Enticing Our Better Angels

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”      —Mae West   Changing or improving human behavior is hard. Even with the most dedicated and resolute will, redirecting one’s energies from destructive or simply undesired action takes dedication, adequate resources, time, and support. Addicts know this. Psychologists know this. Turns out, behavioral economists […]

Friends Indeed

Most everyone knows that bit from Thoreau on technology and communication in his time:   “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. […] We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important […]

Deadheading Begonias

The other morning, I discovered a pot of once regal and Grateful-Dead-inspired scarlet begonias on my back porch. They were in desperate need of a good deadheading. The rich red blooms were obscured by long-expired flowers and dead brown leaves. Sad, just sad, I thought to myself. As a working mother of a 16-month-old toddler […]

Oddly Cool

Take Highway 55 east from St. Louis, to Illinois 70, then into the rolling hills, soybeans, and hamlets where Lincoln lunched to find Carlyle Lake, the biggest manmade lake in Illinois. The Army Corps capped 69 oil wells and dammed the Kaskaskia River to make the 15-mile-long lake, which was finished in 1967. There’s a […]

“So-called children’s books”

“[S]o-called children’s books I don’t like and don’t believe in,” Chekhov wrote to a friend in 1900. “Children ought only to be given what is suitable also for grown-up people.” He had in mind the tales of Tolstoy and books of history and travel such as The Frigate Pallada, by Ivan Goncharov, about a Russian […]

Thirty-nine and Holding

As I approach my 40th birthday, I have become increasingly aware of what psychologists call the “nine-enders.” What-if, perhaps indulgent, end-of-decade questions hum in the background of my everyday life. When will I finish the book I am writing? Will I finally learn how to make yogurt and cheese? Is there still enough time in […]

The Return of Vladimir Lenin

There are few individuals who had a more profound impact on the history of the 20th century than Vladimir Lenin. Born in 1870 to a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk Province, Lenin’s path as a revolutionary was laid early in life when his brother was executed for his part in the attempted assassination of Tsar […]


The most dreaded question a college senior could be asked: What are you doing after graduation? College graduation sneaks up on a person. At first it seems far away, as if it will never come, and then in the blink of an eye there are caps and gowns and diplomas everywhere. It is easy to […]

The February Revolution

The year 1917 was a significant one in the history of the Great War, and in no country was that more true than Russia. It began with a revolution in February of that year in which power was transferred from the autocratic Romanov dynasty to a provisional government and ended with a toppling of the […]