"Who Is He?"

Monday, December 31, 2012

The last of my favorite Scottish Christmas carols isn't a Christmas carol at all. It starts out like one, but it is also a Good Friday and Easter hymn. In fact, we sang it year round.

Benjamin Russell Hanby wrote both the words and the music (tune, Lowliness) to "Who Is He?" In the verses below, I've printed the chorus each time for easier reading.

Who is He, in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He, in yonder cot,*
Bending to His toilsome lot?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He, in deep distress,
Fasting in the wilderness?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He that stands and weeps
At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Lo! at midnight, who is He
Prays in dark Gethsemane?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He, in Calvary's throes,
Asks for blessings on His foes?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He that from the grave
Comes to heal and help and save?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.

Who is He that on yon throne
Rules the world of light alone?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!
At His feet we humbly fall;
Crown Him, crown Him Lord of all.**
The three children you see standing in front of the largest church on Tiree were sad when they had to leave the Isle, but they were also excited about returning to Edinburgh at the beginning of a new year.

In the same way, I'm sad to be leaving this series on Scottish Christmas carols, but I'm excited about writing new posts for 2013. Come along and see how I do.

Have a Christ-filled year.

* "Cot" can mean either a narrow bed, such as one where a child might sleep, or a small house, such as one where a carpenter might live and work.

** As printed in The Church Hymnary, Revised Edition (Oxford University Press, 1927). This source identifies the tune as "Lowliness." In other sources, the same tune is called "Who Is He."

"Child in the Manger"

Monday, December 24, 2012

Another carol I learned in Scotland is "Child in the Manger," written in Gaelic by Mary Macdonald and translated into English by Lachlan Macbean. It is sung to a Gaelic melody now called Bunessan.

This carol needs no introduction and no explanation. Here it is.

Child in the manger,
Infant of Mary;
Outcast and stranger,
Lord of all!
Child who inherits
All our trangressions,
All our demerits
On Him fall. 
Once the most holy
Child of salvation
Gently and lowly
Lived below;
Now, as our glorious
Mightly Redeemer,
See Him victorious
O'er each foe. 
Prophets foretold Him,
Infant of wonder;
Angels behold Him
On His throne;
Worthy our Savior
Of all their praises;
Happy forever
Are His own.*
 Have a blessed Christmas.

* As printed in The Church Hymnary, Revised Edition (Oxford University Press, 1927).

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

Monday, December 17, 2012

The year my family lived in Scotland, we spent our Christmas holiday on the Isle of Tiree, where my father earned a small stipend by preaching at the churches scattered around the island. Tiree was sparsely populated and the congregations were small, but the people were warm and friendly.

The picture shows the house we rented for our brief stay.

Before we even left for Tiree, I discovered several new Christmas carols. Three became favorites, and I'm going to spend the next few weeks talking about them.

Two carols are very strong theologically, so I'll save them for the two Mondays surrounding Christmas. I'll start with the weakest of the three.

"In the Bleak Midwinter" has plenty of faults. First, the winter that Christina Rossetti wrote about resembles the ones she knew in England, not the kind they have in Bethlehem. Second, nobody knows what month Jesus was born in, but chances are it wasn't during the winter. Still, something in the song spoke to me.

Maybe it was because it is so singable, or it could have been the melody (Cranham, by Gustav Holst). Then again, it could have been that, as a ten-year-old who had grown up in church, I was surprised to find a popular Christmas carol I didn't know.

Or maybe it was because the Sunday School I often attended used the last verse as its offertory. And that is the best verse of the carol from a theological standpoint.

Here are the words. Enjoy the first three stanzas, but focus on the fourth.

In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty winds made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago. 
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ. 
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air--
But His mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss. 
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him--
Give my heart.*
 And your heart is enough.

* As printed in The Church Hymnary, Revised Edition (Oxford University Press, 1927).

Preparing for (Next) Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

I've already started working on my Christmas cards for next year. No, I don't have obsessive-compulsive disorder. I won't address the envelopes until Thanksgiving rolls around again, and I never start my Christmas shopping before January.

But I do like to be prepared. I make my own Christmas cards, and I need a new photograph to grace the cover for 2013. If I wait until next year's decorations are up, it'll be too late. So I drove around the neighborhood Saturday taking pictures of nativity scenes, and I'll be on the lookout for other subjects all month.

Advent is the season for preparation, anyway. As we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, we also get ready for his second coming.

Besides, I'm only starting a year in advance. God prepared his plan for our salvation before the beginning of time as we know it. Then he waited for just the right moment.

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV)

Are you prepared?

It's Coming!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Well, Christmas is coming. Advent is already here.

My church usually holds its Christmas concert on the first Sunday in Advent, and this year was no exception. Yesterday afternoon was the first concert under our new choir director, and it went well.

The day before that, the women's ministry held its bi-annual Advent Tea. Volunteers decorate the tables, and the variety is both interesting and fun. That's my contribution in the foreground of the picture.

A lighthouse theme? What do lighthouses have to do with Advent or Christmas? A lot. Advent looks forward to, and Christmas celebrates, the coming of the Light of the World. I wanted the women at my table to make the connection, so I gave them each a laminated copy of my poem, "The Lighthouse," which starts with these words:

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

For the rest of the poem, see my December 26, 2011 post.

Actually, Advent celebrates two separate comings by the same person. The most obvious is the one that happened 2000 years ago when Jesus came in his humility, born in a manger to be our Savior. The other looks forward to the last day when Christ will come again in his glory. Except it won't really be the last day for those who worship him. Instead of the end, it will be the beginning of something so much better than I can imagine.

That's why I say:

Come, Lord Jesus.

More Than a Decoration

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Christmas tree isn't just a decoration. It reflects family and memories and love.

Thursday's "At Home" column by Marni Jameson talked about her visit to a Christmas tree exhibit with artistic trees of all shapes, colors, and materials. They included one made of apple-green Tupperware bowls and one shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Then Marni gave readers tips on how to create their own designer trees.

Much as I enjoy Marni Jameson's column, this time I disagree with her. I'm all for creativity, but I don't want a designer tree.

I want one that creates memories of Christmases past and hints at those to come.

The second picture shows the year I got my doll house. A wonderful Christmas with a scrawny tree covered in hand-made decorations. The paper chains are the most obvious here, and we had at least two kinds. Our tree topper was a cardboard star covered with aluminum foil, and the best ornaments were . . . well, I'll tell you about them in a minute.

I remember only four store-bought things that ornamented our Christmas trees as I grew up. Strings of lights, shiny round balls (like the one in the top picture), long plastic ornaments that resembled the icicles hanging from the eves, and tinsel.

The best ornaments were the ones my father made from goose or turkey wishbones. He dried the wishbones and painted them silver. I'm not sure how many there were originally, but I have two that hang on my tree every year. You can see one of them in the first picture.

The third picture shows the type of tree we had when my children were growing up. By now, most of the ornaments were commercially made, but they still had memories attached. The mouse I bought at a dime store when I moved out on my own, the cloth Santa that always hung at the bottom of the tree because toddlers couldn't destroy it, and the ornaments Roland's parents gave us each year. We also used the ones Caroline and John made in school, but most of them disintegrated over time.

Even though the children are grown up now, the tradition continues. My current tree (shown in the last picture) still wears the mouse and the Santa, the ornaments from Roland's parents, and the two wishbones. The stocking I crocheted for Caroline hangs in her living room, along with the one I made for Pete the year they got married. John's stocking is still here, but once he has a permanent home, I'm sure he'll take his, too.

So don't let anyone convince you that a Christmas tree is just art or decor.

It is family and memories and love.

The Alternative

Monday, November 19, 2012

This past week I attended two wakes. Both were for elderly women who had been active in my church until the advancing years turned them into shut-ins.

I had a routine eye exam the week before, and somehow the conversation turned to growing old. My optometrist said, "It's better than the alternative." My reply? "I don't mind the alternative." Then she said, "Oh, don't think that way." That was my cue to explain why I don't mind death, and I let the opportunity pass.

Here's what I should have said.

I do worry about losing my faculties and my independence, so I'm not looking forward to old age. On the other hand, I like my life and there are a lot of things I want to do before I die. I'm not seeking death.

But I'm also not afraid of it. God has promised that death is simply the entrance to heaven for those who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.

And I'm one of them.

Only God knows what heaven looks like, and that's okay with me. I don't care if the gates are made of pearl and the streets are paved with gold. I don't even care if it's a physical place or only an experiential one. One thing I do know: in heaven we will be in constant communion with God, and nothing is better than that.

We won't all grow old.

But I don't mind the alternative.

It's a Lie

Monday, November 12, 2012

Violin concertos embraced me as I drove back from Indianapolis on Saturday, and my heart soared and ached simultaneously. I longed to be able to play like that.

I love the violin. It is more versatile than any other musical instrument. In Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" the violins trill like birds, roar like thunder, murmur like a gentle breeze, romp like peasants celebrating the harvest, and spit like icy rain.

Few of you know that I used to play violin. I took lessons for three years and played last chair in the college orchestra for one year before I faced the truth: I would never be more than a sixth-rate violinist. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Granted, I didn't practice as much as I should have, but it was my body that betrayed me.

Physically, there are two characteristics all good violinists possess. One is an "ear" for pitch. It wouldn't surprise me if there are deaf violinists who can "hear" the pitch in the vibrations that course through their fingertips. But one way or another, a violinist must be able to determine whether he or she is on pitch while tuning and playing the instrument.

If a piano is properly tuned, playing the perfect pitch is as simple as hitting a particular key. Violins aren't like that. Each string contains a continuum of pitches, and producing the right one requires you to hear it inside your head as you place your fingers.

I was good at that.

The other necessary characteristic is dexterity. Dexterity in the bow arm (which is the right arm for a right-handed person) and dexterity in the fingers that play the notes, which are on the opposite hand than the one you use for writing and other fine-motor skills.

Dexterity I didn't have and could never develop no matter how motivated I was. If I had set my heart on being a great violinist, my dreams--and my heart--would have shattered.

So I wince whenever I hear someone say, "You can be whatever you want if you try hard enough."

It's a lie.

Not everyone can be the smartest kid in the class or the prettiest girl or the best athlete. Many people want to be President of the United States or Miss America or an Olympic gold medalist, but only a few succeed.

I'll never be a good violinist. But that's okay, because my talents lie in other directions.

We all have talents. They may not be the ones that make us rich or famous, but every one is valuable. We need carpenters as much as (okay, more than) we need lawyers.

The secret to success is not in believing that we can be whatever we want to be. That road leads to heartbreak.

The secret to success is discovering our talents and making the most of them.

And that's no lie.

What's in a Title?

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm taking a poll, but it has nothing to do with the election.

Lately I've had several discussions with my writer friends about titles of blog posts. Should the title be descriptive so the reader knows whether the subject will interest him or her, or should the title be intriguing to rouse the reader's curiosity? The same question applies to the blurb included with a Facebook post linking to the blog. I'd love to have your comments telling me what type of title--informative or intriguing--is more likely to make you read a post.

As an illustration, but mostly for fun, ask yourself which of the following book titles shown in the picture attract you most.

  • Little Women or Pride and Prejudice. Both of these novels are about sisters who look for love. Okay, so you have to read partway into Little Women before the love stories start piling up, but they do come.
  • Bird by Bird or On Writing Well. These are both books about writing.
  • A Pebble in My Shoe or Four Continents to Freedom. Each is an autobiography about growing up in Europe during World War II, living in an internment camp, and becoming a refugee after the war.
  • The Last Voyage of the Lusitania or A Night to Remember. While one book is about the Lusitania and the other is about the Titanic, each tells the story of a passenger ship that sank at sea and lost over a thousand lives.
  • The Writer Got Screwed (but didn't have to) or The Law (in Plain English) for Writers. These books are both legal guides for writers.
  • An English Murder or Violet Dawn. Both are murder mysteries.
There are no right or wrong answers. It's all personal preference.

But I would like to know which type of title is more likely to make you read my blog posts.

Halloween Creatures

Monday, October 29, 2012

Here's a poem I wrote in keeping with the season.
Halloween Creatures

Wisp of smoke or waterless cloud,
No door can keep it out;
Straight from Hamlet or Macbeth;
A restless, wandering spirit.
See the track upon the ground
As Satan slithers by;
Listen when the rattle sounds,
Avoid the forked tongue.
Sonar guides it through the night,
Its wings spread like a cloak;
Bloody teeth and lapping tongue
Betray its source of food.
Robbed from a grave at midnight
To become an anatomy lesson;
Bones suspended from a hook
Resembling a hangman's noose.
Gloomy barn corner houses a web
Where sits a poisonous predator;
After sex it kills its mate,
Making itself a widow.
Which sinister creature takes the prize
For most creepy and terrifying?
Not ghost, rattlesnake, vampire bat,
Skeleton or black widow spider.
Without costume, make-up, or mask
To enhance or hide its features,
The scariest creature of all
Stares back from my mirror.

Backwards Priorities

Monday, October 22, 2012

Two weeks ago I wrote about taking responsibility for our children. In that blog post, I mentioned that a member of my writing group was forced to ask two boys to be quiet after the "responsible" adults ignored their antics. After I left, coffee house staff apparently admonished my friend for embarrassing the mother.


Embarrassing the mother by asking her to control two boys who raced around coffee house tables and yelled like banshees?

Embarrassing the mother by suggesting that she and her children be considerate of other customers?

Embarrassing the mother by saving the coffee house from a potential lawsuit if the boys had fallen or bumped into something and injured themselves or other patrons?

Embarrassing the mother by asking for a little common courtesy?

She should be embarrassed. So should the coffee house staff, who have their priorities backwards.

I don't feel sorry for either the mother or the staff, but I do feel sorry for the boys. Who is going to teach them to be responsible adults?

Apparently nobody.

Life of Pi

Monday, October 15, 2012

I don't normally write book reviews, but I just finished reading Life of Pi, and it was riveting.

Life of Pi would probably be classified as young adult fiction, but older adults will enjoy it, too. It contains very little sex or language, but it is not for the squeamish.

The story has two narrators. The first is the author, who describes how he came to know the grown-up Pi and learn his story. The main narrator, however, is Pi himself. Or, more accurately, Piscine Molitor Patel.

Pi's story starts when he is a young boy growing up in India, where his father owns a zoo. During the first part of the book, we become acquainted with Pi and his family. This section is also a course in zoology and a study of three religions: Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The religious thread makes for a fascinating philosophical discussion that holds our interest because of the way the three religions intersect in Pi's life. Although Pi doesn't resolve the issue the way the Bible does, it is a thought-provoking read that will make Christians reflect upon their faith.

The main part of the story begins when Pi's father decides to sell his zoo and move his family to Canada. Most of the animals have been sold to zoos in the United States, so Pi, his parents, and his older brother board a Japanese freighter that Pi's father has hired to transport them and the animals to North America.*

The freighter sinks in the middle of the ocean, and Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The real adventure begins as Pi struggles to survive.

Canadian author Yann Martel is an artist with words. While reading the novel, I clearly saw the power of nature and experienced Pi's limited but often terrifying world.

The movie is coming on November 21. It has the potential for wonderful cinematography, but even the best cinematographer can't match the word pictures Martel paints in the pages of his novel.

I'll wait for the reviews before I decide whether to see the movie. From the trailer, it looks like the script may have added a love story, and that makes me wonder what else it changed. It wouldn't bother me if they eliminated the religious thread at the beginning of the story since that wouldn't translate well onto the screen. But if they changed the surprise ending, that would spoil everything. I'm not talking about the fact that Pi survives: we know that from the beginning. But the ending is one of the things that makes this a great story.

So don't wait for the movie. Read the book and discover the ending for yourself.

* The picture shows a car ferry that operates on Lake Michigan, and it is probably nothing like the cargo ship Pi and his parents left India on. But I don't have any tigers or ocean freighters among my photo library, so it's the best I could do without violating someone's copyright.

They're Your Responsibility

Monday, October 8, 2012

Your children are your responsibility.

I belong to a writers' critique group that meets at a coffee house on Saturday afternoons. We read our work to the group and then discuss how to improve our writing.

It's a family-friendly coffee shop, and we often see children there. It even has a bookshelf filled with books and puzzles and games to keep young visitors entertained. They do get a little rowdy sometimes, but their parents hush them and we go on reading.

Not this past Saturday.

Two women came in with three children in tow. While the women ordered their coffee, the two boys raced around and around the tables where we were meeting. They were faster and far noisier than two squirrels chasing each other around a tree. We couldn't hear our members read.

We waited for the women to say something. Nothing.

Or maybe one of the employees would speak up. No.

Finally one of our members stood up and politely but firmly told the boys they were being rude. He also asked the responsible adults to control the children. One of the women said something I couldn't hear, but I didn't get the impression that she was apologizing.

To the boys' credit, they immediately sat down and stopped making noise. I'm assuming they just didn't think about how their actions affected others until someone pointed it out.

But a stranger shouldn't have to be the one to bring it to their attention.

Yes, children do act like children. I'll even admit that I let mine get away with more than I should have. But I drew the line at letting them disrupt other people.

Because they were my responsibility.

The Changing of the Guard

Monday, October 1, 2012

Having a new choir director is different. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

David Brandt was directing the Senior Choir in 1979 when I got married and joined St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Dave was already a legend by then, but he served another 33 years before stepping down this summer.

He was replaced by Lydia Gallup, straight out of college with a music degree. Her approach to choir directing is very different.

When Dave was the director, we practiced approximately eight pieces in an hour. We sang through them, beginning to end, using the entire choir and the full accompaniment. Then we would go back and work on the problem areas. We sometimes did a piece a second time if we were floundering, but a section--soprano, alto, tenor, or bass--would go over its part separately only if it was having noticeable problems with a particular spot in the music.

Lydia concentrates on three or four pieces and doesn't plan to get all the way through the ones we won't sing for several weeks. She takes each part one at a time, then combines two of them, then the other two, and finally puts them all together. When she is doing two parts she mixes them up: instead of always doing soprano and alto together and tenor and bass together, it might be alto and tenor or soprano and tenor and so on.

Dave's method is good for people who read music. Lydia's is better for those who can't. And the Senior Choir has always had some of both. Dave's way worked because each section had good readers with strong voices for the poorer readers to follow. Lydia's works because even those of us who do read music can benefit by personalized (sectional) attention.

There have been other changes, too. Some members dropped out because the practice evening changed and they have conflicts. Others joined, or rejoined, because the change in day resolved their conflicts. The biggest change in composition came in the alto section. Two former sopranos have switched to alto to fill out the section. I'm one of them, and it's an adjustment. I sang alto in my younger days, but that was a long time ago.

Even so, the choir is doing fine.

There are also ways in which Lydia reminds me of a younger Dave. Liturgy-wise, she is a traditionalist who wants to reacquaint the congregation with chanting the Psalms and doing Matins. And both directors have the same passion for music and choir directing.

Still, things are different since the guard changed. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

Gone With the Stroke of a Pen

Monday, September 24, 2012

My mother sold her house last week. She accepted the offer several weeks ago, but the sale closed on Tuesday. Sixty years of property ownership gone with the stroke of a pen.

The house has been empty for a year and a half. Mama knew it didn't make sense to continue paying the insurance and maintaining the property when she wouldn't ever live there again. So selling it was the right thing to do.

But the house has a history in our family, and the sale reminds us that life is never static.

My parents bought the property in the early 1950s, while I was a toddler. As a minister who lived in church-owned housing, Daddy wanted a piece of real estate that he could call his own and where he could build his retirement home. So they purchased two lots, side by side, in an undeveloped area just outside the city boundaries of Holland, Michigan. The plans for the area showed a street running in front of our lots, but First Avenue didn't materialize until a number of years after my parents bought the land--and that was just fine with my father. When I was a child, we drove by the neighbors' house, which faced the cross street, and along a rough track to get to our property.

In 1954, my parents built a dual-purpose concrete block building. My father planned to use it as the garage for their retirement house. First, however, it was our summer cottage, with a working half bath and a well for water. One of my favorite features was the cement floor Daddy laid. He poured squares of concrete tinted with pastel dyes, creating a checker-board of yellow and pink and green and blue. I wish I had a picture of it.

By the time I had a family of my own, Daddy and Mama had built a real house and were using the garage for its intended purpose. My brothers and I were grown and away from home when Daddy retired, so we never lived in the main house. But we continued to make memories there.

Memories of summer visits and Christmases and time spent as an extended family. For my children, it is the house where their Grandpa and Grandma Page lived. The home where everyone was welcome.

The last picture shows the house as it looked when it was first built and for a number of years thereafter. (Yes, that is Roland, Caroline, John, and me.) Eventually my parents added the stone facade and enclosed breezeway you can see in the first picture.

It was a nice house, and now it's gone. Metaphorically speaking.

Still, it is only the house that's gone. Just a thing. Important to people's lives, yes, but only a thing. It isn't the house that makes a family strong, it's the love. The love and the memories, which continue to be very much a part of us.

During the past year and a half, the house didn't have a chance to create new memories.

Now it can.

Indiana Writers' Consortium Website

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I am an active member (and current president) of the Indiana Writers' Consortium and was involved in redesigning its website, which is located at www.indianawritersconsortium.org. I'd love to have you look at it and see what you think. If you have comments on the site, don't post them here. Well, you can, but if you make them through the contact page on the IWC website, you will be entered into a drawing for autographed books.

Discover who IWC is by reading the About page, then check out its author members, find a speaker for your next event, and browse through the bookstore. Visit the Events page or click on the link at the right of any page for information about IWC's upcoming banquet on October 2.

IWC is an IRS Section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. You can support us by checking out the site and leaving your comments.


Wasting Money on Learning?

Monday, September 17, 2012

No, I'm not talking about the Chicago teachers' strike. In fact, this post isn't about formal education at all, so I guess the picture is a little misleading.

When we moved to the condo, I had to change my exercise routine, and it was no longer convenient to time my exercise by the length of a 30-minute TV show. Yes, I've heard about the old-fashioned invention called a "watch," and I wear one constantly. But if I have to keep looking at it to see how many minutes have passed, time seems to drag and my exercising becomes extra boring. ("I still have 15 minutes left?" Groan.)

I do have an I-Pod so I can listen to music or books or lectures while exercising, and that helps. But I still need to be able to time it. Listening to the same music gets repetitive after a while, and audio books have a different problem. They vary in length so I still have to look at my watch, and what if I am in the middle of a chapter or a short story when my time is up? I would probably stop exercising but continue listening, which would mess up my schedule.

So I purchased some of the Great Courses from The Teaching Company. Each course is a series of lectures that are either 30 minutes or 45 minutes long. The 30 minute lectures are perfect for timing my climb up and down the condo stairwell, and the 45 minute lectures keep me entertained on my morning walk. Since I started, I have listened to lectures about C.S. Lewis, the origin and development of the English language, and classical mythology. I am in the middle of a series on understanding and appreciating great music.

Audio books would be cheaper because I could borrow a digital copy from the library, but they wouldn't satisfy my timing needs. Besides, I'm learning a lot from listening to the Great Courses.

As with anything else, some teaching tools are more cost-effective than others, and your choices may depend on your resources. If money is an issue, the library is a good solution.

But money spent on learning is never wasted.

Let There Be Light

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's amazing what a little light can do.

Light was the first thing God created, and I'm sure there were plenty of reasons for that honor. Light=good. Dirt and cockroaches and evil can't hide in it. Light=knowledge and truth. Falsehood can't hide in it, either. Light=growth. Think plants and the illumination that comes from education (formal and informal). And there are plenty of scientific studies that show light=hope and cheer, overcoming the depression that darkness creates in the human spirit.

And, of course, light helps you see what you are doing.

Not that God needed it for that. I'm sure he can see perfectly in pitch darkness. But his creatures can't, and I'm one of them.

I like our condo, but I don't like the lack of direct light. In the four months since we moved in, I've been buying lamps and trying different ways to light up the living room, the master bedroom, and especially my office. Even with four strategically placed lamps, my office was still dark.

Until now.

Last Saturday I went to Lowe's and purchased the chandelier shown in the picture. There's no electrical box in the office ceiling, but there is a hook in the center. So I figured I'd just buy a chandelier-type light with a chain: one I could swag across the ceiling and plug into a wall socket. Simple, right?

Except they no longer sell chandeliers that plug into wall sockets. None of the ceiling lights at Lowe's would work.

Without the box or a conversion kit, that is. The conversion kit saved me. There must be a lesson in there somewhere, but I'll save it for another day.

Because right now I'm basking in the light.

Not What It Used to Be

Monday, September 3, 2012

The job market isn't what it used to be. And I, for one, am grateful.

I know there are many unemployed people who are desperately searching for any job at all, and I don't want to minimize their plight. But this post is aimed at those of us who are currently employed or are retired after a long career.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor all who work in factories, fields, offices, classrooms, or at other job sites. Hard work and dedicated workers abound in today's work environment. But as I look back at earlier times, I realize that workers used to have a much harder life.

Here is a description of laundry workers in 1939.

The clanging of metal as the pistons bang into the sockets, the hiss of steam, women wearily pushing twelve pound irons, women mechanically tending machines, one, button half of the shirt done, two, top finished, three, sleeves pressed and the shirt is ready for the finishers, that is the scene that greeted me as I stood in the Laundry's ironing department.

Shirts, thousands of white shirts that produce such a dazzling glare that the women who work in this department wear dark glasses to protect their eyes. The heat is almost unbearable; there seems to be gushes of damp heat pushed at you from some invisible force in the mechanism of the machine. The smooth shiny faced women work in silence, occasionally dropping a word here and there, slowly wiping away dripping persperation, then back to the machines, to the heavy irons without any outward show of emotion--no protest.
Yes, there are still some backbreaking and dangerous jobs and a lot of sweaty and monotonous ones. But most of us forget how good we have it.

Labor Day should be a time to remember.


NOTE: The quote is from a manuscript compiled as part of the Federal Writers' Project in 1936-1940. These manuscripts are government-created documents and are available on the Library of Congress' website. WPA Life Histories. The excerpt is from "Laundry Workers" by Vivian Morris and is Item 208 on the New York list of American Life History manuscripts.

The photograph is from an earlier time and a different place but was the best illustration I could find to go with the text. I got the photo from Wikimedia Commons, which describes it as a 1901 photograph of Charvet's model laundry in Paris, photographer unknown. The photograph is in the public domain because of its age.

God's Art

Monday, August 27, 2012

God is the best artist I know.

Last week I grabbed my camera and drove to Gibson Woods Nature Preserve in Hammond, Indiana. My primary objective was to find butterflies to photograph and I saw a few, but they didn't want to sit still while I took their portraits. I did get some pictures of birds, although they were far enough away that even my telephoto lens had trouble spotting them.

The plant life was another matter. I love taking pictures of plants because they don't run away from the camera. And because plants are some of God's best art.

Consider the first picture. The stems and swirls remind me of a decorative chandelier. (I haven't identified the flower, so if you know what it is, please leave a comment.)

Or how about this tapestry? Unimaginative people might see dead leaves. I see artistry.

And who besides God can sculpture a bird bath out of giant mushrooms clinging to a tree trunk?

I like to think that my photography is art. That I am an artist who sees the possibilities in ordinary subjects and knows how to frame them to achieve a particular effect. But I don't create the subjects, I just photograph them.

God is the master artist, and I am his devoted pupil.


All photographs © 2012 by Kathryn Page Camp.


Monday, August 20, 2012

This week I'm going to focus on one small part of God's creation. I don't know what inspired me, but I recently found myself writing verses about butterflies. Here they are.

Common Buckeye

A buck's eyes prance across the wings
That hover low above the ground
From gravel path to grassy verge
And roadside park.

Red Admiral

A ring of fire encircles him
When wings are spread apart,
Or underlines the white and black
When raised in victory.

Orange Sulfur

Alfalfa fields a common haunt
For your night-feeding frenzy,
A pretty sight to untrained eyes
But no friend to farmers.


Milkweed stalks with silken heads
Become a Monarch's throne.
Then winter comes and orange and black
Aims south and flies away.

Colorado Hairstreak

The Hairstreak floats on Gossimer Wings,
Enjoying the light mountain air.
Without a worry it flies through rain
To rest on a sturdy oak.

The poems and the picture of the Monarch butterly are © 2012 by Kathryn Page Camp.

The pictures of the Common Buckeye, the Red Admiral, and the Orange Sulfur are © 2010 by Kathryn Page Camp.

The picture of the Colorado Hairstreak came from Wikimedia Commons and is © 2010 by Megan McCarty. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en) license.

Remembering World War II

Monday, August 13, 2012

There are still a few people around who lived through World War II, either on the battlefield or here at home, but it won't be long until they are all gone.

My mother's brother landed with the troops on D-Day and survived, although he didn't talk about it. My father tried to enlist as a chaplain, but they wouldn't take him because of his eyesight.

World War II was a truly global war. Although there have been wars since, none have carried that territorial scope.

So why am I writing about it now? Because we saw a couple of WWII sites on vacation, and they reminded me not to forget. Not to forget the patriotism. Not to forget the sacrifice. And especially not to forget the atrocities that incited the war. To remember even after the people who lived through those times are no longer around to tell us their experiences.

Except that isn't quite true. Their stories live on in letters and books and at places like the D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia.

The top picture is a sweeping view of the memorial. The second is a sculpture showing the troops landing at Omaha Beach. You can see the landing craft in the rear and a dead soldier lying on the sand.

Initially, Roland and I wondered why the D-Day Memorial would be located in a small town tucked among the Blue Ridge Mountains. But there is a good reason. As a percentage of the population, Bedford had more D-Day casualties than anywhere else.

If you are ever in or near Bedford, make sure you stop and see the D-Day Memorial.

The other WWII site we visited was the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, which is now a museum at Charleston, South Carolina. You can see the flight deck in the third picture.

I'm sure the Yorktown is quite a bit different from the aircraft carrier my son will serve on. But it is impressive as both a miniature city and an airport.

People who have served their country in wartime say that war is hell, and I'm sure they're right. I'm not a pacifist, and I even believe that some wars are ethical obligations. World War II is a good example: Hitler had to be stopped. Still, we should always consider whether war is justifiable under the particular circumstances, because it does have consequences.

That's why it is so important to remember World War II.

A Civil War?

Monday, August 6, 2012

War is never civil, but soldiers can act like gentlemen.

While in Charleston, South Carolina, Roland and I visited two sites dedicated to the War Between the States, commonly known as the Civil War.

This picture shows Fort Sumter. In late 1860, the fort was under construction and unmanned. A small federal garrison was located at nearby Fort Moultrie under the command of Major Robert Anderson.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Six days later Major Anderson moved his forces, by night, from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, which he thought would be easier to defend. South Carolina was outraged and demanded that the federal forces evacuate. They refused.

The Confederates tried persuasion first. It wasn't until April 12, 1861 that Confederate forces began bombarding Fort Sumter with cannonballs, firing the first shots in the Civil War.

Outnumbered and unable to get supplies, Major Anderson surrendered. The victorious Confederates allowed a ship to enter the harbor, load up the federal forces, and take them to New York. A gentlemanly resolution and a civil beginning to a war that would take over 600,000 lives.

Our other Civil War stop in Charleston reminded us of another type of gentlemanly behavior. First, though, here is some background.

The H.L. Hunley is the first known submarine to ever sink a ship. It was nothing like the submarines we are used to, however.

Today's submarines are built for long-term living and extended underwater stays. The Hunley had no place to eat or sleep and could stay underwater for two hours at most before the air supply would give out.

The picture shows a replica of the interior. Eight men sat on a bench and cranked the submarine along. Not a job for someone who was claustrophobic.

The Hunley used a barbed spar with a torpedo attached to the end by a rope. The idea was to ram an enemy ship below the waterline and back the submarine up while releasing the torpedo, which would explode when the submarine was far enough away to be safe. And it worked that way on February 17, 1864, when the Hunley attacked and sank the Union warship Housatonic.

But the successful mission had an unsuccessful ending, and the Hunley never resurfaced. Well, not until it was excavated in 2001. What happened is still a mystery, but one theory is that the submarine stayed under too long and the soldiers inside suffocated.

You can find out more about the Hunley at this link: http://www.hunley.org

But what does that have to do with gentlemanly behavior?

The artifacts found in the Hunley included a ring and a broach made of gold and covered with diamonds. The submarine's commander, Lt. George Dixon, had apparently carried them in his pocket. But what they were doing there is another of the mysteries surrounding the Hunley.

Some people believe that Lt. Dixon carried the jewelry for safekeeping. Their owner may have entrusted the ring and broach to Lt. Dixon to keep them out of the hands of Union marauders. If so, the strategy succeeded but the owner still lost.

That's speculation, of course. If true, however, Lt. Dixon's agreement to hold the jewelry was the act of a gentleman.

War is never civil. But individual acts during wartime can be.

How Could We?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Two stops on our vacation were stark reminders of the time in American history when white men and women regarded our black brothers and sisters as property, like dogs and horses. Except dogs and horses were sometimes treated better.

How could we? But would I have been any different if I'd lived then? I'll probably never know.

The first picture shows the old slave market in Charleston, South Carolina. It is now a museum, dedicated to educating visitors on how people bought and sold other people. Even when it split families apart.

The second picture shows John Brown's Fort at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was really a fire station, but Brown chose it for his fortress when his raid failed.

John Brown was a white abolitionist who planned to seize the armory at Harpers Ferry, arm the slaves, and induce a slave revolt. This was in 1859, before the Civil War started.

When the raid went wrong, Brown and his men retreated to the "fort" and tried to hold off the U.S. Marines. Failing, they were captured and hung.

Although few people today deny the justice of John Brown's cause, some question the wisdom of his actions. Still, John Brown's Fort reminds us that some white men were willing to put their lives on the line for their black brothers.

But it shouldn't have been necessary.

Manse Beginnings

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'm jealous of Woodrow Wilson. We both grew up in Presbyterian manses, but the ones he lived in were much nicer than the ones I lived in.

For the uninitiated among you, "manse" is the Presbyterian word for "parsonage."

The first picture shows Wilson's birthplace at Staunton, Virginia. Roland and I toured it on our vacation.

The second picture is the manse my family lived in when I was born. My father took the picture several years after we moved away. I'm standing in front with my mother and brothers.

Not that either Woodrow or I have any memories of our first manse. We both moved before we were old enough to remember anything.

Most of the houses I do remember were small and drafty. The guide at Wilson's birthplace said his next home was even grander than his first.

When I mentioned that Wilson's birthplace wasn't like the manses I grew up in, the guide said that the Presbyterians liked to have nice buildings to show their status in the community. According to the guide, the richer the church, the nicer the manse, and Rev. Wilson was adept at finding the rich congregations.

My father didn't even try. He preferred small churches in small towns or out in the country. And I'm okay with that. Now.

Growing up as a Presbyterian minister's child isn't the only similarity between my life and Woodrow Wilson's. We both went to law school and became lawyers. The main difference is that I was successful at it.

Of course, Woodrow later became President of the United States. Something I'm not the least jealous about.

I'm glad to be living my life rather than his.

But I would have loved to live in a manse like his.

Thomas Jefferson Slept Here

Monday, July 16, 2012

George Washington wasn't the only president who slept around. And no, I don't mean with other women.

Most people think of Thomas Jefferson as the drafter of the Declaration of Independence or the third president of the United States. But he was also a land owner who liked grand vistas.

The first picture isn't Jefferson's main residence at Monticello. It is Poplar Forest near Forest, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jefferson built Poplar Forest as a retreat from the crowds of tourists who visited Monticello during his lifetime. Now tourists visit Poplar Forest, too, and Roland and I were among them. Fortunately for Jefferson, we didn't disturb him during our visit.

Before visiting Poplar Forest, our vacation took us to Natural Bridge, Virginia. That is the bridge in the second picture. You can see how tall it is by looking at the people on the path below.

Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by the formation that he purchased the land from King George III in 1774. Jefferson called Natural Bridge "the most sublime of nature's works" and built a two-room log cabin (long gone) at the top. One room of the cabin was reserved for guests. It is said that Jefferson even hooked up a basket for lowering people to the bottom, turning the site into his own version of an amusement park for travelers and artists from around the world.

Thomas Jefferson was also impressed by places he didn't own. Roland and I started our vacation in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge. When Thomas Jefferson visited in 1783, he recorded his observations with his ever-ready pen. In his words, "The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature." And this after seeing and owning Natural Bridge.

The scenery has changed a bit since then, but the third picture gives a rough idea of what Jefferson saw. Without the church and the bridge, of course.

Yes, Jefferson like to sleep around. But he saw some great places that way.

Valleys Get a Bad Rap

Monday, July 9, 2012

The high points of our lives are often referred to as "mountain-top experiences," and the low points are called valleys. The analogy does make some sense, and I've used it myself. Still, I think valleys get a bad rap.

I took this picture of Roanoke Valley from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which wends its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Roland and I drove most of the Parkway during our vacation last month, but much of our sightseeing occurred in towns nestled in the nearby valleys.

That's because the mountains provide breathtaking views but poor living conditions. Try eking a living out of the mountains when the land isn't level enough to plant large fields. Or try establishing a community where there are few flat places to build houses on. Both are possible, but they aren't easy.

Compare that to the valleys. Although it's hard to tell from the picture, 300,000 people live in Roanoke Valley, including almost 100,000 in the city of the same name. The valley is also home to colleges and farms and wineries and an airport serviced by several major airlines.

Valleys are where more of life happens, so they are also where most of the history is. And because Roland and I like visiting historical places, much of our sightseeing occurred in the valleys.

It's nice to get away to the mountains occasionally, but most people can't live there.

So I thank God for the valleys.

In Harm's Way

Monday, July 2, 2012

In 1915, Great Britain and her European allies were at war with Germany. The United States was a declared neutral, although its sympathies were with the British. When a German submarine sank the Lusitania on May 7, this country's official position didn't change.* But the intensity of its feelings did.

The Lusitania sank before the other two ships covered in this blog series, but I saved it until now because of its patriotic implications. With July 4 coming up, this is a good time to look back on how a shipwreck inflamed America and moved it closer to war.

The Lusitania left New York on May 1, 1915 and was due to arrive in Liverpool on May 8.** Its passengers were traveling to England for various reasons, some connected with the war and some not. Oliver Bernard was hoping to enlist. Dorothy Connor was a Red Cross volunteer heading for France. Alfred Vanderbilt (son of Cornelius) was on his way to attend a London board meeting of the International Horse Show Association. Stewart and Lesley Mason were on their honeymoon. Third-class passenger Elizabeth Duckworth was simply homesick.

A number of passengers were aware of a notice that had appeared in the New York City newspapers that morning, but others were not. The notice, which had been placed by the German embassy, warned potential passengers that "vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in [waters adjacent to the British Isles] and that travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk." With or without knowledge of the notice, many passengers were worried about German submarines, but others were sure the Lusitania could outrun them.

That may have been true, but first it had to know the submarine was there. The initial sightings of the U-20's periscope coincided with the launching of the torpedo. By then it was too late.

The torpedo blew a hole in the ship's side, taking out the electrical system and steering controls. With the Lusitania continuing at a high rate of speed (a body in motion stays in motion) and no way to stop it, lowering the life boats into the water became a dangerous endeavor even when they were lowered correctly. But many were not. When untrained sailors used the outdated launching equipment, one end of the boat frequently dropped faster than the other and spilled its inhabitants into the water--often while they were still many feet above it.

Then there were the non-existent demonstrations on how to wear life jackets. The instructions were posted prominently in each cabin, but few passengers read them. Many deaths resulted from putting on life jackets backwards or upside down, both of which forced the wearer's face into the water.

The Lusitania sank about 12 miles off the coast of Ireland, but it was impossible for other boats to reach it in time. About a half hour passed from the torpedo's impact to the ship's last sigh before slipping under the surface. When the rescuers arrived, they found some life boats, but they also saw people clinging to wooden deck chairs and storage boxes and other debris. Of the almost 2,000 people on board, less than 800 survived.

For those of you interested in the people mentioned earlier, Oliver Bernard, Dorothy Connor, and Elizabeth Duckworth were among the survivors. Alfred Vanderbilt and Steward and Lesley Mason were not.

Subsequent inquiries blamed the disaster solely on the German torpedo. The Germans claimed that the Lusitania was armed and carrying Canadian troops, but those claims have been debunked. Then there is the conspiracy theory that Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty at the time) set the passenger ship up for destruction as a way to force the United States into the war, but that doesn't seem to fit the facts, either.

The Lusitania was a British ship, so why did her sinking create such an outcry in America?

There were 159 Americans on board, and 124 of them perished. And regardless of the victims' nationalities, many people were outraged at the large number of innocent civilians killed, including dozens of babies.

Contrary to popular belief, the sinking of the Lusitania did not propel the United States into World War I. That would not happen for another two years. Still, it was clearly a contributing factor--a strong link in a chain of events that convinced the United States to join the conflict.

And Germany would discover--as the Japanese did after Pearl Harbor--that it isn't safe to anger the United States.


* I recommend The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, by A.A. Hoehling and Mary Hoehling, which is a quick and easy read. For those who want the broader historical context, I suggest Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, by Diana Preston.

** The photo of the Lusitania is part of a panoramic picture taken by N.W. Penfield in 1907.

The Folly of Trusting Technology

Monday, June 25, 2012

On a foggy night in July 1956, two passenger liners used the same shipping channel to head in opposite directions.* The Andrea Doria was right where it should be, with its captain on the bridge and its foghorn blowing every two minutes. It probably should have been traveling at a slower speed as it sailed through the fog, but radar was supposed to compensate for the loss of visibility.

The Stockholm was heading east in the westbound channel rather than using the eastbound channel twenty miles south. The westbound channel was shorter and faster, and the Stockholm's captain claimed it crossed the northbound and southbound lanes at a safer point. His action was permissible because use of the designated channels was recommended but not required. After setting a course, the captain retired to his cabin, leaving an inexperienced third officer on watch.

The captain and crew of the Andrea Doria tracked an oncoming ship on radar and determined that the two ships would pass starboard to starboard (right side to right side) at a close but safe distance. The third officer on the Stockholm also tracked an oncoming ship on radar and determined that the two ships would pass port to port (left side to left side) at a close but safe distance. It was only when the two ships were near enough to see each other through the fog that they realized they were on a collision course.

The Stockholm was significantly smaller than the Andrea Doria, but its steel-reinforced bow was made to slice through the ice floes of the North Atlantic. It also proved effective at slicing up the Andrea Doria. It didn't go all the way through, but it cut open a number of first class and tourist class cabins and sent their occupants to a watery grave.

Forty-four Andrea Doria passengers died from the collision, a child died from a rescue-related injury, a male passenger died from a heart attack while resting on a rescue ship, and a woman died six months later from injuries incurred during the disaster. The death toll on the Stockholm was five--all crew members who were in their quarters at the bow at the time of the accident.

But the number of survivors was the bigger story. In an amazing rescue effort involving several Coast Guard, Navy, and commercial boats as well as a French ocean liner that turned around to assist, almost 1,700 people were saved in the eleven hours before the Andrea Doria sank to the bottom of the ocean. And in an ironic twist, the crew of the wounded but still seaworthy Stockholm rescued many of them.

The pictures are incredible, but they are not in the public domain yet.** Although I might be able to claim fair use, I'd rather play it safe and refer you to the Internet to find them for yourselves. Or you can see them in Richard Goldstein's book, Desperate Hours.

The shipping companies and the insurer settled the case before it went to trial, so there was no formal finding of fault. From the sources I read, I think it was a combination of circumstances and human error.

But the greatest contributing factor may have been over reliance on technology. Either the radar was wrong or the crew misread it. The Titanic sank because everyone thought it was unsinkable, and the Andrea Doria sank because crew members on the two ships thought radar was infallible.

It isn't safe to put too much faith in technology.


* If you want more information, I recommend Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria, by Richard Goldstein and Alive on the Andrea Doria: The Greatest Sea Rescue in History, by Pierette Dominica Simpson, who is one of the survivors. It is easier to follow the chain of events if you read Desperate Hours first.

** The picture at the head of this post was not taken on the Andrea Doria, but it is probably typical of the tourist class cabins of the time. The photo shows me with my mother and brothers on the Nova Scotia as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean heading to England (on our way to the Middle East) in September 1957, just over a year after the Andrea Doria sank.

No Survivors

Monday, June 18, 2012

At 2:10 a.m. on October 24, 1918, the Princess Sophia ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal, which is part of Alaska's Inner Passage. The ship stayed there, firmly wedged in the rocks, for almost 40 hours before the wind and the waves changed course and sent the severely damaged ship to its death. During that time, the 278 passengers and 65 crew members watched other boats circling the wreck and waited to be rescued. And yet, there were no survivors.*

I've been doing research on maritime disasters, and I thought it would be interesting to blog on some of them. So this week and the next two I will talk about the sinking of three passenger ships that generated a lot of press at the time, but whose stories have been eclipsed by the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic.

The picture shows the Princess Sophia around 1912, shortly after she was built.** She was 245 feet long and could carry up to 500 passengers with special permission, although her normal capacity was 250.

The Princess Sophia made regular runs between Vancouver, Canada and Skagway, Alaska from late spring through early fall. In October, many residents of Alaska and the Yukon went "outside" for the winter, much as the Florida snowbirds head south today. In 1918, many felt lucky to have tickets on the Princess Sophia for one of the last trips out by water.

The passengers on that fateful trip ranged from gold miners and laborers to politicians and businessmen and their families. The passenger manifest included 37 women and 18 children.

Not long after the Princess Sophia left Skagway, it ran into a blinding snowstorm. Captain Locke had experienced white-out conditions before, and he did not slow down. So when he got off course and ran into Vanderbilt Reef, the ship went right up onto the rocks and stuck fast.

The Princess Sophia put out a distress call and was soon surrounded by would-be rescuers. But the reef and the gale conditions made it impossible for those boats to get close. Captain Locke considered putting his passengers into lifeboats but was concerned that they would capsize in the raging waves and the occupants would drown--something that had happened recently in another shipwreck. Since the Princess Sophia was firmly wedged in the rocks of the shallow reef, he decided to stay put until the weather calmed down. Several high tides passed without budging the ship, which seemed to confirm his judgment.

But late in the afternoon of October 25, the wind shifted and pushed the ship off the rocks. With the huge gashes cut into the hull by the original grounding, the Princess Sophia never had a chance. And because of the stormy conditions and the darkness, the would-be rescuers could only pray for the passengers' safety. A prayer that God answered in his own way, but not as the rescuers hoped.

The official inquiry concluded that the accident was nobody's fault and the decision to wait before evacuating the passengers was a judgment call that could have gone either way. But the politicians in Washington may share part of the blame. For years, Alaskan shipping interests had been asking for a light on Vanderbilt Reef, and their pleas had gone unanswered. After the Princess Sophia sank, they finally got their light.

Why do so few people remember the Princess Sophia? I think it is because there are no survivor stories to add to the romance.

But I would love to know what the passengers thought and did as they were trapped on the stranded ship.


* If you want more information, I recommend The Sinking of the Princess Sophia: Taking the North Down With Her, by Ken Coates and Bill Morrison.

*** I got the picture from Wikipedia, which says the photographer is unknown. The photo is in the public domain.

Doing Customer Service Right

Monday, June 11, 2012

Did you ever have a customer service experience that was both embarrassing and pleasant? Let me tell you how Bed Bath & Beyond earned a loyal customer.

Shortly after moving into our condo, Roland and I took inventory to see what accessories we needed to make it a comfortable home. We are both avid readers and there are no ceiling lights like we had at the house, so our list included lamps.

That Saturday we made a shopping trip to Bed Bath & Beyond. We also went to Lowe's, which is just a little farther down the street. After buying two bedside lamps and a few other things, we returned home.

Roland's bedside lamp never did turn on easily, so he loosened the switch. Then I turned the light on while dusting and the switch fell apart. Since then, Roland has been after me to exchange the lamp.

I pass Bed Bath and Beyond every Saturday on my way to my writers' group, but I procrastinated over returning the lamp because I couldn't find the receipt. That puzzled me since I am very meticulous about keeping records of my expenditures. But I kept looking for a Bed Bath & Beyond receipt for the lamps without luck.

Roland assured me that the store could find the transaction in its computer, so this past Saturday I gave in. Since I didn't want to wander around Bed Bath & Beyond with a lamp I had already paid for, I took it straight to the service desk. Unfortunately, the customer service representative said she couldn't locate the transaction without an item number, which I didn't have. She then asked another employee for help, and he went to see if he could find the same lamp. He couldn't, and neither of them recognized the lamp as one they sold. Still, Roland had been positive we bought it there, and so was I.

When the male employee couldn't find the lamp online, either, he offered me a store credit for the price of the closest thing he could find. I declined because I needed two matching lamps and already had one working one. So I walked out of the store with the lamp and hoped that Lowe's would have a replacement switch to solve the problem.

Even though I was positive we bought the lamp at Bed Bath & Beyond, when I arrived at Lowe's I decided to look at its lamp collection just in case. And there it was. I felt like a total idiot.

I appreciate the way the Bed Bath & Beyond employees handled the situation. I had no evidence of the purchase and could have been trying to rip off the store by returning a defective item I hadn't bought there. But I probably sounded as sincere as I was--I really did believe I had bought the lamp there--and store personnel made the decision to keep a customer happy. By doing so, they turned a now-and-then customer into a long-term one.

The Lowe's employees also deserve a thank-you for their friendly service in exchanging the lamp without the receipt I probably had at home.

Because sometimes stores do customer service right.

The End of an Era

Monday, June 4, 2012

Yesterday my church voted to call a new music director. She graduated from one of the denomination's colleges with a degree in church music, so I'm sure she'll do fine. But it won't be easy.

It never is when you follow a legend.

When I became a member of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church 33 years ago, David Brandt was already well-established as the head of its music program and director of the Senior Choir. In 1954, right out of college, he was hired by the church's day school as a second-grade teacher, and it didn't take him long to organize a children's choir. I don't know when he took over the Senior (adult) Choir, but this picture was taken sometime around 1966. Dave is in the back row on the right, wearing a suit and tie instead of a choir robe. He never did wear a robe that I can recall.

I joined the Senior Choir as soon as I married and joined the church, and I have sung in the choir for most of those 33 years (taking a short hiatus while I was working on an advanced degree). So Dave has been a significant part of my life. He has also been a significant part of my husband and children's lives, all of whom had him as a teacher during their elementary or middle school years and sang in the Children's Choir under his direction.

David Brandt isn't retiring as a teacher yet and will continue to be a force at the church and school. And he deserves to actually sit in the congregation and go up to communion with his wife and children and grandchildren. Still, when he announced to the choir that he would be stepping down as director, we were all in shock. We still are.

Thank you, Dave, for your many years of dedicated service to St. Paul's music program.

It won't be the same without you.