So Rayna joined Girl Scouts this year. More specifically, she joined Daisies which is the K-1st grade division of the scouts. She’s had a lot of fun so far and Nicole has had a lot of fun sewing patches onto her vest.
And now, it’s cookie time. Unless you in Antarctica, you’ve probably been hit up a few times by now. But they are good cookies. And they’re cheap at $3.50 a box. As much as I like to joke about it, it hasn’t been that bad. In fact, I have to admit that it’s been kind of fun loading up the wagon with crates of cookies and going from house to house.
We’ve been moderately successful selling cookies and have had to place a couple of orders for more inventory. Rayna is a bit young to completely understand the entrepreneurial facets of this enterprise so it’s really been a family affair. Very few of our sales have been through door-to-door cold-calls. Almost all the houses we have been to are people who we already know around the neighborhood. The rest of our sales have been extended family and other friends. It seems that you can bust your hump cold-calling but you’ll do better (with considerably less effort) if you have an extensive network of friends and family to draw on.
Hmmm…. sounds a lot like the grownup world, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s the lesson for our budding cookie baron. Not quite as uplifting as the traditional American story of success through hard work and perseverance that she’s supposed to be learning. Fortunately for me, she’s too young to ask those questions. For now.
If you are craving a box of Samoas or Thin Mints, let me know and we’ll hook you up.
Kaylee went to her first day of Preschool today! She was pretty low-key about it but I think she was secretly glad to be going to school just like her big sister. Last night, at the dinner table, I mentioned that her big day at preschool was tomorrow and she just looked at me and said “I know. Everyone keeps saying that.” So there.
This morning was a little hectic around the house but Kaylee was pretty calm. It took awhile to convince her to eat breakfast, causing some anxiety about being late but, in the end, it all worked out. Out the door, backpack on and loaded:
Once there, we hung up the backpack and signed in. Kaylee immediately started playing and making herself at home. In a few minutes, it was clear that we were no longer needed so we left her. After class was done, Mommy, Grandpa Roger, and Grandma Mona took Kaylee out for a special lunch in honor of her big day. When I got home, she didn’t have much to say but I think she’ll be ready to go back.
If you follow Nicole and I on facebook, twitter, flickr, or just happen to be anywhere within earshot, you already know that Rayna had her first day of Kindergarten today. I’m feeling a lot of emotions tonight about that but the biggest one is wonderment that our tiny little baby climbed up the steps of the school bus this morning and went off to school for the whole day. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, our little girl started growing up.
She has been pretty excited all summer about today but, in the end, it proved a little anti-climatic. Nicole, Kaylee, and I walked down to the bus stop (about a block and a half from our house) and waited with Rayna. We got our hugs and kisses out of the way before the bus arrived so she could focus on getting on with the other kids while Nicole and I deployed the camera and camcorder. Just before she got on the bus, she looked over and said “I love you” and blew a kiss. That’s a memory I don’t want to lose; hopefully, recording it here will help me hold on to it.
As far as I know, the day went well. When she got home, she didn’t have a lot to say. We asked if she had a good day and she said “yeah”. Asked what she did, she said “I don’t remember. I had two snacks.” And then she asked if she could go out to play. I suspect that she is still processing it all.
Next week, Kaylee has a big day as she starts her first year of preschool. The milestones just keep coming…
We’ve had quite a day today. First off, it is our wedding anniversary. Six years ago, Nicole and I got married and it’s been a wonderful ride. We weren’t planning to do much today, saving ourselves for this weekend when we are going to get away and spend Saturday night in St. Paul. Just the two of us. Big thanks to our niece, Brenna, who is going to spend the night here with the girls.
Good thing we didn’t have anything big planned today. Kaylee took a tumble in her room and split her head open on her bedframe. I was at work but Nicole and the girls handled it with grace. After some initial crying and a lot of blood (wounds to the head bleed like you wouldn’t believe), Kaylee calmed down and was pretty cool as Nicole wiped the blood away to see how bad it was. Meanwhile, Rayna raced off to get the Neosporin and bandaids. That’s what you get for an owie, right? After debating whether to call 911, Nicole decided to take Kaylee in to the doctor’s office herself. She thanked Rayna for the Neosporin and bandaids but said that they needed to go to the doctor. “Is it that bad?”, Rayna asked. Told yes, she said “OK, I’ll go get my shoes on”. In the waiting room, she danced and twirled to make Kaylee laugh and cheer her up. Did I mention that Rayna had been playing dress-up and was still wearing her princess costume? They must have made quite a sight at the doctor’s, Nicole carrying in Kaylee with blood still streaming out of her face and Rayna in her princess gown…
In the end, they decided to send Kaylee to St. Mary’s in Rochester, where they could use sedation to keep her still while they did the stitching. When you see where the cut was, it makes sense. They wanted to make the stitches as small as possible to minimize the scarring. I met them at the hospital ER.
The staff at St. Mary’s was great. They put on a Tinkerbell movie to keep Kaylee entertained and gave her a light sedative, similar to what you might get at the dentist. Enough to calm things down without knocking her out completely. 14 stitches later (3 deep inside the cut and 11 on the surface) it was done. Big thanks to Roger, Nicole’s dad, who stayed with Rayna while we all were at the hospital.
Kaylee is in pretty good spirits. The doctors gave us lots of instructions on how to minimize the scarring and we’ll go back in 5 days to get the stitches out. Tonight, we went out to Burger King to celebrate how brave Kaylee and Rayna both were. And now, I’m going to bed…
Over the years, we’ve accumulated a lot of pictures and videos that never made it online. I’m making an effort to rectify that situation. I’m also correcting some not-so-best practices I used to follow on flickr, which involves reposting a few pictures. So, you’re going to see a lot of out-of-sequence posting in our timelines on flickr and YouTube.
One hundred and fifty years ago today, the first major battle of the Civil War was fought. In honor of the anniversary, the next book in my Civil War reading project isBattle at Bull Run by William C. Davis. Familiar to many Civil War buffs as a regular on the History Channel and other cable networks, Davis is a well respected historian who teaches at Virginia Tech.
I got this book a number of years ago for a few pennies at a used book store but never got around to reading it. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, Bull Run has never interested me much. Learning more about the chaos that gripped the country in 1861 through the other books I’ve read, however, kindled my interest. Besides, how can you embark on a project like this without reading a book on the first major battle of the war?
The book itself is worth the read. Davis is not a brilliant writer but he is a competent historian with a solid grasp on his subject and is more than capable of producing a readable book. The maps are not quite up to the standard established in more recent popular Civil War books but that’s what Wikipedia is for, right? There are some photographs, mostly of the generals on both side who often manage to look tough and a bit seedy at the same time.
Contrary to the title, Battle at Bull Run covers a lot of ground before the actual battle on July 21, 1861. Davis shows the panic in Washington DC, surrounded by Virginia (part of the Confederacy) and Maryland (never actually succeeded but only because Lincoln ordered many leading citizens arrested indefinitely without formal charges and no right to habeas corpus). It took weeks for substantial numbers of troops to arrive at the city; weeks during which the rumor mill was working overtime with stories of an imminent Confederate attack. Of course, we know now that the Confederates were still getting their own act together in the Spring of 1861 and had no way of assaulting Washington DC. But the terrified Unionists didn’t know that.
Eventually, the armies on both sides were organized and the first major campaign in the east got underway. The book details the movements of the troops and the personalities of the generals. I’ll skip the blow-by-blow account here. Suffice to say that two small Confederate armies, under Generals Johnston and Beauregard spread out over northern Virginia to wait for the attacking Union army under General McDowell. As the attacker, the burden of planning the offensive move fell to him and he developed an ambitious plan which involved a smaller Union force under General Patterson keeping Johnston occupied while McDowell crushed Beauregard. It was a good plan and, later in the war, when the Generals and troops were more experience it might have worked. It also might have worked had it been the Confederate’s plan for it didn’t take long for Johnston (a seasoned veteran of the old US Army) to outmaneuver the hapless Patterson and use the railroad to get his army united with Beauregard faster than anyone thought possible (this was the first use of a railroad for operational movements in the history of warfare). When Johnston reached Beauregard’s position on the Bull Run, McDowell’s attack was underway and going well. Beauregard had been pushed to the crest of a large hill (Henry House Hill) and had dug in for his final defense. At that moment, Johnston’s men crashed into McDowell’s flank and bolstered the main line, which counterattacked. Exhausted by days of marching in the hot July sun and a full day of battle, the shocked troops of the Union army broke and ran for their lives. Many didn’t stop running until they made it back to Washington DC.
It was at Bull Run that the self-fulfilling prophecy of Confederate military supremacy was born. Davis is pretty hard on Beauregard, painting him as the kind of General who was good at organizing an army but hopeless at planning and executing military operations. Otherwise, however, the Confederate officers from the Generals all the way down to the regimental commanders are consistently superior to their Union counterparts. McDowell comes off well but was ultimately failed by his subordinates, notably Patterson, who failed to execute his plan. For the next two years, the war in the east would be marked by one Confederate success after another, causing many on both sides to believe that the Confederate army was hopelessly superior to that of the Union. The true story was not that simple, of course, and the situation was entirely reversed out west where it was the North that was winning most of the battles. But the myth grew and provided a much-needed anchor of faith for the Southern people.
Bull Run was also the birthplace of Stonewall Jackson. Not the man, of course, but the legend whose story did so much to bolster the Southern narrative. As a brigade commander in Jonhston’s army, Jackson had already shown great promise but at Bull Run, he shined. Finding Beauregard’s line wavering, he organized a defense that shattered the attacking Union line and paved the way for the final counterattack. Hence the nickname “Stonewall”. Interestingly enough, the nickname may not have been meant to be complimentary at first. When Johnston’s men arrived at Bull Run and set up the defensive line mentioned above, some of Beauregard’s men were angered. The new defensive line was behind their position and they wanted the reinforcements to join them. Jackson, in particular, judged their chances of success as low and dug in where he was instead. Let the Yankees break themelves on our line of fresh troops in this more defensible position and then we’ll attack was the reasoning. Events proved Jackson exactly right. As the exposed Confederates retreated back to the top of Henry House Hill, one of the brigade commanders (General Barnard Bee) cried out to his men: rally around the Virginians, there stands Jackson like a stone wall! Bee was shot moments later and died the next day, never knowing that he had given Jackson his famous nickname. Some of those on Bee’s staff quietly insisted that the General was being sarcastic and was angry with Jackson for standing in place while his (Bee’s) command was being mauled right in front of him. Being busy dying, Bee never clarified the issue. And, after Bull Run, it was academic. Jackson was the hero of the hour and the fledgling Confederacy had a new hero.
After reading up on President Jackson in my last Civil War reading project book, I returned to the start of the war with Lincoln: President-Elect by Harold Holzer. At just under 500 pages, it’s a big book with a very narrow focus: Lincoln’s activities during the four months between his election in November 1860 and March 4, 1861, when he actually assumed the office of President. During this time, twice as long as we make Presidents wait nowadays, Lincoln had no constitutional authority to do anything about the political crisis that was sweeping the nation.
NOTE: See Year of Meteors for a look at the events just before this book starts.
Traditionally, the President-Elect spent this pre-inaugural time as a chance to pick his cabinet, organize his staff, plan for how offices would be handed out to pay off political debts and reward loyal friends, and other mundane but important tasks. And Lincoln did all of these things over the winter of 1860-61. But he also spent a great deal time fielding letters, telegrams, and visitors demanding to know what he planned to do about the Southern states that had begun seceding from the Union. Without the authority to do anything specific, Lincoln decided that public silence was his best option. Anyone who cared to read his speeches and letters published before the election already knew his opinions, he argued. Anything he said now would only inflame the situation or be distorted by one side or the other. After awhile, he grew visibly irritated with the flood of inquiries, saying to a confidant that repeating his long-held views for those who have refused to listen would be wanting of self-respect, and would have an appearance of sycophancy and timidity which would excite the contempt of good men, and
encourage bad ones to clamor the more loudly.
Historians, who tend to give the Lincoln the benefit of the doubt on most controversies, traditionally view this as one of his weakest moments. His silence is seen as evidence of confusion or indecision. Others cite optimistic statements made privately that war would be averted as evidence he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Holzer makes a strong argument that, far from being indecisive or insensitive to his situation, Lincoln’s masterly inactivity (Holzer’s words) were a deliberate political strategy which took considerable emotional discipline to maintain. In fact, Lincoln gave in to crowds twice while traveling to Washington DC (toward the end of this period when he was getting tired of the grind) and gave short speeches. In both cases, his words were distorted and probably made things worse. I think Holzer has made a pretty strong argument for his thesis.
Besides a desire to respect the Constitution and avoid making things worse, Holzer makes a good case that Lincoln’s silence was evidence of a strong stand on his principles. In those days before TV and the internet, party political platforms were important means of communicating what a candidate stood for and were taken more seriously as binding statements of principle. In the campaign, Lincoln ran on a platform of leaving slavery alone where it existed but preventing it from speading anywhere else in the US. Calls for him placate the South by publicly backing off of this pledge before he had even taken office offended him deeply. What was the point of having democratic elections, he asked, if Presidents didn’t stand by the principles that convinced voters to elect him in the first place? Or if a section of the country could invalidate a legal election by threatening to leave the Union when someone they disapprove of wins? Holzer cites numerous examples of Lincoln articulating this principle throughout the book. One of the more startling came not long before the inauguration when he told a visitor he would rather be hung by the neck till he was dead on the steps of the Capitol before he would buy or beg a peaceful inauguration (his visitor’s words).
One of the reasons for the pressure on Lincoln to diffuse the situation before he had even taken office was that the outgoing president, James Buchanan, was doing such a poor job of dealing with the crisis. Simultaneously stating his opposition to secession while also lamenting that he had no power to actually do anything about it, Buchanan dithered and tried to find a way to make everyone see reason without offending anyone. In a widely-anticipated State of the Union address that was supposed to provide a solution to the crisis, Buchanan seemed to blame both North and South equally and, in effect, told them both to knock it off without providing any real solutions. After the speech, William Seward (who would soon become Lincoln’s Secretary of State) wryly summarized it: No state has the right to secede unless it wishes to, and it is the president’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him.
As the book rolls along, we see Lincoln trying to construct his cabinet, a delicate task that involved balancing representation for different factions of the Republican party as well as regions of the country while alternately placating, cajoling, and manipulating a herd of egomaniacs, many of whom felt they should have been elected in Lincoln’s place, until the puzzle pieces finally fell into place and all the slots were filled. He meets thousands of office-seekers, who descended on Springfield, IL like a horde of hungry locusts looking for a job or other payoff from the government coffers. He oversees the moving process, selling his house and wrapping up outstanding business with his law partner. And he writes his inaugural address, one of the most critical tasks he faced. The address was his one and only chance to speak directly to the nation and make the case for peace. The speech was masterful but we know how that turned out.
I’ve read several of Holzer’s Lincoln books, many of which are as focused on a single facet of Lincoln’s life as this one is. They’re not for readers who don’t already know the big picture. But if you’ve already read one or two of the excellent Lincoln biographies out there and want to drill down into the details, Holzer is a good place to start.
represented the rise to political prominence of the American South in the early 19th century
faced (and beat down) the first stirring of succession sentiment in South Carolina
was a prominent member of the Southern aristocracy during the time in which slavery was becoming the bedrock of Southern society
One of the things that struck me reading this book was how young the South was in 1861 when the war started. Tennessee, Jackson’s adopted state, joined the Union in 1786 but Mississippi didn’t become a state until 1817. The Civil War started less than 50 years after Mississippi joined the nation.
The Nullification Crisis of 1832 was sparked by a tariff passed by Jackson’s predecessor as President, John Quincey Adams. Southern states found the tariff unacceptable; it protected Northern manufacturers from competition from British manufacturers but indirectly hurt the Southern states who supplied the British with raw materials. A sectional crisis had been brewing since 1800 over a wide range of issues and, for South Carolina, this was the final straw. When Jackson became President and failed to take action on the hated tariff, South Carolina passed a law declaring that the tariff unconstitutional and void in the state. Jackson promptly declared that South Carolina was engaged in treason and promised to personally lead the US Army to Charleston to put down the rebellion.
As a son of the South, many were surprised at Jackson’s energetic (some would say violent) reaction. They failed to take into account two facts:
Jackson had a great deal of personal animosity toward John Calhoun, who had been his Vice-President but resigned to lead the fight against the tariff in his home state of South Carolina. Jackson was not one to forgive what he regarded as a personal betrayal.
Jackson had an almost-mystical love of the Union, dating back to his childhood during the Revolution. He lost a brother, who died after a short but brutal imprisonment at the hands of the British, and then his mother, who contracted Cholera while nursing prisoners on a British prison ship. Having lost his entire family by the time he was 14 years old, the young Jackson gained a life-long reverence for the Union and a life-long hatred of the British.
As an adult, Jackson owned slaves his entire life and prided himself on his “humane” treatment of them. Like most other whites of his generation, he seems to have been largely blind to the staggering contradiction between the existence of slavery and the Founding Father’s ringing statement that All Men Are Created Equal. The abolition movement had not really gathered steam before Jackson’s death so it’s impossible to know how how he would have reacted to the political crisis over slavery that started in the late 1840s. Brands doesn’t really address this; he wasn’t out to write about hypotheticals. Would Jackson’s love for the Union have trumped his loyalty to the South? We’ll never know but I suspect that he would have joined those who blamed the crisis on Northern radicalism and stood by his region.
It seems hard to believe, but Rayna is done with Preschool. Last Thursday, we went to her graduation ceremony at St. Johns Lutheran Church. We have pictures up on our photo page, which you can get to by clicking on the panel on the right sidebar. There are more photos and a video, which I haven’t uploaded yet, so watch this space.
Rayna is excited to be going to Kindergarten but is a little worried about missing her friends. Every night, when we do our bedtime prayers, she has been adding “And don’t let me forget my friends from preschool” to the end. The teachers prepared a little book for each student with art and projects they did over the year, some photos of the students, and few other goodies. Rayna has been looking at those pictures a lot, along with a slideshow they included on a CD. She likes to sit in front of the computer and watch that. I’m hoping some of the other kids will be in her Kindergarten class this Fall.
Another fun thing they put in her little book was a collection of funny/cute things each child said at some point during the year. That is fun reading. My favorite concerns my job: when asked what I do for a living, she replied “My Daddy makes books for the Kasson Library!”
As a little graduation keepsake, we got her a charm bracelet. Right now, it has a tiny unicorn and an R (her favorite letter). As she gets older, we’ll add a new charm each Spring to commemorate the ending school year. By the time she graduates high school, she should have a nice keepsake to treasure. Kaylee will get the same treatment, of course.
It seems like yesterday that we took her to preschool for her very first day. This Fall, it’ll be Kaylee’s turn. And we’ll be taking Rayna to Kindergarten. It’s such a cliche but the time really does fly faster and faster with each year.