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Friday, March 29, 2019


So this morning I just finished Becoming by Michelle Obama. This much discussed book is likely or has already been identified as the most read or listened to autobiography/memoir of all time. Some of my former students, of this long retired history teacher would no doubt find it hard to believe, when I say, for this review I’m at a loss for words. What is there to say that won’t sound like a bunch of hackneyed clichés or overdrawn superlatives?' I'll try to choose my words carefully and with restraint.

Becoming is a book exactly about that. How a child and then a young girl grew up first in a racially diverse mostly blue-collar working-class neighborhood on the south side Chicago. Her rock-solid family was anchored by  a father who despite serious physical handicaps worked a full-time job for the city, never complained and brought laughter and fun to all those around him. Then there was her mother, who fostered in her children that with no excuses they should always strive to be the best that they could be. Incidentally, this should always include using proper grammar  Finally, there was an older brother who steadfastly protected his little sister and often paved the way for her on their mutual road to success. As we know, it is often the case that our early childhood sets the template for who we become.

Each following candid chapter reveals more and more of the becoming theme. Michelle’s high school years were marked by the effects of the white migration to the new suburbs. The south side of Chicago began to suffer the effects and trauma of poverty, crime and drugs. The self-actualization of the word "ghetto" only worsened the problems. In the mostly black high school, which Michelle attended, she was asked  "why are you so white?  Grammatically correct English was no doubt a factor there.
 In succeeding chapters we meet a striving young woman who regularly asked herself she was “good enough?” Needless to say she was both while attending an elite Ivy League university and beginning work at a Chicago law firm where she  hoped someday to become “a partner.” Obviously both of these institutions were largely white and mostly male-dominated.

 The next chapters becoming for Michelle involves an unlikely romance and marriage involving two people so different in their upbringing and lifestyle one can hardly imagine  how in the end it all works so well. Of course, the last becoming involves politics and the White House. Here the details are rich and compelling and  include an evolving marriage and raising two girls as normally as possible in the White House. There is some  disdain for politics  at the beginning of the stages but overall  little rancor,  Michelle’s tagline "when they go low, we go high” pretty well sums it all up what is left out in these final chapters. We saw all the lows on national television. The highs in those White House years when a special woman and her family did us all proud.
So now as I promised, without all the superlatives and clichés I could think of, I will  simply say this is the best autobiography/memoir I have ever read. And to those who for whatever reason have yet to read it I believe anyone who approaches this story with an open mind and a little empathy will find it touches the heart.

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@Barrie Summy

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Good Valentines Day in DementiaLand

  It had been most recent Valentines day and I had been invited to  lunch and a party with music, with my special Valentine. When I got there Barb had a new friend to go along with Nancy who held hands, on a regular basis, with Barb who reassured her when  Nancy cries that everything was going to be all right. She also promised to be the matron of honor for another somewhat confused lady who believed she was going to be married at the end of the week. Naturally, Barb volunteered to be her matron of honor.  All of us sat together for Valentines lunch at a big table after I cleared with the authorities that this was okay and seemed no danger to anyone. I also consulted with the pianist who was providing the music and asked if she could play some slow music after lunch, preferably waltzes, so Barb and I could dance. All I could think of was the Tennessee waltz. In the meantime, the pianist was playing golden oldies from the 50s.  My lunch group along with others at other tables seemed to be having a good time and I encouraged my group to guess the songs which were golden oldies and we played guess the name of the song and the singer. All the people with dementia beat me soundly in that game. Some bad jokes on my part, more fun and  then I told them Barb and I were going to dance. And so we did. Alone at first and then several other "mixed"married couples(caretaker and resident) joined us. Finally,  some of the aides began rounding up people from other areas in wheelchairs and brought them to join  the dance party.  Here they held hands h with those in wheelchairs and they danced also. Towards the end as some of the smiling laughing people began to sit down from exhaustion, one of the big shots showed up with the camera and took pictures of the  crowd. Later, I asked for copies and told them with their permission I might advertise their wonderful institution by putting those pictures on my blog. Unfortunately, because this facility is part of a giant corporation they have lawyers, there are some "privacy"issues involved in that . So eventually, I expect to get an edited picture of me and my beloved dancing through the night at our best Valentines day ever, and they will be posted on this very same blog :-) Ray


Finally, I had to deal with one difficult problem. Saying goodbye to Barb. The problem is easy to explain. When I arrive I get hugs and kisses. When I leave I have two choices. The first is to bring Barb home with me. The second is to shack up with her and move in to memory care. The solution requires teamwork on the part of the staff and me heading home without being seen. Today it all worked well and when I called back Barb was still happy, contented in her new apartment and doing just fine. A really good day in dementia land for Barb and me as well.

Monday, March 18, 2019



I was reminded last Sunday by our Methodist pastor who spoke in his sermon of a word rarely used today.  That word was vocation. It is somewhat similar to the word calling, which clergymen and women are often said to  to  have experienced. The minister told the story of a young friend of his, who at age 11, told his parents he intended to become a medical missionary. He accomplished that goal by attending medical school, became a pastor, doctored in a small town in Minnesota. There he married and helped raise a family. However, he spent much of his adult life in the small African country of Sierra Leone. There he treated thousands of people where no medical care was available. In semi – retirement he returned to Minnesota  and later returned, at age 84, to Sierra Leone to help fight the spread of the dreaded Ebola. The moral of the pastors message was surely that there are some people in life who spurn the goal of riches and fame, that in the cause of doing good in this world. Something more than a job, something with a mission. I do believe there are people in  jobs and professions, who do that. Not everyone,  but there are some who see their job as a vocation. Nurses, teachers, firemen, social workers, EMTs and so on and on. Let us all remember to give them the respect and honor for what they do, often without much reward, but certainly deserving of our support. Troutbirder (ray)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dang it!

I did it again. You'd think with only two blogs I could keep it all straight. Wrong!!! My latest post intended for this blog is on the other one. Sorry but you'll have to click on Mark Twain above, sitting next to the idiot to jump over to my other blog

Monday, March 4, 2019

Theodore Roosevelt's early books.

 Hunting Trips of the Rancherman and The Wilderness Hunter by Theodore Roosevelt.

This 1996 modern Library edition of two of Pres. Roosevelt’s many books is readily available. In reviewing it I must reveal a big bias. It seems my father born in 1909 had a middle name named after Pres. Theodore. I followed with the same middle name and then Mrs. T and I named our eldest son Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt was the most remarkable of men. He ushered his country into the 20th century. He stands also in the first rank, according to author Stephen Ambrose, of the 20th century presidents. He was  among famous world leaders second on the great writers list just behind Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar. You can add scholar, cowboy, outdoorsman, rancher, conservationist, war hero, police Commissioner, Nobel Prize winner for peace, and progressive Republican who became president. He also reflected some of the currently politically incorrect beliefs and biases of his times. He was a man for all seasons.
The  memoir I just finished reading was an early one of his many books. It does reflect the new man in the making, who lived in the West and learned from it. As a young New Yorker, Harvard graduate,  inheriting wealth from his father he presaged his younger cousin Franklin and was the uncle of Franklins bride Eleanor. I will say this about this book. If you’d like to meet this great president firsthand instead of biographies or see his face on Mount Rushmore. Read about him in his own words. It's real history in the making.