Friday, September 29, 2006

Cleaning Versus Spraying

Several years ago, I read an article in the real estate section of our local newspaper which explained the burgeoning interest in home fragrances. While many of these products can be lovely, the reason for their current popularity is not -- at least according to this article.

The article explained that today's young couples immediately expect to move into a brand new home -- and a large home at that. Many refuse to consider purchasing a smaller, older, less expensive home. However, to get the square footage they want, they must take on a high mortgage payment. Thus, they decide the only way that they can obtain a suitable house for their family is if the wife takes a fulltime job outside of the home.

To accommodate this passion for new and huge first homes, local builders are slapping up subdivisions filled with larger and larger houses. They are no longer building small, affordable "starter homes", which used to be a young, single-income family's first entry into the housing market. These houses were cozy and easier for a young wife and mother to keep.

Now, this trend is not particular to my town, nor is it news to any of us. We've all seen this this coming on for a long time. In fact, in the U.S., popular culture has even coined a term for these large, cookie-cutter, suburban homes: McMansions.

The article pointed out something that I had not considered, however. It stated that most young couples have no clue what it takes to keep a home clean. Thus, they do not make realistic decisions when they purchase these large dwellings. They are captivated by the way the house appears when they first look at it, before anyone has lived in it. They blithely assume that they will somehow find the time to keep the place looking so beautiful while both are working fulltime jobs and starting to have babies, as well. They imagine that they can get everything they need to get done in a couple of hours every Saturday morning.

Once the couple actually purchases and move into a large home, however, reality sets in. Dust accumulates. Carpets become dirty and crunchy. Floors are sticky. Windows are spotty. Bathrooms become moldy. Only then, does the couple realize that they have bought more house than they can maintain. And, because they have locked themselves into large mortgage payments, they have no money in the budget to pay someone to help them.

The article stated that the result of this cleaning ignorance is that many couples restort to attacking the surface apperance of their home. They spend all of their time in a frustrating effort to keep up with the laundry, to keep the surfaces dusted and capets somewhat vacuumed, and to keep the kitchen reasonably clean. Since they do not have time for anything but the barest minium of housekeeping, many women are finding that their homes are filled with unpleasant odors. Rather than getting to the root of these offending odors, they buy products to mask them instead.

Voila -- a new industry has become established! Manufacturers now offer harried women dozens of ways to block unpleasant smells with artificial and natural fragrances. Where grocery stores used to carry one or two brands of air freshener, a few bags of cedar chips, and some cans of Lysol, now whole aisles are devoted to products that take away unpleasant smells. Today's woman sprays her carpet, her furniture, her clothing, her drapes, and the upholstery of her car with special freshening sprays. She plugs air fresheners into her electric outlets, she mists the air in her living spaces, she burns scented oils and candles in every room, and, she sets out dishes of potpourris on every surface. Air fresheners have become big business, and manufacturers of scented products are profiting greatly.

Of course, many of these items are lovely to use. Who isn't drawn pretty, scented candles and charming dishes of potpourri? The problem is that we have come to rely on these products to make our home smell clean, rather than using them as pleasing accents to an already clean home. In the process, we overwhelm our noses with too many of these products. For those of us with allergies, it can be torture to visit a house in which every room has been scented with a variety of products.

Moreover, do we really want to mask all those unpleasant odors? Unpleasant odors serve a purpose in life; they alert us that when something is not safe or sanitary. We ignore those signals at our own peril. Popping a scented garbage sack into a dirty kitchen trash can, for instance, does nothing to remove a buildup of grime and germs. If the can is sending off an unpleasant odor, that's a sign we need to wash the can, and place it in the sun for a bit if we can. If we enjoy using scented liners, that's fine, as long as we use it as an accent and not as a way to skimp on the chore of keeping the garbage can sanitary.

Grandma's house smelled fresh because she spent more hours cleaning it. She did not concentrate just on the surface appearance, but she cleaned deeply and thoroughly. In the process of making everything spic and span, she eliminated germs and other sources of offending odors. Thus, Grandma had no need to keep an arsenal of air freshening products on hand. Her old-fashioned sachets and potpourris were subtle, with just a hint of pleasant fragrance. They added to freshness of her home and helped her preserve linens and clothing. But, they were not a mask for sloppy housekeeping.

The article I read pointed out that as the demand for larger homes as risen, the number of hours that a family (or the woman in the family) devotes to daily house cleaning has dropped significantly.

You might think that we can get away with spending fewer hours today on cleaning because we have more labor savings devices. Actually, by the 1950's, most every major tool that we use to clean our homes had already invented. The only really new items are all of the disposable cleaning/dusting products, such as Swiffer items. These can be great aids for quick tidy-ups, but they do not replace real house cleaning.

I do think that the fifties woman might have overdone her cleaning regimen. But, I also think today's woman vastly underestimates time that is required to keep her home. Today's husband also has unrealistic expectations, and he wonders why his dear wife can't work fulltime, bear and raise children, maintain her pretty and fresh apperance, and keep home the way his grandmother did.

The upshot of the article I read was that naive young couples expect to have beautiful homes with lots of square footage. But, these couples do not plan for the upkeep such homes require, and they make no room in their busy lives to maintain them. Then, a couple wonders why their expensive dwelling is not the cozy, happy, serene refuge that they had envisoned on closing day.

I think this carries over to unrealistic expectations about the time it takes to build a great marriage and to raise children, too. Couples who over-extend themselves financially and also time-wise burn out quickly. Sadly, many lose out on the the joy that comes from a peaceful and orderly home.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sachets, Savoring, and Sweaters
(Or How to Try to Find some Alliteration in Ramblings on Three Subjects)

Since I am in an end-of-the-month crunch, with a lot of things on my plate, I really enjoyed Sandra's article over at Ravenhill cottage. In it she urges us to think not, "What should be done today," but "What shall I do today." She describes the difference in our outlook if we change our thinking on this matter. She ties it in with savoring the time you spend taking care of your household, without feeling pressured or hurried. It was just what I needed to read today. Check out her article if you also want some inspiration for your day.

Today, I am going to harvest my lavendar. I should have done it yesterday before the rain moved in. But, I'm going to grab whatever clear moments this day of showers provides to dash out and clip it. My goal is to make lavendar sachets a la the ones that Plain and Simple over at Echo from the Green Hills made. I have the faintest suspicion that I am the only person on the planet who might be allergic to lavendar. But, I adore this herb anyway because of its connection to the way our grandmothers kept house, it's connection to France, its reputation for keeping certain bugs away, its reputation as a relaxing smell, and its connection to all things romantic. So, I'm hoping the sachets will add a lovely scent to my linen and clothing closets without making me sneeze! I also hope that I have enough lavendar left to make sachets for gifts, as well.

We are actually going to have some true fall weather in the next few days. Rains have moved in today, bringing with them a cool front in their wake. Today's and tomorrow's highs are only going to be in the 60's! Of course, we'll soon pop back up into the seventies and we'll continue to alternate between cool spells and warm spells for months. But, I think we're done with temps in the 80's and 90's. Usually, we have our first freeze in late November, at which time I lose the begonias on my front porch and the tomatoes in my garden. But, I'm wondering if our first freeze might come early this year.

In an addendum to yesterday's article about wanting to look like I know what decade we're in, here are some items that are gong to be big this fall: Sweater dresses, Sweater coats (haven't these been in style for some time now?), jumpers (that's an American style jumper, which is a type of dress rather than a sweater), tulip skirts, leggings under skirts, wide belts, ankle length boots, shimmery tees for daytime, and oversize knit rosette pins. As you can see, many of these items can be used in a modest wardrobe. Plus, if you knit or crochet, the rosette pins would make great gifts this year.

In up-dating my wardrobe, I try to keep in mind the difference between fads and trends. I don't have a lot of time or money to spend on clothing, so what I choose, I must choose wisely.

Fads are things that are in one minute and out the next. Remember a couple of years ago, when women wore large, circular, sparkly broaches for about a year? The next year, they were considered to be "out." If I do purchase or make a "faddy" item, I don't spend much of my clothing budget here. I choose only those "faddy" items that work with my wardrobe and that I really enjoy. Otherwise, I avoid fads.

Silhouettes and trends are a different matter. These move more slowly -- changing gradually over a five to ten year poriod. Trends and silhouettes have to do with how garments are proportioned and tailored. They involve things such as the kind of waistlines that are popular for dresses, whether the collars on blouses are narrow or wide, how long or short jackets and blouses and sweaters are, whether a shoulder line is softer or if it is straighter and emphasized with shoulder pads, how pointed or rounded the toes on shoes are, etc.

Think of the 1820's, the 1860's, the 1880's, the 1920's, the 1930's, the 1940's, and the 1950's. You can probably identify the "trends" that shaped dresses, shoes, coats, and hats for each of those decades. Within each of those decades, fads came and went. It's the overall trend that we remember, however.

I do try to keep up with trends. I choose items within each trend that flatter my body shape and my taste. Some decades, it's harder to find silhouettes that flatter me than others. For example, I look back and realize that the boxy, shoulder-padded "boyfriend" jackets of the eighties weren't my best look. But, designers know that we all have different body shapes, so they always offer at least something for every type. I can always find something in a current trend that works for me.

Here's where it helps to be able to sew and also to alter things to fit you well. So, I'm hoping to hone my sewing skills a little more.

Colors come in both fads and trends. Sometimes, a shade of the season will be in and out in a flash. Other times, a certain color palatte will linger for a decade. Within a particular trend's color palatte, I look for those colors that work with my fair hair and light skin.

I am no fashion expert, but I suspect we are on the cusp of a trend change. The silhouettes for clothing items in the next few years will probably be reminsicent of the eighties, with longer, tunic type tops over either narrow or flowing bottoms. But, these items are re-interpreted for the 2,000's. No digging our real eighties garments out of the attic!

One happy trend on the horizon: Designers are talking about women dressing in a "more subtle" way, rather than continuing to "show too much skin". Of course, in the runway world, "subtle" is far from what most of us would call "modest". However, if this "subtle" trend does take hold, it will trickle down to stores in conservative areas. Buyers for these stores may ask for this style to be interpreted even more conservatively than in "high fashion areas". Thus, we could end up seeing many more modest selections on store racks than we have in the past few years. Yeah! And, this trend will extend to sewing patterns, as well.

Has anyone seen the recent Sears commercial in which a young lady states that she prefers to wear modest clothing? The young lady wears a very "funky", but modest outfit, complete with a longer skirt. She states that she found her look at Sears. I don't think she actually uses the word" modest", itself. But, in essense, that's what she was saying.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Do I know What Decade this Is?

In dressing modestly, attracively, and in a manner appropriate to someone of middle age, I want to avoid two extremes:

1) Dressing as if I still think I'm twenty years old
2) Dressing as if I am already eighty years old.

There's nothing wrong with being either twenty or eighty. But, I am at neither end of this spectrum. And, if I err too far to one side or the other in my dress, I find that I end up looking dowdy and unaproachable.

I am a fan of soft, yet classic pieces, such as skirts and jackets with curved, feminine tailoring. Classic cuts flatter almost everyone -- especially if you know how to select ones that flatter your body type. And, the classics do look current much longer than trendier pieces do. But, even if the classics move at a slower pace, their silhouette does change. Sometimes, I have held on to favorite pieces when it was time to say good-bye. These oldies not only added years to my look, but they began to look worse for the wear.

I also have a very strong romantic streak in my nature. Therefore I am attracted to ultra-feminine styles, such as lace, tucks, and certain colors. These elements complement the fresh-faced beauty of the very young girl. Worn in the right way, they also highlight the sweet, dignified beauty of an older woman. But, ironically, the feminine touches I adore can be tricky for a woman in that vast middle-ground between twenty and eighty to wear. Now, I am not about to give up my romantic streak, so I am intent on finding ways to wear lace and pastels in a fresh and modern way.

Before I married and had children, I was naturally more in tune with what was in style. I also had more time and money to spend on my appearance. I lived in a metropolitan area that offered a large number of current fashions to choose from. Among these selections, it was possible to dress modestly, yet to also wear things that were both flattering and current.

Somewhere along the way, I quit being so in tune with fashion. I had little money and even less time to spend on the way I presented myself. Sometimes, the things I wore made me look dowdy, far older than my years, and -- worse -- unapproachable.

Clothing is a funny thing. Sometimes, the message we think we send by the garments we wear is not the message that other people receive from us. I've found that some fashions that I would call "pretty", "classic" or "elegant" spell "out-of-touch" and "not-fun-to-be-around" to many younger people. Sometimes, fashions I think will inspire younger women to enjoy dressing in a feminine and modest way have the opposite effect. It's not always the modesty that bothers younger women! It's choosing things that look out-of-date and that also might have been unflattering to begin with. (I'm not talking about including a few truly "retro" pieces in your wardrobe. Many of these are popular with all ages of women. Lots of people in Nashville who are in their late twenties and thirties wear nineteen-forties inspired fashions. I have a velvet evening jacket that my mother bought decades ago. It is timeless in style and will never look out of date)

I expect there to be some difference in taste between generations. A twenty-five year old should not look as if she is fifty and vice versa. But, I do want to dress in a way that younger people can relate to. I want to inspire them with a vision of how fun it can be to dress modestly and in a feminine manner. (Of course, attaining a healthy weight will help me set a better example -- which goes back to my earlier post on moderation).

Obviously, I don't to be a slave to fashion. The whims of public taste are too ephemeral to chase. But, I do want to look like I at least know what decade it is.

The one exceptions are that I am on campaign to bring back pretty aprons and lovely hats!


Monday, September 25, 2006

But, I don't feel like it....

“I know God wants me to read his word and to pray to him. But, I just don’t feel like it. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to talk to God when my heart is so flat?”

“I know God says to respect my husband, but he’s so stressed out at work and he’s acting like such a jerk these days. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to be kind and gentle to him, even when I don’t feel like respecting him?”

“I know God says not to give up coming to the meetings of the church. But, it’s so hard to get all the children ready, and besides, someone at my church really hurt my feelings the last time I was there. Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite to come tonight, even though I don’t feel like it?”

How many of us have heard (and, let’s be honest – how many of us have said) things like this in recent years? This came to my mind as I wrote about using good manners in our homes. It seems that many believe it is hypocritical to be courteous if we are not somehow emotionally moved to do so in the moment. This extends itself to feeling hypocritical for following God's word in any matter that goes against our temporal feelings.

In my humble opinion, I think our culture is a little mixed up about what it means to be a hypocrite. We define hypocrisy as obeying God even when it is emotionally difficult to do so. Thus, we excuse ourselves from obedience until we are motivated by “the right feeling”.

I know women who frustrate themselves by trying and trying to manufacture a correct emotion about some issue, instead of simply obeying God. Thus, they drag out situations, rather than stepping out in faith that Gods’ word is true. Since good feelings often follow, rather than precede obedience, these women never achieve their goal. I've fallen into that trap myself. It's not a fun place to be.

If denying a momentarily contrary feeling is not hypocrisy, then what is? We all know that this term originally meant a stage actor. Jesus used it to indicate someone who outwardly plays the part of being religious, while, inwardly, their heart is far from God.

Jesus used this term in connection with the Pharisees, who meticulously kept every point of law while missing the big picture. Outwardly, they looked good, and they believed they were serving God. Inwardly, their hearts were blinded by religious and national pride, personal ambition, and greed. Because of these deep-rooted attitudes, they failed to recognize God in the Flesh when they saw Him. As men who were well educated in the Law and the Prophets, they should have been the first to welcome and champion our Lord. Instead, they opposed him.

Of course, we don’t want to fool around with hypocrisy of any kind. It blinds the heart. It separates us from God. It causes us to focus on our own righteousness, rather than on the righteousness which comes through faith in Christ. It’s always good to check our hearts lest we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees.

We have to remember, however, that such hypocrisy is an attitude and not a momentary emotional struggle. In my opinion, merely having to choose on a given day between obeying God or between following a selfish feeling does not make us a hypocrite. The key is what we do when we are tempted. Do we pray and then get up from our prayer resolved to do God’s will, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane? Do we admit our feelings to a few close friends, as Jesus also did in the Garden of Gethsemane? Or, do we give way to our feeling?

Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily and to follow him. Matthew 16:24. If our emotions never tempted us to be selfish, we wouldn’t have to deny ourselves. Nor, would it be necessary to daily crucify our sinful nature in order that Christ may live in us.

Our temporal emotions make great servants. They help us respond to the world. But, they can be affected by all kinds of things: lack of sleep, hormones, what we ate last night, the amount of stress in our lives, whether someone has been kind or hurtful to us, etc.

Because our feelings can be so up and down, they make poor masters. Jesus, and not our feelings, is our Lord.

Christ has set us free from the power of sin, including being a slave to our own emotions. The Holy Spirit works the fruit of self-control within us, so that we can choose to stay in step with Him. Through Christ's strength, we can choose to obey God in the moment, even when every emotion in us is screaming for us to do otherwise.

Of course, if we never want to read and pray, something is wrong. If we are always short-tempered, we may need to take a deeper look. If we don't see the fruits of joy and peace in our life, we must uncover why. If we look at our walk with Christ as being nothing but toilsome drudgery, we're off-base somewhere. If we are frequently depressed or anxious, we need to seek help.But, we must learn to distinguish between damaged or sinful attitudes of the heart and momentary emotional temptation.

We get into trouble with our emotions whenever we say, “I know God says, but…. "

For example, we think, “I know God says to be patient, but I have a headache and I’m tired and this is the fifth time I've told the children not to be so loud in the house, and I feel like snapping at them.” And so, we snap harshly, and the children either cry or ignore our whining, and we all feel worse.

Instead, the better way to think is _____________, but God says…”

For example, we can say to ourselves, “I have a headache and I’m tired and the children did not obey when I asked them to "use their inside voices" and I feel like snapping at them, but God says to be patient and kind. If he asks me to be patient, He will give me the strength to carry it through. As the parent, it is my responsiblity to follow through when I ask the children to do something. Therefore, I will firmly, but kindly train my children to use their "inside voices". I will impose consequnces if they do not obey. I will also provide them with some quiet things for them to do. Then, I will take some time to pray and unwind.” Thus, we resolve the situation God's way, and everyone in our home feels better.

Please Don't Check your Manners at the Door!

My dh and I often are around younger couples who seek us out for marriage advice. Many of these young men and women grew up in broken homes and have no clue what a healthy marriage looks like. So, they search for real life godly examples to help them understand what the scriptures say about marriage.
Now, this is scary, since dh and I are by no means perfect! I can think of a dozen ways we can take our marriage higher even as I write this article. But, God has blessed us, and we are happy together. He gave us stable home backgrounds. He also placed many wonderful Christians in our lives who have encouraged us during the almost twenty-six years we've been married so far. Some of these poeple were given the hard assignment by God to love us through times when neither one of us was acting very loveable. So, we want to pass on to others what God has so richly given to us.
Marriages or child/parent relationships that are in crisis take lots of prayer, love, and counsel. It's not the purpose of this article to provide a simplistic answer to deep-seated problems.
However, I do see one simple thing that trips up a number of families -- The husband and wife check their manners at the front door.
I see otherwise personable young men and women treat their spouses in demanding, selfish, ungrateful, bossy, loud, and otherwise downright unpleasant ways. They are cordial to everyone else, but with their spouse they forget the most basic of manners -- even down to not saying "please" and "thank-you". Under the guise of trying to "help their spouse", they constantly pick at their spouse's faults. At home, they blurt out things in a manner they would never dream of using with anyone else. Sometimes, parents will even say crushing things to their tender young children!
For some reason, I'm surprised that often the wife is the greatest offender in this area. Usually, this woman would rather cut out her tongue than to say something impolite to a stranger. But, this same woman -- so outwardly the soul of sensitivity -- may have no clue that she rattles off rude comments to her husband all day long.
I do understand the temptation to "let down on your manners" at home. I think this comes from the following sources:
1) Because we are so vulnerable with our spouses, they can hurt us as no one else can. Thus, when they are rude to us -- even without meanting to hurt us -- we feel justified in hurting them in return. This creates a downward and destructive cycle. I Peter 3:9 tells husbands and wives not to repay insult for insult, but to answer an insult with a blessing. In this way, we inherit a blessing ourselves.
2) Because we are around our immediate family so much, we can take our husbands and children for granted. Thus, we may not put in the effort to treat them with courtesy. How often have I let weeks slip by without doing for my husband the same little kindnesses I would show to any guest in our home!! When I do remember to perform little courtesises for him, it makes him feel so loved.
I know we're all busy. But, this life is so fragile and so brief. Surely, it's important to invest some time in showing the people we love the most how grateful we are for them. After all, our spouses and children are gifts from God. The way we treat them is an index of our gratitude to God.
3) We are tired, and we want to relax and "be ourselves" at home. We want to indulge ourselves, rather than to be courteous. The question we all need to ask is why does "being myself" mean that I get to be rude to those I love the most? Here's where we need to go to Christ for a heart change. Being selfish and rude never brings us lasting rest; such rest is found only in Christ's arms.
4) The husband and wife become fixated on perfecting the other one. If they don't see the changes they want, they feel justified in treating their spouse with rude disdain. Yes, it's true that in a healthy marriage, a husband and wife can discuss problems and state preferences. At times, a husband and wife should also be able to help each other with sin. But, there is a balance here. If the husband or wife becomes self-righteous and starts to treat the other spouse as a "project" to be "fixed", the marriage is in trouble. If both are self-righteous and each one is locked in a battle to coerce the other one into "shaping up", the marriage is in double trouble!
Beware: Pointing loudly to your spouse's faults can be a way of hiding from your own sin. Jesus said to take the mote out of your own eye first. Then, he said, you can see clearly to help another person. Humility and kindness are powerful in creating a happy home; while self-righteous rudeness destroys happiness.
5) The wife is afraid, and her rudeness comes out of the temptation to control, rather than to honor, her husband. This leads her to treat her husband with far less courtesy than she would show to any one else! This opposes God's beautiful plan, where the wife lavishes her husband with respect. I Peter 2:19 through I Peter 3:22 tells us God's answer for a woman's fears in this area.
6) The husband plays the respect card when dealing with his wife. But, he doesn't read the accompanying verses about how he is to treat his wife as Christ loved the church -- by dying for her. So, he is harsh and clumsy with his wife and children, or he is neglectful of thier emotional needs. Now, this failure on a husband's part in no way justifies a wife's disrespect and rudeness. But, how beautiful it is to see a husband who does cherish his wife and his children and who treats them in a manner befitting a gentleman who is a follower of Christ.

If a lack of manners is a problem in your home, it may result from a bad attitude in your heart or it may simply be a bad habit that you've allowed yourself to get into. Either way, it's a simple thing to fix -- or at least to begin to fix. Notice, I said that it's"simple" to fix. I didn't guarantee taht it will be easy"easy". But, you can start the ball rolling by your own example. You can school your heart, your tongue, and your actions to create an atmosphere of courtesy in your home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that good manners are the "happy way of doing things". Do you want a happy home? Then, remember that "love is patient, love is is not rude," and act as love would act. I Cor. 13. There's no short-cut to get around this prescription for loving relationships.

Good manners are a balm. They soothe the irritations of daily life. Courtesy helps us achieve the peace we seek in our homes.

We all rise to our best when we are treated politely, and we are all tempted to sink to our wosrt when someone is habitually rude to us. Our family members are no different than we are. If we are consistently inconsiderate towards them, they will become downcast. They may do the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish through our rudeness -- They may run from God and from us. Yet, if we lavish good manners on them, we will see them bloom. Our kindness will draw our loved ones to us and will help them lift up their eyes to God, as well. God's word states this principle over and over in a number of ways.

Even if your marriage is deeply troubled, you can begin today to treat your spouse with basic consideration. In this way, you will be interrupting the downward spiral of your relationship and interjecting something positive. This will not be the only cure to your problems, nor will it be an instant one. But, planting seeds of good manners can pay off in future happiness.

Perhaps, your spouse is locked in a sin with destructive ramifications -- such as an addition. In that case, you will need to proceed with tons of prayer and lots of counsel. You may have to have serious conversations or to draw some firm lines. And, you may have to let your spouse know how deeply he or she has hurt you so that the spouse can connect the sinful behavior with consequences. But, even at this serious point, you can do this humbly and with respect. If the spouse feels your utter disdain, they may become discouraged and give up or they may rebel against God's word. If the spouse sees that you are firm, but also hopeful that God can still work in his or her life, the spouse may be inspired to get help. This is not to say that your spouse's sin is your fault. But, wouldn't you rather have the peace of knowing that you acted in Christlike love, rather than in vengance and spite?

Someone said, "Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are." That's true.

Taking it deeper, "Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because you are perfectly nice, but because Christ is."


Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Healthier Weight by Christmas

At a baby shower the other day, a friend of mine remarked that she is on a diet. For the first two weeks, she cannot eat any fruit (or carbs) of any kind. I had just watched an episode of the show "House" had treated a young woman for scurvy, which she had contracted from a high protein diet that was deficient in Vitamin C. So, I expressed concern that my friend might not be getting enough nutrients. It was interesting that this friendly exhange sparked a lot of debate amont the women in the room, with everyone chiming in with ideas on just how someone should lose weight. Whichever position a woman took, she took it adamantly. Ironically, many people believe the exact opposite things about weight loss. Some favored eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Others were ok with veggies, but felt that you can't eat fruits because they are full of sugar.

Once again, I'm reminded that proper weight is a touchy subject here in the U.S. . Various diets are promoted with almost a religious fervor.

Plain and Simple from over at Echo from the Green Hills covered the subject of moderation in eating in an article not too long ago. So, I won't rehash a subject that she has already explained so well.

But, suffice it to say, I agree with her that the best way to be healthy is to practice temperance in eating. Our temperance should include gratitude for all of the wonderful things that God has given us to eat, rather than restorting to extreme diets. I also don't think that we should hold up unnatural thinness as the ideal, but, instead, we should be happy with the results of not being gluttonous. After all, God does not list and ideal height and weight chart in the Bible. He does, however, ask us not to be greedy in what we eat.

However, I'm not exactly a walking advertisement for the healthiness of moderation right now. So, I'm sure that it is hard for other women to hear me when I promote this as a way of life. That's just one more reason why it's time for me to get serious! I'm praying that the results of my personal food "temperance campaign" will be obvious by Christmas.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Preparation for Sewing Successfully

In a 1950's sewing book, famous sewing expert Mary Booth Pickens suggests that you must prepare yourself mentally before beginning a sewing project. Among the ideas she advocates are
1) Practice using all of the features and stitches of a new machine on scrap pieces before tackling something you want to keep.
2) Decide exactly what you want to acommplish with a sewing project. Choose the correct fabric and pattern for your purpose.
3) Approach the project with enthusiasm.
4) Never try to sew with the sink full of dishes or bed unmade. When there are urgent houskeeping chores, do thse first so that your mind is free to enjoy sewing.
5) Dress and groom yourself so that you look fresh and won't be dismayed when you try on a garment in front or a mirror or someone rings your doorbell while you are sewing.
6) Assemble all the materials you will need for a particular project before you begin. Have close at hand your pressing board, a small bowl of water with a clean sponge in it, a press cloth, scissors, pins, chalk or marking pin, small ruler, measuring tapae -- every little thing that you will need so that you don't have to jump up and odwn to get this or that.

All of this is great advice, I must say though that I'm not the best example of putting it into practice. When I got a new machine a couple of years ago, I just jumped into using it without reading the manual and practicing. So, even now, I have to stop on occasions and go back to the manual to learn exactly how to do something. I'd have been better off familiarzing myself with my machine before barging ahead. So, it's time to go back and do that thoroughly. I could also use some practice on throw away material when it comes to certain sewing techniques.

I also jump up and down during a project to get this or that. I have everything stored in containers within easy reach. But, it would be more efficient if I thought everything through and pulled out all of the little things and put them on my table before I begin.

I have been practicing #4 -- not sewing until all other urgent projects are taking care of. However, what I'm finding is that there's always something else that could or should be done. So, I wait and wait for the perfect time to sew, and I never get around to it at all! I realized when a friend came over the other day to consult my advice on sewing, that I do miss this time. I interrupted my busy day to help her with her sewing. So, I'll just have to do the same with mine. What I think I will do is borrow one of Mrs. Picken's other ideas for my own: I will schedule one sewing time into my week, just as if it were an appointment. Then, I can sew during that time and not feel distracted by everything else on my plate. This means that I will have to do most projects in stages, rather than completing a project all in one sitting. But, at least I'll be making some progress and having some fun as I do it. If I don't schedule it, it won't get done.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Teaching someone to sew -- the blind leading the blind!
Hats and Fall Clothing

Yesterday, a young friend came over so that I could help her make square cushions for her sofa. Considering my skill level, this was something like a six year old teaching a five year old how to add! I have sewn projects for myself and to give as gifts, but never before have I cut into someone else' material! Right as I started cutting, I realized that I might not have aligned the repeat on the material's design properly. But, the design on the material was fairly abstract, and I don't anyone will check the front and back of the pillows. I think everything turned out fine, and I can't wait to see the finished cushions on her couch. At any rate, the project reminded me of how much I like to play at sewing, so I can't wait to get to the UFO's in my craft room. My hat is off to those who bring in income sewing for others, especially to those who have made wedding gowns for others!

Yesterday, over at her lovely blog called, "The Sparrow's Nest," Mrs. Wilt posted a very practical article about how she puts together her fall wardrobe. I hope you will get a chance to check it out and that you will get as many useful ideas from it as I did.

This sounds silly, but her post made me feel a little braver in wearing hats. I adore hats. But, I look good in only a few hat styles. Also, I haven't always had the confidence to don a hat in situations where I am the only woman wearing one. But, it is my goal to conquer my slight hat-o-phobia.

If you share my love of hats, check out a website called, "Village Hats." They have an extensive selection, ranging from inexpensive to more expensive and from ultra-casual to ultra-dressy. Back in the summer, I ordered a lovely gray bucket hat with the cutest black and gray trim. I was very pleased when it arrived well-packed and none the worse for having been shipped from New York to Tennesse. It's really a fall/winter hat, so I haven't had the opportunity to wear it yet. But, I'm thinking that I can get away with bringing it out in a week or two, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm saving up my pennies to buy a gorgeous, light blue hat.

Tennessee's dog-days heat broke early this year. Usually, it does not break until about now, but we've been having mild days for two or three weeks now. And, it's actually been a little cool in the evenings -- just enough to make you shiver a bit if you are in short sleeves.

Normally, even after the summer's intense heat breaks, we have warm days all the way into November, with maybe a cold snap now and again. We truly do have "Indian summer" as it used to be called. Wintry weather doesn't really hit us until the end of December or the beginning of January, and, even then, it only snows one time to four or five times a year. Some years, we don't even have snow.

Every year, I put away my summer whites at Labor Day. This custom is dropping by the wayside, and I can understand why. In normal years, when daytime temps continue in the upper 80's/ low 90's until the end of the September, why should the day after Labor Day be any different than the day before dress wise? But, the tradition of not wearing white before Easter or after Labor Day is ingrained in me. I learned this as a child, even though we were living in Florida at the time!

Now, a true lady from the upper South or New England would never wear white before Memorial Day. Tradition holds that bone and not white is the color for spring purses and shoes. Also, traiditon says that you can wear pastels or beige or winter white in the spring, but not true white. But, let's be honest. Don't most of us cheat and bring out our white shoes and white clothing at Easter?

I usually continue to wear very light weight clothing for quite some time after Labor Day. I try to have some "three-season" things in my closet to bridge the gap from fall into winter. This year, I've got a hankering to bring out my winter clothing a little on the early side. I'll probably dive into that project in the next few days.

I change out my clothing twice a year. Each time I bring out my stored items, I discover a beloved garment all over again. It's like going shopping in my own storeroom!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

PS to Mystery Below

I wonder if there was a mother or father somewhere in Viginia or Tennessee who wondered what happened to their daughters and their grandchildren?


Can you solve this mystery?
Decades before I was born, on January 23, 1928, Mary Jane Higgs died and took her family's secret to her grave. She was the last of seven mysterious Higgs women who lived along Love's Branch of Cathey's Creek in Maury County, Tennessee. They are buried in a row in Sheboss Cemetary.
Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by these women. Like most local residents, I wonder, "Who were they really?" "Why were they carrying so much gold and why didn't they use it?" "What was their past history?" Were they fleeing from someone?" "Why, when they became such a beloved part of the community, did they remain so close-mouthed about their history?"
I'm convinced that someone has the answers, probably someone from middle Tennessee, east Tennesseee, from Virginia or thereabout. If you know someone from that part of the country, feel free to pass this article on to them in the hope that they might know something. I'd love to finally solve these woman's mystery.
Their story, as far as middle Tennesee is concerned begins in 1856. Late one night, a wagon was heard rumbling along the road that parallels Cathey's Creek (the creek ran through my family's land and was named after them.) Isom Community store owner Mr. Stephen Worley looked out through his store window one foggy morning to see something on the sandbar in front of his house. As the fog lifted, he saw a group of people, who had apparently camped for the night. He went out to see what was going on, and he found two adult women and five girls (one local stories says that the fifth girl was born after the women appeared).
The women told Mr. Stephen Worley that they were on their way to West Tennessee to look for work. Their driver took sick and went to seek aid at a friend's home at the head of Love Branch, leaving them stranded. Worley promptly invited them to come eat breakfast with his family. They would not accept unless he would allow them to do some work for their meal. This upset Mr. Worley's notions of middle Tennessee hospitality, and he could not imagine taking any kind of payment for feeding hungry children! But, the Higgs women stood their ground, and Mr. Worley and all of Cathey's Creek soon learned that the women would accept not hospitality of any kind without earning their own way.
The women were gifted in carding, weaving, spinning, and sewing. Mr. Worley assured them that they could find work in the Cathey's Creek area. He offered them a vacant house on his own land. They settled there. Later on, he bought a small tract of land on which he built two houses, one for each sister and her respective children.
Upon their arrival, the women had $600 in gold with them. They asked Mr. Worley to keep it safe for them. It does not seem as if they ever dipped into this gold, but worked in exchange for everything. I don't know what happened to the gold.
During the Civil War, the women returned the favor. They sewed the Worleys' savings into pockets they had made in some special undergarments they had designed and sewed. They "wore" Mr. Worley's money all through the war, thus keeping it safe from the many soldiers and thieves who were raiding that part of the country looking for money, food, and supplies. Can you imagine walking around with all of that weighting your steps and fearing being searched by Union or soldiers or worse, outlaws? When the war ended, Mr. Worley had no worries that these women had stolen any of his money. But, they insisted on bringing the petticoats to Mr Worley and ripping open the pockets so that he could count the money in
front of him. Knowing how easily embarrassed the men of that area and that era could be, I wonder if he nearly fainted at this!
The women were very religious, and they were known for their honesty. They were always willing to help with the sick, to sit up all night with the newly dead (a local custom), and to give aid in anyway they could. They were always willing to help others, but, again, if someone tried to help them, they always did something in return. Though they were fiercely independnent, they were surprisingly gentle. They were spotless housekeepers, and each woman had her own cup and plate. None of the younger five women ever married.
They were somewhat eccentric. Whenever they went out, even if it was only two of them, they walked single file, like ducks or in what was then a native American tradition. They were said to dress "oddly", though I don't know what older people meant by that.
Though Mary Jane took the family secret with her into death, she did reveal a few facts. The two mothers of the five girls were sisters from a family whose surname was Circle. The sisters had married brothers named Higgs.
The sisters apparently came to central middle Tennessee directly from the eastern edge of Middle Tennessee. Some local stories say that they may have had connections to Virginia or to what later became West Virginia.
Local store records show that the women occasionally bought little items needed for their spinning and weaving work. It's interesting to me that they were still finding work doing this long after homespun had gone out of fashion.
No one ever learned what happened to the two Higgs men. Mary Jane's birth certificate is on file in the county courthouse, which leads me to believe that she was, indeed, born after the sisters arrived in Middle Tennessee. The certificate lists her father as being unknown. The oldest adult sister listed her occupation as farmer in a census. In a census, when Mary Jane was 79 years old, she listed her occupation as "farmer".
My grandfather gave Mary Jane a lift home in his buggy or wagon not long before she died, but she did not reveal their secrets to him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sarah Childress Polk, Wife of An American President

The seat of the county in which my mother grew up contains a home that James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, used to live in before he became President of the United States in 1849. I've enjoyed visiting it now and again since I was a child.
Maybe, you already know quite a bit about Mrs. Polk, who was an intelligent, charming, and steadfast helpmeet throughout her husband's long legal and political career. If you are not already acquainted with her story, I'm sure that you would enjoy reading about her -- either for your own enjoyment or with a daughter.
Here's just a few tidbits about her life to whet your interest:
1) Sarah was born in 1803 in middle Tennessee. Her father was wealthy, and her parents were refined and educated. However, Tenneessee was still emerging from it's rugged, frontier status at the time. So, her parents sent her "back east" to attend the famous Salem Academy in North Carolina. Though I'm sure she was accompanied by at least one servant, it's said that she rode horseback all the way to North Carolina. Salem Academy was a Moravian school for girls, and it was considered to be one of the finest sources of higher education for girls in the South. Thus, Sarah received an unusually well-rounded educaton for a woman of her day. She studied English grammar, Bible study, Greek and Roman literature, geography, music, drawing, and sewing. When her father died, Sarah came home before completing her full course of education. However, the educational and social foundation she received at Salem Academy served her in good stead all of her life. She put this education to use as her husband's wife. She served as his secretary for much of his law practice and political career. Whenever his duties took him away from home, he relied on her to keep him informed of local political developments. After he was elected as President, visitors to the White House were charmed by her ability to chat graciously and sensibly about matters of political interest. She was especially renowned for her great tact in all conversation. She was well-respected, and she earned the undying friendship and respect of many well known political figures of her day. Her husband, who was well-educated and intelligent, himself, found her intelligence and learning to be a great asset to him. This was particularly so, because she never sought to outshine him, but always treated him the utmost respect. She often prefaced her statements with "Mr Polk says..." In return, he respected and cherished her.
2) Mrs. Polk was very devout in her Presbyterian faith. Through her influence, White House functions took on a higher moral tone than in some previous administrations. Though she did serve wine on some occasions, she paticularly discouraged heavy drinking. Despite the fact that the Polks were viewed as bring a new sedate quality to White House entertainments, they were able to accomplish this without beomg staid or dull. Mrs. Polk's considerable social graces helped her husband maintain the network he needed in order to perform his duties as president.
3) Sarah was placed in charge of completely remodeling the State floor of the President's House, and the rooms she created were models of elegance. Wouldn't it be fun -- and challenging -- to re-decorate the White House?
4) In the house that she and her husband shared in Columbia, TN, Sarah -- like many Middle Tennesee woman -- kept large grass-cloth mats that were rolled out in the summer to protect her beautiful carpets in certain weather conditions. This was to keep the men from staining her carpets by tracking dust in on their boots.
5) Sarah's husband was the only American President EVER to keep all of his campaign promises. Wisely, he only promised the public two things!
6) Mrs. Polk was widowed and living in Nashville by the time of the Civil War. She devoted much of her life to preserving her husband's memory and legacy, and she held herself above the divisive strife. I'm not sure how she was able to do this, since Nashville was hotly Confederate at the time and intensly resentful of an early Union invastion into the city. I think her success in this aspect must be due to the respect that her husband's memory still garnered and the respect that poeple still felt for her. The city of Nashville was the scene of heavy fighting throughout the war, yet no one ever harmed her or her household.

For more information about Mrs. Polk, you can visit the following sites

These are just two of the many sites on the web that provide biographical information about Mrs. Polk. There are books that have been written about her as well.

Best yet, if you live near middle Tennessee, visit the James K. Polk home for a fascinating and educational tour.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Should you Use Antimicrobial Hand Soap in the Home

Despite health concerns to the contrary, antimicrobial hand soap -- particularly in liquid form -- has become a staple here in the U.S. I don't know if this is as true outside the U.S. I don't remember seeing any on a recent visit to France. However, this was a special twenty-fifth anniversary trip for DH and I, and it also was a the only time I've been able to get back to Paris after spending a wonderful summer there as a teen. So, needless to say, the last thing on my mind was determing whether the French use antimicrobial hand soaps or not! It may be more of a trend there than I realize. Maybe, some of our visitors from other countries can share what is happening in their culture with regard to these cleaners.
Honestly, for most home use, plain soap and water are effective in reducing whatever transient microorganisms are on our hands. Not only that, but the soap and water actually "lift" the germs off our hands so that they wash down the drain. Obviously, the effectiveness of soap and water depends on washing our hands for the proper amount of time and, then, drying them well. Proper hand washing with ordinary soap and water reduces bacteria by 90 percent or more and does much to stop the spread of contagious diseases.
Truth be told, antimicrobial hand soaps and cleaners do kill or inactivite more transient micro-organisms than plain soap does. However, the question has been raised, "Is this a good thing?"
Some experts have suggested that, in the main, it might not be. Their concerns are on two fronts. First: We've already created resistant strains of bacteria by our over-reliance on antibiotics. So, too, we might create resistant strains of viruses and bacteria by an over-reliance on antimicrobial soaps. Second: The tiny amount of microorganisms that are left on the hands after a good washing with soap and water are not dangerous to a healthy person. If we practice proper hygiene, we should have no worries. In fact, just as a muscle needs exercise, it might even be beneficial for our immune systems to have a few germs here and there to fight. Likewise, it might be harmful to our immune systems if we make them too reliant on antimicrobial soaps in our daily life. Cleanliness is so important to our health, but, believe it or not, some are beginning to think that we can overdo it!
Even in hospital settings, some experts have suggested that personnel use plain soap and water in routine patient care. They recommend reserving antimicrobial hand soaps only around newborns, people in high risk units, and people whose immune systems are already permanently compromised by disease.
There are other factors to consider. People often buy antimicrobial soaps and other products without reading the label. They may blithely assume that a certain product protects against viruses and fungus, when it only targets bacteria. And, they may not familiarzie themselves with the ingredients used in the cleansers and whether they are in an effective concentration. Also, consumers may pay more for an antimicrobial product, when less expensive soap and water is just as effective for healthy people.
Antimicrobial soaps can be harsh to your skin. This could backfire on you. If your skin chafes from the harsher cleanser, it will be more susceptible to invasion by microorganisms.
Decide carefully whether the regular use of antimicrobial hand soap is right for your family. If you have a newborn in your home or you regularly care for someone who is at high risk for infection, it might be wise for you to use antimicrobial hand soaps. Otherwise, you are probably just as well off or better using plain soap in your daily life.
My family members enjoy using liquid soap when washing their hands. However, I tend to believe the arguments against over relyig on antimocrobial soaps. So, it always takes me some searching before I locate a liquid soap that is mild, non-antimicrobial, and that isn't harsh on the delicate skin of my family members. For some reason, it's easier to find bar soap that isn't antimicrobial.
Along with antimicrobial soaps, sanitizing hand gels and foams have come on the scene. Some people buy them, but a few make their own gel. Most are based on some form of alcohol. Just as there is with antimicrobial soap, there is some debate about the use of hand santiziting gels. These cleansers were never meant to replace soap and water as the main way to clean your hands. Relying on them instead of a proper hand washing may instill a false confidence. The alcohol in these becomes ineffective in the presence of dirt, grime, or body fluids. If you have come in contact with these, you should wash your hands with soap and water instead of the gel.
However, there are times when you just can't get to soap and water as much as you'd like. Perhaps, you are traveling or in an emergency situation or work outside of the home. In those cases, hand sanitizing gels might be worth a try.
For example, if you work in an office, wash your hands with soap and water at home, whenever you take a break at work, and whenever you eat lunch. This should keep your hands free of grime. Reserve the use of hand gel for those times during the day when can't wash your hands and you touch computers, phones, or other surfaces that pick up lots of germs from lots of people.
Also, bathroom doors that are used by the public all day long attract germs. In some cases, you might want to wash your hands inside, go through the door to the outside, and, then, use hand sanitizing gel as an extra measure.
During a full day, we may find that our hands cease to "feel fresh". If you are at home, you can wash your hands, dry them, and put on some soothing lotion. But, it you are not at home, you might want to use the hand gel. I, personally, find that too much hand sanitizing gel is drying to my hands. But, you may not have a problem with this.
If you do use hand gel, how much is necessary? You should use enough gel or foam to wet your hands. Rub them vigourously until they are dry. If your hands dry within fifteen seconds, you haven't used enough.
Make sure your gel has enough alcohol in it to be effective. Not all have the right formulation to actually kill bacteria or germs. This is true whether they are commercially made or if you are following a recipe for making your own. Hand gels that are too weak actually spread the germs around on your hands, rather than getting rid of them.
"What this should say to the consumer is that they need to look carefully at the label before they buy any of these products," says Elaine Larson, professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research at Columbia's nursing school. "Check the bottle for active ingredients. It might say ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or some other variation, and those are all fine. But make sure that whichever of those alcohols is listed, its concentration is between 60 and 95 percent. Less than that isn't enough."


Monday, September 18, 2006

Tennessee Ella Smith Cathey

Plain and Simple over at Echo from the Green Hills expressed a fascination with the pioneer women of U.S. history. I'm also facinated by this topic, but from a different point of view -- I am a descendent of such women.
I'm equally fascinated by the brave Tennessee women of my great-grandmother's day, who kept home while their husbands went off to the Civil war. They raised children and managed farms by themselves and somehow survived when their state became a hotly contested war zone.
I often think about my great-grandmother, Tennesee Ella Smith Cathy, who was such a woman. I never met her, but I know something of her through stories of her life that were passed along to me.
Tennessee Ella's husband ( my great-grandfather) was named Alexander Blair Cathey. He was born in 1826, on the 4,000 acre plantation that his grandfather had carved out of the middle Tennessee wilderness in 1807. In 1859, he married Tennessee Ella Smith, who was born in 1838. My great-grandparents were not among the few wealthiest families in the county, but they were prosperous, middle class farmers. My great-grandfather was well-educated. His family were deeply devoted to their faith, and they were well-respected for their integrity and for their knowledge of the Bible.
At the time of their marriage, perhaps my great-grandparents expected that they would always have the comforts and refinements of their pre-war life. Perhaps, they assumed that they would be able to pass on their educational opporunities to their children, as well.
Isn't it interesting that my great-grandmother was named after the state in which she was born? There are lots of Virginias and Georgias around, and Dakota is becoming a popular name, today. But, you don't hear of many Tennessees! That's quite a mouthful for a first name. I think my great-grandmother was called Tennie, because my aunt, her granddaughter, is simply named "Tennie", in her honor. I believe my great-grandmother may have also been called by her middle name, Ella, as their are tons of Ellas among her descendants. Possibly, she was called "Tennie Ella," as it was an old Southern custom to call people by their first and middle names or by some nickname made of the two.
Upon her marriage to Alexander, Tennie naturally left her father's home and moved into his home, which was in another community from the one in which she grew up. The joyful couple had their frsit child in September 26, 1860. I wonder if she knew that a shadow was about to fall on her happy family.
Perhaps, she had some clue. The people of Tennessee agonized over the decision whether to stay in the Union or to support the Confederacy. I'm sure my great-grandmother heard and may have participated in heated political discussions, particularly whenever she and her husband made the journey into the county seat for "First Mondays". I know of at least one passionate appeal for the Confederacy preached from the steps of that court house. Who knows? Maybe, my great-grandparents were in the crowd who heard it.
I have a feeling that my great-grandmother and I would have been on opposite sides of the state's debate. Tennie was a product of her time and her place. She and her husband had no qualms about owning a few slaves, most of whom lived in cabins behind the original homeplace. Also, her husband eventually joined a Confederate cavalry unit, and family lore that has been handed down from that time has a definitely pro-Confederate slant to it. I can't agree with either of these positions, but I do respect other aspects of how she lived her life.
Tennessee finally seceeded in June 1861, just a few short months after the first shots were fired on Ft. Sumter. It was the last state to leave the Union and the last to join the Confederate States of America. My great-grandfather's cavalry unit was called to the fight. I surmise that by the time he actually left for the war, Tennie might have already been pregnant with her second child, who was born in May of 1862.
Anyhow, at the young age of 23, my great-grandmother was left with two small children and a huge farm/plantation to run. There was an elderly bachelor uncle who lived on the original property, but he was not able to give her much physical protection or to take on the responsibiilty for the farm's daily operations. He had been a horse breeder. His health had further deteriorated from the shock of hearing that all of his horses -- his main livelihood -- had been commandeered to outfit Confederate cavalry units. Many of these horses probably went my great-grandfather's unit, which was composed of several of his relatives and the ancestors of many families who still live in that same area today.
I'm sure that my great-grandmother's load became more challenging upon hearing that her husband's cavalry unit had been captured. They were all sent to an infamous Union prison for Confederate soldiers. Prisoner of war camps on both sides -- Union and Confederate -- were known for their horrific conditions.
From what I can tell, my great-grandfather was captured fairly early in the war, at the same time that Nashville fell. The citizens of that town had believed the city to be impenetratable and were unprepared for this blow. Hundreds of panicing, terrified Nashvillians fled from the advancing Union army and poured through my great-grandmother's county. These desparate people were hoping to get to train depots and be able to evacuate further South. The fall of Nashville was a big blow to the whole Confederacy, for it took out an important supply and arms depot. It also opened the door for the Union soldiers to get and keep a foothold in the South. From there, they were able to press further into the Confederacy.
Because Tennessee was on the border between the deep South and the North, it, like Virginia, was a meeting ground on which both armies came together to fight. This started with the push into Nashville by Union soldiers very early in the war and continued until the remnants of the Tennessee army finally surrendered at the end. Many horrendous battles took place in the state.
One of the worst occurred not too far from my great-grandmother's home, in a town called Franklin. My great-grandmother and her household were far enough away that they were in no danger during that conflict. But, my great-grandfather was related to several families near there, and my great-grandmother may have known people who witnessed the unimaginable slaughter first hand. I'm sure news of the battle came her way.
Many Generals on both sides were killed during this skirmish, as were lesser officers and thousands of soldiers form both sides. Union and Confederate bodies on the field became so thick that soldiers walked over them in order to keep fighting.
Much of the battle took place on one family's front lawn, while they hid in fear in their basement. Three of this family's sons had already died for the Confederacy. The father looked out and saw his last living son, a young man who had survived battles all over the country, take the bullet that would kill him three days later. He later learned that the son had cried, "I'm almost home, boys. Follow me" and had inspired some other friends to follow him in charging toward Union soldiers. Can you imagine what it must have been like for that father to see his last son fall on his very own front lawn?
During the war, it was common for soldiers from both sides to raid farms all over the South. Some soldiers were beaten down and hungry and were looking for any food or supplies they could get their hands on. Some were out to steal treasures for themselves, so that they could pawn them for cash once back home. There was even a band of awol soldiers turned criminals who terrorized the county during the war. With so much stealing and "commandeering" going on, Southernors became very creative in dreaming up hiding places. Most families sought to protect a few valuables or enough food to keep their household alive. One family in my great-grandmother's county found a way to hide silver items in a hollow column on their front porch.
One time, Union soldiers searched my great-grandparents' home. They opened a grandfather clock and peered inside. At this, my great-grandmother's house maid cried out either in fear or definance of the soldiers, "He's not in there. He's at war." She thought they were looking for my great-grandfather in order to execute him, as she had probably heard tales of Union soldiers in the area who were looking for Confederate sympathizers. However, the soldiers were more likely looking for food than for people at that point. I'm sure they had already figured out that my great-grandmother and the women and children in the house were alone and defenseless.
Evidently, my great-grandmother remained calm during the incident. I'm sure her quiet dignity had a calming effect on the whole famiy. But, I wonder what it must have been like for her to have "enemy" soldiers swarming all over her land and house, prowling through her private things, presenting a danger to herself and her two babies, and with the responsiblity resting on her young shoulders to meet this threat bravely.
On another occasion, my great-grandmother felt the need to travel several miles to seek the advice of her brother in connection with something to do with the farm. She decided -- perhaps unwisely -- to ride horseback alone through the countryside to get in touch with him. She was accosted by a band of Union soldiers, who wanted to take her horse. It was already dangerous for her -- a young woman -- to be traveling through this territory alone; it would have been worse if she had to cover those same miles on foot.
Fortunately, a higher ranking Union officer came around the bend of the road and commanded the soldiers to give her back her horse. He tipped his hat gallantly to her as he rode away.
It would take a book to write about my great-grandmother's war adventures. But, in spite of everything, she managed to keep her household together and to somehow feed them, despite the privations caused by the war. Eventually, her husband was able to come home to her. I am sure their re-union was a joyful one. I'm not sure exactly when his unit did come home.
As it had been the last out of the Union, Tennessee was the first to come back. President Lincoln wanted the re-admission of the Confederate States to be a merciful process. There were other politicans who vehemently wanted retribution for the Confederate rebellion and who fought for the former Confederate states to be endure a harsh period of Reconstruction. When Lincoln was assisinated, the presidency fell to Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. Johnson had remained in the Senate rather than secede with the South and had later become Vice-President. So, he was a hero in the North and definitely a traitor in the eyes of Tennesseans and the South. He did not have enough political pull to stop the radicals, who enacted punitive Reconstruction measures on the other Confederate States. But, he was able to protect Tennesee somewhat.
Even with Johnson's protection, life in post-war Tenneesee was hard. The state had become a wasteland. Many farms were in ruins. The people were impoverished. Some Tennesseans did not want to take the required oath of alliegence to the Union. Those who had been leaders or who had been very wealthy had to seek personal Presidential pardons for "their crimes". Also, pro and anti Confederate sentiments in the state did not disappear with the surrender of Tennessee's army and the other Confederate armies, and tensions from both factions occasionally erupted in violence in the two decades after the war.
My great-grandparents worked hard in their post-war life, but they never quite regained the level of comfort of their antebellum lives. Apparently, my great-grandfather made a few foolish choices in his new status as being "land rich and cash poor." Occasionally, he sold offa piece of his property to buy something like a new boat. I don't know what my great-grandmother thought of this. But, they evidently had a happy marriage.
The family had lived in a lovely mansion on the property, but at some point during or after the war, fire destroyed that house. My great-grandparents moved their family into the original house. Though it had been greatly expanded and refined from it's original "dogtrot" cabin format, it was definitely cramped quarters compared to what they were used to. One of her grandchildren eventually inherited that house. In their den, they had workers tear out the "newer walls", so that you can see the original wooden planks and mortar. Thus, you can get some sense of what the place might have been like when it was a small, pioneer cabin.
My great-grandfather, along with a couple of other men, donated touching corners of their plantations to their freed slaves. The slaves built a community on this land, and some of their descendents lived there until the last moved away in 1930's. I have hiked back to see their old houses, prompting me to wonder what their lives were like.
My great-grandmother went on to bear thirteen children. My grandfather was her youngest He was born when she was fourty-seven years old. My mother told me that my great-grandmother was embarrassed to go to church when it became obvious that she was pregnant at such an "old" age.
My great-grandparent's sixth child -- a daughter -- caught some kind of "brain fever" or meningitis when she was very small. Her brain was damaged in a way that she never matured mentally beyond the age when she got sick. Even so, she was much beloved by her parents and siblings. Her first name was Candace, but everyone called her "Candy".
My great-grandmother must have been an organized and efficient woman. With the exception of Candy, she paired each of six older children with one of six younger children. Each of the older children helped out with the younger one assigned to their care.
My great-grandfather died in 1916. My great-grandmother lived until 1923. She loved horses, and continued to ride them until she was up in her seventies. From what I have hard of her, I cannot imagine that she was one to complain or whine about the difficulties she experienced. However, they must have taken some sort of toll on her.
I have a copy of a photograph taken of my great-granparents when my grandfather was about twelve. Compared to photographs of her children and grandchildren, I would say that her face did look prematurely aged by all of the experiences that she had been through. Of course, that was back when shutters were so slow that photographers asked their subjects not to smile. So, perhaps, the fact that she did not smile adds to my impression.
At any rate, since I do know so many facts about her life and have seen an image of her face, I wish I knew more about what she thought and how she felt.
Alexander and Tennesee's children were unusually long-lived, one living to be 103 or 104. I have an elderly relative who credits their longevity to the fact that they enjoyed fresh air and and fresh farm food, which was free of today's chemical additives. I believe this is so, as well. I think that generation had the best of both worlds: An old-fashioned, healthy, vigorous but not hectic, agrarian life and some beneficial advances of modern medicinem as well. But, I'm hoping that they passed on some good genes, as well!
Some of Tennessee Ella's sons and daughters were still living when I was in my teens and twenties, and I remember them quite well. Many, if not most, of her grandchildren were still alive, as were various neices and nephews.
Her sons and daughters were all gentle mannered and quiet-spoken, but there is a quietly stubborn side that does run through the family. (Perhaps, that stubborness kept my great-grandmother going during the wa). Her children all maintained impeccable posture to the end of their lives. They were hard-working, and I think the majority were farmers or farmers wives. As was true with my great-grandfather and his father, many were on the bookish side and some of them enjoyed writing. Some were very knowledgable about family and local history, and I wish I had recorded many of the stories they passed along. They all still conversed and acted with wonderful Victorian manners, though Victorian Days had long since passed. Most had a dry sense of humor.
I love my cousins dearly, but I can't say that I and my generation have done the best job of passing on those old traditions. There's still time to improve, though!
Anyhow, it's amazing to me to think that my mother's grandparents experienced our U.S. Civil War!


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Building an Emergency Kit for the Home
Final Thoughts

Here are three intangible items to "stash" in your emergency prepardness kit:

A. Designated central contact and memorized contact information

Did you watch any of the news coverage about Hurricane Katrina and the effects of the storm? Weren't you touched by the sight of tearful mothers who finally got to hold children after being separted from each other for months? Rescue workers frantically tried to re-unite scattered families, but it took a long time before the process was complete.

Equally heart-wrenching were the stories of adult children who had moved away from the Gulf to start their own families and who were desparate to know if parents, siblings, and extended relatives had survived. In many cases, parents were unable to ascertain if their grown children and their grandchildren were still alive.

Sitting in our peaceful homes, its hard to imagine that we could ever be out of touch with our loved ones, particulary with our children. However, Katrina and other events have proved that this can happen to even the most caring and careful of families.

One method to prepare for this eventuality is to ask a relative to be a "central contact" for members of your immediate family to call. Perhaps, you might choose a relative who lives a bit away from you, so that he or she would not be likely to be caught up in a local disaster alaong with your family. Parents and children should memorize the name, phone number, and, for those who are old enough, the address of this relative, as well. Instruct all family members to check in with this person as soon as they can in the aftermath of an emergency.

The central contact can coordinate efforts to re-unite the members of your immediate family. He or she can reassure you, "Yes, Junior called. He's ok. He's at the Red Cross Station on Second Street."

Younger children can give this name and number to emergency workers, who will call the designated relative if they cannot find you.

Also, if you are incapacitated by the event and are unable to care for your children yourself, the contact can provide emergency workers with the names of other local relatives or friends who can care for your children.

In setting this up, we don't want to fill the heads of children or teens with the idea that we might not be there for them in an emergency. So, it's best to take a casual approach to learning this and other safety information. Teach them how to be prepared, but not fearful. Then, if it looks like something like Katrina is headed your way, calmly remind family members that this relative is on hand to help.

B. A clear head and a faithful heart.

God gave fear to us for a reason. In an emergency, healthy fear motivates us to take action on the behalf of our family's safety.

However, it's all too tempting to let our healthy fear escalate into panic and faithless terror -- or at least that's easy for me to do. When we panic, we find it hard to make wise decisions, and we are ineffective in dealing with situations. If we are parents and we totally fritz out, our children may place pressure on themselves to take on the parent role. Or, they may freak out themselves. Panic is contagious, spreading itself throughout out family and possibly even influencing friends and neighbors, as well.

If we can still our hearts and seek God's peace, then we will be able to help others calm down, as well. The whole process of calming our emotions will be easier if we have already hidden God's word in our heart and if we are in the habit of seeking God in all the little joys and the little trials of daily life. Faith is somewhat like a muscle, which gets stronger if you use it on a daily basis.

If you find yourself clinging to the top of your house, watching the flood waters rise, you won't have access to a Bible. How grateful you will be if you have a storehouse of strengthening verses that you can draw out of your heart! That doesn't mean that a person who isn't spiritually prepared shouldn't also cry out to our merciful God for help. But, how much better it is to be solid with God before an emergency arises!

Once an immediate crisis passes, we can still be tempted through our emotions. This is especially true if the after-effects of an emergency persist for a bit. Though a blizzard may have stopped or a hurricane may have passed, our lives may still be disrupted for days or weeks or months.

In such conditions, we will be fatigued from the strain on our emotions and our bodies. We will be out of our normal routine, and we may not have as fresh or as nourishing a diet as usual. Our sleep quality may be poor. We also may not have access to many comforts that we usually take for granted. While we will probably be able to take care of the basics, we may not be able to maintain the level of hygiene that our modern bodies are used to. We may not be able to exercise or even to get fresh air. Our children may not have a way to let off their youthful vigor, and that bottled up energy can make them restless and irritable. We could be mourning the loss of people, pets, farm animals, or property.

We may be stranded for a few days with our family inside our home, with little or no contact with the daily world. We may wind up in a crowded emergency shelter, with other people who are frightened, who are hungry and thirsty, who are out of their normal routine, who would give anything for a nice shower, and who want to go home just as badly as we do. Some of these people will take their uneasy feelings out on us or on the emergency workers who are trying to help.

How easy it would be in such situations to be grumpy, If we can manage to stay polite, calm, and cheerful in spite of our trials, we will be a positive influence on our families and, even, on people outside of our family. Our children will take their cues from us. Even fellow evacuees in an emergency shelter may be soothed if we keep a helpful attitude.

Understand, we're not talking about being fake, but about disciplining our emotions. You will not be able to keep up a courageous front by your own power. You will need God's help to sustain you. It may be hard to find time for peaceful conversation with God, but you can likely find some way to pour out your feelings to Him. Perhaps, you might even be able to calmly talk out your feelings with someone else, when appropriate. You might need to have a good cry with God or family members to clear things out and give you a fresh perspective.

Even with your children, it's ok to humbly admit, "Yes, I'm a little afraid, but I am giving my fear to God. This verse helps me to trust him," or to say, "I am sad that our house burned down, just like you are." This opens the door for children to express their own fears and sorrow and it also models for them how to deal with hard times in a faithful way.
The goal is to discipline, rather than to deny, our emotions. We recognize and work through our feelings. But, we do not let our feelings control us. We school ourselves so that our actions, our words, and our decisions are governed by faith.

Many of us will never face a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the World Trade Center bombings. For that we can be grateful. More often, we will merely be inconvienced by a power outage or by being snowed in. When I was a child, without adult responsiblity and unmindful of the dire things that can happen in this world, I had a blast in situations like this. I have fantastic memories of family time spent during and after a hurricane -- and this is despite the fact that a tree split in two and one half fell on our house! Later on, we moved from Florida to Georgia. From our Georgia days, I have wonderful memories of camping out in the den during several ice and snow storms, the kind that paralyze Southen cities because they are rare, messy, and we don't ahve the equipment on hand to deal with them. But, to me, every moment of a winter storm was fun! If you treat occasions like this as family adventures, your children will, too.

C. Steadfast Home Keeping

Even in an emergency, you are still keeper of your home. If all you can do is neaten and brighten your little corner of an emergency shelter, do it. If you have children, enlist their help, as well. At the very least, they can roll up sleeping bags and wash their faces and comb their hair. Keeping some sort of domestic routine and making as homey an atmosphere as possible will give you something positive to do, and it will benefit your family, as well. Who knows? Your example could even inspire fellow evacuees.

Of course, if you are injured or sick during an emergency, you need to concentrate first on getting well. And, even if you are well, do not get frustrated if your attempts to keep things homey go awry. This is no time to be a perfectionist! Just do the best you can.

I read a letter on Flylady's site that has truly convicted me. It was written by an American woman whose family lived in a middle eastern country when she was a child. Her father started working there when things were fairly peaceful, but the relationship between America and this country deteriorated. As tensions escalated and violence towards Americans increased, her parents made plans to get the family to safety. But, it was not easy for civilian Americans to get out of the country. Her father was forced to keep working as normal until he could figure out a way to get them all back home.

Meanwhle, this woman's mother was determined to steadfastly keep her home as a safe shelter for her family. No matter what was going on outside the doors of her house, she did not let the conflict deter her from loving her family. She always set a lovely table. She cooked and cleaned as usual, and she added the little touches to a house that make it a home. The family always talked and played cards after dinner. They kept this up until the father was able to find military transport out of the country.

Because her father remained calm and her mother kept an orderly home, the woman who wrote the letter and her siblings hardly knew what danger they were in. She realizes now what courage it took for her parents to keep their family life so stable. But, all she remembers from her child's point of view is the happy times they shared. She credits this largely to her mother's steadfast home keeping.

I would like to have met that woman's mother. Wouldn't you? What a woman she must have been!

Domestic matters seem like such a small thing in the world's eyes. But, some of the bravest, most resourceful women in history were those who steadfastly kept home in the hardest of circumstances.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Building a Home Emergency Kit -- Part III
Consider These Items

Here’s a list of items that might be stored in a home emergency kit. I pulled this list together with short-term emergencies in mind. These will be useful whether you can stick out the emergency at home or if you need to evacuate. .

Many of the items on this list are things that you already use in your daily life. However, it is advisable to keep unopened duplicates of these in easy-to-carry, easy-to-locate containers. The last thing you want to do if you have to “but out” is to fly through your home, frantically gathering things together when you should be heading out the door.

Even if you do stay at home – say your family is snowed in and the power is out – your life will be easier if your supplies are located in one or two central locations. Pack you car with your emergency containers to make sure that you have enough space to carry them and your family members, as well. You may need to pack smaller containers with the barest essentials for evacuating and hold the overflow in larger containers for emergency use when staying in the shelter of your own home.

Every family should have an evacuation plan in case of house fire or nearby toxic accident or some other unforeseen emergency.

Check supplies frequently to make sure there are no leaks or holes and that the items are fresh. Swap out any things that are reaching their “use-by” date for new ones. You can place these aging items in your kitchen, laundry room, or medicine chest so that they will not be wasted.

Once you have your short-term kit in place, you can think about storing six months to a year of non-perishable rations, toiletries, etc, for your family. These do not have to be packed for evacuation, as you probably couldn't carry them with you anyway.

When building an emergency kit, you don't have to buy everything all at once. Most of us can't afford to go out and do that. You can buy an item here and there as the budget allows, until you feel that you are decently prepared.

Adapt this list to your needs. You may need things that aren’t on this list or decide that you don’t need some of the things that are on the list. This is just to spur your thinking.

Bible – tuck extra copy into your emergency supplies.
Water -- One gallon per person per day, at least three day’s supply
Canned fruit juices – Use for extra liquid and nourishment.
Canned milk – ditto to juices, plus use to prepare food.
Use canned goat milk or non-perishable containers of soy milk if your family does not do dairy
Non-perishable food items -- Include many which do not require preparation.
Have enough to feed your family for at least three days. Non-electric can opener. Disposable plates, cups, napkins, plastic forks, spoons, etc.
Family health history, emergency numbers, extra I.D., proof of insurance, in water proof packets.
Some emergency cash and credit/debit card.
Also consider a money belt. Parents should divide the emergency cash between them. Each adult and each child old enough to handle money should also have enough change to make a couple of emergency calls and cash to buy a meal or two in case of separation from the family. I personally don't think that it would not be wise to give children enough cash to attract thieves. I base this on the chaotic conditions we saw after Hurricane Katrina, where violence errupted even in emergency shelters. However, I'm not expert in this area, so you should come to your own conviction about that.
Extra set of keys – Keep these on a hook by the door closet to your cars.
Extra prescription medicines and extra glasses/contacts, wet wipes (useful even for adults), liquid and tablet Benadryl, Tums, teaspoon or calibrated cup for measuring out liquid medicines, Tylenol and/or aspirin, ibuprofen, adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes, sterile gauze, adhesive tape, blunt-tipped scissors, Ace bandage, anti-diarrhea medicine, Sunscreen!!!, antibiotic cream, heat strips and/or cold packs – the ones that do not need electricity, refrigeration, hot water, or ice in order to work.
Chlorine bleach and/or other water purifier, Also rubbing alcohol to use as disinfectant.
A few inexpensive toys, children's books, etc. –
Use to keep children entertained and calm during an emergency.
A dollar store is a great place to find some items for this stash -- especially books -- but also buy a few things that won't break as quickly as dollar store items might. Books to read or books of puzzles, an inexpensive and easy cross-stitch kit, etc. -- These are for you, your spouse, and for older children. Riding out a disaster at home or in a shelter involves lots of waiting. Especially, if you are uprooted to an emergency shelter, you will need soothing, yet entertaining things to do individually and as a familly.
Blankets, sleeping bags, pillows. Rain gear. Long underwear (for cold climes). Sturdy shoes. Tie shoes for kids. One complete change of clothing for each family member.
Baby items, Feminine supplies (
Note: In an emergency, a feminine pad can be pressed on someone’s wound to stem the blood flow until you can get medical help. Better to be a little embarrassed to use one for this purpose than to let someone continue to bleed),
Shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, dishwashing liquid, small shovel in case have to dig emergency latrine, garbage bags and ties, roll of toilet paper, paper towels, flashlights, radio, extra batteries, household gloves, signal flares, first-aid manual, disaster survival manual, safety pins, thermometer, compass. Travel sewing kit. New, never-used bucket for rinsing out dishes or clothing in emergency situations. Separate bucket to use as a chamber pot if home toilets cease to function.
Wrench within easy reach –
This is if you need one to shut off gas or water.

You could also include copies of one or two of your favorite family photographs in your emergency evacuation kit. Stick an acid free stiffener, such as acid-free cardboard, between the photographs to protect them. Wrap them in waterproof plastic wrap.

Don’t, however, try to lug along huge photo albums or lots of sentimental objects if you have to “bug out” of your home. I say this as someone who gets very sentimentally attached to objects. Family or personal treasures are links to the people we love and the memories we cherish. Sometimes, we wrongly equate losing these links with losing the people or the memories themselves. However, as Jesus said, our lives do not consist of our things. Even if our houses and all of our possessions were to be destroyed, we’d be ok. In a crisis, it’s more important to focus on the present needs of our family.