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May 2011

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The Impact of Memoirs 

May 30, 2011

On this Memorial Day when we honor those who have died in battle we can also honor the memories of those who've fought through the various challenges  people face in life. 30 Moving Memoirs Every Student Should Read is an article Carol Brown recently shared with me.

The human condition is chronicled in varied ways in these memoirs. You can discover unconventional stories of the human spirit, including that of a journalist who got the assignment to cover the Vietnam war as a replacement for a reporter who committed suicide, a tale of losing a husband and mother to cancer only a few weeks apart, the saga of the only civilian survivor of a bombing in Iraq, the power of a canteen for some WWII soldiers and several other intimate insights into the trials and triumphs of life.

Now that summer is here this could be a good time to read some of these amazing memoirs.

The Times They Are Accumulating

May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan from 1965Today is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. Wow, the times they are accumulating! His BOB-ness is probably the most influential songwriter on our time. Through the years his lyrics have given voice to many causes. He's sung about injustice, civil rights, war and dignity. He's also been a troubadour of love and love lost. It's hard to imagine the impact he's had on uncountable singers and songwriters.

Everybody has their favorite Dylan songs and albums. There are so many. Blood on the Tracks still speaks to me on a deep level, as does Blonde on Blonde. And some of the times I've seen him perform have been amazing. While some people were criticizing him for his evangelical period I was captivated by his two-nights of concerts at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From that period I still treasure songs like "Serve Somebody" and "Every Grain of Sand".

The L.A. Times Pop & Hiss has a nice post about his birthday some noteworthy things to consider. Happy Birthday, Bob - may you stay forever young.

Confronting Culture

May 23, 2011

One of the most challenging situations in life can be when you encounter other cultures and don't understand what it taking place. Embarrassment or confusion can often occur. Sometimes it ends up being funny, but maybe not at the time.

It is very important for us to learn about diverse cultures. People are people, but customs and traditions vary, sometimes radically. We don't all observe the same rules when it comes to things like introductions, personal space and displaying emotions. Think, too, about the very different types of food and clothing you encounter with various cultures.

An ESL class I've been substitute teaching for had an interesting assignment today. These English as a second language learners were introduced to some different accounts of cross-cultural interaction. We read about the Cambodian refugee who settled in the United States and her first day of elementary school was St. Patrick's Day. She had no idea why other students were pinching her. And she got offended and starting pinching back. At least until her observant teacher pulled her aside and pinned a green shamrock on her white blouse and explained the tradition of wearing green for this holiday.

There was another story about a girl inviting her friend over for a birthday party. Her friend was from India and became clearly uncomfortable when the meal was served that included roast beef. But her family quickly came up with a "plan b" when they discovered that cows were sacred to many Indians.

My students were asked to write about an experience that included culture differences and resulted in confusion, embarrassment or even humor. The class includes students from India, Japan, China and Mexico. It will be interesting to see what they write about.

This can be a very good excersise for your life story. Do you have any "other culture" experiences to relate? What is it like to go to someplace new where you don't know the customs? How do you treat those with different cultural backgrounds from your own?

A global project from last year (10/10/10) that captured One Day on Earth helps showcase the amazing diversity of people. A documentary DVD is about to be released.

Tunnel Runner

May 16, 2011

It's been a couple of weeks now since Osama Bin Laden was shot dead by U.S. Navy Seals. I have had some time to reflect on it. And mostly I've found myself thinking about September 11, 2001. That day directly impacted some innocent and wonderful people. The chief villain, terrorist Bin Laden, is now dead, but I can't shake the melancholy for the families and friends of the nearly 3,000 who died that fateful day.

I am a huge baseball fan and you might wonder what brings that sentence into this post. Well, it just so happens that I was visiting one of my favorite blogs, Josh Wilker's excellent Cardboard Gods site. Josh is a writer and baseball fan (and any-day-now-new Dad) who has captured imaginations and fans with both his site and his book, Cardboard Gods: An American Tale. He writes about baseball players from his card collection when he was a kid. There's plenty of mulling about the game, the players and stats. But there is also pathos and real insight into the human condition.

His post from May 2 featured the baseball card of George Brett and Josh musing over the announcement by the President that Bin Laden had been killed. What Josh did in his post was special. Instead of rambling on about Bin Laden, terrorists and all those Phillies fans texting each other during the Sunday ESPN game he told us about Stephen Siller, NYC firefighter who died on 9-11. Siller had just gotten off the graveyard shift and was heading home when he heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The man turned right around and headed back to the station. But the tunnel was closed. No sweat, he merely hoofed the 3+ miles (in his 60 lbs of gear!) to Ground Zero and began doing what came natural. Helping. And, yes, he lost his life that day.

Josh Wilker found out that in Siller's life timeline there was an interesting tidbit (among the many, like being orphaned at 10 and raised by older siblings, raising a big family himself and becoming a firefighter). This particular item noted how Stephen made a roadtrip to Kansas City to see George Brett play his final game. Then he turned right around and drove back right after the game. Do the math - that's a pretty intense roadtrip from New York. That's dedication. That's discipline. That's following your bliss.

Every year there is a 5k run to honor Siller and raise money for a worthwhile cause. The Tunnel to Towers run follows Stephen's footsteps that day and honors his memory. Wilker ran it in 2002 and it was clearly an emotional experience. How could it not be?

Sometimes we need to be reminded about the real heroes among us. I certainly count Stephen Siller among them. Oddly enough, it came via
a blog posting about an historic event and a grand old game.


May 13, 2011
Friday the 13th superstitions
Today is Friday the 13th and even though most of us consider superstition to be silly there is still a significant number of people who believe something bad might...could...will happen to them when the calendar coincides a Friday with the 13th of a month. An article on goes into some of the history of Friday the 13th (Norse mythology and a goddess named Frigga are contributors to the lore) and relates how it can even impact business to the loss of nearly a billion dollars on the days it occurs because so many people stay home. Well, if there is any truth to that I'm glad the only occurence in 2011 is today!

Paraskevidekatriaphobics is the term given to those who have an irrational fear of something bad happening to them on Friday the 13th (more info). That's quite a word - I'm not sure I can even pronounce it.

So do you have any superstitions? Are there any relatives who have interesting superstitious experiences to relate? This could be an interesting thing to write about and add to your family history or life story.

My New Hero

May 9, 2011

A few days ago, thanks to the tip of fellow Association of Personal Historians member Marcy Davis, I discovered the amazing story of Rose Gilbert. In this article on the Huffington Post you will discover how she has been teaching about 60 years and at the age of 92 has no intention of retiring!

Rose Gilbert (no relation) is my new hero! I've just completed a two year process to become a certified teacher in New Mexico and I'm embarking on this new career at the age of 55. I still plan to continue life story preservation and in many ways teaching young people will go hand-in-hand with that. Sometimes I wonder if I'll be able to do much by becoming a teacher at this at this time in my life. Then I think of Rose Gilbert. I want you all to discover the great passion and spunk that "Mama G" (as her students call her) displays every day.

She clearly believes in hard work, yet having fun. If you watch the video with the article you see her in action. She's engaging her High School students and bringing out their best. She values each of them. So many lives have been touched by her and she does something that really matters. She has outlived her husband, but he left his wealth to her and she has used it to help with college scholarships to over 100 students at her alma mater, UCLA.

The world is full of heroes - real heroes who seize each day and live it with gusto and bring the rest of us along for the ride. You, go Mama G!
| story here |

Magnificent Mom

May 8, 2011

The influence of a mother can be very profound. An NPR / StoryCorps story by William Anthony Cobb (see here) in which he credits his mother, Mary Cobb, with teaching him the importance of respecting all people and being able to talk to anyone, resonated with me. My mom was also big on respect - not just for her, but for myself and certainly for other people. Cobb and I also share in common the loss of our mothers from the same disease.

It was five years ago that my mother was battling pancreatic cancer. That is a particularly agressive form of cancer and there often is no recovery. Mom faced it bravely and showed great dignity and acceptance in her final months. She passed in June of 2006 so the Mother's Day the month before was both special and memorable. She and Dad were in Kansas City so it was a long drive from New Mexico. But it was worth every moment as I had an opportunity to visit her that weekend before her disease had advanced too far. It was a real gift to spend time with her and I will always cherish the memories.

Mothers have the hardest job and so many moms are magnificent in the way they go about their lives. They work hard to help us kids through the ups and downs of life, yet they rarely get the recognition or appreciation they deserve.

On this Mother's Day I'm remembering my mom, but also trying to show appreciation more to my wife (mother of our two wonderful children), my mother-in-law, my daughter (who made us proud grandparents last year), my sister who has raised two children, and to the many other women who give of themselves unselfishly to "mother" others, whether or not those they help are their own children.

A Mother's Place Is in the Heart

May 5, 2011

Mother's Day is this Sunday (May 8) and I've been thinking about how we view motherhood. It is perhaps the highest calling; certainly it is the greatest act of nurturing. A mother's place is not so much "in the home" as the cliche states, as it is in the heart. The heartbeat of each family often comes from our moms.

I realize not all people have a good experience with either their mother or being one. It varies depending on so many circumstances and variables - from income level to broken homes, personalities to mental health, from passionate views to compassionate care. But when we recognize what an enormous task it is to be a mom, the sacrifice it takes and how each mother approaches it we are reminded that there is no one easy definition for every mother.

My mother was a woman of quiet strength. She was content to be supportive and thoughtful. She was an avid reader and someone who enjoyed quiet mornings. Still, I remember her and my dad bickering like married couples do (sometimes I recognize I am guilty of the same with my wife!). And she could call me or my siblings on the carpet and address our behaviour firmly when we were out of line.

Seeing a mother with their child, especially in moments like birth, first steps, the start of school or on their wedding day, helps us recognize what pride and love truly are. You can't always put it in words, but you can see it in their faces. I got thinking about this today while reading David Ulin's (Los Angeles Times reporter) review of the new biography of Barack Obama's mother. "A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother" by Janny Scott is just out from Riverhead. Ulin points out that the biographer describes Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Durham, as "tough and unconventional, aloof and occasionally distant, not unlike her son."

Of course, it is necessary to frame her story with the fact that her son became President. But all mothers have their lives as well as living for their children. Why not give some thought to your mom's life story. Look at who you are and what part your mother played in that. Then look carefully at all she's been through. Consider coversations that draw out her story and, in turn, has her revealing something about her upbringing and own mother.

Mothers are one of our greatest treasures. Remember and honor them.

Ten Years After 9/11 - Bin Laden Dead

May 1, 2011

The news broke less than an hour ago that the world's most sought after  terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed. This has been a top objective of the United States government ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It's been ten years of a deadly game of "hide and seek" to capture the mastermind of numerous terrorist attacks, not just the 9/11 tragedies that resulted in over 3,000 deaths in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and aboard Flight 93 that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

This is an historic moment. As you heard the news you processed where you were at and you undoubtedly feel the impact of our globalized society.

Killing in the name of any extreme cause should never be celebrated. I still mourn for the families of the victims of 9/11. But I also worry about the fervor and possible flames of hatred that can be fanned by the "eye for an eye" philosophy. The only way to overcome hate and violence is by the higher power of love and reconciliation. This doesn't preclude justice. And I know my comments might get taken out of context. But I yearn for a world of peace and brotherhood. The extremists have no right to inflict their reign of terror. But we also must beware of drinking from the intoxicating bottle of vengeance.

What can we do as ordinary citizens. We can cultivate peace by rising above hatred and fear. We need to show the world that most people want the same things - love, respect and acceptance. How we live our lives in this endeavor is the legacy we leave to our descendents.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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