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Posts Tagged ‘History’

1000-year-old-recipeA writer friend posted a blog about Ancient Remedies Resurrected. He blogs mostly to help other writers use medicine correctly in their fictional murders. This particular post discusses the surprising success of a medieval recipe in killing specific troubling antibiotic resistant bacteria.

  • Who would suspect that a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon recipe to vanquish an infected eyelash follicle could do that?
  • Who even tried the recipe on something different than its original documented purpose?
  • Why was the recipe still around?
  • Who could read it?

Babylon-recipeThe first two questions are relatively easy. Some ancient remedies actually work. They were created over hundreds or even thousands of years of experimentation in the real world. Many experiments failed, with the expected unpleasantotherresults. Some worked and were passed down orally from “doctor” to “doctor,” often from parent to child. Often the “doctor” was closely associated with the local religion. One recipe for curing fever occurring in the brain is on an eight century BC tablet. The particular poultice is attributed to oral medical lore dating back to around 1860 BC. The tablet itself cites “mythological sages from before the Flood.” It is hard to argue with such authority. Enough of these old recipes work that it is well worth the effort to test them. Government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and universities all spend some effort searching ancient texts and experimenting. Looking at what the recipe does from a scientific viewpoint may point out some other possible uses of the drug.

The last two questions are the really important ones.

The survival of any particular ancient text is more due to luck than good data management. There is so much that can go wrong. The document first of all has to avoid being broken into a thousand pieces, sunk in the middle of the ocean, cleaned and reused, or being damaged by the ravages of nature with floods, fire, mold, or rot. But perhaps the most danger to old documents is man. Opened in the third century BC, the Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most significant libraries in the world of its time. The library was destroyed, first by Julius Caesar when he conquered Egypt in 30 AD, and finally by Coptic Pope Theophilus in 391. Pope Theophilus was very thorough. Not only did he complete the destruction of the main library, but also a smaller version, the Serapeum, located elsewhere in Alexandria. Perhaps the first recorded case of a backup failure.

Maya-CodexMaybe as significant for the preservation of possible ancient medicinal cures was the destruction of all but four of the thousands of Maya codices by Spanish conquistadors and Catholic priests. Why were they destroyed? According to Bishop Diego de Landa in July 1562, because “they contained nothing but … superstition and lies of the devil.”

Unfortunately, this organized destruction of the past continues to this day as the result of conquest and religious fanaticism.

We recently visited one such ancient document, and it was only 800 years old. If was both surprisingly readable and very hard to read, and it was a language we had some rusty familiarity with. Image the difficulty of even deciphering an ancient text and then determining its meaning. We do not have a Rosetta Stone for most ancient languages. I am referring to the multi-language stone found in Egypt during Napoleon’s conquest, not the language instruction company – although the statement applies to both. Often even the structure of the language as well as the meaning of individual characters or symbols had to be coaxed out of many documents by many people over many years. Only after that can other researchers begin to search for specific snippets of interest, like medical recipes.

In trying to recreate the recipe that began this post, researchers had to figure out what the ingredients really were, and hope that modern garlic is similar enough to 1,000 year old garlic to actually work. In most cases an ancient text will not describe exactly how hot or long to cook something, or even how much of each component was to be used.

As a discussed earlier, it is perhaps as difficult to keep data for the long term in today’s electronic age as it was in ancient times.

The last word:

Save the data, especially if you have no idea what value it might have in the future. Pictures, movies, personal history stories whether written or currently only oral could be important. Talk to older relatives and friends and get their stories saved. Do it now while you still can.

If you save oral recordings, go back and make transcripts that can also be saved. A hundred years from now there may be no one who can understand what was said.

If your family knows a language that is little used, work to preserve it so its oral and written legacy can be saved.

Even mundane business records can have historical value in a distant future. Kyle Harper used ancient purchase records to reinterpret the end of Roman slavery by determining what slaves were eating in Rome around 300 AD. This kind of information can help fill in the gaps about a civilization and the well-being of its people, whether wealthy citizens or slaves.

As I have said before, keeping data on paper only is not the best idea.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Today Mother was taking her to get a new pair of shoes. She was a petite, fine boned girl who looked younger than her seven years. Mother kept her hair in a short bob with deep bangs framing her ocean blue eyes that today were sparkling with excitement.   A new pair of shoes was a very important event. Her feet were very narrow so that her shoes had to be specially ordered, making them expensive, and her family didn’t have much money.   Her father had a job, but was often sick so there were many payless weeks. Today Mother and Lois would take the trolley to 69th Street to get her shoes, then the subway and el to visit with Aunt Louise so she was wearing her good navy blue dress and a fluffy sweater MomKate had knit.   She slipped on the coat her mother had made and put the muff string under her collar. She liked her muff on these very cold days. It looked like a drum made of bunny fur, open on both ends so that when she put her hands in the muff, the cuffs of her coat sealed the ends from all the cold. She twirled around to show how pretty she looked. Well, except for the very worn shoes, but she would have her new ones soon.

They walked a block down to the Pike then several blocks to the trolley station. She kept dancing around on the platform, which annoyed Mother who thought she should stand still, but the cold was coming up through the cement and into her shoes. Her feet were too cold to stand still. When the trolley arrived Mother gave her little help up to the first step. They moved to the middle of the car. Most of the seats were still empty because this was only the second stop. They chose a bench and sat facing the direction they were going. Mother didn’t like to ride backwards. She got to sit next to the window where she could brace her feet on a small ledge while watching the houses go by. The closer they got to 69th Street the fuller the car became until there was only one seat left. Mother made Lois take her hand when they got to the Station because there were so many people, some going to other trains or trolleys or out to the shops like they were. They crossed the street and walked half way up the hill to Mother’s favorite store, Lit Brothers, where they had ordered her shoes. As soon as they got inside, Mother almost dragged Lois through the first floor to the shoe department. Mother was in a hurry so that they could catch the next subway train and have as much time as possible with Aunt Louise. The clerk brought out the box and carefully unwrapped the shoes. Nestled inside the tissue paper was a dark brown pair of maryjanes. Lois hopped up on the chair and the clerk sat on the special stool in front of her. After removing her worn, right shoe he gently slid the new shoe onto her foot and asked how it felt. It was so pretty with a bit of room for her toes to grow, but the side of the shoe hugged her foot around the arch and heel. He repeated with the left shoe and helped her off the chair to walk a short way to confirm the shoes fit well. Both Mother and the clerk pushed down on the tip of the toe to be sure that there was some grow room. Lois was all smiles as she looked at her feet in the mirror to see how pretty the new shoes were. Mother pronounced herself satisfied, paid the clerk, and they left. Lois carefully watched where she put her feet. There would be no scuffmarks on these shoes or dark spots from stepping into something on the sidewalk.

They just made it to the subway and seated themselves when it began to move. They were looking forward to seeing Aunt Louise, who wasn’t really her aunt, but her godmother. Her mother and Aunt Louise had lived on 2 Street and gone to school together. They and their husbands had dated as a foursome before both men had gone to the Great War. When the men came home Aunt Louise had married Uncle Ed, moved northward in the city. Mother, Katherine, had married Ted, and they found a house in a southwestern suburb. The foursome still enjoyed each others company and got together whenever they could, which was less often than Mother and Aunt Louise would have liked. Lois always liked to be with Aunt Louise with her constant smile and jolly laugh. Everything at Aunt Louise’s house seem to be fun while her own home was more serious, especially when her father was sick, which he was more and more often. The only problem at Aunt Louise’s house was Jimmy, her son. He was three months older than she and believed that meant he could decide what they would do when they played together. He was always teasing her about something, often until she wanted to cry. But she would never give him that satisfaction.

The warmth of Aunt Louise’s kitchen was welcoming after the walk from the bus stop in the cold wind. The aroma of the hot lunch Aunt Louise had made drew them in as well. First thing Lois did was to pirouette before Aunt Louise to show off her new shoes. Aunt Louise liked them a lot, which pleased Lois. As soon as the tea was ready they all sat at the kitchen table. Aunt Louise always made her fell so grown up. Today she had made a cup of half hot tea and half warm milk and sugar. Lois sat up straight and tall the way Mother liked and tried not to make any crumbs. Jimmy seemed to be eating as fast as he could and urged her to hurry. He had made plans to go ice-skating and didn’t want to make his friends wait.   Aunt Louise said how Jimmy should take Lois with him, to which he made a face.   Lois tried to beg off. After all, she hadn’t brought skates nor was she dressed for skating. Actually, she had didn’t own any skates and she was dressed for visiting not playing.   Aunt Louise would have none of it. She insisted that Jimmy take her with him and even had a spare pair of clamp on ice skates Lois could use. It would also give the two mothers a chance to visit without the noise of the children. Aunt Louise found an old pair of Jimmy’s trousers for Lois to slip on under dress. The mothers made sure that the children were all bundled up and shooed them out the door.

Jimmy took off at a run to get to the corner where he told the other kids he would meet them. Lois had to run to keep up. It was an up hill walk to the pond. They all put their skates on and Jimmy took the time to be sure that Lois had hers on properly. The others had skated before and raced all around the edge. Lois gingerly skated in little circles as she learned to balance and turn, speed up and slow down to a stop. Soon she began to feel comfortable and began skating in larger and larger circles. By then the others were just about back to where they had started and began yelling at her. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she knew she was getting better and skating more surely. Then she felt as much as heard a cracking sound and there was nothing under her feet. Everything was dark and murky. Next thing she could see was a hand, then an arm, and Jimmy’s face. He was urging her to grab his hand. The other kids had his feet. All the clothes had trapped enough air that she had a little buoyancy. That would soon disappear as her clothes absorbed the cold water. She stretched as hard as she could and managed to reach Jimmy’s hand.

Soon she was free of the water and on the ground next to the pond. Two sets of hands were removing the ice skates. Then they were pushing her up and telling her to run. She didn’t want to run. All she wanted was to get rid of the wet clothes and get warm. They were all shouting at her so she began to edge away. Jimmy began pushing her. Turning she tried to get away from all the shouting and pushing. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape. Jimmy kept pushing. She tripped and fell, so he began to roll her down the hill. The snow stuck to her wet clothes till she began to look like a snowman. When they needed to cross the street several sets of hands pulled her up and shoved her across. Then they began to chase and shove her again. Jimmy was shouting for Aunt Louise before he even opened the back gate. As they reached the porch Aunt Louise and Mother had appeared at the kitchen door.

They grabbed her. Mother began pulling off her wet clothes while Aunt Louise ran for towels. As the big warm fluffy towels were wrapped around her she saw her pretty new shoes were now all wet, stained, and wrinkled. All she could do was cry because she knew they would never be pretty again. Jimmy kept telling her to stop bawling while he stuffed her shoes with newspaper. She seemed to be the only one upset about the once pretty pair of maryjanes. Both mothers were busy praising Jimmy for getting her back so quickly and it was all his fault. He was the reason they had been ice-skating, that she fallen through to the cold water that soaked her beautiful new shoes. He was the one who had pushed, shoved, and rolled her all the way back to Aunt Louise’s house. And here she was crying in front of Jimmy. What had begun as a joyfully entertaining day was now in ruins as were her lovely new shoes.

The last word:

Moma-1929Dad-S-1930This story is part of Suzy’s family lore. The girl Lois is Suzy’s mother, and Lois and Jim married in 1942, literally the night before he left to fly off US Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater.  These pictures are from approximately the time of the story.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Slowly she became aware that the sun was brightly gleaming through the window, but the house was still quiet. Surely, it was late enough that she should be able to hear someone in the kitchen making breakfast. Looking at the window she could see thick ice on the glass. Grandmom said that the glazing was from Jack Frost’s breath when he peeked in the window during the night. Carefully she stuck her foot outside the covers. Brr, the air was cold. Grandmom usually came in and put her clothes on the radiator to warm, but the radiator was empty. Nothing to be done about it. Throwing back the covers she slid her feet over the edge and reached for the floor slipping down the last couple of inches. The carpet felt cold to her toes. She tugged at the top dresser drawer. It was a wide drawer and she had trouble making it pull out evenly and it jammed before it was open wide enough for her to slip her hand in and reach her under clothes. With the heel of her left hand she banged on the drawer, freeing it and she tried again to open it. She had to do it twice more before she could reach in and get her panties, undershirt, slip and socks. After neatly draping them on top of the radiator she walked over to the armoire and opened the door on the right where the longer things were hung. Not remembering any plans to go out today she tugged at an everyday dress until it came off the hanger and added it to the other things on the radiator. The radiator was putting out lots of heat, which was in contrast to the cold she could feel seeping in through the window. She reached her hand to the glass and tried to warm a spot on the window large enough to look out onto the street. Yesterday they had had a big snow. No cars seemed to be moving and so it was very quiet out there, too. It was the morning after a big storm and the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun so bright on the snow that it was hard to keep her eyes open and she had to look away. The adults must be very busy because no one seemed to have heard her walking around and come to check on her. She reached for her underclothes and quickly dropped them. They were too hot. She could see funny wiggly marks on her panties. She wondered if they were beginning to melt and grabbed for all the clothes she had put there. It felt so very good to put on the warm clothes. She hadn’t realized how chilly she had gotten. She put on her shoes and carefully went through the steps to tie the laces into bows. She was in the middle bedroom, so when she opened the door she looked back and forth down the hall, but still could not see nor hear anyone stirring. Well, that would mean the bathroom would be empty so she went in, moved the stool to the basin, climbed up and washed her face in the cold water. That was a real waker-upper.

The stairs in Grandmom’s house were steep so she always held onto the banister, except for the third step. It creaked, so she would step to the wall side. It was a game she played with herself, to go all the way down without the steps making a sound. Reaching the bottom step she looked over to the sunroom. Grandmom usually sat in the corner seat to watch the big kids walk to school, but Grandmom wasn’t there. It felt late, so maybe the kids had already passed, or maybe this wasn’t a school day. It really didn’t matter. Cheerfully she turned to look for Butchie, the black cocker spaniel that lived in this house. He always greeted her in the morning. He was so funny. As he came into the living room he was wagging his tail so hard that the entire back half of his body went from side to side with abandon. Then he tried to get so close that he knocked her over and she bumped into the coffee table and they landed in a heap together on the floor.   She scratched behind his ears the way he liked, then they both got up and started for the kitchen. She caught a glimpse of herself in the dinning room mirror. Grandmom would tell her she looked like a ragamuffin. She hadn’t run a comb through her hair and it was sticking out randomly. Hair could be done later. Now, it was time for breakfast.

Still no Mom or Grandmom, but that was okay because she knew how to make a scrambled egg. She had watched Mom and Grandmom lots of times. She took an egg from the dish in the icebox. That’s what Grandmom called it, even though it had a motor on top. The only ice was the cubes in the tray in the open freezing shelf.   Not wanting to break the egg too soon she carefully carried it to the counter and set it on the dishrag so it wouldn’t roll. Then she got the little cup Grandmom used to scramble eggs and the cooking fork. Grandmom had a cute little frying pan just big enough for one egg, which she took from the cabinet and put on the stove. Kneeling on a chair, she thumped the egg against the edge of the cup, but it didn’t crack. She tried again. Why had she been so careful carrying it when it wouldn’t break anyway? She hit it more sharply and half the egg and shell went into the cup and the other half fell onto the drain board. She lowered the cup into the sink and pushed the spilled half into the cup then fished out the two shell halves. It was half scrambled already. Mom always put a slosh of milk into the egg with salt and pepper before scrambling, so she climbed down and went back to the icebox. Grandmom’s milk came in glass, quart bottles with long necks. That made them easier to carry. She needed to shake the bottle because the cream had separated. The little paper lids didn’t stay on well once the bottle had been opened so she put her palm across the top of the bottle. She knew she had to pour slowly and carefully because it would be easy to get too much milk with the egg. She was so careful that it seemed to take forever for the milk to come out and then it splashed. Oh well, everyone said that it was good to drink lots of milk.   She shook some pepper onto the egg milk mix and watched it float. Then she shook a little salt. Then a bit more. It seemed to gather in the center of the pepper island. Maybe a bit more. Then the salt began to sink and take the pepper with it. She guessed that was enough so she picked up the cooking fork and stirred it around quickly to beat up the egg. A bit splashed onto her hand and the drain, but not much. She still had to turn the fire on under the pan. She remembered to push the knob in and listen for the clicks before turning it clockwise. The flame whooshed up and then settled down as she kept turning the knob. After taking the flipper from the drawer next to the stove she moved her chair over in front of the burner and poured the egg into the pan and began moving the mixture with the fork before she remembered that she had to wait for it to lighten a little and begin to stick together. It didn’t take long to cook, which was a shame because it was fun to move the liquid egg in the pan and watch it firm up. Time to put it on a plate. Oh yes, a plate. After turning off the flame she climbed down and walked over to the cabinet with the dishes and took out a plate. Having moved the egg to the plate she moved the chair back then took the plate in both hands and carried her breakfast to the table.   Where was everyone? This was no fun, sitting by herself to eat. Grandmom always trimmed half an orange so it would be easy to eat. Where was everyone?

She needed to find them. Where could they be? Doing the wash? She slid off the chair, put what was left of the egg down for Butchie to eat. She could get the dish later.   Opening the door to the cellar she listened for the washing machine. She couldn’t hear it nor could she hear any voices, but she started down the steps to be sure. One, two, three, four, oops… In slow motion she began to tumble and bounce down the steps. They went on and on and she was still tumbling. It should hurt, but it didn’t. She just kept falling and falling.

“Come on, Sleepy Head, time to wake up.”

That was Grandmom.

“Let me slip your clothes under the covers. It’s chilly out here so put them on before you get out from under.”

It was just now time to get up.

“The storm is over. There’s lot of snow and sunshine outside. After a nice, warm breakfast we’ll get the sled out. Your Mom and Granddad can go down the hill with you.”

Everyone was home.

The last word:

Suzy always likes the first day after a snowstorm. The sun shining on fresh white show after a period of gray skies over a gray landscape cheers her up.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Somewhat sullenly the little girl walked down the street, hugging her sweater tight around her. It wasn’t that she was cold, but the calendar read “December” so she needed a sweater. At least, that’s what Moma said. Her knobby knees stuck out below the hem of her full-skirted cotton dress as she shuffled along looking for leaves to kick. There weren’t very many as here most of the plants kept their leaves all year long. If only she walked slowly enough her girl friend might catch up with her before she arrived at the schoolyard. Victoria always had answers to questions that she didn’t even know enough to ask about.   That morning had been the usual rush to get out on time with Moma standing at the door holding her sweater and brown-bag lunch trying to make her hurry so that she wouldn’t be late. She’d run across the lawn to the house next door to collect her friend, but had been curtly informed that Victoria wasn’t ready as her hair had yet to be combed so there was no point in waiting.   Here was the final block before the schoolyard and Victoria was nowhere to be seen. She’d have to wait to ask until the walk home.

This school was pretty easy. Her father expected that she be one of the top five scorers in her class. She could do that just by listening, and they didn’t give real homework here. That bothered her parents, but not her. The last assignment had to been to bring in twigs to make a holiday scene to take home as a Christmas decoration. They had each been given a stiff piece of cardboard and a small mirror. She had glued hers to the near right corner of her cardboard.   Then Mrs. Wickford poured a white, slurry into a bowl between each pair of pupils at the shared desks. Each had a small wooden ice cream cup spoon to spread the white glop onto the cardboard and over the edges of the mirror. Then they were to quickly stick their twigs into the glop to create a winter scene with bare trees. Carefully she stuck her twigs toward the top of her project with a scattering closer to the mirror. The boy next to her placed his twigs evenly around his centered mirror. Mrs. Wickford told them to slide, not lift, their project to the upper center of their tables so the white stuff could set while everyone went to lunch. As soon as they had cleaned up they were dismissed. She grabbed her lunch bag and left her sweater. The morning haze was gone and the sun was warm. She and her friends sat at their usual picnic table far from the cafeteria door. The smells from the lunches they served in there were always yucky. She was supposed to buy a container of milk, but that would take time she didn’t want to waste. Getting to the playground was more important. She opened her bag to see what Moma had packed for her today: a wax paper wrapped sandwich, another packet with cookies, and a foil wrapped orange that was pressing on the sandwich. She took a couple of big bites of the dry and orange dented bologna sandwich then she squished the rest back into the waxed paper and moved on to the cookies. Moma never put much mustard on the bread so as to keep it from getting soggy. Moma never used mayonnaise, which could spoil, so the sandwich was dry and difficult to swallow. The cookies were good, but the others were almost done and she hadn’t begun her orange, so she swallowed one almost whole and threw the others back into the bag. There were no pockets in her dress so she couldn’t keep the cookies until the walk home from school. She ate a quarter of the orange, slurped the juice from the next quarter and threw the rest in the bag with the other food that was now trash. They each threw their bags into the trashcan and ran for the bars. You had to eat quickly to get out there and grab a space on the bar. As soon as a line formed it was time to go to the blacktop where foursquare courts were painted. Today she worked herself up to the server’s square and held it for a couple of turns. As always, the bell rang too soon and it was time to return to the classroom.

The girls behind her in line were talking about what they were going to get for Christmas. One said her mother had taken her to a store and they had picked out a couple of dresses, and she had asked for one of the new dolls that looked like grown up ladies. The other girl said she had gotten one of those dolls for her birthday and wanted clothes for it. Neither had visited with Santa.

After school she had walked up the hill with Jean. That was slow going because Jean had had polio and walked with a big limp. Her left leg was a lot shorter than her right. Jean had spent her summer vacation in the hospital where she had had surgery on her short leg. Jean never played foursquare or kick-ball or on the bars. Once in a while the little girl would sit with Jean at the edge of the playground and they would play jacks. She felt sorry that most of the other kids ignored Jean. She knew how it felt to watch the others and not be welcome to join them. By the time she got to the top of the hill most of the other kids had already disappeared. She looked at her watch. Time to run so Moma wouldn’t be upset that she had taken too long to come home from school.

After diner Daddy told Moma that he and the little girl were going out to take care of some business. An errand with Daddy? On a school night? And Moma didn’t protest, just nodded and scooped her little brother up to get him ready for bed. Daddy wouldn’t tell her anything, just kept shushing her and telling her to wait until they were in the car. He even let her ride in the front seat. Everything looked a little different from here so she was quiet for a bit. They drove past the street she walked down to go to school and started down the front of the mesa to the shopping center. As they parked and began walking to the stores, Daddy asked what she thought Moma would want for Christmas. Hadn’t Moma written her own letter to Santa? Daddy explained that they were to be Santa’s helpers and get something Moma would like. By then they were walking into a ladies store. The first thing she noticed was that the store smelled so good. Then there were two mannequins dressed in the New Look.   One of the shop ladies had come up and asked Daddy what she could help him with. He told her that he and his daughter were being Santa for his wife and that they wanted one of the skirts like the one on the mannequin. The lady asked if they knew what size they wanted and Daddy simply put his hands out and drew Moma in the air. The skirt the lady brought was the same style in a beautiful, shimmery emerald green. She put out a cream colored boat necked top with three-quarter length sleeves to go with the skirt. Daddy, looking down to the little girl, asked her if she thought Moma would like them. She gently reached her hand out to touch the cool silky quilted skirt. Oh, yes, it was perfect. The lady carefully wrapped each piece and put them in a box.

Christmas vacation began that Friday after school. She walked home carefully with her snow scene project. Moma put it on the top shelf of a bookcase explaining that her brother wouldn’t be able to reach it there.   Moma washed the dishes and she dried as they cleaned up after dinner. She worried about how to ask Moma her question. Victoria had laughed and told her that she was such a baby to still believe in Santa Claus. She really wanted Santa Claus to be real. Moma had taken her to see him at the store. She had noticed that his beard was tied on. When she asked Moma about it, Moma had explained that Santa was very busy at this time of year and that that person was an elf sent to take messages to Santa. But what about Victoria laughing at her? What about shopping with Daddy? Moma found a couple more things to wash up and the girl finally just blurted out her question: was Santa Claus real? Then she kept babbling about all the hints she had heard that year that led her to think he was just a made up story. Moma stopped, took the towel from her. While drying her hands, Moma gave her one of those slow, quizzical stares. Finally, she put the towel down, sat on a kitchen chair, and put her daughter on her lap. Very softly she said that Santa Claus was a spirit. The spirit of Christmas. Everyone could carry that spirit in their hearts. At this time of year, Santa Claus was a fun way of sharing and giving gifts. As we grew up we each were able to play Santa for those we loved and especially for little ones. Now, the girl could be part of the spirit of Santa Claus and help make things joyful for others and it was her turn to keep the secret.

Christmas Eve, after decorating the tree she and her brother were given their stockings to hang. She showed her little brother how to do it by hanging hers, then helping him to hang his own. She winked and smiled at Moma. The next morning she watched her brother tear into his gifts, and made sure Moma knew who had given her what gifts as she opened her own. Later Moma would supervise as she wrote thank-you notes to each person who had given a gift. Then she watched as Moma opened the gift she and Daddy had gotten. Moma’s eyes widened, and twinkled as she caressed the fabric. Then Moma ran to their bedroom and put on the new outfit.   She looked as beautiful as the ladies in the magazines as she twirled to show how the skirt moved. For the first time the little girl with braids and knobby knees knew what fun it was to embody the spirit of playing Santa Claus.

The last word:

We both wish you a Merry Christmas and the best for the New Year.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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A few weeks ago my wife and I went to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. This is a fabulous, small art gallery with many of the paintings you learned about in your Art Appreciation or Art History course. But from September 6 through November 2 it also has one of the four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. For the first time, one of these original copies was in the US – the copy in the National Archive in Washington DC is from 1297.

The document was copied by hand with very small letters made with a quill pen and dipped ink. The letters have faded and the cotton “paper” has discolored, and while my Medieval Latin is rusty making my ability to comprehend the script limited, the document is readable 799 years later.

In another case of amazing longevity for saved data, a friend of mine was able to get data from computer tapes from the 1960s. The story of finding the tapes, finding a tape drive that would read them, and a company that had the technology and process to make it all work makes that data recovery remarkable. If you have data on floppy disks (remember them?), try to figure out how you would access it.

Is it even possible to save today’s data for 800 years? Maybe, but not easily.

You need four things in order to save data for the long term:

  1. A digital copy of the data.
    For digital data, that is fairly easy; just copy it. For analog data, like vinyl records, magnetic tape, or paper, you need to first get it into a digital electronic form. In the case of the 1215 Magna Carta, the four existing copies are not identical. Since it was copied by hand, sometimes by monks who could not read, there are accidental differences among the copies. The same thing happens with analog data – every time you read it you damage it, and any copy is modified from the original.
  2. A media that will last for the time period you want.
    CDs and DVDs are probably good for up to 20 years, thumb drives for probably longer. The more critical factor is how many times you write to the thumb drive, not how often you read it or even how you treat it while stored. Even an inexpensive thumb drive will support 3,000 to 5,000 erase / write cycles. Potentially the weakest part is the physical connector that you plug into your computer: they are only specified to withstand about 1,500 insert / removal cycles. For the purpose of archive, these limitations are not significant.
  3. A device to read the media later.
    The latest Macintosh desktop I have has no optical drive. While I could still purchase one, it is likely that ten years from now it will be difficult to find a drive to read CDs or DVDs. At some point, USB ports will also disappear, to be replaced by some newer better faster cheaper connection mechanism. For a while there will be gadgets that will still accept that thumb drive, but quicker than you can image it will be very difficult, and expensive, to read a thumb drive.
  4. A program to read the data.
    Perhaps the most significant long-term risk is having some program that can interpret the data on the media. With the 1215 Magna Carta, all I would need is my eyes, a magnifying glass, plus a refresher course in old Latin. Try to find a program that can read a Microsoft Word document created in 1982, or worse a document created by a program published by a company that does not exist. I lost some drawings I had created in an extinct Macintosh program that does not run on existing hardware and operating systems. Fortunately, I didn’t really care, but it was annoying. For long term storage, I suggest not using the native program format (e.g., .docx) but create PDF files. I expect that PDF, standard picture formats like .jpg, and using iTunes compatible formats for music will still be readable for decades, or at least give you time to convert the file formats. If you do need to keep the native formats, plan on running a test before you completely move to a new version of a program, a new platform (e.g., Macintosh to Windows or vice versa), or a new major operating system release. If it looks like it may be a problem, convert to a newer or different native format before you make the jump. A good rule of thumb is to update the native format files at least every five years anyway.

In general, you should not expect to successfully get data from stored electronic media after ten years, and you should plan to refresh your long-term data storage every five years or so. So you could endow an organization to do the refresh every five years and have some expectation that your data would still be accessible in 800 years.

Or you could print a dozen copies on cotton paper and give one to each of a dozen monasteries or cathedrals in England.

The last word:

That monk who copied the Magna Carta would, other than language, be pretty much at home in England for the first 600 years of the document’s existence. After that, with the changes including the indoor plumbing that first appeared in England around 1890 in London, he would be more and more lost. He would however have to find a different line of work, maybe typesetting, after about 225 years.

He, like many of us, would be baffled by a world where almost everything changes every 20 years.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

Locavores pride themselves on eating locally grown and prepared foods. Some of them are just food snobs trying to make the rest of us feel like food slobs. Most really enjoy and are proud of the foods their locality produces. Philly cheesesteaks, North Carolina pulled pork, Texas Chili, Neapolitan pizza, beers from various localities, or a spicy barbeque all make us salivate. Each reminds us of a region, or a special meal, or at the very least a clear and distinct flavor. There is a difference to be enjoyed between New York and Philly cheesecakes. New York cheesecake is a bit creamier and tangier. I prefer one for dessert and the other as a breakfast treat.

Each time I moved I would develop a taste for a regional specialty that would be the source of cravings when we moved to the next place. Living in Southern California I missed mid-Atlantic favorites. Now, back in the Philadelphia area, I am constantly craving foods with a Mexican flair. Several weeks ago we had a family movie night. That is to say we were showing home movies of the growing up years of my siblings and myself to which we subjected our mates. And here I commend them for being good sports about the entire evening. Seeing where we lived in Naples made me hungry for the pizza we would buy from a small shop at the foot of the hill on which we lived. Nothing else will sate this craving, so Walt and I are now thinking about a trip. There was also this one particular wine I remember, so it isn’t just about the pizza.

When I lived in Naples the world was a slightly slower place. When we moved there we traveled, not by plane, but by an ocean liner. All the American goods that we got at the Base Exchange were brought in by cargo ship. Due to temperature changes in the hulls of the cargo ships that could affect the look or efficacy of some products, Hershey’s Chocolate bars often had a white powdery coating. Our mail was flown over from the States. Much of our shopping for American style products was done through mail order catalogs. That meant flipping through the pages of a catalog, filling out an order form, mailing it to the company back in the States, having the company fill the order, and then ship, yes literally send it on a ship, back to us. It took time. Sometimes we didn’t remember quite what we had ordered, so opening the package was a bit exciting. Gifts to or from family and friends were also shipped. My Grandmother decided she would not send us the annual supply of Christmas cookies. She was afraid that the shipping would cause then to be stale or nothing but crumbs. She sent Moma copies of my Great-grandfather’s treasured holiday cookie recipies instead and wished Moma luck in finding the ingredients and making them. At that point I had learned a bit more Italian than Moma, so armed with my trusty bi-lingual dictionary we went together to the local shops to find some of the candied fruit bits and spices. It was a family project to make the cookies and Daddy documented it with his trusty 8mm movie camera with its 4 floodlight light bar. My Grandmother’s education wasn’t the best, and in her copying of the recipes she left out some key instructions and an ingredient or two, thus making the project more of a challenge. As Moma had often helped with the baking when she lived at home, or we lived near Grandmom, she was able to see some of the discrepancies or she just got a bit creative. During the course of the project we all talked about how various flavors and aromas reminded us of different places and times.

My fertile little mind took off on tangents. I began to think of all the places we had been and the various things we had enjoyed wherever we were. One of the fun things was walking with my Grandmother to the local farmers’ market at least once during each of our visits with her. As that’s where she did most of her food shopping, she knew all the farmers and their families in each of the stalls, and they knew her. She would tell the butcher she wanted to make ox-tail soup, and he would have a tail for her on her next visit. Though Daddy often teased her that it was just from some cow he had just butchered she insisted that it was from an ox. She would ask each seller she visited about children who weren’t there that day. Then she would push my brother and me forward to be seen and praised. It had its rewards, as we would often be given tastes. As we were then living in Naples, Italy I decided I really would enjoy a sandwich with Lebanon bologna. The local shops had prosciutto, Parma ham, mortadella, capicola, but no Lebanon bologna.

Having been rewarded by the Italian consulate in New York with all sorts of wonderful information about Italy when I had written to them about our up-coming move, I responded as rapidly as Pavlov’s dog. I wasn’t fussy about a brand name since I had never noticed any on the bologna Grandmom had brought home from the farmers’ market, so I didn’t have an address nor even a company name. I had no idea where to send a letter. Remember, this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just Google it. I decided to write to the Chamber of Commerce in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After all, shouldn’t Lebanon bologna come from Lebanon, Pennsylvania?   In my letter, I explained how far away we were, how the Italians didn’t understand lunchmeat, and, most grievously, how the Commissary didn’t carry Lebanon bologna. I wanted to know how I could buy some and have it sent to us. Having signed, sealed and stamped it I placed my letter in the pile of out-going mail and pretty much forgot about it. I’m not sure how the Chamber of Commerce reacted upon receipt of the letter. Hopefully they had a pretty good laugh.

Quite a while later, getting on into spring, Daddy arrived from work with a box that was about three foot long, and maybe nine inches on a side. Accusingly he looked to Moma and me and asked what we had ordered this time. Moma was puzzled. By then, I had forgotten about my letter. We all stood around the kitchen table as Daddy carefully opened the box and slid out an entire roll of Weaver’s Lebanon bologna and a very nice letter. The Chamber of Commerce had forwarded my letter to the Weaver family, who gifted us with an entire bologna. Moma had a hand-cranked meat-slicing machine, which she immediately set up on the table and proceeded to cut off several slices. It was the best I had ever had or have had since.

Times have changed. We expect immediate gratification. We now buy foods from all over just about anywhere any time of year, though travel time and distance mean that especially fresh foods aren’t always at their peak. People don’t write letters anymore, either, contenting themselves with ephemeral e-mail, texts or twitter. But that’s for another rant.

The last word:Jim1099s

This is the view from their apartment in Naples, Italy. Many years later, this story helps explain why Suzy really likes to cook, is pretty good at it, creates many of her dishes from scratch, and makes me create an herb garden everyplace we have lived.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

He was just of average height and had ropey muscles indicating a vigorous, young man’s strength from years of working on the family farm. His family had come to this valley in western Pennsylvania with some of the first settlers, and different branches of the family had owned land all over the valley. The early morning July sun promised a hot day. Pushing a shock of dirty blond hair off his already damp forehead, his light blue eyes looked out over the field of winter wheat. It’s golden hue and fat heads told him it was ready for harvest. The air was still, and there was a bit of sparkle from the remaining dew. Within the hour the grass and fields would be dry and they could start harvesting.

He and his brother, Will, had just finished the alfalfa last week.. His father was pleased that they had finished before the Independence Day celebration. Mother had spent the week working to prepare the food for the family picnic. The holiday fell on Friday so that those who came from a bit farther stayed over to attend Sabbath Meeting before returning to their homes after dinner Sunday afternoon. Just now the family was mostly women and children and old men. The preacher had spoken about the war and all of the men who were away fighting. Brother Jack is on some island in South Carolina fighting this war. He’s been gone most of a year now. The Sharp cousins had gone earlier. Shortly after Jack left, their father had taken ill. It had seemed to take a long time for him to get his strength back. Jamie and Will were still doing most of the heavy work and everything took longer with fewer hands. Jack kept writing that their father shouldn’t fret about him, but both parent watched for the mail carrier each day hoping for some proof that Jack was still among the living.

Jack had helped put in the winter wheat last August, then joined up with Daniel Leasure and the100th Infantry, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Lawrence County had provided the men for F Company under James Cline. The Round Heads had pledged three years, but nobody thought it would take that long. In his early letters, Jack had written that they expected the war to be over by spring and he would be home by planting. They had gone to Camp Kalorama Heights, near Washington, D.C. for training. Then in the fall, his regiment had gone in a convoy of seven ships to North Carolina where they spent the winter on James Island. Now the fighting wasn’t going as well and Jack saw no end to it.

Jamie stepped off the porch and with an easy stride headed to the barn to get his hook.   He knew Will would be along soon. Will was still reading all the details about the war that were in the newspaper Mother had brought home from town. Jamie was looking forward to the rhythm of cutting the wheat, which would leave a lot of time to think, and he had a lot to think about just now. They had gotten a letter from his brother-in-law, A.J., just last week.   A.J. said he hoped the drill Jamie had done would be sufficient satisfaction of Military Duty to keep his war fever down. A.J. had come to the conclusion the he would much rather serve this great nation at home by cultivating the soil. He encouraged Jamie to value the production of food to feed the soldiers and those at home. He wrote that he requested Jamie not to go to War, but let somebody else fight to free the Negroes. Jamie didn’t know much about the Negroes, except that many were slaves, mostly in the south. He’d never even seen one. In these parts they rarely even saw an Indian. He had read Governor Curtin’s call for volunteers. Governor Curtin said that Washington was in imminent danger of being over run by the rebels. The regiments he had sent before had been sent to many places and now President Lincoln needed more men to protect Washington. Jamie did want to keep our great Union together.   His brother was marching and being fired upon. Word had come back that several of the young men he knew and had grown up with were dead. Every generation of his family before him had fought for this country except his father who had had the disadvantage of being born in 1812, and thus unable to defend his country in the war of that year. When Jamie was eleven there had been the War with Mexico. President Polk had not asked for volunteers to fight there and Jamie didn’t know anyone who had gone. Now, at twenty-seven Jamie was looking forward to buying his own farm, getting married and starting a family. After Sabbath meeting he had been visiting with Sarah. She seemed willing to marry and begin building their life together. If he signed up, would she wait for him to come home to her? Belle, who had been seeing Jack, had already begun visiting with one of the other fellows who had a farm up the road a bit. Would Jack even come home? Would he be maimed or killed in some battlefield whose name none here had ever heard before getting word of a battle? If Jamie went, would he come home? There was always that chance, too. Then, if he didn’t go would Sarah think of him as less of a man? Would he be able to live with himself?

Jamie cut the wheat and Will bundled it into shocks to dry. The weather held and by the end of the week it was time to separate the wheat heads from the straw. Then they baled the hay and stored it in the barn. On Saturday, the 19th, Jamie and Will walked into Harlansburg. Jamie had decided and Will wouldn’t be left behind. If they signed with this new group, the 134th, it would be for only nine months. He would be home by next spring. He would trust in the Great Giver of all good things that he would only miss one fall planting.   He signed.

Jamie had a little over two weeks to settle his affairs and to help his father prepare things around the farm so that the old man could handle it until spring.

On Friday, 8 August, Jamie and Will kissed their Mother and shook hands with their father and set off up the road for Harlansburg where they were taken by wagon to New Castle. At 4 P.M. they boarded a boat and started down river for Pittsburgh. They took heart from Jack’s letters about Army life. Now they were on their way to places they had never seen and their lives would be very different. Yet, Jamie was at peace. His decision had been made. He would fight in this war. He would be part of the Grand Army of the Republic and hold this great Union together.

The last word:

This is another story about my Great Grandfather based on his diaries and letters.

Letters_diary

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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