When I began working on my "Free Men and Dreamers" series eight years ago my goal was to have the series on the shelf before the launch of the Bicentennial of the events it described. Book five, the final volume was released last November, and when the New Year rolled around lighting up the date 2012, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had met that goal, and I prepared to enjoy the festivities. Well, they're beginning!
I don't know all the wonderful historical offerings being presented across the country, and there are many scattered across Canada and down to Louisiana, but I can tell you that the Baltimore/Washington corridor is ground zero to the most dramatic events of that period, and both cities are preparing to make history come alive for visitors.
The research for books one and two, "Dark Sky at Dawn" and "Twilight's Last Gleaming," introduced me to the players in this pivotal period of history--presidents past and then present, military giants who rose to political power, a courageous naval genius who took on the British behemoth with little more than scrap wood barges and brawn, and the religious leaders who were struggling to steer a confused citizenry through the spiritual void created when the break with Britain and the Church of England left them without a king--their previous conduit to heaven.
Following two years of conflict along the Canadian border, and a seige of the Chesapeake region, the nation's capital was set aflame in August of 1814 when the British war machine landed troops along the Patuxent River and marched them from Benedict, Maryland, through Upper Marlboro and on to Bladensburg. It was here that a few brave marines and a heroic team of flotillamen stood with a rag-tag team of under-trained and under-armed militiamen in an attempt to halt the British advance on Washington. In a bloody rout that left hordes of dead soldiers on the battlefield, the Americans were defeated and the British prepared for the push to the capital.
The personal stories and details of that conflict, and the ensuing attack on the emerging but still swamp-like Washington City, as it was then known, are dramatized in book three, "Dawn's Early Light." Researching and writing that story has been one of the most enlightening, and humbling experiences of my career. My love of Washington, and my personal connection to that city have been deepened by that experience. I love that city so personally now.
Washington's big part in the Bicentennial will peak in 2014, the bicentennial of the attack on the capital when President Madison and Dolly were forced to flee for their very lives, but even in these early days of the celebration, Washington's doors are open to showcase her amazing history.
The burning of the capital left America stunned as her citizens worried about the fate of their republic and government. Her citizens rose from their knees and headed for Baltimore, the next target on the British list of prizes, knowing that this port city might be the last stand in the defense of full liberty.
History books today often refer to it as a nothing war. No great amounts of land were exchanged. No leaders were conquered. No government usurped another. But if one reads the accounts of those who lived through the two year seige of America, the terror of lost liberty, and the destruction of democracy was real as they lived in the shadow of Britain's bruital might.
It was just three weeks later when Baltimore came into the British cross-hairs. She boasted the third largest port in the nation, and was the womb of Britain's naval nemesis--the swift and deadly Baltimore Clipper ships. Britain's leaders were clear in their desire to take that city, and unlike naive, undefended Washington, who most believed was too protected and unimportant for Britain to bother, Baltimore spent years preparing for war. Local military and militia leaders drilled their troops, built trenches and barriers, to reinforce the perimeter of the city against a ground attack. Baltimore had cause to worry less about a water atttack. She was guarded at the confluence of the Patapsco River and the mighty Chesapeake Bay by the brilliantly-designed star-shaped fort known at Fort McHenry, whose mighty ramparts had been fortified and who now stood under the leadership of two trusted men--Major Armistead, and Captain Joseph Nicholson, brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key.
Book four, "Oh, Say Can You See," weaves our characters through the preparation for the Battle of Baltimore, the real story behind Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, and the aftermath of the battle. And Baltimore now wants to being all that history alive for you and your family.
Balitmore's kick-off begins June 13-19 in a stellar week of exciting events dubbed "The Star-Spangled Sailabration." A parade of tall ships and military vessels will arrive in the harbor and dock in Baltimore's many ports where visitors can visit. Concerts, children's activities, a Blue Angels air show, and a host of other activities are planned. As always, Fort McHenry and the Flag House museum will be open and at their best to provide a real glimpse of Key, the making of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the Battle.
Then travel south to Washington and visit the Smithsonian's American History museum and its magnificent Star-Spangled Banner exhibit. It's wonderful. Then head to the National Archives and visit the "Charters of Freedom" exhibit where the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights are viewable in a magnificent display. These documents would have perished during the conflict, were it not for the warning of James Monroe to a tirelessly diligent civil servant named Stephen Pleasanton who secreted them to safety. (Also in "Dawn's Early Light.")
For those who can't attend the events, you can pick up a few lovely historical souvenirs on the "Sailabration" site. Bicentennial coins have been minted, and replicas of the fifteen-star flag that flew over Fort McHenry are available. Proceeds from these products benefit bicentennial efforts.
So come east and visit! But if you can't, pick up "Free Men and Dreamers" and immerse yourself in this great American history. Thanks!
Not every great writer will be published, and not every one desires to be. This post describes one of the most loving, family-strengthening projects I've had the privilege of hearing about. Five years ago, a friend and father of a large family undertook a goal to maintain close spiritual ties with his rapidly growing and geographically expanding family. This is his project in his own words. The name of this wonderful father and husband is Scott Stephenson, and when I heard about THE DISCIPLE MD project, I asked him to share his experience with other parents who might be inspired to try something similar. I hope Scott's words do get published, but in the meantime, I hope you'll subscribe to Scott's web page and share his daily insights with your loved ones. The web link is www.thedisciplemd.com. ............... April 5, 2012
Thank you for the opportunity to post on your blog regarding a family project that coincidently I started on this exact day, five years ago in 2007. That year my wife and I had traveled from Maryland to Utah to spend time with three of our five grown children. I had procured tickets to General Conference that year and it was there at the Conference Center that I felt impressed to embark on a project that I first called “The Disciple”.
As I sat waiting in the Conference Center with my wife for the Sunday morning session to begin, I glanced down the isle to view my children. One son was seated with his wife, another son was seated with a girlfriend, and my only daughter was there with her then fiancé. As with most parents, I marveled at how fast time had gone by and that my children were now grown. They were becoming “independent”. I recall thinking that my influence was slowly diminishing from their lives. At that moment it occurred to me that with modern technology, I could continue to influence their lives for the good. I could accomplish this by communicating with them on a daily basis via email. I made the commitment right then that when I returned home I would begin to send out a weekday spiritual message. Surprisingly, five years later, with some 1100 messages sent, I am still doing it.
At first my messages consisted of a scripture or perhaps an inspired entry from one of my journals. Sometimes it was part of an old letter that I had received from a grandparent, or my parents, or even an old romantic letter I had written to their Mother. On occasion it was a quote from one of the General Authorities. As time when on I began to recount stories of my youth, tying them into gospel principles. My children are avid sports fan so I started to tie in sports themes or personal experiences of my own with athletics. Since I have spent most of my life in church leadership I began to intermix inspiring stories of a personal nature that were uplifting and testimony building. There are so many stories of inspiration in the lives of our members. I once recall one of my siblings complaining to my Mother that she saw the gospel in everything. She didn’t deny it. What I have found out is that my mother was right. The influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is found in all aspects of our lives. The Savior was a great teacher because he taught parables that resonated with the common man. He could relate simple stories that could be understood by all. I have found the more simple the story, the more profound the message.
Since I began writing a daily message, which I called “The Disciple”, I found that it gave me the opportunity to address specific family issues without having to single a family member out. It gave me the opportunity to give counsel without the worry of offending the one. It also provided me with a way to praise and honor each of my family, in a more public way, on their birthdays or other special occasions such as graduation or achievements. Over time, my siblings and extended family found out I was sending out daily messages and asked if they could be included in the email list. On many occasions I have received a response back from someone in the family who write, “Thanks for that message. I needed that today!” I guess that is why I keep going. I believe I am doing some good. One of my sons told me that he uses my messages in his priesthood assignments and that it is nice to have them stored in his phone where he can access them in a moments notice. I often talk with my children about the gospel and nary a discussion goes by without “The Disciple” being mentioned. After five years I think I have approached just about every subject under the sun.
The greatest beneficiary of my messages has been me. It has given me reason and purpose to write down my thoughts. Because I use a lot of personal experiences it has become somewhat of a journal. It has driven me to the scriptures on a daily basis. Often I find myself overwhelmed with the spirit while in the mist of writing. At times I find myself in tears as I recall experiences of the past. Memories come flooding back into my mind as I search for a daily message to impart. Often I read my messages to my wife verbally out loud when I get home from work. It’s become a daily habit. More times than I can remember I get emotional as I read them to her. She is patient in listening and usually says, “That’s a good one!” each time I finish. She has given me wonderful support over the past five years with my writings. She believes that it connects our family and she encourages me to continue.
For a number of years my siblings have been encouraging me to publish my messages but I have not gotten around to that just yet. Recently I have set up a webpage so that the general public can read my messages. I have listened intently to the general authorities that have recently encouraged us to be more active in promoting the cause of the restoration. There is so much on the web that is unflattering of our church. I hope that by making my messages available, I can in some small way contribute in helping others see that we are a people of faith. And for those of our faith who may stumble across my words, I hope one of my messages may bring a ray of understanding or hope to their life. I have named the website “TheDiscipleMd” because I was born and raised in Maryland. I have a great love for this state. I have the Maryland Flag imposed in the “D” of “MD” as proof. Secondly I added the “MD” to “The Disciple” as a subtle hope of my prayer that my messages might bring some “healing” to those who search for Jesus Christ. In Him is the real power to heal.
For those who might tackle such a project as this, I would say that it is well worth your time and effort. I have usually spent between half an hour to an hour a day on my daily messages. On the few days where I just didn’t have the time, I would copy an old message and send it out. Better to keep the habit than to skip. Like scripture reading, once you start skipping, you lose the habit pretty quickly. One time I didn’t send one out and my son-in-law sent me an email at 11:30pm and said, “You only have a half hour left to get off your message”. I quickly went to my laptop and fired one off! I learned that they looked for it. Perhaps to begin with once a week is better. Particularly if you have a busy life and you know you cannot write every weekday. I write from my office but I am also my own boss so that means my time is “my” time. Consistency is very important. I always let my children know when I am going on vacation and that I won’t be writing. I treat them as if they are “subscriber”, or “readers”, who need to be informed. That may sound funny, but I try to be “professional” about doing this.
I guess what has motivated me the past five years in writing a daily message to my family is the knowledge that my life on this earth is limited. The loss of several of my siblings and in-laws at young ages during the past few years has reminded me that my life could abruptly end without notice. If that should happen, how long will my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ live on. Certainly it will live on in my children but I have hopes that my words will not only influence their generation, but also the next generation and the next. My testimony can have a powerful impact for good for centuries if I take the time to write it down. After all, the scriptures are simply the inspired thoughts and interaction of men with deity that have been written down for all to read. There is no reason that my influence for good has to go with me to the grave. I have hopes, as did Jacob of the Book of Mormon, whose final words were, “…and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu" (Jacob 7:27)
As many of you know, we've welcomed three beautiful, healthy little grandsons into our family in six months--an obvious blessing for which we have given thanks over and over. The last little on came home on Easter Day, which seemed a sublime way to mark this day of hope and promise.
Sadly, it was also about then when I received word that a writing friend lost her daughter while playing a silly game in her room. She and her sister had done it plenty of times--tying bedsheets to the posters of their bunk beds to form a swing. This time, the one girl did it herself, and somehow ended up tangled in the sheets. She passed before anyone even knew she was in distress.
Our hearts always break at such a tragedy. it seems particularly sad when a sweet life is cut short not by disease, nor by violence over which you want to rail your fists and shout, but during something as seemingly simple as play.
The mother found the presence of mind to post her daughter's tragedy as a warning to parents to note what games their children play, and to issue a tender request. She asked everyone to hold fast to their loved ones, to not miss opportunities to love them and laugh with them, to enjoy their sweet company. It pierced my heart.
It made me so very grateful--not just for my good fortune of healthy children and grandchildren, but of Easter, and the promise of new life through the Atonement and resurrection of Christ. Bunnies and chocolate took a back seat to gratitude--for me, for my friend, for all of us--that hope conquers death, and that the miracle of love should be savored every day.
I don't often wax so philosophical, but there are seasons when what really matters becomes so clear. Tell someone you love them today. Drive that assurance deep into their hearts. Then remember to offer a prayer of thanks.
The purpose of this hop is not to debate the issue, but to draw awareness to the special concerns of those affected by the disorder. I must admit that though we've had friends with children diagnosed with autism, it was only this year that I came to understand how individually and uniquely each child is impacted.
So do something extra to strengthen and support families in your circle who are dealing with autism.
I'm spring cleaning so my prize is a 4-book collection from my gently-read shelf. At least one book will be new. And here is how you enter to win. Please understand that each entry MUST be posted separately to be counted.
1. MANDATORY : You must be or become a follower of this blog. 2. Be my friend on Facebook 3. Follow me on Twitter 4. Friend me on Goodreads
My post about "The Hunger Games" and the dystopian novel trend, brought some interesting replies. One reminded me of a curious theme I was introduced to during a stint as a volunteer at the local middle school library when I was a young mother.
The librarian was receiving box loads of books for the upcoming semi-annual book fair. As each box was opened she'd tell me under which genre to place each title. She finally handed me a stack of books and said, "Place these over there with the other death books."
I stopped dead in my tracks, (no pun intended.) "Death books?"
She raised a cautionary eyebrow. "Yes, the death books. It's one of the most popular genres for this age group--I'm dying, my friend is dying, my mom is dying. . ."
"You're kidding?" I was appalled.
"No. it's true. These students have reached the age when they're grappling with hard things. They're realizing that bad things happen to good people. Some of them have already lost family members--grandparents, their own parents in some cases. These books help them deal with grief. They're cathartic."
I expressed concern that such a literary trend might be encouraging a generation of anti-depressant customers, but this forty-year library veteran smiled and shook her head. "They pass through it. One year I'll watch a student stock up on 'death' books, and by the time the next book fair rolls around she'll be stocking up on copies of 'The Babysitters' Club.'"
Then I remembered my own son's reaction to "The Bridge to Terabithia." It was an assigned book, but it was the first actual novel that kept him reading late into the night. One day he actually brought it to me, asking me if I had read it. I hadn't, and he suggested that I do. I hurriedly read through the book, crying through the second half, and when I thanked him for the suggestion, we shared a great moment together. His comments were very brief. "It was sad, huh?" But it was still a great moment.
Perhaps that's the appeal of these dystopian novels. Perhaps a completely broken, corrupt society makes ours appear more bright and redeemable in the end, giving relief to the readers. Who knows? But I can admit to personally finding comfort and inspiration in a wide variety of books, and warnings in others. I've read a few books that disturbed my thinking. They soured my look at life. I steer away from them and instead choose to spend my limited reading time with material that lifts my spirits, strengthens me, and adds to my war chest of positive ideas and tools. But that's me.
I'm sure you've read books whose message went deep into your soul. What were they, and how did they affect you?
“A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.” -Woodrow Wilson