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Entries in Observations (73)


Surprised By a Diary

This weekend, my wife Gail and I celebrated our 5th year of marriage. We spent the weekend at The Pickwick Inn, a turn-of-the-century home, converted to a bed and breakfast. It was a wonderful getaway for us, and a bit of time away from our son Nathan. We enjoyed the time idling in a small town with a square, taking drives in the country, shopping, eating, riding a tandem bike, sipping coffee and generally enjoying each others' company.

One of the surprises of the weekend came in the form of a tiny diary that was on the dresser of the empty room across the hall from ours. Because we were the only ones at the inn all weekend, we decided to have a peek at the other empty rooms. We did this on Saturday evening, after dinner, when I happened upon a small burgundy book, about 1/3 the size of my Moleskine sketchbook.

Being a curious fellow, I picked up the book to have a look. I discovered that it was a diary, with each day of 1909 listed at the head its pages. On the pages were entries, some short and some long, scribbled with a fountain pen. I was utterly fascinated with this antique diary, so, I secretly brought the small book into our room for a closer look.

I showed the book to Gail, and she was curious to read and hear its entries. I began reading random pages, curious about whom this person from 1909 might be. I skipped around, trying to decipher the scribbled text. As we became more intrigued by the mystery, Gail took over reading the diary in the August section of the book. We were hooked.

As Gail read further, the life of a twenty year old working girl from the south side of Milwaukee, began to emerge. The unnamed woman shared thoughts about her working days, their joys and troubles. Many entries were simply "worked late" and one in particular noted sarcasticly, "the working life, ain't it grand!" She also described her family and social life in vivid detail. As we read, this woman became real to us, as she talked about dates with several interested gentlemen, which soon turned to her interest in a certain Jack and his chief rival, Ned.

We could sense by her own entries that Jack was quite the handsome guy and indeed the apple of her eye. It seemed as she told of her dates, that she was the apple of Jack's eye too. At one point near the end of the year, ol' Ned confronted our mysterious writer with a choice: pick him as her steady guy — yet she refused to be held down. During this same period in the fall of 1909, she talked of her interest in Jack with terms like "he's a peach" or "he's a cute kid" and "we've got it bad."

We learned that the trolley car system of Milwaukee was quite popular, as she recounted catching 'cars' all over town, and even to far flung outskirts like Delafield (about 30 miles west of the city). She often talked about seeing friends and acquaintances on the 'car' here or there. On other pages, she told how she barely made a car, or how some gent had "made eyes" or once, in the deep of November, how a suitor's car was delayed over an hour because of a blizzard.

I was surprised how relevant her life was to us both, even though she lived 95 years ago! I had the idea that Milwaukee in 1909 was a dirt-street frontier town full of sweatshops, but the picture which unfolded before our ears was that of a cosmopolitan city, bustling with life and action. I further had the idea that the life of a working woman 95 years ago might have been one of 15 hour days and drudgery in a factory, yet found this mystery woman talking about her very lively social and family life.

I suspect she was middle or upper middle class, because of her work, her many nights out, movie experiences and trolley trips all over town. I suppose her many boyfriends might have been reasonably well off or working young men, in order to afford all of the dates. Still, it was refreshing to have my ideas of 95 years ago challenged a bit, all by a little burgundy diary.

As the night passed, Gail read and read, going over nearly every page until the end of the book. Then she started out at January 1st and worked her way back to mid August. By the time we finished recounting the diary's pages it was well past midnight, with only a short one hour ice cream break between our start after dinner and before the midnight hour. I told you we were hooked! :-)

As Gail and I talked about the diary, we shared several observations with each other. First was the surprise that a young woman in 1909 could lead such an exciting life. But secondly, and more importantly was the idea that a little book, which this woman wrote could survive nearly 100 years, to be read by a couple on their 5th anniversary.

This thought challenged us both to work harder at recording our own lives in diaries and photo/scrap books. We were challenged to record what our son Nathan does each day, to shoot photos and video, because we too wanted to leave a legacy to Nathan and his children's children. If we're lucky, maybe others might stumble across our written and recorded accounts of life at the turn of our own century.

For more postcard images of Milwaukee, check out the Penny Postcards from Milwaukee County gallery at


If We Listened to Our Intellect...

”If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.“

— Ray Bradbury

(via Teri Martin's excellent daily Quote Mailing List)


Post Vacation Observations

Our family had a very nice vacation break last week, driving to Western Pennsylvania (New Wilmington to be exact) for our yearly New Wilmington Missionary Conference experience. My wife has been a conference attendee the conference over 20 years, my own attendance is now at 6 years.

As usual, It was refreshing and relaxing and provided some time away from the daily grind to think about things I might not normally consider. So, what follows is a collection of random thoughts which percolated to the surface last week mixed in with thoughts about the weblog redesign, etc.

Disconnection Feels Good
While I carried along a laptop, mobile phone and PDA, I found myself enjoying freedom from those devices very much. I checked emails only once per day and for several days didn't check at all, leaving the laptop idle in my bag.

The only broadband connection occurred via free WiFi, at new little local cafe in town called Mugsies, where I could grab and send email or surf the web for free, while enjoying a coffee. Even then, laptop use at Mugsies was quite limited — I found it handy, but in no way was I interested in sitting for hours on the web. I liked having the option, but had no interest in what I do every week day, back home.

Of all things, I happened to forget the charger for my mobile phone, which meant it stayed off and in our room most of the week, though I did find even at low battery level, I could make calls in an emergency.

The Tungsten E became a reading tool for some weblogs and Le Tour sites I like to grab via iSilo. Again, since the laptop was mainly parked in my bag, using the TE for reading only happened a few evenings during the week.

I was pleased with my limited use of technology — it was freeing to not feel compelled to be online all the time. I was able to maintain touch if I wanted, but in the end, chose mainly to remain disconnected. Maybe the Amish, who live around New Wilmington had some subconscious effect on me.

The Grapes of Wrath
Besides spending time with my family and conference friends, I took time to continue reading The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck's novel is quite a good read, though I admit it took time to settle into his written version of 'Okie' slang that the Joad family speak in.

I'd started the book in the spring and lost track of it following PalmSource DevCon 2004, only to find it prior to our vacation. I was pleased to get back into the book again, finding the story interesting, shocking and challenging.

In a nutshell, the Joad family is uprooted by landowners on their Oklahoma farm, and are forced to migrate to California in hope of work and a life there. The Grapes of Wrath chronicles their story and of other migrants flowing to the West in the 1930s in search of a new life. I'm now nearly done, and can't wait to see the end of the story. One could safely say, I'm liking this book.

If you haven't read the book yet, or were forced to in school, I can highly recommend it. The story offers readers a great opportunity to experience first hand what hard times, forced travel and the migrant life might have been like, while displaying what dignity, kindness and being a human being is about.

Road Trips
I've discovered again that I really enjoy road trips. I dislike all of the preparation for a road trip (either direction), but once I'm on the road, I'm happy to drive, as long as good coffee, good tunes or a book on tape is there.

We listened to music and books, but most impressive was Thomas Cahill's How The Irish Saved Civilization. I was amazed to learn about the ancient world and how the Irish made copies of important documents just prior to the dark ages of Europe. Who knows where these documents might be if not for them. Not surprisingly, this little book revived interest in ancient Rome, St. Augustin and St. Patrick, because of their roles in history.

Unfortunately, it also saddened me to realize how much of the ancient world's literature was lost over the centuries, in spite of the Irish and their work.

Finally, road trips make hospitality shine like a jewel when it's encountered. I was encouraged, feeling the friendliness of strangers traveling with us. In one case, a man pointed out my accidentally dropped wallet at a rest stop, in another, I had a nice chat with a woman walking small puppy that my son wanted to pet, about kids and animals.

I think the largest example of road hospitality was that of my brother Steve and his family (Janet and Max), who offered to have us stay the night at their house after 8 hours on the road from PA. We'd only intended a short stay, but resting seemed a better option. We were treated to generous hospitality, and fun time together. It reminded me how nice a safe place for a traveler is, and challenged me to be ready to offer hospitality when the opportunity rises at our house.

Rohdesign Redesign
My last item is the redesign of my site, which happily had no progress over vacation. I'm now excited about completing the process, building the site and learning as I go along. I plan to have a detailed update at the end of the week.

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by to visit. I will be back in the swing of regular blogging once the redesign is posted... soon. :-)

Have a great week everyone!


Fashion Observations

On Thursday morning at the cafe, I spent time sketching, reading, writing and observing customers stopping for their morning cup-o-joe.

As I sat drinking my own coffee, I observed two gentlemen on the extreme opposite ends of the fashion spectrum — one straight out of GQ magazine and the other a candidate for What Not to Wear magazine, if such a magazine exists.

Mr. GQ
Here was a youngish guy, probably late 20s or early 30s. His hair had been carefully styled to appear as though it was a little greasy and pillow-matted. Sprouts of hair shot out from all directions, like lawn weeds. He wore Buddy Holly black-rimmed glasses, freshly pressed (or chemically saturated) wrinkle-free shirt, un-tucked from a pair of stylin' gray leisure slacks. Heavy, rubber-soled black oxfords completed Mr. GQ's look.

What I found amusing about this high-fashion look was the effort and energy spent on looking as though he'd rolled out of bed, and in his haste to get coffee and off to work, forgot to take a shower and tuck in his shirt tails. There was something about the idea of working hard to look messy that seemed very ironic.

Mr. Blue Shoes
Now, at the other end of of the fashion scale was Mr. Blue Shoes, an older gentleman with nicely combed and clean gray hair, an olive and white-striped, tucked-in polo shirt, light tan slacks, white socks and blue leatherette loafers! I couldn't quite work out the blue shoes. Maybe they're his favorite, most comfortable shoes, which he wears with everything (probably to the groans of his fashion conscious wife).

I respected Mr. Blue Shoes for at least dressing comfortably — without too much thought for fashion. Nothing he wore matched, for which the Fashion Police would have gladly ticketed him. At least he was at least true to himself and his favorite blue shoes. I could respect that, since I too have a pair of well-loved and beat up leather oxfords with gum-soled soles cracked to the point of separation.

Maybe I'm getting old and crusty. After all, isn't that what happens? Old men are the ones who chuckle at fashion that causes other, much hipper grown men to spend hours in front of mirrors to appear as though they've just rolled out of bed the third morning in a row? :-)

Have a great weekend!


Comparing Realities

Just finished watching the Colonial House on PBS tonight, which is a very interesting show. The premise of the show is to send many (13-24) diverse volunteers off to live on a 1,000 acre plot in remote New England, to see what 17th century colony life might have been like.

My wife and I have actually watched similar shows over the years: 1800 House (A family lives in an 1800s London House for a summer) and Frontier House (A group of settlers live on the American frontier for a summer).

In each case, seeing life in pseudo-historic settings tend to make me thankful for the niceties I enjoy, and point out some of the things we've lost in our modern lives and how in many ways we have become soft compared to our ancestors due to our culture and technology.

Colonial House was no exception, as I quickly saw that it's virtually impossible for 21st century people to truly live as if it were the 17th century. All sorts of contentions arose in the second episode of the show, because all of the participants brought a 21st century approach to 17th century living.

Now, I'm not saying 21st century is bad — rather, I came to see that a person having lived a life in our modern world can never completely understand life back then.

This hadn't fully hit me until tonight, watching Colonial House — that as much as the participants try to recreate a life from back then, they will only know portions of that life, because in the end, they know they will eventually go back to their real lives. Nobody is held there by anything but their own choice and honor.

So, in some ways we can see what life then might have been like and this is a good thing. Knowing where we've come from is very valuable. But as with many things, there are experiences or knowledge of that life lost forever to us. It's unfortunate, but that's just the reality of the situation I suppose.