History Factoid of the Week!

Question: Why is the president's wife called the First Lady?

Answer: James Buchanan assumed the American presidency in 1857 and became the first (and only) bachelor president. Since Buchanan did not have a wife, he turned to his charming niece Harriet Lane to take over the social functions at the White House.

During her uncle's presidential tenure, Ms. Lane became Washington's most popular hostess and she used her special position to promote certain social causes. Consequently, people began to refer to her as the "First Lady" since she was the president's niece---not his wife---and thus had no formal title.

Somehow the title stuck.

Walking After the Rain

Last Tuesday afternoon, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my keys, and stepped out of my apartment to go check on the mail. A thunderstorm had passed through my neighborhood a few minutes before and so the ground was wet and dark and spongy with the newfound rain.

As I ambled towards the mailbox, I noticed the clean fresh smells the storm had left behind---earthy, pleasant, and sweet. My entire apartment complex seemed to have transformed too. The grass was more crisp. The air more brisk. Even the parked cars more shiny and new.

I grew amazed at this thing we call water---amazed at the innate power within this clear, flavorless, odorless liquid that swaths the Earth in a cradle of life.

And my mind traveled back in time to a history class I took in college concerning the religious symbolism of temple complexes around the world. I remembered my professor standing in front of the classroom and pointing to slides projected on the wall of Christian churches and Islamic mosques and pagan worship-sites. Despite the obvious differences in religious ideology, all of the temples we studied had one thing in common---the imagery of water.

At a Buddhist temple in Japan, for instance, visitors collect water from a nearby waterfall and take a drink in hopes of gaining wisdom and long life. Followers of Hinduism solemnly revere and even worship the sacred River Ganges. Pools of water and fountains regularly decorate the exterior grounds of Mormon temples. And water itself is a major element in Christian baptism, whether sprinkled on the forehead of an infant or encased around a believer of full immersion.

Water signifies both life and death, cleanliness and dirtiness in religions around the world. Water is seen as a universal symbol to gain access to deity.

Oftentimes when we humans discuss religion, we talk about the differences and gulfs that separate us. How unfortunate! If we only open our eyes a little more widely, then we shall see just how much we have in common.

How to Choose an American President

In 1852, a few years before the launch of the Civil War, a man named Franklin Pierce captured the American presidency. Pierce had practiced law in his home state of New Hampshire, gained the rank of brigadier general in the Mexican-American War, and even served in the U.S. Senate. It was no wonder why he became the Democratic nominee for the presidency: handsome, experienced, liked by all. Who else could make such a stunning candidate?

Yet the Pierce presidency was pocked with controversy. In 1854, Pierce brought about the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Bleeding Kansas, anyone?) that outraged abolitionists and that later spurred the creation of the Republican Party. When Pierce came up for re-election a few years later, the Democrats---his own allies---decided to nominate someone else onto the ticket. Suffice to say, he left office in a cloud of shame and has now become one of the lowest-ranking presidents in U.S. history.

So how do we, as Americans, choose a good president? In this historic election year, the media likes to focus on a candidate's experience or likeability or skeletons-in-the-closet---but history has shown that such traits offer little insight on how a person performs in the Oval Office. Franklin Pierce is a good example of this: in 1852, he won in an utter landslide of electoral votes but he turned out to be a lackluster president. Pierce entered his presidency liked by many but he left the White House reviled by all.

First, let's talk about experience. John Adams, the second president of the United States, started his four years in office with more experience than our current Senate combined. In his political career, he helped spearhead the movement for the American revolution and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Yet when Adams took over the presidency, he oversaw the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which punished those who openly criticized the government. Ultimately, the Adams presidency was overshadowed by his predecessor George Washington and his successor Thomas Jefferson. Considering all of his experience, John Adams's most important contributions were accomplished outside of the White House.

Second, let's talk about likeability. In 2000, George W. Bush wooed voters with his darn good, aw-shucks personality. Here was a man who seemed down-to-earth and charming. Here was a man who you wanted to have a beer with! But eight long years of Bush shithood has proven that likeability can only carry someone so far. When Dubya vacates the presidency in January of next year, he will leave behind a messy and unnecessary war in Iraq whose price-tag continues to sky-rocket. And let's not even talk about America's reputation abroad. (Hmmm, an Al Gore presidency doesn't seem so bad now after all...)

Third, let's talk about so-called skeletons-in-the-closet a la Whitewater and the current Tony Rezko scandal. In the late 1800s, Chester A. Arthur rose to prominence through the corrupt New York political machine and was patronized by the political boss Roscoe Conkling. In a strange twist of events though, when Arthur assumed the presidency in 1881, he began a series of civil service reforms that attacked the political machines that he had benefited from. And so, Arthur proved that a few skeletons-in-his-closet didn't send his presidency in a hopeless nose-dive. Chester proved that he may have done some crooked things in his life, but this didn't mean that he was a crook.

So how do we choose an American president? To recap this litle history lesson, a candidate's experience and likeability and lack of controversy may not add up to a great and wonderful president. Obama's message of hope and change may deflate to nothing after he is elected. Conversely, McCain's military and political experience may do nothing but hurt him in this fast-paced, changing world.

So how the hell do we choose a good president? Honestly, I have no idea---and history offers little advice.

Guess we're all on our own...

*Still...I remain an Obama girl at heart. If I gotta take a gamble, then I'd rather bet on him over Leisure World McCain who may nominate Mitt Romney as his VP. Yuck.
**Check out those chops on Chester Arthur! Talk about sexy.

Go Kristy!

So my funny, smart, and wonderful little sister is going to the Democratic National Convention in August! I am very proud of her and very jealous of her too. Not only does she get to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event---she gets to attend said event in a very historic election year.

She's going to Denver! She's going to rub elbows with cool people! She's going to meet Barack Obama! (Well, probably not that last part but who knows?)

Did I mention I'm jealous?

Fun with the In-Laws

"Oh, that guy blew his wad too early."

--- My mother-in-law

Justin's mom uttered these short eight words as we watched the Track and Field Olympic Trials where a long-distance runner ran out of steam towards the end of his race.

My poor husband turned to me in a look of horrified panic after his petite ballet-teaching mother spoke these words. The memory of his expression is seared into my mind...


War, Death, and Hope

This morning Justin and I were awakened by the ringing of his cell phone. It was one of his friends from work, calling my husband to let him know that one of their old supervisors had died in Afghanistan over the weekend.

I had never met this supervisor---I have no idea what he looks like---but I thought about Sergeant Simmons during random moments of the day. While I was in the shower, my mind drifted to his family---his teenage son in particular---and how they would never see him again. I thought about Sergeant Simmons as I made lunch for myself, contemplating the chances of losing my husband in some foreign country on some foreign battlefield.

At rare times, Justin and I have talked about death. Well, his death to be exact. We both know the chances of him dying while on deployment are slim. We both know that he is a smart soldier who knows his equipment and who thinks before he acts. We both know that he will most likely return home from his stints abroad in good health.

And yet...

I'm not a naive Army wife who believes that my husband is somehow bulletproof. I don't believe that if I pray enough during the day that somehow my prayers will create a protective sheath around my husband's body when he is in the middle of a crossfire. I know that the chances of his death are slim...and yet...I know they still exist.

In late August, Justin will finish his training in the Psychological Operations course and then he will be deployable at any time thereafter. I knew that this day would come---that one day his training would finish and that he would have to leave me behind---but it still seems so soon.

For Sergeant Simmons, life came to a close so soon. I will think of him and his family tonight.