Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The End of Social Life?

I am beginning to think that the social life of the United States, and perhaps the whole world, is coming to an end. No matter where I go I see folks on their phones, their heads down, their whole attention on the screen. Somehow people don’t interact personally with each other.

I have lately been in restaurants where it’s so loud that the only way to have a conversation with the people I’m with is by texting. I can’t figure out why restaurants have come to the conclusion that loud is good, louder is better, and loudest is best. What ever the reason, it hastens the demise of social interaction because no one will be able to hear in the future.

My wife Ann and I entertain on a regular basis. We are not grand and we don’t have formal dinner parties, and we no longer have 35 people for Thanksgiving, but we do follow basic social conventions. We use cloth napkins, we ban cell phones from the table, and we prohibit shirtlessness and hats - even when we are by ourselves. 

We provide the place and, we hope, good food, and we work to invite interesting people. From this great conversation flows. We gossip occasionally, and being of a certain age, we have the occasional “organ recital.” But we generally try to focus on the passions in our guests’ lives. Frequently we find those passions match our own or spark new avenues of exploration.

But social conventions continue to break down, and there are two big indications of this. First is failing to respond to invitations at all, and second is lack of reciprocation. 

Not responding is annoying at best and costly at worst. See my post R.S.V.P., dammit!

Reciprocation is a really important idea. I realize that many people feel they don’t have the resources to reciprocate. But saying, Let’s go out for a cup of coffee, my treat or Stop by for a cup of tea would make me happy and show a continuing interest. 

Some of our best entertaining is with folks who have kids. Kids (including this ancient one) love breakfast for dinner, and making waffles and sausage in the evening is pretty easy. We love to chat with the kids, and if there’s a minor mess, no one notices or cares too much. If they’re really young, we put a sheet on the floor under their chairs. Having set up a very casual experience, we find that these families invite us back.

It’s the middle-aged folks who don’t reciprocate. They may feel they’re not elegant enough or their houses are in disrepair. But our somewhat tired kitchen was built in place when our house was built in 1954, and we haven’t remodeled it yet. It functions - and it’s clean. That’s all that counts. The only things we have done is move the refrigerator so we can have a dishwasher - temporary counter and all - and get a range hood with lights. 

Some people may feel they live in squalor or their houses are too small. I frankly don’t buy that. We downsized from eleven rooms to four, and turned the second bedroom into a dining room.  We’re far more content and have fewer things owning us. Sometimes it feels a little cramped. Unless we have someone coming over, a quarter of (okay, half) the dining room table acts like any other flat surface in our lives and collects books, magazines, notebooks filled with important stuff, you get the idea. But we continue to entertain.

We give people a couple chances, but if they never ask us back, we don’t invite them again, either.
The point isn’t the place or even the food. It’s the social experience, the companionship, the discussions, the exciting exchange of ideas. 

We can become a better society by having dinner together occasionally. But we have to put away the cell phones, let people know whether or not we’re coming, and then invite them back. Three basic tenets sound a little simple minded, but they boil down to common courtesy and treating others they way you want to be treated.

As always, I welcome your comments below.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Negative Post A bout Negativity

I am getting really tired of negativity in our country. It pervades our lives. Politicians use it  to scare us about everything the "Other Party" does. Advertisers use it constantly. If we aren't completely "regular," we should take probiotics or certain yogurts with special bacteria. If we have any of a number of problems, there's a pill to cure it. 

Unfortunately, it seems to me, negativity has become part of our national trait. Friends who write articles report constant nasty comments directed at the work and at them personally by people who obviously have not read what they have written. 

I find it on Facebook constantly. No matter what I post, there seems to be a faction dedicated to tearing it down. If I put up photos of new garden ornaments, there's a negative comment. If I put up a photo of a painting I'm working on, there's a comment about how I should be doing something I'm more proficient at. I have handled these comments even though they're really beginning to rankle me.

Because month is National Poetry Month, I'm posting a poem every day to celebrate it. I've used poems from Old Dead White Guys like Longfellow, Whitman, and Blake. What do I get?  Negative comments. Poems by Twentieth Century poets: Negative comments. Poems by my friends: Negative comments. It just gets tired, and it's obviously mean spirited.

I am tired of people trashing the poems - poems they obviously don't understand and haven't read thoroughly - and then using the "Well, I'm just plain folk" line to think they can get by with it. Frankly, that's just horseshit.

I am far more tired of people trashing the poets. They can write their way out of a paper bag, and we know this because they are published and read and loved and they speak to people. Recently, I put up Stevie Smith's iconic poem "Not Waving But Drowning." Her message isn't new, but certainly the way she says it is. Henry David Thoreau said it differently when he wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." 

Smith's take was:

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

I personally love this poem. I have felt like  the "dead man" at different times in my life. Sometimes things were out of hand in my life and people thought I was "waving, not drowning." 

Stevie Smith died of a brain tumor in 1971. One of the comments about her poem was to the effect that she should have drowned herself instead of writing the poem. The person who wrote this no doubt thought s/he was being witty and cosmopolitan. I found it disgusting, but mostly mean spirited. Criticize the poem - or other posts - if you must, but do so thoughtfully. That means no suggestions of suicide, giving up writing or other creative endeavors, or things of that ilk.  And if you don't like poetry - or feel threatened by it because you don't understand it - then don't read it.

I know, and have often said, that being offended is not terminal. But there's a limit, and I've reached it. I am done with people who think they're clever or witty, but are just mean.  Mean doesn't hack it. So quit.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Another Year in Review

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We hope your year was kind to you, that you enjoyed good health, that your economy improved, and that you found abundant joy. 
This has been a pretty good year as we look back.  We are still ambulatory, we get up every morning and take nourishment and Bill and Fourteen go to Rover's Run most mornings despite the heat, rain, or lately, bitter cold.
Ann had a very productive year.  She almost sold out of the cookbooks she wrote, Ann’s Cooking From Scratch, and has perhaps five left rather than the cases of them that cluttered the basement for a while.  She also was on the committee that put on the Fiftieth Reunion for her Lincoln-Way High School graduating class. It was a two day affair, with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres one evening in Frankfort and dinner and dancing the next evening in New Lenox.  Of her class of  about 170, around 80 people attended. 
Bill’s year was also productive.  As owner, editor, publisher, typesetter, occasional vacuum-er, and accountant at Ramsfield Press, he published two books.  In August we traveled to the Princess Theater in Danbury, CT, to launch You Are Here, a collection of gritty, noir short stories by Joe Boland, a terrific writer from New Milford, CT.  And in September  we went to Oshkosh, WI, to launch The Main Ingredient, a charming novel by Margo Wilson.  She is English Department chair at California University of Pennsylvania, and we made it to California, PA, to assist at readings at the university and near her home in Monessen, PA.  Both books are available at as well as on internet publishers and in Kindle versions. 
Sadly, we had to put down our dog Brando, affectionately known as Mr. Mellow, because he had cancer.  We soon adopted Fourteen, a fiercely protective Mastiff mix. He has lovely manners and is very gentle - until he perceives a threat, like the doorbell or an approaching human, especially if he’s leashed. He doesn’t slobber, and he is getting friendlier.
Both Ann and Bill continue to take art classes at Prairie State College.  Ann is working in watercolor and we are both pleased with her still lifes. Bill painted portraits in the spring and stretched himself into “abstract geometric seascapes” this fall.  
We continue to do light exercise, both mental (without looking back, what’s the name of our new dog? Hah!) and physical so we don’t end up as burdens to anyone. Bill continues to volunteer at the local Adult Literacy Center every week. 
Our extended family continues to prosper.  Grandson David is pursuing a Masters at Johns Hopkins, and Jonathan had an internship at Viacom in New York this fall. We get to see their dad Tim, his wife Karen and terrific kids Alexa and Greyson regularly.  So soon they grow up! We see daughter Shannon and her husband Ray and more wonderful kids Zach, Ben, and Addi frequently. Son Derek was in for Thanksgiving with his wife Jo and gorgeous four-year-old towheaded Ella and charming three-year-old Gavin.
We’re already planning adventures for next year, and we’d love to see you if you make it to the Chicago area.
Have a wonderful holiday season. Our best wishes for joy, health, wealth throughout the coming year!

Our best!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Year in Review

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Ann and Bill Moser!
Our year in review:
January:  Both of us sign up for free (to senior citizens) Drawing I at Prairie State Junior College.  We are old enough to be the professor’s parents, of course, and grandparents to the rest of the students in the class. We don’t feel that old! Ann is writing a cookbook. Bill swims a mile three times a week. Ann does 180 crunches at the health club three mornings a week.  If it’s a contest, she wins!
February: The art class homework is getting us down - we’re adult over-achievers, of course.  Ann says she doesn’t have time to go to the grocery, and certainly can’t vacuum too. We’re in the first year of her five-year plan not to clean house, and she begins to let go. Bill takes over vacuuming - and the dog hair in the family room swirls around our ankles.
March:  A sweet child at church announces she wants work to pay for summer camp.  We hire her to vacuum.  The house is clean once more, and she’s cheap. Meanwhile, neighbors enjoy the results of Ann’s test recipes.
April: Ramsfield Press gets manuscripts submitted.  One is apparently a memoir and is 600 pages long.  The protagonist can’t get ahead because of her personal hygiene, and Bill wants to put her in the Slap Room.  He decides not to publish the book.  Shannon (who chose Bill her Dad) is getting married, so she and Ann go shopping for a chosen-mother-of-the-bride outfit.
May:  Our drawing class is graded on our attendance and following directions rather than talent, thank goodness.  We both get A’s in Drawing I.  Grandson David graduates from Beloit College with a degree in International Relations. Daughter Shannon gets married and Bill officiates.  Bill says he thought Venice was the most beautiful experience he had in his life until he saw Shannon in her wedding dress.
June:  Ann’s hearing aids die and she buys new ones.  Grandson David takes a job in Chile, working for a pittance.  He loses weight.  Bill goes to Clockhouse Writers’ Conference at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, for a week.
July:  Ann has weekly trips to the audiologist for tweaking of her hearing aids.  They don’t work as well as the old ones.  Bill speaks more loudly. And enunciates.
August:  Ann finishes her cookbook and Bill decides to make it Ramsfield Press first project and trial publication. The neighbors are disappointed her culinary experiments have ended. Bill learns the very  complicated Adobe In Design. Derek’s daughter Ella has her second birthday. Time flies!
September:  Classes start again at Prairie State Junior College.  We both take American Sign Language (we want to communicate beyond the universal digit) and Bill signs up for Drawing II with the same great instructor.  Our girl who vacuums has too much school work and Bill becomes the lackadaisical cleaning lady once more.
October:  We send Ann’s book to the printer.  American Sign Language class is based around a dictionary instead of conversation, with up to 144 new signs each week.  Bill can sign, “I’m drowning in American Sign Language class.”  But we persevere.  
November: Ann’s cookbook finally arrives from the printer and we are delighted that it looks so good.  We start marketing and distributing it. Bill figures out Pay Pal so we can sell Ann’s Cooking From Scratch on line.  Derek’s son Gavin has his first birthday.  Time flies.
December:  Ann bakes -  and sells her cookbook.  Bill takes training to become an adult literacy tutor. For the first time in 18 years we put up and decorate our Christmas tree without help. 
We wish everyone a wonderful, prosperous, happy, and healthy new year!

As always, feel free to comment below.

Monday, October 3, 2011


     When I was a young married adult, my wife, son, and I used to visit my Great Aunt Lyda (pronounced Lie- dee) in Uniontown, PA.  She was my grandmother’s sister on my father’s side, born in 1883, and never married (she remained a maiden lady, a curiosity these days). 

     Aunt Lyda was well educated, having attended college.  She taught a couple years until her sister, my Great Aunt Sadie, became ill with tuberculosis. Aunt Lyda took care of her sister until she died in 1903, and continued to live in her parents’ home and care for them. My great-grandfather, her father, died in the epidemic of Spanish Influenza that followed World War I, and Aunt Lyda took care of her mother, until the middle of the Second World War.

     Aunt Lyda died in 1981 at the age of 98.  Until she was 90 she lived in her parents’ house.  On her 89th birthday, while we were newly marrieds visiting her, she fell down the back stairs and broke a vertebra in her neck.  The fall didn't kill her and she lived another nine years, which I find pretty amazing. We were shaken, but glad we were there.  She had taken the wallpaper off the closet under the front stairs and painted the floor in the basement the week before we came to visit.  
    After her recovery, Aunt Lyda slowly went blind.  She had cataracts that were inoperable.  She moved to an apartment, and a woman came in each late morning to make lunch, clean, run errands, make and clean up supper and set out breakfast.  Aunt Lyda was an amazing lady, in all respects a great Great Aunt.

In one of our conversations, I asked her what the most important invention of her lifetime was. Aunt Lyda’s reply was not, as I expected, the airplane, but the match.  Matches, she explained, allowed the starting of fires effortlessly.  Prior to their invention, people had to beg a coal from a neighbor, keep a fire banked in the furnace or stove, or start a fire with two sticks or a stone and flint.

In my research on matches, I found that Aunt Lyda was only partly correct.  Matches were invented in the 1830’s.  However, Joshua Pusey patented the book match in 1889.  He later sold the patent to the Diamond Match Company in 1896, and they became universal.            

This leads to a curious coincidence.  On the other side of the family tree, my mother’s father, my Grandpa Bill, worked at Diamond Match.  He completed third grade, worked on farms, and left Pennsylvania for Barberton, Ohio, in the early years of the last century. Initially he was paid $.035 an hour.  Because he was a good worker, he got raises and eventually made $.055 an hour.  He worked there for a few years, met my grandmother (she completed fifth grade), who also worked at Diamond Match, married and had children, including my mother.

O.C. Barber, an Akron industrialist, founded the Diamond Match Company and with three associates created Barberton out of 550 acres of farmland he purchased.  The  stick match (we know them as wooden kitchen matches) company - pre-Diamond Match - was very profitable during the Civil War.

Today we have little use for matches.  Our stove has electronic ignition, as does our furnace, and the gas grill has a little button to push.  We have a fireplace, which we occasionally use, and we start fires with paper, matches, and kindling.  We hardly ever use candles.  
But matches changed the world, especially for my Great-Aunt Lyda.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Memorial Day and Cpl. Everett H. Wade

Memorial Day was not designed as an occasion for mattress sales, which unfortunately seems to be the way we celebrate most national holidays in the United States lately.
This year I am calling attention to the late Cpl. Everett Heber Wade, my wife’s uncle.  He was declared Missing in Action on November 30, 1950, a day my wife remembers because her grandfather called her mother with the news that post Thanksgiving week.  Everett was “presumed dead” a little more than two years later, on December 31, 1953. 
Everett was one of fifteen children, Ann’s mother’s brother.  Only four of the siblings remain alive: Aunt Laura, Aunt Mary, Aunt Ruthie, and Aunt Ida May.  Ann’s grandmother waited and hoped and prayed until the day she died to hear that her son had been found alive and was returning home.  That never happened.
Ann is the eldest of her generation, and she is the only family member, aside from the aunties, who remembers Everett at all.
Last weekend my wife Ann and I went to Green Bay, WI, for a POW-MIA “briefing” by JPAC, under the auspices of the Department of Defense.  JPAC is the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command.  Its mission is to find and identify the remains of United States military personnel.  
November 30, 1950, has the dubious distinction of being the date of the heaviest casualties for U.S. troops during the Korean Conflict - the worst since WW II.  Nearly 800 soldiers - 781 to be precise - died.  The Battle of Chosin Reservoir lasted for 17 days, and had over 3,000 casualties.  There were reports that Everett was captured and marched toward North Korea, but that he died on the march and was buried along the route.  Conflicting reports suggest that he died in battle, or that he died later.  In any event, his remains were not recovered.  At this point, that is JPAC’s mission, but, frankly, we have little hope.
It’s been been almost sixty years since the Korean Conflict went into a permanent cease fire, but the pain remains. When we entered the briefing room, we could feel the palpable sadness.  At the briefing, the man next to me was a small child when his brother went missing, but he remembers and grieves him.  Also at our table was a woman who was keeping the memory of her great uncle, a man she had never met, alive.  
To date, JPAC has identified the remains of 170 Korean Conflict soldiers, mostly through DNA from survivors.  In addition to having given a DNA sample, Ann is sending JPAC an envelope from a letter Everett sent her mother to help with DNA identification.  Remains can also be identified through dental records and chest X-rays.  The clavicle is practically as unique as a fingerprint.
There are still almost 8,000 American soldiers unaccounted for from the Korean Conflict.  Many remains are buried at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, HI.  But hundreds in that cemetery remain unidentified, and because of the method of burial, DNA was destroyed.
In addition to unidentified soldiers from the Korean Conflict, unidentified soldiers from World War II and the Viet Nam War remain missing, and at this point, are presumed dead.
Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 to honor the fallen hero soldiers from the Civil War, and the tradition has continued.  There will be parades across the nation, and countless families will honor and mourn the loss of loved ones who died protecting freedom. 
Cpl. Everett Heber Wade was just one of tens of thousands of soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom.  We honor them all this Memorial Day.
The remains of a soldier from Everett’s company, one who may well have known Ann’s’ uncle, were returned to his family in time for Memorial Day last year.  Read the story here.

As always, feel free to write your comments below.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Spam and religion

First my disclaimers:
1.  I consider myself a reasonably devout, greatly flawed, Christian.
2.   I attend church regularly. 
3.  I have close friends, relatives, and chosen family of various faith communities: Christians, Jews, Buddhists - and atheists.  I also know and enjoy the company of people who are Hindus and Muslims.  I respect the beliefs of all these people.
4.  I have friends, family, and chosen family who are various shades of color, and from Asian, African, European, and Central American backgrounds.  
5.   I also have friends, family, and chosen family who are considerably younger and considerably older than I am.
Having said that, let me get to the point:
I am truly tired of getting paranoid, forwarded emails that tout religion.  

For some reason many of them start out with “The United States is a Christian Nation” or they demand that God and prayer be put back in public schools. 
Let’s start with a short history lesson:  Many of the people who came to the Americas to start a new life were indeed Christians.  (Indeed, my Moser ancestors immigrated from Europe around 1750 so they could have religious freedom; they were Dunkards [not drunkards!].) But a lot of immigrants were convicts, who may or may not have practiced Christianity, and most of the slaves - who contributed immensely to the building of this nation - were Muslims or practiced what we consider today to be primitive religions.
This country was founded on ancient principles that date back to the Greeks.  These were not religious principles. Indeed, the First Amendment to the Constitution (the same Constitution that many of the folks who forward the religious spam give lip service to) says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ” and then goes on to give us free speech and and a free press.
President George Washington in his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote:
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Way back at the founding of this country our first president  expressed the idea that each person could have his/ her own belief and, it’s worth reiterating: “there shall be none to make him afraid."
History lesson over.  When, in a former life, I was a teacher, the idea of having prayers in my classroom (that weren’t uttered silently by panicked students taking tests) was a nightmare.  Who would write a prayer that didn’t offend the non-Christians in the class?  Which non-Christian would write one that wouldn’t offend the Christians?  How would we include or dis-include those who did not believe?  By the time a prayer that didn’t offend anyone was written, it would be so weasel-y as to offend everyone.
Let me address the other side of the coin, also.  Just as I am inclined not to proselytize in favor of Christianity, I do not wish to be proselytized in favor of any other denomination or religion except the one I have chosen.
And I want to hear neither barbs or witticisms about my religious choices.  I choose to believe.  If people do not, that’s their choice.  I may not understand it, but I continue to love them.
That doesn’t mean I can’t make jokes about my choices.  Self-deprecation is a time-honored method of humor.  (Why does it take two hands for an Episcopalian to water the lawn?  One to hold the hose and the other to hold the martini glass.)  I can tell jokes on myself, but don't tell them about my religion.  And I won’t ridicule your beliefs.
We all believe and act in different ways.  I try to appreciate and honor yours.  But and it’s a big one - do not try to persuade me to accept your belief - or lack of - as my own.
As always, I welcome your comments below.