Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Twila and the Sangamon Ordnance Plant

Sangamon Ordnance Plant
For several years now I've been thinking about writing a novel centered around a young woman who works at the Sangamon Ordnance Plant. This was a huge facility of more than 1,000 buildings that manufactured ammunition near here during World War II. The idea appealed to me for two reasons: first, I saw the ruins of the plant in the cornfields and they captured my imagination, and second, I found out that a woman I know who worked there more than 65 years ago.

Twila with Ron's grandpa
The woman's name is Twila and I got to know her almost 20 years ago when she married Ron's grandfather after his grandmother passed away. Twila seemed like an interesting woman, but we lost touch after Ron's grandfather died. Two years ago though, after a review of my book appeared in a local publication, she called me. That's like her -- she is very assertive and forthright. She is also 91 years old.

Twila at the plant
After she called, I began to visit her each week on my lunch hour because my office was near her condominium. It was really fun getting to know her and after I began to record her reminiscences, I learned that she had been employed as a young woman at the Sangamon Ordnance Plant. Already interested in the plant, this was fascinating and I began to research the plant. One day, up in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library, I came across a company newsletter that showed the plant's employees. I scanned the faces, then remember that she said she had worked in the timekeeping department. Fortunately that department had few employees and there in the front row was Twila, then in her in her early 20s, just starting out in life. When I showed Twila a copy of the photo she said, "Yes, that's me.  I remember that dress!"

Twila now lives in an independent living facility in Springfield, and I see her less often. She is still very cogent but she doesn't remember many details about the Sangamon Ordnance Plant. After all, it was 65 years ago! She has expanded on  her personal life including a career and three marriages, and I believe there may be a novel in a character loosely based on her. I have a lot of admiration for this woman -- she is one tough cookie.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dog Show!

Tibetan Mastiff
This weekend, Ron and I spent Saturday and Sunday at the Prairieland Classic Dog Show at the state fairgrounds. It's kind of ironic because we don't have a dog now, but Ron loves animals and I love dogs so we decided to go. It was really fun and a great education. I had no idea there were so many different breeds of dogs. I wish I would've had a dog guidebook to let me know what the different breeds were. A Tibetan mastiff won Best of Show on Saturday: that is one scary big dog.

On Sunday, we went out to watch the breeder for Hercules, our dog who died a few years ago, show her Brussels Griffons. Hercules was a Brussels and his gentle nature won me over to dogs. At the show, I got to hold a black and tan Brussels Griffon on who was extremely cute. But the dog we both liked the best was a big dog owned by the son of our breeder, a Belgian Malinois. His dog is adorable --  she can do tricks like walking on her hind legs and jumping into her owner's arms. I was especially endeared to her when she began to nussle up and lick me --very affectionate!
Belgian Malinoi
Dog shows are interesting events. This poor quality video of an old Saturday Night Live skit is hilarious and really captures it. There are some effeminate men and masculine women who think nothing of putting dog treats in their mouths and brushing their hair with dog brushes.


Since we don't have a fenced yard and I am not able to take a dog out to relieve himself, getting a dog has to be something on which Ron buys in and so far he would rather have an African Grey!

African Grey

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Now I'm Mad

Mad Men, the AMC show set in the 1960s with action revolving around the antics of employees at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue, aired the last episode of its fourth season last Sunday. I'm mad!  Now I have to wait until July to feed my addiction to this marvelous show.

A coworker of mine got me started watching the series a couple of years ago and it didn't take long to be hooked by the fantastic writing and dead-on attention to detail. In one early scene, two housewives were chatting in the kitchen. One, quite pregnant, was smoking a cigarette and drinking. A child ran in with a dry cleaning bag over her head and said "Don't I look funny Mommy?" The mother jumped her feet and yelled, "There better not be clothes on the floor in the other room!" That's the 60s as I remember them.

Things have definitely gotten better for women in business since the 60s. I remember the feminism of the 70s and when I see how oppressed women were in the 60s, I understand its roots a little better. One character, Peggy Olsen, has gone from a secretary in the first season to an up-and-coming copywriter now, dramatizing  success at rising above the few choices available to women at the time.

Probably my favorite character on the show is Pete Campbell, who started out as a reprehensible young sales rep for the agency and has developed into an interesting, multidimensional and not wholly unsympathetic character this season. You never know what's going to happen -- thus the plethora of blogs and podcasts about the show.  It's great entertainment, in a completely separate category from the glut of 'reality' shows.  Here's to more series like Mad Men!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

St. Louis Zoo and the House of the Future

A week ago Friday, we went to St. Louis to the zoo. Last year, Ron began to take an interest in high dynamic range imaging or HDR photography and he wanted to pictures of the animals. He had the day off and I just wanted to get out of the house. It was was a beautiful day and ideal for animal watching.

We didn't get to the zoo until midafternoon, but I had my scooter so we were able to get around comparatively easily. Besides the usual number of mothers with young children, there were several young couples. Despite being pressed for time, Ron got some pretty impressive pictures.
House of the Future
The Twistee Freeze
On the way back we stopped at an antique mall near Highway 55 that has taken over a deserted school.  The mall was closed, but we stopped anyway. To attract the attention of the occupants of cars on the highway, the mall has acquired several large statues, like a giant man and a pink elephant. The most recent acquisition is a house that Ron said he remembered going through at the state fair years ago: the House of the Future. It looks quite dilapidated now, and makes me remember a trip to Seattle years ago where I visited the Space Needle and rode the Monorail. In the 60s, we really thought our lives would be like that: How wrong we were! Anyway Ron got a good picture of the house and we also had ice cream from the place next in school.

For a first outing after the trauma of breaking my hip, it was great! Now for a vacation...

If you copy these images, please credit Ron McDonald and link to this website.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Positive Thinking

"We cannot direct wind but we can adjust the sails" -- Author Unknown.

When I first started at BUNN 13 years ago, I decided to enroll in a Dale Carnegie course that was being held locally. I thought that it might help improve my self-confidence and presentation abilities.

Dale Carnegie
The Dale Carnegie course was extremely peppy. We began our weekly presentations by running to the front of the classroom, accompanied by the cheers of our fellow classmates.  It was kind of fun, and I thought it was beneficial, until toward the end, the course was marred by an ugly incident: the instructor's wife made a presentation that concluded with an inadvertent racial slur. As a result, the sole black member of the class walked out.  The black woman and I met for dinner and talked about what happened. I wasn't sure what to do, so for my next presentation, I gave a illustration from my own life where I had inadvertently offended a disabled person. My point was that even if the offense was inadvertent, an apology needs to be made to person and some sort of 'make good' as well; however, I think this was mostly lost on the class as well as the person who had made the offensive presentation. The woman, who had paid for the class out of her own pocket, never did come back.

I had pretty much forgotten about the course and this year I submitted an essay for one of the Chicken Soup books series, entitled Think Positive. The essay was accepted, the book was published last month, and last week Deborah Norville pitched it on Good Morning America. I got some free books out of the deal, a small payment and in the satisfaction of being published by a "legitimate" publisher. The essay was entitled "Unexpected Rewards" and, although it doesn't address racial problems, I guess I did learn something at that long ago Dale Carnegie course. The book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


A friend of mine from years ago, Gloria, called yesterday from her daughter's house in Wisconsin. Gloria and I worked together at the local community college in the early 90s, and we stayed in touch over the years as she and I both changed jobs. Gloria led me to a deeper faith and is now sailing with her husband Mike around the Caribbean. I had a unique opportunity to thank her publicly a few weeks ago when the newspaper asked for submissions regarding people that had been a difference in our lives. On Sunday, an article incorporated my submission about her, and I sent her the article.
During our conversation, Gloria reminded me that impossible things happen all the time. That made me think about a song from the TV show Cinderella that impressed me mightly when I was 10, in 1965. The musical, which I watched on our grainy black-and-white TV, starred the incredibly beautiful Lesley Ann Warren, a songstress who has since been relegated to that special hell in Hollywood for aging actresses,  The song, sung by the fairy godmother and Cinderella is called "Impossible" and part of it follows:
But the world is full of zanies and fools who don't believe in sensible rules
and won't believe what sensible people say..
and because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible
hopes impossible things are happening every day!

The longer I live, the more I believe this to be true. Here are a few "impossible" happenings in my life:
  • Chelsea is attending Judson University, a school I never thought we could afford
  • Emily is engaged to be married and has a great job
  • After breaking her hip two years ago, my mom is alive and kicking at 82 years of age
  • We are part of an incredible life group whose members keep giving and giving unselfishly
  • I have friends whom I love and share interests with, and whom I respect deeply
  • I got the okay to drive from my doctor today!
  • A normal looking person, me,  is married to an incredibly handsome man. How impossible is that?
Going to Jerusalem was one of my favorite games as a child. Cards with Bible verses on them told us how many spaces to advance. The card with the best verse was this:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Luke 6:38

I can't recall how many spaces were on the card, but does it matter?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paradise Regained or Target and the Bird Fair (with apologies to Milton)

Since I have been home from the hospital I have not been able to drive. Before I broke my hip, I could drive my Volkswagen station wagon because it had a left foot accelerator so that I could push on the the gas pedal using my left foot. I'm not driving now because I feel unsteady on my feet and I am terrified of falling again. But driving would restore a measure of independence, so I am practicing walking with a walker and am slowly getting stronger.

Ron has been good about driving me places. For a big outing on Saturday, we went to Target. It is hard to overplay the significance of this: to me Target is like heaven on earth. It has inexpensive but trendy clothes, books, DVDs, interesting housewares, pretty towels, neat cards, even groceries. To top it off, our Target even has a Starbucks. Needless to say, it made my Saturday night.

After lunch today, Ron visited his version of paradise -- the Bird Fair.  An annual gathering, area avian enthusiasts congregate to buy birds, toys and feed; admire birds big and small; and generally talk birds.  We narrowly escaped getting an African Grey (a young couple bought him first) but I sense it's just a matter of time before we acquire another bird.