Thursday, April 13, 2023

Say Prunes?


Simon & Augusta Fritzemeier - Randy's great grandparents - 1905

Say CHEESE! It's the ubiquitous expression when we're trying to get everyone to smile for a photo.

But say PRUNES? That's a new one for me!

Photographers have relied on the magic of cheese for decades — just mentioning the word is enough to turn up the corners of our mouths into a picture-perfect grin. But the earliest photographers utilized a different food to help purse their subjects’ puckers: prunes. According to Christina Kotchemidova, a communications professor and researcher, British photography studios of the past encouraged people to say "prunes" in an effort to tighten their lips, a look that was more socially preferable than a wide smile.

My great-grandparents with their first three children, including my Grandpa Shelby Neelly

I saved the information from Interesting Facts last week. With Easter coming up, I figured there would be photo opportunities. And there were. On Easter, I took several photos at church of my sister and various combinations of their family. 

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My sister, Lisa, and her husband, Kyle with their eight grandchildren.

And I knew I'd be taking plenty of photos of Kinley and Brooke during a post-Easter visit to Topeka. So I suppose the article peaked my interest. 

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Brooke & Kinley during our trip to the Topeka Zoo on Monday.

These days, we are all smiles when it comes to photos. But most 19th- and early 20th-century photos show subjects with a solemn expression, a look that’s often attributed to the long exposure times of early camera. Holding a neutral expression for several minutes was easier than maintaining a smile.

My grandparents on their wedding day

But social norms also played a big role. Stern faces remained popular even after photo technology had improved well enough to easily capture smiles by the late 1800s,. Some historians say that smiling was once considered improper. 

Randy's grandma Laura Russell and her sister Mildred Russell - undated

Beauty standards of the time called for mouths to have a subdued appearance. Kotchemidova’s research suggests people were expected to have "carefully controlled" mouths with small pouts. 

I guess the little boy in this undated photo - Randy's uncle Alvin - didn't get the memo, though his grandparents, Alvin & Laura Ritts did have pleasant expressions. I also noticed that his grandfather gave a small smile in their undated wedding portrait.

Alvin & Laura Ritts - undated

According to one study of nearly 38,000 high school yearbook photos from the 1900s to the 2010s, smiling in photos became more popular by the mid-20th century. That may be true, but here are my Great Grandma and Grandpa Neelly in their 50th anniversary portrait in 1950. They look pleasant, I suppose, but still no big smiles were evident.


Some historians believe the switch was influenced by two factors: dental care and home photography. Without widespread access to dental care, missing or rotten teeth were common a detail many wouldn't wanted to feature in their portrait. Dentistry became a more established field in the early 1900s, the same time period when Kodak was marketing its amateur cameras as a way to capture life's happier, spontaneous moments - smiles included. 

Randy's dad, Melvin, and Melvin's little sister, Gloria, were smiling in this undated photo, so perhaps the tide was shifting for children by the 1930s and '40s. 

 Nowadays, Grandma Kim can be counted upon to document activities with plenty of photos. No saying "PRUNES" on my watch! So far, the girls are still cooperating.

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Kinley, Brooke & Summer the Labradoodle

Does it look like the dog is smiling, too?

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Let Me Love


syn·chro·nic·i·ty: A meaningful coincidence—an event on the outside that speaks to something on the inside—as opposed to just a random occurrence

Do you ever feel like messages are coming to you like a flashing movie marquee? Or maybe like light breaking through the darkness of predawn, silhouetting a Kansas silo at sunrise?

During Lent, as we've traversed our way toward Holy Week this week, it has seemed that I'm seeing messages about love and light streaming into my mind. It's come in disparate way - listening to scripture at church, watching NCAA basketball, shivering in the coolness of a Kansas morning as I watch the sun's ascent, searching for music for a community Palm Sunday service or opening a series of unrelated emails. 

It has seemed a little like the planets coming together - kind of like we were supposed to see in our night sky last week. While I may not have had success in the nighttime sky realm, I do find messages - or God winks - scattered throughout the minutes of my days. 
After my K-State Wildcats defeated the Michigan State Spartans in overtime in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, our head coach - Jerome Tang - talked to a sideline reporter and had this to say:
"When you love people, it's amazing what you can accomplish."
Jerome Tang, Kansas State University men's basketball coach
after an overtime win in the NCAA tournament 
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

I immediately sent the quote to my kids and to several friends. Earlier that week, my friend, Linda, and I had gotten together to practice my solo for the Palm Sunday community service. I had combed through lots of music, but I kept coming back to one song called "Let Me Love." 
The words include:
Lord, You came to dwell on earth and share with us our lot.
You became our Sacrifice, our lives on Calv'ry bought.
Take this simple life, dear Lord; Take complete control.
Put the love of Jesus in my soul. ...

The song is certainly not showy. It wouldn't be one of those songs to get "The Voice" coaches on TV to hit their buttons and twirl their red chairs. It doesn't cover huge vocal range or have a huge ebb and flow of dynamics. But while the melody and the tune are simple and straightforward, the message isn't necessarily easy. 
After we were done practicing, Linda and I sat to chat for a little bit. Just a few weeks before, Stafford had united behind our boys' basketball team as they made their first appearance in 70 years at the state basketball tournament. A sea of red t-shirts filled the stands as the Trojans took to the court. At the time, people commented on Facebook about it bringing the town together. 
And it did ... for a little bit.
But it didn't take long for us to forget that comradery, that feeling of united purpose. The contentiousness crept back onto Facebook as neighbors railed against other neighbors - with Facebook posts to prove the point. 
Ripples inevitably spread out from all of us - both positive and negative.
Stafford certainly isn't alone in that. Turn on the evening news or scroll through Facebook or Twitter. Do people like being bent out of shape? It sometimes seems so. 

It could be easy to be discouraged by that. And, I sometimes am.
But even in the midst of my discouragement, I kept getting related messages.
I'm not sure how I got on an email list for an Inspiring Quotes email, but I did. And I often find inspiration from those posts. One recent one featured the words of poet Shel Silverstein:

How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live ‘em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give ‘em

– Shel Silverstein 
 “How Many, How Much" from "A Light in the Attic"
Stafford UMC

Another Inspiring Quotes email featured the words of writer Edith Wharton. 

There are two ways of spreading light: 
To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Poet Edith Wharton
 Christ candle & the cross at Stafford United Methodist Church

In other words, carrying on the “light” of another — be it ideas, joy, love, or inspiration — can be just as valuable as creating it yourself.

I saw another post from Character Counts, titled "Courtesy is Kindness in Action." Here's part of what writer Michael Josephson had to say:

As a society, we have become almost obsessed with identifying and asserting our rights – to think, say, and do what we want. That’s not surprising, given the history of our country and the prominent role the Constitution and Bill of Rights have played in shaping our culture.

We have a right to be unkind, thoughtless, and disrespectful – but it isn’t right.

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.”

The idea is to act in ways that make the people we are dealing with feel valued. Courtesy is kindness in action....Always be kinder than necessary because you can never be too kind.
Michael Josephson

I get several daily devotional emails. Sometimes I find them more meaningful than other days. I'm sure that has more to do with my attitude - not the devotionals themselves. Some days, it's just another confirmation of the other messages that subtly come into my day. 

The devotional New Each Morning had this to say:

Today's Reflection

Each time we step out of our comfort zones and into the messy and sacred world of caring about others, we risk stepping in the confusion of humanity. We may find ourselves asking questions about God and about this world filled with both beauty and affliction. When we share our journeys and questions with one another, our capacities to love and serve with humility, faithfulness, gratitude and peace grow.
- Rebecca Bruff, Loving the World with God: Fourth Day Living (Upper Room Books, 2014)

Today’s Question

 Reflect on the prayer of St. Francis today:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy. 

Today’s Scripture

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:24 (NRSV)
It sounds like a goal to aspire to during this Holy Week. I hope to still find the light in situations - both physically and spiritually.