Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Apothecary Museum, Alexandria, Virginia

Before the existence of modern pharmaceutical companies, where did your doctor get medicines to relieve your pain? From the local apothecary, who had apprenticed to be able to diagnose ailments and dispense natural remedies. Using recipes, he would measure and weigh herbs, spices, gums, roots, barks, leaves, seeds, and buds, and then grind them in a mortar and pestle to produce liniments, potions, tinctures, elixirs, and pills. Hearing stories from our guide in Alexandria’s Apothecary Museum was fascinating. Some examples …

Early American apothecaries dispensed common pokeberry “medicine” to calm inflammation. The ink used on early American documents was not purchased at Staples; rather, it was made from fermented pokeberries. Although unicorns exist only in the imagination, unicorn root is a rhizome used for centuries to relieve stomach aches, colic, dysentery, and other ailments. Turpentine gum? You don’t only clean your paint brushes with it—at one time it was thought to get rid of parasites in the human body. Mandrake root myths abound, but colonial Americans used it to regulate the liver and bowels and to lessen jaundice.

The remedies themselves are interesting to learn about. Seeing the original storage drawers in the root department, gum department, bark department, and so forth, is impressive. The natural medicine recipe book, its page edges brown and crumbling, is huge. The apothecary also made perfumes; some bottles are on display. At the dawn of the 1800s, baby bottles were blown glass of various shapes; even the nipple was glass, though our guide conceded that dried cow udders were often attached to the bottle instead. Some shelves contain other blown glass bottles for storage; bottles with wide necks stored powders, while bottles with narrow necks stored liquids.

The history of this particular apothecary is interesting as well. It began in 1792, with Edward Stabler and continued with his brother-in-law’s descendants, the Leadbeaters, until 1933. That’s a pretty respectable run—141 years of retailing, wholesaling, and manufacturing.

A thirty-minute guided tour is your only option if you want to see this interesting piece of history. I heartily recommend one! Alexandria is less than ten miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, so you will hear stories of his family’s dealings with this apothecary. During the Civil War, the Union Army occupied Alexandria, so you will hear about the apothecary’s role in treating wounded soldiers. And you’ll get a slice of the history of medicine, from the four humors to germ theory, with a little controversy thrown in—laudanum, blue mass (mercury) pills, and belladonna stories.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
105–107 South Fairfax Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Phone: 703.746.3852

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Leaning Spruce Lesson

Ruby magazine was kind enough to print my true lack-of-faith story in their May 2017 issue on pages 34 and 35. At the end of this post I've included a link to the whole issue so that you can enjoy this lovely magazine. Here's my article:
Leaning Spruce Lesson

I hear an elephant trumpet. A Cape buffalo bellows and grunts. A stampeding herd of rhinos thunders across a savanna. All these, plus wailing and whistling from my suburban living room.

Am I reading Out of Africa this afternoon? No. I am listening to unrelenting 30 mph winds with frequent 50 mph gusts. And this is Day Three of this gale. Bam! Sounds like shutters banging against the house—except this house has no shutters. Investigating the noise, I find a wooden rocking chair thumping back and forth on the porch. By now, roof shingles have probably blown off and landed only God knows where.

But my biggest worry is out the kitchen window. A blue spruce leans at a 30-degree angle, its stakes pulling further out of the ground with each fresh gust. Yellow ropes, once taut, sag and tremble in the wind. Considering how limp the ropes are, I am surprised the stakes even still touch the ground. They won’t for long, I am pretty sure.

I call my husband, who is out of town, and have to leave a voicemail. My voice quavers. Tears spring to my eyes. I feel so helpless. I pray for the Jesus whose mere command stills waves and wind to still these winds. Then I pray that God would somehow keep the spruce’s roots in the ground. I think if I could find help, I should, so I go on our subdivision’s homeowner listserv and ask for men with strong backs and a mallet to come pound the stakes back in. Then I run to the kitchen window to see if any knights in shining armor have arrived.

Silly me. Even a next-door neighbor could not possibly have read my plea, donned a jacket, grabbed a mallet, and gotten here in the few seconds it took me to plaster my hopeful face against the kitchen window. I search for my husband’s mallet, cannot find it, so go outside with a garden shovel. I pound at the stakes until I realize the shovel’s reverberations have caused painful swelling in my hand. Ouch! Defeated and once again helpless, I go back inside.

I keep close watch through the kitchen window in case someone comes. Oh—what if they drive up? I really should watch out the front street-view window, too. I know from previous requests on the listserv that neighbors here have lots of tools and expertise and desire to help, and I picture the scene when rescuers arrive. Ooh, what if the gal with the Hummer comes to tow the tree into an upright position again? Wouldn’t that be great?

I had other things I needed to do today, but now I can’t do them because I have this vigil to keep, because I will of course want to run outside to help when neighbors do come. And besides icing my swollen hand, there’s not much I can do while checking windows on two sides of the house. Plus, I need to keep an eye on that poor tree. In case I miss the sight, I wonder what sound the spruce will make when it falls.

Then it hits me. No, not the spruce. The spiritual application. This is exactly what I do when I have asked God for help with a relationship problem or life decision or someone’s salvation. I hover. I check every minute. I wring my hands. I think up all sorts of good ways He could answer my prayer. I feel sorry for myself. I worry that He’s not coming with help quickly enough so I try to do it myself. And since I am busy doing all that, I am not doing what God has called me to do. In many cases, I’m sure I have not even heard His Spirit’s still, small voice whisper what He wants me to do. In other cases, I know what to do, but I make excuses because I am too busy doing His job incompetently.

Oh, Lord, please forgive my unbelief, and my impatience with you that is actually demanding. Who am I to demand anything of you? I beg your forgiveness for my presumptuous disobedience and what it has cost you. Please, Holy Spirit, show me my limits and your desires for my time. And please help me to wait expectantly after acknowledging my helplessness before you. I am not strong enough to right a leaning spruce tree or even to pound stakes into the ground. Certainly changing complex circumstances and other people’s minds is beyond my abilities as well. But nothing is too difficult for you!

Now the sun has sunk below the horizon. No neighbors have sped over with mallets. Winds still howl, and the spruce lists lower than before. But I am at peace. I did what I could, and I prayed for God to take charge of orchestrating what only He can. And I wrote down this lesson from the Lord, which is what He placed on my heart to do this afternoon.


I invite you to read Ruby magazine's current issue at this link.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Quick review of Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred

To quote the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred is "a wickedly clever novel, ... hilariously funny ..." Mitford daringly and deftly juggles foibles of the English, French, Americans, and teenagers in the context of international diplomacy and family dynamics. Written from the point of view of Fanny, Alfred's wife, the novel recounts ridiculous scenarios during Alfred's first year as English ambassador to France in mid-twentieth century Paris. These scenarios are laugh-out-loud funny, partly because they are outrageous, partly because they portray human motives and dilemmas so truthfully. Mitford was apparently the type of person who could see humor in frustrations of politics and parenting. The title, Don't Tell Alfred, comes from many characters' spoken instincts to not bother Alfred with silly goings-on when he was carrying out serious duties of an ambassador.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My review of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s, is nostalgic for people interested in Paris or literature. Hemingway’s short chapters contain accounts of daily habits, anecdotes, vignettes, conversations, relationships, and observations. The edition I read also contains some photos. The book includes some skiing trips to Austria, too.

A reader of A Moveable Feast glimpses Gertrude Stein’s hospitality, quirks, and opinions, Ezra Pound’s kindness and generosity, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s struggles, Sylvia Beach’s (whom Hemingway’s little son called Silver Beach) bookstore and editing/publishing roles, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and others from that era. Hemingway also tells his opinions of these colleagues, and he even shares how the nickname “the lost generation” really was created. He calls the term an “easy, dirty label.”

As a Francophile, I of course enjoyed picturing Parisian cafes and life there in the 1920s. In one story about hunger being good discipline, Hemingway describes the route he would walk in order to not smell food he could not afford. While reading A Moveable Feast, I liked being “in” Paris.

As I writer, I was especially interested in his disciplines. He often wrote in cafés over a café crème or an eau de vie. I could see how this venue could inspire his descriptions as he watched the world go by. I could not see how he could concentrate for hours on end in a café setting. He jumped over writer’s block by the practice of writing “one true sentence.” Hmmm. I could try that. He discussed egotism and mental laziness. Good to be aware of those tendencies and guard against both. When he was writing fiction, he had a method for tricking his subconscious at the end of a workday and being fresh to pick up the story the next day. I could try that, too. Famous authors often advise writers to read a lot, and I do that. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway from time to time mentions what he is reading. I wish he had detailed how his readings influenced him as a person or as a writer. Some of his “camarades de café” such as Evan Shipman, Ezra Pound, and Sherwood Anderson piqued my curiosity to read their writings.  

My favorite line and fervent prayer for all writers was on page 17 of my edition: “The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My review of Lynn Austin's Waves of Mercy

By Chapter Two, I thought I knew where Lynn Austin’s Waves of Mercy was going. But I didn’t. Really, I couldn’t have imagined, and I’m so glad I did not stop reading what I thought was going to be a predictable romance, not only because of the ending but especially because of this novel’s fascinating, inspiring faith journey.

Lynn Austin writes exceptional historical fiction. This novel’s present is 1897 and its past, the fifty years previous. Current and past stories take place in Holland, Michigan, with some backstory in the Netherlands. When Anna, a beautiful 23-year-old socialite from Chicago, comes to Holland’s historic Hotel Ottawa in 1897 to heal from a romantic breakup, she finds a hotel employee, Derk, willing to talk with her about her newfound interest in the Bible. Meanwhile, his aunt, Geesje, has been asked to write her story for Holland’s celebration of its 50th anniversary. The reader of Waves of Mercy alternately reads the aunt’s story of her family’s escaping religious persecution in the Netherlands and forging their way in the wilderness of Michigan and the socialite’s 1897 story of discovering God and her identity and making right choices, which conflict with her parents’ views.

What I love about this novel is the honesty in Anna’s, Derk’s, and Geesje’s struggles. I could cry thinking about the unbelievable losses, difficulties, and pain faced by Geesje throughout her life. With each, she tells of her temptations to not believe God is good. She is the rare person who admits her gaps in faith and learns from them. I also love the author’s honesty in crafting a plot in which every life decision is seen as a spiritual one. No matter how small, each decision is between the person and God, based on the person’s view of God.

A.W. Tozer said “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In this regard, Lynn Austin’s Waves of Mercy inspires!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My review of Jojo Moyes' Paris for One & Other Stories

Thoroughly enjoyable short stories with likeable protagonists who rise above doubts and fears. I liked all nine stories of ordinary women and their everyday lives. I could relate! I hesitate to name a favorite, but “Paris for One,” the longest and most developed story in this collection, most piqued my interest because of the Paris setting and multiple epiphanies.

Monday, February 20, 2017

If they can put a man on the moon ...

If they can put a man on the moon ... 

I wonder why no one has invented a dental drill that sounds like Vivaldi’s Spring or even Barry Manilow’s Copacabana—or for that matter, the patient’s own iPod playlist? When the dentist drills, my senses of sight, smell, and touch are in la-la-land but I can still hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee screaming a hole into the center of my brain. Birdsong? Ocean waves? Dental procedures have become surprisingly pain-free, but now it’s time for some bright person to make dentists’ tools sound more relaxing.

Can’t they train baristas to pick up cups and mugs without touching the rims? That seems unsanitary to me, and it’s very common.

Why does send me a product review request for an item I bought directly from someone’s Amazon Wish List? Does Amazon’s computer not realize the gift recipient, not I, will have the opinion? Amazon is usually king of user-friendliness, but they dropped their scepter in the can on this one.

Speaking of computer programming gaps, this past year I registered online and verbal dissatisfaction with services of two companies. The vice president of one of the companies even called me on the phone to apologize and offer to fix what they had messed up. And she did fix one problem. But both companies continue to hound me with weekly e-mails hawking the specific services I had told them were unworkable for me. I find it hard to believe these two technologically sophisticated companies do not have a way for the customer service department to communicate to the marketing department to pull a customer from their mailing list. I worked in marketing for decades, and back in the dark ages, we could easily manually pull labels of people who had requested no mailings.

So I ask you, if they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they … [You fill in the blank!] ?