Sunday, July 30, 2006


Charles Risdon after Frederic Edwin Church. Niagara, 1857. Published by Charles Day and Son, London, England. Chromolithograph on white wove paper. Olana State Historic Site, New York, State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Dear Dad,

I’m sending you this book as a belated birthday/Father’s Day present. I thought you might like reading and seeing about the history of American tourism. I saw the works featured in the book at an art exhibit here in the city. It made me imagine what it must have been like to hear about the spectacular natural sights of America, but not be able to go see them because there were no roads, no trains, no cars -- not even any photos. It made me think about how exiting it would have been to go see the paintings of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) of such pristine places. How exhilarating it would have been to actually get a chance to experience Niagara Falls after reading it is one of the most “sublime” scenes in mid-19th century America – “Nature’s Grandest Wonder, New York’s Imperial Gift to Mankind.” Today, it would have been the equivalent of seeing the Great Wall of China -- you just have to have enough money to get there.

Unfortunately I remember thinking Niagara Falls was boring; too bad I didn’t have more of a historic perspective. As I think back, I’m a little bit nostalgic for our old sight-seeing tours. Our trips were some of the most memorable things we did. I still remember going up Mt. Washington on the cog railroad they built as simultaneously Winslow Homer made it famous with his paintings in 1868. Watching the waves bash into the rocks on Mount Desert Island – a place fixed in the American imagination by the work of both Church and Homer. But even more than our trip to the New England “lands,” I remember the time you set 17-year-old me free behind the wheel of our old Winnebago and I caught a 75 mph wind blowing from the West out of Wyoming – it was pretty flat in Nebraska, it was the middle of the night, you were tired and the roads were straight. We took another cog railroad up Pike’s Peak; climbed up red rocks to see the Delicate Arch; purred through Death Valley on hot air, fumes, and prayer; saw Yosemite, Red Woods, the Golden Gate Bridge, American icons all; rode a dune buggy in the dunes; fished for halibut, but caught a weird deep-sea creature and a sand shark instead; we saw massive airplanes in Everett and bought posters; we had a nice view of the clouds but I don’t remember actually seeing glaciers in Montana; we had a close encounter with a Grizzly and a snowball fight in the middle of summer in Yellowstone.

None of that would have been possible without the American invention (or at least adaptation) of tourism, of vacations. And none of it would have been possible without you putting up with us whining and complaining like the Children of Israel after only a couple days in the motor-home. You spent a lot of money, gave us a lot of your time. You gave us a lot of fun. Actually you gave us some of the best experiences our family has ever had. You let us explore the world in ways not very many children can, but I think all children should. I know you did it at least in part because that’s what your father did for you, maybe your father did it because he remembered the stories Great Grandpa John told about going West in the 1910s -- although he had to work to see his sights. You can count on me to do my best to extend the tradition into the next generation.

Maybe the next time I see you we’ll be holding those stupid looking bright green phones up to our ears on the Freedom Trail in Boston.

Thanks for being my Dad.


You can see the exhibition Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape online at:

Saturday, July 22, 2006


This is one of my favorite paintings at the Met. Bruegal was one of the first to recognize the sensible nature of sensible work.
Pieter Bruegal the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565 (180 Kb); Oil on wood, 118.1 x 160.7 cm (46 1/2 x 63 1/4 in); Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sensible Work
Today is Saturday: cleaning day in our family.

It is convenient to think men and women merely have different standards of cleanliness when it comes to housework. While this may be partially the case, it is certainly not the entire reason why men do not help out around the house. Many men in Western context think of themselves primarily as players, that is, not workers. We are often most concerned with how we can get ahead, how we can accomplish our goals, with “having it made” (in the shade, if you like) as both a winner and as a consumer. In terms of nature we are primarily escapist, we spend much of our time considering ways we can better exploit it while doing less work in it. The best option we can consider is that of life itself as a game, that of playing with stocks, gambling with capital (human or otherwise). Work becomes something we do in our spare time: we “work” at relationships, “work” on our golf swing, “work”-out at the gym. Life itself is characterized as a frenzied game – we are married to our jobs, we eat, breathe, sleep, are consumed in the competition with other players as to how best use/exploit the non-exceptional players on the other team. How we actually live seems completely without merit, any hovel will do. In an echo of our earliest social experiments, we form teams excluding those who are different and most importantly those who fail to serve our interests (bad investments) in winning the game. This of course plays into the way we run our religion. Winning souls and ultimately winning at the game for heaven – the ultimate “dream” home with no maintenance – takes priority over listening to and really helping those who are in need around us. Because players are detached from nature and from others (who may stop us from winning), we know little about the sanctifying rhythms of work and rest – building conscious awareness of self and others, nature and Spirit. As we think of work in the context of setting up a home, I think we must consider living without a relationship to the natural environment as not-really living as a true human subject. What could be more real, more authentic than that which we can taste, touch, smell, see and hear?

I believe “housework,” done with one’s own hands, promotes the cultivation of natural sensibilities. As such, it aids in the development of aesthetics that embodies the Spirit of which we are made. By learning housework, children and adults accept responsibility for the way in which they order their material reality. By becoming critically aware via this process, they are far more likely to reject the prefabricated and simulated worlds produced by industry. In this way, we will begin to better appreciate and care for our environment. Because male children do not cultivate this respect they have less respect for it – rather they think via technology they can better the natural environment, or via ownership they can exploit it. As a further result most men have an unnecessary dependence on women: they cannot cook or clean for themselves (the former being the most intolerable as men have all the skills of building – just not in the kitchen). Girls are taught via the attitudes of men that such work is servile and secondary to the “important” work of constructing non-sensible worlds. These attitudes lead women to dread such work. They instead long for the day they can become a bourgeois queen (think Cinderella) and in a masculine way exploit the labor of less deserving often non-White women – while they go do the “important” work like men. In reality, the work which cultivates our sensibilities and those of others is some of the most important work we can do. If we would value such work and therefore helped in it as we should, women may begin to feel that such work affirms their identity rather than negates it.

I with Simone Weil believe that “through work a human being produces his own natural existence.” Movement toward a new human becoming will begin only when we understand that the games we play are not the essence of reality, but rather a distortion, a simulation of the natural cicumstance. Working out our sensibilities together, cultivating relations-between, in the home through the continual work of setting up a home – a process of creation, is the most basic work we can do toward refounding the family and humanity more generally. We, men, must rediscover “women’s work” as human’s work. We must stop playing games (or watching others playing games) which ignore or subjugate nature, and marginalize the female sex. We must work and rest as humans should.

(some thoughts stolen from “Crapshoot: Everyone Loses When Politics Becomes a Game,” by Garret Keizer, Feb. 2006, Harpers Magazine)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Mom Blows Out FIFTY
Mount Eaton, Ohio. Friday, July 7, 2006

A Pink Flamingo rules the day

Dad holds court, Mom is unsure (clutches new aphgan)

Grandpa enjoys the action

Grandma from the balconey

Gabriel as a small bird

in his classic beefcake pose

acting like a grandson

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Cabin

A gun club in the mountains of North Central Pennsylvania has been transformed over time from a place of solitary manly pursuits to an annual event featuring 19 Stoltzfus siblings, their offspring and offshoots.

young guns


Edith holds things together

Matthew and his friend recline

training the children in the way

uncle Al says goodbye to Anita