Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Prettiest Little House in Connecticut

The dining room, where we had many a holiday gathering. The pine table opened to seat 12 or more. My aunt used the most inexpensive bamboo shades from China for both picture windows in the main living area.

My aunt is a genius at decorating. She and my uncle bought their three bedroom ranch house in southern Connecticut in the early 1950s, and it has always been beautifully furnished and
accessorized. In my opinion, it far outshines any McMansion for comfort, all on a budget that would make a furniture salesman and his friend at the mortgage department of Citibank weep. This house is tiny by 21st century standards--one bathroom with one sink, and laundry room in the basement. But it met all the needs of the family quite comfortably and was paid off in 20 years.

The living area, with a working fireplace, slate hearth and cedar wood paneling.

Another view of the living room, facing the front picture window, also with Chinese bamboo blinds. My aunt did not scrimp on furniture, and the pieces she selected lasted for decades in beautiful condition.

Facing the front door of the house. This is the original door, that came with the house in 1952.

Looking into the kitchen from the living area. Wallpaper is used artfully in every room and the hallway.

A view of the kitchen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Can Hollywood Get Anything Right?

This story has everything: a romantic and dangerous port city, a gorgeous heiress in love with a French gangster, forged documents, corrupt government officials, safe houses, secret escapes over rough mountain trails. Moreover, it is the important and true story, of how a young American citizen—who remains relatively unknown to this day—saved more than 2,000 European Jews, Catholics, and others from the Nazis, working virtually on his own, with no official support from the U.S. government.

It’s the story of Varian Fry, founder of the American Relief Center, that operated in Marseilles, France, from 1940-41. Here is what the American Holocaust Museum exhibit honoring Fry said: “Varian Fry [made] heroic efforts to help political and intellectual refugees escape Nazi-controlled Vichy France in 1940 and 1941. An urbane Harvard graduate working as an editor in New York, Fry volunteered for the Emergency Rescue Committee’s project to bring 200 individuals from the French port city of Marseille to safety. Unable to gain cooperation from the French government or the American Consulate in Marseille, Fry established a clandestine operation by which artists, writers, philosophers, and their families — Jews and non-Jews alike — were spirited away to safety. By the time the French expelled Fry in September 1941, he and his colleagues had managed to save some 2,000 refugees, including Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, and Andre Breton. When Fry returned to New York, he recounted his story, but few listened. Fry died unexpectedly in 1967 with the pages of his memoirs scattered about him; the police officer who discovered them dismissed them as an apparent ‘work of fiction.’ Not until 1991 did an American institution recognize Fry’s work when the United States Holocaust Memorial Council posthumously awarded him its Eisenhower Liberation Medal. In 1994, Yad Vashem honored Varian Fry as the first American ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’|”

Now, how does Hollywood present the life of Varian Fry, specifically, Showtime’s 1991 film about his rescue mission, Varian’s War? Hollywood throws in the usual garbage: innuendo that Fry was a homosexual, gratuitous scenes of the leading lady discussing her sex life and attempting to seduce Fry, and a comical portrayal of the Nazi SS. Ugh! It compounds the offenses with multiple errors of historical fact and omissions. Marcel Verzeano, a young doctor who worked with Fry’s organization in Marseilles said of the film: “Among those that Fry's organization saved, there were Catholics, Protestants, Jews and people of other religions. There were rightists, leftists, centrists and people of other political affiliations. There were writers, artists, politicians, and people of all kinds of trades and professions. But they all had one thing in common: they had fought for democracy and freedom with every grain of energy they possessed. This is the essence of Fry's accomplishment. Very little of it comes through in Varian's War."

Better to read Fry’s own book on the rescue effort, Surrender on Demand, or seek out the 1997 documentary on the Emergency Rescue Committee, And Crown Thy Good. Or, for younger readers, In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Continuing Education

A Roman Townhouse, c. 2004

I have probably learned more from doing school projects with my children, than I did in college. The model of Roman townhouse pictured here, constructed for my younger son's Latin II class at Notre Dame Academy, was a lengthy effort, took considerable research, and afforded us precious time to work together for many hours. I am proud to say that the final product got the second highest score for accuracy and completeness, and was on display at the school for several years. My son cleverly added a vomitorium to the list of required rooms (atrium, cubiculum, culina, triclinium, vestibulum, and so forth), which you can see in the upper left hand side of the photo, partially obscured by the tiled roof.

Friday, January 22, 2010

March on Washington 2010

Students and teachers from St. John Bosco High School of Leesburg, Virginia, at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22, 1999

Reasons for marching:

§ Since Roe vs. Wade effectively legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, 50 million children have been aborted.

§ In 2003, for every 1,000 live births in the United States, 312 children were aborted.

§ Nearly half of all abortions are obtained by women who have already had an abortion.

§ In 2000-2001, the rates among black and Hispanic women were 49 per 1,000 and 33 per 1,000, respectively, vs. 13 per 1,000 among non-Hispanic white women.

§ Beginning around 1989, the growth rate of the U.S. population began to slow dramatically, as a result of hundreds of thousands of abortions of children of the Baby Boomer generation who would never bear children.

§ The population growth rate in the United States continues to decline, and experts project that total population will begin to decline between 2030 and 2050.

§ Scientists have documented a 40 percent increased incidence of breast cancer among women having abortions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Defense of a Full Nest

On vacation this summer in Cape Charles on the Chesapeake Bay. Wish the nest could have been fuller.
I don’t like my empty nest! I’ve been through this once before, when our foster daughter married in 1990 after being with me and my husband for seven tumultuous but thoroughly enjoyable years. The house seemed as empty as an abandoned museum, and, though it is a tiny Cape Cod, I heard echoes from every footfall. Within several months, we were trying to start a new family. When the home-grown method failed, we got on the adoption bandwagon and by 1997 had packed our little place with three beautiful children from India. Now, all of them—our daughter and two sons—are grown; the elder two are married and our younger son is a junior in college.

Am I looking at the years we raised them through rose-colored glasses? Perhaps. However, I know that I much prefer the schedule of homework, family dinnertime, soccer games, Sunday school, and 10 loads of laundry a week to the order and relative quiet of my present routine. Despite the financial and physical stresses that came along with the children, there is no one moment of experience that has ever made me happier than coming in the door and seeing my husband sitting at the kitchen table with the children, school books open and the casserole I prepared before work bubbling in the oven.

I am convinced that the Empty Nest Syndrome, as many couples experience it in our modern, contraception-oriented society, is not what God had in mind when he created the family. In the natural course of things, children follow somewhat predictably upon the wedding, and in most families continue to arrive over more than a decade, perhaps two. The oldest siblings in a large family are able to help as the younger ones come along, are out the door when their younger brothers and sisters are still in grade school (or toddling), and return with their own children before long before the parental home is emptied of children. In this scheme of things, the nest gets fuller and fuller, rather than dismally empty.

In the happiest of homes I have seen, the full nest accommodates three or four generations of family members, each generation fulfilling its roles and responsibilities toward each of the others: the grandparents to dispense wisdom, the mother and father to provide and maintain the home, the children to learn, grow, and help each other, and the grandchildren simply to delight everyone else.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's in a Family?

Swedish artist Carl Larsson's Around the Lamp (1900)

What does marriage do for children? A 2006 study by legal scholars W. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Maryland School of Law and Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Virginia considers this question as it bears on state policies governing adoption. The weight of the social science, they report, is that children do better in homes with two married parents, as compared to single parent or cohabitating households. The evidence is so strong, in fact, that Wilcox and Wilson, urge that—as “the best interest of the child” is the clearly stated mandate for adoption practices (and not the needs or desires of the adoptive parents)—state adoption laws should clearly favor married couples, and even favor single parents over cohabitating couples. Today, only the state of Utah has a clear preference for married couples in its adoption laws. A number of states are neutral, and most assert no preference.

A sampling of the evidence in favor of two-parent married family (all studies cited have been controlled for confounding factors, including socioeconomic status):

§ A study of the entire Swedish population determined that children raised in one-parent families are twice as likely as those raised in two-parent homes to attempt suicide, suffer from substance abuse, and suffer from depression.

§ An American study found that males raised in one-parent families are twice as likely to commit a crime that leads to incarceration before they are 30 than males raised in two-parent families.

§ Another American study found that teenagers in one-parent families are three times more likely to use marijuana than teenagers raised in two-parent families.

§ Multiple studies have found that children living with two adults in a cohabitating relationship are more likely to experience behavioral problems at school, to suffer emotional problems, and to suffer from sexual or physical abuse from within the family. A study, done in Missouri, showed that preschool children living in cohabitating households were 50 times more likely to be killed than their counterparts living in married two-parent homes.

§ On the positive side, children raised in households with two married parents spend demonstrably more time engaged in activities with their fathers (or stepfathers), who are at home for more hours every week than non-married fathers. They have two sets of grandparents who are more likely to be involved in their lives.

Wilcox and Wilson also present compelling findings that marriage trumps biological connection in terms of positive outcomes for children, that is, children living with a married parent and a step-parent do better than children living with two biological parents who are cohabitating.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Peace in the Garden in Winter

What can be more enjoyable than working from one's little home office, away from the growing congestion of northern Virginia traffic and the ugliness of office cubes, which have been shown to be counterproductive in research studies of various types? Working at home and looking out at the garden after a substantial snowfall. In these months of the year, it provides beauty without the demands of weeding, watering, harvesting, and preserving. What a delight!

English Grammar: A Survival Tool

In 1960, my 8th grade teacher, Mr. George Toutain, successfully transmitted the rules of English grammar to 32 students at Guilford, Connecticut Junior High School. He used a variety of standard approaches--such as memorizing poetry and diagramming sentences--combined with several more energetic and interesting methods. For one exercise, he broke the class into nine groups, assigned each group one of the nine parts of speech, and gave us a week to write and stage a five minute drama about it.

The boy I loved, Gerry Stinson, was paired with Paul Lord, who lived down the street, to act out the meaning of Interjections. Their brilliant performance featured two mad scientists, exploding various concoctions (vinegar and baking soda) in test tubes and vials to cries of "Zounds!" "Eureka!" and "What ho!" against a backdrop of bubbling and burbling laboratory equipment drawn on the blackboard behind them. I doubt that anyone who was in the classroom that day has ever forgotten the definition of interjection.

I have often thought of writing to Mr. Toutain to thank him for teaching me English. This one skill enabled me to survive the deconstructionalism and relativism of the later 1960s, including a dangerous exposure to the sex-rock-drugs movement at Columbia University and the insanity of the feminist movement at Barnard College.