Category Archives: History

Storming the Bastille

I have had problems with insomnia since I was a child.  My current sleep pattern is to fall asleep easily, then wake up at about 3:00 am and not get to back to sleep until just before my alarm goes off at 6:30.

I know all the “sleep hygiene” and cognitive tricks for good sleep, but they often don’t work for me. I was gratified to read a recent New Yorker article on insomnia which described insomniacs’ cortisol levels  as so high as to look as though they are getting ready to storm the Bastille.

I know that anxiety and worry trigger the sympathetic nervous system to pump out high levels of chemicals which hinder sleep.  My anxiety and worry are all work related,  and I am hopeful that they will reduce over the next couple of weeks.  Until then, I think I will see if memorizing the lyrics to the Marseilles and repeating them over and over when I wake up at 3:00 will lull me to sleep once more.

How do you deal with insomnia? What puts you to sleep? What keeps you awake?

Cleaning Up

I don’t like cleaning. Organizing yes but cleaning no.  When I was living in Milwaukee I audited a class at the University of Wisconsin called “The Politics of Housework”. This was a LONG time ago but one of the things I remember about the class material was that housework is deeply dissatisfying for almost everybody due to its repetitive nature.  The housework never stays done.  No matter how earnestly you mop the floor, the dogs are going to wipe their muddy paws on it, probably within an hour.  This theory was very validating to me.

When YA was little, a co-worker asked me once how I get everything done and I replied “my house is dirty”. She laughed until she realized I was serious.  Then she laughed some more.  Any time I have a list of things to do, I can guarantee that cleaning is at the very bottom.  One of the upsides of entertaining a lot is that I’m forced to face the cleaning so my house doesn’t become a reality tv series.

With Nonny arriving on Monday, we’re in the last couple of days of getting the house clean (again). YA and I have a pretty good catalog of chores and luckily she likes to clean more than I do.  But mopping is still at the bottom of the list.

How do you get yourself to do the housework?

Lest We Forget

I thought about my paternal grandfather this week leading up to November 11. In December, 1916, at the age of 19, my  grandfather enlisted in the US Army.  He was one of the younger offspring in a family of 12 children. His father had died two years before.  His next older brother, Albert, had enlisted in June, 1916 and was in the 136th Infantry.  (Albert was reportedly chasing Pancho Villa around the Southwest with General Pershing.)

Grandpa was sent to Fort Logan, CO and assigned to Company C, 4th Regiment of Engineers, and on April 30, 1918, he sailed for France on the Martha Washington. He was stationed in France on the Western Front, sometimes at the US camp at Allerey sur Saone.  He sent home postcard photos of the camp.  The header photo is of the Allerey camp, too.

Here is a photo of his unit. He is the second one from the left in the back row.

Grandpa was involved in the Second Battle of Aisne-Marne (Summer, 1918), the Battle of Mihiel (September, 1918), the Second Battle of Meuse-Argonne (Fall, 1918) and Alsace-Lorraine (November, 1918).  According to one source I read, The Engineers were in charge of repairing the devastation of the war to expedite troop movements such as surveying, bridge and road repair, constructing buildings, maintaining communication lines, removal of land mines and “booby” traps, digging trenches and constructing shell, gas and splinter-proof shelters, providing clean water and constructing or removing barbed wire. They also launched gas attacks, built hospitals, barracks, mess halls, stables, target ranges, and repaired miles of train tracks. Their extensive and time consuming duties left them little time for rifle practice and drills and they were not relied upon for frontline combat, but the success of the Allied forces depended upon the support of the Engineer Corps.

When he wasn’t digging trenches or building bridges, he was chasing women. He is the man on the left. I have no idea how this photo has survived for 100 years, and why my grandmother never threw it out!

Once Germany surrendered, the 4th was marched into the northern Rhine as an army of occupation. He was near the Mosel and sent this postcard home

He sailed back to the US on July 21, 1919, on the von Steuben, a German ship captured by the US.  He stayed in the army until June, 1920. He was a sergeant. He lived until 1980.

Grandpa had several studio portrait photos taken in France, and it is interesting to see how he changed over the course seven months.  Here are some early ones. He looks so young.

Here is a later one.

Oh, the questions I have after putting this together! I doubt I will ever get them answered.

How did the First World War impact your family?  After reading this, what questions would you have for my grandfather?

 

 

 

Paper Drive

This weekend’s post comes to us from Bill.
Photo Credit:  Ann Arbor District Library

Here’s a stream of consciousness for you:

Today I bought a roll of sisal twine to have on hand when I bundle tree trimmings or flattened cardboard boxes for recycling and I reflected that sisal twine always makes me think of paper drives. Remember paper drives? When I was in grade school and when I was in Boy Scouts, paper drives were a common way of earning money for extra-budgetary purchases. I especially remember the  school ones. We would each be given some lengths of twine and then, singly or in groups we would pull a wagon around the neighborhood asking neighbors, door to door, if they had any stacks of old newspapers we could have. There must have been a competitive aspect to it but I can’t remember specifically how it was set up. I don’t think it was individual; more likely it was grade against grade to see who could collect the most. I don’t recall a reward for winning either, other than the pride of coming in first. Paper drives have gone away because recycling has reduced the value of scrap paper and nobody has stacks of old newspapers lying around anyway.

It seems like there were a lot of fundraising schemes back then, most of which involved going door to door and trying to sell some commonplace item, like light bulbs, at an inflated price. An easy albeit unimaginative solution for some group of PTA parents to foist upon hapless students as a means to raise funds. Presumably, your native charm and powers of persuasion were supposed to compensate for the poor value of the transaction. Usually what happened is that your parents and grandparents ended up with a stockpile of off-brand light bulbs they had purchased at a non-competitive price. The only party to the scheme that made any real money was the company that supplied the fundraising products.

Door-to-door sales is almost extinct, it seems. Gone are the Fuller Brush men and I can’t remember the last time a kid came around trying to sell something. Although I imagine that would be considered child endangerment these days, most of us had some experience with that kind of commerce. I briefly considered trying to sell waterless cookware when I was in college. I had picked up the sample case and tried out my spiel on some female friends. I was so inept and so unconvincing that they were in helpless tears of hilarity before I finished. I returned the sample case the next day.

How about you? What did you sell?

Data Dump

Last week the Trail hit 7,000 followers.   This made me curious about some of our other current stats.

  • Overall # of views: 834,276
  • The most viewed posts are some of the oldest, written by our beloved leader Dale, however the fifth most-viewed is “Music: The Most Powerful Art Form” by our Chris.
  • The post with the most comments in the last four years is “Chores and the Great Depression” by our Jacque.
  • Top author is, of course, Dale, followed by Verily Sherrilee, Renee, Barbara in Rivertown and Northshorere (Clyde).
  • Recent top commenters are Barbara, Steve and Renee.
  • We have more activity on the Trail on Tuesday and Wednesdays. Our quietest day is Sunday.

But these are just numbers.

What do YOU think is noteworthy about the Trail? And if you have never commented before, this is your day – just a one word comment to add to our stats?

 

 

 

Hot Dish

Dorcas Reilly, the creator of the famous and loved (and also loathed) green bean casserole died this week. She was 92.  Perhaps she attributed her longevity to the casserole.

Thanksgiving is Daughter’s favorite holiday. She isn’t coming home until after Christmas, and she made me promise that I would cook Thanksgiving dinner for her then. The green bean casserole will be on the menu. It is one of her favorites. It has to be the traditional one Dorcas developed using cream of mushroom soup. Daughter also informed me that Brussels sprouts with bacon will be on the list. She has the whole meal planned, and will email the recipes to us. We will, of course, cook it to her specifications. Life is easier that way.

The favorite casserole, however, is the one printed below. We will also make this for Christmas/Thanksgiving dinner:

Butternut Squash Casserole
    • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    • 1 pound thinly sliced onions
    • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 3/4 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
  •  2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from soft white bread
  • 2 cups (packed) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until onions are light golden, about 8 minutes. Add squash; sauté 4 minutes. Sprinkle sugar, salt and pepper over vegetables; sauté until onions and squash begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes.

Spread vegetable mixture in prepared dish. Pour chicken broth over. Cover tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes. (Squash mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat in 350°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.)

Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, rosemary and thyme in medium bowl. Sprinkle over gratin. Bake uncovered until top is golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.

What is your favorite hot dish? Which is your least favorite? What would you like to be remembered for?

Traditions?

For a variety of reasons I was contemplating  the tradition of Hobo Days at South Dakota State University.  It has been going on since 1912, apparently, and involves festivities in conjunction with Homecoming.  There are parades and contests, such as the six month competitions for beard growing (for the men) and leg-hair growing (for the women), a parade featuring a 1912 Ford, and people dressed up like Hobos (mainly the men) and “Hippie Chicks” (mainly the women). The women used to dress up like “Indian Maidens”.  That was eventually deemed offensive, so the women were recast as Hippies.  I wonder how former Hippie women feel about it?

I believe that university staff look on the tradition with mixed feelings. It certainly promotes school spirit and cohesiveness. It is also a time of heavy drinking and all the problems that brings, and also glorifies homelessness.

I think I am pretty anti-tradition when it comes to festivities like Hobo Days, but I must admit changes to my comforting and familiar  Lutheran liturgy are upsetting.  Change is hard. Finding new traditions isn’t easy.

What traditions do you cling to? What traditions would you like to see end? What new traditions would you like to see?