bad TV, fashion, good tv, memories, nostalgia

The “facts of life” one learns while watching The Facts of Life…

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.

Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.

I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.

I kind of find the theme song annoying, catchy as it is. Alan Thicke and his ex wife, Gloria Loring, helped compose it, and Loring belts it out in an over-the-top, obnoxious way… not unlike the characters’ personalities.

But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:

  • suicide
  • abortion
  • book banning
  • underage drinking
  • rape and sexual assault
  • teen pregnancy
  • breast cancer
  • mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
  • physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
  • racism
  • fanaticism
  • crash dieting
  • religion
  • sexism
  • cross cultural issues
  • bullying
  • adoption
  • marital affairs
  • teenage prostitution

The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.

If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.

Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.

I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.

I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.

In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.

Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.

Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.

I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.

One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.

But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.

My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
law, LDS, money, travel

Crystal Symphony cruise ends on a sad note…

The featured photo is one I took from a hotel room in Rostock, in northeastern Germany.

Thanks to the pandemic, cruising is about the last way Bill and I want to travel right now. However, prior to 2020, Bill and I did enjoy the occasional vacation on the high seas, and we definitely prefer the luxury lines. We haven’t yet had the chance to try out too many of them yet… mainly because we were won over by the two we have tried– SeaDream Yacht Club and Hebridean Island Cruises.

I have eyed Crystal Cruises on and off over the years, having heard that it offers a wonderful experience with six star service, excellent food, and all inclusive amenities. Crystal Symphony can carry up to 848 guests, but passengers enjoy a crew ratio of one per every 1.7 guests. It certainly looked enticing to me, even though we are more attracted to smaller ships. But, life happened, and we never got the chance to pull the trigger on one of Crystal’s dreamy seafaring excursions.

This morning, I woke to the news that a U.S. judge ordered the Crystal Symphony seized because the company has been sued by Peninsula Petroleum Far East over unpaid fuel bills– to the tune of $4.6 million! The fuel company filed their lawsuit in a South Florida federal court on Wednesday of last week, and the judge issued the order to seize the ship on Thursday.

A news story about this incident.

Crystal Symphony, which had embarked on a two week voyage on January 8, was on its way back to Miami, where it was due in port on Saturday. If the ship had continued to Miami, or any other U.S. waters, it would have been seized by the authorities. According to the above news report, Peninsula Petroleum wants the ship sold so it can recoup some of its expenses.

At the last minute, the ship changed course to Bimini, in the Bahamas. There, the passengers were put on a decidedly less luxurious ferry to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Making matters worse is that the weather was inclement, and apparently some passengers had motion sickness. That last bit I got from a thread on Cruise Critic’s message boards. Someone who was on the cruise had been entertaining everyone with daily posts, right up until the cruise had its unplanned ending in a different country.

A video about Crystal Symphony.

I probably would have been interested in this story in any case, but as I was reading about the ultra luxe Crystal Symphony, I noticed that a 51 year old man named Steven Fales was interviewed for the story. The New York Times described him as an actor and a playwright, but I immediately recognized the name because about fifteen years ago, he wrote a book called Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the off-Broadway Hit. I bought and read that book in 2008, when I was still kind of fascinated by Mormonism and ex Mormons… again, thanks to Ex and her unilateral decision that she and her most recent two husbands would convert, and her children would be raised LDS.

In 2008, I was still pretty thick in my bewilderment and disgust for the way Mormonism is so often used as a tool to alienate and divide families. Now before anyone comes at me in the comments, let me state that my mind has somewhat changed about the LDS church since 2008. I no longer despise it as much as I used to. I still don’t like highly controlling religions, but I don’t think the LDS church is among the worst there are. Like, I don’t think mainstream Mormons are as bad as fundamentalist Baptists. Moreover, I don’t really care what someone’s personal religious beliefs are, as long as they don’t use their beliefs to control other people. I never have cared about that– I just hated that Bill’s decision not to be Mormon was one of the many excuses Ex had for why he was deemed “unfit” to be a dad to his daughters.

Anyway, back in 2008 and the years around that time– the blissful pre-pandemic days of yore– I was reading a lot of what I referred to as “exmo lit”. I wrote many reviews of the books by ex Mormons I read during that period, many of which you can find reposted in this blog. I no longer read much about Mormonism, since my interests have evolved. But I do remember Steven Fales, and how entertaining I found his book. Notably, Fales was also married to fellow author, Emily Pearson, daughter of Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson.

Carol Lynn Pearson is a much celebrated LDS poet and author who wrote a very moving book called Goodbye, I Love You, which was about her relationship with Emily’s father, Gerald, who was gay. Although Carol Lynn never stopped loving Gerald, they did divorce. Sadly, Gerald eventually contracted AIDS in the 1980s and died with Carol Lynn at his side. Emily Pearson wrote Dancing With Crazy, which I also read and reviewed in 2012. As far as I know, Carol Lynn Pearson remains a faithful and active LDS church member, while Emily Pearson and Steven Fales left the church.

Of course, I don’t actually know if the Steven Fales in the news story is the same one whose book I read, but my guess is that the person is one and the same, since the Fales I’m thinking of is also 51 years old, and an actor and playwright. If there are two 51 year old Steven Fales who act and write plays, I will gladly stand corrected.

As I was reading the story about this cruise– somewhat happily realizing that, for once, it wasn’t a story about cruisers coming down with COVID-19 en masse– I was reminded, once again, about how luxury cruises can unexpectedly put someone in contact with a person they might never otherwise meet. Bill and I have rubbed elbows with a number of interesting people on cruises. On the other hand, we’ve also met people like “Large Marge”. Suffice to say, she’s someone I hope not to run into again. What’s funny is, on our last cruise, I mentioned her to the bartender and he knew exactly who I was talking about and said she’d just been onboard the ship two weeks prior to our voyage.

I read one of several Cruise Critic threads about this unfortunate turn of events. A poster who had been on the voyage wrote about how the crew bravely kept smiling, even though they didn’t know if they would still have jobs. I have met some truly amazing crew members on the cruises I’ve been on. Many of them come from countries where it’s hard to make a good living. They are able to help support their families back home with the money they make on cruises, taking care of the well-heeled, often without ever revealing the stresses of having to deal with a potentially very demanding clientele.

According to Fales:

“That crew treated us like royalty through the tears of losing their jobs,” he said. “They’re all just heartbroken, and it was just devastating.”

As if it’s not enough that cruise ship crews are, no doubt, working harder than ever in these pandemic times, now this has happened. It really doesn’t look good for Crystal, or the industry as a whole.

As for Bill and me, I think our days of cruising are over for the time being. I don’t want to cruise until the COVID-19 crisis has been mitigated more. It’s too risky on so many levels– from financial to health. And now, it appears that even the cruise lines that cater to the wealthier segment of society is not exempt from falling into a crisis. My heart goes out to the hard working crew, who are now faced with uncertain immediate futures. And, while I think anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to afford a Crystal cruise is doing alright, I feel somewhat saddened for those whose vacations might not have ended happily in the wake of this development– or those who have booked cruises and may now be wondering if they just lost thousands of dollars or euros, thanks to this financial fiasco.

I do hope that Crystal can settle this mess satisfactorily and eventually resume operations. I know the line has many fans. I’d hate to see it go away.

Below are links to the books written by Carol Lynn Pearson, Emily Pearson, and Steven Fales. If you purchase through those links, I will get a small commission from Amazon.com, as I am an Amazon Associate. I recommend all three books, but if you choose just one, I would recommend reading Goodbye, I Love You first.

Standard
book reviews, nostalgia

Happy Christmas Eve, 2021! A look at the magical world of Stephen Cosgrove…

After a couple of really frigid days in Germany, it suddenly warmed up today. I didn’t have to break the ice in Noyzi’s water bowl, as I have for most of this week. Our back yard is a mud pit, thanks to weeks of rain. Curiously, the rose bush in the backyard still has two blooms on it. It’s kind of poignant to look at it… those resilient crimson blooms are hanging on for dear life, even as New Year’s approaches. Maybe it’s a sign of hope.

It kind of reminds me of a book I loved when I was a horse crazy girl in Virginia. It’s probably no surprise that I loved reading, so the school book fairs were a big hit, as far as I was concerned. Sometime in fourth grade, I got hooked on children’s author, Stephen Cosgrove’s, books. I especially loved the ones he wrote about horses, and there were a lot of them. He also wrote books with other animals as the protagonists. I didn’t read as many of those books, because when I was a child, horses were my passion. I would probably love his other books.

I would definitely choose Stephen Cosgrove over Dr. Seuss. I guess that’s another way Ex and I are very different.

Cosgrove would marry animal characters with beautiful illustrations by his colleague, Robin James. The stories always had a winning combination of magic, royalty, fantasy, and morals. Since, as far as I was concerned, horses were the most beautiful animals, I was especially enchanted by his books about them in any incarnation.

One of my favorite stories by Stephen Cosgrove was his book, Shimmeree, which was about a majestic winged mare– a lightosaur– who lived in a crystal water droplet. The only colors in Shimmeree’s crystalized world were blue, gold, and silver. One day, Shimmeree discovered a speck of dust lands in a crack the droplet. Shimmeree and her friends had never seen dust before, and it scared them. They shied away from the dust, thinking it was dangerous, because it was a color they had never seen before– grayish-brown.

Some time passes, and Shimmeree and her friends continue to be worried about the dust and the strange pearl shaped seed within it. What was it? Was it dangerous? The leader of the lightosaurs wanted to destroy the seed before it harmed them.

Shimmeree stood up for the seed. She pleaded with her friends not to destroy the seed, just because it was different. Shimmeree offered to watch the seed, promising that if it turned out to be dangerous, they could destroy it.

One day, the seed broke open, and Shimmeree saw the color green for the first time. She went to tell the others, and they all rushed back to the seed. The green color casted by the light on the others, and they became truly frightened. They were going to destroy the plant, but Shimmeree talked them out of it. Then, while everyone slept, she moved the plant to another place.

When the creatures came back to destroy the plant, they realized it was gone. The group was thrilled that it was gone, but just then, it bloomed and cast the most beautiful shade of red, which was reflected on everyone. The group went to where Shimmeree had moved the plant, which had bloomed into a beautiful rose.

So pretty!

And Shimmeree and her friends learned that they had nothing to fear but fear itself… Below is a video reading of this story.

I loved this book when I was a kid!

I did love Shimmeree, but I don’t think it was my favorite Stephen Cosgrove book. I was just reminded of that story because of the tenacious roses in our yard. Usually, by this time of year, the roses are long gone. Given how challenging the COVID times have been, I think it’s kind of cool that the roses are still hanging on… or, it could just be another sign of global warming and climate change. This cynical side I have is one reason why I don’t think I would make a very good children’s author, as much as I loved to read children’s books.

I think my favorite book by Stephen Cosgrove might be Morgan & Me. I identified with the protagonist, although I don’t tend to “live in the land of Later”… I’m just not so good about cleaning up my room. I don’t procrastinate, though. I think I was just taken by the little princess and her trip through the enchanting forest, where she met Morgan, a unicorn whose horn was stuck in branches.

I miss some things about being a child.
Blessed are children’s authors who can come up with magical stories…

True to her nature, the princess promised to help the unicorn named Morgan. But just a little later…

She finally helped Morgan when she became bored. Once she freed Morgan, he followed her, until she fell into a lily pond. She asked Morgan for help, and he promised he would… but just a little later. The princess begged for help, since she knew she’d catch cold sitting on a lily pad. Then she realized why Morgan was doing what he was doing and apologized for making him wait. He lowered his horn and rescued the princess. She learned a lesson, and they became the best of friends!

Stephen Cosgrove wrote so many other awesome books for children that were easy to read, beautifully illustrated, and enchanting. I probably should order some of them to read on the days when I’m feeling especially cranky. Based on the YouTube videos people have made, reading Stephen Cosgrove’s books, he was very popular among people my age… especially the girls. I think a lot of my friends liked his book, Flutterby Fly. As you can see, Cosgrove would probably be inspired by Germany… many times, I have seen forests and meadows like the ones illustrated in his books.

I suddenly have an image of Vanessa Redgrave reading this… wouldn’t that be interesting?

Or Nitter Pitter, a story about a narcissistic stallion… I used to have a beagle like Nitter Pitter. He was gorgeous, and definitely knew it!

I loved this book, probably because it was about a regular horse…
And maybe because of this illustration, which inspired a lot of horsey dreams.

I often think about how much I would love to have horses in my life again, even though they are very expensive and require a lot of work. Some of my best friends in life were four legged… and the one who got me through high school was a very special Appaloosa named Rusty. He was my dearest confidant, and we made a great team. But real life was calling, so I left that world behind… Maybe someday, I can revisit it, although without as much intensity as I once had.

Last night, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog came into our bedroom and watched fox hunting videos with us. A year ago, he was terrified by the TV, especially when men were on the screen. But now he is fascinated by television, especially when there are dogs baying, as they do in fox hunts. I got a kick out of watching Noyzi react to the horses and dogs of Ireland. I used to fox hunt myself, back in the day, but fox hunting in Virginia isn’t quite as intense as it is in Ireland. Noyzi was very impressed by the show and even joined in with the barking. I always knew he was a hound at heart, even if he’s really a shepherd of some sort. I got three videos of Noyzi last night… below is the last one I took. Arran also got into it.

Anyway… I guess it’s time I got on with the day. I hope, if you’re celebrating, you have an excellent holiday– Christmas or whatever– and there’s no drama or strife. And if there is, I recommend watching a few videos of people reading Stephen Cosgrove books. They’ll take you away from the ugliness of this world for a few moments.

Standard
book reviews, silliness

A pop up book about phobias and other bizarre things…

I love to find new and bizarre stuff. I’m lucky enough to have a number of friends who like to read and listen to music. I also have a very indulgent spouse who doesn’t mind when I occasionally make purchases of odd things. Like, for instance, at Christmas, I bought Bill a juice strainer with a replica of Angela Merkel’s head on it. I also bought him an egg separator that had a nose on it that allows egg white to pass through the nostrils like snot and a Margaret Thatcher nutcracker. I have a Donald Trump toilet brush in my bathroom. Hell, just a few weeks ago, I bought a baseball cap with an old picture of Mister Rogers on it, flipping the bird with both fingers.

I might decide to wear this in public at some point.

A few weeks ago, my former shrink was posting about something on Facebook and one of his friends– a psychologist colleague, I suppose– recommended that he read The Pop-up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenburg and Matthew Reinhart . Or maybe he suggested it as a gift. I was very intrigued by the concept. I was also kind of repulsed by it. I have a phobia of mushrooms, so the idea of a book that had one popping up at me was a bit horrifying. Fortunately, mycophobia is not a particularly common phobia, so it didn’t rate an entry in this book, which isn’t very long and takes a minute or two to “read”. I looked for a link to mycophobia, having actually written an article about it myself some years ago. Unfortunately, all of the articles I found had pictures of mushrooms on them, and frankly just the sight of mushrooms gives me the willies. But at least nowadays, I don’t freeze up and scream the way I used to when I was a child and found them growing in the yard.

I see The Pop-up Book of Phobias is out of print now, and I probably spent a lot more for it than I should have. I was still pretty delighted by it when it arrived last night. The art is well done, and I loved the way the artist managed to convey the concepts in “3-d”. Check out these photos. I didn’t get a photo of all of the entries, but this is basically the gist of the book. My copy was very well used and appeared to be much beloved by the previous owner.

I really appreciate the ingenuity and creativity it took to come up with these concepts and put them in a pop-up format. Just the engineering of the paper alone is impressive. How long did it take to come up with a method to arrange the paper in such a way that the snakes and spider pop up like this? The clown page is especially intriguing, as the main one has creepy eyes that open as the pages spread.

Looking on Amazon, I see that Matthew Reinhart has done a few pop up books, including one called The Pop-up Book of Nightmares. That one appears to be widely available, even though it’s been out since 2001. Since Bill has been studying Carl Jung and analyzing his dreams, maybe that would make a good present for him on the next gift giving occasion. It definitely makes for a fun gag gift, if not a pricey one. The one drawback is that it’s not much of a book in terms of reading material as it only consists of 22 pages. But it might be fun to glance at as you drop your morning deuce. Or it might be fun for the coffee table, although I would recommend not taking it to the bathroom if you’re going to put it on your coffee table. Accidents happen.

I was glad to get the book yesterday. It was a nice distraction from the news of the day. It seems like there’s very good to report, and the overall mood is ugly as COVID continues to wreak havoc worldwide and people continue to fight over public health measures. I’ve seen a lot of rude, callous, mean-spirited comments and behavior on both sides of the issue. It makes me wonder if people really are as horrible as their behavior online indicates.

Add in “healthcare professionals” who take it upon themselves to post disinformation about vaccines and/or inject people with saline instead of a vaccine, and you have a truly ugly situation brewing. I might be able to get onboard with people who simply wish to avoid the vaccine. I don’t agree with their opinions, but I can kind of understand the concept of “my body, my choice.” But it really is criminal when a nurse decides for her patients to trick them by injecting them with saline instead of giving them a vaccination that they requested.

Also… I am quite baffled by “healthcare professionals” who keep insisting that COVID-19 is not as bad as it’s being portrayed in the media. I know the journalistic mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads”, but how is it that some doctors and nurses are so exhausted and upset about the virus and some are claiming it’s not so bad? Seriously, a self-proclaimed master’s level nurse at a level one trauma center posted on the Facebook page for the University of South Carolina, claiming that this is all a big hoax. My guess is that he’s lying, either about his “credentials” or where he works. I wouldn’t want an unvaccinated nurse taking care of me, to be honest.

My public health and social work master’s degrees were both earned at the University of South Carolina. Former President Harris Pastides, who was teaching in the Arnold School of Public Health when I was attending, is back to being the interim president, because Bob Caslen, who was Pastides’ successor, was forced to resign. Dr. Pastides is well-informed about the COVID situation and is promoting vaccination on campus. He was a tremendously popular president. It’s nice to see him back, doing the right thing. Too bad so many people are making the vaccines political.

Anyway… I’m glad it’s Friday, at least. I am expecting to get new guitar strings today… and I have a feeling I will be trying to put them on my guitar instead of practicing. I hate this chore, but I think it’s time to do it. Maybe I’ll be back later… maybe not.

Standard
book reviews, Military

Repost: Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps

In the wake of the decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, I’ve decided to repost this review I wrote of Frank Schaeffer’s book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps. Frank co-wrote this book with his youngest child, his son John. I discovered Schaeffer about 20 years ago, when I was hanging out on a messageboard dedicated to people who had attended Pensacola Christian College. Schaeffer was raised in Switzerland by two famous missionary parents, and he had written a trilogy of very entertaining novels about the experience. Someone on the PCC board recommended them, so I read and loved them. He’s also written many non-fiction books about religion, some of which I have read and reviewed for Epinions.com.

Schaeffer had no experience with the U.S. military when his son, John, decided to join the Marines just before 9/11. He wrote several books about his son’s military experience, as well as a great novel called Baby Jack. I wrote this review for Epinions in February 2004. I believe John has since left the Marines. It appears here as/is. I see by visiting Frank’s Web site that he’s written a new book about Trump. Guess I’ll be downloading that one, too.

First off, let me preface by commenting that Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and The United States Marine Corps (2002) by Frank Schaeffer and his son, John Schaeffer, is a wonderfully honest and poignant book. Frank Schaeffer, an author of three novels (two at the time this book was published), is the father of three children. His older two, daughter Jessica, and son, Francis, had done what all of the other kids in Schaeffer’s social class had done and, after graduating from private high schools, gone off to private colleges.

Youngest son John had always been a good athlete and a talented writer (he specializes in poetry and aspires to one day own a bookstore and write for a living), but he was not a good student. Nevertheless, Frank and his wife, Genie, had always assumed that John would follow in his older siblings’ footsteps and go to college, if not for academics, then for athletics. Instead, John decided to join the Marines, an entity that was totally foreign to the Schaeffer family. John Schaeffer wrote that he was not particularly concerned with what his parents thought about the direction of his life, although he did listen to what they had to say and respected their opinions. He had joined the Marines without consulting his parents. I got the feeling that this decision really hurt Frank Schaeffer’s feelings, especially when he pictured his boy coming home in a casket, draped with an American flag.

Frank Schaeffer confesses that he had always felt particularly close to John because his youngest boy had come along when he was “supposed to have children”. The elder Schaeffer became a father for the first time at age eighteen. His second child arrived when he was twenty-one. John was born when Frank was fully twenty-eight years old “almost a grown up”, he says. He got to enjoy his youngest child. I also got the sense that he shared a sense of adventure with John as well as writing talent. Frank Schaeffer grew up the son of American Calvinist missionaries based in Switzerland. He didn’t learn to read until he was eleven years old, vacationed in Portofino, Italy every summer with his three sisters. Schaeffer chronicles his experiences in his novels, Portofino and Saving Grandma, both of which I have read and reviewed on Epinions.com. Frank Schaeffer enjoys cooking, and his son John loves his father’s Tuscan pizza. Frank enjoys his youngest son very much, but I got the feeling it went beyond the fact that they were merely blood. It seemed to me that they were also very good friends.

This sense of friendship was apparent as Frank and John Schaeffer wrote about how they spent their last summer together before boot camp. John had a girlfriend named Erica whom Frank did not like. Frank found Erica cold and distant. She didn’t want to spend any time with the Schaeffer family and Frank felt that she was taking his son away from him, especially since there was precious little time left before boot camp would begin. And this is where the honesty of this book comes in. Readers begin to read about situations in which Schaeffer behaved in ways that may seem, quite frankly, embarrassing. Many people would not want have wanted to admit to admit to some of the behavior that Schaeffer writes that he exhibited in the face of losing his son to boot camp. He comes across as, well, a father hen facing an empty nest.

And then when John starts basic training, we get to read about Frank’s angst at never hearing from his son and the constant letters that he sends his boy. We also read from John’s side as he experiences life on Parris Island– the constant harassment that he suffered as a Marine recruit– the abuse that others suffered, especially those deemed “Fat Bodies or Diet Trays (overweight recruits)”. John’s letters home are painfully short with one or two lines of information and maybe a request or two. He asks for Power Bars and Gatorade, which Frank gladly sends on several occasions. The treats get stashed in a foot locker for the drill instructors to eat or dole out to all of the recruits. Some of the recruits get no mail at all, but John gets a lot of mail– mostly courtesy of his father. He actually gets punished for this a few times.

I found the description of the basic training fascinating. My husband has often told me tales of training, but he didn’t enlist and he’s in the Army. It was interesting to read another point of view. I also used to live in South Carolina, which is where Parris Island is located. I was living there when John Schaeffer was in basic training. In fact, he wrote of having to be evacuated for Hurricane Floyd. He didn’t mention the storm by name, but I know that was the storm he was referring to because it had the distinction of causing one of the worst traffic tie ups in hurricane evacuation history– and it never even really struck land.

I also found John’s stories of the Marines doing what they could to get their fellow recruits through the course inspiring. He wrote of one recruit who developed double pneumonia right before the final 52 hour test, called the Crucible. There was talk that the recruit would not be allowed to take the test. The other recruits, unbeknownst to the sick one, split up the heavier contents of his pack, and carried his load for him. The Senior Drill Instructor said he would get him through the Crucible if he had to carry him through it himself. In fact the recruit played the injured recruit during the Crucible whenever the test called for an injured recruit, and he ended up passing and becoming a Marine.

We are also treated to several scenes where drill instructors dispense fatherly advice coated in profanity. For instance, they tell their recruits “not to get married and buy a bunch of stupid crap for Suzie Rottencrotch” the minute they get out of basic training– instead they should hold off until they make rank and can afford it. They also advise their recruits that there will be plenty of sex to be had once they are Marines and a lot of women will want to “nail them.” But they shouldn’t try to “bang sixteen year olds” because they could go to jail for that in the Corps. And they add, “Fer Chrissakes, don’t get any of ’em pregnant!”

Interspersed within these inspiring stories are John’s poems, stories of life at home in Massachusetts, and Frank’s yearnings to hear from his son. At one point in the book, John writes home to tell his parents that he has decided to change his job once he gets out of training. The job change means that he will add another year to his contract. Frank is angry about this change of events and scolds his son for not consulting him first, or at least talking to the one person the family knows who is a Marine. Frank’s reason for being angry is that the training will require John to move further away from him for a longer time. Originally, he would have trained in the DC area, but his new job would require him to go to Arizona and then Florida. He wrote an angry letter to his son about this development and then got in a fight with his wife… more embarrassing scenes that one would think might be too embarrassing to include in this book. But that’s what makes this book so good. It’s quite honest and Schaeffer shows his very human side. Incidentally, my first reaction to this scenario was that Frank Schaeffer was really in for a rude awakening. Service life is all about frequent moves and going wherever the government decides to send you. I’m sure Frank Schaeffer knows all of this now, though. And I’m sure he’s allowed his son to grow up and distance himself a bit.

As it turned out, once John graduated from basic training, he completed some training in North Carolina, then he ended up spending eighteen months in Arizona while he waited for his security clearance. He had left for Arizona four days after meeting Mollie, a woman to whom he really felt attracted. This part of the book was interesting, as John wasn’t doing anything in particular but waiting. It was a time in which he proved his allegiance to the Corps, since he had injured his foot and had to have surgery. He had the chance to leave the Marines, go to college, be with Mollie. He stayed in, went to Pensacola, and became an exemplary example of a Marine, just in time for September 11th, 2001. According to the back jacket, John Schaeffer is currently serving in Maryland.

As expected, this book does do some bashing of the other services, especially the Army. As the wife of a Soldier, I found myself getting a little annoyed at the generalization that all Army Soldiers are slobs. But then again, I know that the Marines have the toughest physical standards of all of the services. I know they take exceptional pride in their appearance. I’m also an Air Force daughter and I used to hear my dad bashing the Army, too (though not quite as much as this book did). I also found myself laughing aloud quite a lot.

This is a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as much as I have enjoyed Frank Schaeffer’s novels. I read passages of it aloud to my husband, who also wants to read the book now that I’m finished. If you have a loved one serving in the Armed Forces, especially if he or she is a Marine, this book might be a worthy investment of your time.

Frank Schaeffer has written two follow ups to Keeping Faith, Faith of Our Sons, and Voices From The Front.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard