Freedom is not Free

Tomorrow Americans celebrate the birth of independence, the birth of country, the longevity of the United States of America. We’re old, by some reckonings, barely started by others.

We’ve had glory days, amazing stories that fill our history books, our movie scenes, fill our hearts with pride and nostalgia. We rightly remember the heroes, the brave ones, the  hardworking backbone of this country.

And we’ve had the other…the moments, many captured to live indefinitely online, that haunt and hurt and damage our national story. We’ve had days of sorrow, internal family feuding and fighting that’s hateful, and embarrassing.

We’re all siblings, of a sort.

National siblings. 

Lately, I’ve wondered…are we, the citizens of the United States, really worthy of the freedom we enjoy? Do we deserve the rights and privileges we’re so accustomed to having?

Do we take voting seriously? Do we know about the issues, take time to understand more than the sound bites and talking points that we’re already drawn to, by our pre-determined stances and opinions?

Do we look for candidates who will be leaders, or do we just check boxes when we vaguely recognize a familiar name?

Do we bother to learn about local issues, the unexciting realm of politics that influences school boards and community elections? Do we know what’s happening at the level of governing we can all be a part of? Do we participate in our own back yard?

Do we look for ways to help? Or are we just enjoying the show, enjoying the role of critic without the burden of involvement?

Do we look for the good of the whole? Are we focused on self-interest, or are we interested in our siblings…our national siblings?

Are we nurturing a nation, caring for our collective integrity and honor?

Sometimes it seems like we’re talking all the time, but not really saying anything worthwhile.

Is anyone even listening anymore? Or are we all talking over each other? We can all feel good that we’ve had our say. But did anyone hear anyone else?

I don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Our issues are big, and getting bigger. Our debt is enormous, and our resources are limited.

But our hearts are not limited. Our imagination is not limited. Our capacity for compassion and hard work is unmatched.

Rather than hoping we can reach agreement on all our many areas of conflict, I hope we’ll look for opportunities to make actual contributions to real needs. I don’t have to agree with someone to work beside them for common good. And there so much that we can do if we choose to cooperate, instead of using our energy and time to tear one another apart.

Tomorrow we celebrate the heroes of thought and words who conceived a land built on freedom and liberty. We celebrate the heroes of action who brought the idea to reality. I hope we’ll also be celebrating the heroes of quiet deeds, the people who continue to make the United States great…the people who give, generously; who care, ferociously; who live, courageously; and who love, whole-heartedly.

We are siblings, all of us citizens. We’re national siblings, and we need to remember that. We pay a price to live in this land. Freedom isn’t free, even for civilians. There is a cost to everything, for everyone. And I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the price we owe from the heart.

Are you paying your share?

Happy 4th of July, Americans! Happy 4th, my siblings!

 

 

 

 

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My country, ’tis of thee…

It’s been a while since I wrote on this site. Life has been full of travel, recruiting, day jobs, and family.

I had intended to do a post about fish and chips, a follow-up to the last post on fishing. I wanted to be light-hearted and fun.

But today I don’t feel light-hearted, and I want to say why.

I like to think I’m patriotic. Not in the grating, super-power-proud-gloating sense, but in the tear-up-when-I-see-a story-of-American-heart-and-American-goodness sense. Whenever I’ve been out of the country and I feel the touch-down of the plane’s wheels on American soil, no matter the point of entry, I always breathe a little welcome sigh, a recognition of being “home.” I love so many of the things that Americans sheepishly acknowledge…speaking generically, we really are a melting pot. We love corny things, little guys winning uphill battles, we value fairness and people standing up to challenge wrongs. There’s a segment of the population that’s sophisticated, by the going standard, for sure, but I think the majority of us are still focused on the basics…family, making a life for our kids, being part of communities that need good people and good ethics.

Which brings me to my moral dilemma. As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I’m reminded, again, that we have two candidates for the highest office in the land, and I can’t vote for one, and won’t vote for the other. The order of which names fit with “can’t” and “won’t” change from time to time, but the bottom line is the same. No options.

I would love to see a woman in the office of president, but not this woman. I can’t get past the enormous sums of wealth this candidate and her family have accumulated in public service, with no visible sign of creating anything of value, other than influence and favors. I’ve seen estimates of net worth from $30 million up to $111 million. Add that to the decades of scandal and charges of corruption that have followed this family, and I just can’t vote for more of the same. I’m sure there is some truth and some hype, but really, can’t we do better? From the beginning of this election cycle, through the primary season when so many of the contests looked unfairly rigged, there’s been a sense that this was a choice made for voters, rather than by voters. There’s nothing right about that.

A lot of my distaste comes from exhaustion. I wish politicians had the grace to move off the stage after a few years, but it seems almost no one does any more. I am fiercely opposed to political dynasties. I believe allowing multiple family members to milk the political system off name recognition and shared influence gives unfair advantage and access to a process that should be based on merit and work, not who one is married to, born to, or otherwise related to.

And the other candidate…well, I just can’t go there either.

I understand we’re electing a president, not a pope (I read that little nugget recently). I understand we’re all human, we all have faults and flaws, and who am I to judge, anyway? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a voter. And while I accept that any human being is far from perfect, I want to elect someone who has aspiration toward high standards, who I can look up to and feel that at least they’re attempting to be a person of honor.

I’m sure that all people in places of leadership have their bad moments, lapses in judgment, and say things they regret. I do all that too. We all do. But I’m not proud of those moments when I fall short. I don’t go around bragging on myself that I got away with bad behavior, or find myself expressing remorse because I got caught at something and now have to try to look sorry, whether I really am or not.

I understand that in many ways, culturally we’ve done away with moral standards, with the traditional “rights” and “wrongs” of past eras. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve told ourselves we’re all grown up now, so sophisticated we don’t pass judgement on anyone anymore. Live how you want, say what you want, just don’t get caught on camera or mic, right?

I think our culture has an up-close view of what that looks like in a potential leader, and we’re disgusted with what we see…and who we’ve become, to some extent. Maybe the reason so many are outraged with this candidate is that he is a self-indictment, in many ways.

After all, morality either matters, or it doesn’t. Crude language is either acceptable, or it isn’t. Politicians either have private lives, or they don’t. We can’t really have it both ways.

Personally, I believe when someone offers themselves up for the highest office in the land,  for that time, they don’t have a private life. Their children should be off limits, but anyone running for the office of president should be prepared for every word and action to come under a microscope. And if they’re not, maybe they should not invite the scrutiny of the world. I’m not saying that’s fair, or even right. But in this day of ever-present media, and no subject off limits, that’s the way it is.

Honestly, I would be glad to not be privy to the personal details of candidates’ lives…I don’t want to know all the nitty-gritty. But that’s not the culture we live in, when anything and everything is fair game for dinner table conversation and social media posts.

I wish the wise people who founded this nation had given us a blueprint for this scenario: what to do when we want a do-over, but don’t want to create a constitutional crisis or a revolutionary change. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. I do want a way out of this dilemma.

Personally, I would be happy to see the vice-presidential candidates take over the top of the ticket.

Or if we can’t take that approach, maybe we can launch a write-in candidate via social media to win the most votes? Who will step forward to save us from these two? Anyone? Anyone?

Going forward, I think we need to create constitutional amendments that provide two things:

Term limits to two election cycles…I don’t care if you run for dog-catcher, two terms and you’re out. Whatever benefit accrues from having people in office who know the system are far outweighed by having people in office who corrupt the system.

Only one family member can be president, period. This may seem unfair and arbitrary, but I think we could go a long way toward fixing the political dynasty issue if we took the top prize off the table, once someone in the family has had it. Enough already. Go home, go away, just go! There’s a whole country full of people who are potential candidates. Let someone else step up to bat.

I know there are people who believe in both these candidates, who will vote for them for various reasons, and I understand that…we all have to vote our own consciences. For me, this is a year of none of the above. I’m not excited about the third party candidates either, and realistically, we’re not at a point in our politics where that makes a difference. No third party candidate has enough traction to matter, at least not yet.

Maybe the lessons of this election cycle, on both sides, will be that choosing candidates wisely is important. By the time we’re at this stage of the process, it’s too late to get picky…we’re stuck, voting for undesirables, or voting for no one.

It’s rare that I feel much angst politically. Usually I just tell myself that things will work out, and of course, life goes on, as I’m sure it will, whatever the November election brings. But after such a season, I hope there’s a national call for change to some of our process so we don’t find ourselves here again.

Surely, we can do better than this. We deserve better, our children deserve better. It’s time to look in the mirror, and face what we’ve allowed.

 

 

Happy 4th of July! The Star Spangled Banner

 

The 4th of July is here again, a day to remember and celebrate heritage, and a day to remember that freedom comes at a cost. The national anthem of the United States was born during battle, and reminds us that freedom requires courage…we must be brave if we want to be free. Bravery comes in many forms, some more visible than others. How are you being brave in your life?

Here’s a treat:

The Star Spangled Banner at the Lincoln Memorial

And a little history of this song…

The Star-Spangled Banner

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Thank you 

I know some individuals who mark this day with memories, not as a day off. For those who are gone, and to their families, thank you. There’s nothing political about remembering men and women who did their best, gave their all, and honored their commitments.

Thank you.

Political discourse

I’ve never used my blog to express political opinion. That isn’t my focus here, and I don’t want it to become my focus.

But I must say, this year: I’m disheartened, saddened, disappointed, by both major parties, and the candidates.

What has happened to our process? How have we allowed candidates to become so coarse, so small and petty? Where is the dignity the highest office in the land should inspire, and demand?

How can we have candidates for the office of president who are there as much for who they’re related to as for their own achievements? We’re not a country founded on political dynasties. I don’t think that’s what we should seek or allow now. Political dynasties are bad for the country: too much influence peddling, too much opportunity for unfair advantage and cronyism.

What is wrong with our political process when the major parties can manipulate the use of party delegates, “super delegates,” to offset the voice of individual voters? And why is the process so convoluted and complex it seems few can really understand it, much less navigate it?

Why do we need more than a year for our election process? Other countries seem to be able to have an election within a few weeks or months. And why do we need to pour massive sums of money into whole thing? Isn’t there a better way to spend money? It’s so expensive to campaign for office. Have we allowed the Presidency to be reduced to a prize that can be bought? Or to become an office that only the wealthiest and best connected can aspire to?

I enjoy political theater, and it’s interesting when the unexpected happens or a dark horse candidate suddenly breaks free from the pack.

But I’m appalled to see our political process has become just one more reality TV show, full of immature and narcissistic egos, insults, false statements, and bluster. Such conduct belittles us all. How can we as a country expect to be taken seriously by other countries and leaders when our politicians act as they do? When what they say in the setting of national debates sounds like talk from middle schoolers? And they expect voters to believe in them? To believe in their wisdom, their insight, their ability to be calm and collected in times of stress and threat? Do we want these people directing our military?

In election seasons, people often refer to the Founding Fathers, going back to the vision they had for government and the structure they put in place. When I think of the leaders of that time and compare what we have now, the people we look to as leaders, I’m shocked by how far we’ve fallen.

Those people weren’t perfect. They had flaws too, often obscured by the veil of time and the romantic haze of sentiment that colors our view of that era.

But…

They were articulate, educated, thoughtful, far-seeing, and principled. They cared about more than personal gain or risk. And for whatever faults they had, they accomplished a Herculean feat. They designed and built a new country.

They had honor.

Maybe we expect too much from our leaders…we expect them to please all of us, to have the right background, the right education, to be attractive, personable, charming, witty, good in front of the camera. Maybe honesty and integrity are dispensable characteristics, but they must be entertaining to watch, able to generate ratings. That’s the message we seem to send to the candidates we approve by vote tallies.

At the very least, I would like my leaders, specifically the leader in the role of President, to be an honest person, someone of integrity.

I don’t expect to agree with the President on every front. That would be impossible, and even unfair. This person has to lead a huge body of people, and we’re all going to be on the losing side of decisions from time to time. No one can please us all.

I don’t even have to like the person who is President. That would be nice, but what I really want is to look at this person and believe they’re doing the best they can, acting out of principle, and conscience, and strength.

I don’t care if we have a male or female as President. Other countries have had women leaders, decades ago, and they did very well representing their countries and their parties. But I don’t want this office to be a prize given for the sake of historic gesture. I don’t care about color or gender, spouse or no spouse, career achievements or alma mater. I care about choosing the best person for the job. Period.

I do care, very much, about the character of the person we elect. For those who say character doesn’t matter, I say, it is almost the only thing that matters to me. I don’t expect perfection. How could I? No one could meet that standard. I don’t expect that candidates have mistake-free personal lives…in fact, I don’t want to know all that much about their personal lives. I think they have a right to some privacy. But I do expect people who aspire to the office to have integrity, to do their best, to lead with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is, at least this year.

Maybe this will be the cycle that helps us to reset…to pull back from the abyss, to say, “what have we done?” Maybe this election season will open the door to serious election reform, to significant and intelligent change.

If that happens, good. We need to give up our addiction to political drama, and reclaim a political system that functions in the interests of the citizens; we need leaders who are serious, who respect the office and the responsibility entrusted to them; and we need to be able to trust our elected officials. We may not agree with every decision, but it would be encouraging to believe the person in the Oval Office acts out of principle, courage, and conviction, rather than playing to the polls, or political posturing. This is not a game.

Or maybe the whole thing has become a game . But it shouldn’t be.

Maybe this is the year to write in “none of the above,” and ask our parties to go back to the starting line, give us better choices. In a land of 300 million plus, surely that’s possible? What does it say of us, the citizen-voters, that we don’t demand better?

We need change at many levels of the process. We need informed voters, and a better way to express our opinions than going through antiquated and convoluted systems, controlled by party elites who have hidden motives and agendas. We need to allow voices to be heard that we disagree with. But we also need to assure everyone that each vote matters…that votes aren’t nullified by party rules and back room deals.

God help us all. It’s a scary world out there, and we need someone we can believe in…someone worthy of trust, worthy of sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

 

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

The little guy

It didn’t take long for the decision made on the other side of the country to reach across the miles and time zones. Today, the small town where we sometimes work announced that agencies operated by the community government will be impacted by the federal government shutdown. Beginning this week, employees are cut to 32 hours per week, and if the shutdown is not resolved in two weeks, layoffs will begin.

This is a community of Alaska natives, and a significant portion of their town budget comes from various government agencies. The clinic we work in is operated with funding from Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency. How ironic that in a government shutdown focused on a fight over national healthcare, healthcare is already being affected with clinic hours cut; patient referrals cut (with the exception of patients requiring medevac); and a freeze on numerous social and peripheral services.

At the moment, I’m not interested in placing blame. Really, I believe both sides in the debate have made mistakes and used poor judgment. But as usual, the little guy will pay the price, literally, with hours cut from pay, limited services, and stress and anxiety over the whole episode.

If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?  ~ Thomas Jefferson

As I hear about services cut throughout the country, I wonder what the real price is for this impasse? I’m sure the crisis of the moment will be resolved. But what does it do to the national psyche when small town America, through no fault of their own, is at the mercy of politicians a continent away?

The little guy is usually the hero of the movie, coming through at the last minute to save the day. We need leaders with vision. I think the ones in office have lost their way.

We could use some little guys right now. Sure hope they make it before the end of the movie.

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.  ~ Mark Twain

Happy Fourth!

We’re having a lovely 4th of July, beautiful weather and lots of activity out our front window. Ribs are smoking for dinner, and we’re planning a front row seat for tonight’s fireworks. We aren’t always so fortunate. A couple of years ago the weather was so rainy that the fireworks display was postponed for several days. But this summer is golden…so far…don’t want to risk jinxing it by saying too much! You can never take sunshine for granted in SE Alaska!

We planned to go fishing today…got up bright and early at 4:30 to be ready in time for an early start. But the friends we planned to go with called while we were en route to say that the wind was a little too rough for their small boat..or maybe too rough for good fishing…not sure, not being a boat person myself. So we headed home, unpacked the lunch and extra gear we’d collected and settled in to a second cup of coffee and a leisurely day.

It’s not often we get an extra Saturday in the week, and this one seems particularly sweet and long. Starting so early has paid off. I’ve rearranged the furniture in a couple of rooms, tried a new recipe for baked beans (thank you Alton Brown!), made a yummy banana pudding for dessert, had a few calls with family, planned some fun for next week with little Riley. She’s coming to visit Saturday and bringing baby Jack and mommy Stephanie along.

Before the day is done, I plan to pull out my DVD of 1776 (also available via Amazon Instant Video) and travel back in movie time to the events that created this holiday. The movie, made in 1972, has its’ corny moments, and if you’ve never seen it, be warned that it is a musical. Not that I mind that, no! The music hardly competes with classic movie musicals, but the story is a wonderful reminder of the challenges overcome by the people who carved this nation from their values, hopes, and amazing vision of freedom. And though there is a vein of comedy through many scenes, there is also a sober reminder that from the beginning, freedom was not free.

Rob and I had the opportunity to visit several historic sites in Virginia in May, and I was impressed, as I always am, with the wealth of important history compacted into such a relatively small region. We spent a few days immersed in Williamsburg and Jamestown, which I love. I’m never really satisfied with my trips there, and always leave wanting to know more. But the more significant stops this trip were visits to Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon, and Jefferson’s mountain estate, Monticello.

It was humbling to see the surroundings of these great men of our history and to learn more about them as people. Yes, they both served as president. But after their terms, both chose to return to a private life, to the homes and land they loved. In an era far removed from our day of life-long security and celebrity for national political figures, these men slipped back into the role of private citizens. They stepped back from public view, from fame and power. And reading about them, I got the feeling that each felt it was a step up that they stepped back into privacy. Clearly, they did not view political power as something to wield as long as they lived.

All this soaking in history made me thoughtful. We often speak of “founding fathers” in reverent terms, and rightly so. That group of leaders gave a gift that is still giving. And it is a rare gift, one to be cherished. But though I am sometimes saddened by the lack of leadership that seems the norm today, there are still people among us who know what it is to step out, stand up, and do right. Our trip in May, back to the heart of this country’s past, is in my thoughts today, reminding me that we have to do our part. They started it, it is up to all of us to carry on.

Freedom isn’t free, and it never was. Thank you to those who have served, to those who make a difference, to those who stand up. Happy 4th of July! Long may we celebrate this date and its meaning, and between the fun and the fireworks, may we remember why we come together, and that in spite of our differences, the task is to continue to come together; to step out, stand up, and do right.