Tag Archive | the truth in the written word

When Disappointment Darkens Your Door

unhappy faceHow do you accept disappointments? Do you have a tantrum like a two year old? Do you yell at someone? Or do you swallow the hurt and deal with it another day?

Let’s face it. Life usually doesn’t fulfill our every expectation. In fact, I have come to the conclusion “life” finds way to stand in the way of most things these days.

Today Ken was supposed to go to his harmony club, and I had plans to see a friend. I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks, so I looked forward to reconnecting with her. BUT — When I heard Ken hit the bedroom floor, I instantly knew my plans for the day were dashed. I jumped up to see if he was hurt, and God willing he wasn’t. I swear that man has a legion of guardian angels who lay on the floor and break his falls. He hardly ever gets hurt. For me — not so much. About three months ago I leaned over in my office chair to pick up a paper from the floor — and WHAM! The chair slid out from underneath me, and I landed on my tail. I struggled to get up, and for at least a week, I felt like a kid who got hit with a wooden paddle. Anyway, I digress . . . Back to disappointment.

As soon as I expressed my disappointment — like a three year old — not a two year old — I am making some progress on this journey, I hated myself. Here the poor guy is struggling to pull himself up to stand and get into his wheelchair, and I’m cranking about my plans changing. What a bitch, right?

Well, yes. I’m a bitch –sometimes. But I never understood why a crabby women is named after a female dog. There I go again  . . . digressing.

I think it is important to express anger in a controlled way. Just like every process, care giving has it’s frustrations and disappointments –not to mention fear of what else is down the road. I know where I am with Ken is pretty stable for now, but the unknown future scares the life out of me. People say I shouldn’t borrow trouble. And they’re right. I shouldn’t think about what MIGHT happen and I should deal with the challenges as they appear. But that’s easier said than done.

When I’ve taken the appropriate amount of time to digest this disappointment, I will be my old self again. I’ll wear a smile and when asked how I am, I’ll say, “I’m fine.” After all, most people expect that response. They certainly don’t want a blow by blow of a disappointment that only changed my plans.

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.

Don’t Censor Creativity

Today on CBS Morning Show the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert came on the show to talk about her new book BIG MAGIC – CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR. The discussion with the morning show staff was about how we censor creativity by hanging on to fear. The program got me thinking.

I’ve always had a curiosity about the world around me. I asked “Why” way more than my mother ever wanted me to. Most of the time her answer was “because that’s the way it is.” In six short words she quashed my imagination. When my girls asked why, you can bet I never answered them with a “because statement.” I’d give them an answer and then asked them, “Why do you think it is so?” I tried to get them to think creatively about their curiosities.

When it was time to decide on a career, my mother encouraged me to find an office job. She brainwashed me into thinking I didn’t have enough talent to do anything else, and besides, I would have skills to “fall back on.” Seeing no way to get to college at eighteen, I succumbed to her idea of success and spent seven years typing, filing and taking shorthand.

My office skills helped me throughout my life, but as I look back, I realize what a dope I was to let someone else live my life.  If I could talk to that sixteen year old girl who gave into her mother’s wisdom I would say: Run! Find your own path. Nurture your talents don’t bury them. It will work out.

But to be completely honest, my mother wasn’t to blame for my choice. Yes, she had a hand in it, but I allowed it to happen. I lived in the same fear she did. I hated making mistakes. Little did I realize it is one’s own mistakes that allow growth. Now I live in my creative self, but it took many years to get here, and I suppose most people take too many years to value the creativity inside of them.

If you’re young and reading this post, don’t wait for the “right” time to allow your creativity bloom. Nurture it now. Value it now. Dream and create. It’s why we were put here. Live in the moment and let the fear fall away. It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s the most exciting and fulfilling  journey.

Oh, and by the way, I bought the book just to make sure I’m on the right path.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 12

Normandy, France-June—For years General Rommel had troops reinforce two thousand miles of French coastline with bunkers, guns, and other deterrents to hinder a land invasion in France. The Germans believed their thorough preparation would discourage any Allied land invasion. The hubris of the German hierarchy believe no army would defeat them.

The Germans believed the most logical place to land was Calais in the north because this location was the closest city to England on the English Channel. All intercepted intelligence reports pointed to Calais. Consequently, the Nazis positioned their superior Panzer tank units in Calais, which proved to be a hundred miles from the attack occurring at Normandy. Hitler held the troops in Calais because he believed another wave of allied forces would attack there.

Rommel believed the allies would not attack in the terrible weather that hit France on June 4th so he went home to celebrate his wife’s birthday. He believed even if their precautions and fortifications failed, the weather always stood by as a good ally. Strong winds and a thick cloud cover would keep Allied aircraft at bay.

*****

Franz Reinhart realized he received “puff” assignments throughout the war. After Leisel died, though, his situation changed.  When Colonel Fuchs learned his daughter Leisel received abuse and indifference from Franz, he disowned his son-in-law. On top of that, Marta’s father died at Stalingrad, so Franz no longer received favors from a high ranking officer.

When Franz received new orders transferring him from Paris to the Normandy area, he grumbled. The few small skirmishes with the French resistance gave him a taste of combat, but the fighters proved to be more of a nuisance than any real threat. Only his communication talents saved him. He won him the job of radio operator, which also kept him off the front lines.

At 0400 hours on June 6, 1944 his commanding officer shook him awake. “Aufstehen! Aufstehen!” As Franz shook the cobwebs of slumber from his head, he wondered what had Captain Heinz in such a tizzy. Then he heard the distinctive whine of enemy planes overhead. His commander screamed at him again. “Get up! Get up! Something is happening. Get on the radio.”

Franz pulled on his pants and shirt and ran barefoot to the communications building. Excitable chatter screamed over the wireless. “Parachutists are landing! Gliders are landing! Landing craft approaching! My God! The sea is filled with so many ships; we do not have enough soldiers to fight them!” Franz couldn’t believe this catastrophe. Surely, the officers must be exaggerating!

By mid-morning no more communications came in because allied forces either jammed the signal, or worse, they cut the cables. Units lost the capability to coordinate their movements. Infantrymen streamed past Franz’s location and ran toward the coast. The unit scout reported a few bunkers in the Normandy sector got blown to bits.

Franz and the rest of the unit followed the German infantry to the coast. His anger bubbled up because Captain Heinz ordered him to go out to the cold, forsaken beachhead. His job required him to man the radio; a man with his rank should not be reduced to a grunt soldier. His vanity protested.  “But Commander, would it not be wiser to move inland and take the village nearby? Such a location would be more appropriate to plan a counter attack. ”

The colonel’s face looked as if it would explode. “How do you suggest we do that without radios? You imbecile! Are you questioning my orders, lieutenant?”

Captain Heinz did not like to be challenged by any underling. Franz hung his head. “No, sir.”

“Then move out.” The Commander growled like an attacking wolf.

Ja; doch.” Franz saluted and ran after his superior. He felt like a scared child when his father threatened him with a spanking if he didn’t obey. He thought as he ran: “I should not be ordered to fight in a concrete bunker. What am I to do? I never operated a big gun! This can’t be happening!”

As soon as Franz got to the beach, the high commander ordered everyone to shoot blindly down toward the beach. With the radios out, confusion reigned. Conflicting commands went around him. Franz’s brain froze when he realized the beach crawled with wave after wave of infantrymen. Now he understood his orders to “Tet sie alle!”  Kill them all!

The hammering of the big guns, the stink of sulfur, and the stench of death engulfed the beach. Thousands of Americans bounded from their landing craft and opened fire. Everyone screamed at each other. The roar of guns and cries of agony from wounded Americans and comrades told the story of the battle.

Franz tightened his grip on a stationary machine gun; he breathed deep and pulled the trigger. The recoil of the gun threw him backward.  He fired again and thought the weapon came alive like a restrained elephant giving into its instinct to stampede. It took all of his strength to control the weapon.

Abruptly, the gun ceased to fire. Franz panicked not knowing what to do. His hands shook.  His CO screamed at him to reload. He never loaded a gun bigger than a rifle. He clumsily feed the brass string of shells into the chamber and pulled the trigger. As he fumbled, the Commander cursed him. Franz wet himself. His failure to fire allowed the Americans to penetrate the bunker.

The last thing Franz remembered was a thump of metal hitting concrete. He spun around to see a grenade. A second later,  shrapnel from the exploding weapon ripped open a large wound in his groin severing his femoral artery. A white-hot pain flashed through his body and he passed out. Franz cried out with pain. He fell into a fetal position as his life drained away.

Chapter 13

Normandy, France-June—Johnny learned a lot from Captain Baker. Except for unusual incidents, they recognized most aerial victories required two men. The wingman concept proved to be a lifesaver and an effective enemy destroyer. Through months of flying together, they developed a technique of interchanging roles of number one and wingman as the situation demanded. Their bond grew so strong they anticipated each other’s next move.

Up until D-Day, the fighter pilots of the Eighth Air Force focused on destroying the Luftwaffe. The fighters still escorted the B-17’s so the boys in the bombers were protected before and after hitting their targets, but on June 6th, the fighters’ assignment changed. Now they provided support and protection for the men on the ground.

Everyone knew the invasion would be a hell of a fight. They all needed to remain focused.  Johnny needed to push the thought his kid brother fought on the ground to the back of his mind. Every man was a small cog in a very big machine. Johnny flew his fortieth mission on D-Day, and as soon as he completed his assignment, he planned to marry Katie. War taught him time is finite, and a guy needed to enjoy happiness wherever he could find it.

Chapter 14

South Pacific, Summer—Donna and the girls toured tent cities in fields and beachheads for months. Performing in such dangerous places didn’t faze Donna. She loved the spotlight. Standing alone in the darkness made her feel alive and powerful. She realized she held the audience in the palm of her hand as she poured out raw emotion with her voice. Once inside their souls, she brought a glimpse of home to tearful soldiers.

Donna told a reporter from the “The Stars and Stripes” newspaper: “The boys are my heroes, and I give them all I possess during every show. When I sing “I’ll be Seeing You in All the Familiar Places,” I dive into their hearts and take them back to their girls back home. Performing in these shows is important to everyone in the band because we can provide a little fun and a short escape from this ugly war.”

The exposure Donna gave the band would never happen in any other situation. The girls vowed they would stay together for the duration of the war, but after seeing Mr. Hope and the other professionals perform, Donna secretly wanted to take a run in Hollywood after she got home.

The girls and other USO performers also visited the hospitals at most locations. With so many beautiful young boys suffering such debilitating wounds, Donna found it difficult to hold her tears back. Witnessing severe burns or missing limbs made her want to cry. Putting on a smile for these occasions was the toughest thing she did during the war, but if an autograph or a kiss on the cheek helped a man through the day, she was happy to do it. Donna’s charm washed over the men as she thanked all of them for what they gave to preserve American freedom. Staying calm and cheerful in the hospitals proved to be the hardest role she would ever play.

By the summer of 1944, the troupe traveled thirty thousand miles throughout the South Pacific. They performed shows in exotic sounding locations like Eniwetok, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, and Majuro. They traveled to twenty-three countries over thirteen months. The Foxhole Circuit produced some of the most seasoned veterans of the USO camp shows. The most difficult part of their travesl turned out to be keeping up with Bob Hope’s grueling pace. He was tireless and expected everyone else keep up. The troupe traveled on ships and planes through combat zones, performing at least two shows a day.

As the months went on, the girls grew weary of the travel, the dangers of war, and living in mosquito infested tents. The dirt, bugs, and snakes got old fast. Donna dreamed of getting her hair and nails done in a salon again.

When Mr. Hope announced they had completed their last show, all of the performers breathed a sigh of relief. They looked forward to warm beds and good food. They could retire their steel helmets with other trophies. Rationing and shortages would be easy after their field experiences. Their joy hid the guilt they experienced because when they headed home so many millions couldn’t.

 

 

 

Deciding What’s First

When I went to work outside the home, I always put the most demanding or disgusting chore I had to accomplish as the first thing I’d tackle. I figured I was strongest in the morning after I had my coffee and breakfast, but since I’ve been working at home, I forgot that discipline.

On Monday, I reinstated that technique by filing the letter I received from the city attorney to allow the city the required easement for my garage construction. I’ve never been comfortable with the courthouse and city hall environments, so I had put off this necessary evil for almost a month. A call from the attorney kicked me in the butt and I got this chore done–first thing. After I completed this task, I took the day off.

Tuesday was dreary around here. The temperatures didn’t climb anywhere near 70 degrees and the skies remained gray. I don’t do well with gray skies, so I kept the curtains drawn and painted for most of the day. I had no energy for a hard task today.

Wednesday’s first chore was to take out the garbage because we’re on a weekly pickup schedule for that day. Who wants filled bags of trash taking up space, right? So, I put that chore first.

Today I’m writing my first blog from my new computer. I’ve been dragging my feet because experience has shown starting from ground zero never goes well. But I need practice to get used to the smaller keyboard and screen. I also wanted to  download “Chrome” because I prefer that browser to Explorer. Mission accomplished. The next important task was to move a few files  from the old computer to the new one so I had what I needed to complete my blog post. As you can see, I’m up to speed for today.

What’s the moral in this dissertation? I’m encouraging you to put your hardest task of the day at the time of day when you’re strongest. For me, it’s first thing in the morning. For you, it might be later in the day. Figure it out, and I guarantee you will enjoy a satisfying day all day long.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 5

Camp Young, Arizona–February—Josie said goodbye to her parents in the kitchen at breakfast the day she left for nurse’s training. She couldn’t bear to see them crying at the train station, so she asked Rosalie, Donna, and Mary to take her to meet the train for Minneapolis. Once in the city, she would take a bus to the airport. She found the gate with little trouble and waited for her flight to be announced.

As she climbed the stairs from the tarmac to board the plane, Josie’s chest tightened. She never flew before and the whole idea of flight scared her. She preferred her feet stay on the ground.

Her travel lasted all day. The pilot set the plane down in Kansas City and then again in Denver to refuel.  As the plane took off and landed, Josie compared the sensation she experienced to the ups and down with her favorite roller coaster at the country fair. When the trip ended in Phoenix, she understood why Johnny became a pilot.

Before Josie disembarked the plane in Arizona, the captain announced the current temperature to be 101 degrees. When the attendant opened the door, a blast of hot dry air took Josie’s breath away. She thought she just walked into a blast furnace as she descended the steps of the plane to make her way across the tarmac and into the airport. She wondered how any place could be so hot in February.

She boarded a bus which would take her to Camp Young, Arizona–the training center where she would spend the next four weeks. She and the other recruits were dropped at a guard house where they needed to sign in. Jeeps brought the girls to headquarters. On the way they got a good look at the base which consisted of an odd collection of old buildings and endless rows of tents

.A male officer welcomed the bus load of women to Camp Young and waved them to a table where  a female officer handed everyone a uniform, a pair of heavy leather boots, a steel helmet, and a canteen belt.

Next they received a tent assignment. The tent she was assigned to stood on a wooden platform. Four cots and orange crates to store their personal items would serve as home for the duration of their training. The surroundings reminded Josie of a similar tent she encountered at Girl Scout Camp when she was eleven years old. Her three bunk mates were already storing their gear.

Josie introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Josie Schneider from Wisconsin.”

A pretty blond shook Josie’s hand.  “Come on in, Josie. It’s nice to meet you, Josie; I ‘m Theresa from California.”

A redhead continued the introductions. “I’m Maggie from Maine.”

Finally the tallest girl with the darkest hair Josie ever saw came forward. “And last but never least, my name is Joan. I’m from the great state of Texas. I bet you never experienced the desert in February, did you sugar?”

Josie laughed and played along. “You’ve got me, Tex. This Yankee never even dreamed February anywhere was this hot.”

Joan laughed with her. “Don’t worry sugar, You’ll get used to it and eventually you’ll wonder why you weren’t born here. I heard snow is highly over rated.”

Josie laughed. “I understand we’re to report back to headquarters as soon as we’re settled. Then we’ll have supper in the mess hall at 1700 hours.” She looked right at Joan. “That’s five o’clock, Tex.”

Joan put her arm around Josie. “Well, bless your heart. I guess we’d better git a wiggle on then. Come on girls. Snowball here seems to have become our fearless leader.”

Headquarters overflowed as two hundred nurses filed in. A hush fell over the female chatter when the male commanding officer stepped up to a podium. “Welcome to Camp Young, ladies. I’m Major Henderson. While you are here, it is the army’s intent to put you through drills and other activities you never imaged. This training is tough but necessary. It is our job to prepare you for some of the experiences you may encounter in the field. At this time, we are not aware where your orders will take you; our job as training officers is to prepare you for combat situations. We’ll begin tomorrow at “0600.”  Your instructors are responsible to train you properly. But before we begin to whip you into shape, we’re providing some good chow tonight. Enjoy it. After tonight, you will be eating MRE’s and other field delicacies. Don’t be late. Dismissed!” The major left the building and the nurse’s chatter resumed.

“What the heck are MRE’s?” Theresa asked.

Joan answered. “It’s army talk for meals ready to eat.”

“Yum.” Maggie said.

Josie chimed in. “Yum, indeed.”

*****

When the women reported for duty at  six o’clock the next morning, Josie realized her extensive Girl Scouting experience, even survival training in the woods, didn’t prepare her for Camp Young.

Their first assignment was to take a tent down, move it 10 kilometers and then put it back up again to prepare them for moving a field hospital. They were instructed on the measures they needed to take to keep equipment sterile in the most adverse conditions.  After lunch, they experienced how to handle handle poisonous snakes and scorpions, not to mention fire ants and other poisonous insects.

Joan, Maggie, Theresa, and Josie climbed into their cots after an exhausting day.

Maggie sighed. “I suppose I’ll dream of snakes and other creepy crawlies tonight.”

Theresa added. “I think I found muscles my body never used before.” She paused. “Hey Tex, I thought the desert got cold after the sun went down.”

“Who told you that, chickadee?”

“I think I read it somewhere.”

Joan quipped. “I wouldn’t go back to that library again if I were you. Let’s just shut up and get some shut-eye. God knows what they’ve got cooked up for us tomorrow.”

Josie had the last word. “For once we agree, Tex. Pleasant dreams.”

*****

For the first week of her stay at Camp Young, Josie wondered if she had made a mistake by enlisting. Arriving from a cold climate made the dry heat harder on her than some of the other women–especially Tex. But day by day Josie adapted. She learned how keep her body hydrated to prevent fainting or suffering sun stroke. She learned to work steady and pace herself to conserve her energy. She complained about the heat but she wouldn’t let a simple thing like weather defeat her.

Every morning began at 5 a.m.  The nurses reported to the exercise yard for calisthenics and weight lifting before chow. After breakfast, they hiked twenty-miles in fatigues, steel helmets, and combat boots, carrying thirty-pound backpacks, mess kits, and gas masks. After lunch, they attended classes on how to camouflage themselves to blend into their environments. Other classes taught them how to improvise when the didn’t have normal equipment to do their jobs like making a bed pan from a newspaper and stretchers from trousers. They even learned how to chlorinate water.

Some of the training required they breathed mustard gas and other lethal chemicals in order to identify them. They even crawled on their bellies over seventy-five feet through a tear-gas chamber and learned how to extinguish incendiary bombs.

One of the final tests required the nurses to maneuver through a “no man’s land” of trenches and barbed wire. Charges of dynamite exploded on either side of the trench, while machine gun bullets zinged a few inches over their heads. The nurses became skilled at triage techniques for incoming wounded soldiers.

Everything they endured at Camp Young served a purpose. The army brass wanted to ensure the girls got tough enough to face the hardships they would experience after they deployed.

The four short weeks at Camp Young simulated the hell the women would experience in field hospitals. The army did a good job preparing them physically; however, no program could prepare them for the sights, sounds, and putrid odors of battle and death. They would learn those elements on the job.

Chapter 6

Lacrosse, Wisconsin—March—The last time Rosalie felt sick in the morning, she turned out to be pregnant, and today she started her day in the bathroom vomiting. She didn’t want to think she might be pregnant again, especially with Angelo gone. How would she face a birth alone when Angelina’s birth left her so depleted? She missed one period already but attributed it to the stressful goodbye she said to Angelo over six weeks ago. When she missed her second period, her fears proved to be right.

After another week went by, and Rosalie found herself sitting in Dr. Ward’s office again. When the nurse called her name, Rosalie took a deep breath and braced herself for the news she expected to get.

The doctor did a pelvic exam and said, “Well, Rosie,  Gina will be a big sister about six months from now.”

“Are you sure doctor?”

“Quite sure, my dear.”

Rosie’s eyes welled up in tears. “How am I going to do this?”

The doctor helped her sit up on the examining table. “Don’t cry, Rosalie. Everyone who loves you will help you get through this pregnancy. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“But Gina’s birth was so hard last time, doctor. It took me months to recover, and Angelo helped so much. Now he’s gone and I have Gina to care for as well as a new child..”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. “Your husband enlisted?” ”

Rosie nodded. The doctor continued. “You must really miss him, but everyday women come in here and must face having a baby without their husband by their sides.”

“I suppose.” Rosalie said in a low tone. “But I don’t want to go through a birth without Angelo.”

The doctor took her hand. “I’m afraid you will must.  I will take good care of your health. You’re in a safe place, and you’ll be okay. When times seem too hard to go on, think about the women around the world who are having their babies in jungles and bombed out buildings. At least your baby will be born in a clean, safe hospital.”

“I must sound like a baby. I never thought about that.” Rosalie hung her head.

“You’ll be fine, Rosalie. Mark my words.”

Rosalie dressed and left the doctor’s office ashamed she showed the doctor her self-pity, but she still stung from Angelo’s decision to enlist. Now she needed to tell him she was pregnant again through a letter.

After Gina went to bed that evening, Rosalie wrote to her husband.

March, 1942

 My dearest sweetheart,

 Everything at home is fine. I do miss you so much, Angelo, I find my body actually aches for your touch. Some nights I dream your arms are wrapped around me, and you are whispering secrets into my ear. Then I wake and must realize you still are away.

 I’m writing to tell you I’m pregnant. That’s right, sweetheart, we’re having another baby. I went to the doctor today to confirm my fears. The baby will come in August. 

 I’m looking forward to you returning home after boot camp, and I pray everyday your drill sergeant won’t kill you before then.

 Sending all  my love, Rosie,

 

 

What’s in a Letter?

Yesterday I received a letter from a childhood girlfriend who has lived around the world. She married a sailor and her military life took her places neither of us ever envisioned when we were girls. As she will retire in a few months, she decided she’d rather write about her plans than talk about them on the phone. And I understand.

When I was young, I loved writing letters. I started when I was in grade school writing to my Aunt Mary who lived in San Diego. In high school I wrote to a cousin in Colorado. She was an extraordinary girl. At sixteen she was the only girl on the ski patrol at Aspen. It was fun learning about a sport I never tried to conquer.

When I met a boy from a different county, we corresponded through letters in between our dates on the weekend. After high school, I wrote to friends who moved away from home. I wrote to the boy next door who opted to join the Marines after high school. Through letters I stayed in touch and learned about living in different parts of the country. Whenever the mailbox coughed up a response, it was always a good day

What I learned from writing letters is people say things in writing they don’t speak in words. Letters are also a permanent record of a space in time, and people write about things that are on their mind from their hearts. That’s why I’ve included numerous letters in my novels between characters.  (Also, the only correspondence during the war years were letters.) Soldiers a world away needed to keep their loved ones close through letters. And letters and answers to them gave the boys a slice of home.

Nowadays email. Skype, and digital phones discourage letter writing because we have morphed into a culture which demands immediate satisfaction. Time to write a letter is too long and waiting for an answer is even longer.

But I do miss letter writing. Sometimes I’ll drop a line to a friend just for fun. The anticipation of getting an answer to my letter still does it for me.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 4

Chapter 1

Budapest, Hungary-January 1941—The Rabbi came into the classroom Heidi set up for the children. He waved a letter in the air. “Heidi, a letter for you!”

Heidi couldn’t hide her surprise at his announcement.  “Who is it from, Rabbi?”

“Open the letter and find out.” He seemed as excited as she.

Heidi’s hands shook as she ripped open the paper envelop and read aloud.

December 1940

 Merry Christmas, my dear niece, Heidi.

 I hope this letter finds you well and safe. I got your letter just a few days ago. Thank you so much for writing. You must be very proud, Heidi, because I do believe you saved the lives of the Gesslers. I hope you are still safe with the Rabbi. I imagine life in Budapest is very different from Berlin.

 Life in Warsaw changed a lot since you left. The Germans bombed the city almost to oblivion as they pushed forward. Unlike the Parisians, I’m happy to say we Poles fought back. I developed blisters on my hands from digging trenches and erecting barricades as the Nazi leaflets fell from Luftwaffe planes ordering us to cease or evacuate. We did our best to hold the invaders off, but I our fight seemed hopeless from the beginning.

After the battle cooled down and the Germans controlled the city, non-Jews received a chance to enjoy the same benefits as German citizens only if we signed the Volkliste – a declaration of membership and loyalty to the German racial and cultural community. I did not sign such a document. My reward for not signing turned out to be a sentence to work in a labor camp, but I am holding on.

 The Nazis took my poor neighbor Helga away. The bastards used her and other neighbors as guinea pigs for medical experiments. This is the worst nightmare of my lifetime, and it goes on awake or asleep.

Even though my situation is terrible, I am not suffering like my Jewish friends. The first thing the Germans did after they paraded down our streets was to  force Jews to identify themselves by wearing Star of David armbands. Then they forced them to live in a walled off section of the city. The resulting ghetto is filled with starvation, malnutrition, and disease. Jews live with hopelessness is in their eyes. I am sure Mrs. Gessler and her children would never survive such terrible treatment. It is a blessing you and she took the children away from here.

I am happy to tell you that your parents consented to take in my children until my situation changes. I rest easy because they are far from the bombs and hunger. I also sent your letter on to your parents because they are very worried about you. Please understand my sweet niece; you are brave beyond your years.

Somehow we all will get through this nightmare. Sending you my love,

Uncle Hans

Chapter 2

Paris, France-April—A year passed since the Nazis marched into Paris. Tension, hunger, and suffering lay beneath the facade of normalcy. The “Resistance,” a small secretive army, fought to undermine the invaders. Unfortunately, the movement only mustered a small irritant to the massive German military regime. Savage beatings and killing of local people working for the Resistance usually discouraged others from joining the clandestine fight.  His Maquis arm of the resistance movement supplied the Allies with vital intelligence reports, as well as, created a huge amount of sabotage to disrupt the German supply chain and communication lines within France.

Emma served in any capacity the movement needed. She delivered documents, forged identify cards and carried messages to other factions of the resistance movement in Paris.  She never told Marta of her activities, but Marta recognized Emma often got preoccupied with thoughts she wouldn’t share.

One afternoon before Marta got home, Emma heard a knock on the apartment door. When she opened the door, two men clad in black stood with grim faces.

“Mademoiselle Emma Schiller?”

“Yes.” Emma said with apprehension.

One of the men flashed a badge and said, “German police.”  We need to carry out a small search of your apartment.” The two officers pushed Emma aside and barged into her home. They emptied drawers, closets, searching all the usual hiding places people used. Their efficient and systematic behavior told Emma such a search must be a normal occurrence for them.

Under a false bottom of her underwear drawer, one of them found a copy of “Resistance” the underground newspaper published by a Parisian group headed by Madame Agn Humbert.

“And what is this?” The officer stared at Emma with disdain. “So, you are part of the resistance against Germany.”

Emma stared ahead and didn’t answer. The larger of the two men handcuffed her hands behind her back, and shoved her out of the building. Neighbors closed their curtains after seeing the strangers in long, black trench coats escort Emma away.

One of the men pushed her into the backseat of a large black car waiting at the curb. Emma tasted real fear for the first time in her life. She assumed her arrest stemmed from her resistance activities, but they didn’t let on the real reason for her capture.

The car skidded into traffic and drove to the other side of the city. They entered a brick building with thick iron gates. When the car parked in a courtyard, the taller of the two men dragged her from the car and hurried her into the building. She stood in front of a tall desk where a SS officer glared down at her from above.  “Mademoiselle, you are arrested by the Gestapo for acts against Germany. You will be held here until your trial comes up.”

Emma stayed silent.

The officer screamed. “You do not contest the charges?”

“I will wait for my lawyer.”

All of the uniformed men laughed. “She thinks she is entitled to a lawyer! What an idiot!

The officer at the desk pointed to a door on his left. “Take her to holding.”

Emma was dragged down a flight of stairs and thrown into a cold, dark, cement room with one bare light bulb hanging by a single cord from the ceiling.

“Welcome to Prison du Cherche-Midi frauline.” Growling and laughing the two arresting officers left her alone and locked the door behind them.

Emma sat on a small wooden stool. A thick chain wrapped around her hands and waist was secured with a padlock. Every time she moved the chains pinched her skin and the clanking sound broke the heavy silence of her isolation.

Hours later a tall, burly Nazi pulled her to her feet and escorted her to a six-by-six foot cell. He slammed the iron bars and locked them with a huge iron clad key. He threw his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. In a thick German accent he informed Emma of the rules of the prison. “You will get no letters, visitors, books, cigarettes, newspapers, or food from the outside. Furthermore, you will be subject to a regime of “extreme harshness” if we are not satisfied with your answers to our questions.” He turned on his shiny heel and left her alone, still shackled.

Alone in the damp darkness Emma allowed a second wave of fear to run through her. She imagined how they might torture her. She began preparation for the coming days. Over and over she repeated to herself she would not let her captors discover her role in the resistance movement, nor would she give them names of the others. She intended to die first.

*****

When Emma didn’t appear for supper, Marta’s intuition told her she might be in trouble. Emma often went out after their evening bowl of thin soup and bread, but she never missed a meal with Marta. When she didn’t come home by morning, Marta panicked. She went door to door in their building, asking if anyone knew what happened to Emma. One old man on the first floor told her in hushed tones he saw the Gestapo police put her in a big black car and drove away.

Upon hearing the account, Marta felt sick.  Why in the world would the Gestapo want Emma? What did she do? Where did they take her? How will I ever find her? 

Chapter 3

Lacrosse, Wisconsin–May, 1941—Rosalie and Angelo settled into a wonderful life with their little girl Angelina. The baby proved to be the main attraction at Eduardo’s restaurant whenever Rosalie worked as a hostess. Her proud Grandpapa set up a playpen in the back storage room where the baby played and napped when Rosie worked.

The staff called the baby Angel saying the never met such an alluring baby.  The tiny girl smiled and gurgled at anyone who held her. Waitresses flipped coins for who would feed or change her the next time. But more often Edwardo overruled all of them, proclaiming a Papa should care for his bambina.  Needless to say, Angelina didn’t use her playpen very much. Rosalie soon realized her baby must be the most spoiled grandchild ever.

With Angelo’s promotion at the plant, and Rosie working again, the couple put away a little bit of money each month. Angelo said they should probably think about a bigger house, while Rosalie just wanted to accumulate a little stash for a “rainy” day.

One Friday afternoon after her shift, Rosalie picked up the mail and found a letter from Angelo’s brother Tony. Tony joined the U. S. Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, and his letters painted humorous tales about his life there. Tony and Angelo shared a close relationship, and Rosalie realized Tony’s letters meant the world to Angelo.

As soon as Angelo got home, Rosalie sat his customary cup of coffee and cannoli from the restaurant on the table. She had propped Tony’s letter up against the cup. Angelo kissed Rosie and smiled when he recognized Tony’s scrawl. He ripped open the envelope and read aloud.

My Dear brother Angie, Rosie and most importantly, little Gina,

Here I am in my skivvies writing to you before chow. I’ll be very busy all day as we will leave port this afternoon and sail the USS California to Pearl Harbor on Oahu. (That is in Hawaii, in case you slept during geography class.) I’m told the trip should last about four days providing we experience smooth seas.

A few guys are boasting about being in the islands before and they say Oahu is like the Garden of Eden.  Beautiful beaches, beautiful girls, beautiful sunsets, beautiful girls, lush green mountains, beautiful girls–oops said that already, huh?

I’m seeing palm trees in my dreams. I tacked up some pictures of the place in my locker. Those hula girls drive me crazy! I’ll be glad when this brutal boot camp is over. Somehow I always attract the attention of the DI and end up doing push-ups until my arms want to break. I can say “Yes, Sir!” with the best of them.

I’m about as trained as I can be. Nobody can expect miracles. After all Ma tried for twenty-one years to train me and most of her lessons didn’t take. (ha,ha) I’ll kill you if you repeat that last sentence to her.

While I’m in port, I’ll “post the guard” and be a gopher for the captain and executive officers. While we’re at sea, I will man a five-inch gun on the port side of the ship. (That’s left for you land lovers. Ha, ha.) Hopefully, while we’re on maneuvers I’ll get a chance to fire the GD thing.

That’s about all for now. My seasick pills and my “Mae West” life jacket are packed, so don’t worry. I’m fine. Looking forward to buying one of those loud Hawaiian shirts for you, brother! (Ha, ha), and I expect you to wear it when I get back home.

 Give my little beautiful niece Gina a kiss for me. (God, I love being an Uncle.)

 Until next time. . . Love you all, Uncle Tony

 Angelo laughed as he read his brother’s letter. “What a guy, huh Rosie? I think he’ll never change. Always an eye for the ladies, only now it’s on land AND sea! Angelo laughed at his own joke.

Rosalie giggled. “I don’t think he’ll find pretty girls at sea, unless he bumps into a mermaid!”

Angelo laughed at his wife’s clever rebuttal and took a bite of the cannoli. “Maybe you’re right.”

 

 

A Rude Awakening

I would imagine that some of you who haven’t experienced what its like to live with a disabled person might find my blog uninteresting. After a year’s hiatus from writing this blog, I decided to write about the day-to-day struggles of a care taking. Not to make you all feel sorry for me. That is not my intent at all. I just want to provide a relief value for all the other men and women who are in a similar boat. I want them to know they are not alone. Some people find help in support groups, but I don’t. I’m not comfortable with them. I do find some comfort in knowing if I tell my story, maybe some of you will share yours. At the very least, maybe I’ll help someone else.

I think of all the soldiers returning home from the Middle Eastern war with missing legs and arms and traumatic brain injuries. All of them will need help from their wives and parents who overnight got thrown into the role of caregiver. When you love someone more than yourself, caregiving isn’t a duty, it’s a choice.

I find myself walking a fine line. Sometimes I do too much. Sometimes I feel I don’t do enough. The last thing I want to do is take away Ken’s power. We talk about this and came to the decision I must stand back and allow Ken to try to take care of himself as much as he can. This is tough because I’m a fixer. I’m also impatient. What takes him an hour I can do in a few minutes.

This morning Ken struggled to get out of bed and crashed on the floor. I was jolted from a sound asleep until I heard his 170 pounds hit the hardwood floor. I asked if he was hurt; he replied “no” but he wanted to rest on the floor before trying to get up. Watching him lie there was hell.

I let the dog out, made coffee, and fed the cat his morning treat of wet food. Then I went back into the bedroom to aid Ken. I witnessed him trying to get back on his feet. He turned and twisted without much progress. I asked him if I should call for help, and he said no; he wanted to keep trying.

During the next ten minutes I watched him eventually get into his wheelchair. Now all we had to do was change his disposable underwear. Yeah. That’s part of his care too  — to change him when he has accidents. Most people cringe when I talk about such things, but cleaning up messes of all kinds fall into my job description.

The good news is Ken didn’t hurt himself. He may have a bruised butt, but his acceptance of such indignities with bravery is heroism in my book.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3

Chapter 27

Berlin, German-October, 1940—Leisel told herself she loved Franz, but for some odd reason accepting the fact they shared a baby scared her. Well into her second trimester, she still suffered extreme morning sickness, depression, and lack of energy.

Her mother grew concerned as she witnessed Leisel’s steady decline. She thought by now her daughter’s body would be adjusted to its pregnant state, but in Leisel’s case it seemed that as the baby grew stronger Leisel grew weaker. Mrs. Fuchs wanted Leisel to write to Franz and ask him to request a leave of absence, but Leisel resisted. She told her mother she didn’t want to be a burden to him because he needed to be on duty in order to build a successful military career. After all, she anticipated Franz would be away from home a great deal when she married him.  All military wives suffer the same way.

As the weeks went by, Leisel’s weariness became fatigue, and she often experienced pain she kept to herself. She admitted she didn’t miss Franz because of his behavior the last time she saw him at Christmas. When she told him about the baby, he glared at her and said, “Well, isn’t that just dandy. I hope you’re happy. I certainly am not!”

He dismissed this change in their married lives and went on for hours about the beautiful sights in Paris. He even mentioned an encounter with Marta, and boldly announced Paris seemed to make her more beautiful than before she left Germany.

He ignored Leisel’s health, even though her appearance clearly revealed her sickness.  Her hair thinned. She lost weight. Dark circles stayed beneath her eyes. Even her skin got dry and flaky. Instead Franz announced she looked fat and ugly before he went to carouse with his crass comrades. When he returned home drunk from his night out with the boys, he slept all day and woke yelling orders for his breakfast. He found fault with everything Leisel did and screamed he wished he never married her. Life with Franz Reinhart did not turn out to be the fairytale Leisel dreamed about.

When Franz returned to Paris, Leisel relaxed. She spent most of her time alone now because the other Nazi officer’s wives left her behind. Patience and empathy for Leisel proved to be two qualities the other women did not possess. They believed a good SS wife should take pregnancy in stride. Even her new friend Gretchen stopped coming around everyday. The women in this group centered their interests on attending parties and social functions to advance their husbands’ reputations. A few months ago Leisel enjoyed such frivolity too, but now parties didn’t seem important and there was no way she wanted help Franz with his career. She thought herself to be a failure as an SS officer’s wife. She wanted to tell her father the husband he picked out for her turned out to be an abusive bully but of course, he was off fighting the war too.

Leisel accepted her lonesomeness and centered on preparing for the baby’s arrival. She and her mother knit baby sweaters and booties. They sewed buntings and quilts. Leisel even painted a mural on the nursery wall of puppies and kittens romping happily in a meadow. As she painted, the life inside of her moved.

Time grew short before the baby would be with her, and Leisel looked forward to having someone love her. When the baby moved, she cooed to her child and professed her love. She prayed the baby would be a girl so she would never see the face of Franz in her child.

On a warm, beautiful September morning, Leisel woke feeling better than she had in months. She stretched and glanced out the window to a cloud-free blue sky and bright sunshine. The pain which plagued her for months was gone! She jumped out of bed and happily faced the new day until she saw the blood-stained sheets and a bloody mass. She checked her nightgown to find the same dark red stains. Terror flashed through her as she realized what happened.  “Oh my God!” she screamed. “No! Please God! Not the baby!” She wailed. “I can’t lose the baby! This must be a bad dream! I can’t even carry a baby!” A mournful moan rose from deep inside of her. Her dreams of a happy home with a little cherub disappeared in one night of fitful sleep.

Leisel stripped off her nightgown and dragged herself into the bathroom. Sobs shook her body as she filled the tub with hot water. She moved her hand over her now barren abdomen. Even her baby left her. Her husband didn’t love her, and her friends left to live far away. Her abandonment overwhelmed her as she slipped into the warm water. She sank into the deep tub and let the hot water take her away.

Later that afternoon, her mother found her dead body floating in a bloody tub. She screamed like a mad woman, but no neighbor came to her rescue. Her only child lay dead in a tub full of crimson water. Worst of all, she would never be a Groutter.

Chapter 28

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – November 1940—Josie and Anna took their midterms three weeks before the Thanksgiving break. Mrs. Schneider invited Anna to join the Schneider clan for the traditional holiday. Donna Jean would also share the family dinner. During the time she lived on the farm, Donna carved out a special place for herself in the Schneider family,

Peter picked up Anna and Josie at the train station. The girls threw their bags in the bed of the old Schneider truck, while he waited behind the steering wheel in the warm cab. Josie thought if Johnny picked them up, he would get out of the car, hug and kiss her, before he hoisted the heavy bags. At that moment Josie missed Johnny so much.

The ride home through the snow-covered landscape brought Josie back to her roots. Since she went away to school, this ride home never got dull. The girls settled back into the worn upholstered seat and enjoyed a sense of freedom. No more tests, classes or papers for the next week.

Josie turned to Anna. “I can’t wait for you to meet my friends Rosalie and Donna Jean. I think Mary, Johnny’s girlfriend, is joining us for dinner, too. We’ll all have a blast together.”

Anna smiled. “If your friends are like you, Josie, I’m in for a grand time.”

After Peter pulled into the Schneider backyard, the two girls lugged their suitcases filled with dirty laundry into the back hall. A warm, savory aroma of pot roast with potatoes and carrots wafted from the kitchen. Josie dropped her suitcase and rushed to hug her mother. “I am so happy to be home, Mom. Dinner smells wonderful!”

Mrs. Schneider returned Josie’s hug and welcomed Anna with the same welcoming gesture.

Josie asked, “Where’s Dad?”

“He’s out in the barn milking.”

“I’m going to tell him we’re home.” Josie ran out of the house and down to the barn. Anna followed in her wake.

On the way down the hill Josie yelled, “Dad! I’m home!”

She entered the barn, and her father glanced away from the cow he milked to give his daughter a wide smile. “Josie! So good to have you home again, pumpkin. Pardon me if I don’t get up.” He laughed. “Jenny here needs to be wooed before I milk her. I just got her into a cooperative mood.”

Mr. Schneider spied Anna peeking into the barn. “Don’t be shy, Anna. Come in.”

Anna covered her nose with her mitten. “Thanks Mr. Schneider, but I think I’ll save our reunion for in the house.”

Josie said, “Oh my God, Anna. I’m so sorry. I’m so used to barn aroma, I forgot you aren’t.”

“I’m fine, Josie but I’ll say hello to your Dad at the house.”

Josie and her father laughed. “City slickers!”

Josie searched the barn for Betsy but didn’t find her. “Dad, where’s Betsy?”

Her father hesitated. “We needed to put her down a couple of days ago, Josie.”

Josie leaned up against the stall like someone punched her in the stomach.  Her throat tightened. “What happened?”

“Josie, Betsy finally celebrated too many birthdays.”

Tears rose up in Josie’s eyes. “No.”

He stopped milking Jenny and faced Josie. “She got cancer, Josie. We needed to put her down. We tried to wait, but her pain got intense.”

Mr. Schneider wrapped Josie in a tight embrace and held her while Josie let her emotions spill out on his chest. “I raised her from the time she was a baby, Dad. I showed her at the fair, and she took the blue ribbon. Remember?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We tried to wait until you came home, Josie, but Betsy got too sick. You didn’t want us to make her suffer, did you?” Her father said softly. “I thought you would want the best for her.”

Josie looked up at her father with tear-stained cheeks. “Where is she?”

“We buried her at her favorite place-out by the big oak.”

Josie ran through ankle-deep snow to the old oak tree behind the barn. Under the tree a simple wooden cross read, “Betsy.”

Josie got down on her knees and traced the letters of her old friend. “Farmers should never get attached to their animals, but Betsy you were so different from the rest. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here when you needed me. Please forgive me, girl. I will miss you so much.” Josie let her tears fall on the grave. She sniffled. “Maybe we’ll meet  in heaven someday.” Josie stood, stared at the marker for one last time, and then shuffled back to the house with her head down.

*****

Josie’s parents made up a roll-a-way bed in Josie’s room with cotton sheets, a boiled wool blanket, and one of Mrs. Schneider’s handmade patchwork quilts for Anna. The girls giggled when Josie’s folks commented the room looked as though they moved their dorm room to the farm.

On Thanksgiving Day, everyone pitched in to prepare for the annual feast. Anna peeled potatoes and carrots, Josie peeled the apples for the pies, and her mother stuffed and basted a twenty-five pound turkey. Mary, her father, and two brothers would bring the pumpkin pies.

In between the stages of preparing the food, the girls set the large oak table with a special family tablecloth which her great-grandmother had embroidered as a young girl. The family saved it for this one special day each year.

Anna set the table with the “Sunday dishes” and silver-plated silverware Josie’s mother inherited from her mother. Anna added her special touch by folding the napkins into swans and placing them on the white china dishes trimmed in gold.

Donna Jean arrived about three o’clock in afternoon looking like a model straight from the pages of Modern Woman magazine. She wore a skullcap hat with colorful pheasant tail feathers falling from the left side of the hat. Her simple black wool coat complimented such a wild headdress. When she removed her coat, she wore a form-fitting red wool dress that accentuated her curves. Her perfect oval-shaped face lit up with a shade of lipstick which matched her dress, while her long blond hair fell down to her shoulders in a soft pageboy.

Josie opened the front door. “Donna! Happy Thanksgiving! Come in!”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” She stamped the snow off of her boots before coming through the door.

“Come on in! Wow, look at you Miss Debutante! How did you grow up so much since September?”

“Oh, this old thing?” Donna playfully brushed off the comment. “Come here, you!” She hugged Josie. “Oh I missed you so much!”

Donna kicked off her boots and slipped her feet into tall three inch heels she carried in a brown paper bag. The shoes gave her already shapely legs a slim silhouette.

At that moment, Peter entered the room. “Well, looked what the cat drug in! Did you shoot the peasant yourself?” He laughed and gave Donna a big hug. “We sure miss you around here, Donna. How’s that new apartment?”

“The place is working out well, Peter.” Donna smiled. “Thanks again for all your help. I couldn’t endure moving without you and your folks.”

“And Danny.”

“Right.” Donna blushed. “And Danny.”

“Say, what’s he got to say these days now that he’s a drafted veteran?”

 

“He’s still really peeved he didn’t score a higher lottery number. He whined about the drill sergeant getting on his case and the horrible slop they serve for food. He says the good news is he doesn’t need to leave the lower forty-eight states, plus he only needs to serve twelve months. So, I guess things are as good as they can be.”

“I sure miss having him around. Danny’s a great guy.” Peter shook his head.

“Yeah.” Donna Jean didn’t say anything more about Danny.

 

 

 

Leaving Yourself on The Page

This morning as I read through the blogs I follow with regularity, I came across this in Candycoatedreality:  Every time I write, I leave pieces of me on the page.

These few words resonated with me because as bloggers we do so in a very big world. We  unknowingly unveil our very souls to people who follow us.

As we all know, there can be no false masks in good writing. We can all use our imaginations to bring forth fantasy and other fictional tales, but deep down, the writer’s own personality is the bedrock of the writing.

I kind of like that idea. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to finally accept myself as I am. I’ve tried to fit into boxes other people have designed for me, and dah — that didn’t work at all for me. The images of what other people wanted for me didn’t suit me, and I was the unhappy one. The good thing about going through such experiences is I found out what I didn’t want in my life. It wasn’t until I had the courage to cut MY path by using MY machete to get through the brush did I find the peaceful meadow.

Climbing out of boxes other people build for you is a brave feat. For me, it meant divorce and estrangement from my teenage children. It meant living on my own for the first time in my life. It meant not having the money I was accustomed to having. But the result was so worth the effort. For the first time in my life, I had the freedom to explore me, throwing out the parts I didn’t like and nurturing the parts that I did like.

Liberation does come with a price, though. Some people I used to call “friend” had to fall by the wayside because of the changes that were taking place in me.  I slowly emerged as a new person I liked better than the old one. I wasn’t afraid any more. I stood up for myself and took calculated risks that paid off. After all the exploration and work was done, I met a wonderful man who wanted me for me. He had no desire to make me over in his own image and restrict me to a box.

Ken and I have had almost twenty years together. We’ve weathered the storms of life that caused us to strap ourselves to the mast of our ship. We’ve felt the sting of the churning waters of sickness and unemployment. Weathering such storms together showed us we can face anything.

If you find yourself in a place where you don’t fit, don’t waste time to change your situation. It might be scary or hard or both, but in the long run the sacrifices you make will be so worth it.

Finally, know the only person you can change is yourself.

A Bad Start

frustratedDid you ever have a day when you just wanted to run away from your life? Yeah. Me, too. In fact, today is one of those days.

I woke up this morning before six o’clock to the sound of Ken falling.  Believe me, that sound is worse than any jarring alarm clock. I think I lose a part of my life every time he tumbles because my heart stops.

We both try to make light of these situations because falling happens frequently. One slight little turn or wobble and down he goes. Luckily, most of his falls leave him unscathed. I think he has a legion of guardian angels on the job to break his falls. He could solve these moments of weakness by using his motorized wheel chair, but he prefers to hold on to walls and use his walker. I think he hates using his motorized wheel chair because when he’s in it he has to recognize he’s handicapped — so he fights it.

However, his stubborn attitude makes life harder for me when I attempt to pick him up off the floor. So far, I haven’t been endowed with super powers by any entity, so I struggle to pick up his 160 pound carcass off of the floor, while I order him to move a certain way.

Today it was too much. I stumbled out of bed and ran into the kitchen to find him grasping the edge of the counter top. I witnessed his legs shaking, so I grabbed the office chair that we use for him in the kitchen and wheeled it over to catch him before he fell again.

He had managed to make coffee and put his breakfast dishes on the table, but he hadn’t eaten yet. On top of that, the dog was dancing to go outside and the cat was meowing for his morning tuna.

Because this morning started with such a big bang, this normal routine of preparing Ken’s breakfast and taking care of the dog and cat made me spin out of control. I barely had my eyes open and here I was wanting to pull my hair out because things in my life went out of whack through no fault of my own.

I think MS stands for Mean Son-of-a-Bitch because that is exactly what a patient and those around him/her become during frustrating times like this. Yelling is a release, but it does little good. Huffing and Puffing doesn’t help. Nothing helps when you find yourself in the moment.

Taking deep breaths helps. A couple cups of coffee helps, and finally, being able to vent through writing with a little bit of quiet time, helps.

I’m back to normal now, able to focus and carry on. I’ve once again found that nice person inside me who I like a lot better than the crazy woman who took over this morning.

I still would love a vacation, though — perhaps a nice sail down a lazy river? Yeah. I’ll meditate on that.

Real History Told

historyI love history. I love learning how people lived during different time periods. I want to know how they viewed the world and what they did because of their beliefs. I also enjoy hearing how written history — what we all learned in school — is just one person’s take on what really happened. Not surprisingly, the tales we learned are just that — tales.

Last night, I enjoyed a History Channel program called Fact or Fiction. The program covered the Mayflower coming to America, the Pilgrim’s first year of life here, and first Thanksgiving. The show compared the “facts” most of us believe with what actually happened in 1620.

Did you know the Mayflower was one of two ships that set sail for the new land? Yup. The other ship had to turn around twice before it ever left England because it leaked. Because the ship couldn’t be made sea worthy, the Mayflower took on more passengers than it should have had. mayflower

As far as landing on Plymouth Rock, well nobody knows for sure. In the historical log, there is no mention of the big rock. Actually, the Pilgrims were sailing for the port that was at the Hudson River (NYC), but strong winds blew them north, thus they landed in what now is Massachusetts. More likely Plymouth Rock was a landmark and for sure the Pilgrims didn’t step on it. 

The first year of life was tough on the novice settlers. Only half of the Pilgrims lived, and the survivors wouldn’t have lived if it hadn’t been for Squanto, an Indian who had earlier been captured by the English and thrown into slavery. While he was in England, he learned the language. At some point he escaped and sailed back to his home only to find that most of his tribe had been wiped out by smallpox.squanto

But this man, put aside any anger he might have had for the white man and taught the new settlers how to plant corn, hunt, and fish. Squanto was also instrumental in arranging a treaty with the Wampanoag Indians. In 1621, Massasoit, the chief of the tribe signed a “treaty of friendship” giving the English permission to occupy 12,000 acres of land. 

Now let’s talk about Thanksgiving. First of all, the Pilgrims only invited Chief Massasoit to dinner to commemorate the treaty. He in turn, invited 90 other Indians who first went out hunting and provided the meat for the meal. And no, it wasn’t turkey. It was venison.pilgrims

The thanksgivings after the first one were very dark–not at all the “Home Sweet Home” version we like to conjure up. If you’re interested in reading how the white man murdered over 700 Pequot Indians, here’s the link.  http://rense.com/general45/thanks.htm It’s much too gory for me to repeat.

My point to this discussion is that we all remember history to suit our needs. The truth about what really happened is in the hands of  people who wrote it down, and when stories are retold, the bad things seem to get lost. Worse yet, even some of the good things get lost. How many of you ever heard of Squanto?

I rest my case.

What’s In Your Writing?

writingI found a terrific editing tool, compliments of Peter D. Mallet’s “Writing in Color” website. Peter has done us all a favor by providing several links to tangible aids that can help strengthen our writing. The one I explored yesterday was AutoCrit Editing Wizard

A guest to this site can copy 500 words into the Wizard and have the text analyzed. Without buying a thing or providing a credit card number, a person can use the tool three times a day. (For those of us who aren’t math geniuses, that’s 1500 words). I bravely plopped in the first chapter of the first draft of my novel, Stephania In America, and within seconds the tool spit out an analysis.

I’m not saying that this editing wizard knows everything about editing, but I discovered I have a tendency to use the verbs, WAS  and WERE, a lot. As writers, we know  these verbs are indicative of passive voice . . . a true no-no in forceful, good writing. The other thing I like to do too much is to begin my sentences with conjunctions.

The value of this tool is to give writers a chance to critically study their prose through the eyes of a computer program. It has no feelings or judgment like a human editor. Instead, it gives you a cold analysis of things you do frequently in your writing. I thought it was eye-opening. I never dreamed I had become so lazy with my verbs, but there was the evidence right in front of me–I had lazy, passive verbs plastered throughout my text.

Using this tool reinforces what I tell my writing classes. We all have words we constantly misspell. (But now we have Microsoft Word which automatically points these out to us as soon as we type the text like a sassy English teacher with a red pen.) We all make the same grammatical errors again and again. We misplace modifiers, have pronoun references that are not clear, and use passive voice, etc. We do these things because we write the same way we think and speak–at least the first time around. There’s no way to really avoid these mistakes.

So, how do we overcome our writing weaknesses? Our only option is to be aware of  our ever-occurring weaknesses and strengthen them with practice. The second step is to go back, fix the spots that need fixing, and many times that means chopping out unnecessary words, phrases, and even sentences. (With my students, I call this phase “killing your babies.”) In the real world, it’s called editing. Good writers do this after the thoughts are put down on the paper. Think of your first draft as a lump of clay sitting on a potter’s wheel. It needs to be shaped and molded into what it was meant to be.

Using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard was a good Sunday afternoon exercise. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage everyone to kick the tires, and take this tool for a spin. You might end up in a surprising destination, just like I did.