop was in Childers, TX where we found what looked like a small little antiques shop. Inside however, it was like falling into the Rabbit Hole – filled with all sorts of odds and ends, and using TARDIS technology to expand it 3 or 4 times to the exterior size. The clerk was delighted to see us (she told us so very effluently).  It was a little over priced however for our budget and we didn’t really recommend it since many things there were billed as antiques but were in fact reproductions. We escaped with a small candle.

    The real treasure in Childress however was a half mile down the road in the form of the 501 winery.  Just three blocks off the highway, the 501 winery was quite a treat.  We sampled 8 different wines, all from Texas wineries in the Wichita Falls area.  Ranging from a sweet Muscat to a cabernet dry enough to pucker for, the wines were excellent.  We ended up taking 3 – a Riesling, a rose and their own bottling of a petite syrah that is definitely worth of a special occasion.  If you are in the area, it is definitely worth a stop.

    Our next stop was a serious contrast -we stopped at the Bobcat Den for lunch.  We always try to find as many locally owned places as possible when we travel.  This place was a shrine to the local high school- whose mascot is *Drum roll* the Bobcat. The inside was decorated so fully with the school football, baseball and cheerleading uniforms it was actually initially confusing to find the counter to place our orders. While we waited for our food, we chatted with the locals about the wildfires that are plaguing the area, In Wichita County alone, there have been almost 12,000 acres burned.

    Further down the road we discovered fields covered with what looked like snow – turned out this was the left over from the cotton harvest.  I personally had never seen cotton growing, and we actually pulled off to the side of the road to gather some up – it is amazingly soft, I was really impressed!

    There isn’t really much else going on in this part of the world, great expanses of open space and quiet. Even the radio seemed to be fading, so we rode most of the way just watching the road go by.

    About half way between Amarillo and Santa Rosa, and pretty much right in the middle of nowhere, we discovered a family by the side of the road staring glumly at a blown out tire. Overcoming the flashes of horror movies in our head we stopped and offered to help. Turned out they just needed a tire iron, to change the tire and get them to where they needed to go.  We didn’t have the right size so we drove up to the next intersection (about 20 miles) and back to pick one up.   We didn’t mind the detour since we were pretty much floating anyway, and ended up stopping an hour later for the night in Santa Rosa.  Along the way we recited much of the movie Cars to each other, and just because of that, stopped at the ‘Route 66 Diner” and watched for Tow-Mater and Lighting McQueen to come by.

    Thus ends day one of the road trip – Our travel time was about 12 hours. The GPS thought it should have taken us 8.  I will be posting the remaining days as I get my notes sorted out.

     
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