What’s a Dial Tone?

If this is real, it is hilarious.  These kids can’t figure out how to use a rotary telephone.  Is there any significance to the fact that the phone is sitting on a Harry Potter box?

Brief Radio Silence

MontvilleI am in New Jersey today at the home where I was raised and where my parents still live–at least for the moment.  I am sorting through the material culture and paperwork that has defined my life for nearly five decades.  My parents have sold the house and are moving to the Philadelphia-area to be closer to my younger sister.

This is not an easy task.  Right now I am staring at a 1979 issue of Football Digest with O.J. Simpson on the cover.  Do I throw it away or keep it?  And what about the fourth grade “report” on the digestive system?  What about all the newspaper clippings from the 1980 Olympic hockey team or the AP US history notes?  How about my high school lacrosse practice jersey?

My work is cut out for me.  I will be back on the blog soon. I am seeing a lot of good Believe Me news out there today and I will be sure to post about it.  Stay tuned.

I Just Crossed an Item Off of My Bucket List

Calvin the cat

My so-called bucket list is not very exciting.  Some day I would like to see Springsteen outside of the United States.  (I almost pulled it off this summer).  It would be nice to say that I attended the Olympic Games.  I would love to see a football game at Michigan Stadium– “The Big House.”  (I walked on the field, but have never seen a game there).  And I am sure I can think of a few others.  Overall, I try to be content with what I have and be thankful for opportunities when they arise.

But for the past eleven years my next-door neighbor’s cat has been making me very discontent.  Calvin is a very wise and savvy cat.  He prowls our neighborhood like he owns it.  I am not a cat person, but I like Calvin because he keeps the mice, chipmunks, snakes, and squirrels out of our back yard.  My dog is scared to death of him.

Calvin, however, does not like me.  He will not let me get near him.  Since we moved into our house in 2002 I have never even touched Calvin.  Every time I try to pet him he runs away.

So I recently announced that I had put “petting and holding Calvin” on my proverbial bucket list.  It has become a running joke in my neighborhood.  Calvin’s owner gets a kick out of watching my failed attempts to sneak up behind him and touch him.

Well, I am happy to report that I had a breakthrough the other day.  I was returning from a walk with my daughter and we saw Calvin on the neighbor’s driveway.  His owner was out of town and another neighbor was stopping by daily to feed him. I thought he might be lonely.  Could I use his desire for human companionship to lure him into my clutches?


When Calvin began to warm up to my daughter’s gentle calls, I knew I had to seize the opportunity.  I creeped up behind her and managed to pet Calvin’s back.  I was shocked he did not scamper when I touched him.  I pet him a few more times and then, despite my daughter’s pleas to leave him alone, I scooped him up and started triumphantly walking through the neighborhood.  This was huge!  My daughter quickly snapped a picture with her phone.  I am not sure I will ever  be able to pull this off again.

Ah, the little things in life….

My success with Calvin leads me to believe that a trip to the Olympics, a Springsteen show in Rome, and a Michigan-Ohio State game in the Big House may not be out of the question.

Thanks for indulging me, ye faithful readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

BBQ With Houston Religious Historians and Bloggers

By the time you read this I will be on my way home after spending a couple of days in Houston.  Stay tuned for posts on my experience, but in the meantime here is a picture of a group of Houston American religious historians and bloggers enjoying some Texas BBQ.  It was a great night of conversation.  We discussed everything from blogging to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and from the history of African-American evangelicalism to new books in the field of American religion.  Some of the guys even tried to convince me to return to a stalled and half-baked project on fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntire. Maybe.

l to r: Miles Mullin (“The Anxious Bench”), John Fea (“The Way of Improvement Leads Home”), Phil Sinitiere (“Bald Blogger”), and  John Wilsey (“To Breathe Your Free Air”)

This Guy Sounds Just Like Benjamin Franklin

I don’t know much about Stephen Fry, but a quick Internet search tells me that he is a British actor, playwright, comedian, activist, and humanist.  I found a lot to agree with in this interview (below), and a lot to disagree with.

As a historian, I was struck by the fact that Fry sounds a lot like Benjamin Franklin.  (My British Colonial America students wrestled with the ideas in the Autobiography this semester during our unit on the Enlightenment).  He does not like limits or organized religion, wants to do good for his fellow human beings, seeks opportunities for networking and conversation, and thinks that education happens in Junto-like communities. (Although he seems a lot less self-centered than Franklin). This video is worth watching and thinking about.

HT: Ryan Cordell at Profhacker

Obama From the 3-Point Line

I never hit a 3-pointer in my college basketball career (the 3-point shot was introduced during my sophomore year, but I scored all my points, as we used to say, “south” of the free throw line). But after watching this video I think I could beat the POTUS in a 3-point shooting contest.

I AM impressed by the fact that the White House court has both a men’s and women’s three-point line.

Forty Years in the Russian Wilderness With No Human Contact

The Lykovs lived in this hand-built log cabin, lit by a single window “the size of a backpack pocket” and warmed by a smoky wood-fired stove

David Swartz has brought my attention to this article at Smithsonian.com about a Russian family of Orthodox “Old Believers”  who lived for forty years in the Siberian wilderness with no human contact.  When they were discovered by Soviet geologists in 1978 they were unaware of World War II or the moon landing.  Here is a taste of this fascinating article:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs’ strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the fall of 1981, three of the four children followed their mother to the grave within a few days of one another. According to Peskov, their deaths were not, as might have been expected, the result of exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. Both Savin and Natalia suffered from kidney failure, most likely a result of their harsh diet. But Dmitry died of pneumonia, which might have begun as an infection he acquired from his new friends.

Karp Lykov and his daughter Agafia

His death shook the geologists, who tried desperately to save him. They offered to call in a helicopter and have him evacuated to a hospital. But Dmitry, in extremis, would abandon neither his family nor the religion he had practiced all his life. “We are not allowed that,” he whispered just before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.”

The Origins of the Piggy Bank

Here’s a fun one.  The blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has a short post on the history of “piggy banks.”  As it turns out, they originally had nothing to do with pigs:

Looking far back, all the way to the Middle Ages, people were in many ways very similar to those living today. Households acquired items of value, including currency. In those times, when the question of where to keep money arose, people didn’t typically have the option of a local bank. Instead, the answer oftentimes involved keeping their valuables in a vessel made of pygg. 

What was pygg, exactly? Pygg, a word with Old English origins, was a type of dense orange clay, popular in Western Europe for its use in the creation of a wide variety of containers, jars, and cups. The common name for these containers was “pygg jars.” As the pygg jars were fairly ubiquitous, they were used for storing a variety of items, including money.

     The transition of usage of the phrase “pygg jars” to that of “piggy banks” arose from a natural evolution in the English language. People continued to call their money-saving containers “pygg jars,” and then “pig banks,” well after they were made out of other materials. Eventually, the clay origins were forgotten, the meaning of “pig” in this instance shifted to that of the animal, and craftspeople created piggy banks shaped like pigs as we know them today.

HT: Andrew Sullivan