Rose Seiler Scott

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March 25, 2014
by Rose Scott
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Why I Love Downton Abbey

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I am not a fan of most of today’s TV shows. Reality programs insult my intelligence. I am disgusted by cheap sex and excessive violence on other prime time fare.  And supposed heroes, who rarely think in terms of the morality of their choices or writing that doesn’t reveal the consequences of those choices make me angry. Oops, there I go criticizing other writers. My apologies to the good ones, but really, I am quite fed up and only watch a handful of TV offerings.

Highclere Castle aka Downton Image by Mike Searle

Downton Abbey, I have recently discovered, is a show worth watching. In fact I haven’t enjoyed a TV series so much since… Road to Avonlea or Little House on the Prairie. Now my secret is out, I’m a sentimentalist, in love with the imaginings of a distant past, but that is not the whole story.

If you have never seen this popular British drama set in the earlier part of the 20th century, here is the synopsis. Downton Abbey is an estate home peopled with Lords and Ladies and at least as many servants. Their ongoing struggle is about whether or not they will be able to maintain their way of life, within the rapidly changing paradigm of the 20th century.

Visually the series is a feast for the eyes. The costumes are gorgeous, the interior of the house fascinating. And I just love the English, Scottish and Irish accents. But none of that would be enough to hook me past the first episode or two. What is the rest of the appeal?

Is it the romance of the era my English grandmother came of age in? The love story of Bates and Anna? The zinging wit of the Dowager Countess?  The transparency of Matthew’s eyes and personality juxtaposed against Mary’s opaque and contrasting visage? Is it the constant conflict between new ways and old or perhaps the clever storyline?

All that and more.

Though Jane Austen’s books were written in a previous era, the way the people of Downton Abbey relate remind me of her writing. Communication was different.

First of all, conversation was constrained to some extent by station. Even among the servants there was a hierarchy. Everyone knew where they stood in this complex social strata and it was only by the most unusual circumstance, that one would ever move up from a “servant” to a “Lord.” But even within within this rigid social system there was honour.

Acting with honour was crucial in order to maintain the respect of the “house” and your peers, be they staff or aristocracy. To act dishonourably, was to risk your station in life, your job and your good name. Scandal was, well, scandalous. Good was good, bad was bad and it was terribly important to at least maintain a façade of goodness.

Would I want to go back to this society? This romanticized version of it probably never existed, so no. A lack of choices for women, fixed social classes, and harsh, lasting judgement on those who had fallen do not fully recommend Victorian and Edwardian sensibilities. Fortunately at Downton there are forgiving souls like Mrs. Crawley and Mrs. Hughes, willing to extend grace and kindness.

Yet, even within this discriminatory system, there was a modicum of respect which seemed to surpass everyone’s station in life. One could say what one had to say and still be polite. You had to eat dinner with these people every day so civility was required.

What is also refreshing is that, in the case of dilemmas and moral failings, the consequences of one’s actions are clearly set out from the first season.

A visiting Turkish diplomat dies in Mary’s bed and the potential repercussions of this disaster are enormous. Covering her tracks becomes necessary for Mary but it turns out dishonesty is not the best policy either.

A few seasons later, Edith has one night with the man she expects to marry. This indiscretion results in pregnancy, but when her lover goes missing her choices are dismal. She contemplates abortion, but then realizes she won’t be able to visit the nursery to see her niece and nephew.

I have often complained that I don’t like shows where there aren’t good guys and bad guys. I can’t know who to root for.  But Downton Abbey has made me rethink this, because the characters make choices and weigh their behaviour not only to what course of action is of the most immediate benefit to everyone in the house, but also according to the virtues of right and wrong, honour and dishonour, kindness or cruelty.  It makes me identify with all of them.  When a character takes a wrong turn, the likely path of that choice ensues, something like real life.

Of course, Thomas, who thinks only of himself, appears to be the exception to this rule. We just know he probably has some deep insecurity rendering him incapable of anything else. But who knows? Maybe someday his character will make the connection between his actions and his unhappiness and redeem himself.

Characters who weigh moral choices.  Episodes that reveal consequences.  In today’s television offerings Downton Abbey is unique.

 

March 12, 2014
by Rose Scott
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Book Review: Inside the Parrot Cage

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During the past few weeks my dining room table has been covered with stacks of print-outs and books. I have been highlighting information and taking notes in order to add detail and fill in gaps in my novel.
Reading about mankind’s various cruelty on all sides of the conflict of World War Two can be disturbing and I can only take so much at a time, but my goal is to insert any relevant stuff into my book, pack away everything into a box and be done with that aspect of my book! Partay!

As I wrote in an early blog, pertinent sources have been scarce and when I come across a relevant personal account I dig through it as if looking treasure.

The following is a review on a book by Dr. Gerda Wever-Rabehl. (I posted a similar review  on Amazon).

Inside the Parrot Cage

Inside the Parrot Cage

Inside the Parrot Cage is a fascinating discussion of memory and loss. Gerda Wever-Rabehl skillfully weaves her multiple interviews with a Second World War Two soldier into a story. But this is not the typical Allied Soldier war story. A man named Joachim fought in the German army towards the end of World War Two. Though only a teenager and conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he suffered terribly, not only at the hands of his Russian captors, but afterward. As a returning prisoner of war, he could not even come home, as his family’s beautiful estate in Prussia was taken when all the Germans were expelled from that territory after the war. Wever-Rabehl, as the fictional narrator “Jean,” focuses largely on the difficulties Joachim had in sharing his memories, both in Post-War Germany and Canada. His version of war time events did not  fit in with popular history, especially as understood in the West. It became so difficult for Joachim to tell his story that he stopped really trying. Even his children had trouble believing him. The result for Joachim was a life of emotional torment. As he reveals his story,  Weber-Rabehl gently exposes his pain and shame. At the same time, his human dignity is preserved and Joachim’s story becomes representative of a much larger group of people.

February 24, 2014
by Rose Scott
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A Disturbing Post

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My sons suggested I go on reddit, a trending social media site. I signed up a few days ago and posted one of my blogs.  I was noodling around on Saturday, reading different posts and trying to figure out how to NOT have my post flagged as “NSFW.” Don’t be embarrassed, I didn’t know either. NSFW stands for “not suitable for work,” a kind of a 14 A rating. http://roseseilerscott.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/white-lace-and-promises/ was definitely not that.

As I looked around the site a new post came up, “I am a suicidal teenager with a noose around his neck…”

Wow. Most of my social media time on is on Facebook, with people who post pictures of  trips to Mexico and their bright-eyed grandbabies. Of course I know life isn’t non-stop birthday cakes and fluffy kittens who pretend to say funny things, but I am rattled when someone I don’t even know invites me to peer into the darkest closet of their soul.

Was it real or just a teenager saying stuff? I don’t know.  My apple cart was upset. I know families who lost a child in this way. That kind of pain doesn’t go away.

My Mom instinct told me to stop it if I could, so I posted to him not to do this, he was loved more than he could know. People wiser than myself put up crisis line phone numbers. Others, thoughtless jerks, (name-calling justified here), told him to go ahead and do it.

A few minutes later, the moderator removed the post. Disturbed, I contacted my sons to see if they had come across this before and asked my husband for his thoughts. Finally, I realized I could message Deadlord_Zelguis through the reddit site. I did so, praying that he would hold on, but it may have been too late. I will probably never know if this young man took his life or if he took good advice and called someone.

Afterward I looked up what to do. Here is a helpful blog, should you ever come across someone threatening suicide on social media.  http://natashatracy.com/mental-illness-issues/suicide/person-threatens-suicide-facebook/

Next time I will know what to do.

February 10, 2014
by Rose Scott
1 Comment

Daily Post: Take That Rosetta! Meine Sprache

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German is the language of my father and relatives on his side, but in spite of several years of formal instruction I still cannot carry on anything beyond a rudimentary conversation and native speakers would find my German grammar to be something between amusing and pathetic. Really, I would certain sure to be that you my meaning get.

Don’t get me started on multi-purpose prepositions, confusing verb declensions and important sounding, but baffling compound words. And the German articles, “die, der, das?” The tables I tried to learn in high school still haunt my dreams.

Not that German or any other language is more difficult than English with its mish-mash of unrelated words and irregular verbs.

When it comes to languages, I am certain God has a brilliant sense of humour. When the people of Babel thought they could reach God with their tower, he confused their languages. This language is going to have weird grammar and over here we have a different way of writing. And then, with this group of languages if you say a word a certain way, it means this, but a slightly different intonation… it could be really embarrassing.

I am fascinated by languages and the patterns and relationships between them. I would love to wake up being able to speak and understand another language. If it was German I could communicate with relatives that don’t speak English and find out missing bits of family history. I could read ‘Emil and the Detectives’ or Goethe’s poetry in the original. Oskar Kossmann, a German writer and statesman was a relative of my grandmother’s. His works of history, memoir and perspective on post-war Germany would be invaluable in researching that era.

Our choir is doing J.S. Bach’s “St. John’s Passion.” I would love to understand the lyrics as they were written, but I guess the poetic translation will have to do.

Anyways singing another language is the next best thing to speaking it, isn’t it?

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/daily-post-take-that-rosetta/

 

November 5, 2013
by Rose Scott
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Remembrance and Peace

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422px-RemembrancePoppies

Next Monday is Remembrance Day here in Canada.

Paper doves will vie for space with poppies decorating school gyms across the country. Inside the doves are messages about peace, written by children. The classic poem  In Flanders Fields will be recited and children will raise treble voices in songs about peace.

The innocence of the children, their songs and cut out doves is all very sweet, but I wonder can peace ever come about because we hold up banners and sing songs?

Other than a few notable despots- the Saddam Husseins, Joseph Konys and Hitlers of this world, who doesn’t want peace? It’s like who doesn’t want ice cream or a trip to Hawaii?

Nobody wants their loved one to come home in box draped with a flag while bagpipes mourn behind them. It’s terrible and tragic. Of course we want peace.

But when injustice rages on, peace has a cost. Chamberlain was wrong to give in to Hitler. “Peace for our time” turned out to be a mere postponement of six years of bloodshed. Peace cannot always be had without conflict. More recent tragedies like Rwanda and Darfur are a shame on all humanity when no-one stepped in.

I skate carefully here.  A clause in our church constitution talks about commitment to peace. I examined this carefully before signing on, but decided that yes, I am committed to peace. Most followers of Jesus are.

The peace that Jesus brought came at great cost and through his death and suffering, we have reconciliation and lasting peace that can spread to others.

I wonder do the children singing the songs understand that peace begins in our hearts and comes about only when we are willing to give up something we want. Do they know the harsh reality that injustice and cruelty cannot always be reasoned with or talked out of existence?  I wish it were so.  But on this broken earth it is not.

So I will wear a poppy and remember those who fought to gain peace.

photo ©Andrew Dunn  www.andrewdunnphoto.com

October 21, 2013
by Rose Scott
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Everything I wanted to learn about flax …

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Everything I wanted to learn about flax I learned in The Big Book of Flax, by Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf

The Big Book of FlaxYou are probably thinking of those seeds that we sprinkle on our yoghurt in a fit of healthiness. Flax, however, is much more than what is going rancid in your refrigerator- (try it in meatloaf, it hides quite nicely!)

The Zinzendorf brothers, in this gorgeous and fascinating tome, bring ancient knowledge to a generation who barely knows how to use a needle and thread.

Flax has been used for centuries, not only as a source of food, but as the raw material for linen, the strands having unique properties, for thread both soft and strong. Linen, wrinkling easily, is not as popular a fabric as it once was, but the rough homespun version was everyday work wear for peasants and farmers, while a finer weave showed up on the tables and backs of nobles and royalty. Flax was a large part of the economy in many places, even less than a century ago.

800px-Лён_(виды_издедий_и_старинные_инструменты)flax

I was enthralled to read this book, because my grandmother spun, wove and sewed linen suits for her boys and I was curious as to how that all happened. I can only imagine how she found the time to spin, weave and sew, in addition to other farm chores and raising children. Oh yeah, no cell phone, TV or computer! Plus, she didn’t have to go to the gym. The production of flax was a workout, rivalling Zumba®, yoga and marathon running rolled into one.

Part of the process involves beating the flax stems senseless, in order to break the outside straw and release the strands inside.  Ever heard of “flagellation?”  That is why the tool used is called a flagell.

A great deal of detail on the various tools used for retting, breaking, scutching and combing is documented in the Big Flax Book. Most of the tools were handmade and unique depending on the stature and preference of the person using it and the style of flagells and spinning wheels also varied by region. If you are an antique buff, these items can occasionally be found in old attics and barns, especially in Pennsylvania  where the authors make their home.

Photographs of neatly twisted bundles of flax strands; called “stricks,” resemble shiny blonde braids and many folks made dolls out of them. Should you wish to make one, instructions are included. My guess is the dolls were bribery to get the girls to do more spinning. I wonder if I could use dolls as bribery?  “Get off your iPad, and I’ll give you a flax doll to play with.”

After that there was the spinning.  For most of us, spinning and spinning wheels is the stuff of fairytales. Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin come to mind and the Zinzendorfs delve into this folklore too.

Spinning was work, cleverly disguised as entertainment. What was the spindle, but an early handheld device? You couldn’t text on it, but you didn’t need to, because your mother, sisters and grandmother were right across the room, spinning and weaving too and you could actually talk to them, or even better, sing with them.  A number of spinning tunes and lyrics are in the book, proving that it was possible to live without youtube and itunes.

After  the Second World War this domestic servitude scene changed, as manufactured clothing and fabric came into wide use.  Flax has only recently regained prominence as a crop.

If you are even a little interested in the history, production and overall amazingness of the flax plant, I would highly recommend this book!

October 15, 2013
by Rose Scott
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Reminisces before the New Westminster Fire

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http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_070829-N-4965F-015

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_070829-N-4965F-015

Much of the setting of my childhood has been lost in a frenzy of redevelopment. By the time I have grandchildren, nothing much will be left to show them of the places I grew up. The home my family moved to when I was 17 was recently bulldozed. My grandparent’s homestead, my uncle’s houses, the corner store, all gone. The home I lived in as a child, though now over a century old, will be flattened in favour of generic Georgian style condos, their old-fashioned facades mocking the absence of their predecessors.

My sentimentality at the loss of history is amplified by the recent New Westminster fire, which consumed half a city block of historic buildings, housing some businesses that had been there for generations. With an inferno rivalling a Hollywood blockbuster, heritage buildings exploded in a roaring blaze with flames pouring out the windows. On the evening news, small business owners watched in shock, their occupations, inventories and memories consumed in flames.

I hardly ever go to New West anymore. My side of the river now has all the stores and services I could ever need, but when I was a child, it was predominantly a farming community and suburb and so our shopping and errand destination was frequently the ‘Royal City,’ aka New Westminster.

My mother, being wisely suspect of the local medical care, which years later has only gotten worse due to an ever-expanding population and lagging infrastructure, took us to a kindly and old-fashioned physician in New Westminster. After a check-up, we usually made a day of it- a trip to the Metropolitan department store for a milkshake and fries at the lunch counter, followed by a visit to the Army and Navy store across Columbia Street to purchase clothes for my brothers and myself.  Though the A & N boutique, as we used to call it, was also known for affordable shoes, my shoes were rarely purchased there.

Badly pronated arches and ankles confined my feet to sensible oxfords, in a day when shiny patent leather shoes were the fashion for little girls. In spite of budgetary constraints, my Mom splurged on good footwear for me, purchased at a more traditional establishment around the corner, where personal service was a tradition. We opened the door under the awning and were greeted by the smell of leather and a gentleman proprietor, who attentively measured my feet for the appropriate lace up footwear.

On our way back to the station wagon, we dawdled past the antique stores, a hat shop and a bridal store, stopping briefly to admire some curio or a dreamy dress in the windows behind the false brick storefronts.

Some of what I remember is a heap of ashes now, but the charm of what they used to call the “Golden Mile” is part of my history and will rise like a dream from the smoke and embers, of another time and place.

 

October 9, 2013
by Rose Scott
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Another History

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940.5318.  I stand gazing at the library stacks. Two shelves are stuffed full of books about the Holocaust. The tragedies inflicted upon human beings are too much to contemplate and I am compelled to denounce the evils of Hitler and his followers.

It is these images of the Second World War that have dominated twentieth century history and memories, especially here, a continent, a language and a generation or two away from the conflict.

But relatives that lived through this time told me things I did not hear in history class or read anywhere else. Placing their war and post-war experiences, into the context of history has been a puzzling challenge.

Expulsion of the Germans should also be found somewhere in 940.53 but the bookshelves do not reveal their secrets so easily.  Hints of this other genocide are consigned to the odd paragraph or footnotes in larger works.  Full books on the subject can only be accessed through inter-library loan or in German, which I don’t read well enough to understand.

In part this information is not available because the victors write the history and a close examination of the events surrounding the end of war reveal  that the Allies were not always the heroes that popular history portrays.  Dirty laundry, a few skeletons. It is complicated. There is sometimes misunderstanding when telling this story. After all, the Germans were the cause of the war and deserved what they got. Didn’t they? Further, as I reveal this story to others, I do not want to be lumped in with Holocaust deniers who diminish the suffering of the Jews and twist history to their own myopic ends.

In her book “Inside the Parrot’s Cage,”  Gerda Wever Rabehl explains some of the difficulties and shame encountered by survivors from the “other side,” when history was overshadowed by that greater evil. The subject of her story is a man named Joachim, a German prisoner-of-war unable to properly share his memories, for no-one really wanted to hear or try to understand.

She states, “…suffering anywhere needs to be heard and learned from … these stories can live side by side one another without diminishing their legitimacy, power, or their own claims to truth.”

I want to tell the truth, to make sure we are not ignorant of history. Capacity for evil is not exclusive to any one group and suffering does not recognize race or creed. It is a universal human problem.