Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Historical Assumptions Based on Unreliable Evidence

When trying to research the past, photographs can be extremely useful tools. But a point driven home to me this week is that while we can make many guesses about the facts based on photos, we also must be careful to remember that our guesses are just that -- guesses. Which may or may not be accurate.

Case in point. I was doing research for a book I am working on. I had access to a hundred-year-old photograph of a church that the main subject of my book attended, and fortunately several decades ago, someone had enough foresight to get the photo labeled before everyone in it was gone and it would be a virtually useless photograph.

I carefully studied the photograph looking for clues. I made some guesses. I compiled from all sources available to me a list of everyone I thought attended this church. And then I showed my list to the last living member of that church (from a later time period than the photo, but as her parents were in the photo, she knew the history...) and asked her if there was anyone she knew of that should be on the list and wasn't.

She looked over my list, and pointed out one family I had listed as attendees. "Why, they never went to church!" she exclaimed.

"But they must have -- they were in the photo!" I argued.

"Yes, but they only went to church that one day because they wanted to be in the picture."

Wow. It really opened my eyes to just HOW WRONG our guesses can be, and when there are no sources still living... we could state things as fact based on our assumptions, albeit very good ones with lots of supporting evidence, and we could be dead wrong. (I have to admit, it gave me a good laugh too. "Hey, I know we've never set foot in the door before but we heard you were having a picture made today and we wanted to be in it!")

Another example I stumbled across online when researching this particular family... genealogists frequently listed a family (living in the mid 1800s) as having seven children. I knew from my living source, however -- whose grandmother was the daughter of the family -- that this family only had three children. Yet, the genealogists insisted on their accuracy, they had compiled this list from historical sources such as census records. Well, we all know census records aren't terribly reliable, but this was a huge error. My source has no idea who these additional "siblings" are, but is quite confident her grandmother had two brothers only. Further investigation revealed her as correct, and those confident genealogists quite mistaken. The extra children belonged to a neighboring family with the same last name.

So I beg of you, if you do historical or genealogical research, make your best assumptions based on the evidence you have, but never state those assumptions as definite fact. Things are not always as they appear.

It just makes me wonder what else I trust as fact that has been based on false assumptions.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Travels with Zenobia

I'd like you to meet Zenobia. She's my new GPS.

Yes, Wilder fans, she was indeed named after the Model T Ford belonging to Rose Wilder Lane...

Anyway, I had long considered the idea of getting a GPS, but had held off doing so. My husband insisted I needed one for work, as I have to go to people's houses and sometimes they aren't so easy to find. However, I pointed out that a GPS would not be at all helpful, as most of these people do not have street addresses. Somehow, I didn't think a GPS would be able to find "Rural Route 2, Box 341". I also kept encountering lost people with GPS's. So I didn't put much stock in their abilities, to be quite honest.

And then last month, I went to New York. And a friend and I went on a road trip and she brought along "her new best friend", as she ever so frequently referred to her -- Garmin. (She isn't as creative as I am in naming her friends, apparently. :) )

I had to admit, Garmin did a decent job of getting us where we needed to go. I knew exactly where we needed to go so she wasn't at all essential, of course, but when it came to going out to look for a place to eat, it was nice to know we could just drive around wherever we felt like going, and when we were ready to go back to our place of lodging, Garmin would get us there. No worries about remembering where we were and which turns we had made. And sure enough, I saw that Garmin was indeed helpful in such situations, and I began to contemplate whether I might perhaps give in and get one myself.

And then I drove home from New York. An easy drive, requiring very little highway changes. Until I reached a point on the interstate where it was closed, and we were detoured off. Fifteen minutes of driving down a windy little country road into the middle of absolutely nowhere, the detour signs suddenly vanished, at an intersection with three options, no less. I had no idea where to go. I had no idea even where I was.

I pulled over to the side of the road. There was nothing around, not even a house I could go to for directions, if I were so daring as to go knock on a strange door, which I'm usually not. Fortunately, I keep an atlas in my car at all times, but without having any idea where I was, the atlas wasn't quite as helpful as it usually is. At long last I found one of the roads in the intersection, but I couldn't find the others, nor could I figure out how to get back to the interstate based on what I was able to find.

In that moment, stranded in the middle of nowhere with no idea how to get back to where I needed to go, the decision was made. I was getting a GPS.

I made a guess as to which road to take, and a half mile later the detour signs picked up again, by the way. So I made it safely back to the interstate and back home. Where I promptly ordered a Garmin of my own, and dubbed her Zenobia, as mentioned above.

I decided I'd better take Zenobia for a trial run. I was going to a new house that actually had a street address, so I carefully studied the map to make sure I knew where I was going just in case Zenobia failed me, and then I programmed her and set off. It's a good thing I knew where I was going, because Zenobia took off without me. She started off in the right place, but she told me to turn on roads I hadn't yet reached, and then halfway there she got stuck and wanted to leave me on this one road forever. I ignored her and drove all the way to the house and she still had me back on that highway. I was not impressed.

I turned her off, and when I later returned to the car to go home, I gave her another chance. Surely she could take me home. But this time, I had no idea where she thought I was, but none of the highways or interstates she was telling me to take even exist in this state. After zooming way out, I finally determined that she thought I was in Kansas. I don't live anywhere near Kansas.

I was very discouraged this time, but I decided to give her one more chance before sending her back. This time she worked. I was happy.

Now, my family all came up and we took Little Girl and Baby Boy to an amusement park some distance away. We've been a couple times before, and it's a tricky route. We get lost every time. Now was Zenobia's chance to really prove herself. Could she get us to the park without getting us lost, for the first time?

She could. And she did. But rather than take us on the highway, she took the scenic route. We had no idea where we were, but had to just keep listening to her and following her directions. We drove on gravel roads through people's farms. And suddenly, there was the park!! (And yes, it was set to avoid unpaved roads, but apparently her idea of unpaved differs from mine.)

We took the highway home. Zenobia was getting very aggravated with us. "Recalculating..." she would say with disgust as we kept ignoring her instructions to drive off on these minor roads and stayed on the highway. I swear her tone got more and more frustrated every time we ignored her directions. But she finally straightened out and sent us home on the highway the rest of the way and all went well.

So a friend came up this weekend and we took her little girl to this same park. This time, I knew better than to let Zenobia take us the farm route. "Just ignore her and stay on the highway," I said. "She'll straighten out eventually." And she did. And we got there without incident.

The way home was a nightmare.

It was a wonderful day at the park. The weather was quite pleasant, and we had a lot of fun. We chattered away the first part of the trip home while ignoring Zenobia's farm road instructions, as the little one slept soundly in her carseat, worn out from the day of excitement and fun.

And then I began to see spots. I knew what that meant -- it was an aura, and I was in for a migraine in an hour.

I almost never get migraines. I used to get them regularly in my early teen years, but since then I get maybe one a year. And when I do, I take a codeine tablet as soon as I get the aura, and go to bed, and in that way, almost completely avoid the entire miserable experience.

And here I was in a car almost two hours from home, and no way to get codeine, the miracle drug, and certainly no way to go to bed.

My friend just so happened to have Excedrin Migraine in the car. I'd never taken it, but was certainly willing to give it a try. I shudder to think how bad things would have been if I'd not had it, because it surely had to have had some effect, but sure enough, the headache arrived about an hour after the aura and very quickly became severe. I don't know what other migraine sufferers have experienced, and those who have never had one must surely think a headache is just that -- a HEADache. But a migraine is so much more than a headache. It affects the entire body. And it makes you terribly sick.

Well, I have no idea what Zenobia did but there was a very long period of time where we felt as though we were just wandering through the wilderness and not getting anywhere, and it took us an hour longer to get home than it should have. Zenobia -- she was not my friend that night.

Nevertheless, I am loyal to my friends even when they treat me awfully (this actually is true...) and I am therefore crazy enough to keep Zenobia and continue to use her for future trips.

We'll see how she does on the upcoming Little House trip I'm taking. And the friend accompanying me on that trip is probably making mental notes right now to throw Zenobia out the window!! :)

How about you? Do you have a GPS, and does it work?

My First Award

My first award was a little trophy I earned in kindergarten, known as the "Christian Character" award. My mother said I only got it because I was "teacher's pet". But hey, I was teacher's pet for a reason, don't you think? :)

My second award -- I think -- was a traumatic experience. We started the AWANA program at my church in my second grade year. The Sparks class was for grades K-2, and there were three handbooks, intended to be one per grade level. The Sparky Award was presented to children who completed all three handbooks.

Technically, the Sparky Award shouldn't have been given out in our church until the third year of its AWANA program when the kindergarteners starting out that first year completed the second grade. But I was an overachiever, to begin with, and I had a competitive father pushing me along, to boot. Not only did I complete all three handbooks that year, but I completed them twice.

Awards Day finally arrived. I was so excited to finally receive my Sparky Award. My pastor stood in front of the church and handed out all the awards earned that year, and then it came time to announce mine.

I will never know nor begin to understand who did this or why, but he announced that my award had been stolen. The awards had all safely arrived and were in a box waiting for Awards Day. My Sparky Award was indeed present and accounted for. And then when they went to get the awards to hand out to us, it was gone. Nothing else in the box was missing -- only my Sparky Award. They ordered me another one, but they didn't have one to give me at the ceremony.

Now the fact that I had to wait to get the award wasn't what bothered me. If it had been a simple, "it didn't arrive yet", or even "we forgot to order it", I'd not have thought a thing about it. But stolen! That my award had been stolen was a traumatizing thought to me. I felt violated! I still cannot imagine why anyone would do such a thing to a little girl. Perhaps it was a teenage prank. I have no idea. But let me encourage you to never steal anything from a child. Never steal at all, of course, but especially not from a child.

Anyhow. The purpose of this post's title was not really to discuss either my Christian Character award or my Sparky Award. No, I have just been nominated by Carolyn for my first blog award. Thanks, Carolyn! :)

The Rules:
1. The winner can put the logo on his/her blog.
2. Link to the person you received your award from.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Put links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you have nominated.

I nominate:

1. Maria
2. Ora Lea
3. Lizzie
4. Kitty
5. Amanda
6. Melanie
7. Sophie

When Time Stands Still

Twenty years ago, I used to go to a friend's house and spend the night on occasion. She had a little sister, five years old at the time, and I loved to play with her too.

Fast forward twenty plus years, and that same friend came up to visit this weekend. She has a little girl nearly three years old. I haven't seen her in two years, when she was just a baby, so even though I'd seen lots of pictures and videos and knew what she looked like, it was such a strange feeling to actually see her in person.

Why? Because she is the spitting image of that little five-year-old sister.

I was instantly twelve years old again, and we were just two little girls spending the night with each other, with the little one there to play with.

Who says time marches on? For us, at least for this one weekend, time went backward.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Not That Easy Being Green

As if shopping for clothes weren't already made ridiculous by the popularity of vanity sizing, which renders it virtually impossible for small people who truly NEED a size 4 or 5 to find a piece of clothing to fit them, Shaun Groves had to go and post this, making the prospect of ever finding another piece of clothing suitable for purchase completely overwhelming.

Read it anyway. It was astonishingly eye-opening for me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Two Weeks of Birthday

Little Girl is 6 years old. It's hard to believe how quickly she's growing up. It seems like yesterday when she was that tiny five and a half pound baby, wearing preemie clothes that were enormous on her.

Anyhow, we celebrated a LOT. The weekend before her birthday was the big party. She shared it with a little friend, and they had it at a place full of inflatables. Baby Boy was there, of course, which was fortunate for the 20 adults who wanted to try out the Super Slide. We all took turns "borrowing" him, so we'd have an excuse to go down. Most of the kids thought nothing of it, but my cousin's stepdaughter gasped and said to her, "What are you doing!? You're my stepmother! You're not supposed to have fun!" :)

After the party, some of the family gathered at my parents' house for the Opening of the Gifts. It was like Christmas. I seriously do not remember birthdays being this big when I was young... Some of Little Girl's gifts included a kids' sewing machine (because she's been wanting to learn to sew like her great-grandmother), a glider, and a pogo stick. She's up to three hops.

On her actual birthday, Little Girl and Baby Boy went to a local small amusement park (accompanied by their parents, of course). I wasn't there, but I heard they had a wonderful time.

As mentioned in a previous post, Little Girl had requested that we have her birthday in South Dakota. An impossible request, but the very kind people at the Ingalls Homestead responded to it by sending some of South Dakota to her! Little Girl opened that extra special gift the other day, and received some wonderful gifts, including a stick of twisted hay grown on Ingalls land. (Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of twisting hay to burn when the family ran out of coal in The Long Winter.)

Baby Boy carried that hay around all evening. As a result, I now have pieces of Ingalls hay all over my living room floor that I am reluctant to vacuum up, though I know I'm going to have to! But come on!! It's INGALLS HAY. On my FLOOR. That is just cool! :) And Little Girl was very excited to receive such a special present, I think even more special because she got it a little later (due to some post office pickup issues) and it wasn't "lost" in all the other birthday fun. If you read this, THANK YOU, INGALLS HOMESTEAD!!!

I got a great "gift" of sorts too, this weekend. The last time I was in to visit, Baby Boy was starting to repeat a lot more words, and I was able to get him to imitate my name. This weekend, we were all eating dinner, and Baby Boy's highchair was beside my chair, and he looked over at me and started saying my name repeatedly, out of nowhere!! I was so shocked! So were his parents. We thought perhaps we were hearing things, but numerous times through the weekend, someone would point at me and ask him, "Who's that?" and without fail, he answered every time. So at last, Little Boy knows my name! Hooray! :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

You Learn Something New Every Day...

... or at least, you should, in my opinion. :)

I love to learn. I constantly have new "projects" going, new things I want to learn about, new skills I want to master.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those perpetual school-going types. I know there are some people that love going to school so much they pretty much make it a living, going first for this degree, and then that one, and then this specialization, and that certification. That's not me. I do my required "continuing ed" hours each year to maintain my licensure, and that's more than enough "school" for me.

No, I like to learn things on my own, with an instructional book or video or website to guide me as needed.

But one thing that I have wanted to learn for many many years now, I simply have been unable to accomplish. And that one thing is playing the fiddle.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books have long been a great source of pleasure for me, and a key part of those books is the music that Pa makes for the family with his fiddle. I've learned most of the songs. I buy any Little House songbook or CD that comes out. I can play many "Little House" songs on the piano. But it's never been enough for me. I have so longed to learn to play Pa's songs on the fiddle myself.

So about 10-12 years ago, I decided to make it happen. I bought a fiddle on ebay, having no idea what I was doing. When I got it, I played with it a bit, but having had no experience whatsoever with any instrument other than the piano, I was just clueless and eventually gave up in frustration. The fiddle sat in a dark corner in my closet for years and years.

Every couple of years, I would notice it there and think that this time I would figure it out. But I never did. I didn't know how to hold it. I didn't know how to tune it. I didn't know where to put my fingers. And I had no idea how the strings coordinated with the various notes. And again and again, I became frustrated and sadly put the fiddle away for another time.

And so the fiddle has sat, silent, all these years, just waiting to make music with its incompetent owner. I would take lessons, but all efforts to find a teacher came up dry. There seemed to be nobody who taught fiddle, or even violin, in the area.

Last week, as chance would have it, I was visiting a friend, and in the course of conversation, she happened to mention that she had discovered that her vet plays the violin, and her children were now taking lessons from her. How my ears perked up at that information!! To make a long story short, my friend put me in contact with this violinist veterinarian and I went over yesterday morning for an informal lesson, just to get me started.

She showed me how to hold it. How to tune it. Advised me of some accessories I should purchase that would greatly enhance my ability to do both. Marked off finger positions and gave a simple explanation of what notes they represented. Then sent me on my way to see what I could do, having this new information at my fingertips... literally. :)

I came home, and hesitantly attempted a scale. Wow. I did it. I played up and down the scale a few times. Then I thought, well now I know where the notes are, I should be able to play some simple tunes.

And I did. I played Doe, A Deer. Mary Had a Little Lamb. Old Dan Tucker. Amazing Grace. Song after song just came to me and I was amazed to discover that I could play them all! All I needed was that little bit of help getting started, and a whole new world is opened up to me now.

I'm not saying I'm playing them beautifully or perfectly by any means. I know it will take time and practice to really get a feel for the instrument and be able to play smoothly and screech-free.

But finally, after all these years, I'm well on my way to being "
the fiddlin’est fool" that you ever see. :)

And that makes me really happy. :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Unasked Prayer

I know that prayer is powerful. I know that we "have not because we ask not". I know that faith is a necessary ingredient to answered prayer.

And yet there are still times that for whatever reason, I don't even think to ask.

A couple of months ago, my brother announced that he -- and therefore, his family, which means Baby Boy -- were moving far far away, and it seemed highly unlikely given the situation that he would ever be back. Oh, they'd come for a visit once or maybe even twice a year. And we could maybe work in a visit there once a year or so.

But this news essentially meant that no longer will we get to be part of Baby Boy's growing up years.

I know this happens in many families. Children grow up, and they don't always stay close to home. People have to go where the jobs are. And children all over the country grow up far from extended family, and only see them once or twice a year, and I'm sure they are just fine nonetheless.

But Baby Boy?

The sadness was overwhelming.

However, I assumed that this was where God was leading them, and who was I to argue? So I sadly resigned myself to the fact that Baby Boy was indeed going away, and that's just how things were going to be from now on. It never even occurred to me to ask God to keep him here. Is that a lack of faith or what?

I got a call Sunday that turned my mourning into dancing, and my sackcloth to joy! My brother had been offered a better job in a nearby town and they're staying! We get to keep Baby Boy!!

Sometimes God answers even when we don't think to ask.

He's awesome like that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How You Can Change the World

This post is part of the 40 Day Fast, a collaborative effort by 80 bloggers to draw attention to the world's great needs hosted by Inspired to Action. Be sure to also check out Charley's post today.

There are so many needs in the world. It hurts me to see people suffering, and my instinct is to want to jump in and "fix" it all. But the fact is, I can't fix it all -- I can't even fix all the things that are actually fixable. The needs are too great. When I read about people who are dying or suffering unnecessarily every day from starvation, from water-borne illnesses, from preventable or treatable diseases, and more... I am just overwhelmed. If I gave everything I had, my contributions would still be but a drop of water in a vast ocean of need.

Perhaps you've felt this way. Maybe you give what you can anyway but wonder if it's really doing any good. Maybe you feel so helpless that you just try to push it out of your mind and go on with your life. In the past, I've dealt with it both ways.

But this all changed for me when I was introduced to Compassion International. I realized that although I cannot change the world, I CAN change the world for one child. That concept was so eye-opening to me. It means that my small contributions aren't just a drop in the ocean anymore -- they make the difference between poverty and enough for one little boy or girl. And not just some nameless faceless child across the ocean that I'll never know about, but a child whose face I see on my refrigerator every day, a child who writes regularly so I can see for myself the impact my contribution is making in his/her life, a child who grows up to be a mommy or a daddy that is able to support his/her children and break that no-longer-endless cycle of poverty. Now my small contributions have significance and meaning.

If you're like me, if you've been so overwhelmed by the needs of the world that you wonder if you can really make a difference, I encourage you to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. Your money provides for the child's physical and mental needs (this varies according to the needs of the family, but may involve food, clothing, medical care, education, vocational training, etc.) and your personal involvement provides for the child's emotional and spiritual needs as you offer love and encouragement through your correspondence. By meeting the full spectrum of need, you effectively change the world for that child. You break the cycle of poverty for that family. The far-reaching effects of this are astounding -- think of all the people your child will impact through his/her life. And it was all made possible by you.

I'd like you to meet Daniela... this paragraph edited -- Daniela now has a sponsor!! Thank you!

Let's find sponsors for more children -- how about 8 year old Amanda from El Salvador. She has been waiting more than six months. Will you put an end to her wait?

Or perhaps you could help little 5 year old Patrick in Ghana. He has already been waiting more than 6 months for a sponsor. Please end his wait today!

If you have questions about how Compassion works, feel free to check out their website, or ask questions here in the comment section, but here are the basics. The cost is $32 a month; you may select a child from their website, and the child will be linked only to you. Only you will be providing for that child, only you will be corresponding with the child. You may write to your child as often as you like, and your child will write back a minimum of three times per year. You will also receive yearly updates on your child's progress, with a recent photograph. You are encouraged to sponsor your child until they graduate from the program (about age 18-21) but if your circumstances force you to give up your commitment, another sponsor will be found for your child so they will not be removed from the program.

I've been a Compassion sponsor for about nine years now, and have never been sorry. If interested, you can meet my Compassion kids in this post:

And if you're thinking $32 a month won't fit in your budget, here's a simple idea that enabled me to support another child that you may want to consider. You can read about it here:

If you do decide to sponsor a child, I'd love to "meet" them -- will you please leave a comment, "introducing" us to your chosen child, or letting us know if you have chosen Gabriela or Patrick? (I love the word "chosen" -- just think how special your child will feel when they are told they have been chosen by you...) Please choose a child today.