Thursday, December 27, 2012

THE BEST BOOK OF 2012 - COMING APART - THE STATE OF WHITE AMERICA - 1960-2010 by Charles Murray



As 2012 comes to a conclusion we look back on the year in books. Non-fiction and fiction. The best book of 2012 goes to Charles Murray's COMING APART.  Murray's brilliant dissertation on the United States as it sits today is a read that is powerful, profound and insightful. If you love the U.S. it can also be slightly depressing.

For those who argue (a losing battle) that the United States hasn't been an exceptional and consequential nation in the history of the world  - they would be delusional, foolish or both. The founding fathers alone proved to be near beyond the norm of human standards. If one has never read a biography on George Washington, one should scatter themselves to a local library and gather up one on him. For all of our flaws, the United States has produced some amazingly gifted men and women. The obvious people include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, but the real core of the nation's history belongs with "we the people." I realize I only listed men, but the list would be quite long if I didn't edit. The average man and woman produced out of the earth that encompasses the United States managed to bring forth a whole host of remarkable people - almost of whom are now lost to the ages. Have you ever thought who would remember you fifty years past your own death? I have. No one left on planet earth will know I ever existed.

Murray breaks down the country into the narrow and broad elites and then he takes us down the path of the people who clearly are among those 47% that Mitt Romney referred to. Unfortunately for him, that one quote plagued him.  The United States was once a collective unit. From the 1600's through the point right past the mid of the 20th century we were in one way or another pretty much all on the same page. That is not to say, that we didn't have different cultures, different mindsets/worldviews, different incomes. We did, but water cooler conversation was exactly that - for all intents and purposes most people could relate on one level or another.

We suffer from a cultural dilemma. It's not economic, it's the culture. Murray argues that Americans have lost their industrious sensibility of hard work - he argues we are no longer honest - he argues that we are losing our religion and that no one wants to get married.  Why is it that all of those under thirty-somethings just want to live together? Where is commitment? Without marriage - what kind of family unit do we have? Research just released indicates that the number of two parent households decreased by 1.2 million.  Fifteen million U.S. children live without a father.  That's one in three kids without a dad. Appalling.  

We have basically become a bunch of lazy, slacker losers. Look around. Basically, we have. Go to a mall. Sit on a bench and wait one hour and just gaze at all the people passing by. Go home and write down what you saw. Everyone is sloppy, intensely overweight and why are they there in the middle of a weekday? Why is it that people wear pajama bottoms to shop? Why is it that a wide swath of our population seemingly doesn't shower or wash their hair? I'm not attempting to sound like a comic. This is now our reality.

There are so many downright brilliant statements in this book, they are too numerous to mention. The research is topnotch.  Quantitative and qualitative research at the top of the game.

Chapter three overloads on the research statistics, so it is the only chapter that may weigh down some readers, but wait until you get to the questionnaire in chapter four.  It's a vital realization of truth.

The highly educated elites are getting together at those coffee clutches (I hate those places) and trading their travel sections on Sunday mornings and to them the world seems fine, but we have an underclass that isn't doing a thing.  Wait, maybe they are taking meth.

The world has gone mad and Murray puts it all on the page.

Murray starts the book (literally on page one) detailing the day the world changed. November 22, 1963 (the day President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas) became the symbolic first day of what would be known as the Sixties and of the cultural transformation that wound its course through the subsequent decades.  In other words, it was in its own way the day the music died. The sexual revolution brought us divorce, families torn apart, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and an anything goes attitude that is now completely accepted.

Please don't take anything lightly that I said here. I don't want to trivialize the problems that plague the nation or the world, but at times you have to take a breath and at some point realize that ultimately there is nothing funny about any of this. People aren't getting married. It's a fact. Think of all of the ramifications of that. The morality of it is easy.  For the secular world it should astound as well. No marriages lead to higher single family homes which statistically leads to higher use of welfare programs.  Who pays? No marriages. People will not buy homes in the numbers that they once bought at. Wedding and shower banquet halls are suffering. Please, again, don't think I am trivializing this.  I'm not.

People feel they don't need God. We now have the highest suicide rates in our history. Our suicide rate has matched our traffic death numbers. Clearly, the nation must be full of misery and pain. You can't ask where is God if you never seek him. By the way, Murray is not a conservative (he claims to be libertarian) and I don't know if he considers himself a practicing Christian, so he is not approaching this as though he were a member of an Evangelical church.

We cheat, lie and steal and seemingly think it's a good thing. 

COMING APART is the single best book of 2012.  The best book of the year! Nothing else even comes close.  Brilliant, powerful, profound, insightful.  A must read for any serious minded or not so serious minded human being living in our time.

Buy this book or check it out at your public library.


Copyright 2012 Read On Read Now
      

Friday, November 9, 2012

INTERVIEW WITH KEN ABRAHAM - AUTHOR OF WHEN YOUR PARENT BECOMES YOUR CHILD


 

When Your Parent Becomes Your Child: A Journey of Faith Through My Mother's Dementia is a superb read. My father died from Alzheimer's seven years ago, after battling the disease for 12 years. Since my mom is now living through the aging process I was even more inclined to seek this book out. She doesn't have Alzheimer's disease, but she has slowed down, to say the least. I loved my dad and I love my mom; and the love that literally flies off the pages of this book will give you a reboot in relationships and in life itself. My mom moved in with me recently and in many ways she has become like my child. I prepare her breakfast area in the morning before I head out to work, I prepare her dinner when I return from work. I help her get into and out of the shower. The list of life's experiences that we share is - well, endless. I enjoy sharing my life with my mom. It was with that in mind that I read this book.  

Ken Abraham is a New York Times best-selling author. He has collaborated with many high profile individuals, including Lisa Beamer on Let's Roll!, and George Foreman on God in My Corner. He has also written with Tracey Stewart on the Payne Stewart biography. Other collaborators include; Chuck Norris, Bill Gaither, Joe Gibbs and Vestal Goodman.

I’d like to thank Ken Abraham for this interview and I want to thank him for writing this book! This book is available at www.christianbooks.com and at www.amazon.com 

Judith: Were you keeping a journal during this period of time or was much of the book written from memory? 

Ken: Although the memories of our experience are indelibly impressed in my mind, I didn’t write from memory, but more from fragments of notes I kept over the years as my mom slipped into dementia.   

Initially, in casual conversations, my wife Lisa and I often reminded each other of funny, sad, or poignant incidents about my mom. I’d write them down on scraps of paper, throw them on my desk until I had time to enter them into a document on my computer. I wasn’t really planning to write a book about Alzheimer’s, I merely wanted to remember these things to share with our daughters about their grandmother. When we began searching for helpful materials that addressed not only the physical and psychological aspects of dementia, but the spiritual aspects as well, we found little current material available from a Christian perspective.   

To us, the most important questions were: What do we need to know to best deal with mom’s mental state and how do we honor my mom in a Christ-like manner and still maintain any semblance of normalcy in our lives? 

Two books that touched me regarding “end of life experiences” were Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, and Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.  Though not written from a Christian viewpoint, both were short books with strong emotional stories.  When I decided to write, I wanted to tell stories about my mom’s experience that would point people to Jesus, because that’s what her life was all about.
 
Judith: My family found out later that personality changes we remembered with my dad from a few years before his diagnosis actually mattered. They were indicators of what was to come, but none of us knew that at the time.You mention that you weren't particularly alarmed by memory lapses and other personality trends with your mom because you wrote it off to getting old. Any advice to readers about special things to make note of when watching their parents grow old? 

Ken: Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, part of the reason I wasn’t alarmed at my mom’s memory lapses is that I was clueless about the possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s. Even after she was diagnosed, I remained in denial for several months until my own research convinced me that what her doctor was describing was accurate.   

One of the key signs I wish I had understood was her inability to follow a story line, whether in a book or on television. My mom was always an avid reader (especially of the Bible) and she was a good story-teller for most of her life. As the dementia set in, she stopped reading, got bored quickly watching television movies, and couldn’t follow anything other than a game show.   

Misplacing items and not remembering to take her medications were also behaviors that I regarded as mildly irritating, but not unusual. I was wrong.  They were serious indicators that the dementia was setting in and I missed them. 

Judith: When you discussed your mom's move to Nashville, as a reader, I felt at peace. I felt I knew your mom and Nashville seemed like the only place for Minnie. What conversations took place with your family? Was there one person (obviously, you come off as that person in the book) in the family who just naturally took the lead through the entire journey? 

Ken: Surprisingly, the person who led the way in suggesting and facilitating the move of my mom from Orlando to Nashville was my wife, Lisa.  My brothers and I talked logistics and finances, but Lisa saw the emotional need for my mom to be around family members more frequently.  I could not—and as I mention in the book—I would not have initiated the move without Lisa’s full cooperation.  Husbands and wives and even children need to discuss and understand as much as possible what is involved in caring for a loved one who can no longer care for himself or herself. We had frank discussions with our kids, telling them in advance that “Grandma Minnie” might say or do some things that were out of character for the grandma they had known previously. 

Most of my conversations with my brothers were about mom’s need to see and talk to them on a regular basis.  They knew that, but that was one of her fears in moving, that she would no longer be in contact with her family members in Florida. I assured her that planes fly in both directions, and for the first year or two of her stay in Nashville, we were able to fly her back and forth.  After that, she could no longer fly by herself, or manage the myriad details in getting through a major airport. 

Judith: What do you say to those that have a sense of guilt about placing a parent in an assisted living or nursing home environment? What do you say to people who literally cannot afford to place a parent in a home outside of the dreaded facilities that Medicaid will pay for?  

Ken: The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are currently more than 15 million unpaid caregivers attempting to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Over half of these people are caring for someone in their own home.  Most are caring for parents, though some are caring for spouses.  

That is a wonderful situation for as long as it works, and it is part of our spiritual obligation to care for our parents and to honor them.  When it becomes clear that more intensive or round the clock care is necessary, or that the care is taking too high a toll on you or your own family members, you cannot allow guilt to prevent you from doing what is best for all concerned.  In our case, we moved our mom to “independent living” facilities for as long as possible.  As difficult as that was—moving her out of the home she had occupied for more than fifty years—she needed the interaction with other people that living in a “communal” atmosphere provided.   

The move to a nursing home—longterm care facility—was more emotionally wrenching for me.  By that time, mom was not able to care for herself, and we were being run ragged trying to care for her.  I finally had to establish a habit of thanking God every day as I was leaving the nursing home—thanking Him that she was in a safe place, that there were people there who loved her and cared for her, and thanking Him that as much as possible, I was trying to obey His leading in providing the best care I could give.  Did I ever feel guilty?  Absolutely.  Satan was quick to taunt any time I took a vacation or did anything for myself that took me away from being at the nursing home.  As with any sort of spiritual oppression, I had to come against that in the Name of Jesus, and know that my mom’s life was in His hands, not mine.    

Judith: How did you encourage your siblings to do more? 

Ken: At every opportunity, I reminded my brothers that mom missed them and was looking forward to their calls or visits. I never once scolded them, or even hinted that they were not doing enough. We all live with the choices we make, so I wanted to make sure that I had no regrets about how I contributed to our mom’s well-being.  

My siblings were great about calling our mom, and even visiting from Florida for a few days at a time.  They could never have done enough, as far as mom was concerned, because she wanted to see them and be with them every day.  One of the ways I tried to encourage communication was by calling my brothers from the nursing home and allowing my mom to talk to them on my cell phone. If your family members are not local, obtaining a cell phone package with unlimited calls is a good idea.  I tried to call each visit, so in addition to my family members’ calls, cards, and photographs, we also used some interactive computer services (skype, ichat, etc.).  Anything to stay connected. 

Judith: You discuss the hoarding of fruit.Has anyone ever told you where the hoarding aspect of the disease comes from?  

Ken: I’ve not found any clinical information that explains this phenomenon, but the tendency toward insecurity, possessiveness, and fear can only be overcome spiritually. I also suggest large garbage bags!  We cleaned out my mom’s refrigerator on a regular basis, discarding apples, bananas, cups of coffee, and all sorts of other things, to which she had ready and unlimited access, so her actions did not stem from need, but the hoarding persisted.  

Judith: One of my favorite passages in the book is when you relay the following from your mom. "I never thought I'd be in this situation, not able to take care of myself. I don't want to be a burden on you. Maybe I should get a job." At that point in the book, I put it down and wept. My mom has made comments like this and it breaks my heart. You wrote that you didn't know whether to laugh or cry. What did you do? 

Ken: That was indeed a poignant moment for me.  As I recall, initially I laughed and told her that I was going to get her a job delivering early morning newspapers.  That was not a good answer, because her quick response was: “Well, if I only had a car . . . .”

Not going to happen!   

Later, of course, when I thought of her having such a strong work ethic all her life, and that now she was relegated to sorting and folding wash clothes for the umpteenth time—wash clothes there were not even used, as one of the residents noted—the tears came easily.  Still, I tried to find ways that Mom could feel useful. 

Judith: How did your faith get you through this?     

Ken: I had to constantly remind myself that “life has purpose,” that she was not still here outside of God’s knowledge, that the very fact that my mom was still living meant that there were things He wanted to do in her and through her . . . and of course, in me.  That didn’t always make it easy, but that awareness that life at every stage is good when it is lived for Him helped keep the feelings of despair and depression at bay.         

Knowing without a doubt that my mom was a Christian was a tremendous encouragement, as well; that the moment she breathed her last here on earth, she would be alive in heaven.  That knowledge evoked a confidence as we faced each step of her demise.
 
Judith: You describe the missed moments to the bathroom more than once in the book. I must admit this is the most difficult part of the struggle of watching a parent age. What was the most difficult aspect of your mom's decline for you to watch? 

Ken: Bathroom incidents are no fun, regardless of the age of the person for whom you are caring. The most disconcerting element to me was not cleaning the mess, but dealing with the indignity my mom was suffering. Always a conservative, modest Christian woman, she was now “letting it all hang out.” She would have been shocked at herself! The complete role reversal struck me, as well, that I was now putting diapers on the person who once put diapers on me.     

Judith: My paternal grandmother spent the final couple of years of her life in a nursing home. I was in my 20's at the time. I visited her about once every couple of months. I now think of her often and say to myself - why didn't you go to see your grandmother? She was lonely. I wish I could live that period of my life over. I loved the way you describe your dad's visits with your Aunt Anna.  Share with us how you told your children about the importance of visiting their grandmother. 

Ken: I emphasized to our children that “Grandma Minnie” had always been there for us, that she had sacrificed much in her life to help us, that she never missed sending birthday and Christmas gifts to each of us, and most importantly, she prayed for each of us by name every day of our lives.  Now, I stressed, it was our turn to be there for her.  For the record, I was not above using guilt and manipulation with our teen aged daughters!  “After all grandma has done for you, the least you could do is to go visit her for an hour!”  Thankfully, our daughters didn’t require a lot of coercing or cajoling to visit their grandmother.  The issue was more a matter of finding the time, especially once they were away at college.         

Watching old home movies in which mom was her “normal self” was helpful, as well, allowing our kids to see their grandmother as the truly fun, creative, and loving person that she was before the dementia set in and robbed her of so much. Our girls were good about expressing love to their grandmother through hugs and kisses and touches, an important missing ingredient in the lives of many who are afflicted with dementia. 

Judith: The physical dilemma of your mom's amputation was an additional suffering for her. Where did you find the strength and patience to live through this period of your mom's life passage? 

Ken: Dealing with the physical amputations of my mom’s toes and more than a third of her right foot was the most heart-wrenching aspect of her downhill journey for me to observe.  Although she was in severe pain, she rarely complained until the very end of her life. The helplessness that those lost toes represented was emotionally difficult to handle.  Moreover, because playing the piano had been such a major part of my mom’s life, her inability to use her right foot on the piano pedals spelled the end of a way of life to her, and to me.  Certainly, she could still use her hands to play, and she did, but she was too good of a musician to be content with that. Had she not been so far along the way, we may have attempted to devise some way for her to press the pedals without using her feet, but that would have required new information in the short term memory banks, and mom’s short term memory ability was virtually nonexistent at that point. 

The day she first realized that her toes were gone, “I can’t find my toes”—nearly four months after the operations—will always be a difficult memory for me.  Yet her upbeat attitude though obviously tainted by the dementia, will always be an example for me, as well.  “Yeah, they’re probably around here somewhere.” 

Judith: I completely related to your conversation with God. What is the lesson He wanted you to learn? 

Ken: Unquestionably, the Lord was reminding me that “His grace is sufficient for me” or for anyone who trusts in Him; and my mom certainly trusted Him all through her life, all the way to heaven. He was teaching me that His power is indeed manifested, perhaps especially in our weaknesses. As I say in the book, mom not only taught me how to live; she taught me how to die.  To the very end, her faith in God never wavered, and that was part of the lesson for me, too—we are called to be “overcomers,” and that involves some difficulty that must be faced and overcome. 

Judith: When your mom was pleading with Jesus to come to take her home I wept again. Scripture tells us we will recognize those we knew here.  How much comfort and peace do the words of God give you during your thoughts of your mom?      

Ken: It comes down to whether we truly believe in Jesus or not.  Jesus Himself is the One who said I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come again . . . if it were not so, I would have told you  (John 14:1-3). 

I believe in Jesus; my mom believed in Jesus and she was not afraid to die. She had absolute faith that she would be going to heaven. What a wonderful way to face death—and what a marvelous way to face life!
 
The promise of Jesus provides comfort and peace, and also hope that we will see my mom again—whole, with her new body, no dementia, with feet and toes that can move with ease. God’s presence by His Spirit provides an awareness that He is guiding us in the right direction, that despite the obstacles, the moments of pain or tears, He is with us, and He will see us through. 

Judith: Quite honestly, I can't imagine life without my mom. What would you tell me? 

Ken: I’m a realist. My mom was a major part of my life, so I miss her every day. At the same time, knowing that I will see her again motivates me and gives me incredible confidence to face each new day. 

Two things are important in regard to life without mom: one, it is so important that you make every day count now, while you have your parent with you. Certainly, at times that means reshuffling your priorities and responsibilities.  I’m a self-confessed, non-recovering workaholic. I can and often do work 16 to 20 hours a day, but it was important that I walk away from work to take time with my mom.  The work will be there . . . she is not.  

As a family, we made special efforts to include her in our lives.  We took her with us everywhere—to parties, to church services, to weddings, baby showers, and funerals.  She shared life with us.  Even when she could not remember what day it was, we took her out in a wheelchair for ice cream. We celebrated every birthday and holiday together.  Was it always convenient or even fun?  Of course not.  Was it worth it?  I’d do it all again and more if I had the opportunity. 

The second important aspect of life without mom is fundamental to our faith—we truly believe in eternal life with Christ in heaven, so when a Christian parent passes away, it is not the end, but the beginning.  Surely, we mourn our loss, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope.  We know that we will see our loved ones again, and that helps us to remember the positive things.  Every day, I pass by a picture of my mom—the one of her sitting in a wheelchair and playing the piano—and I smile and say something such as, “You don’t need that wheelchair any more do you?”  Someday, she will answer me in person. 

Judith: You mention the conversation about being relieved? That bothered me even though I expected to see it pop up somewhere. Why do you think people react that way? 

Ken: I took such statements in the best light possible. I truly believe most people who say such things mean well and have good intentions. They must think a person who goes through a long bout with a parent’s debilitating disease is anxious for that time to conclude, so life can get back to “normal.” They may not realize how it sounds to callously suggest that we are relieved now that my parent is dead, and I no longer have the responsibility of caring for him or her.   

          As I tried to convey in various ways throughout the book, it was a privilege to care for my mom.  No, it wasn’t always easy; but it was always worth it. 

Judith: The Alzheimer's Association provides tremendous assistance and advice. From your perspective what are the top five items people should be on the lookout for with their loved ones and their life changes. 

Ken: The Alzheimer’s Association website provides invaluable free information for anyone dealing with dementia—everything from recognizing symptoms to managing financial matters in trying to care for our loved ones.   

I found their advice to change the subject rather than to attempt clarifying or arguing with someone with dementia to be especially helpful.  That is the number one tip I offer in dealing with dementia: Rather than argue, change the subject.  Your loved one won’t remember the contentious issue a few minutes from now.   

Certainly, memory matters should not be ignored, undue suspicions and paranoia may also indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s; confusion about places, times, dates, names of people that your parent previously recognized easily all may be signs that it is time to see a geriatric doctor.  Losing or misplacing personal items was a big sign to us. Changes in personality, including the uncharacteristic use of profanity or general rudeness is significant, as well.    

Judith: You've written books with Lisa  Beamer, Tracey Stewart, Jorge Valdes, Joe Gibbs, Vestal Goodman and many others. What were the major differences when it came to writing your story? Your beloved mom's story? 

Ken: I’ve been privileged to help a number of “world-changers” tell their stories, and in many of them, I’ve been a combination of a friend, counselor, pastor, amateur psychologist, as well as an author. It is always a thrill to see how God uses these stories to touch people’s lives. 

To me, WHEN YOUR PARENT BECOMES YOUR CHILD is far and away the most special book I have ever written.  When I first broached the subject to publishers and editors, many of them said, “That’s admirable that you want to do this, Ken, but it will never sell.  People don’t want to read about dementia.” 

My response was: “You may be right, but I know there is a need for this sort of book, and hopefully it will be helpful, encouraging, and that it will find a way to people’s hearts.” 

  In some ways, it was more difficult emotionally than any previous books I’ve written, and in other ways it was far easier, simply because I attempted to share my own heart with readers. In a real sense, I felt that I was writing on behalf of many people who could share similar stories—that indeed, in some way, they could say, “That sounds exactly like what I am experiencing with mom or dad.”  I hope my efforts in telling this story will produce conversations within families, and hope within the heart of every person who is now grappling with the myriad changes that take place WHEN YOUR PARENT BECOMES YOUR CHILD. 

Judith: I do feel like I had the chance to get to know your mom through this book. I am sure she is living a glorious life and yes, if we were to interview her she would answer the question of what was your homegoing like with - "never better." 

Ken: Thank you Judith! That is the highest compliment you could give me!
Author, Ken Abraham - Photo Courtesy of Thomas Nelson
 
Copyright Read On Read Now 2012

 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Interview with Garry Parrett from The Land of Oz Museum



Wisconsin? I love Wisconsin. I have travelled to the dairy state many times in my life and I have seriously considered spending my retirement years in this glorious and gorgeous upper Midwest state. On a recent visit to Door County and assorted other locations in the state I happened upon a wonderful find - The Land of Oz Museum. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Having worked in media my entire adult life I was somewhat surprised to see such a fully developed and all encompassing motion picture themed museum pretty much in the middle of nothing. No offense to the middle of Wisconsin (I love the area), but it isn't exactly the first place you think of when you think of the entertainment industry.

I happened upon this most delightful of experiences only because I was hiking near a waterfall not far from the town of Wausaukee, Wisconsin. I was chatting with some people about the area where we were and they mentioned this museum. My family and I looked at each other with that look as if to say, this can't be any good, but we headed back to town and indulged in some absolutely delicious soft serve ice cream at the Ice Cream Station. We called the number for the museum and lo and behold, we entered.  We didn't voyage down a yellow brick road, but we would highly recommend that a yellow brick road be added to the external section of the building.  That would be a nice touch and it would be highly promotable!

I came of age in a generation when we didn't have DVDs, On Demand or Netflix. We had three broadcast networks, PBS and a couple of local stations. Every single year on Thanksgiving we sat down to watch the brilliant 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. The Metro-Goldwyn Mayer film was a critical triumph upon its release, but shockingly it wasn't a huge hit at the box-office. It's a superb achievement in filmmaking and it has held up well over the last 73 years. When the film hit the television era in 1956, it became a cultural touchpoint for a couple of generations of people and it remains beloved all these years later.

The film is based on the sparkling fantasy book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  The book was released in 1900 and it is still an essential in the annals of fictional tales.

I was so taken with the Land of Oz Museum I asked its curator, Garry Parrett to do an interview.  If you are a fan of the film, if you are a fan of films in general, if you are basking in the beauty of the great state of Wisconsin, then run to the Land of Oz Museum. If you aren't a fan of the film (what's wrong with you) you will still appreciate the dedication, determination and hard work that went into the assembly of this fully realized adventure in Oz.


Q: How did this begin?
 
A: In 1989, my wife gave me a Wizard of Oz 50th anniversary plate for Christmas and my children gave me some figurines. Then I joined the International Wizard of Oz Club the following year. The secretary of the club who lived about 60 miles from my house invited me to his yearly Oz Christmas gatherings in Escanaba, Michigan. There he had his guests bring their personal Oz collections to display on tables. I got hooked when they had their collections displayed. I went to stores, antique stores, Oz festivals, Internet sites, and flea markets to obtain all the items in my museum. It will be 23 years now since I got my first Oz item--the plate.

 That first plate in this collection grew into the museum
 

Q: What motivates you to keep going?
 
A: I love the movie--period. I love to display my Oz items. I love when visitors to the museum show their love for the museum by words and actions--especially picture taking of my Museum.

Q: I assume your all-time favorite movie is...
 
A: My favorite movie is the Wizard of Oz, for many reasons. First, it was shown yearly when I was a kid and that anticipation of getting to see the movie once a year was an experience that motivated me to watch it.We had no VCRs or DVDs those days. Second, I love the theme--THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME. Third, it is the only time when all my family sat down and watched a movie together--I lived in a dysfunctional family.

Q: How many items are in the museum?
 
A: Good question---I estimate there are around 13,000 items. The museum is filled with Oz items. There are 9 rooms filled: bathrooms, closets, hallways, main rooms and even the room separating the first floor and the basement. The building once was a grocery store in the 1930s and then an American Legion Hall. I have an Oz Christmas room, partyware room, Oz Halloween room, the main hall is full of dolls, figurines, over 230 musicals, over 130 records, a ruby slipper display, a memorial for the Oz Munchkins especially Meinhardt Raabe (only Wisconsin representative), and Oz kitchen (plates,cookie jars, Oz glasses, Oz salt and peppers shakers, Oz teapots, etc...), hallway of Oz figurines and banks, an Oz play room (puzzles, games, toys, puppets and craft kits), an Oz plush character room (over 80) with Oz posters for the movie (theater, DVD, and VCR), a basement with other Oz movies (Muppets of Oz, Journey Back to Oz, The Wiz, Return to Oz, Tinman), basement has an Oz preschool, an Oz classroom, an Oz bedroom, an Oz library, an Oz tin area, an Oz beauty center, an Oz garden center, an Oz time area, Oz nutcrackers and figurines, a WICKED Broadway play area, a display for Judy Garland as a memorial to her, and Wizard of Oz cartoon animation cells and posters.
 Cookie jars and more!


Q: Garry, What items in the museum have the most meaning?
 
A: All my items in the museum---they are part of my life. They are placed in special themed areas of the museum. If I have to answer the question, well, my autographs of the Munchkins and the pictures I took years back at the Wizard of Oz festivals in Chesterton, Indiana when I met over 25 Munchkins from the movie. In 1991, I started attending the Oz festivals there--the third weekend of September---and now I have attended 21 festivals since. Sadly, only three Munchkins survive today and only one of those Munchkins visits the festival today.

Q: Any experiences with any actors from the film?
 
A: Experiences of actors that played in the film---Like I said I had met over 25 Munchkins over the 20 years---and some even called me by name, but only one really stands out--Meinhardt Raabe(coroner of Munchkinland). I met Meinhardt Raabe (a Wisconsin native) in 1992 at an Oz Club Convention in Zion, Illinois. It was my first encounter with a star from the movie and I was thrilled. He pleasantly surprised me by visiting my home with his wife right after the club convention ended. His wife's brother lived in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and the Raabes were going to visit them. Well, my home in Wausaukee,Wisconsin is right on the same road leading to Iron Mountain, Michigan, his wife Marie wanted to visit me and take a rest. My children also got the chance to visit him too, but my wife was at work. We had a great time. Being a teacher at the time, I took him to visit my friends in the school district's office, kids I could find, and then I took him to our grocery store (Marinette County coroner works there) where I had him meet the coroner of Marinette County--the Coroners of Munchkinland visiting the Coroner of Marinette County, Wisconsin. A picture was taken then and is in the museum today. The picture is in front of the Oscar Meyer meat display, because Meinhardt worked for the company as a Little Chef right after the movie was finished filming. He and Jerry Maren (Lollipop Kid in the movie--middle one) both were hired by Oscar Meyer to travel in the US to ride the Weinermobiles and serve as Company ambassadors. Meinhardt also came with his wife in 1993. My wife was also at work so Barb never got a chance to meet them. Now that is a thrill yet today to have them actually in my house for two hours each time. In the museum there is a memorial for him (pictures-figurines, and a replica costume of the coroner's outfit).

Q: Why Wausaukee?
 
A: I wanted a building close to my house so I can get to it easily. The building is only down the hill. Three minutes away for walking. This is my retirement dream to show off my Oz collection to the world. I had these items in my basement of my house for years. Now they are displayed for everyone to see with themes involved.

Q: Any big dreams for the future of the museum?
 
A: My dream is to have more movie items in the museum---authentic items-- too costly to buy in the auctions. I do have some authentic items--pieces of the Yellow Brick Road, hair from the lion, straw from the Scarecrow, piece of the Witch's hat, and a script page Jack Haley (Tinman) used to memorize his lines. I would love a whole costume or item from the movie---that is my dream.

Q: How does your wife feel about your time involved with the museum? What are your family's feelings?
 
A: Feelings of my wife and family...At the beginning of my Oz collecting my wife was not too happy. She is totally happy today for me. She told people I don't hunt/fish, have boy toys like boats, snowmobiles, 4 wheelers--so he spent his money on collecting. My family is always looking out for Oz items for me. My children --- since they were children made $5.00 every time they found Oz items at flea markets, garage sales, or antique stores--still do today and they are 31 and 29 respectively. This is a cherished tradition I love yet today with my children.

Q: Are you obsessed?
 
A: I am totally obsessed--I am always on the hunt for Oz items--If my friend from Illinois calls and says there is an Oz item at a store I will call the store or go to the store within hours to get it. I have a friend in Milwaukee who will go for me if that store only exists there and get the Oz item. I have lots of Oz friends who help each other to find these Oz items in the market today. I used to go to Milwaukee years past when they had Warner Bros stores with Oz items, I would leave at 3:30 in the afternoon and get the items and come back home at 12:30 at night. You have to know that Milwaukee is 3 hours away from Wausaukee. Spirit Halloween stores have a Wicked Witch that talks and moves and it is only sold in those stores. Guess what? I was there on September.8th - right at 10am when it opened. I purchased it for my museum.  They had only two per store. This store is in Appleton,Wisconsin and it is 90 minutes away.  I couldn't wait!

  Ruby slipper collection
 

Q: How does the town respond to the museum?
 
A: My town is proud of my museum. The people are always talking about it. They are finally coming to visit the museum after four summers here. I am trying to get people from all over the country and world to visit Wausaukee and my museum. I have 22 states so far represented and one foreign country represented.  We had a visitor from Germany. That was a fun day to have this visitor. An article for the local weekly newspaper is being prepared soon to be published of this visitor and my museum.

Q: How many people have visited the museum?
 
A: I have had over 1200 visitors in the four summers so far since the museum opened. I average about 400-450 visitors per year.

Q: Any famous visitors?
 
A: No famous people yet. The Oz Club editor of our magazine came to work on an article. Two different television reporters. They are famous to me anyway.


Q: What was your chosen career?
 
A: I was a teacher and building principal for the Wausaukee School District for 34 years. I am now retired, but I substitute teach to this day. I love to educate children, so having this museum I love giving tours and educating the visitors about anything Oz movies/books- and the stars who performed in the movie.  I love giving trivia information to the public when they tour the museum.

Thank you to Garry Parrett for the interview.

Land of Oz Museum
Garry Parrett – Curator
319 First Street
Wausaukee, WI 54177
 
Call 715 927 0767 for days of operation and to schedule a visit 
Landofozmuseum.com

The Museum is open from April through October, but please contact the curator before your visit.
Free, but visitors should donate to the museum's efforts.  Let's appreciate industriousness and givers of such joyful entertainment!
The Wizard of Oz Christmas collection. 
 
Copyright Read On Read Now 2012
 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

WHEN YOU'RE STRANGE


 
I recently read a couple of rock star bios.  Most of them are not worth wasting one second of a lifetime on, but at times there is an individual who is beyond interesting.  I wrote this review for When You’re Strange for another site, but it was more suited to this site after I have it some thought.   
 

In the rock star world it would be quite difficult to find a more intriguing class member than Jim Morrison.  Morrison was the stereotypical rock star defined as reality. The documentary, When You’re Strange paints a not too pretty picture of one of the most iconic of classic rock bands – The Doors. It is mesmerizing, electric, fascinating and of course, strange.
 

Forty seven years after the formation of the band, Jim Morrison’s antics (on and off stage) are still somewhat odd, even by today’s standards and that’s saying something. Imagine coming off as odd in 2012? Morrison, also known to rock fans as the “lizard king” was certainly a charismatic presence (on and off stage). That statement isn’t arguable. He ruled the stage with that stunningly beautiful face and those powerhouse vocals. Watching film/tape/video of the band (although, specifically watching Jim Morrison) is literally transitioning. I’m writing this almost as if I were in charge of the obituary section of a major news daily. The band is long dead and Morrison passed away in Paris 41 years ago, but it’s like I just watched death pass before me. Death is indeed powerful.
 

Morrison came from a seemingly normal family, but he was one major trial and tribulation. All of those trials and tribulations weren’t drug and alcohol induced. Looking into his eyes as he performed you almost wonder if he was suffering from mental illness. I’ve seen lots of bands and solo artists over the years and I’ve seen them play loaded and/or stoned and yet none of them had that look. His eyes were dead. When You’re Strange is an interesting journey through the life of a man who had absolutely no idea how messed up he was or how gifted he was.
 

I love this genre of music. I came of age to classic rock and I surrounded my life with multiple listens to the still haunting L.A. Woman. One can’t help but be transported to another time on every single earful. That song is rock music. You are in that song. For one still moment you almost become that song. Mr. Mojo Rising. How many times have you heard Morrison sing that over and over and over and yet it’s new on every press of the play.
 

Johnny Depp’s narration added a commanding respect for the creative art of Morrison and the Doors. Depp is one of my favorite actors today and he is sincere and genuine in his narrative drive, but Depp, even at his own personal weirdest seems apple pie normal next to Jim Morrison. I somewhat suspected, even at a young age that Morrison was off his proverbial rocker, but this documentary shows the madness of Morrison. I went into this documentary with a certain level of “I can’t wait to see this” and of course, I’m glad I saw it (I watched it a second time), but now I am filled with sadness.
 

Morrison needed help. He needed love. Having a fellow substance abuser as your partner in sex is not exactly Nat King Cole’s version of LOVE. Dead at 27? There is nothing romantic, glamorous or poetic about death at 27. He was strange and clearly a tad crazy from too many hallucinogens and too little peace of mind. Where was his joy of heart? Too many psychedelics and alcohol.  His brain was roasted and his eyes were baked.  Jim Morrison’s story is a tragic one. 
 

He remains more than a generation after his death one of the unforgettable front men of rock music. His iconic baritone and surreal lyrics were timeless and commanding.  I would have loved to have seen him live on a stage, but that can only be had in a dream.
 

What on earth could lead a human being with that vocal ability and that face to destroy himself physically, psychologically and spiritually? I have no answers to any of those questions.
 

When I went to Paris in March, 1988 I went to see Morrison’s grave and like so many visitors to the tomb I left a floral arrangement. I left it with love. Too bad in life he had no one hand him a care package filled with love. We loved that face until it got bloated.  We loved that voice until it was stilled. We loved that music and we still have it around to fool with our minds and hearts.
 

I only wish he had found peace of mind and joy of heart.
 

May the poet rest in peace.

Copyright Read On Read Now 2011
 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review of "The Lucky One"

I went to see “The Lucky One” by Warner Brothers Pictures, starring Zac Efron (as Logan) and Blythe Danner (as Ellie), not knowing too much about the film except that it revolves around a veteran returning home from duty in Iraq.   During the movie I learned that Logan carries around the one thing he credits with keeping him alive--a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know. Learning her name is Beth (played by Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.

I agree with many reviewers that basically, the movie is just not that good.  It’s standard Nicholas Sparks and very plodding, formulaic and moody.

But beyond that, I found this movie extremely offensive.  Let me say that I’m not a prude (although I don’t appreciate gratuitous sex or violence in any form), but what troubled me so in “The Lucky One’ was the juxtaposition of faith and premarital sex. 

Beth’s young son Ben (played by the charmingly cute Riley Thomas Stewart) is a budding violinist, and initially, I was pleasantly surprised that the movie includes Ben practicing a hymn (“In the Garden”) on his violin, over-heard by our hero, Logan.  Inspired, Logan begins to play the hymn on Beth’s piano and then is asked to accompany Beth’s grandmother’s choir in church, which he does.  There’s a stirring Sunday morning scene where Logan coaxes Ben to play the hymn on his violin for the congregation.  I was so pleased to see that everyone attended church, even Beth’s troublesome ex-husband, and seemed engaged & inspired by the service.

Beth and Logan, of course, become involved, and there is not much left to the imagination as they engage in sex early in their relationship.  Premarital sex is everywhere – in PG movies, in primetime television, novels, you name it.  While its increasing predominance always concerns me, it’s normally not blatantly engaged in by implicitly faith-filled individuals who also attend and are involved in their church.  The message, therefore, is that Christians are like the world when it comes to sexual morality before marriage, and that’s OK – even “beautiful” and “redemptive.” 

There are certain gray areas in the Bible, but premarital and extramarital sex is simply not one of them, and I was so very disappointed that, along with many inspirational & encouraging messages in “The Lucky One,” it didn’t take the higher road in this regard.

Copyright Read On Read Now 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Review - Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership With A Search and Rescue Dog




Dogs. They are not only a wonderful comfort as companions and friends, but they are useful to us in a wide variety of ways. They are intelligent and they have superb skills in a diverse range of activities. There are dozens of working, hound and sporting dog breeds that can and do offer society big picture talents.

Over the course of history, several breeds have been used to sniff out everything from bombs and mines in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and assorted other nations. Dogs can smell narcotics and cancer and they can rally their "smelling" talents to find people. Living and dead.

Scent of the Missing is a 285 page must have in your book collection. Susannah Charleson started out assisting in the field with dogs and eventually she was certified to handle dogs in the search and rescue world. Charleson provides a detailed look at her work as a handler with the Dallas canine search and rescue team. It's part storytelling with a large dose of biography, but we get a welcoming visit into the world of the search and rescue front. We travel through the abilities of German Shepherds, Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers and an assortment of other breeds that are fully capable of working the field just because they can smell way beyond the limited abilities of human beings.

The dogs involved in search and rescue are entrenched in work that includes everything from digging into tragedies (9/11, the downed Columbia space shuttle, the Oklahoma City bombing) to the now seemingly everyday occurrences (tragic as well) of missing loved ones (adults and children). Whether we explore the horrors of a missing child or the lost Alzheimer's patient it is all tragic. Victories do come with people being found, but unfortunately, many of the searches are not met with a happy ending. Most searches are successful, since almost all victims are eventually found, but not alive.

Charleson shares the exploits of her non-working toy dogs - a series of Pomeranians, but it is her relationship with the Golden Retriever, Puzzle that takes us on the ride worth sharing. The relationship begins at the start of Puzzle's life in the field as a puppy.

This is a stunning portrayal of a partnership that includes a loving personal human/dog relationship and their work life as partners. Dogs are indeed man's best friend and we witness this on every turn of the page.

Charleson was a pilot prior to becoming a SAR (search and rescue) handler. She writes with a warm and inviting delivery. This is a well crafted book with some poetic prose. It's warm and fuzzy (no pun intended) on the one hand, but viscerally in your face with some horrible circumstances (although, there is nothing graphic here and it is completely appropriate reading material for anyone over the age of 14) on the other hand.

There are thousands of unsolved crimes on the record books with law enforcement agencies all across the world. My sister is still haunted by the murders of the Grimes sisters. Barbara and Patricia Grimes were teen-agers on December 28, 1956 when they were brutally murdered after attending an Elvis Presley movie in Chicago. Their bodies were found dumped on German Church Road in Willow Springs, Illinois on January 22, 1957. The police never were able to find the killer or killers; and to this day there isn't a time we drive past that location where my mom and sister don't recall their deaths. We recently went to their grave sites at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in the south suburban area of Chicago. It's still crushing to know their family never had "closure" on the deaths of two young girls who just wanted to hear Elvis sing, Love Me Tender. Their murderer (s) went free. We can only hope that they were caught in the midst of another crime and served their lives out in prison. It is still a mystery, but imagine had they employed search and rescue dogs in the homicide investigation. Barbara and Patricia Grimes wouldn't have been found alive, but they would have been found sooner, but then again maybe they would have been found alive since the Medical Examiner wrote that they were most likely dead only four days at the time that their bodies were found.

TNT produced a pilot for series based on this book, but I have never seen it and I cannot find that it ever aired. Many pilots are shot, but most never see the light of day.

This is an excellent book about a personal relationship, but it is also a deep exploration into the life of a working dog. These dogs are unsung heroes. They have saved lives, literally all over the world and they have sacrificed their lives for their human companions.


We owe these dogs a special salute of praise.
 
Copyright Read On Read Now 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review - Coach Wooden: The 7 Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours




Coach Wooden: The 7 Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours
Authors: Pat Williams and Jim Denney
                                                                              
In light of some of the recent allegations at UCLA, including major articles by writers at Sports Illustrated magazine it is a unique experience to look into the life of Coach John Robert Wooden. Recently, UCLA's basketball team and its current leadership staff have come under assault for players drinking, partying hard, using drugs and intentionally causing injuries.  Welcome to the world. 

Unfortunately, the news gravitates toward the bad, worse and worst of society.  Clearly, there are still good people in the world, but we don't hear about the everyday triumphs of people located in all corners of our lonely, angry and bitter planet.

By the title of the book you would assume this was another self-help book.  There have been literally hundreds of self-help books published in the United States over the last 40 years, but this is not one of them.  It's interesting to think that the United States of the 20th century was one of the most powerful, influential, successful and downright admirable nations in the history of the world; and yet most of its citizenry must have been depressed, suffering from low self-esteem or just plain bored with themselves.

This take on the life of the famed Coach John Wooden is also not a biography, but the authors do take on this extraordinary man's words of wisdom and how those words were used to define the life of John Wooden.  He walked the walk.   He practiced what he preached. He set the example.  Name the cliché and it will fit here.   

Williams and Denney interviewed friends and former students/athletes to arrive at the place of discovery of a life lived fully and it turns out that his life was inspirational on a variety of levels.  How many of us are living inspiring lives? 

Wooden's upbringing on an Indiana farm ended up taking an unfortunate turn when his family was forced to leave the property.  His father, Joshua Hugh Wooden was a tough, honest, hard-working and fair man; and he never complained about the move or the events that forced his family off of their home.  He never blamed anyone for anything.   He did what one is supposed to do.  He kept working to support his family.  When John graduated from eighth grade his father gave him a graduation present that not only was never forgotten, but lived on throughout his life.  He exhibited his dad's gift on a daily basis.  That's a whole lot better than getting a tangible, but forgettable item from any contemporary retail outlet.  Joshua gave his son a slip of paper with seven life principles attached:

1) Be true to yourself
2) Help others
3) Make each day your masterpiece
4) Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
5) Make friendship a fine art
6) Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live by
7) Pray for guidance and counsel, and give thanks for your blessings each day

These are simple statements and yet there is nothing simple about living them out.  Most of us don't, can't or won't live by them, but our society has so drifted from living the life of the good and decent that we don't even remember any of these concepts.  John Wooden didn't have a superficial bone in his body.     

Coach Wooden did indeed live by these principles.  Each and every person that had any length of time within a relationship with him will attest to their presence in his life.  He inspired others and in a cynical, pessimistic, cruel world that inspiration is refreshing and encouraging.  Wooden was a solid rock. 

In their book, Williams and Denney give a wide variety of examples of how and when Coach Wooden lived by and lived out these principles.  Those seven principles turned an Indiana farm boy into one of the most successful coaches in the entire history of American sports, but more importantly it turned him into a remarkably extraordinary human being.

His father's gift was handed down to him a long time ago and even after Coach Wooden's death we see just how much those principles meant to his life and hopefully to ours.  The simplicity of a life well lived will never be obsolete.           

John Robert Wooden - born October 14, 1910 - went to his eternal home on June 4, 2010.
    

Copyright Read On Read Now 2012