Ordinary but Remarkable

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., my husband and I visited monuments to some extraordinary people–some who founded this country, others who led us through tough times. We remember and honor one such person today–Martin Luther King. Thinking of these people leads me to also to think of the millions of extraordinary people who go unrecognized.

In 2016 I had a surprise encounter in a cemetery with a couple of long-dead uncles (long story, another post) that inspired me to finally begin work on a family history that is now in the works. As I learn more about each family member it strikes me that these ordinary people let truly remarkable lives.

Two such ordinary men were Charley and Johei.

Charley was born shortly after the civil war. He met and married Minnie in Texas where they began their lives together. Around 1910, Charley moved his growing  family to the Sacramento area where he worked as a laborer, helping build a bridge over the Sacramento River.

While Charley was building a bridge in California, Johei was working as a farm hand on Vashon Island, Washington, having come from Japan via Hawaii. He eventually made his way to the mainland Seattle area. Johei married his picture bride, Hatsuma, and they raised their family near Seattle. By then, Johei had begun farming on his own. He worked land owned by others, because the law prevented Japanese immigrants from purchasing their own land. Johei improved the land, installing a sprinkler irrigation system to extend his growing season. He was the only Japanese farmer in western Washington to do so.

Both Charley and Johei and their families lived through the years of World War I and endured the Great Depression. Charley did not live to see World War II; Johei and his family had their lives ripped away from them when Executive Order 9066 caused them to be sent to concentration camps for the duration of the war.

And so it goes.

The U.S. has been built by millions of Charleys and Joheis. They have farmed the lands, built the bridges and skyscrapers, educated the children, defended us and saved the world from tyrants. Billionaires and moguls owe their success to these ordinary people, without whom they could not have built their financial empires.

Lately those billionaires and moguls, including the President, have come to believe they are entitled to more. They prey upon the poor. They ravage sacred lands to add to their bank accounts. They take away from the ordinary but remarkable people who have built this country in order to enrich themselves. Congress enables them.

It is time for those of us who are able to speak out against this trend. It is time to elect officials who will work for the ordinary people they are elected and sworn to represent. It is time for all of us to become involved at the voting booth. It is time to honor the millions of remarkable, ordinary men and women who built this country.


Minnie and Clarence RussellCharlie and Minnie


Down Memory Lane

Happy Free-Reading New Year’s Eve! Pardon my absence over the past few weeks. I’ve been on something of a reading binge. Among other books I’ve reread some childhood favorites.

On a recent trip to Seattle, we visited a favorite consignment shop. I didn’t make any purchases this time, although I found a chair I’d have loved to have. It would have been difficult to load it onto the plane for the trip home.

While checking the book section, I noticed a familiar title–Five Little Peppers and How they Grew by Margaret Sidney. It was my very first chapter book when I was about seven. My own well-worn copy was lost long ago–accidentally donated with the remains of a garage sale. I didn’t purchase this particular volume. If it had been the edition I had owned as a youngster, I would have snatched it up in a minute; but I already had a replacement copy back home.

I had already planned to reread Five Little Peppers and How They Grew from the perspective of an adult. Back home, it seemed like a good choice for my next book.

As I read, I was transported to 1957 and the green couch in our house on Amber Street. I revisited the Pepper family once again. I agonized with Polly over the temperamental stove and her bout with the measles.  I remembered practicing piano, pretending to be Polly playing the piano in the home of her benefactor. My visit lasted a few short, enjoyable hours.

In 2018, I plan to read more children’s and  young adult literature. Books written for kids often hold much wisdom for us adults.

I wish you many enjoyable reading hours in 2018.





Stocking Up

It’s a rainy Free-Reading Friday here in southern Idaho. What a perfect time to sit by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book.

Earlier today my husband and I had errands in Boise, so we hit the holiday book sale at the public library. We spent an enjoyable while browsing the shelves in search of bargains. As we left with our purchases, my husband remarked, “I guess we don’t need to hit Barnes and Noble this trip.”

My guess is we’re set for reading material through December. It would be a long, cold winter without something to read.

That doesn’t mean we won’t buy more books. It’s what we do. It’s nearly time to cull the shelves and donate a few books to make room for the new ones. I might even clear off the top of the piano.

I just finished reading Origin by Dan Brown. Set in Spain, it is typical Brown–a murder early in the plot, Robert Langdon teaming up with a beautiful woman to solve the mystery, symbols for Langdon to decipher, religious controversy, crazy twists throughout. Artificial intelligence plays a part as well. In all, it was a quick, enjoyable read, and provided me with some food for thought.

Next on my reading list is Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!



Me, Too

Yesterday as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed, I noticed several “Me, Too” posts in response to the recent campaign to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. One of the posts asked, “Why didn’t all these women speak out and share their stories sooner?”

That might be a fair question were it not for the fact that women and girls are systemically taught to stay silent.

I can only speak for myself. Frankly, it had never occurred to me to speak out until this campaign encouraged me to do so.

I might not have joined in at all if not for a coincidence. The day before I became aware of the “Me, Too” movement, I read the obituary of a man who had harassed me years ago. Reading of his passing reminded me of his behavior and of other incidents I have encountered over the years.

So why didn’t I share?

I learned from a very early age that speaking out would change little to nothing. When a little boy on the playground hits or teases a little girl, the girl’s complaints are met with, “Oh, it’s just his way of saying he likes you.” “Ignore him.” “Be a good sport.” “Laugh it off.”

Often the little boy in question is not asked to change his behavior. He might even be given a wink, an implicit “Attaboy!”

Little boys grow into bigger boys, and the behavior escalates. The girl is sometimes blamed. She continues to be told, “Get over it.”

The phrase “sexual harassment” was not part of my language when I was a young professional. I was simply a woman putting up with unwanted advances by the creepy guy who worked down the hall, “showing he liked me.” I brushed it off as I had been taught to do.

Women have always looked out for each other. We warn one another about the creepy guys. We tell friends to watch out for the date with “Roman hands and Russian fingers,” or the one who expects certain favors in exchange for dinner and a movie. We try to protect one another, but the behavior of the creepy guys continues.

I suspect that even in 2017, for every woman or man who speaks out about sexual harassment or assault, there are dozens who quietly suck it up, laugh it off, and try silently to “get over it.” They have many reasons to stay quiet, and should not be required to tell their stories; but they should certainly be believed and supported when they do so.


Musings on Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, I am rereading 1984 by George Orwell. My choice of books was inspired by an incident earlier this month in an eastern Idaho school district.

In Rigby, Idaho, in response to a parent complaint about the book, school officials considered removing 1984 from the curriculum of high school senior government classes. In the end they allowed the book to remain in the hands of students.

About three years ago, a similar incident occurred in Meridian, Idaho. The school board removed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from school reading lists, but with a different result. Someone who disagreed with the board’s decision obtained a number of copies of the book and stood in a nearby park after school (off school grounds) and distributed free copies to students as they left school for the day. The teens gladly accepted the gifts. Sherman Alexie heard of the situation and donated more copies of the book to be given away.

What happens when you tell teenagers (or anyone else) they may not read a certain title? Many will find a way to read it.

During my years as a high school English teacher, I took advantage of this bit of reverse psychology and gave students a reading assignment. Around the time of Banned Books Week, students were asked to chose and read a book that had been banned or challenged somewhere in the world. They were also to research the reasons for the challenge. Students then shared what they had learned. They never ceased to be surprised about the books which have been banned throughout history and the reasons why.

Charlotte’s Web.


The Grapes of Wrath.

The Bible.

The Color Purple.

Brave New World.

Captain Underpants.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Wait, what??? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It had to do with mistaken identity. The author had the same name as another author whose ideology did not mesh with that of the school board which banned the book.

There seems to be no shortage of people who wish to control what others can and cannot read.* It’s called mind control.

I prefer to think for myself. I chose my own books to read. I celebrate Banned Books Week by reading banned books throughout the year.

My banned books assignment was widely popular among my junior and senior English students. Surprisingly, in five or six years of my assigning banned books to students, not one single parent complained.

On a side note, my husband and I toured the Library of Congress this past week. During Banned Books Week–how cool is that! We learned that Thomas Jefferson owned 6,000 books. I wonder how many of those have been banned over the years.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday and read a banned book!

banned books

*I’m not talking here about parents’ monitoring and guidance of what their own children read. Parents absolutely have a responsibility to see that their children read age-appropriate material.









Humanitarian Hospitality

I’ve been listening to news about Hurricane Harvey and reports of the rescues by first responders and good Samaritans. Disasters like this seem to bring out the best in folks who are willing to help wherever they can.

I’d like to think that everyone would step in to help in the face of a great emergency. Having just read The German Girl, by Armando Lucas Correa, I’m not so sure.

In 1939, a German ship, the MS St. Louis, set sail for Cuba with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. Shortly before the ship arrived in Cuba, the Cuban government had a change of heart and denied entry to all but a few of the passengers. The United States and Canada also refused to allow the refugees into their countries. The St. Louis returned to Europe where the refugees were accepted into several European countries. Eventually, as World War II waged on, many of these people fell victim to the death camps.

The German Girl, a novel, is the story of Hannah, who was twelve years old when she and her family set sail on the St. Louis. The story is told alternately by Hannah and her descendant, Anna, who is learning to deal with a tragedy of her own. It was one of those “can’t put down” books; despite the heart-wrenching story, it was enjoyable and easy to read.

While The German Girl is not specifically labeled for young people, I would encourage older high school students to read it. The plight of Jewish refugees during World War II is one of those stories that needs to be told and retold.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!

The German Girl

It’s Time

I had planned for this post to be about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. I’ll have to put that one on hold for a later post. Recent news has compelled me to comment, or rant, about another topic.

It is high time for President Trump to go away.

Yesterday, Donald Trump granted a pardon to Joe Arpaio. Arpaio had been convicted of defying a federal injunction to stop detaining individuals based on what amounts to racial profiling. Trump’s pardon of Arpaio flouts both the law and the power of the federal courts.

This isn’t the first time Trump has thumbed his nose at decency.

By his remarks in response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump has emboldened white supremacists and other hate groups.

He has repeatedly offended leaders of other nations.

He seems to govern by tweet.

His financial dealings are shady at best.

His bombastic remarks aimed at North Korea created some tense moments over the possibility of nuclear war. The threat is still there, but Trump has moved on to create havoc on other fronts.

Donald Trump has called global warming a hoax, and pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. (This seems to be a total reversal of his views in 2009 when he signed a letter calling for urgent action on climate change.*)

The President called for an investigation into voter fraud seemingly because he thought he didn’t win the election by a wide enough margin.

He has spent an inordinate amount of time playing golf.

He has also spent way too much time pandering to his base and holding rallies that look like campaign events. He is less than a year into his first (and I hope only) term. He should be using that time to take seriously the tasks of governing.

His supporters have continually turned a blind eye to his displays of racism, cruelty, and mental instability.

And then there’s the Russian problem.

If none of this terrifies you, you haven’t been paying attention; or maybe you just don’t care.

It is time for Congress to stop enabling this madness. It is time for Donald Trump to go away.

I remain cautiously optimistic that this country will one day return to sanity.

To my fellow Americans: Please use the power of your voices and votes where you feel they will do the most good.

To my readers who are not Americans: Please pray for our country.

einstein quote *http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/12/trump-climate-timeline/