Tag Archive | Shangri-La

There is Hope

Every summer I enjoy decorating my backyard with annual flowers in pots and a few more perennials in the garden. This year I even spruced up the benches with new cushions. I do my best to make my yard a sanctuary to enjoy the three short months of warm weather in Wisconsin.

New Bench Cushions

This summer I have had a hard time sitting outside because my joy of looking out to my yard is too difficult.

For those who of you who follow me, you’ve probably read the saga about trying to build a new garage. I wrangled with the city over the sewer and water lines that were put on private property way back in 1953. This dispute caused a delay of a month. During that time the builder took another job remodeling a kitchen, which delayed us another week.

But last Monday the crew arrived and now I have a good looking garage without a door because the builder forgot to order the right size when we had to change the garage dimension because of the city’s interference. At least I have a place to park the car and the garage looks good.

And after so many delays, we’re still not done (besides the door). We have a foot deep  trench where they put the electrical wiring from the house to the new garage. See for yourself.

We also have mounds of dirt beside and behind the garage. This mess has taken away my desire to go outside and capture a little zen.

Because I’m not physically able to be pushing dirt around, I hired a landscaper yesterday. I got a couple of quotes, but this man demonstrated he really new his stuff. He explained how the space would be graded for drainage. He saw our window well on the south side of our house was too low. He listened to my desires and showed me how he would make my vision come to fruition. So in another four or five weeks I hope to have my Shangri-La  Too bad it couldn’t happen sooner, but oh well.

To hedge my bets, though, keep good thoughts for me, okay?



Chapter 21

Paris, France—Marta woke screaming twice during the night. Emma embraced her and reassured her in a soft voice. “You are safe, darling. Go back to sleep. Leave the monsters to me.” After Marta realized she rested in her own bedroom, she fell asleep again.

Emma left the apartment as soon as city hall opened. Her boss Pierre sat at his desk, and Emma related the few details of Marta’s attack with tears in her eyes. “I need some time off to nurse her, Pierre. She is like a frightened little bird.”

“Take the time you need, Emma, but understand I need you here, too. You are a most valued employee. My best.” His grave face spoke without words. “When you return, I want to speak with you about something very important.”

Emma nodded and left. She pointed her bicycle in the direction of Marta’s favorite cafe and bought fresh croissants and coffee for the two of them. She hoped the food would help put a spark back into her lover. Emma set her purchase down on the small table in the kitchen before she checked on Marta.

Marta sensed Emma’s presence and opened her one good eye.

Emma smiled. “Good morning, sleepy head.”

Trying to smile caused pain in Marta’s face. She spoke barely above a whisper. “Good morning.”

“I bought your favorite croissants for breakfast.” Emma said softly.

Marta turned toward the wall. “Thank you. No.”

“Marta, you must eat.”

“I want to die.” Marta cried.

“You cannot die. You are too dear to me.” Emma took her hands and kissed them. “You cannot let this animal destroy you. You must fight back.”

“Too late. I am destroyed already.” Marta whispered through her thick lips.

Emma needed to understand what happened.  “Please tell me what happened.”

Marta lied. “I do not remember.”

Emma gently turned Marta to her. “Marta. Sweetheart. Tell me. Talking will help. Who did this to you?”

She said one word. “Franz.”

“Franz Reinhart? He is here? In Paris?” Emma’s surprise sounded in her voice with a pitch higher than usual.

“Yes. For a long time I suspected someone might be watching me. I heeded all your warnings, Emma.” Marta cried. “I never let myself be alone. Brigetta and I always met outside the Louvre to walk to the trolley together, but for some reason she never arrived yesterday.” Marta closed her eyes before continuing. “When I realized a Nazi  SS man was coming toward me, I scurried for the trolley. But–.” Her voice cracked and she wept.

Emma waited for Marta to continue.

Marta cleared her throat choking down the tears. “Franz cornered me before I got to the stop and insisted he buy me a drink. When I told him no thank you, he manhandled me into Le Chateau. He scared the other patrons away with shouting and carrying on; then he forced me to drink wine. Even the bartender ran away. Franz locked the doors, and then he poured wine down my throat and ripped off my blouse.” Marta whimpered.  “He bent me forward over a table and pounded his thing into me. Then he spun me around, and attacked me from the front. He called me a French whore and screamed I wanted it.”

Marta paused and took in a deep breath. “After the two attacks, he fell asleep, I tried to escape out the back door, but he caught me. He threw me onto the floor and raped me again. Before he left, he spat on me.” Sobs shook her body.

Marta’s story proved to be worse than Emma imagined. Her anger flared into an inferno as she pictured Marta’s attacker. She had always disliked Franz Reinhart because she considered him crude, but now she hated him from deep within herself. He brutalized the woman she loved, and he should be punished for his crime.

After Marta calmed herself, she released herself from Emma’s embrace. “How do I heal from this? The pain is so great. Tell me how I will ever wash off his stink. Tell me how I will ever be able to get him out of my head.”

“Sharing the horror with a trusted friend and taking time to heal is all anyone can do in such a situation. But understand this. Your wounds will heal and you will get stronger. The nightmares will stop some day, and I will be with you through all of it.” She continued to speak softly. “Marta, we need to get you to the doctor, and you should also go to the police.”

“No doctor. No police. No one will believe me.”

“But, Marta, be reasonable. I can handle your superficial injuries but what about the internal ones?  Wonder if he made you pregnant? We need to go.”

“No doctors.” Marta turned away. “I couldn’t bear a man touching me again.

Emma didn’t try to convince her of reporting the rape to the police. She realized Marta didn’t want to face anyone right now.

Chapter 22

Minneapolis, Minnesota – August—The summer months proved to be oppressively lonesome for Josie, especially after saying goodbye to Johnny in June. She returned to campus for the summer session, and stayed in the dorm room she shared with Anna for the last two semesters. Without Anna, Josie battled her worst case of homesickness she ever experienced. She suffered emptiness. Most students on campus now needed to make up classes because they failed in previous semesters, while other new students commuted from home.

Josie tried to occupy her waking hours with classes, labs, and research, but she missed Anna’s quick wit and lively conversation. Most nights Josie fell into bed so tired she didn’t dream. But other nights, Johnny’s letters kept her awake. He shipped out two weeks after he returned to Texas. He told everyone he would fly supply missions to help the Brits, when in fact, he got assigned to fly combat missions with the Royal Air Force. His superiors charged him to learn combat formations and attack techniques from British pilots,  so when more American aviators came to Britain, he would be ready to train them, provided he lived through the experience.

After the summer session ended, Josie stayed on campus to save train fare for a trip home at Thanksgiving. Her mother and Donna Jean wanted her to come home for the two weeks in between semesters, but Josie told them she wanted to use the time to get a jump on the classes she would take next semester.

When Anna came back to school a week before classes started, she cured Josie’s loneliness. The two girls fell into step like no time had elapsed. Their reunion helped both of them put the long summer behind them. They enjoyed swimming in the school pool during the afternoons. They frequented a nearby malt shop most every night as the jukebox kept the place jumping. They sipped their Cokes and tapped their feet to the beat of the big bands when they chose to sit and visit instead of dancing.

Anna and Josie enjoyed sleeping late during their “free week,” after they chatted well into the wee hours of the morning. They giggled and forgot about the hard work both of them did over the summer. Anna received her scholarship renewal, and all the blisters on her feet from serving A & W Root beer on roller skates finally healed.

Classes began again the day after Labor Day. The trees on campus started to turn fall colors, and the days grew shorter. The girls took the new changes in stride and fell into an easy routine.  Debilitating homesickness never set in like it had last year. Now letters from home seemed to be enough to keep them connected with family and friends. They both looked forward to a productive happy new year.




A Back-Breaking Shangri-La

Good Sunday Morning. It’s story time again. Today, as most of the country is digging out from under heavy snow storms, I’ve turned to one of my favorite topics–gardening. Thinking about the rebirth of spring in the dead of winter gives me hope. So, sit back and enjoy a story about one of my most ambitious project that keeps on giving pleasure and back-breaking work.

book clipart

A Back-Breaking Shangri-La


Barbara McCloskey

Have you ever planted a garden? I’m not talking about plopping a potted plant in the corner of a patio pot, or tending to a couple of tomato plants in amongst geraniums. I’m talking about landscaping, digging, pulling and getting so dirty if you were a kid, your mother would send you to the basement to strip before she’d let you in the house.  I’m talking about selecting plants that compliment one another—tall ones in the back, low ones in the front, colors that weave a tapestry that blooms from spring to fall.

I never really thought about taking on such a large project until my husband, and I bought a “fixer-upper” house with an equally ignored backyard. After the interior of our home was to our liking, it was time for the backyard to match. My dream was to create a quiet place where I could hide from the world. A place that would greet me with open arms after a day of frustration or disappointment in the corporate world. I wanted a safe place which I could relax. A place that would bring me smiles whenever I was there.

My space had to be perfect—but after consulting with professional landscapers, I knew that their price tags were far more than my meager budget could withstand. On top of that, my husband bugged out early, stating that his gardening expertise was confined to pulling out the lawn mower once a week. Needless to say, he wasn’t keen on helping me create my Shangri-La, so how was I going to accomplish this task?

The answer came with Jon, a poor, struggling college student who agreed he could handle whatever our city lot jungle could dish out. So we made a plan and went to work. He would labor in the hot summer sun, and I would make LOTS of lemonade.

We started by deciding what part of the existing mess would stay. That was easy. We had two 20 ft. pines and a 300 ft. locus that we’d work around. During the excavation of buckthorn, grapevines, old raspberry bushes and a forest of thistles as tall as the neighbor’s six-foot fence, Jon discovered a couple of young maple trees that would stay.

Through the hours of shoveling, pick-axing, sawing, straining and pulling, Jon uncovered slowly made progress in taming the wilderness. By fall, the land was clear enough on the east lot line to begin to planting a couple of small shrubs and a couple of dozen spring bulbs. We finished it off with a cover of golden mulch that would protect the new plantings through the winter.

While the snow billowed outside my window during the winter months, I focused on research. I watched the gardening experts on TV, visited websites, bought magazines and poured over dozens of bulb, plant and seed catalogs wondering if I really had it in me to make my piece of heaven half as wonderful as the pictures in the books. So, just to be safe, I prayed to my Grandma, who could grow flowers and vegetables out of a rock. If she could bequeath her green thumb to me, I knew I would never fail.

The snow barely melted before I started to itch to resume what Jon and I had started last summer. The first joy was watching the early crocus pop their pretty little heads through the snow. Then the grape hyacinths showed their delicate flowers shortly thereafter, and I wanted to rush right out to the garden center to buy the annuals to enhance the pots that I had scattered around the yard. But knowing the strange sense of humor of Mother Nature in Wisconsin, I restrained myself to not plant anything before Memorial Day. So I waited. Not patiently. But I waited. In the meantime, I pulled weeds. Lots of weeds.

When it was time, I turned my mid-size SUV into a weekend pick-up truck that found it hard to pass a garden center. I bought whatever was on sale and every week came home with a load of plants to fill in the spaces that were ready for planting. I sectioned off plots for a pink garden, a yellow garden and a shade garden. A flowering tree here and an evergreen shrub there. Maybe not a scientific approach, but I felt like I was putting the “right” plant in just the “right” place. I was faithful to my new babies, watering them every night and fertilizing them on time. I clucked over my plants like a hen watches over her chicks.

When summer came again, Jon came back to tackle the worst overgrown part of the project. He worked for weeks to get down to the soil and hauled away truckloads of debris and weeds. Jon had archeologist moment when he unearthed about 100 antique paving bricks that had been manufactured in several different states. The previous owner had used the “pavers” for the floor of old gardening shed that had been torn down before we even bought the house. After a bath with a power washer, the bricks revealed themselves to be a very suitable edging for rest of the garden.

On a hot July afternoon, Jon and I finished the project. We mixed wheelbarrows full of soil, peat, fertilizer and grass seed and gently laid a carpet of the mixture over the worn out dirt where the pavers had sat for many years. Now all I had to do was add water and watch the grass grow. In a couple of weeks, my baby grass sprouted and turned into a brilliant lush, green carpet. I felt like a proud parent.

Throughout this project, I learned that a garden is an entity of its own. It constantly changes as it grows. It elbows weeds for growing space; basks in the sun, and withers in drought. The garden lives on a knife-edge delicate balance of wet and dry. It sleeps through the winter and resurrects in the spring.

As its caretaker, every year I feel a sense of frustration, exhilaration, and satisfaction. I’ve also learned this project is on-going. It’s never finished. And that’s part of its charm. I know that claiming my own backyard as a safe, beautiful place will grow old with me. We’ve become comfortable with one another, and like old friends, the time we spend together will enrich each of us as long as we live together. It’s good for body and soul.