As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Barbecue, Blues, R&B, and "I Really Love Hiking!": The Last Day of Summer

A brief update on the weekend, in case I can't get back to it soon. After a stay-home day on Saturday, followed by an evening at Red Hot & Blue, where Sarah ate barbecue and bounced around to both blues and R&B (and on hearing Big Mama Thornton's original version of "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog" said "Isn't this a classic?" and "Didn't Elvis do a version?" I knew once again that we're raising her right. (She did ask if Big Mama was a man or a woman. Fair question when the voice gets husky, I think. And when I started to explain about Carl Perkins doing "Blue Suede Shoes" first, she zoned out.) She likes barbecue now -- the meat, not the sandwich, the sweet sauce, not the vinegar or hot, the inside meat, not the browned outside meat, etc. -- but any decent barbecue eater is picky.

Today after church she said she wanted to do some nature hiking so we went out to Manassas Battlefield. Our eastern battlefields are often our finest outdoor preserves; she had already had to hear my lecture at Antietam over Labor Day how the site of the bloodiest single day in American history was such a beautiful spot today. She insisted on walking a trail she knows -- the old Unfinished Railroad from Sudley Road westward, key to the Second Manassas battle -- and though we saw nothing more "nature" than a bunch of weird mushrooms, it was good to get outdoors on the last day of summer (Fall starts tomorrow morning) and it was a spectacular day. 80ish, not a cloud to speak of, dry. Hot when in open sun, but just great.

We then stopped at a Best Buy in Manassas to get a B-17 Nintendo DS game for Tam which Sarah then adopted as her own (the DS was her present from the tax stimulus plan), and some other stuff. We got ice cream at a 7-11, ate it in the car, and headed home. One of the things we bought was a DVD of The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies, which Sarah liked.

More as we go along, but now that she's into barbecue as well as chili I'm convinced that environment does trump heredity sometimes (though her Hunan genes may lean her toward chilis).


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bringing things up to date

I've been busy; except for my long, rambling 9/11 meditation I haven't posted much since Labor Day. One of the reasons was the purchase, already mentioned, of the new laptop, plus Tropical Storm Hannah's visit; it takes a while to get all the computers talking to each other (I had to network a Windows ME computer, which becomes Sarah's now (and which I hope to clean up enough to load XP), with one running XP and one running Vista; I'm rather surprised I succeeded. Those of you using Macs will, as always, wonder why we even bother. Because all our employers are PC-based. Betamax was better than VHS, too, but it didn't win.) That's mostly up to speed now (a printer or two still to install to it, but all three computers are talking nice). And Sarah of course is plunging into third grade, and I'm on deadline for the fall issue at work, and so on and so forth.

The new laptop will be good on trips, since it has a built-in webcam, and a lot of power, compared to the aging 2001 laptop (bought just before we went to China) or even to our desktop, now about two years old.

Oh, and yesterday was my birthday. I'm 61. I have no idea how this happened. Last I remember, I was about 27. Anyway it doesn't inspire the same reflections I had on turning 60, since it's not quite the same sort of marker, but I guess I should note it. And to return to the theme I first laid out in this post, Churchill turned 61 in 1935. He was very much in the political wilderness, and the following year, when he turned 62, he would burn all his bridges by supporting King Edward VIII against his own party in the abdication crisis. So obviously he was a failure, right? Oh, yeah, later he saved Western Civilization. There's hope for us Geezers yet.

I won't add much at this point to our posts on the vacation and the Labor Day weekend away, but I will note that between August 8 and September 1, less than a month, we managed to be in seven states* and the District of Columbia. While we weren't trying to carve notches in our van's hood or anything, Sarah found this interesting. (We were also within 20 miles of Pennsylvania but couldn't bring ourselves to do it: Sarah's been in Pennsylvania before anyway. The only really artificial trip in that lot was the brief foray into South Carolina, blogged about here, and we weren't really trying for some kind of record even then.

More when I can. Be merciful. I'm 61.

*Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland and West Virginia, plus DC.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The First Weeks of Third Grade

I haven't blogged much lately except about our weekend trips and 9/11, but of course in the midst of all this Sarah started third grade just before Labor Day. So far she seems to like it. She's still in Catholic school at Corpus Christi, but we've talked about moving her to public school next year, a real savings in money and something she claims to want. But I'm not certain that we'll do it if she changes her mind, since she seems happy at Corpus Christi, despite the financial sacrifice involved. (Of course, the economic blows hitting the economy right now could make the decision for us.)

Her teacher, Miss Bird, she seems to like, though she was hoping to get the other teacher, Miss Kay, who hatches baby chicks in her classroom. But she likes Miss Bird and so, after only a couple of meetings, do we. She's from southwest Virginia so she has a good up-country southern accent, something Sarah needs to get used to since it's close enough to Ozark and other highland south accents to get her used to hearing more of her kinfolk.

Homework hasn't been too burdensome yet, and Sarah is doing choir practice.

More as we go along.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 and 1968: Memories

Seven years on. This is a family blog, so I'll leave politics out of it, though obviously as a Middle East specialist 9/11 cut close to the bone. But I don't think I've ever recorded in words the experiences of that morning.

It was, here as in New York, a gloriously perfect autumn morning. Blue skies, perfect weather, everything idyllic. Tam was in her last week of maternity leave (we'd adopted Sarah in July; she was returning to work the following week I believe) and, to prepare Sarah for day care, we'd started her on half days at Miss Adela's day care on Monday. 9/11 was a Tuesday of course, Sarah's second day. As we dropped her off at a little before 9, we saw Miss Adela (a Peruvian day care provider who goes to our church) watching the first tower afire. A plane had hit it; I thought immediately of the World War II bomber that had hit the Empire State building in a fog, but how with modern navigation could such an accident happen?

I was planning to go in to work a little later; we went home, turned the TV on, and learned the second plane had hit. At this point we knew that New York was under attack. I was well aware that the idea of using airplanes as weapons was not new: as far back as 1972 the Israelis shot down a straying Libyan airliner they suspected of such a motive; Ramzi Yousef, of course, had planned a multi-aircraft attack in Asia. Not everyone knew this but I certainly did. Cautiously enough I said to Tam that this might not be a good day to go to the Capitol or Pentagon for business, but since Tam was on maternity leave that wasn't a big issue.

I left for work. Driving in on Route 50, listening to all-news radio for the news from New York, I reached a point on 50 where the road points virtually due east straight towards Fort Myer and you can see the Washington Monument centered ahead of you. Suddenly big billowing clouds of black smoke were rising in front of me. It looked like either a fuel or ammunition fire, something stoking itself, not just a house or building fire but something with flammables, and I immediately thought that what was happening in New York had now moved to Washington. I thought of the Pentagon, or perhaps the USA Today towers (as they then were) in Rosslyn, or something on the National Mall. I'll admit I thought of the Pentagon first because we seemed to be on a straight line with it. Nothing on the radio yet, then suddenly an announcer broke into the reports from New York to say there were reports that a helicopter had crashed into the Pentagon. (The plane did come in roughly on the side with the helicopter pad, and perhaps that led to the confusion.) I pulled off Route 50 and turned the car around: instinctively I wanted to be with my family, not at work, and I tried to call Tam on my cell, but couldn't get a signal (no one could that day). I drove back home, called work and told them I'd not be in till I knew what was going on, and discussed with Tam what we should do. We both agreed to go to Miss Adela's and pick up Sarah. It was a day for families to be together.

While at Miss Adela's we heard sirens everywhere, and at one point a muffled boom -- this I think was a secondary fuel tank explosion mentioned in a few of the accounts of the Pentagon crash, but I recognized it as an explosion and decided still more must be happening (by this time the White House and Capitol had been evacuated, there were reports of a car bomb at the State Department, and chaos was taking over). We brought Sarah home.

She was just a toddler, not yet speaking more than a few words, and though she didn't understand what was going on she picked up our tension and reflected it. We took her to the local playground and played on the swings, and I think Tam went back later with neighbors.

I still have that image of the black cloud rising over the Pentagon, straight ahead of my car on Route 50. And it then -- and since -- evokes the one other time I have seen Washington burning.

Usually in college Easter break was too short for a trip to Missouri, but in 1968 (spring of my Junior year at Georgetown) I decided to leave earlier than the official break (didn't have any exams just before the break) and scheduled a flight home on April 5. The night of April 4, Martin Luther King was assassinated. The next morning as I went to the airport the city was under siege, riots having gone on all night. The white cabbie, I remember, was full of racist invective all the way to the airport, the sort of thing you don't hear anymore, at least from cab drivers expecting to be paid. (It was along the line of "the n------- are really going wild" and such like that). I stood at National Airport waiting for my flight and seeing three or four large black columns of smoke rising over the city across the river: the seventh street corridor, the 14th street corridor, the H street NE corridor.... and of course the Capitol Dome and the Washington Monument clearly interspersed among the columns of acrid smoke.

Those two sets of black smoke columns, 33 and a half years apart, will always be burned together in my mind: our nation's capital in flames. I know they were different events and not really comparable, but black smoke over my country's symbols.

Later in 2001 we took Sarah in her stroller to Arlington National Cemetery for a B-52 flyby. We stood on the ridgeline in Arlington Cemetery, looking down on the great black gash in the Pentagon building -- a gash that was gone completely by the first anniversary, unlike the great hole that still stands in New York -- and as I looked at the gash I saw the thousands of small white headstones, row on row, of Arlington Cemetery, of all our war dead, and knew as we all did that there were now going to be more because of that gash in the Pentagon ... and the B-52 came by, and we went home, and you know the rest. Today they dedicated the permanent Pentagon memorial. New York says its memorial is still years from completion. The Pentagon memorial may be finished but Arlington Cemetery is still growing...

Back in 1915, after the battle of Ypres (pronounced by British soldiers not as ee-pr but as Wipers, an endearing sign of Englishmen's eternal refusal to learn French) the Canadian soldier John McCrae looked at similar rows of graves and famously wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row...

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Such words, from the War to End Wars (it didn't, actually) can still inspire (and are, or at least were, iconic in Canadian patriotic rhetoric when it existed), but we should also remember the other observation by another poet (Wilfrid Owen) of the same war:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

And a modern evocation of the same theme from 1976 in Australian Eric Bogle's Green Fields of France (also known as Willie McBride or No Man's Land and sung a lot in Irish pubs)

And I can't help but wonder, young Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fire o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Since we're doing the "British poets of World War I" (and a Canadian and a modern Australian to boot) seminar I should mention that one of my Dad's favorite poems was one that I think has been more or less neglected lately, Rupert Brooke's

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

That has little to do with the war as such, but my Dad liked to quote it as a poem many soldiers empathized with (it is in fact titled just "The Soldier"). And it's my blog and I can write what I want. Brooke did die in that war, not in combat but of a mosquito bite -- on his way to Gallipoli. His corner of a foreign field that is forever England is on the Greek island of Skyros.

There is absolutely no political agenda in my quoting these: war is hell, as Cump Sherman said (and he did a lot to make it so), but it is also the lot of man, and World War I was a particularly stupid and pointless and bloody one, though three of my uncles (my mother was the youngest in the family of 12, so the siblings ranged over 25 years) fought in that war and a great-uncle lost the sight of one eye as a Marine in Belleau Wood. My ancestors have fought in most American wars, and on September 11 we were not asking for it, and for all my qualms about Iraq I've never doubted we had to take out the Taliban in Afghanistan. We must honor those who fight for us, but never glorify the horrors of war. Sun Tzu was right that the best war is the one in which you win without ever engaging the enemy (by maneuver alone), but I don't think even Sun Tzu ever saw such a war, and for all our idealism, as Plato said, only the dead have seen the end of war. And with that, I'll try to come back on a more cheerful note.

Remember 9/11, but don't confuse justice with vendetta. We survived 9/11, like we survived Pearl Harbor and the Alamo. But we remember. And there's still a big hole in New York. And I guess the rest of us, too.

More another time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Okay, we returned from the Labor Day weekend to a load of work. Then on my day off, Friday, I picked up Sarah at 3:20 rather than letting her go to extended day, and we went and spent our shares of our stimulus payment (we filed late so we just got it). I bought the new laptop I've long needed (the old one was bought in 2001 before leaving for China), and Sarah got a Nintendo DS. I've been struggling all weekend to get software loaded, bookmarks moved, etc. etc. Yesterday we were rained in all day by Tropical Storm Hannah, but today was lovely and we went to my old alma mater, Georgetown, to show it to Sarah for the first time. Reflections another time.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Almost Heaven, West Virginia...

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River...

Okay, John Denver's dead, and a lot of his songs seem pretty dated now. But I suspect that Country Roads, along with Rocky Mountain High, are going to live on, if only because the states of West Virginia and Colorado have dined off of them for so long. But Country Roads was a good theme for this trip, in the Eastern Panhandle, the only part of West Virginia where the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah are found (the rest of them are in Virginia proper, before the secessionist Wheeling Entity broke away...)

Anyhow, Sarah likes Country Roads., having heard it for the first time on this West Virginia expedition. Denver didn't write it; Bill and Taffy Danoff, a local DC couple (then, I think they're divorced long since) who played at the old Cellar Door in Georgetown (now unfortunately a cheesesteak chain place) did. The Cellar Door, and Desperados across the street, are written up widely on the Web by nostalgic DC music buffs; two of the greatest music venues of all time are now routine restaurants. But I don't think either's a Starbucks yet.

I have my doubts about some of Denver's stuff (dated, sentimental, pc) but I still love Country Roads. Partly memories of my youth, partly my own Ozark heritage. Some of the lyrics don't fit together real well: "Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River" point to the Eastern Panhandle, while "Miner's Lady" and "dark and dusty, painted on the sky" seem to point to the coal mining country, which is farther south and west. (This is of course assuming the Danoffs had ever been in West Virginia, which I don't know for certain.) And "misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye" is curious, since certainly moonshine can produce teardrops (if not overt bleeding from the eyes) but "misty" is not the usual adjective one applies to mountain busthead, though perhaps neither the Danoffs nor Denver ever tasted any. Actually I've only tasted homemade once that I know of, over 40 years ago (not counting a brief chemistry experiment in high school when the nuns weren't looking), but I've had legally produced raw corn liquor other times -- you can buy it in Virginia ("Virginia Lightning, guaranteed aged less than 30 days" and bottled near Culpeper) and most other southern states, legally made with the tax stamp -- and I'd suggest that West Virginia's other motto "Wild and Wonderful" might fit, as might "Wheee-haw!," but I'd keep "misty" for your Creme de Menthe and orange liqueurs.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, the third day of our trip. We left Martinsburg, drove over the mountains to Berkeley Springs, WV, a place Sarah has been several times. One of the country's oldest hot spring spas, staked out by George Washington, Sarah loves the fact that she can wade in the springs and pools and catch crayfish, minnows, tadpoles. Etc. The park in the middle of town is a state park, and she insisted on eating again at Maria's Garden and Inn, a place that really gives meaning to the phrase "more Catholic than the Pope," since it is covered in religious icons of various kinds, pictures of Padre Pio and other Catholic figures, and enough statues to start a museum. As Sarah put it, "whoever started this place must be religious." As I put it, "This place would make the average Southern Baptist's head explode."

And the food's good.

We then headed home. If you've been paying attention (and there will be a quiz) we don't like Interstates. We headed down to Winchester, VA, stopped at the Virginia Farm Market near Winchester to stock up, then headed home via the Snickersville Turnpike, now Virginia 734, an old, narrow road across Loudon County that is much nicer than any other route home, with one-lane bridges and narrow passages under lowering trees.

For much of the final part of the trip we were playing a CD of gospel music (Alison Krauss, Elvis, Elvis and the "Million Dollar Quartet" (Elvis jamming with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins at Sun Studios in Memphis), Tennessee Ernie, Al Green and others, while Sarah watched "Duck Soup" on the DVD player (I told you we're raising her right!). Almost heaven indeed with the afternoon sun going down over the Virginia Piedmont.

I'll post more on my reflections on this weekend but these last three posts have been intended to ensure the basic chronology is remembered.