Category: history

Atlanta Fun Day 2: MLK, Southern Food, Botanical Gardens

If you are someone who doesn’t like to read travelogues of other peoples vacations this post is not for you! I recently returned from a half business/half fun trip and it was a great experience. The work part was very effective and rewarding and the vacation part super fun.  I posted on Thursday about my food tour of Atlanta which was a wonderful way to be introduced to the city.

This trip was a solo trip which some people find very intimidating and it can be but it has its advantages.  First of all, you can do whatever you want.  If you want to eat at the same place for all 3 meals you can.  If you want to sleep in till noon you can.  It’s your trip and you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s opinion or tastes.  You can also go at your own pace which for me is a huge advantage.  I’m a tough person to travel with because I am slow and need to rest frequently. Sometimes if I’m with others I feel guilty holding them back but by myself I can just walk in my way and savor the experience.

Traveling solo can be very rejuvenating when with others it can be more exhausting but still fun.  Either way I encourage you to take advantage of what opportunities come your way.   I’m so glad I stretched a business trip into a little solo trip.  There was no option to travel with another person so I took advantage of the chance I had and I’d encourage you to do the same.

breakfast meSo day 2 started out sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely morning.  Then I went to a popular breakfast spot called West Egg and got a southern breakfast.

southern breakfastI had a pimento cheese omelet with bacon, grits, biscuit and fried green tomatoes.  It was good but I kind of wished I had ordered the pancakes.  I figured I could order pancakes anywhere but they looked so good.  I try to get local flavors when I visit new places and I’m glad I did.  This was my second time eating fried green tomatoes and I’m not a huge fan of the dish.  Something about the texture of big warm tomatoes isn’t my favorite.  Live and learn!

Always got to have your orange juice.

After a pleasant brunch I went to the Martin Luther King historic site.  It was a neat place and I left feeling inspired by the words of Dr King and the courage the Civil Rights movement showed.   The site is very large with 5 buildings including visitors center, Ebenezer Baptist Church (MLK’s first church), Auburn St restored firehouse, MLK tomb and Freedom Walk, and MLK birthplace.  It was all put together very well with lots of volunteers which I feel gives a heart to the tours you don’t get with paid tour guides.

In the visitors center they have a recreation of the Selma bridge march and you can stand amongst the figures and feel a little bit of what it might have been like.  All the exhibits were very well done with a mixture of video, memorabilia and more hands on like the statues.



I was very moved by this plaque with Dr King describing his calling to the movement.  “I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying ‘stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth.  God will be on your side forever”.  I can relate to that experience of receiving a call from the Lord and the reassurance I am up for the task (nothing like what Dr King was asked to do but I could relate on a smaller level).  I know that Dr King wasn’t a perfect man but God works through imperfect people to do great things and we can certainly see that with him.  This calling reminded me a little bit of Joseph Smith’s communion with God in liberty jail where he worried and turned to God receiving the guidance to go on serving boldly to the end of his life.



king calling This quote also touched my heart.  It was written by Dr King from jail in 1963.  “when you are…living constantly at tiptoe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a denigrating sense of ‘nobodiness’; than you will understand why we find it difficult to wait”.   I can’t begin to understand what that kind of hate and persecution must have been like but  I can relate to small moments of being ‘plagued with inner fears and outer resentments’. Again nothing like what they went through but I guess finding some part of my own life that could relate to these feelings helped the experience at the site feel real and less like a textbook. It certainly took great courage to do what they did and I was humbled to be immersed in their stories for an afternoon.

freedomLeading up to MLK’s tomb there is a long freedom walk with a fountain that goes 4 or 5 levels.  Considering it was in the middle of the city it felt contemplative and peaceful.  freedom walkwayAt Ebenezer Baptist Church they have stained glass, which I love, and a recording by Dr King called The Drum Major Instinct.  It’s long but I was really moved by his words about the dangers of envy, enmity and selfishness.  That if we must fight the temptation to vault ourselves up higher than anyone else.  It was just a neat experience to be in the room, hear his voice preaching and think about what I could do to be less selfish and envious. If you are looking for a good listen for your morning devotionals or scripture studies this would be a very good one.

ebenezer2After all the MLK sites it was time for dinner and since I had been dreaming about it after the sample on the food tour I decided to go and get a full size portion of fried chicken at Max’s Wine Dive.  As I said in my tour review this is the perfect place to go on a tour for me because I would never have gone into such a place on my own because I don’t drink alcohol and wine is in the name.  This fried chicken is the best I’ve ever had.  It was so moist and yet still very crispy.  It has a little bit of heat from jalapenos in the soak and they give you a chipotle honey which undercuts the heat..  So good!  They serve it with mashed potatoes and greens that are also to die for.

chickenI guess the key to the chicken is to fry it on low heat for a long period of time.  The waitress said 285 for like 20 minutes.   I’m going to try it one of these days because unfortunately Atlanta is too far away for me to get it again anytime soon.  One of the yummiest things I’ve ever eaten bar none!

After my dinner I still had time and was feeling pretty energetic so I went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  I have never been to a botanical gardens like this but it was huge and featured an outdoor walkway with lush trees.

botanical gardensA pond with a ‘Earth Goddess’ statue.

earth goddess 1A Japanese garden

japanese gardenA edible vegetable garden with a wall of herbs

veggie garden truthsI loved this covered walkway.

walkwayThen there was a large indoor section with an orchid garden that was stunning ( I love orchids!)

orchidsA rainforest section with all these vines hanging everywhere.  The photo doesn’t really do it justice.  It was so beautiful.

rain forestIt was such a stunning place and may have even been the highlight of the trip.  I spent about 3 hours there just walking at my own pace, enjoying how beautiful it was.   In fact, I even got to meet a frog friend…

frog prince2
It’s like the garden variety of a mascot like Mickey or Minnie.
Will I get my prince?
Will I get my prince?

All in all it was a fantastic day and for all that I did it didn’t feel rushed or crammed in.  Just a fun leisurely day with good history, nature and food.  My kind of vacation!

12 Years a Slave: A Review

12 years 6

(This is a somewhat detailed review so if you are the type that wants no plot or analysis before seeing a movie mild spoiler warning.  I couldn’t talk about it any other way.  I tried)

So I finally did it today- I watched 12 Years a Slave for Family Home Evening.  I’ve been debating for months whether I should see it because I had heard how intense and violent it was but being convinced it was an important film I decided to rent it and see what I thought.

I know many of my friends have had the same reservations so let me start with the violence. It is disturbing, sad, tragic whichever adjective you wish to use.  There is no doubt about it, but I do think some of the worry is a bit overblown.

It’s kind of a hard movie to review. At least I’m struggling to put my reaction into words. (I’ve written this like 3 times and started over unsatisfied with my portrayal).

12 years 4

12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a freeman in pre-civil war Washington DC who is abducted and forced into slavery for 12 years.

It is not a hopeful movie, and perhaps that is appropriate.  Even when Solomon is rescued after 12 years it is done slightly begrudgingly with more persuasion than the audience feels should be required after witnessing such things.  I have no doubt such hesitation is completely accurate but I’m just saying it is not a sentimental movie in any way.

In fact, at the beginning Solomon is kidnapped with a woman who is torn away from her children (who she is tricked into coming after and then captured).  This woman cries for days to the point of irritating all around her.  That’s where the movie starts- the most guttural humane reaction of Mother for her children is an annoyance and a bother.

I’m not saying this as a criticism but it is much more disturbing than any of the violence displayed (which again is very disturbing).  It’s almost as if the movie is saying ‘stop crying and listen’.

Another running scene that is almost crueler than the whippings is when the slaves are forced to dance before their masters as if all was well and happy.  It makes you sick.

In a lot of ways this  movie reminded me of one of my favorite books Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs/Linda Brendt; however, we as readers feel more invested in Harriet’s story than Solomon’s and there is one great friend in the book that gives some hope.

It’s kind of like in the telling of the Holocaust.  I think there is a place for hopeless, tragic versions like Night by Eli Weisel, but also for Man Search for Meaning or The Hiding Place.  I’m glad I read all of them.

Anyway, Solomon goes through a lot of masters/white men played by Paul Giamatti (as one of the slave merchants), Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch (as a slave owner who seems kindly but fails to do the right thing), Michael Fassbender (as the main master and a man who has convinced himself that all he does is validated, even required by God), Sarah Paulson is chilling as Fassbender’s jealous wife, Brad Pitt as a Canadian who finally has some courage.

DF-02868FD.psdOddly enough there aren’t many developed black, slave characters.  Besides Solomon there is Patsey. She is played by Luipita Nyong’o. Patsey is tortured by Fassbender, and she is a quiet, shy sufferer. (In certain scene Fassbender even has a strange dependence upon Patsey) More briefly seen is Alfre Woodard who is excellent as a fellow slave that has risen through the ranks and now has slaves of her own- very chilling.

12 years 12A good movie to compare 12 Years a Slave too is Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad, which tells the story of a mutiny aboard a slave ship in the late 18th century.

12 Years is a much smaller movie than Amistad.  Spielberg seemingly can’t resist the dramatic music cues and soaring speeches but even without that Amistad’s story is about a ship full of slaves, the Congress, an ex-president and a case before the Supreme Court.  It all feels bigger than 12 Years a Slave.

Now I think 12 Years is a better movie than Amistad because of it’s smaller, more intimate nature.  At all times, the audience is kept at a bit of a distance from the story, violence and even Solomon himself.  Most stories like this have narration or a scene where someone explains why these things are wrong.  That is not necessary.  Everyone knows why.

However, some have criticized the film as being too small. Peter Malamud Smith of Slate said:

“We’re more invested in one hero than in millions of victims; if we’re forced to imagine ourselves enslaved, we want to imagine ourselves as Northup, a special person who miraculously escaped the system that attempted to crush him”

I can see why Smith feels this way, but I disagree. I think I can learn more and feel more empathy for one person’s story than a slew of faces.  This is Solomon and Patsey’s story and only one of them escapes- a pain that is as much if not more deeply felt than a shipload of humanity suffering in Amistad.

Like I said, both have their place and are worth telling, but I think 12 Years a Slave is the better movie.  In some ways I wish we got even more inside Solomon and Patsey’s head. They are the emotional core of the movie, and I could have done with one less beating montage and more of their discussion.

That said, I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would in the movie and that kind of disturbs me  given the images. But when I think back to the beginning with the slave girl sobbing to the point of annoyance I wonder if the movie-makers are trying to teach me something, and that perhaps my response is intended?

Maybe by showing that lack of empathy early on, the movie is cautioning us against such sentimentality and asking you to think and absorb what really happened to these people with no exclamation points needed?

The most heartbreaking scene in the movie for me (mild spoiler) is when Solomon thinks he has found someone he can trust with a letter to his friends up North. You see the relief and hope in his eyes (again the movie has little hope) and when that trust is betrayed it was more brutal than any beating for me.

slave 13Sarah Paulson also has some of the most shocking scenes as Fassbender’s jealous wife.  In many shots we see her hovering in the corner watching the horrific scenes, and even encouraging them to take place.

The ultimate example is when Patsey goes to get soap from Alfre Woodard because Paulson has refused to allow her to clean to the point where her stench is making Patsey ill. Worried she has ran off Fassbender becomes enraged and Paulson stands by to watch.

If I’m going to nitpick the movie is a little cluttered and I kind of wish there were a few less white guys and a few more slaves to know and feel for, but I see why they did. Still, a few characters could have been trimmed.

Also some of the accents are very strange. I read that director Steve McQueen was going for specific regional dialect but it sounded like Brits and Germans trying to sound Southern.  Surely they could have gotten a few authentically Southern actors?

But like I said, that’s nitpicking.  It’s a very strong movie.  A few months ago I got in a debate with a person on twitter over Gone with the Wind and it’s portrayal of slavery.  I wish that person could see 12 Years a Slave and then tell me with an ounce of sincerity that Gone with the Wind is anything but complete fantasy (entertaining fantasy you can make an argument but at best it’s a well-meaning soap opera).

So, in the end- the violence is bad but not as bad as some have made it out to be.  It’s uncomfortable and will make you squirm in your seat but I think that’s appropriate.  It’s a small movie focusing on 2 slaves and 6-8 white masters.  It’s not heavy-handed with modern preaching (like The Conspirator a couple years a go…)

It’s a movie that will make you think.  Think about evil and how we rationalize freedom away from people because of a label.  How we make it ok to do horrible things to each other because that person is black, christian, jewish, muslim whatever.

The performances are all excellent and as an educational experience I highly recommend 12 Years a Slave.

I can see why you wouldn’t want or need to see the movie because of the intensity and violence, but I would at least challenge you to learn about what really happened from as many angles as you can. Do not be satisfied with anything too neat or dainty.

You should be left wondering why.

Christmas without any Carols


I’ve had a thoroughly delightful Christmas season including three performances of the Messiah, lots of lights, Festival of Trees, and the Christmas Carol last night.  Tonight I will be singing in our semi-annual recital for my voice lessons.   I usually do a traditional Christian carol but decided to switch it up this year with ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ because I felt it was ironic for 2 reasons-

1. I’m not going home for Christmas and at the end it says ‘if only in my dreams’ (like many of the songs from the 40’s and 50’s there is a hint of melancholy in the depth of what is otherwise a cheerful song.  ie Somewhere Over the Rainbow “If happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow why, oh why can’t I?”).

2. I will be getting a new home, my first home, right after Christmas so the song works on that level as well.

Here it is.   As I’ve said before I’m no American Idol winner but I was happy with it.  The video isn’t great because I forgot my camera so I just had my phone, but I hope you all enjoy!

Anyway, as I’ve been preparing I have noticed a troubling trend- almost none of the stores or restaurants I have frequented this season have been playing Christmas music.  I’m not just talking about the ‘O Holy Night’ Christian variety.   They aren’t even playing the Santa, Rudolph variety.  I have never noticed this before and it makes me very sad.

For hundreds of years singing has been an integral part of the Christmas experience.  According to my old friend Wikipedia the first carols were sung in 1426 by “groups of ‘wassailers‘, who went from house to house”.  Then in the 1700’s Protestant churches wrote many of the popular carols we know today such ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘I Saw 3 Ships’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.

Think about what this means- that for 500+ years western civilization has sung the  carols at Christmas as part of our tradition and now it is not heard much (and this was not just an isolated incident Walmart, Postnet, Kohls, Scheels, Zupas, Wells Fargo, Dollar Tree…I could go on. None had Christmas music playing).  That is a radical shift! Not even Republics have been around that long!

And why? Because everyone is so afraid of offending a tiny minority of extremists who will make a fuss.  I realize that non-Christians are not a tiny minority but most of them participate in the cultural traditions of Christmas and ignore the religious connotations.  Most Jewish, Atheist, or agnostics that I have met still put up a Christmas tree and sing the Christmas songs without any problem at all.  It’s part of our community, our traditions, as Hanukkah and Ramadan are starting to become.

But again they are not turning off Christmas music because of these good people celebrating other traditions, they are doing it out of fear of the one squeaky voice who makes a scene.  Well, maybe I can be that squeaky voice.  I love Christmas music.  It’s positive, hopeful, peaceful, happy, and as a Christian I miss having one season of the year where I could hear uplifting music wherever I went.  Is that so wrong?

If it was good enough for civilization for 500+ years surely it is still needed today?  I do believe the further our nation gets away from God and Jesus Christ, the further we move from freedom.  However, I also recognize that not everyone shares this view.  Why can’t we find a common ground of traditions and community bonding in shared space?  Why do we seem to only listen to one side of this argument?   It’s like a separation of church and state (not in the constitution btw) has come to mean a separation between all culture, business, community, and church; and I don’t think that’s what the founding father’s had in mind.

Here’s my plea to businesses out there- Please play Christmas music!  Especially after the events of last Friday we could all use a little peace on earth, good will towards men.  A little joy and fa,la,la,la, la never hurt anyone.   The number of people who will be uplifted by it will far outweigh the complainers.

You are a business you do not have to restrain yourself like government.  Be bold! Play some White Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Frosty, whatever (sad that such songs are considered bold. Sigh…).  It may seem like a small thing but I believe these types of shared experiences and cultural routines have value and help us to relate to one another; otherwise, our spheres of common experience become more and more scattered each day and it should be no surprise that we are increasingly polarized with each passing year.

To Christmas carols!  Now on to my recital.  Wish me luck!

Carousel of Progress?

Today is a lazy Saturday with not much to do and I found myself pondering.  Here’s an interesting question-

Do you look at history as a history of progress or one of regression?

Here’s what I mean:  At school, history was always shown as a history of progress.  We started out as caveman ended up as civilized human beings living together.  We started out with strict classes and slavery and learned from those mistakes. We went from strength and money meaning everything to individual rights being guaranteed for all.

Certainly if looking through purely ease of living and technology we can see progress.  Where once we had to work so hard for water, power, and proper sewers, now we take those things for granted.  Now I can get to Tokyo in a day of travel . I can work from home with people all around the world.  I can interact with friends, even date from my own home.  Progress…

But then there is another narrative.  At church we often hear about how the signs of the times have produced a wicked generation.  That pornography, attack on the family, and sin are approved even encouraged.  That in previous eras right was protected and enshrined and Satan has done his best to muddle our modern sensibilities.

Even if you take away the religious element there is still a narrative of regression.  For instance, the philosopher Martin Heidegger  believed that industrialization had hammered the humanity or ‘being’ out of each of us so that what was once of great value is now just a product.  He told a story of a boy who looked at a moon.   His mother believes the moon was God or where God lives.  The boy responds ‘Its just a big rock’.   (I couldn’t find the exact quote so Heidegger scholars be nice.  I am certainly not one).

In other words, what was once spiritual, wonderful, magical has now been turned to its bare minerals, its menial existence and usefulness as a product to be sold.  Technology has in many ways made us cold and turned people into boxes instead of the individuals we were so reliant on for survival in earlier ages.  Regression…

(Heidegger was also sympathetic to the Nazi party so take it for what you will).

I don’t know if its still there but Disneyland used to have a show called ‘A Carousel of Progress’. This ride takes you from one vignette of family life in 1900, to 1920, to 1950s to the millennium.  It leads with the song ‘There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow just a dream a way’.  Cheesy I know and nice in theory but I think the truth is more muddled.  We certainly haven’t made much progress in war, hate, divorce, poverty and despair, etc.

A pessimist could argue such a ride should be called ‘The Carousel of Repeat Offenses’.  To use the cliche, ‘history is bound to repeat itself’, and it certainly has.  We seem to never learn but that wouldn’t make for a very chipper ride! 🙂

I do appreciate the optimism of Walt Disney’s view.  It is a very happy, if possibly inaccurate, way to look at the world.

Anyway, what do you think?  How do you look at history- progress or regression?  This has been a topic I’ve always wondered about.  I remember discussing it with one of my young woman’s leaders and she looked at me like ‘Whoa…I have no idea what to say in response’.  I got that a lot back in the day!

Perhaps it depends on what lens you are looking through? For example, I doubt the native American’s would see history as one of progression!

Many people I know look with equal nostalgia at both the simpleness of the past and the ease of living promised in the future.  Woody Allen captured much of this type of yearning for the past in his wonderful movie Midnight in Paris.  Look at our recent infatuation with the 60’s and its Mad Men culture? Do we not sometimes look at the past and think ‘if only things could be like the good old days?…’.

Progression or Regression?

I suppose the answer is probably somewhere in between but I think most of us  have to decide which way we lean towards in our views of life, politics, and history.

Nobody ever reads my thoughtful posts but on the off chance they do- what do you think?  I tend to side more on the side with the realists but not so much that I lose hope for a bright future.

Carousel of Progress

PS.  I love Disneyland…

Happy Memorial Day and Other Updates

I just wanted to post a quick random note covering a variety of topics.

1. Happy Memorial Day-  Today I would like to make a memorial to the people who have passed on in my life.  Especially my Grandpa who lived a sweet and peaceful life.  He loved all people including me and I will always love him for that.  He didn’t see me as his fat granddaughter but just his beautiful granddaughter. He is still my model for what I want to be like.  I miss him every day and I am so grateful to have had him in my life. He is my angel.

Doesn't he seem so lovable?

I would also like to pay tribute to my sweet cousin Lisa who has passed on and my cousin Riley.  I’m so grateful for my knowledge of eternal families and that those who have moved on are not gone forever.  I will see them again and the reunion will be sweet.

2. I just wanted to give a quick update on my condition.  My eye is still sore and I cannot completely open my eye.  Each day it is hurting less and less.  It is nice, with today being a holiday, I have one more day to heal before getting back to full time work.  My mom isn’t here anymore to take care of me, which is a little sad, but I’m grateful to have had her for 5 days!  My apartment feels quiet now that it is just me again. Even though I was recovering it was nice to have time to chat.  It kept my mind off of the pain and kept me from touching my eye as much.

Anyway, its still sore, red and swollen but it gets better each day.  I am also seeing double less. Hopefully I will continue to improve.  I will see the doctor on Thursday and that will be the key to see if the surgery has been effective.  Please keep those prayers coming. I don’t want to go through this again!  Some people have to get the strabismus surgery 5 or 6 times!  Hopefully I can just keep with the one surgery.   The hardest thing is to not touch it.  It itches and stings.  I’m not the greatest at keeping away from it, but I’m doing my best.  It really is irritating. Oh well!  At least it is improving each day.

I think you can see some improvement; although, I still can't open my eye completely and it is sore and red. You can see how puffy it is from me rubbing it...Bad Rachel!
here's a photo with a little more of my eye showing.
by the end of the day the eye has become pretty swollen and squinting. Tried driving. Wasn't ready

I hope you all have a great Memorial Day. Please spend a moment to remember those that have passed on.   I feel especially grateful to the servicemen who have died to protect freedom.  There has been a high cost of freedom.  Thank you with all my heart.

Ken Burns

I’m beginning to think this is a television blog; but, I suppose that should be expected as I was always the biggest TV fan in my family.  Neither of my parents have any interested in a single show on television. There were many years of my childhood we went without television (we had a TV for occasional movies but no cable or rabbit ears) and in general I am in full support of such measures. Children are far too reliant on media for their creative development and the temptation to watch can be the source of unneeded conflict in homes.   That said, I still grew up with a love for television?  Weird hah?

Anyway, I have been literally stuck in my house for the last three days because the Grabber employees are  using my car.  This has forced me into three days of  inside work (my friend Jill took me to meet with my trainer today and I did a full work out!  Wahoo! It was so hard but I did it!).  With 1099s coming due at the end of the month I have been particularly working on dry data entry accounting.  This does not require much thought- merely looking at receipts, spreadsheets, statements and then transferring the information onto Quickbooks.  One of my favorite things to do to help enliven such tedious work is to watch documentaries.  It is a good genre because I can phase out for a long time or just listen to the narration and be fine.  There is no intricate plot to follow that would require my full attention (for instance, Inception would be a terrible thing to watch while doing accounting).

One of my favorite documentary film makers is Ken Burns.  He makes documentaries for PBS that center around the American story.  The only series of his I have not seen are the entries on Jazz and Baseball.  Recently I have been moved to tears by his amazing series on the Civil War. It is overwhelming to think of the great sacrifice which was made for all Americans to be free.  I have not only cried but learned so much and I’m only half-way through.  For instance, did you know that General McClellan of the Union army stumbled upon a scroll with General Lee’s battle plans but he was too afraid to use the information? He could have ended the war years early but he failed to be bold. Interesting. I also learned about the Battle of Fort Wagner where in South Carolina one of the first black regiments fought bravely.  That’s just two of the wonderful things I learned from watching The Civil War.

Last year I enjoyed his latest series National Parks: America’s Best Idea centering of course around the national parks.  Even for a non-nature enthusiast like me, the cinematography was amazing, the history interesting but most importantly the stories of sacrifice demonstrated by those who cherished the parks was inspiring.  Some made it their life’s ambition to preserve the land they loved. Anyone who has a noble life’s ambition and carries it out I admire.

The previous year I was in awe at his series about World War II called The War.   I thought I was pretty well versed on WWII but I was constantly amazed at what I learned- especially about the Pacific theater.  For some reason the European conflict is more covered in the schools.  Why is that? I had no idea how brutal the Japanese were to our servicemen and how long it took us to get a real victory- over 3 years.  The stories of the Bataan Death March were gut-wrenching and poignant.  Some of The War is tough to watch and fairly graphic but it is a must watch for any American.

I’ve seen many other films by Ken Burns (including his small movie about the Shakers which is fascinating).  Each time he finds away to connect the viewer with ordinary American’s living through the American Experience whether it be the Civil War, WWII or visiting a national park.  He creates voices as clear as any in a fictional film and turns stale brown photos into people we care about.  The voice work he gets are always spot on and the music inspirational. The films by Ken Burns are works of art and I love them.  They are one of the few television programs I feel should be watched by every American.

As a side note- all of the films mentioned, including the Shakers piece, are available as a netflix free stream if you have that service.

Patriotism: My Sacrament Meeting Talk

Today I gave a talk in church for the first time in 3 years.  I have given a lot of lessons but no talks.  The subject was on patriotism which was challenging but in a way perfect for me because of my political science background.   It has been a busy week so I prepared my talk on Wednesday and have been editing it ever since.  Fortunately I decided to over-prepare and had a long talk  because there were only 2 speakers and the first guy took maybe 3 minutes. This left me with 30 minutes! Quickly I added a few scriptures and the Lord blessed me to be able to  fill up the time!  Those who heard my talk will notice there are a few things missing- those are the items I added last minute or improved to fill time.

Despite the stress over the time I think the talk went very well.  I felt the spirit while writing and delivering it.  Some people are petrified of public speaking but not me.  I’ve been speaking in church since I was a little girl as a youth speaker, so I’m used to it.  The two things that help me the most is I try to make the talk personal or sincere and something I would be interested in hearing.  If you are just reciting a bunch of scriptures and quotes it will go in one ear and out another.  There has to be some passion behind the words!

So here is the talk on patriotism.  I hope you enjoy it and are uplifted by it.  I willl go through later in the week and put in citations for all the quotes as I got them from a number of different sources.  Enjoy!

Patriotism a talk by Rachel Wagner Delivered at the Draper Riverview 7th ward 06/27/10

When I turned 18 one of the first things I did was register to vote.  I’ve always had an interest in politics.   When I was little my sister and I would make newspapers full of movie reviws, comics and the news of the day.  I was reading one the other day and it had an update on the democratic presidential primary of 1992.  What little kid besides me follows the primaries!  My mother and I also have a weird part of our relationship where we love discussing issues and even engaging in debate.

Growing up I also knew that part of my duty as a citizen of the United States of America was to vote.  Since then I have never missed an election- regular or primary. Even on my mission I made sure I was registered for absentee ballots and that I sent them in. When I came home I enrolled in the automatic absentee program where I get ballots sent to me before any elections.  This took me about 3 minutes to register for and ever since then I have spent maybe an couple of hours in 5 years voting for the leaders of my country.

I’d like you to each think about last week.  Last Tuesday we each had the chance to vote in a primary election.  I submitted my ballot and had my voice heard on whom our next senator and county councilmen will be.   How many of you had your voice heard?

Did you know that Utah was one of the first territories to allow women’s suffrage?  The state granted it in 1870 but it was repealed by the Supreme Court.  When Utah became a state in 1895 women’s suffrage was written into the constitution.  Finally in 1920 the nineteenth amendment was passed, which prohibited state and federal agencies from gender-based restrictions on voting.  It makes me emotional to think of the thousands of women who dedicated their entire lives to giving me the right to send in that absentee ballot on Tuesday.

These freedoms were hard fought from the Colonial era onward.  I recently read a great book called Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts.  For years I’ve studied the life and thoughts of the founders and it amazed me how many women sacrificed great things to allow me to be free.

Abigail Adams is one of my heroes.  As the wife of President John Adams she made many sacrifices for her country.  To begin with she was forced to be separated from her husband for over 10 years of their marriage while he performed various tasks to help the country get started. This includes giving birth to 6 children, losing 2 of them and raising the remaining 4, including a future president, practically alone.  She also cared for the family farm, John’s business concerns, managed her household, helped with the war effort and kept up a nearly constant correspondence with her husband, sister, and a ring of male and female friends- some of them prominent figures in our nations founding.  Through this correspondence she had a profound impact on the direction of our country.  In one letter she wrote to her husband:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency- and by the way, in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.  Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.  If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to forment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. “

Abigail was not extolling a mere pipe dream but she did whatever was asked of her for the cause of freedom including fighting for the education of girls and slaves:

In 1791 a free black youth came to her house asking to be taught how to write. Subsequently, she placed the boy in a local evening school, though not without objections from a neighbor. Abigail responded that he was “a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? … I have not thought it any disgrace to myself to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write.”

Remember this was over 50 years before the Civil War.  Its such a cliché but Abigail Adams truly was a woman ahead of her times.

Of his family’s sacrifice John Adams said:

“Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.”

Do we make good use of it?  Has an interest in the future of our country turned into a hobby?  I get so tired of people saying “I’m not interested in politics” in the same way one might say “I’m not interested in basket weaving.”  Are you interested in freedom?

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Noah Webster added:

If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.”

Despite the frequent scandals, I still believe the men and women we have elected are honorable.  I may not agree with them, but I still think they are good people.  However, if we do not participate in our democracy this will not always be the case.

President Lincoln said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

“It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the Offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” (“A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America,”

If they had need to do it then, oh how we need it now.  I fear we have become “intoxicated with success” as a nation and just as a drunkard forgets all, we forget our duty to God, country and family.

For example, frequently I will speak with teachers that are frustrated by federal policy such as No Child Left Behind.  When I ask them if they voted in the last several presidential elections they say no.  How do they not see the link between personal responsibility and the policies that affect their very careers?

2 Ne 28:21 gives us a warning against lapsing into laziness:

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

So what is the solution?  What can we do to keep us from slipping both as a country and as individuals.  There are many answers but the two that ring the loudest for me are

  1. First, Enhance personal righteousness.  Do all you can to purify your life.  With the world getting more wicked by the day, the time for passive faith and righteousness is over.

If there is something in your life that you could or need to change- do it.  Stop the rationalizing, stop the excuses.  Too often I think we seek to have one foot in zion and one in the world.  While we have to live in both, we cannot successfully have our heart in both.

Remember the Lord said in Revelations:Rev. 3: 16

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

George Albert Smith said:

“There is a division line well defined that separates the Lord’s territory from Lucifer’s. If we live on the Lord’s side of the line Lucifer cannot come there to influence us, but if we cross the line into his territory we are in his power. By keeping the commandments of the Lord we are safe on His side of the line, but if we disobey His teachings we voluntarily cross into the zone of temptation and invite the destruction that is ever present there. Knowing this, how anxious we should always be to live on the Lord’s side of the line.”

I love President Hinckley’s simple council to a group at BYU:

“I speak to you this morning not only about a little more effort, a little more self-discipline, a little more consecrated effort in the direction of excellence in your studies. I speak of it also in terms of your lives. This is the great day of preparation for each of you. It is the time of beginning for something that will go on for as long as you live. I plead with you: Don’t be a scrub! Rise to the high ground of excellence. You can do it. You may not be a genius. You may be lacking in some skills. But you can do better than you are now doing.”

Find one thing that you can do better and then seek to improve for one day and then another and then a week.  We can all increase our righteous living and if we do so, not just us but our entire country will benefit.

  1. The second way to fight off Satan’s seductive call is to find a way to contribute.

Everyone has something they are meant to do in this life.  It may be as simple as raising a family, working hard and voting but simple can be a grand thing if it is what we are meant to do.

President Joseph F. Smith reminded us that

“to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man-kind, is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman.”

In my old job I felt unhappy, unfulfilled and depressed.  This was confusing for me because I was not doing anything bad or unrighteous.  It was a long lesson to learn but eventually I knew that I was not living the life I was meant to live.  For whatever reason, the Lord wanted me to have my current job of running my own business.  I know that with more assurity than anything else in my life.


As a final example I would like to tell you about another colonial woman who contributed in amazing ways.  Her name is Eliza Pinckney.  When Eliza was 16 her father was called away on state business and she was left to manage the 3 family plantations totaling over 3,000 acres of rice.   Unsatisfied with this enormous contribution she decided that the colony of South Carolina needed to be a leader in agriculture.  After doing several experiments she came up with the idea of cultivating and planting indigo seeds.

After 4 years of trying and many failed attempts Eliza proved that indigo could grow in South Carolina.   She then used her first crop to create seeds for other planters, leading to many others harvesting indigo.  By 1745 (only 5 years after being given the responsibility of the farm) Indigo became second only to rice as “South Carolina’s cash crop and contributed greatly to the wealth of the colony.  Before the Revolutionary War, indigo accounted for more than 1/3 of the value of exports from the colony”.

Eliza went on to marry, raise a family, and remain active in politics throughout her life.  Her son Charles even became a signer of the constitution.  She was so well loved by the nation that George Washington was a pallbearer at her funeral.

Now we are all not going to be able to single-handedly change American exports like Eliza. The point is Eliza found how God wanted her to contribute and so can you.  The Lord wants us to be happy and in my life I have learned that the only way to be happy is to be living a life in-line with God’s will.

Just as He guides this great nation, Our Savior Jesus Christ will guide our lives.  There is a catch- we have to do our part, we have to stand up for our freedom, we have to vote, we have to sacrifice, and we have to live righteously.

I know that as you strive to follow Him he will engulf you in His great love.  He loves this country, He loves all of you and He loves ME.  Turn to him, be happy and live a great life. Close.

Pretty Words and Letter Writing

Pretty Words
Poets make pets of pretty, docile words:
I love smooth words, like gold-enamelled fish
Which circle slowly with a silken swish,
And tender ones, like downy-feathered birds:
Words shy and dappled, deep-eyed deer in herds,
Come to my hand, and playful if I wish,
Or purring softly at a silver dish,
Blue Persian kittens fed on cream and curds.

I love bright words, words up and singing early;
Words that are luminous in the dark, and sing;
Warm lazy words, white cattle under trees;
I love words opalescent, cool, and pearly,
Like midsummer moths, and honied words like bees,
Gilded and sticky, with a little sting.
Elinor Wylie

Like the poet I love pretty words whether they be docile, smooth, tender, bright, lazy or gilded.  I have always been fascinated by the ability of a word to convey a million different emotions.  Shakespeare is the master at this.  In 6 short words you understand the delicate state of Hamlet’s soul (“to be or not to be?”) and in just 3 we grasp the mad desperation of Lady Macbeth (“Out damn spot!”).

The New Testament is also remarkably succinct without the long speeches you might expect from someone as grand as Jesus Christ.  In fact, the most marvelous act that has ever occurred was glorified in only 3 words “He is risen.”

Another great example is the Gettysburg address.  In such a tumultuous time it is amazing that Lincoln took only 278 words to usher in a “new birth of freedom”.  Martin Luther King also gathered millions with his simple call “I have a dream…”

I’ve often wished that I had a real, genuine pen pal whom I could write long gushy letters to.  I just finished a book about the women of the American Revolution called Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts. One of the things that amazed me was all of the letters these women wrote- sometimes to men and women that they would never or rarely meet.  It is remarkable how much we learn  about the daily goings on and the various opinions of the female correspondents.  I was constantly caught off guard with how modern and ambitious these 18th century women felt and behaved.

Some might argue that letters have been adequately replaced by email, blogging, facebook, twitter etc.   While these conveniences have their place and appeal they are not as thoughtful or thought-provoking merely because they are so easily produced.  A letter took real effort.  An email- not so much.  Nowadays kids don’t even spell entire words out when writing to each other- let alone actually putting together a real letter with powerful ideas from the heart.

For years I have started my diary entries as “Dear Friend” and then I write as if I was filling in a dear friend on the thoughts of my heart and the goings-on of my life.  While sorely missing the response, at least this allows me to format my ideas in the ways of old- something I find valuable in many ways.

Next time you have family home evening or a free moment sit down and write a traditional letter.  You can mail it or not but it will probably surprise you how interesting your life and thoughts are  These lettter’s do not have to be profound or sad, you may be fascinated by how witty you can be.  Give it a try!

If you want to read a great little book about a glorious correspondence check out The Delicacy and Strength of Lace by Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright.

It is a small book but one of my top 10 favorites (and it is recently back in print!).  It is the real life correspondence of Wright and Silko- 2 poets who only met briefly but exchanged letters for years.  I have like 3 copies if anybody wants to borrow.

Dolley Madison- A Modern Woman in an Old Fashioned World

Last week I watched a documentary on the PBS program American Experience about Dolley Madison.  Previous to that moment, I knew nothing about Dolley except that she had carried the painting of George Washington out of the White House when it was on fire in the war of 1812.  If you get a chance to watch the documentary do it.  See if you can get it at your local library.

Dolley was the wife of our fourth president James Madison.  The documentary has: historians, actors portraying key figures in Dolley’s life, her letters and even actual photographs of Dolley late in life.  Becoming first lady was only one of many fascinating aspects of her life.  She was raised as a Quaker with strict parents who monitored her social life, behaviors and even strongly encouraged, if not forced, her to marry her first husband John Payne Todd.

As a young married woman she had 2 boys and did the best to be happy and love her husband.  By all reports she was beautiful and vivacious.  However, just 3 years after marriage, in 1793, her husband and baby boy died from a yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia.  With another son to support Dolley knew that her only choice was to marry again.  Luckily she was charming enough to be highly courted and the government was still being mostly run out of Philadelphia bringing Congressman and other dignitaries calling on Dolley.  One of the men was James Madison.  A shy founding father who was 17 years older than Dolley.   Despite his non-quaker status (which meant Dolley was removed from the religious group) the two fell in love, married and rarely spent a day apart for the rest of their lives.  (It was interesting to see that Dolley and James have few letters because they were always together unlike their popular contemporaries John and Abigail Adams).

Unlike almost all women (and certainly all proceeding first ladies including Abigail Adams) Dolley became involved in the politics at hand and she did so in a very savvy way.  Instead of pounding the street corners or giving speeches, she held dinner parties, introduced friends, and forced sparring debaters to enjoy an evening together.  I admire how she used whatever power she had to make a difference- to make her stamp on the world.  One of the scholars in the documentary claims that Dolley was the first true grass roots campaigner.  This is significant coming from a woman with no formal education, in a time where a woman with political know-how was considered a scandalous notion.   One biography describes her as:

“Once Dolley Madison became first lady in 1809, her status as the central figure of Washington society was confirmed. The vivacious Dolley’s expansive memory for names and ability to make everyone at home in the White House attracted guests by the many. Her lavish dinner parties were noted for the surprise delicacies served.  She began holding Wednesday evening “drawing rooms”  (receptions) that became immensely popular with politicians, diplomats, and the citizenry. Not only was Dolley renowned for her charm, but her knowledge of politics and current events was significant as well. She proved an asset to James’s political career in two ways: her outgoing demeanor complimented his reserved and stonefaced disposition and her political insight influenced his decision-making. Undoubtedly, Dolley was one of the reasons James won reelection in 1812.”

Then there is the famous incident that I mentioned above- removing the artifacts and paintings from the White House before it was burnt.  The interesting thing I didn’t know is that the reason she was at the White House (most of Washington being deserted at that time)was due to her refusal to leave until her husband had returned from a meeting with his generals. With the British coming closer she realized that nothing would give greater glee to the invading troops than to lord over the documents of our founding and the painting of George Washington.  Deciding that such disgrace was not going to happen on her watch, she loaded a wagon full of such items and when her husband raced back they sneaked into hiding until the invasion was over.

I am sure I will learn much  more about Dolley as I read her biography, but what I have know so far gives me much respect and admiration for her spirit, spunk and determination.   All of the women in America owe a debt of gratitude to founding women like Dolley Madison, Abigail Adams and more.   Their husbands sometimes get all the glory, but we all know where most men end up without a strong woman to guide them (and vice versa- especially back then).  I highly encourage you all to find the documentary and learn something about a fascinating woman who made America great!  (Shouldn’t they make a movie about her?  Why does it seem like they only make movies about the scoundrels?)