Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lessons Learned from the Mad Men Midseason Finale

Now the midseason finale is over, and we have to wait until 2015 to see Don Draper again. The finale was beautiful--they made this one to keep us fans happy. We see the best of Don and Peggy and their relationship, and Roger delivers lines that only Roger can. (And I have to mention that the clothes were exquisite. I have never wanted dresses that both Peggy and Joan wore in the same episode.)

In previous posts, I've listed some words to live by from our SC&P buddies: See Lessons Learned, Part I (earlier seasons) and Part II (Season 7 pre-finale). Here is some advice you can take with you from the midseason finale.
When annoying people overstep their bounds, put them back in their place.
You're a hired hand. Get back to work!
-Jim to Lou

Stick up for people who are going through a rough time.
That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh. He shouldn't be rattled!
-Pete about Don 

Jerks can always be bought.
It's a lot of money!
-Jim Cutler

Other people can be bought, too.
Don: How did you get in here?
Roger: Money.

Try to pick up on subtle cues.
Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know they’re gonna die.

When you sense that people are bullshitting, call them out on it.
Don: No one knows about this? [holding his letter]
Joan: I saw it.
Don: Then why did you ask what's going on?!

People love to commiserate.
Marriage is a racket!
-Pete to Don 

Sometimes, things are going to look difficult, and you're going to need to take a deep breath.
I have to talk to people who just touched the face of God about hamburgers!

For more on the finale, here's a look Inside Episode 707 from AMC. 'Til 2015!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Beauty Within the Beltway: Alexandria National Cemetery

Alexandria National Cemetery

Visitors to D.C. often include Arlington National Cemetery on their sightseeing itinerary. With the graves of two presidents, famous military figures, and the awe-inspiring Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it deserves the more than 3 million people who visit each year.

Arlington is not the only national cemetery in the D.C. area, though. About 6 miles south of Arlington National Cemetery is Alexandria National Cemetery. The Alexandria cemetery predates Arlington's cemetery and originally served as the burial place of Union soldiers during the Civil War, many of whom were stationed in Alexandria or died in Alexandria's hospitals.

Line of headstones

Servicemembers from subsequent wars have since been buried in the cemetery, but it is now closed to new internments. With little more than 5 acres, it is much smaller than Arlington National Cemetery, but the intimate grounds are just as powerful.

One of the many Unknown Soldier graves from the Civil War

My family and I visited on Memorial Day. The cemetery's main entrance is on Wilkes Street, but we parked on Jamieson Avenue on the north side of the cemetery. A stone wall surrounds the cemetery, but a small gate on Jamieson Avenue allows easy access for visitors who walk from Old Town.

Cemetery gate on Jamieson Avenue

The grounds are set on lightly rolling hills with large trees interspersed throughout and an American flag flying above the center of the cemetery. Most of the headstones are military-issued markers from the Civil War era, and each was adorned with a small American flag for Memorial Day.

Memorial Day flags adorn each grave

Unlike Arlington, no giant markers distinguish well-known officers. The simplicity of the headstones serves as a reminder that not one of these lives was worth more than the others. Even the one monument on the grounds is modest in its size, a small granite stone with a plaque honoring the four civilians who died pursuing Abraham Lincoln's assassin.

Monument to the pursuers of John Wilkes Booth

On this beautiful May day, we each chose a grave to adorn with one red rose. Being a proud Michigander, I found the grave of a member of the Michigan infantry from the Civil War. My oldest daughter also chose a Civil War era soldier, and my wife chose a man who served in two wars. My youngest daughter is too young to choose, so we honored one of the many graves of an unknown soldier on her behalf.

A rose for Solomon T. Colby of the 26th Regiment, Michigan Infantry

A Memorial Day ceremony was in progress when we arrived, so we quietly watched as veterans spoke of the importance of this day. They placed wreaths at a few graves, and a bugler played taps as they lowered the cemetery's flag to half mast.

Wreath laying

In the distance, visitors respectfully roamed the cemetery, and a couple with a young child placed white flowers on several graves. Soon everyone would go back to their daily lives, but for these few minutes on these hallowed grounds, we were united in the memory of those who sacrificed themselves for our liberty.

Flowers to honor those who served

Alexandria National Cemetery's main entrance is located at 1450 Wilkes Street in Alexandria, and the Jamieson Avenue entrance is directly behind the Residence Inn on Duke Street. The National Cemetery Administration maintains Alexandria National Cemetery and another 130 cemeteries in 39 states. The cemetery is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lessons Learned from Mad Men, Part II

The midseason finale of Mad Men is this weekend, so it's time to reflect on a few things we all should have learned from our dysfunctional friends during Season 7. If you want to brush up on what you should have gleaned from earlier seasons, here are my top 10 life lessons learned from Mad Men.

Be prepared for back-handed compliments.
You know she’s every bit as good as any woman in this business.
-Pete (about Peggy)

Own up when you screw up.
I didn’t behave well. I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time.

People will judge you if your goodies are hanging out. 
Bobby: She really likes you.
Betty: Yeah, well, that blouse says she likes everyone.

If you're a bigot, be clear about the limits of your tolerance.
Well, I'm all for the national advancement of colored people, but I do not think they should advance all the way to the front of the office. People can see her from the elevator.
-Bert Cooper

Even if you have damaged a relationship, there may be a glimmer of forgiveness--or at least warmth.
Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.
-Sally to Don

Don't settle. You deserve better.
Bob: I know I’m flawed, but I’m offering you more than anyone else ever will.
Joan: No, you’re not. Because I want love. And I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.

Here's where we are in the show. Cheers!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Holding on to Family

My grandma when she was young

On Saturday, April 19, my grandmother Genevieve (Jean) passed away, almost two weeks after her 95th birthday. Last Friday, I said goodbye to my last living grandparent.

Grandma Jean married my Grandpa Walter in 1937 when she was only 18 years old, and they remained married until Walter’s death in 2002. Jean lived her life for Walter, her four children, and her eleven grandchildren, but during her last few years she suffered from Alzheimer’s and forgot who most of us were.

I was heartbroken the last time I saw her when she had no idea who I was or that my daughters were her great-grandchildren. I was happy that my two young girls seemed to bring her some joy….my grandma always loved small children. I am sure that if she was in her old home, she would have insisted on cooking something for my girls to eat. After all, Grandma Jean was Polish, and ensuring that her grandchildren are well loved and well fed are a Polish grandma’s two favorite tasks. I could never visit her house without her feeding me and repeatedly asking me to eat more.

Grandma Jean felt like my last connection to my ancestors from Poland. All four of my grandparents were children of recent Polish immigrants to the United States. They grew up speaking English, but they also knew enough Polish to carry on a conversation. I remember Walter and Jean speaking Polish with each other, usually in the kitchen.

My grandparents in 1957

Although my parents went to Catholic schools and churches in Polish neighborhoods, they were more Americanized than my grandparents. My siblings and I grew up in suburbs with few neighbors and friends who were Polish, and our knowledge of the Polish language was pretty much limited to food and a few curse words.

I am proud of my Polish heritage, but I felt ignorant about it as I reached adulthood. To compensate, I have read several books on Poland’s history and have even done some basic genealogy work and found several of my great-grandparents’ hometowns in Poland as well as the names of some of my great-great-grandparents. I even go out of my way to find Polish food sometimes. Despite these efforts to rediscover my heritage, I never feel as Polish as when I sat in either of my grandmothers’ kitchens while they cooked homemade pierogi, golabki or fresh kielbasa.

Part of why I want to hold onto my ancestors' heritage is so that I can hold onto my grandparents’ memories just a little longer. I want my children to know where they came from and to know what struggles and joys their ancestors experienced.  Alzheimer’s may have taken away Grandma Jean’s memory, but those of us who loved her will not forget her.

My grandparents have left this earth, but I will hold on tight to their stories. When we eat Polish food, I can turn to my children and say, “These pierogi are good, but not as good as the ones your great-grandma used to make.” Then I will smile and remember sitting in my grandma’s kitchen, listening to her and Grandpa speaking their beautiful language until she walks over and implores me to eat just a little more.