Hungry kids.

A late, brief post today because I was busy all day trying to get my head around a book review, and spending some lovely time with a lovely friend.

Lovely Friend is the Operations Manager of our local food pantry, and as we ate lunch under a brilliant blue sky, swatting away sleepy bees and laughing over family tales, she told me a little bit about her morning’s meeting, along with some facts and figures about hunger in our home state of Illinois — stuff I felt that I should have somehow known.

Stuff that filled me with a shapeless rage.

  1. In the United States of America, there are two states that have budgeted nothing — zero dollars — for hunger relief. Illinois is one of them.
  2. Of all the states — plus the District of Columbia — Illinois ranks dead last in providing breakfasts to needy schoolchildren. #51, in a country with 50 states.
  3. In our own school district, breakfast is provided on a per school basis, according to percentage of children in need. My kids’ school offers breakfast; others in the district do not. Should you be a hungry kid in the wrong neighborhood? Well, good luck to you, then.
  4. And should you be a parent looking for food stamps for your family? Well, start with the 11-page form (among the questions: “Are you or is anyone who lives with you expecting to receive more than $26 in income from a new source within the  next 10 days?”) and expect not one, but two meetings with DHS officials in order to verify your eligibility. In Illinois, many DHS offices have a caseload of more than 2,000. What does the Illinois Department of Human Services think the caseload should be? No more than 600. (In most states, mind you, it’s less than 300).

All of these facts point to one thing: hungry children. I feel numb with the anger. How, exactly, are we served by failing to feed hungry children?

I can hear conservative voices blaming the parents, and you know what — sure. There are a lot of piss-poor parents in this world, some of them unable to get their lives together enough to actually get food for their kids. But even so, maybe especially so: How are we as a society served by allowing any child to go hungry? How are we served by punishing children for the perceived failure of their parents? How can this not be the first item of any budget, anywhere?

Lovely Friend and I finished our lunches, and I picked up some bagels to go. I’ll be toasting them for a light supper tonight, a little cream cheese, some scrambled eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables on the side. My kids will complain about something on their plates — and I, suddenly, will feel grateful that they have the luxury to do so.

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*For more information on hunger in Illinois, and advocacy suggestions:

Feeding Illinois (you’ll also be able to find area food banks, by zip code or county)

The Illinois Hunger Coalition

Heartland Alliance

*For information about hunger/advocacy suggestions across America:

Feeding America

Bill Moyers: Hunger in America (PBS)

Good stuff: one more thing.

I almost hate to distract from the Liam Finn clip below, but I was just thinking today that I miss those months when just saying the words “President Obama” gave me a thrill, the months when he was all possibility and no political disappointment, when I could wrap myself in the joy of watching us as a country moving forward, led by a man who I still believe will prove himself a great President.

But people are people, the POTUS among them, and people disappoint — especially people who are politicians serving 300 million citizens. And eventually, everything new becomes the same-old-same-old, and just hearing that this man in whom I so believe, this man who broke us free from the horror of the previous eight years, this man who proved that though we may never move beyond race, we can, as a nation, become more perfect — just hearing again that this man is my President no longer makes me grin like a schoolkid.

It’s been a long week. And today I learned (via Balloon Juice) that the Administration “will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search—without suspicion of wrongdoing—the contents of a traveler’s laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections” — and I just thought: Well, damn. I already miss the good old days.

And then I clicked over to my Balloon Juice buddy the Grand Panjandrum’s site , and found this clip of Brad Paisley at the White House. And yes gentle reader, I am now weepy, again. But in a good way.

Please note that President Obama and Mr. Paisley also get a little weepy as the clip moves along….

Have a great weekend! (And thank GP!)

The middle years.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a quick checklist to help you determine whether or not you have entered the middle years of your life.

Ahem:

  1. The time it takes you to emerge from the bathroom after your morning ablutions keeps getting longer. If, for instance, you need to not only shower and shampoo, but must also: put fancy skin-doctor-recommended cream on the dark circles under your eyes; apply body lotion; apply sunscreen to face and neck; apply not one but two leave-in conditioners to the hair that already has been conditioned in the shower; apply not one but two different kinds of cream to that wonky bone at the very bottom of your leg/top of your foot, because decades of being a little-smidge pigeon-toed have thickened and discolored the skin on those bones to the extent that a loved one once asked you “What happened there? Did you get kicked by a horse?” — you’re middle-aged. (You may also be a woman).
  2. You’re attracted to middle-aged people. If you look at beautiful people in their early twenties and think “well, aren’t they silly and cute!”, but notice a cute, gray haired, wrinkly parent on the school playground and find yourself thinking “hubba hubba!” — you’re middle-aged.
  3. Certain songs bring you back to a certain place and time — you just can’t remember why. This happened to me just this morning. A song from the early 80s came wafting out across the kitchen (and in a delightfully illustrative bit of coincidence, I now can’t remember what the song was), and I was there, man, in an instant: BOOM! Transported back to an emotional state, filled with a kind of pleasant longing. And I have no idea why. If this happens to you? You’re middle-aged.
  4. You have glasses. Sometimes. More than once now, I have sent my children off to look for the glasses that I can’t see very well without my glasses. I tell them that my grandmother used to pay me a nickle to do this task, and that the glasses were more often than not someplace clearly visible. They laugh, while I weep a little, on the inside. If this happens to you? You’re middle-aged.
  5. You use a multi-tasking facial cleanser. If you clean your face with a product containing both alpha hydroxy, “to smooth fine lines,” and salicylic acid, “a proven blemish fighting ingredient” — because you not infrequently have pimples on top of your wrinkles? You’re middle-aged. (And, again: Possibly a woman).
  6. You have come to realize that each day really, truly only has 24 hours. This is the one that gets me the most, actually. I’m not a big fan of the wrinkles, or the lost eyesight, but the real sorrow is the growing realization that I will literally never get to do all I want to do, whether it’s seeing the world or visiting friends or writing letters or reading books or watching movies or watching my kids — I’ll never get to it all. I joke that I will die with a pile of unread books next to my bed, but I now know, in a way that is only just beginning to hit me, that I will also die with unknown beauty on stage and screen, unseen glories over the horizon, and unspoken words in my heart. The hours will pile up until each day ends, the days will pile up into all the years, and the time will come when the years will close and be done, whether or not I’ve read enough about Lincoln, whether or not I’ve gotten to see Liam Finn perform again, whether or not I’ve wandered the streets of Paris or Yazd. Whether or not I’ve found that friend from whom I haven’t heard in so long, and we’ve spent another day with coffee and laughter…. If you, like me, are getting a little weepy right now? You’re middle-aged.
  7. If you’re reading this list and it all sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language – you’re not middle-aged. Yet.
  8. If you’re reading this list and it’s making you smile at the memory of a more innocent time – you’re not middle-aged.
    You’re old.

And, because I love you, Liam Finn:

Good stuff: Steve Burns.

Elsewhere on the webz today, I was reminded of Steve Burns — you know: Steve, from Blues Clues!

First of all, the man deserves a lifetime achievement award for the acting he did on what I consistently found to be a delightful, intelligent, and genuinely funny show (and when you are at a life stage that has you watching a lot of preschool TV, you find yourself deeply grateful for even a glimmer of such qualities. Trust me). But aside from this essential truth, and quite aside from the fact that I always found him quite adorable in said show, Mr. Burns also released a truly delightful popy-rocky-Flaming Lipsy-sorta album soon after leaving television, and I frankly love it.

Here’s a clip! (Note the Lips’ Steven Drozd on drums).

(Please forgive the sketchy quality! It’s the best I could find).

He’s been talking about releasing a follow up for a stupidly long time (the most recent release date was “summer 2009″…). Steve, if you’re reading this? Please dude: Speed it up!

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UPDATE: Ack! I forgot to give the name of the album or link to his Myspace page! Blogger fail.

Album: Songs for Dustmites. Myspace page: Steve Burns.

Sorry about that…!

Good stuff: eat food.

I think that the average American Like Me — educated, middle/upper-middle class, blog-reading — has a pretty complicated relationship with food. It’s not just delectable fuel that allows us to move through our days, a way to enjoy the company of those we love or resolve the disputes of warring parties ( “breaking bread,” and so on). No, food is: reward, punishment, medicine, poison, sin, status. We don’t eat food; we agonize over it.

In looking for a particular quote by New York Times’ writer Mark Bittman earlier, I was reminded of his TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk, a smart, funny, challenging discussion of our food consumption in general, and of meat in particular. His basic philosophy boils down to: Eat food (real food), mostly plants, not too much — it’ll be better for you, and better for the planet. I don’t usually watch videos on the intertubez — something about the screen and the angle and me being weird — but this was well worth it, and I say that having just watched it again. I must once again thank my husband for pointing it (and the whole TED oeuvre) out to me. I don’t often like to admit it, but he not infrequently knows what he’s talking about!

And what led me to re-watch Bittman’s talk? The following news, which I first gleaned from Ta-Nehisi Coates: KFC has introduced a sandwich consisting of bacon, two different cheeses and [I presume a fat-o-rific] sauce between two pieces of fried chicken. No bread — not even white bread. Just: Fried chicken.

Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

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UPDATE: I should have of course noted that the line “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” is a (very) slight paraphrase of the words of food writer Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food). Bittman says something very similar in his TED talk, but it doesn’t have the punch of seven words and three periods. Bittman has said (though of course now I can’t find a link!) that his thinking on this has been influenced by Pollan. Thanks for pointing it out, erniebufflo! 

Schooled.

Like kids all across this great nation, mine recently went back to school, and I find myself thinking about all the stuff that nobody ever told me about how their school would matter – to me.

I mean, sure, I knew I would be buying school supplies, and we would pick out a special outfit, and I would make sure they were clean and brushed and all. But what about this ginormous zit on my cheek?

When I was childless, I had no idea I would be worried about me and what I look like at summer’s end. But there I was the other day, age 45, peering into the mirror, considering how best to conceal the drying remains of a huge pimple on the first day of school. Thinking about how to wear my hair. Mentally choosing an outfit. You know — not too fancy, not too sloppy. Cute! Who doesn’t want to look cute the first day back?

And the homework! No one ever told me, not once, that having kids meant you would be doing first grade math again. And again! Once again for every child! That until a certain age, their homework is your homework, and if the six year old forgets her homework? You cannot blame the six year old. Because she’s six.

Oh and mean kids! Means kids, like the poor, you will always have with you. I mean always: That kid who snubbed yours, or said that nasty thing, or those parents who apparently decided apropos of nothing (as far as you can tell) that no, in fact, they don’t want their kid playing with your kid because their kid keeps asking for playdates but they stop actually returning phone calls and you finally have to explain to their kid (who is all of 8 years old) that her parents aren’t calling — those people? They don’t go anywhere after the unpleasant occurrence! The awkward irritation just goes on and on!

It’s not like an adult situation where you can arrange to simply not cross paths with the jerk — the jerk is a second-grader! Who sits in your kid’s class everyday! Or they’re her parents! And every time you see that jerky kid, or unthinking adults, you feel another little twinge in your heart for your child — because, in fact, you would spare your baby any pain on this earth, if only you could, and yet you can’t even guarantee basic decency from the people around him.

And speaking of your heart, no one ever tells you that you will find yourself in an actual, living-breathing emotional relationship with your children’s teachers. That it will hit you like a ton of bricks one day that the teachers spend more hours of the day with your children than you do. That the teacher is, in fact, a co-raiser of your child — particularly if, as is the case in our school, the kids generally have the same teacher for two or even three years in a row. And that furthermore, if those teachers are deeply wonderful, as our kids’ teachers are, you will come to love them, truly.

I choke up a little bit just thinking about Ms. D–, teacher of the girl, and Ms. W–, teacher of the boy, because I know the love and respect they have for my babies, and all the other parents’ babies who pass through their doors, and can’t begin to express what that love and respect and effort and professionalism — in the best, warmest, highest-calling sense of the word — mean to me. It’s a kind of relationship, a kind of love, that nobody ever told me I would have, but it’s bone-deep, and very real.

And I’m grateful for it, because that love, those teachers, that school – all have made my own life a bigger, wider, broader place to be.

And the kids are doing great.

Seek peace, and pursue it.

I haven’t written about Israel/Palestine in a couple of weeks, and I can only suspect that this has been because I don’t want to!

It’s the tail-end of a lovely summer, and we’ve just been having too much fun for me to want to go too far down that rabbit hole. It’s like knowing that the aunt you were once close to but who’s been mentally unstable for years is in the hospital, and you feel you should go, you want to want to go — but you don’t really want to go. Much as you love her.

So, it being the end of a lovely summer and all, I’m going to lean on someone else’s thinking rather than come up with my own. The ever excellent South Jerusalem recently linked to a piece at The American Prospect by one of the site’s two bloggers, Gershom Gorenberg: “Whose Religion Is This Anyway?”

Gorenberg writes here about what he calls “a half-visible minority of a minority” — Israeli, Orthodox Jews on Israel’s political left, actively seeking a just, peaceful end to the occupation of Palestinian lands, in the face of frank distrust and doubt from all sides.

The struggles he describes aren’t unique to Israeli Jews, however, or the Orthodox. To be a believing Jew of any stripe, anywhere, and to pursue a just peace as an imperative of your faith, is to face distrust and doubt from all sides, everywhere. Leon Wieseltier once wrote something about ethnic anxiety being the only remaining proof of authenticity for the Jewish people, and I would add: To the exclusion of actual Jewish practice.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of congregation B’nai David Judea in Los Angeles wrote two years ago about a crying need for essential honesty among the Jewish people about Israel’s role in its bloody conflict with the Palestinians, and the need for flexibility on the question of Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable thing to read, both because of Rabbi Kanefsky’s naked emotion, and because of an important fact that he acknowledges early on:

These are extremely difficult thoughts for me to share, both because they concern an issue that is emotionally charged, and because people whose friendship I treasure will disagree strongly with me. And also because I am breaking a taboo within my community, the Orthodox Zionist community. “Jerusalem: Israel’s Eternally Undivided Capital” is a 40-year old slogan that my community treats with biblical reverence. It is an article of faith, a corollary of the belief in the coming of the Messiah. It is not questioned.

This break with orthodoxy, so to speak, was so notable that the Los Angeles Times covered it :

As news of Kanefsky’s statements raced through local and national Jewish circles on Friday, the reaction was swift and often impassioned. Many Orthodox leaders denounced Kanefsky’s call as wrong-headed or even dangerous, with one saying it was akin to “religious suicide” for Jews to discuss any compromise on Jerusalem.

“Religious suicide.” Religious suicide? This Orthodox rabbi is in danger of shooting his relationship with the Almighty in the head? For following the Scriptural injunction to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) and “justice, justice pursue” (Duet. 16:20)? “He has told you,” says the prophet Micah, “what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Acting on these holy words is religious suicide?

At the theoretical other end of the religious spectrum, in Jewish Reconstructionism, is the man I consider my rabbi (though I am myself a member of the Conservative Movement), Rabbi Brant Rosen, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and spiritual leader of the Jewish Reconstructionist Community in Evanston, Il. Rabbi Rosen has written, campaigned, travelled, and told the truth about the aching need for a just peace for a long, long time, and though he generally doesn’t discuss it, I know that it hasn’t always been a easy row to hoe. In a painfully honest blog post, he did recently broach the sensitivity of Jewish peace activism:

I’ve come to believe that too many of us in the Jewish community will unabashedly protest persecution anywhere in the world, yet remain silent when Israel acts oppressively.

I know all too well how we actively avoid this truth. We use any number of rhetorical and political arguments to deny it, to mitigate the discomfort and pain it causes us.  We engage in a kind of tortured dance of rationalization that we save for no other world issue but this one. But for me, at least, none of it really addresses the core issue at hand: however difficult it might be for us to face, Israel is unjustly oppressing Palestinians.

I just can’t do the dance any more.

 

This summer, Rabbi Rosen was instrumental in the launch of “Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.” The Hebrew in the title is translatable as “a righteous fast,” or “a fast for justice,” with the word for “fast,” ta’anit, referring specifically to a fast undertaken for religious reasons, rather than a mere cessation of eating (tzom). The response to this effort has been, in a word, mixed:

Since we launched the Jewish Fast for Gaza, we’ve received all kinds of feedback, some supportive, some critical, some utterly unprintable. (My personal favorite from the latter category: “You should all get severe stomach ailments.”)

My own experience as a member of the Conservative Movement has fallen in with that of these two accomplished rabbis. The fact that I maintain a strictly kosher home, work on neither Shabbat nor religious holidays, pray at home and often attend services, cover my head in prayer, speak Hebrew with my children, and travel regularly to Israel, where I lived for 14 years, is often simply insufficient to make up for the fact that I frequently and publicly call on Israel to act with justice toward the Palestinians. I’ve received nasty letters from fellow members of the movement, have watched people literally turn their back rather than talk to me, have been told that my writing “puts weapons in the hands of the enemy” — and have been told that some believe me to be either “a self-loathing Jew” or  “not really Jewish.”

But what Gorenberg wrote (remember Gorenberg? This is a post about Gorenberg) speaks directly to my experience both of the Divine, and of the ugly reality on the ground, as I suspect it does for many Jews of faith:

I have no doubt that the pursuit of peace is the most basic of Jewish obligations, that the first lessons of Judaism’s sacred texts is that all human beings are created in the divine image and deserve freedom. The first religious figure who inspired me was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the European-born American theologian [ed. note: and giant of the Conservative Movement] who returned from marching at Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. and declared, “Our legs were praying.” That is, seeking social justice was not only a religious requirement, it was an act of worship. Heschel protested the war in Vietnam though it meant challenging the polices of the country that gave him refuge during the Holocaust. His kind of faith did not allow him to stay silent. I can’t know for sure what Heschel would be doing were he alive today, but I believe strongly that he would be working for peace in Israel.

Seeking social justice is not only a religious requirement, it is an act of worship — this is the Truth.

And in my struggle to live a life of faith, and to reconcile my faith and ahavat Zion, love of Zion (my home, both spiritual and literal) with the ugly injustices that are daily perpetrated in Judaism’s name — in my name, as a Jew of faith — I cling to that truth and pray for guidance.

There are days, I will admit, on which it feels it would be much easier to just leave it all behind.

Older.

A few weeks ago, I stood before my pretty sizeable CD collection (once this was a source of pride. I suspect that in this MP3 age, it serves as a badge of shame) and randomly grabbed some George Michael to listen to.

A) Don’t you judge me! The man has a gorgeous voice, and has recorded more excellent tunes than you or I will ever have to our names. Plus which, it’s hard to write when listening to Loud And Angry Rock N’ Roll. (And I also have Throwing Muses, Garbage, Silversun Pickups, Cornershop, U2, and a random Swiss band called Pamela Cash sitting here in the pile as well. So.).

B) If I’m not mistaken, it’s the only George Michael (and/or Wham) that we own, so it really is kind of random. It’s not even Faith – it’s Older, the album he recorded in the wake of the death of his (I think) Spanish lover. There is some palpable heartbreak, and real wisdom (with a snappy beat!) here, the sort of beauty that we often miss when we’re busy feeling all above a certain art form. Not that I would ever feel that way. I’m listening to it as I type, and quite honestly, it’s a terrific piece of work.

At any rate, none of that is my point! I was struck, as I looked at the stunning, chisled George Michael peering out at me from the cover art — the word “OLDER” printed in silver just to the lower right of his beautiful mouth — that he was not really all that old when he released this album, in 1996. The internet tells me that he was born in 1963, so: 33? That’s not really all that much older than anything.

Except that of course, he felt older. He’d already been through a thing or two or twelve, and we all start out so young, that everything after, I don’t know, high school? Just feels: Older. Who knew I’d be here someday? (I remember contemplating the year 2000 when I was a kid and realizing that I would be 35 then, and it just seemed so – foreign).

And ever since my afternoon with George Michael, I’ve been thinking about this older, this endless becoming older of ours, and how we often seem to think that we know what we’ll be like when we achieve older — and yet we often don’t. Or at least, I didn’t.

I’m a year younger than Mr. Michael, and in looking for Older‘s release date in the liner notes, I had to adjust my glasses, squinting this way and that. I suspect Michael is in a similar boat right now — the human eye has a roughly 40 year warranty, and after that, biology just takes its toll. I wonder if he looks back on that title he chose, at the ripe old age of 33, and chuckles.

Already, at the ripe old age of 44, there are things that I thought would always matter to me that just don’t anymore. And I think that the surprise is not that that’s the case — after all, in my youth, I could see that some people had let certain things go in their middle years, was horrified by this, and assumed that within themselves, these middle-aged types were a little mortified themselves. The surprise is that I’m rarely mortified by it.

I am still me, and there is much that mattered to me then that matters to me still (the first question, for instance, that I always want to ask new acquaintances, to this day, is: “What music do you like?” I no longer do so, though, because mostly this is not a question that the over-25 crowd asks), but there is much that just doesn’t anymore. The other day I glanced at a young woman wearing something or other that was clearly a fashion statement involving a really wide belt, and I thought to myself that back when we wore those same ugly belts in the 1980s, it was all part of a much larger gestalt, involving geometric shapes, and cantilevered hair, and shoulder pads. “It was a whole THING!” I thought. And then it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue: Maybe it’s a whole THING for her, too! I am just no longer interested in what that THING may happen to be. Not that she shouldn’t care — just that I don’t.

And I suspect that this holds true for bigger issues and weightier questions, down the line.

I worry about aging — I don’t like to admit it, but I do. I worry about how it will feel to be the goofy-looking old woman with discolored skin and hair that won’t lie flat and I can’t get my mascara on right anymore but I keep doing it, because it’s part of how I understand myself and I can’t see well enough to see that it looks awful. I spend time hoping that I will have people around me who love me enough to say “Grandma, enough with the mascara already.” I worry about how it will feel to know that I can’t — I don’t know — walk to the corner anymore, or drive, or read regular-sized type.

These worries focus, I think, on issues of respectability and pride and a sense of self. How will it feel to watch pieces of me, parts of my body and parts of my spirit, fall away from usefulness? How will it feel to move in society as this new old person?

Of course, please God, I should be so lucky. I am now nearly ten years older than my own father will ever be, and it’s the lucky among us who get to earn our liver spots.

But also, in the wake of noting the one-word title of a 16 year old CD, it has struck me that, when the time comes, I will be that old person. I will have been through a thing or two or twelve, and I will not then feel about it as I do now. Some things will be losses, and I will mourn them — and some things will just be. And I can’t know, from this distance, what those things are.

There is no grand conclusion to all of this. At least, not until I shuffle off this mortal coil, hopefully in some grand and glorious — or at least pain-free — fashion.

I hope there’s more joy than pain in growing older, and I hope that I maintain a modicum of dignity, because not all of us get to do that. Other than that, I think I pretty much just have to let it happen. I hope George Michael gets to, too. Dude can really sing.

Lincoln, Presley, and sheep.

Lincoln and two of his sons inside the fence of their home.

Lincoln and two of his sons inside the fence of their home (youngest very difficult to see!).

So: Springfield, IL may be the only place on earth where you can enjoy a “Hound Dog” -performing Elvis impersonator at the State Fair one day, and on the next, take in a dramatic presentation of the essential magic of historical study, as delivered by a Union Soldier-playing live actor and some damn cool holographic special-effects — only to realize that the actor in question was yesterday’s Elvis.

Springfield was kinda awesome.

We went to all the major Lincoln sites, the State Fair, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, and the Governor’s Mansion. We had some fairly meh pizza at the fairly neat-o Pizza Machine and some pretty darn great pizza at the pretty darn standard Gallina’s (where I also discovered Espresso Soda!). And the kids and their dad swam at the local YMCA, while I double-dipped at the Lincoln home, ’cause I’m a geek.

I was caught by surprise, as I always am, by just how powerful it is for me to be in the place, breathe the air, and touch the reality, of a historical figure I admire — I spent that first day, as we tramped all over Lincoln’s home town, in a wash of tears or near-tears, just overcome by things like the fact that the floorboards in his law office (these very floorboards! The ones I’m standing on right now! The ones I’m touching with the bare skin of my feet because I’ve slipped off my sandals to do so! These floorboards right here!) were the self-same floorboards trod by Mr. Lincoln himself.

I did in fact take William Lee Miller’s Lincoln’s Virtues with me, and the business of reading about the man and his moral development while discovering the place he lived for most of his adult life thrilled me in a way that I can hardly explain. The emotional attachment I feel to Lincoln may defy reason, but it is genuine, and the effect of being right there was to deepen the (again, quite genuine!) frustration I feel over the fact that he and I will never meet — and to sharpen my grief over his loss, and the fact that he will never not be assassinated. (I took real comfort recently, and I mean that quite literally, it eased my spirit, when I realized in the course of reading Team of Rivals that while I might know and dread the end of the story, Lincoln himself did not, and he died at what might well have been the happiest time in his life, with the war essentially over, the slaves freed, and the union saved).

Plus which! We saw sheep sheared and pigs judged, and shared a funnel cake and a deep-fried Milky Way. And more to the point, had a ton of fun together. So really — our experience was complete!

As I read more in Miller, I’m finding all sorts of fascinating parallels between America’s more recent politics and those of Lincoln’s years, stuff that will no doubt come up in future posts. But for now, I just wanted to check in and wax all geeky and weepy. And that, I have done.

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It bears noting that the Lincoln Museum was, honest to goodness, the best museum I’ve ever been in. Just the right balance between bells and whistles and real education — the bells and whistles, dare I say it, actually served the educational side of things! (I know! I could hardly believe it myself). Here’s a link to the not nearly as impressive website, and a link to information about the presentation I mentioned above. If you ever have a chance to go — go! Go!

Land of Lincoln, by train.

The times are crazy, what with kids at home, work projects that were hairier than expected (two on the same day, no less!), and a ten year old’s birthday to arrange. This explains the paucity of posting this past week. And now we’re about to get on a train and go to Springfield, IL for four days!

I may post from the road, but I frankly doubt it. I may manage to fit something in before we go, but I kind of doubt that, too. So for now, I’ll leave you with some Good Stuff, and a reminder that you are may feel free — nay, encouraged! — to tell everyone and anyone you know, meet, or have heard rumor of about the glory that is In My Head! For the very reasons listed above, I haven’t had the chance to really get into all of the terrific advice about boosting readership that I got from a friend who blogs for actual money, but maybe next week. Or, the week after that….

Anyhoo, without further ado: Good Stuff!

1) Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin.

When President Obama was putting together his cabinet, a lot of people referred to this book in a very off-handed manner, suggesting that just as President Lincoln had pulled people of different strengths into his government, so might Obama, disregarding factors such as party affiliation (see: Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary) or earlier animus (see: Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State). The thing is, though, despite its title, Team of Rivals is about so much more than just the construction and functioning of Lincoln’s cabinet! It’s truly a biography of the man — a beautifully written, funny, moving, and astoundingly in-depth biography of the man — with a focus on his relationships with three other men in particular, all of whom were (in fact) his rivals for the Republican nomination and all of whom came to be in his cabinet. In a very real way, Team of Rivals is something a biography of these other men as well, and the resultant added cultural perspective of Lincoln’s time and contemporaries really helped me to get a much more rounded understanding of just who he may have been. (And, it should be noted, just makes the book that much more of an accomplishment!). Lincoln has always one of my very few heroes, I’d already read one of the best Lincoln biographies out there (With Malice Toward None, Stephen B. Oates) and recently studied an excellent, in-depth treatment of his Second Inaugural (Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, Ronald C. White, Jr.), AND I’ve lived in Illinois for an absolute majority of my days, but it was Team of Rivals that finally made me turn to the husband and say “Honey, let’s take the kids to Springfield!” (Also, and not incidentally, it’s so well written, that I’ve started another of Goodwin’s books, about a couple I’ve never given much thought to, just because I want to read more of her writing: No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – The Home Front in World War II. Though, this weekend, I think I’ll take a break from it and bring on the trip a book that has sat on my shelf unread for too long: Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, William Lee Miller. Obvs!).

2) And now for something completely different!

Laughing Baby! Oh my word, this just cracks me up, every time I see it.

This adorable baby is by now just about three years old. I hope someone someday tells him how much joy he brought to a bunch of strangers when he was just wee!

(It occurs to me that I now have, in fact, managed  “to fit something in before we go”…! Well, maybe I’ll post something ELSE. Or maybe not).

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