Monthly Archives: June 2013

Wishing for a broadsword, using a keyboard

One of the greatest dangers voters can fall into is the assumption that politics have has ‘always been this way’ or ‘never been this bad.’ The first mindset leads to despair, the second to desperation. Both eventually result in disillusionment. To be an informed voter and not be constantly panicking or willfully ignoring the ebbs and tides of politics is a precarious and often uneasy balance.  However, without it, it is almost impossible to act as a healthy citizen interacting in a republic.

Cynicism certainly has its place in the political sphere. In fact, it is a necessity when confronting human nature. As James Madison famously said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary”. In an age where policy interchangeably links with a good sob-story for emotional appeal, caution is certainly called for. The problem is where “caution” becomes meaningless misanthropy for all aspects of the political process. It is a reality that government is a necessity. Unfortunately, government is also made up of humans and humans are fallen. To complete Madison’s thought, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” It was because of this he argued for checks and balances in the Constitution. Unfortunately, time has shown that checks and balances are not always enough. The power of some offices grow at the cost of others. The people have not jealously guarded their rights. Our elected officers throughout the ages have proven their nature and been self-seeking. This is a reality. Our government, however, cannot and must not be written off as eternally damned! To do so completely eliminates hope. The very fact that our Founding Fathers so many years ago could strive for a higher goal, could dream of the Republic they were creating, could write and speak of such things as checks and balances must encourage us because there is a reason for such hope. The experiment has not yet failed and even if it has, we must pick up and start again. Mankind may never reach an angelic state, but that does not mean we don’t strive towards it. It does not mean we turn a blind eye to the failings of our officers because “it will always be that way”. It does not mean we abandon hope to the tidal wave of attack. Even if it is a hopeless cause, we fight because there are things more important than life. It almost seems easier to pick up a broadsword and hack at the problems. Unfortunately, the struggles besetting our culture and country cannot be found in a physical object to hack at. It takes words and actions and trudging back to the polls even when a chosen candidate loses. Even when a politician turns corrupt. It takes raising a generation to follow in the search for freedom, and even then marching on if they turn. It takes calling a spade a spade, and pointing out when the emperor has no clothe. It is a lifetime of duty. It is adulthood. The problem does not go away because it is ignored. The problem gets worse. Edmund Burke said, “ All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”.

However, it is easy to swing too far in the opposite direction and right into another fallacy. While a single decision or moment can make a huge difference, it is important to remember what David Hume once wrote: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” A battle is not a war. An election is not a lifetime. It is easy to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and certain that the entire balance of the world now hangs by a thread….and only your action can save it. Such excess of emotion is egotistical, though, and unprofitable. It does the world no good if you are paralyzed with fear or overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation. Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” It is okay to mourn for a night, but the world does not rise or fall by one man or woman. Your Congressman, President, or local garbadge man will not single handedly destroy or save freedom, baseball, and apple pie. It takes a series of battles, a slow erosion, a continual lapse of vigilance.  Until the end there is hope. After all, it can always get worse! The generation fighting for freedom is not the first to fight, and will not be the last. A remnant always remains. The war is continuous and remains continuous. Ronald Reagan so famously said “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.” Do not expect to defeat those who would take away liberties in a moment, much less a generation. There is only so much you can do. The fight goes on. New enemies arrive and new strategies are devised. Be ever vigilant, ever wary, but enjoy the time you have. It is possible to fret yourself to death over something you have no control over. So don’t. Stay passionate, stay involved, but realize that while your actions are important and they do put a dent in the battle, decisive, war-ending victory does not rise or fall by your or anyone’s single hand.

I am young and have not experienced much of life, but I have felt the temptation of both sides. I have known the panic and the need to do something…and I’ve known frustration and ease of just ignoring it all. I am young and so I yet believe it is possible to find a balance between the two. We’ll never completely destroy tyranny, and so we must embrace our freedom by seeking it in our everyday lives. I am young and thus naive and I know there are a thousand arguments, a million reasons for stepping away or giving into despair. Yet I also realize that to do so is to exacerbate the problem. My generation will not save America. In our turn, we will fail. Epically. My generation will battle and leave our children a war not yet won. They in their turn will fight, and maybe there will be fewer fighting, maybe more, and battles will be won and lost and the cycle will continue on. As we are not alone in history, as our ancestors’ actions and words influence us, so time will bear witness of our struggle for posterity. The point is that we have fought in our turn and not given up. We must dare to hope, dare to fight, be realistic about the results and human nature, but never despairing. We must in turn carry “noble emotion” in our hearts…and practical wisdom at our fingertips. Really, who can sum it up better than Patrick Henry himself? 

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”

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The Sherwood Ring

Better than Christmas, birthdays, and the 4th of July combined is that day when the new Sonlight school books arrive. The semester has yet to begin. Summer still remains and math has not managed to make our lives miserable yet. The books still smell new. New read alouds, new readers, and new history books. An entire semester of good fiction ahead. Ahhhh, it’s a glorious feeling for a bookworm.

It was not long after one of these particularly magical days that I picked up The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope for the first time. It was just too tempting. The synopsis sounded so good and the cold basement made for an excellent place to avoid the sun (my favorite pastime in the summer). ‘Twas love at first read. It’s an exciting romp, a creative and imaginative story, and easily stands as one of my favorite books. It was our read aloud a few weeks later and a re-read over and over for me from that day on.

Plot:
Side note, The Sherwood Ring, alas if you are like me and immediately associate the two, has nothing to do with Sherwood Forrest or Robin Hood, but it has just about everything else. Colonial spies, intrigue, mystery, love!
Newly orphaned Peggy Graham has spent her entire life ‘staying out of the way’. When her Father’s dies, she is sent to live with her Uncle at the family estate of  RestandBeThankful. Almost immediately she is caught off-guard by the strange place: a mysterious young woman, the strange behavior of her uncle, and the handsome young historian who befriends her. Her adventure is only just beginning, though. RestandBeThankful is haunted. Not by your typical ghost-in-chains, but by revolutionary era family members! Through their narratives, Peggy finds herself plunged into a hundred year old mystery and romance, involving the indomitable Richard, the spunky Eleanor, the spirited Barbara, and the clever British spy, Peaceable Sherwood.  As each character takes a turn relating their story, the plot builds and Peggy begins to realize that  RestandBeThankful has one last mystery to reveal…

Literary Love:
The Sherwood Ring is a great story. The historical characters are well-developed and the interchanging viewpoints flow well together. There is build and growth. While some have criticized the “modern” parts of the story, I think the Revolutionary parts make up for anything. Richard and Eleanor and Barbara and Peaceable are like old friends. Peggy’s lonesomeness and self-reliance is well formed and the shrewd laziness of Peaceable Sherwood is reminiscent of all the best heroes (Sir Percy Blakeney….Mycroft Holmes*….) It’s so much fun.

It’s a cozy, comfy sort of book full of adventure and lessons about life but nothing too tedious. It makes for a good read aloud and is the sort of book guys and girls can enjoy. It is full of clever codes and situations as spies battle and wits are matched. There are so many funny little scenes tucked in the pages and enjoyable moments of dialogue or action. I love the pictures. As I sit here, I’ve stretched my mind back to think of a particular moment to share or a dialogue to post or a good scene of description, but like a good inside joke none of it makes much sense out of context. It just is. And that pretty much sums up The Sherwood Ring for me. It it is not quite comfort food, but it is close. It’s a healthy dose of fun and takes place during the Revolutionary War, one of my favorite settings. And it is. It’s a wonderful read.  It’s a must read, and a good book to nourish children on. They will learn “pride goeth before a fall” but it will be accompanied by a sense of justice and humor. It teaches young ladies to stand tall and young men to get back up again when they fall down. In the end, the girl can be won, the battle fought, and the mystery solved, it just takes effort.

So do yourself a favor and if you haven’t read The Sherwood Ring yet, go do so. And if you have, re-read it. It’s a worthy thing to fill yourself up with.

*Anna is laughing at me, so possibly Mycroft homes isn’t a ‘best hero.’ But still, he’s pretty awesome, so we’re gonna roll with it.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I was around 11 years old the first time Mom read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare out loud to us. That was a good year for read-alouds. We were studying American history, and that meant Johnny Tremain, Carry On Mr Bowditch, Sign of the Beaver, and Calico Bush. My favorite, though, the book I picked up and read and re-read until I wore out our copy and had to buy a new one…that was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It is the first book I remember reading over and over and probably remains the story I have read the most. In fact, I just re-read it. I wasn’t sure I could put words to a review. Can something so personal really be explained? 

Plot: 
For those of you who haven’t read it, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is about orphaned sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler. Raised on the beautiful island of Barbados, Kit is forced to leave her tropical home for the cold, uninviting Connecticut Colony of Wethersfield where her strict Puritan relatives don’t know what to do with her. Where once she knew silks and petticoats and the care of black slaves, she is now forced to work and wear the plain cotton dress considered appropriate to the austere population. Her only comfort is found in the meadows where the old Quaker woman, Hannah Tupper, resides. Will she ever be able to reconcile herself to the stubborn New England population, or will she return to Barbados? And when the unthinkable happens and the mob goes after Hannah as a witch, can she save her in time? And where does the mocking young sailor, Nat Eaton, fit in? 

Literary Love:
One of my favorite passages is when Kit first sees the meadows…

As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From the first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own. As far as she could see they stretched on either side, a great level sea of green, broken here and there by a solitary graceful elm. Was it the fields of sugar cane they brought to mind, or the endless reach of the ocean to meet the sky? Or was it simply the sense of freedom and space and light that spoke to her of home?…How often she would come back she had no way of foreseeing, nor could she know that never, in the months to come, would the Meadows break the promise they held for her at this moment, a promise of peace and quietness and of comfort for a troubled heart.

Go and ahead and re-read that. Form each word in your mouth. Taste it. I love the writing in this book.

I also love the characters. Hannah Tupper used to mystify me. Where did she go when the floods came and filled her little cottage by Blackbird Pond? She was homey and wonderful and more then once, I joined Kit and Prudence and Hannah on the sun-warmed floor with the kittens and blueberry cake or sat in the eaves as the roof as Kit and Nat re-thatched it. There is lots of character change, whether Kit learning to love her new homeland or her cousin Judith navigating beaus. I love Kit’s cousin Mercy. I think Nat might have been my first Favorite Literary Guy. 

More than anything, though, more than the characters and the writing…I love the time this takes place. When men and women grew up fast and worked hard. When America was tamed by colonist and their fight for the independence. I love the description of the New England men, firm rock. Uncle Matthew, John Holbrook, William Ashby, and of course Nat Eaton. They valued their independence and would not easily submit to a King’s rule, a King’s governor, or extra taxes on the land they tamed with their own hand. This is the true founding of the United States. The beginning steps that led up to Lexington and the Declaration of Independence and on and on….
All in a novel. 

It’s books like this one that prove why stories can be so powerful. There is no deeper meaning  carefully hidden in the pages, you don’t have to have a doctorate to discern the story. It’s a good novel, comforting and well-written, but it is also a young woman from Barbados, a Royalist, a total stranger coming to understand and love the spirit that tamed the colonies. It was a spirit that fed me as a girl, that formed deep within and taught me to hope and dream. It was a spirit that found strength from the novels I loved and the history I read. 

So to understand me, you have to try and understand that part of me. The reason I was probably the only high school girl with a picture of George Washington hanging above my bed instead of a favorite pop-band. The reason the Revolutionary War captures my imagination so. The reason I can get so excited over long dead philosophers like John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu. Because they wrote about freedom. I look out my window, and I see carefully paved roads, solid houses, and trees that have never felt the bite of an ax. But go a little farther and you can see the field-stone farmhouse from the 1800s where my Grandparents live and my ancestors settled many, many years ago. Go a little farther and you can see the one-room school house still standing where my relative many, many years ago taught school to the pioneer children. Go back even farther and watch as my ancestor joined in signing the Mayflower Compact. Go back farther and trace British roots and the sense of personal freedom stretching from the Magna Carta to the book of Deuteronomy and on and on. 

Patriotic is sort of a cheesy word these days. Red, white and blue. And yet it is possible for us to be patriotic because of those log cabins and the ships that traded dangerously in wind-tossed sea. It is possible for us to be patriotic because our ancestors so many years ago stood up for their rights and freedom against the King. I love The Witch of Blackbird Pond because that rock that Kit learns to lean on, that stubborn independence, that fight for liberty….that’s in my blood. Our culture may dilute it. Historians may re-write it. The well-manicured lawns outside my window may poo-poo it. But I know, deep down inside, that when the time comes, we must fight for our rights. The United States was an experiment. It was men fighting the charters of their King. And though time may lull us, the experiment is not yet over.  That is what I know, and that is why this book is so important to me. 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond


The Pressure of an Introduction

The first post on a blog is an intimidating thing. It’s the beginning. The hook. The first impression. It’s a taste of what the blog could become…or what it will never be. It’s where I state my intentions (I really don’t have any outside of generally keeping people updated on Oxford University), make promises I probably won’t keep (I have a very poor track record when it comes to consistently blogging), and somehow…talk about me.

Geesh, the About page was hard enough.

If you know me or have followed my attempts at blogging previously, then the whole thing is kind of redundant. You also know that despite my best intentions to be creative and interesting I mostly post about books and politics. If you don’t know me, well, howdoyoudo. I could pull a teenage girl card and say something sappy like ‘I love life! And puppies and the color pink!’ But I’m almost-no-longer a teenage girl and I don’t think life is something you can just haphazardly claim to love because…

Image

I also prefer to cats to dogs and green to pink. Preferences, y’know. So that rules out sappy fangirling about my life. Which leads us to option two – random pointless details. I grew up in Wisconsin, go to college in Tennessee, and was homeschooled K through 12.  Don’t you feel so enlightened? It doesn’t say much about me. 

The deal is…I read. A lot. I have read 92 new books up to this point in the year while taking 19 credits and now working full time. Of course, there are other bookworms out there. I’ve met speed readers who could totally outdistance my puny 92 books within a few weeks. In fact, with more time on my hands I could probably double it myself. What I have come to learn makes me so unusual, though, is that I re-read. All the time. I didn’t think it was that unusual, it was something you did. As Susan Sontag wrote, “No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading.”

Or in the words of C.S. Lewis, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Or, as my philosophy goes, at least once or twice a year. But turns out, as I learned for the first time in high school, most people don’t do that. Favorite books are not worn thin; random passages are not memorized through frequent reading. That is sort of just me. Which gives us a starting point, doesn’t it? François Mauriac said,

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

That’s how you’ll get to know me. That’s how Fernweh’s Call will get its beginning. To experience fernweh, you have to know something else is out there. You have to hunger for more. Your imagination must be awakened and your sense of adventure stirred.

Books are the first step. They were for me. And these are the books that helped awaken a sense of fernweh in me. To know a man, know what he re-reads? My books are nothing deep. Some are downright cheesy. Some are historical fiction. Some, I’ll be honest, I read over and over  as a kid and now realize are pretty mediocre. But they are my books, and that is the best About I can give you.