What Do Lighthouses Have to Do With Christmas?

Monday, December 26, 2011

In John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." So when we commemorate Jesus' birth, we celebrate the Light.

The following poem is my take on the subject.

               The Lighthouse
                           by Kathryn Page Camp

A light has come to save the world,
     A lowly baby born,
It shines its beam on rocky shoals
     From evening until morn.

When storms of life beat on my boat
     And winds begin to blow,
The beacon shines across the waves
     With its resplendent glow.

Mist and haze may hide the reefs,
     Clouding up my sight,
But though they blind my eyes at times,
     They cannot veil the light.

As lighthouse keeper I must go
     And rescue those in danger,
For one in peril on the sea
     Can never be a stranger.

The harbor light beams steady on
     Wherever I may roam,
A welcome blaze when life is done
     To guide me safely home.

Christ is the X in Xmas

Monday, December 19, 2011

Some people worry that using "Xmas" instead of "Christmas" will secularize the festival.

I'm not one of them.

I admit it. I use Xmas at times, either because of space constraints or because I'm lazy. But that doesn't mean I'm downplaying Christ's role in Christmas.

On the contrary, I understand that Christ is the X in Xmas.

The picture at the top of this post shows the Greek spelling for "Christ." It begins with the Greek letter Chi, which looks like our X. And just as we sometimes use initials to refer to people, Christians through the ages have used the Chi as an abbreviation for "Christ."

So if I replace the name "Christ" with an X, you can chastise me for being lazy, but you can't complain that I'm secularizing Christmas.

Have a Christ-filled Xmas.

Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays

Monday, December 12, 2011

Merry Christmas is suing Happy Holidays for divorce and asking for custody of Christmas. Why? Because Merry Christmas believes that Happy Holidays is turning Christmas into a non-practicing Christian or even an atheist.

But if the court appointed me as guardian ad litem, I'd argue for joint custody. (A guardian ad litem advocates for the child's best interests rather than for the interests of either parent.)

I love the freedom I have as an American, but freedom works both ways. If I am free to say "Merry Christmas," my countrymen are free to say "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Hanukkah" or whatever they choose.

And retailers and restaurateurs should be given that same freedom. Yes, sometimes they will decide to do whatever they think pleases their customers even if it isn't their personal preference, but that's their choice.

What are we afraid of, anyway? It isn't as if store decorations and holiday salutations can take Christ out of Christmas. Either God came to earth in human form or he didn't. We can spin the facts, but we can't change them.

My God is in control even if I don't say "Merry Christmas."

So have a merry Christmas or a happy holiday season or both.

Lest We Forget

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wednesday is the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It was and still is a tragic occurrence, even for those of us who were not born yet.

Every year we remember the men who died at Pearl Harbor, and we should. But did you know that women and children experienced the terror, too?

This summer I purchased a copy of The Children of Battleship Row,* which is a memoir by Joan Zuber Earle. Her father was a major in the Marines, and in 1940 he was assigned to Oahu in the then territory of Hawaii. His family went with him, and they moved onto Ford Island and into a house just yards from Pearl Harbor.

A year later, nine-year-old Joan and her sister, Peggy, were living an idyllic existence. Then came December 7, 1941.

Joan and Peggy had been helping their mother prepare the pork roast that was to go into the oven before they left for church. The sisters were still in their pajamas when they were interrupted by smoke rising from the nearby ships and bullets raining from strange airplanes. Bullets they had to dodge as they ran for their assigned shelter.

But as they passed the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (the BOQ), the men beckoned them inside to get away from the falling bullets. I'll pick up Joan's narrative after they entered the kitchen.
"Get under something!" said a male voice. Peggy scuttled under the kitchen sink. Mother and I crawled under the large wooden kitchen table in the center of the room. Huddle, hide, we are safe for a minute, my brain recorded.

Whomp!!!!!  An explosion louder than any crack of thunder or volcanic eruption shook the building, immediately followed by a rain of fire. Even from under the table where I was kneeling, I could see clearly out the kitchen windows. The familiar greenery outside the building was obliterated. On three sides, flaming material now filled the sky. Peggy could see as well from where she was crouched. The BOQ's on fire, I thought. The BOQ's on fire! We're going to be trapped in here and burned up.

I'd never been a screamer, but now I became hysterical. I felt sure that the roof over our heads was already in flames. Stark terror swallowed me. I began yelling words I thought I would never say, "I hate Ford Island. I hate Ford Island. I want to go back to the mainland!"

Mother, kneeling next to me, held my shaking body in her arms. For some reason, she was not screaming, nor was my sister. But I have never fully recovered from what my mother said next: "Don't cry, Joan. Don't cry. Marines don't cry. Don't ruin the morale of the men."

I stopped. After that, I turned my screams inward, becoming mute in my terror.
Joan and her family survived Pearl Harbor. But it took an emotional toll that I can't even imagine.

December 7, 1941 affected the men who died. It affected their families and friends. It affected those who lived through it. And it affects each of us because, as my distant ancestor said, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."**

So let us never forget Pearl Harbor.

*Although I highly recommend The Children of Battleship Row, it appears to be out of print. And nobody can pry my copy out of my fingers to borrow it.

** From "Meditation XVII" by John Donne.

The Secret to Failure

Monday, November 28, 2011

I was going to be a lawyer. That was my dream when I started college, and I still wanted it when I graduated.

But not a single law school accepted me.


The reason I failed is simple. I didn't get accepted because I didn't apply.

Why did I doom myself to failure? The story is too long for a blog post, but after changing my major and working hard for a B average, I decided I didn't have what it took. So I changed course and entered a PhD program in psychology.

I did quite well in graduate school, but I wasn't happy. And the dream kept nagging at me.

Tomorrow I will be speaking to a group of high school students. I was asked to talk about what inspired me in my profession, but I'm going to talk about failure, instead.

Avoiding or overcoming failure, that is. Because after earning my master's degree, I changed course again and did what I should have done earlier.

And this time two law schools accepted me.

That led to thirty years in a successful and fulfilling law career. A career I enjoyed immensely, even after the dream changed.

This time, the dream said, "Write."

The first dream was fulfilled and the second is in progress. Although I've had one book and a number of magazine articles and devotions published, I've also received my share of rejection slips. But even the rejections are successes.

Because you aren't a failure until you stop trying.

"Please Sir, I Want Some More"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oliver Twist asked for more gruel because he was hungry--and because of peer pressure, but that isn't the subject of this post.

I get hungry, too. If I haven't eaten for four or five hours, I become so crabby that nobody wants to be around me.

Of course, Oliver's definition of hunger was different from mine. He was near starvation, and I'm used to a full stomach.

Oliver held out an empty bowl and asked the cook for what he needed.

I hold out a full bowl and ask God for what I want. After all, why would I ask for what I need when He's already given it? A loving family, good friends, a comfortable home, plenty of food for the table.

So when I say, "Please Sir, I want some more," am I being ungrateful?

Still, there are some things I do need more of. I need more contentment with what I have and more thankfulness to God for giving it to me.

That's why my Thanksgiving prayer starts with "thank you" and ends with, "please God, give me more contentment and thankfulness."

And that's my prayer for you this holiday, too.

NOTE: The picture is George Cruikshank's illustration for the first printing of Oliver Twist. The book appeared as a monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany, and this illustration probably accompanied a March 1837 installment.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Patience may be a virtue, but it isn't one of mine.

Saturday I drove to Kokomo, Indiana for a luncheon. The trip was approximately 130 miles one way, and the drive took just under three hours. Almost half of it was along two-lane highways posted at 55 mph and punctuated by small towns with even lower speed limits.

On the way there, my GPS took me a round-about way. Since I was constantly watching for the next turn, I didn't have a chance to get bored.

For the return trip, I looked at the old-fashioned paper map and selected my own route, which was more direct and probably quicker. But it was also quite monotonous as I passed miles and miles of brown fields and an occasional bare tree. I just wanted to reach the expressway so I could get home faster.

That isn't a criticism of rural living. I grew up in a small country town, and I enjoyed those years. But after living in the Chicago area for several decades, I've gotten used to more varied scenery.

And I've forgotten that Midwestern farms have a different type of variety. The straw-colored fields I passed Saturday will turn snow-white in winter, dirt-brown in early spring, and green or golden in late spring and summer. The sleeping fields of November are renewing themselves so they can be productive again next year. Land that never gets a chance to rest soon becomes depleted of the minerals that plants require to thrive. So every season has a role in producing a bountiful harvest. We just can't see the part of the process that happens underground.

Life is like that, too. When I am in the brown areas of my life, I find it hard to picture any yield at all, let alone a bumper crop. Yet it is during those brown times that I am revived. Unfortunately, I don't always realize that until I have a chance to look back.

That's why patience is a virtue.

Familiarity Breeds Comfort

Monday, November 7, 2011

When I told my daughter that we were thinking of selling our house, she came up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn't. But I think her real objection comes from her emotional connection with the home she lived in from birth through college.

I didn't have that stability when I was young. My family moved five times before I finished college, and that doesn't count two sabbaticals to foreign countries. Our longest stay was eight years at DeTour Village, Michigan in a house that was cold and drafty. It did have good climbing trees, a garage roof we jumped off of (when my parents weren't looking), a raised front porch with enough room underneath to play house, and an enclosed back porch that was a great place for curling up with a book. But even the house at DeTour didn't create an emotional connection.

That privilege belonged to my grandparents' house in Iowa, shown in the three pictures with this post.

My mother grew up on a farm, and we visited at least once a year. I loved that old farmhouse. I even loved the wall plates for the lights, which used buttons instead of the switches we see today. You would press one button to turn the lights on and a second button to turn the lights off. I was fascinated.

The house wasn't perfect, of course. The small kitchen and the only bathroom (cramped, with a shower but no tub) were located in the original one-story structure at the rear of the house and shared the space with a separate dining room. But the two-story part had plenty of large rooms, and I would have loved to turn one of the four upstairs bedrooms and my grandfather's main-floor bedroom into full baths. Then I could have knocked out the existing bathroom and used that square footage to expand the kitchen. After the remodeling, it would truly have been my dream house.

I knew, of course, that my fantasy was just that. The location simply wasn't realistic for my career goals, and when my grandparents grew older and eventually moved in with one of my aunts, the house fell into disrepair. In the end, the only choice was to raze it.

But I miss that old house just as Caroline will miss this one if we move out. Even though she now owns her own home and rarely has a chance to come back here for a visit, this house will always have a place in her heart.

Because familiarity breeds comfort.

Give the Devil His Due

Monday, October 31, 2011

I haven't dressed up for Halloween in years--not until Saturday, when my writers' group read at the Lake County Library. None of my writings fit the theme, so I volunteered to get Edgar Allan Poe to emcee the event.

On the way to the library, I tuned into Christian radio station WMBI and listened to the host and his guest discuss whether Christians should participate in Halloween. Nobody asked that question when the guest was a child or when I was growing up. My brothers and I always dressed up and went trick-or-treating on Halloween, and my minister father never called it a pagan holiday or worried about its effect on our young minds. It just wasn't an issue in those days.

I admit it. I let my children dress up and go trick-or-treating when they were young, and I hand out candy every year. For me, it's still a non-issue.

In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis said, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." So yes, we do need to give the devil his due. But what is his due?

My edition of The Screwtape Letters includes quotes by Martin Luther and Sir Thomas More. According to Luther, "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." And to shorten the Thomas More quote, "The devil . . . cannot endure to be mocked."

Are we really showing an unhealthy interest in the devil when we let our children go trick-or-treating on Halloween? Or even when we dress them in red suits with horns and a tail and give them a pitchfork to carry? If it has any meaning at all (and for most people it doesn't), isn't it closer to scorn and mockery?

Yes, Satan is a force to be reckoned with, and both Christians and non-Christians should be on guard against him. But his influence is more subtle than what occurs on Halloween.

Christians give the devil too much due when we forget that there are three things he is not. He is not omnipresent (God allows Satan to walk this earth but he cannot enter heaven without God's permission); he is not omniscient, or he would have known better than to enter Judas and bring about his own defeat; and he is not omnipotent. God, and only God, is in control. When we view Halloween as a threat, we take Satan too seriously.

So give the devil his due--but no more.

Dream Small

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dream small? If we don't dream, we won't accomplish anything. And don't bigger dreams lead to bigger accomplishments?

Not necessarily. Few people get the chance to be president of the United States or to play in the NBA. If the person who dreams of being president isn't willing to work for it or the basketball player has no talent, then the big dream means less than a small dream that the dreamer can accomplish. Yes, it is good to stretch yourself, but bigger doesn't always mean better. Butterflies add as much joy to our lives as elephants do.

So what brought this on?

Now that Roland and I are empty nesters, we are thinking of making a slight lifestyle change and moving from a house to a condo. I want a dedicated office, Roland wants a place to exercise, and we both want one-story living so we won't have to worry about stairs when we get older. But unlike many of the home buyers on HGTV's Househunters, 2000-3000 square feet isn't one of our requirements. Neither is a jetted tub or a walk-in closet, although we will take them if we can get them.

A large home isn't in our budget, and it isn't our dream, either. Why pay for square footage we would rarely use? Our dream is small, but it is also realistic.

That doesn't mean I don't have any big dreams. I aspire to write the great American novel and make the New York Times bestseller list. But it will never happen unless I put in the time and effort to write.

Because all dreams--big or small--need a touch of realism.

Taps for Sailing Season

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky,
All is well, God is nigh.

Another sailing season is over. A week ago, Roland and I took the wings off our bird as we stripped her of her sails. Yesterday, we emptied her stomach by packing up dishes and cushions and other sailing gear. And on Friday, we will lift Freizeit from her nest and bury her for the winter.

Well, not quite. Our bird doesn't die and it doesn't fly south for the winter, but it does hibernate.

Sort of like a phoenix.

No, Freizeit doesn't combust. Still, I feel a bit like the children in Edith Nesbit's The Phoenix and the Carpet saying goodbye to their beloved feathery friend as he left them with these words:
"The sorrows of youth soon appear but as dreams."
Right now, the end of sailing season is a sorrow. Soon, it will become more like a dream as our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas and Valentine's Day and Lent and Easter.

Then an egg will appear in the ashes, and Freizeit will rise again.

My Favorite Season

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn is my favorite time of year. An artist's palate filled with shades of orange, yellow, and red. Crisp air tickling my nose, tantalizing my tongue, and caressing my skin. Anticipation of upcoming holidays with family and friends.

But there are other people who capture the feeling better than I can. So today I'm going to yield the floor to Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet born shortly after the Civil War ended.

Merry Autumn, by Paul Laurence Dunbar

It's all a farce,--these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o'er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd--
I care not who first taught 'em;
There's nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn time, when grief holds sway,
With countenance distressing,
You'll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e'en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o'er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can't contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don't talk to me of solemn days
In autumn's time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it's the climax of the year,--
The highest time of living!--
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.
I couldn't have said it better.

Miracles Still Happen

Monday, October 3, 2011

I should be dead.

Thursday night I was cruising down an unlighted expressway at the 70-mile-an-hour speed limit. Suddenly a dark car loomed in front of me, parked sideways across my lane of traffic. In the split second before the impact, I thought I was going to die. As our cars collided, mine continued moving forward through an inky blue mist, which must have been pieces of the other car flying into the air. Then my air bag deployed and my Honda Accord coasted to a stop on the right shoulder, safely out of the way of oncoming vehicles.

And I realized that I was not only alive but virtually unhurt.

Not something I can say about my car.

This picture shows the front right of the car while it was sitting on the bed of the truck that came to haul it away. Unfortunately, it was dark and the only camera I had with me was the one on my cell phone. But maybe you can see a little of the damage from this photo.

The seat belt (which I always wear), the air bag, and the safety engineering of the car had a lot to do with saving my life. Although the front end was almost unrecognizable, the damage stopped far short of the passenger compartment. Thank you, Honda engineers and U.S. safety standards.

But the fact that I was able to walk away? That was a miracle that can only be attributed to God. He obviously has something left for me to do before I die.

The other miracle is that no one was in the other vehicle at the time. Just minutes before, the driver hit a deer and his car spun sideways across the freeway. It isn't a heavily traveled road, and the light traffic gave him time to flee from his automobile before another car (mine) collided with it.

So even though his car ended up looking like a skeleton with shattered bones, my sprained wrist was the worst of the injuries, and that came from the air bag rather than the actual collision. Not that I'm complaining. A sprained wrist is nothing compared to what could have happened without the air bag.

At the time of this post, I'm still waiting for my insurance company to tell me whether it considers the car totaled or just in really bad shape. However, it was bad enough in my eyes that I went out and replaced it with another Honda Accord. And what they had in stock was the same color, so no one can tell I bought a new car. Oh well.

For those of you who may ask, no, my life did not flash before my eyes. I didn't have time to hit the brakes, and I didn't even have time to feel afraid. But I don't fear death, anyway, so I am more likely to have worried about how it would affect my family. And although I am prepared for death, I'd rather it didn't happen yet. So I praise God that I'm still here.

Some people would call it luck, but I call it a miracle.

Tribute to the One-Room Schoolhouse

Monday, September 26, 2011

My mother and her mother attended the same one-room school: District No. 1 in Danville, Iowa. This picture was taken in 1977, long after Mama's school days. By that time, the building had been decommissioned as a school and converted into a house.

When Grandma went to No. 1 in the late 1800s, it was a true one-room school. By the mid 1920s, when Mama started, the big room had been partitioned into two. But since the smaller room was merely a foyer, the students still shared a single classroom.

For those of us who never went to a one-room school, there is something romantic about the idea, and my mother has good memories of her early school years. Still, I'm not sure I want to go back to the days of coal stoves and kerosene lamps and outdoor toilets.

Although Grandma never went farther than her classes at No. 1, she got a good education there and excelled in arithmetic and algebra. My grandfather attended a different rural school until he was twenty and left after eighth grade. That was a common situation for farm boys, whose duties often kept them out of school. But their persistence shows how much they valued education.

So why am I reminiscing about this now? Mostly because my mother recently received an inquiry from the current owner of No. 1, who wanted to know what the building looked like when it was still a school.

There is another reason, though. Mama believes she got a good education at her one-room school, where teachers cared about teaching and students were willing to learn. (Mama went on to high school and college and eventually became a teacher herself.) In contrast, my husband teaches in a "modern" city school and frequently complains that some teachers don't teach and many students don't want to learn.

Of course, the old rural schools didn't always do the job well, either. Teachers could be hard to find, especially for the small schools in isolated areas, and students didn't always pay attention in class. Still, there were fewer distractions, and the pupils went to learn rather than to play football or basketball.

And sometimes I wonder if this country wouldn't be better off with a few more one-room schoolhouses. 

It's Easy to Believe a Lie

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why do people believe lies that should be easy to detect? Usually, it is because the lies promise things the listeners want badly.

When we were cleaning out my mother's house, I came across Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika. Now out of print, the book is a memoir by Maria Anne Hirschmann, who was known as Hansi while a dedicated member of Hitler's elite Youth Corps.

Maria grew up in a foster home, and although her foster mother was loving, her foster father was cold. As a teenager, she just wanted to belong. When she was selected to attend one of Hitler's new Nazi schools, she thought her dream had come true.

Maria's foster mother was a devoted Christian, and when Maria left for Hitler's school, her mother said, "Don't ever forget Jesus." So Maria was confused by many of the things she learned at school. Among other things, she wondered if it was wrong to pray.

When Maria asked a beloved teacher about prayer, the teacher gave her a copy of Wanderer Between Two Worlds by a Nazi writer. The author's mother had taught him to pray for protection, so he decided to see what would happen if he didn't. After several days without anything tragic happening to him, he decided he didn't need prayer. Maria tried the same experiment with the same result, so she dispensed with prayer, too. It wasn't until years later that she realized the experiment had been deceptive.

Deceptive experiments are also an effective way to convince people to invest in something that sounds too good to be true. In one type of scam, a telephone solicitor would call sixteen people and tell them that the solicitor could predict the direction the futures market was going. Of course the people who received the calls were skeptical, so the solicitor said he didn't want them investing yet: he just wanted them to give him a chance to prove himself.

The swindler told eight people that the price of heating oil would go up the next day, and he told the other eight that the price would go down. The next evening he called the eight he had given the correct "prediction." But he still told them he didn't want them investing yet. Then he told four that the price would go up the following day, and he told four that the price would go down. By the time he narrowed the field to two victims, they threw their money at him.

Why are people so willing to believe? Usually, it's because they long for what the lie offers. The people who fell for the investment scam thought money would solve their problems, and they wanted to believe they had found the path to material riches. Instead, they lost the money they already had.

Maria wanted to belong, and she thought that giving up God would get her there. But after the Nazi regime fell, she discovered she had given up the thing that mattered most.

Satan used this same ploy in the Garden of Eden. He told Eve that if she ate from the tree in the center of the garden, she would be like God. But, having been made in God's image, she already had what Satan promised. No, she was not God, but she was as much like Him as she would ever be. Satan created a longing for something more, and when Eve listened to the lie, she tarnished God's image in her.

When we let our longing rule our heads, we make ourselves gullible.

Because it's easy to believe a lie.


Monday, September 12, 2011

On November 21, 2008, I stood in a building overlooking the World Trade Center site and took this picture of the construction work going on where the Twin Towers once stood. It wasn't the first time I'd seen the site since 9-11, but it may have been the first time I had a camera with me.
The next day I was in New Jersey visiting my daughter, and she took me to the September 11 memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation. Although it doesn't show up well in this picture, the memorial has a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline. A skyline that is missing its once-defining twin feature.
For me, September 11, 2001 began in a conference room in Chicago waiting for the weekly management meeting to start. As usual, we had a video hook-up with our New York office, located only a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. It was around 8:00 a.m. Chicago time when the manager of our New York office asked if we had heard anything about a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. At the time, everyone thought it was a small, private plane that had strayed off course.

A few minutes later, Joe received a message, said that the building was being evacuated, and left abruptly. The New York staff got out safely with no physical injuries, but they spent months in temporary work quarters before being given the okay to return to the building.

Our building in Chicago was evacuated, too, because of its proximity to the Sears Tower. I got home just after noon and sent an e-mail to my family assuring them that I was not in New York on business. But it wasn't until I got a frantic call from my daughter, who was away at college, that I realized I should have used the telephone rather than just sending an e-mail.

My company used to hold two Board meetings a year at Windows on the World at the top of Tower 1, and I usually went. I even got stuck on an elevator on my way up to one. I sometimes browsed the shops in the concourse, and I had recently purchased a trench coat at a Banana Republic store that vanished with the towers.

Of course, it wasn't the loss of the buildings and the stores that made the day so tragic. Bricks and mortar and steel and glass can't feel, and they are alive only in a metaphorical sense. The tragedy comes from the 3,000 people who died and the countless others who lost a friend or a family member or their sense of security

Still, the amazing thing about 9-11 is not how many people died but how many lived. Cantor lost about 800 of its 1,000 employees (the other 200 apparently weren't in the building), but Morgan Stanley lost only a handful of the almost 4,000 employees working in the middle floors of Tower 2.

Let us remember the living and the dead and all who were touched by the events of September 11, 2001.

I, for one, will never forget.

Laboring Under the Sea

Monday, September 5, 2011

Submarines usually make people think of Memorial Day more than Labor Day. Still, the soldiers and sailors of World War II were laborers, too.

The picture is the USS Silversides submarine, which Roland and I passed as we sailed through the channel at Muskegon, Michigan.* The next morning we walked to its mooring at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum.

We started in the land part of the museum, where we found equipment from World War II submarines and exhibits on submarine  history. This is the only time during our vacation that I asked Roland to take a picture of me. Here I am as the periscope lady. (And yes, I maintained that sunburn during the entire trip.)

After we were done with the museum building, we boarded the USS Silversides. She is credited with sinking 30 Japanese vessels during World War II and damaging at least 14 others. As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the submarine was a tight fit for the 80 men who lived and worked on it. Not the place for a claustrophobic sailor.

Nor for someone who is 6'5", as Roland is. This picture shows him entering a hatch. Yes, I said entering. He climbed through it backwards.

The submariners used every inch of space. The men who manned the torpedoes even slept with them. If you look closely at the next picture, you can see the torpedoes over the bunks. The black hole in the middle is the torpedo tube for firing them.

Whatever could go wrong, would, so the crew had to cram the submarine with spare parts. And practically every other inch of wall space contained instruments. Here are just a few of them.

We visited one more piece of history before leaving the museum. The last picture shows the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter McLane, which patrolled the Alaskan coast during World War II. It is less than half the size of the Silversides, but the 30 men it carried had a lot more room to stretch their legs.

Happy Labor Day to everyone who works for a living, and that includes stay-at-home moms and dads. But I'm sending a special holiday greeting to those who currently labor in the military and to the veterans who labored there in the past.

Thank you for serving.

*All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.

A Grand Old Lady

Monday, August 29, 2011

By tradition, ships are always female. And the best-dressed ships are the ones that carry passengers on multi-day trips.

Roland and I toured the S.S. Keewatin while our own boat was docked in Douglas, Michigan. (S.S. stands for steamship.) The Keewatin carried passengers across the Great Lakes from 1908 through 1965 and is now a museum.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad commissioned and operated the Keewatin. The company had railroad terminals at ports along Lake Superior and later on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay. The most direct route between them was over the water, but nobody could figure out how to lay tracks there. So the company had the Keewatin built to transport passengers from one terminal to another.

What did Roland and I learn from our tour of the passenger ship? First, we learned that people can do the seemingly impossible if they plan well enough. The Keewatin was built in Scotland for use on the Great Lakes, but there was a problem. The Canadian Pacific Railroad wanted a 350-foot boat. That made it too long to fit through the Welland Canal, which connected Lake Ontario with Lake Erie, so each half was built to float on its own. When the Keewatin reached the canal, workmen cut it in two. Once the sections were safely in Lake Erie, workmen re-joined the halves. This 1907 picture shows the midsection while the two halves were separated.

Second, the Keewatin told us that people haven't changed much in 100 years. We still like to relax in luxury while traveling, and the Keewatin's public areas look a lot like today's cruise ships. Here are two pictures.* (And no, that isn't a ghost in the dining room. It's just a headless mannequin dressed as a waiter.)

On the other hand, the cabins weren't as roomy as we expect today. Here is a Keewatin stateroom.

Like lighthouses, ships have their own personalities. One unique feature of the Keewatin is this planter . . .

that becomes a ceiling for the hallway below it.

The pots were nailed down to keep them from falling on unsuspecting passengers in rough seas. Still, I don't want to be underneath when the plants are being watered.

If you find yourself in the Saugatuck-Douglas area, be sure to see this grand old lady.

* All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp. The original picture of the Keewatin cut in two was taken in 1907 and is in the public domain. 

Big Ships in Small Places

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help! The S.S. Badger is running us down!

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. The largest car ferry on Lake Michigan was behind us in a narrow channel, and it made us nervous. But the ferry captain had enough room to pass, and he did.

I don't know why we didn't plan more carefully. We had seen the Badger arrive the night before and knew it was large and impressive. We also knew the Badger left its berth at 8:00 a.m., heading from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. But we wanted to sail north to see Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and that's the time we chose to leave.

We were just entering the channel when I heard the chains rattle as the Badger raised its anchor. And then it was behind us. I barely had time to snap this picture before Roland sent me up to the bow to watch for rocks while he steered as close to the edge of the channel as he dared.*

And then it was safely past us. I'm sure we weren't the first sailboat to try to beat the Badger out, and the captain knew what he was doing. Still, if there is a next time, we will make sure we don't cut it that close.

Here is another picture of the Badger, taken from shore the evening before. You can see how narrow the channel is.

The next afternoon we arrived at Muskegon at the same time as the Lake Express car ferry was leaving for Milwaukee. Fortunately, we saw it coming along the channel before we entered, so we waited in the basin inside the seawall until the ferry passed. The recreational vehicle in this picture obviously didn't mind sharing the channel with the larger boat.

The two ferries are quite different. The S.S. Badger is a steamship that carries 600 passengers and 180 vehicles (including RVs), while Lake Express operates a modern, high-speed ferry that carries 42 cars and 12 motorcycles. The Badger takes 4 hours for a 60-mile trip and offers a stateroom option for those passengers wanting privacy, while the Lake Express ferry takes 2 1/2 hours for a 90-mile trip and provides only group seating. If my calculations are correct, the Badger costs approximately $250 ($300 with the stateroom option) one-way for a family of four with a car and two children between 5 and 15, and Lake Express costs around $350 to $400 (depending on booking date) for the same family.

Both ferries are good options for people who want to cut miles off their trips from Michigan to Wisconsin or Wisconsin to Michigan. The drive around the bottom of Lake Michigan and through Chicago is 400 miles if going between Ludington and Manitowoc and 275 miles if going between Muskegon and Milwaukee.

While we were in Ludington, I overheard two middle-age couples talking about the Badger. They were questioning why people would pay to take a boat that billowed smoke when there were other options. Personally, I can't understand why anyone would want to miss out on Chicago, which is rich with cultural heritage and wonderful places to go and see. Given the choice between the Badger and the Lake Express ferry, though, I'd rather cross Lake Michigan on the Badger. Aside from the cheaper price, a steamship ride is just more romantic. At least that's my opinion.

Ferries weren't the only big ships we came across in a small space. On our way home, we spent two nights at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina in a slip that was right on the Grand River channel. We went to bed sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. the second night because we wanted to get an early start in the morning. Before we could fall asleep, however, we heard a ship's horn very close by. Roland rushed up to the cockpit, and then I heard "Oh, wow," followed by, "Kathryn, come out here."

A lake freighter was moving along the river right in front of us, presumably making its way to the power plant a little farther in. The sun had already set and the light was fading fast, but I ran inside and got my camera anyway. Here is the result of my low-light photography.

Big ships in small spaces can be both awesome and scary, but they make for interesting experiences and great pictures.

I'm glad I didn't miss them.

* All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.

Lighting the Way

Monday, August 15, 2011

For centuries, lighthouses have warned sailors that they are close to land or a reef, keeping boats from running aground and joining the shipwreck statistics. Lighthouses are not only vital to the safety of water traffic but are also scenic. And they were one of the highlights of our sail up the eastern shores of Lake Michigan last month.

The original lights were called lighthouses because they provided lodging for the lighthouse keeper and his family. Back in those days, the keeper needed to be on the premises to trim the wicks, replenish the fuel that kept the light burning, and do other maintenance work. Now that the lights are automated, they no longer require a resident lighthouse keeper. The newer ones don't include a house but do make attractive additions to the landscape.

Lighthouses are more than that, though. Even with today's reliance on GPS and other modern inventions, these lights still shine through the dark and the fog to guide ships away from rocks and shoals and mark the entrances to rivers and harbors. And that's a good thing. Otherwise, I shudder to think were we would be if our GPS failed in low visibility.

During our trip, I noticed that each light has its own character. The picture at the top shows the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, affectionately nicknamed "Big Red."* None of the other lights we saw on our vacation had the same look as Big Red. Or the same look as any other light or group of lights. Even the three lights that were similar in shape and color were placed in different contexts.

The difference in character is part of their charm. At least that's my opinion. See if you agree.

St. Joseph North Pier Inner and Outer Lights

South Haven Pierhead Light (at the end of the pier)

Grand Haven South Pier and Pierhead Inner Lights

Coast Guard Station with Muskegon South Pier and Breakwater Light

White River Light Station--the only one no longer in operation

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Ludington North Breakwater Light

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Although South Haven, Grand Haven, and Muskegon all have round red silos on the south pier, those lights still have individual characters. The South Haven light stands a solitary vigil at the end of the pier, the Grand Haven light yields pride of place to the imposing building that houses a fog signal (as well as a light), and the Muskegon light stands sentinel between the Coast Guard Station and the breakwater light.

Unfortunately, the White River Light Station was the only place we went into. Although Big Sable and Little Sable are open to the public, they are only accessible by land, and they were both too far away to hike or bike. So we had to be satisfied with seeing them from the lake.

The way they were meant to be seen.

* All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.

Pure Michigan

Monday, August 8, 2011

Okay, so I stole the title from Michigan's tourism ads. To ensure that the theft is legal, I'll make the following disclaimers: I am not affiliated with the State of Michigan (except as a former resident and a frequent visitor), and it does not endorse my blog or any post. Even so, I bet it won't object to what I say.

In July, Roland and I took a three-week sailing vacation along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Actually, the winds didn't cooperate, so it was more of a motoring vacation. But we port-hopped up to Ludington and back again. (The picture shows our 34-foot sailboat, Freizeit, resting at White Lake Yacht Club.)

The highlights of our trip were lighthouses, ferries, and World War II history, which I will talk about in later posts. Western Michigan is also known for its beaches, but although we saw a number from the lake, we didn't have time to visit them on this trip. Still, I know from experience that Ottawa Beach at the Holland State Park is a great place to swim and sun, and the campground is just steps away. Some of the other inviting beaches we saw from the water are South Beach at South Haven, Oval Beach at Saugatuck, Grand Haven State Park at Grand Haven, and Pere Marquette Beach at Muskegon.

For those of you who are considering your own trip (by water or by land), here is a pictorial look at other aspects of Pure Michigan that we enjoyed along the way.*

At South Haven, I walked out to the end of the south pier and was awed by the sunset.

At Saugatuck, we watched the recreation occurring in the harbor. (Yes, there were plenty of motor boats there, too, but we're sailors, after all.)

At Grand Haven, we waited until the sun went down and took in a performance of the Musical Fountain while relaxing in Freizeit's cockpit.

At Ludington, we wandered around Waterfront Park and delighted in the many sculptures. This one is "Follow the Leader" by W. Stanley Proctor.

And when high waves kept us in Muskegon for an extra day, we toured the Hackley and Hume homes, where lumber barons and partners Charles H. Hackley and Thomas Hume lived. The picture is the Hume house.
As I said, the highlights are still to come. Even so, these are all good ways to spend your time when visiting Pure Michigan.

* All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.