Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Journey Back in Time: The Great Depression

In researching my husband’s ancestry, I have been trying to get a feel for what life was like for his grandparents.  They married in 1924 and lived on some different farms in South Dakota the first 20 or so years of their lives.  In order to get a glimpse of what their lives might have been like, I have been reading books about the great depression and the dust bowl. Both of these events were major parts of America’s history and neither of which I learned much about during my years in public school.

            One of the books: A Secret Gift by Ted Gup is a story of happenings in depression era Canton, OH.  The book is somewhat of a biography of the author’s grandfather, Sam Stone, and includes many of the citizens of depression era Canton.  The story starts off with Mr. Gup receiving an old leather suitcase from his mother, the suitcase contains some of his grandfather’s papers.  Mr. Gup’s grandfather and grandmother are deceased at the time of his writing the book.  Among the papers in the case, he finds a pouch containing a bunch of old letters and a bankbook.  Upon further investigation, the author discovers that near Christmas 1933 his grandfather placed an ad in the local newspaper under an assumed name stating that he wanted to help some 75 families during the holidays. He asked that the write to him and explain their circumstances and he would choose 75 or so families to help. Realizing that people were proud and didn’t want to take a handout but also that many people were suffering at this time from lack of work and thus lack of money for food and other necessities, he also promised that he would not reveal the names of those that had written to him for help.  It turns out that the author is an investigative reporter who has the skills to investigate the letters and stories of the folks involved.  During the course of his investigation he also learns much about his grandfather’s secret past.  The author also contacts descendants of the folks who wrote the letters and learns what became of them and where their families ended up.  The gift that Mr. Stone gave the writers was only $5, equivalent to about $100 today but more than that he gave them a way to express their fears and frustrations – to relieve themselves of an emotional burden anonymously and people were very encouraged to find that someone cared.  It brought hope to a portion of Canton, OH. The contents of the letters sheds light on the fears of the time and helped to me to better understand the people living at that time.  The book is well written and reads somewhat like a mystery but the fun part is that the people and events are real.  I found this book by accident by searching Great Depression on our library website, I am truly glad that I found it and highly recommend it for anyone interested in that time period.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm is one of those books that "everyone" has read, everyone but me, that is until now. Animal Farm was written in the mid 1940s by british author George Orwell.  On the surface it is a short easy read about animals on a farm that overthrow their human master to gain freedom for a short time and then to have their master replaced by pigs who are even more cruel than the original master.  Underneath it is a story of tyranny, apparant freedom and more tyranny.  I have read that Mr. Orwell wrote it as an allegory to the Russian revolution but in it I could see similarities to so many situations.  Situations such as the Nazi rule in Germany to the current political climate in the middle east.  So often, tyranny is overthrown only to be replaced with more tyranny.  In the middle east, dictators have been overthrown only to be replaced with radical islamists, in Cuba they ended up with Castro and the list goes on.  I am truly thankful that the American Revolution didn't end up that way, although in our current political climate, I can see our freedoms slipping away little by little much in the same way that the animals in George Orwell's story lost theirs. Hmmm

Monday, September 17, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Last year my youngest son was required to read a certain number of pages in a semester for his English 10 class and also to do a book report on each book read to meet the goal.  He is interested in the time period of WWII and so he chose this book.  I think the title intrigued him and it also had over 500 pages, fewer books means fewer book reports written.  Anyway, he finished the book but said he thought it was boring - his complaining piqued my curiousity and thus I just finished reading it.

In the Garden of Beasts is a biography of William E. Dodd, the first American Ambassador to Hitler's Germany.  It opens in June 1933 and then follows the career of Mr. Dodd as he becomes the Ambassador to Germany and works hard to extend diplomacy to a group of lunatics.  He starts out in an open minded manner and ends up seeing the Nazi's for who they really are.  Dodd tries to warn the United States of impending disaster but is largely ignored.  The book reads like a novel, with the twist that all the characters are very real.  The author did a wonderful job of putting flesh on the bones of Dodd and his family. I found the book interesting and recommend it for adult readers, Dodd's daughter is one of the main characters focused on and unfortunately, she led a very promiscuous life. While the descriptions are not excplicit, the author does discuss her relationships and lifestyle at length.  One unexpected result of reading this book was that it humanized the Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, that was recently murdered in Lybia.  Prior to reading the book, I tended to just think of these people as names in the news - it was hard for me to relate to them and their jobs.

A New Season: I'm Back, I think?!

We are in yet another season of our lives and in this season I am, once again, going to give this blog another go.  Much has changed in our family over the past two years. We are adjusting to the changes and look forward to where our family will be in the future.

Last summer we were fortunate to be able to travel back east to visit our older children that live out of state, first we flew to Nashville and visited with our daughter and extended family there and then drove to Florida to visit our son and his wife.  We had a wonderful visit with all of them.  It was our first trip to Florida and we really enjoyed the warm atlantic waters and look forward to going again in the  future.

Two years ago, as our youngest was entering high school, we made some changes in our schooling.  After much prayer and research, we began participating in a parent partnership at one of the local school districts.  Although not perfect, overall, it has been a huge blessing to our family.  We received help with math and english and our third child was able to take an art class that was a big blessing.  While working within the public school system has its challenges, it has provided needed help for our family.  We started out with part time participation and have ended up, with our youngest son, moving to full time.  This year he is attending a welding program at the skills center that provides technical training for high schoolers in many local districts. Along with the welding program, he still takes math, english and current world issues at the parent partnership. He is currently a junior in high school and will probably finish out his high school career in the running start (dual credit) program next year at the local community college.  Our Third son graduated in June and will be starting his first full time job October 1 at a local company that makes aircraft parts for Boeing.  I no longer plan curriculum, lesson plans or correct assignments, all of which was a huge adjustment for me.  I now spend that time driving with our youngest to his classes and spend quite a bit of time away from home with that.  Once he gets his license, then I will have more free time to pursue other things such as my own self education and family history research.