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It’s Time to Say Thank You

Every fourth Thursday of November, families gather around tables to share a special meal which usually involves turkey. This ONE day was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln so Americans could give thanks for their their blessings. But in recent years, Thanksgiving has lost its punch because the holiday now finds itself buried under “Black Friday” shopping ads. Some stores even open on Thursday afternoon with their door buster sales. Am I  nuts to think this is nuts? Are we Americans really that eager to join throngs of frantic people rushing from store to store before the leftovers are even refrigerated?

Personally, I like to give each holiday its due. Face it, we only have one Easter, one 4th of July, one Memorial Day, one Labor Day, one Veteran’s Day and one Halloween per year. Why rush it all?

It seems holidays in general have become little more than a day off for over-worked employees, except of course, the poor people who have to work on the holidays because heaven forbid the stores might lose a couple of bucks in revenue if they shut their doors. Bah Humbug!

I’m old enough to remember when stores were NOT open on Sundays. We took twenty-four hours to just relax. If we needed a gallon of milk, well, we stocked up on Saturday or waited until Monday to refill the frig. Nobody died because we didn’t have enough milk. But that was before companies studied the 40-hour week and found it was more efficient to put people on 4-day work schedules for ten hours and rotate them during the rest of the month. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to work such crazy hours, but my daughter now does. And I tell you, she looks tired all of the time.

We also waited for every holiday and enjoyed the festivities connected with each. The world was slower than, and frankly, speeding up the pace of living has turned most of us into nervous wrecks. I jumped off that merry-go-round about seven years ago with a premature retirement and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed the helter-skelter world at all.

I just think it isn’t too much to ask to take one day out of the year and make a point of looking at your life and finding things to be thankful for. I understand sometimes when the bottom has dropped out of your world, this task can be more challenging. We’ve all been there. But I suggest if you don’t go hungry, have a roof over your head, and don’t have to fear a bomb will hit your house, bow your head and say “Thanks.”

 

 

Sanitized History

I always found history interesting, but not the history I learned in school. I’m talking REAL history–the way people lived through the times and their personal situations. I believe understanding the past is a way to avoid such trials and challenges in the future. I also feel every one of us is a product of what came before we started walking around on the planet.

If we dismiss what came first and start blazing a “new” trail, we probably will repeat something that existed a long time ago. Take indoor plumbing. Do you know the Romans not only had bathing in their lives, but they also had running water for cooking and drinking as well as a system to carry their personal waste away from their homes.

Obviously somebody dropped the ball when they conquered the Romans because most people didn’t have indoor toilets until the 1930s and 1940s in this country. My parents talked about having to use an outhouse. Can you image that? Indoor toilets were invented 2000 years ago and my parents were still traipsing out to the backyard in the dead of winter to go potty.

Believe it or not, the first group to dismiss the Roman emphasis on cleanliness were the Christians. They rejected most everything Roman, including the value of cleanliness. I suppose it makes sense seeing the Romans persecuted the Christians with various forms of torture and for sport in the amphitheaters as bait for hungry wild animals. And seeing Christians settled the U. S. and brought their unsanitized ways with them everybody living here had to wait a long time before they could do their business in doors.

I don’t know what caused me to talk about this subject this morning. I think it might have been due to a discussion of a new movie being released about suffragettes in England. The lead actress spoke about how the history we learned in school is cleaned up. Typically when we think about women wanting the right to vote we see ladies in long black dresses picketing the powers that be with neat little signs. We don’t imagine these same week women turned to violence after peaceful tactics for fifty years of trying didn’t get attention. With nothing to lose, they turned to bombs and guns just to have a chance to voice an opinion by voting.

Today we don’t think about the millions of people who have suffered and died so WE can live in a free country with a voting privilege. So many of us don’t even vote. Do we really want to give us such a valuable right?

I could carry this theme into many other political and societal issues, but I will spare you. Just do this for me. When you are faced with an issue that is dear to your heart ask yourself what came before. I for one am not in favor of having to use an outhouse again.

The Price of Freedom

Ken and I have been watching the PBS special THE CIVIL WAR directed by Ken Burns.  I love Ken Burns productions because they are so well done, and I always learn something. As you might have guessed by now, life long learning (LLL) is important to me.

As I watched this critical period in our American history, I wondered what would have happened if the Confederate states had won the war. How different our history would  have been if our country was split into two separate countries. First, we’d have to come up with an entirely new name. We certainly couldn’t be called “THE UNITED STATES”could we?  It could have happened if Britain and France would have supported the South. The two European countries needed the cotton the South produced, so it’s not far fetched they may have entered the war.

The other thing that impressed me about this series is the language which is used to tell the story. Burns artfully inserts excerpts from speeches made by principals. He also uses writings and journal entries of soldiers. Their correspondence artfully uses the English language. Hearing words written so well from common citizens put our present use of the English language to shame.

A little tangent: It drives me nuts when I hear incorrect grammar usage by people who should know better. Educated people like newscasters, anchor people, and politicians. For instance, so often you hear “People that” instead of “People who” or “By who” instead of “By whom.” Does anybody care about such things any more in our warp-speed world?

Another thing which impressed me about this program is how strong Abraham Lincoln needed to be to hold things together. His critics were many. Even his head honcho General McCullen blasted Lincoln, which is really funny because for the first two years of the war, McCullen sat on his hands and did nothing. He had every excuse–not enough men, not enough weapons, not the right time. He trained a strong army but he was afraid to use it. So Lincoln got involved, fired the jerk, and put Grant in charge. Boy did people talk about that sudden change of events!

The other event which riled the country was the Emancipation Proclamation. The U. S. had to define itself. People needed to think about freedom and if every person was entitled to it. If freedom is truly at the core of who we are, then slavery had to be eradicated. The war began to save the union, it ended emancipating the slaves and providing freedom for everyone who lived here.

We have one more episode to watch tonight, and even though we know the outcome, we don’t know many of the details which makes this struggle human. History is more than facts and figures. It is created by the people who lived and survived the time period. More people died in the Civil War than in any other war in our history. Through suffering and bloodshed the United States found her identity. Being able to live in a free country is not free. The price has been paid in blood. Just visit Arlington which was formerly the front yard of General Robert E. Lee.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 – 1943

Chapter 1

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—Since Angelo invited Bobby to live with his family, the little house on Main street too crowded. Donna realized she needed to move on. As she helped Rosalie hang baby Angelo’s diapers on the basement clotheslines, she approached the subject. “Rosie?”

“Yeah?”

“With Angelo home and Bobby living here, the house is a little crowded.”

Rosie dropped the clothespin she held. “What are you saying, Donna?”

“It’s time for me to move out.”

“No! I love you living with us.”

“I accepted a new job and made some plans. A girl’s jazz band needs a lead singer, so I auditioned and got the job. I’ll be with the USO in Chicago. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, but aren’t you scared to go to such a big city? People are different in cities.”

“Hey, if you can get through a birth of a baby alone, I can certainly go to Chicago alone.”

Tears sprang up in Rosalie’s eyes. “Chicago? It’s too far away! I’ll never see you.”

“I realize this is a big step, but Rosie, this is a chance of a lifetime! Maybe some big shot will like my voice, and I’ll be on my way to a recording contract. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”  Donna threw her arms out to the side like a star does after they complete a number.

Rosalie hugged her while her voice inferred her disappointment. “That would be swell.”

“So you’re okay with this?”

“No. But I know you’ll go anyhow. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams.  I know you dreamed about something like this since first grade talent show. Chances like this rarely come along. And if you’re a big flop, you can always come back here.”

Donna pulled away. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”

Rosie laughed and hugged her again. “Donna Jean, I’m just kidding. After you get your first recording contract, I can say I knew you when we hung up diapers on the basement clotheslines.”

The two friends laughed and cried in each other’s arms.

*****

Two weeks later, Donna packed a bag and hopped a train headed for Chicago. She saved her wages for the past few months to make the trip. She needed enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and to buy the glamorous strapless gowns and high heels required by the band for their performances.

Donna met up with the other members of the band at the USO Club as soon as she arrived in Chicago. From now on Donna’s husky, sexy voice would complement the four-piece jazz combo. They scheduled to practice at nine tomorrow.

In the meantime, every week the USO hosted a dance and tonight the hall buzzed with girls pushing tables around so there would be enough room to dance. They decorated the place in red and white for Valentine’s evening. Donna and the other members of the band needed to be on hand to dance with the soldiers who might be shipping out to join the troops in Europe or the South Pacific.

Every USO dance adopted a theme chosen by the USO girls. They decorated the hall, planned and made the refreshments, and then arrived at the appointed hour in their prettiest dresses, solely to make a memorable evening for the soldiers, sailors, and marines in attendance.

As the girls dressed for the dance, Marilyn the drummer offered Donna a room in her apartment. Donna felt relieved she had a place to stay until she had time to go apartment hunting. The two girls fell in sync with each other like old friends. Marilyn and Donna got on a bus and stopped at a six-floor walk-up. Marilyn unlocked the door with the number 620 and ushered Donna to a small bedroom on the Lake Michigan side of the building. “This room is cool in the summer, and unfortunately, cold in the winter. I’ll get extra blankets in case you need them. I share a bathroom down the hall with the next door neighbor, but the arrangement isn’t too bad. He’s a soldier, who just shipped out, but he wanted to keep the apartment, and so far he hasn’t subleased the place.”

“This is so nice of you, Marilyn; truly, I fully expected to stay at the “Y” until I found a place.” Donna said.

“Nah, why should you do that when there’s an extra bed here?”

“What can I pay you?”

“Nothing right now. But if we get along, half of the rent is $50 a month.”

“Seems reasonable.”

They shook hands to seal the deal.

Chapter 2

North Africa, February 1943—Josie never worked so hard in her all of life as she did with the 48th Surgical Unit. The daily oppressive heat and humidity drained the life out of her, but the positive attitude of the constant flow of wounded soldiers kept her motivated. Her nurses learned to take the challenges of combat in stride, as they fought to keep conditions as sterile and comfortable.

When the battles moved, so did the field hospitals. A rumor circling around the camp told a story about German forces breaking through the Kasserine Pass. With the enemy so close to the Evacuation Hospital bivouacked near Tebessa, orders came down the chain of command to move the hospital to a safer location. Nurses and other staff packed up and moved one hundred fifty patients sixty miles. Through careful planning and coordination, the medical staff got the hospital up and running in twelve hours. A remarkable achievement.

As the war progressed, moving hospital facilities from one place to another for safety became a normal routine for Army doctors, nurses and corpsmen. Josie thought herself lucky she didn’t need to move her position, even though the hospital she worked in left so little to be desired.

With so many seriously wounded men, Josie’s triage skills got finely hones.  The severity of a patient’s condition determined where, when, and how he would be treated.  The nurses ran into untrained situations daily, so they learned on the job and improvised with what they had. They gallantly performed their duties earning the respect from the male medical staff and military command.

****

Josie often accompanied patients to the airfield to be evacuated to a general hospital. As the C-46 cargo plane landed, the attending nurse would meet her to get the records for the wounded patients. The nurses working on the planes took special training to become flight nurses–one of the most dangerous duties for medical personal. Even though the planes bore the Geneva Red Cross to protect them from enemy, often the designation was ignored and the plane was shot down.

As the ramp dropped and the nurse came forward to accept the patients, Josie recognized the gait of the woman walking toward her.

“As I live and breathe! Anna! . . .” Josie said as she hugged her college roommate.

“I couldn’t let you get all the fun!” Anna shouted over the plane’s engines.

“But you hate flying!” Josie said.

“Not any more! They needed somebody from a cold climate to work on the plane because there’s no heat in these tin cans.”

Anna laughed.

“What?” Josie could barely hear her over the engines of the plane.

“Yeah, the heaters in these “flying coffins” sometimes explode during flight, so the pilots refuse to turn them on. We keep the critical patients warm with heated blankets and warm fluids while we shiver in our combat boots.” Anna flashed her impish smile that always cracked Josie up.

Josie laughed. “You haven’t changed! How great to see you! Will this be your usual run?”

“Are you kidding? I’m never privy to where they send me.”

“Well, then, let’s make a promise. After the war is over, we’ll get together and compare notes.”

“You bet! Do you think we could get our old dorm room home and talk all night?” Annie laughed.

“No. But my Mom still has the roll away, and I don’t think she’s given my room to anyone else.” Josie thought about their midnight conversations which centered on boys, exams, and new classes. What a world away that was now.

After their brief reunion, Josie went over the charts of the men she released to Anna, while corpsmen boarded the patients on the plane. Anna gave Josie one last hug and then ran to the plane.

Josie yelled, “Take good care of my boys!”

Anna waved and yelled over the engines. “They’ll get my very best.”

The brief reunion with Anna provided a small nibble of home for Josie.

The ambulance driver motioned for her to hurry. Josie jumped into the passenger seat and the driver yelled over the plane engine noise, “We gotta go, Josie! More wounded coming in!”

“I’ll say one thing for the Krauts; they provide job security.”

The driver smiled at the feisty nurse as he left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Chapter 3

Berlin, Germany — March 1943—After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis public relations department decided to install a program to bolster the moral of the country. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi “spin doctor” declared the March 21st as Heldengedenktag–a Memorial Day to commemorate all war victims with special recognition given to the soldiers who fell in Stalingrad.  Instead of being a stoic holiday, the German leaders professed the day needed to be a celebration, not a day of morning.

Marta’s mother Olga tried to buy into the celebration because she needed to believe her husband’s death stood for something important.  But Olga’s severe loss of the man she loved for over twenty-five years cut deep into her soul leaving a wide void. She couldn’t imagine how she would live out the rest of her life alone.

With Allied planes bombing major German cities day and night, residential areas turned into landscapes of mud, demolished buildings, and charred corpses. Hitler refused to admit he lost the war and continued with his futile ambitions, while his stubborness destroyed the very country he professed to love so much. He believed if the German people didn’t claim victory, they all needed to suffer for their failure.

Olga received letters from relatives living in Cologne with pictures of dead bodies lying on sidewalks. Other photos of children playing among bricks which had previously been their homes broke her heart. Hell rained down across the country and Olga found nothing to celebrate in such circumstances.

Most Germans realized their side lost the war, but Olga’s old friends held on to Nazi delusions about the Third Reich overcoming their losses. Only a fool thought Germany could rise again. No single army, no matter how great could conquer the entire world.

 

 

Standing on a Soapbox

Does it bother anyone else that presidential hopefuls begin their rhetoric two years before the election in November 2016? 

This morning I got up early when the house was quiet. I fed the pets and made the coffee for the day, and then I turned on the television and voila–Donald Trump and the other Republican boys were the lead story. The local station reported Scott Walker was in Iowa. Why is he in Iowa instead of Wisconsin? Did he quit his day job? But perhaps it’s a good thing he’s out of the state. At least he won’t be destroying education, health care for the disabled, and breaking more unions.

I think this early campaign stuff is disgusting. It’ll be a year before they will impart their plans for our future. In the meantime they will put other candidates down as they dig up dirt on each other.

And what’s this “The American People” phrase? Every time I hear those three words it sounds like the speaker is separating his/her self from the rest of us. Are they ashamed to be part of The American People? Have they elevated themselves above us poor slobs who elect them? Perhaps they are. Once in Congress, they are set for life with self-legislated pensions and healthcare benefits. On top of that, they legislate their own raises. Who in the private sector can do that?

When our forefathers put this government together, they never imagined it would be a full time job for the rest of their lives. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest of the Revolution boys must be pulling their hair out if they are observing the ridiculous campaign and election process which has evolved.

And another thing, once a person makes it to Washington, he/she is sworn in, given an office, and expected to work for “The American People” they love so much. Right? Well, it ain’t necessarily so–once elected they immediately start planning for their re-election. Then they plan their time away from Washington. It’s a miracle if anything gets done. Right?

I could go on, but I won’t because then I’d sound like a politician

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5

Chapter 3

Paris, France–January 1942—Emma suffered beatings and torture which broke most men. Day after day she protested she did nothing wrong. Six weeks since her arrest passed slowly. She sat in darkness most of the day, and shivered from the cold most of the night. Emma remained strong. Her only fear involved Marta. Did she do enough to protect her?. The Nazis already proved a young woman like Marta made an easy target.

On January 15th Emma’s trial commenced. Her captors led her into the courtroom and stood her in front of a Gestapo officer pretending to be a judge. The charges against her were subversion and espionage, but after months of looking for evidence to prove she provided false identification papers for people fleeing France, the Gestapo investigators could not substantiate the charge. However, the subversion charge stayed because the Gestapo found the French resistance newspaper in her apartment.

Emma stood straight in her chains before the judge. He spoke in a monotone voice. “Young woman do you wish to say anything in your defense?”

In a clear strong voice, Emma answered. “Yes, your honor. Since my arrest, I never uttered a word of truth to your interrogators. I concocted a web of deceit to protect my friends, not to exonerate myself.”

The judge shook his head in disgust. “You will be confined for the maximum period of three years in a Gestapo prison to be named later.” He slammed his gavel on a wooden block, and a bailiff dragged Emma away.

Marta witnessed the sham of a trial from the gallery in utter dismay. Emma appeared so thin and gaunt Marta barely recognized her. Her long hair had been cropped with a dull scissors, and her face appeared battered and bruised. But even though she appeared beaten, her strong voice showed her spirit had not been broken. The German thugs achieved no success in breaking her. At that moment, Marta’s love for Emma grew exponentially.

*****

After the trial, the Nazis immediately transported Emma to a prison in Anrath, Germany–a city near Dusseldorf. The train arrived in Germany after midnight. A bus awaited the prisoners for their final leg of their journey. After a twenty mile bus ride, the vehicle stopped at a building surrounded with barbed wire and bright search lights.

The bus driver turned off the ignition and stood to face the downtrodden women. “Stand and file off one-by-one.”

The clanking of dozens of chains was the only sound as the women shuffled off the bus. Everyone kept her head down.

A female warden received them. She wore a stern expression like someone woke her from a sound sleep. She yelled at the prisoners to form a queue and led the women into the prison to another matron who stood behind a desk.  This stout woman with a square face and hateful eyes glared at Emma. “Name?”

“Emma Schiller.” Emma said in a strong voice.

“You are not Emma Schiller any longer, frauline. You are now prisoner number 3103. From now on you will answer to this number.”

Emma stared straight ahead as another guard dragged her to a six-by-six cement cell in another dark, dank basement. The guard unlocked her shackles and pushed Emma inside the cell. A small cot with bare iron springs would serve as her bed. A bucket sat in the corner, which would serve as her toilet. She thought surely the guard would drop by with a mattress and blanket later, but he never did.

When morning arrived, the cell remained dark.  Emma realized no natural light would ever penetrate the dungeon she would call home for the next three years.

Emma slept little her first night in prison. A harsh male voice jarred her from her thoughts. “3103, get up. It is time for your examination.” The guard unlocked the cell door with a large iron key. He shackled Emma and dragged her to the prison doctor.

Emma waited alone in a small white room. After being in the dark for so long, the brightness of the overhead light made her shield her eyes.

After she waited twenty minutes on the examining table, an old man in a white coat came into the room and asked, “Are you sick?”

Emma said. “No.”

“Do you have any diseases?”

“No.”

“Then you are fit to work.”

He made his diagnosis without ever touching her.

 

*****

Emma’s months of incarceration taught her how to cope with the cruelty and loneliness of being treated like a caged animal. She commanded her thoughts to focus on a routine. She needed to shelve the good times in her life because when she drifted into the past, her depression grew unbearable. Memories of falling in love with Marta in Paris or recalling Marta’s delight when they decided to live together in the city of lights brought thoughts of how much she lost. If she pictured Marta’s smile, Emma broke down.

Her experience in the Paris prison showed her the best defense against her captors was never showing the guards see her soft spot. She needed to stay detached, cold, uncaring, and strong enough to endure her sentence. Emma realized she had to live in the moment to get through the next three years.

Everyday the police paraded Emma and other prisoners down the middle of the street on their way to the factory. On-lookers glared at them with disdain. Their stares puzzled Emma, but when she passed a window of a dress shop and caught a glimpse of her reflection she understood. She had become a wretched creature like everyone else in her group. Emma choked down the tears and marched forward with a blank expression on her face.

The work the prisoners did was dividing large skeins of rayon thread and then wrapping it by hand onto smaller spools. Rayon dust hung in the air like poison gas. Workers swallowed the fumes with every breath, and the toxic air made their throats so dry swallowing became difficult. Civilian workers, who sat beside Emma, sipped from bottles of fresh water during the course of the day to soothe their thirst, while prisoners needed to endure their work hours with dry tongues. A water fountain hung on a nearby wall, but prisoners were forbidden to take a drink. One day a woman prisoner attempted to drink from the fountain, and she received a beating which left her bloody and unconscious lying on the floor. All of these hardships were intentional to get the women to breakdown and die.

Even with the many rules and hardships, which destroyed prisoners everyday, Emma’s tunnel-vision determination and strong spirit helped her get up and report to work. After studying the operation of her work for a few days, she discovered how she could continue her Resistance work while in prison.

Her job required her to tie flat weaver’s knots when rayon skeins were joined together. Any other knot would jam the looms and cause costly downtime for the weavers at the parachute factory. Emma made sure her spools included lumpy knots to cause a fine mess for the German weavers, but she hid her sabotage by making sure the outside of her spools appeared smooth, neat, and correctly tied.  Every time she turned in one of her spools she imaged the frustration of the weavers when her sabotage jammed the looms and set production back. This self-satisfaction served as Emma’s purpose to stay alive.

Chapter 4

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-January—After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Josie joined the Army Nurse Corps. War meant her surgical nursing skills were needed overseas a lot more than her tedious clerical work the Allis Chalmers factory. She thought any LPN could do the work she did, keeping charts, taking out slivers, washing debris out of eyes, and bandaging small cuts. The most exciting event every week occurred when Mario came in with his weekly phantom ailment. After a month, he finally invited Josie to a movie, but she had already made plans with Donna for Saturday evening. He went away dejected but he was not a person easily discouraged.

Josie received her letter of acceptance to the Army Nurse Corps in January. In a month she’d be sworn as an officer. But now she faced the hardest part–telling her parents she had enlisted.

The perfect time to tell her mother presented itself in the kitchen one snowy afternoon.

“Mom, I need to tell you something important.”

“What’s that Josie?” She said absentmindedly as she stirred a pot of soup.

Josie took a deep breath and blurted, “I joined the Army.”

Mrs. Schneider laughed. “You’re such a kidder, Josie. They don’t let girls into the Army.” Her mother turned away from stirring her soup and stared at her daughter. She recognized Josie’s stone-like expression which told her daughter wasn’t kidding.

“Mom, I’m serious. I joined the Army Nurse Corps. I’ll be training in Arizona in a couple of weeks.”

Her mother’s face dropped. “No!”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Oh my God! You can’t do this, Josie. Isn’t bad enough that Johnny is gone?”

“Now that we’re at war, Mom, the Army needs medical personnel to serve the needs of our soldiers. I possess the training they need. I need to go.”

“I thought you liked your factory job.”

“Mom, any monkey can do that job. My surgical skills will be in high demand. Thousands of soldiers are wounded every day. What if one of them turns out to be Peter or Johnny? Wouldn’t you want a nurse like me to take care of them?”

Her mother shouted.  “Don’t say such things! I can’t think about my sons being wounded.” She sucked in a deep breath and plopped down in the nearest chair. She held her head with both hands choking down tears. Josie stood beside her mother and rubbed her shoulder. “Oh Mom.” She said quietly. “Please don’t cry.”

In a few minutes Mrs. Schneider composed herself.  “I’m sorry, Josie. When I think about my children going to war, the thoughts are too vivid.” She stood and faced Josie. “I guess I can only blame myself. I always encouraged you to follow your heart. If this is what you must do, you be the best damn nurse in this man’s Army.”

“You mean this ‘woman’s’ Army, don’t you, Mom?”

Her mother hugged her. “Yes. I guess I do.”

 

 

 

Are Machines Taking Over the World?

I always start my day with a cup of coffee and a television news program. I usually watch CBS because I like the way they report the news. and Charlie Rose, Nora O’Donnel, and Gail King are entertaining as they banter with one another.

Today one of the stories was about robots. Some of us might be okay with drones delivering packages or taking a phone call from an automated voice, but this story went way beyond machines that definitely look or sound like machines.

Companies who own these devices say the machines provide economic productivity. Okay. That’s believable. But don’t you think we all should be concerned about a hotel completely run by robots? Yup. That’s right. These cartoony looking machines resembling small people move about the customers helping with check in, carrying luggage, providing room service, and eventually checking you out.

The upside of this machine takeover is you never have to tip a machine; they work 24/7; they never sleep, eat, or use the bathroom; they don’t get sick; and they do what they are told to do without an argument.

Even though each robot cost about $16,000, the owner of the hotel–who is human by the way, stated over time the robots are cheaper to employ than humans because there is a one-time purchase instead of a lifetime of salaries and benefits.

Am I the only one who’s a bit frightened by this development? Machines limit already scare human jobs. Their proliferation continues to seep into our culture and strip away jobs which were previously filled by people who do not have college degrees in computer science.

There are numerous of movies and novels about machines taking over the world. It gets worse when artificial intelligence capability makes these creatures smarter than their creators. Ouch.

Is fantasy creating reality? Hmmmm–we better think twice about these mechanical critters. I prefer a warm-blooded human serving my needs when I go on vacation. How about you?

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS — Book 2 (continued)

Chapter 16

Paris, France – August, 1939—Marta and Emma lived in Paris over a month, and Marta still didn’t take the time to write one postcard or letter to her parents. Each week she received letters from them, as well as her friend Leisel, but she never wrote back. Her chaperon, Emma insisted she take time and answer their letters. “Do you not want to tell everyone about how wonderful Paris is?”

Marta gazed at her with a blank face.

Emma tried again. “If you do not write to your parents, Marta your father will surely march into Paris and goosestep you home at once.”

Marta laughed at the image Emma painted. “If I tell them how wonderful this city is, my father will be angry. He never wants to listen to me praising a city other than Berlin.”

“Nonsense. You sit and write to your parents.”

“I’ll write tonight.”

“No. You will only complain you’re too tired and your feet ache after a full day of exploring the museums and parks. You will do it now.”

“I will not complain. I’ll writer later. I promise.”

“Marta. Stop behaving like a child.” Emma pulled out the desk chair. “Sit and write to your parents and to Leisel. You may not leave this room until you are finished.”

Marta sat with a thump pouting like a spoiled child.

Emma walked toward the door. “I will wait for you at our cafe. Bring the letters with you and we’ll post them together.”

“But—

Emma cut off any protest. “No excuses!” She slammed the door on the way out.

Marta ripped open a new package of stationary she received as a graduation present. She picked up a hotel fountain pen and stared out the window. Where do I begin? How do I recount my adventure here? She rested the pen on the paper and began.

Dear Vater and Mutter,

Here I am in my little peach-painted bedroom writing to you. I struggle to find the right words to tell you about all of my wonderful experiences here in Paris. I guess the best thing to tell you is this: you gave me the best graduation present in the history of the world. Paris is not just another city. The streets are alive with vivid colors and the pace is slower than Berlin. I’ve spent so many hours taking in the breathtaking are. I know you will not understand, Vater, but yesterday I stood in front of a Monet painting for hours and dreamed of the day he captured such a beautiful scene. I dreamed of sharing a cup of tea with him to discuss his painting techniques.

Most afternoons I sit in the park and try to paint the way he did. As you might imagine, I do not even come close to matching his talent.

Paris is full of surprises on every street corner. I try to blend in with the natives, but unlike Emma, my accent shouts I am from Germany. The people here put up with me, but they do laugh when I use an inappropriate verb or noun to express myself. Last week Emma and I crossed the River Seine in a river-steamer, and I spoke with the captain; the experience proved to be quite amusing because I speak such poor French, and he did not understand German, but somehow we communicated. 

On Monday, Emma and I went to Les Halles, a huge outdoor market. In the distance people laughed and shouted greetings to each other. We decided to check out the event. The closer we got, the richer the fragrances of the market became. A crazy mixture of cheeses, yeasty bread, strong coffee and specialty spices filled the air. Burly men cut wedges off huge wheels of yellow and white cheeses. Women sold beautiful bouquets of exotic flowers and other handmade sewn and knitted garments. Since our first visit, we return to the market every week and come away marveling at what we found.

 Last week some strange music caught my attention when I walked down the street. I followed the notes, and much to my surprise, around the corner an organ-grinder performed with his trained monkey. The two of them attracted quite a delighted audience; I gave him my spare change because I enjoyed this unique entertainment. When I walked away, I noticed all of the windows and doors in the area were open. I guess the neighbors wanted to enjoy the performance too.  

 On July 14 the French celebrate Bastille Day. As soon as we left the hotel, we joined the party. Music filled the air, while couples in the cafes spilled out into the streets and danced. A chanteuse charmed her audience with some sexy songs, but I think she enjoyed them best. Emma later commented it was lucky I didn’t understand French better. (Ha, ha.)

The day after a hectic Bastille Day, I found myself walking up to Montmartre as the sun set. We stopped at the Louvre garden, and I encountered a woman resting on a chair under a monument to a Roman god. As I got closer, I gazed on a figure carved out of granite. In another setting I met Niska, a gypsy fortune teller. She told me I would marry a rich man and live happily ever after–a good fortune for a German girl, ja?

Emma is doing a wonderful job to make this trip one I will never forget. Tell everyone that I am fine and thoroughly enjoying my summer.

Sincerely,

Your daughter Marta

Marta folded the letter, addressed a matching envelope, and then began a second letter to Leisel.

August, 1939

My dear friend Leisel,

Thanks so much for keeping in touch during my time away from Berlin. I am sorry you are having such a lonely summer. I am surprised to learn Heidi traveled to Warsaw to become a nanny, especially because most Germans consider Poles so inferior. But that’s our Heidi, isn’t it?  She is the type to bring home stray puppies and children. Her patience with little ones far out weighs mine.  (ha-ha)

Paris is so much fun. Everyday Emma and I discover new facets of this lovely city. So many times I wish I could share the beautiful sights with you. Paris is so romantic.  Words are inadequate to tell you what Paris offers. You’ll have to experience the city yourself someday.

I’m glad you decided to take the university entrance exams. I believe you will score very high and will point your life in a different direction. Living away from home for the first time is an experience you will hold dear for a long time.

I never thought you would suffer so much loneliness with Heidi and me gone for the summer. Perhaps it is time for you to make some new friends. I hate to say this, but your father is right to encourage you to take in one of the youth group dances. Put away your shyness and be bold. When you go to university you will be glad you practiced beforehand.

 That is about all I can tell you right now. I will try to write again before I come home, but I will not make promises. My days are so full by the time I return to our apartment, I am exhausted. Besides, I am looking forward to showing you my photographs and paintings once I return home.

 Thinking about you.

Always. Marta

Marta sealed both letters in addressed envelopes, locked the hotel room, and skipped down the five flights of stairs. She ran to the corner to find Emma and handed her the letters.

Emma smiled at her younger cousin. “Good girl! You did it! I never doubted you could write.”

Marta didn’t like to be forced to do anything. “Once I put the pen on the paper the words just started to come.”

“Good. Now we can get on with our day.” Emma ordered a strong coffee and a fruit tart as a reward for Marta. “What would you like to do?”

“Let’s go to the Louvre.”

Emma smiled. Everyday Marta wanted to go to the art museum.

 

Chapter 17

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – August — After Rosalie’s wedding, time flew by for Josie and Donna. Donna poured herself into her stenographer position, absorbing knowledge of the company and who managed what department. She also began to align herself with people who could help her advance in the company.  While Donna worked, Josie prepared to leave for the university.

As the departure got closer, Josie found herself making several trips to the barn to talk to her heifer. She raised Betsy since she first stood up after birth and thought of the cow like a pet. Josie confessed to Betsy. “I’m scare to leave the farm, girl. I’m just now realizing what I’m leaving behind. Mom, Dad, and my brothers. They’re pains in the butt, but I’ll miss them.  But I think I’ll miss you most of all, girl. You’re my only friend who never shares my secrets.”

The cow mooed as if she understood the girl’s angst.

*****

The day Josie left for school, she shared a private minute with her mother in the kitchen. “Mom, can I take some of your strawberry preserves to school?”

“What an odd question, Josephine. You realize there is a cafeteria on campus.”

“Yes, but school doesn’t stock your jam.” Josie choked back the tears as the label on the jam jar blurred through her tears.

Her mother hugged her. “Oh, Josie, you can’t be homesick already; you are still home!” Josie’s mother always could make her laugh. “Wipe those tears, sweetheart. We don’t want the men folk thinking you’re afraid of leaving this old rundown farm.”

Josie smiled through her tears. “Yes ma’am. We certainly can’t risk that.”

Her mother hugged her. “You’ll be all right. The first few weeks will be hard, and I’m sure you’ll probably want to call home a million times, but you need to give yourself enough time to adapt. You’ll meet people from all over. You’ll study new things and get involved in new organizations. You make friends easy. Don’t worry. It won’t be long and you’ll not want to come home.”

“Never, Mom. Never.”

“It’s time to go, daughter. Let’s not keep your father waiting. You know what an owl he can be when anyone is late.”

Mr. Schneider secured the boxes in the bed of the truck. Bedding, towels, and toiletries filled a large foot locker.  Josie packed her clothes in two suitcases, and her mother packed another box that contained special touches of home–a jar of strawberry jam and a box of homemade cookies. Her parents would take her to school while her two brothers manned the farm.

Josie sat squeezed between her parents in the front of the old pickup. Her mind drifted as thoughts of good times with her friends passed in front of her eyes. She stayed silent even after her mother made several attempts to draw her into a conversation.

After her father drove several miles out of town, the sights became unfamiliar. Josie told herself life away from the security of the farm would build character, but right now she wanted to suck her thumb like a two year old holding onto her mother’s skirt. December would be the earliest break to return and enjoy the comforts of home.

Saying goodbye to Donna and Rosalie proved to be the worst. Josie recalled their conversation as they sat in the booth at Joe’s Diner and munched on a burger and fries.

“I’m so glad you came tonight, Rosalie.” Donna Jean said.

“You don’t think I would miss saying goodbye to Josie, do you?”

“Well, no. But-

“But what?”

“From where I sit, Angelo keeps a pretty tight rein on you.” Donna’s voice hinted a tinge of jealousy.

“No he doesn’t. We just want to spend our free time together.” Rosalie blushed. “And besides, Angelo loves me, and he understands being with the two of you is important to me.”

Out of the clear blue, Donna leaned forward in the booth and said in hushed tones, “Tell us how Angelo is in bed.”

Josie let out a gasp. “Donna Jean!”

“What?” Rosalie glared at Donna.

“Your ears aren’t deceiving you.” Donna Jean thought nothing about asking her good friend about their wedding night. “Tell us about your wedding night.”

“I’m not telling you anything about that.” Rosalie crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“Did it hurt? Did you like it? Is he a good lover? Italian guys are supposed to be wonderful lovers.” Donna Jean said as she took a long swig of her root beer.

“Donna Jean! Stop it!” Josie snarled.

Rosalie said. “Mind your own business, Donna.”

Donna wore a shocked face. “Don’t you think boys talk about it in a locker room? Why can’t we do the same?”

“Donna, stop!” Josie glanced at Rosalie biting her lip so she wouldn’t cry. “You’ll just need to get married and experience it yourself.”

“I do not plan to get married any time soon, for your information.” Donna said. “And I’m not that kind of girl who flaunts herself in front of any Tom, Dick or Harry.”

Rosalie shot back. “Well maybe not, Tom, Dick or Harry but what about Tony, Danny, and Bobby?”

Donna wagged her finger. “Now Rosie, your claws are showing!”

Josie intervened. “Donna, Rosie’s love life is none of our business.”

“But don’t you want to know?”

“No. The private subject of love making is off limits.” She looked at both of her friends. “Agreed?” She slapped the middle of the table with her right hand.

Rosalie put her hand on top of Josie’s and they both turned to Donna to comply.

Donna got the last word. “Aw, you guys are no fun.”

*****

The Schneider pick-up truck entered the city limits of Minneapolis, and Josie’s chest tightened, and she found it hard to swallow. The closer they got to the heart of the city, the buildings got larger and closer together, and when they drove through the campus gates, Josie’s panic got worse. Her father drove around in circles searching for her dormitory.

The numerous campus buildings did nothing to quell Josie’s panic. She thought she’d never find her way in this maze of school buildings. How would she get to class in the winter if she’d have to travel from building to building?

After her parents found the dorm and helped to carry her belongings to her room, they kissed her and left. That night in a dream, Josie saw a crowd of students pointing at her and taunting her. They circled around her yelling “You don’t belong here! You can even get to class on time! How can you ever achieve good marks if you can’t even find your classes?”

Josie woke in a cold sweat and didn’t go back to sleep for fear the dream would reappear. She lay awake wondering if she made the right decision to come to such a big university.

Christmas Shopping and Social Injustice

holiday-shopping-social-mediaI haven’t stepped up on my not-so-famous soapbox in a while, but I got something stuck in my craw this weekend. Here it goes . . .

Now that the turkey leftovers have been in the refrigerator over ten minutes, the dishes are done, the guests have gone home, and we have watched so much football our eyes are bleary–it’s time to shop!

Heck, this year, stores couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving dinner was over; they had to open their doors and welcome bargain seekers right after we all gave thanks for family and the ability to spend more money this year than last.

Okay, that’s the way it goes. A mere mortal can’t fight the advertising gods, can she? From now until Christmas Eve we will all be seduced to “get in the spirit”  of opening our purses and wallets to fill the cash registers of neighboring retailers with pretty pictures, schmaltzy, familiar Christmas music and the smell of cinnamon. There’s no escape.

This year, Ken and I have a little more money than we have had in more than three years, so yes, we are looking forward to being able to buy a few more presents than we have in a very long time. I am receiving my Social Security check now, so I can be more generous to all. I am also paid by the state to care for my husband. I don’t care if other benefits have fallen by the wayside now that our bank account isn’t on life support any more. I don’t feel cheated. I was just glad the help was there when we needed it. Now the government can give our former share to starving children or homeless people. But will it really go to them?

The United States is richest country in the world, but a good share of its citizens are working poor because good manufacturing jobs of the past have gone overseas and have been replaced with too many retail jobs that serve shoppers and don’t offer salaries big enough so workers can provide a decent holiday for their own families. The same goes for the fast food workers who serve frantic shoppers a quick lunch as they scurry from store to store, searching for the “perfect” gift.

Does anybody else get sick from this topsy-turvy situation? The list of our “other half” or our have-nots can go on and on, while the do-nothing fat cats in Washington say America cannot afford a decent minimum wage. . .or affordable healthcare. There are as many opinions in Washington as there are _ _ _holes who have sat on their butts for two years, blocking good things for people who really have no voice. The people screaming are millionaires or soon will be. If these legislators haven’t grown up privileged, it seems they forget the struggles of their before-Washington families after they’ve been there a while. And yes, I am a bleeding liberal.

Yes, we have a budget problem, but we also have a poverty problem. Most people who have good jobs and enough money don’t want to face the poorer side of society–after all, it’s not their  problem. Right?

I believe we are setting our country up for a big upheaval because any society who forgets the needs of its people will surely crumble. If you don’t believe me, just look at the history of big governments throughout the ages.

I say when a child goes hungry or must sleep in an unheated room, or worse yet, live on the harsh streets of our large cities, this is a problem for ALL of us. Just remember, if a person feels no one sees them or values their life, the whole society will suffer. Eventually, these unseen people will create a rebellious group who will rise up and fight back. If you don’t believe me, study history.

So when you’re out there shopping, put a buck in the red kettle. Put a canned good in the barrel at the grocery store, give a toy for tots and maybe tip more than you usually do when you’re served well in a restaurant. Say thank you to the workers who must give up their holidays to make yours happy and bountiful. Be appreciative. Take a deep breath when you are at the end of your shopping rope and remember the under-paid server or clerks are having a tough day, too.

The Amazing Human Brain

brain1Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on the Science Channel and watched a fascinating program about people who suffered brain injuries and subsequently emerged from their injury with abilities they didn’t have before the accident.

One person fell as a toddler and began sculpting animals — mostly horses. In about five to ten minutes, this man (now 53 years old) could produce a 3D image of a horse or longhorn steer that was so life-like it’s hard to believe anyone could produce something so beautiful in such a short period of time. And get this — He MUST sculpt– at one point in his life he was institutionalized and his clay was taken away from him. Later, he told his caregiver this was child abuse.

Another profile was about an ordinary guy who was playing around a pool with this buddies and accidentally dove into the shallow end. He banged his head on the cement bottom of the pool, lost some hearing temporarily, and days later he had the ability to write and play his music on the piano. We’re not talking “Mary had a little lamb,” here folks; we’re talking about complicated classical pieces of music and original scores. Before the accident, this man had never touched a piano, but now he MUST play or the music in his brain drives him crazy.

There were other stories about such incidents, but I think sharing two with you is enough to make the point that scientists and doctors don’t have a clue why these people do what they do. It’s as if the injury turned off certain abilities and made room in the brain to turn other abilities on. I can’t explain this savant behavior of their findings, but it just goes to show you what amazing beings we humans truly are.

Wouldn’t it be great if we understood the way we tick? After that we might delve into the workings of the oceans. There’s so much to explore right here on little ol’ earth. I think we should concentrate on exploring these types of phenomena instead of using our brains to conjure up more sophisticated ways to kill each other.

Yeah, I’m on my soap box today. The situation in Syria involving chemical weapons makes me so sad. Why couldn’t countries be satisfied with the power to be able to destroy the earth with nuclear power? Why did the US and the USSR also have a chemical weapons warfare race, too? (This is a true fact of the cold war. It was Nixon who put a stop to the US chemical weapon development. I guess this fact got lost in his Watergate debacle.)  Why do governments develop such things? Putting anthrax on ballistic missiles to shoot at one another seems like overkill to me.  Yeah, I watch the Military Channel, too.

For all the good in the world, there seems to be a need to perpetuate evil, too. I just wonder how gassing or poisoning innocent populations and destroying land masses for millions of years achieves anything. Perhaps this thinking is prevalent because many people in power don’t have exceptional brains?