Thursday, July 30, 2015

Corresponding With Marcel

     I received a letter this week from the past. I guess what I really mean is the memories written within the letter are from the past. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was sorting through my father's war memorabilia when I ran across the name of an army buddy who wrote a quick note to my dad in 1985. I Googled the man's name and found him to be still alive. I daringly called him and, to make a long story short, we have begun corresponding. His first, beautifully handwritten letter arrived this week. This kind, ninety year old gentleman took the time to send me a full page of carefully penned, cursive handwriting about my dad. Parts of the letter are written such that it sounds like he is addressing my dad. Because I have read two books on the events he is referring to, I know exactly what he is writing about. The first book is, "The Left Corner of My Heart" by Dan Morgan. The other book is, "Messengers of the Lost Battalion" by Gregory Orfalea. Dan Morgan's book had only six hundred copies printed. My dad bought one of those copies and I am now the safe keeper of it along with his other treasures.
     I am by no means a war buff. My purpose in all this reading and corresponding is simply to get to know my dad, posthumously. He was a stranger to me; someone I only knew one dimensionally, as a father and provider. I took for granted that in our home, in his car, and on his clothing were paratrooper wings and Airborne insignias. Our music room and the basement were hung with war items, photographs, knives, guns, parachute silk, and a Nazi flag. Many of these items are gone now, sold to a collector some years ago, but I have come to realize that no one keeps this many mementos hanging about unless it stands for something significant. My dad didn't relate that to us, the stuff was just there. It was for his own heart to remember. I am sure that experience shaped and altered his life.
     Through all this reading, I have come to understand, in detail, what a certain battle was like for a certain army unit. It is a microscopic cross section of a huge war, fought on so many fronts. But this particular battle, The Battle of the Bulge, was significant in turning the tide in World War II. And this particular unit, the 551st Paratrooper Infantry Battalion, did something very brave indeed. As stated on the cover of Gregory Orfalea's book, "Why was the 551st sent to its destruction in a desperate assault on the village of Rochelinval during the Battle of the Bulge? And finally, how could the handful of frostbitten, bloodstained renegades that were the 551st's walking wounded actually take Rochelinval and win the day?" And I wonder, how did my dad survive that?  This is clearly not the man I knew. My dad was gentle and quiet. Marcel writes about becoming separated from my dad in Belgium only to meet up again afterward in rehab, he with a broken hand, my dad with frozen feet. But the fondest memory, by far, is Marcel's memory of my dad carrying his rifle on his left arm and his guitar on the other. Now that sounds like my dad.
     And so, a new realization of what heroism means comes to mind. Our soldiers are not only heroes in the obvious sense, for fighting a war. That is certainly bravery. Soldiers who put their lives on the line in an ultimate sacrifice for their countrymen and then return home to lead unassuming lives, marrying, raising families, quietly contributing to society; they are truly heroes. I am beginning to see that it's not only what a hero does in that moment of bravery that makes him a hero, but how he carries himself forward to live his life. That a man can live under brutal conditions, suffer unimaginably, experience deep sorrow for the loss of friends at his side, and go on to live a productive life as though, on the surface, nothing has happened; to me, this is astounding.
     Something totally unrelated has mingled into my thoughts on this topic this week. My niece recently had her car stolen outside her apartment in D.C. while she slept at night. It was an expensive car for which her father worked very hard to provide her. It was stressful, but they got it sorted out with the insurance and police, end of story. Now here's the catch. The car turned up a week later, dirty and beat up. My brother-in-law had to pay to have it towed and brought home. A few days later, a rap video surfaces. (How the police saw it, I have no idea) Whose car should be featured in the video, but my niece's. A bunch of pubescent thugs wearing designer duds, waving wads of money while giving the finger and rapping the N-word, about shooting everybody up, shows the lead rapper driving off in my niece's car. Her license plate and college parking sticker are still on it in plain view. The boy was barely tall enough to see above the steering wheel. So what does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well, these thugs want to be somebody. They are their own self-worshipping heroes. They want something for nothing and they want it to be big. They don't want to earn it; they steal it. You know what my dad used to say about guys like this? "They need to throw them in the army. That'll straighten 'em out. The dirty, rotten sonsa expletives." That's what my dad would say. He strongly believed that the army had a way of turning thugs into heroes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Newest Neighbors

     Meet our new neighbors, the Katahdins. Neighbor W. recently added a flock of Katahdin sheep to his field in order to better train his shepherding dog, Patten. Named after Mount Katahdin in Maine, he chose this breed because they do not produce wool. For his purposes, sheep shearing would have been an extra commitment for which he had no need. I can see them on the hill from our porch and I like to watch their movements especially when they run, pell mell down the hill in a tight little flock.
     Audrey and Jared came for a visit this afternoon. After peach pie and ice cream, we walked next door to see the new sheep. Both Patten and the sheep are 'green' as they say, and both have things to learn about the art of shepherding. It was interesting to see Patten in action with his sharp turns and quick-as-a-flash, inborn herding abilities. It was also interesting to see the dominant ewe turn and defend her friends against the dog. Neighbor W. invited us back in a month to see how Patten and the Katahdins have progressed.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


   As hot as the days are, the evenings have been a delightful contrast with soft breezes and long shadows. These evenings are perfect for taking a walk. At promptly 7:30 each evening, Henri and I climb the back hill and walk past Mrs. Cahoon's house. She'll be sitting on her front porch, reading and we'll stop and say, "Hey, Mrs. Cahoon." She'll inquire about my mom and I'll wish her a pleasant evening and we'll continue on our way. (I've learned how to use the word, 'Hey' in the southern style where it's similar to the word, 'Hi'. It's not the same 'Hey" I grew up with as in, "Hey.You!", which is harsh. It's a much softer, gentler, 'Hey'.)
     Just past Mrs. C.'s house stands a Mimosa tree. I never saw one of these until we moved south, so to me they are exotic and beautiful. I understand they can be invasive. That is probably why they're mainly growing by the roadside or in the yards of older homes and I've never seen one for sale in a nursery. The tree is covered in blooms and, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, the sweet scent carries all the way down to our house. I find the tree enchanting. It has fern-like leaves, powder-pink, fan-shaped flowers, and it a heady scent which reminds me of peaches. Each time I walk by, I pluck a flower to carry home with me and sniff at my whim. I will leave them on windowsills and tables until they're too droopy to pick up and sniff any longer.
     Steve was walking with us tonight and as we approached the tree we realized it was humming with life. Not only was it abuzz with bees and butterflies, it was full of hummingbirds! We stood underneath the branches and listened to their high pitched chirps. We heard the thrumming of their wings as they darted past our heads, and we watched them chase and dive at each other all over the tree and into the air. What a sight and sound it was and I couldn't help but laugh! Henri couldn't understand our interest in the tree and wanted to be on his way, but we stood for several minutes taking in the entertainment of this little ecosystem. The breeze, the sunset, the hazy, bug-filled fields all made for a memorable summer walk. I also realized there's no need to worry about the lack of hummingbirds at our house this summer. I know where they are and I don't blame them. This would be my choice of playground too.

Just in case you're inspired to make a Mimosa, here's a video! In my opinion the drink should be pink, in honor of the tree.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peace: In Simplified Terms

Morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. A particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society. The extent to which an action is right or wrong.

     I set out to write about deserts and oases and I find instead that I am thinking about peace. The news and blogs are full of morality these days. I read it and I weep inside. Society has become numb to the fact that we kill our own offspring in utero, numb to the fact that we sometimes wait until the second trimester to do so in an unconscionable manner, and now we should numb ourselves to the fact that we use portions of the killed fetuses for research? I can't even write those words without a cry catching in my throat. Is the human race that depraved? Sadly, I know the answer is yes. And I am among them. 
     I didn't weigh in on last month's hot topic of legalized, homosexual marriage and I won't weigh in any further on abortion either because I am at perfect peace with where I stand on these issues (along with many other issues). I can walk this earth with a free spirit! Free of the need to argue with anyone about who is right or wrong, whether to kill fetuses or not, what defines marriage, etc., etc. The weight of trying to figure out morality does not sit on my shoulders. It sits on God's shoulders, who created this world and everything in it, and who gave us an instruction book to help us along our way. I am free. I am free not because I am without depravity, but because I fully acknowledge my depravity and point to Jesus and say, "I'm with Him". He has freed me. I trust the answers He has given me and my soul is at rest in this.
     Perfect peace and a free spirit are a wonderful gift. Embracing Christianity certainly does not mean that I am ignorant nor that I walk through life with blinders on. My eyes are fully open and despite what I see, I still love. There is no better peace than this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

And So the Days Go...
    It's been a week of healthy, bountiful eating around here. We have a glut of garden tomatoes because they are all ripening at the same time. I'm in a little panic over that! And the zucchini just keep on coming... and coming. Neighbor W. brought us a half bushel of peaches and we gave them tomatoes, zucchini (hehe) and sweet relish. Steve mowed a path through the field for all the fruit and vegetable sharing we've been carrying back and forth to Neighbor W. It's also blackberry season, along with blueberries and nectarines in our latest co-op shares.
     Speaking of the field, it has has grown thick and lush since the horses are gone. The mowed path looks like the parting of the Red Sea, the way the tall grass bends away from the path along the expanse of field. I take mom out on the porch for a little while each day for a break from the air conditioning. While we sat there today, I described this very same field to her and what it was like back in February. The snow was thigh deep and we could barely walk across it. The entire landscape was white and cold and barren, but also very beautiful. It was such a stark contrast to what we see and feel today that it's unbelievable how drastically it will change with the seasons. The depth of winter will too soon be upon us and I will remember these blackberries and garden tomatoes when the snow flies.
     We made these outstanding Marinated Grilled Vegetables over the weekend. I can't wait to make them again. Use a grilling basket or at least skewer the vegetables because they will fall through the grate when you grill them, particularly the mushrooms and pepper slices. We've also enjoyed our annual summertime Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad) and another recipe for roasted chicken and new potatoes with fresh rosemary and oregano. I love the earthy chore of plucking herbs from the garden and using them in our meals. It's satisfying at the most basic level, taking something from the earth and eating it.
     I enlisted Mom's help to make peach jam today. I peeled the peaches and she chopped them and put them into a bowl. There's no neat way to peel and chop peaches with all the juice they produce and what a sticky mess we made. I've discovered that Mom is happiest when she can work in the kitchen. Tasks like washing produce, chopping and stirring things, setting the table, or drying dishes lighten her spirit. The place settings may be askew, someone might have two forks and another person none, and there might be lumps in the muffins, but we're all much happier for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Being Content in All Things


     Today was the day I resigned from my job. It was both an easy, yet very difficult decision to make. Easy because it was obvious that I needed to be home with my mom more than I had anticipated and difficult because I really loved my job.
     One thing I am learning about the elderly is that the days are unpredictable. One day my mom is completely independent and we may even go out for lunch. Another day, she can't seem to get dressed until afternoon and the entire day is a struggle. There is no way for me to know what kind of day it will be when I wake up. In light of that, I can't be a dependable employee and show up for work every morning.
     It was selfish for me to hold onto that job with white knuckles like I was. Once I realized my selfishness was the reason I couldn't let go, I let go. The weight of the decision fell away and I felt lighter after it was done. I still mourn over the loss, though. It's like a child having to hand over her favorite doll for someone less fortunate to play with and keep. The child knows it's the right thing to do, but it still hurts.
     I'm anxious about being housebound. While I love our home and our property and garden, winter will inevitably come. Whatever will we do with all the hours in a day? Will I find contentment or restlessness? Once again, I turn to this devotional by John Piper:

     God’s provision of day-by-day future grace enables Paul to be filled or to be hungry, to prosper or suffer, to have abundance or go wanting.
     “I can do all things” really means “all things,” not just easy things. “All things” means, “Through Christ I can hunger and suffer and be in want.” This puts the stunning promise of Phillipians 4:19 in its proper light: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
    What does “every need of yours” mean in view of Philippians 4:19? It means “all that you need for God-glorifying contentment.” Paul’s love for the Philippians flowed from his contentment in God, and his contentment flowed from his faith in the future grace of God’s infallible provision.
It’s obvious then that covetousness is exactly the opposite of faith. It’s the loss of contentment in Christ so that we start to crave other things to satisfy the longings of our hearts. And there’s no mistaking that the battle against covetousness is a battle against unbelief and a battle for faith in future grace.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

My Week in the Movies

     It has been one of the oddest weeks that I can recall. I'm calling it "My Week In the Movies". One minute I could swear I was in the Twilight Zone and the next, I'm in a Jerry Lewis flick. It all began when I confidently strolled into my hairdresser's salon on Wednesday for my regular appointment. I sat down to wait my turn, all happy that I made it there and that my crazy hair was going to be tamed. But, it was not to be. It turned out my appointment was the day before and I missed it. My shock and disappointment must have been written all over my face. I have never done such a thing before! I was honestly on the verge of tears. Not for my haircut that wasn't going to happen, but for the fact that I was losing my mind. I was worried that this might be my new normal... I rescheduled for next week. I'm so confused...
     Yesterday our land line was acting up, so I called Lumos to schedule a repair. They came out when we were not home and they left a ticket on the door stating that everything appeared to be working. We discovered the problems were not fixed after all. Steve called the number on the ticket and the Customer Service lady told him they had no phone account for us. We were nowhere in their system. She was so sure of herself that we were doubting whether we had our phone number of thirteen years correct. Crazy! I went to my files to look up our account number in order to prove that we did indeed have an account and I could not, for the life of me, find the Lumos folder. This was either an unbelievable joke or I was living in The Twilight Zone. The Customer Service lady could not help us, so we hung up with her and called our local Lumos office. They found our account with no trouble. I was relieved to know I had some sanity left because I was becoming a doubter.
     Just to keep us in the land where nothing makes sense, try looking at the Netflix website. The pictures now bubble out at you and everything on the screen is constantly moving unless you hold your curser perfectly still. No, it's not an LSD trip, it's the new and improved Netflix website! Where movie bio's are pithy and cute and you don't need drugs to confuse your mind. How can we search for movies while trying to hold the curser perfectly still so we don't go into a photosensitive epileptic seizure? This is a sad day indeed. The movie I'm reminded of here is, What Dreams May Come, where everything is dripping paint and all blurry and makes no sense. I can't look!!
     On the practical side, I decided to send out a church-wide email this morning to announce an event that was coming up on the calendar. It was my first time using the church software for sending emails. After a few frustrating attempts to send the email by pushing the "Contact People" button with no results, I gave up. I could not find a "Send" button, nor was the program telling me my email had been successfully sent. I navigated over to my gmail account and lo and behold, five duplicate  announcements of the email I had composed were waiting for me in my inbox. Apparently that email did send... five times... to the entire church. This was my Charlie Brown moment where I could really feel for that poor little guy. I'll call this, What Have We Learned Charlie Brown.
     This morning's movie was Alfred Hitchcock's, The Birds. A girl pulled out in front of me on Route 220, cutting me off while I was going sixty miles per hour. I swerved to miss her and she stuck her arm out her window and gave me the finger. She gave me the finger. What's with that?!
     The grand finale to the week occurred in the supermarket where I went to do my weekly shopping. They were REARRANGING THE ENTIRE STORE. Aisles were completely empty, shelves were being taken apart, cookies were separated from crackers, items were relocated from aisle three to aisle ten, and nothing made any sense! Oh my gosh, I could feel myself begin to hyperventilate. I put on my calmest countenance and went along as though everything was perfectly normal. I smiled and nodded at my fellow shoppers. This was Stepford Wives and I was imaginably beautiful, poised, and seemingly normal. No one would know my inner turmoil.
     As I drove home from the market, I realized I might have gone a little bit overboard in the alcohol department. In my stress and anxiety I felt the need to prepare for something wonderful for the weekend. I bought white wine, ginger beer, and Bacardi pina colada mix and rum. I'm shooting for a movie title like, Under the Tuscan Sun or something wonderful like that. Claire and Daniel and the grandchildren are coming, so I think we're on the right track for living a good movie this weekend.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Humpback Bridge

     There are still new treasures around every corner in this and neighboring counties. B. took me to Humpback Bridge in Allegheny County today. Built in 1857, it's a beautiful, old landmark and a perfect picnic spot for the family. A swift, but shallow, creek with a pebbled bottom makes a great place for children to play and there is a grassy picnic area within arms reach. When you walk inside the bridge you are transported back in time by that wonderful, old wood smell that only antiquities can emanate. The post and beam construction and huge beams that were used to construct the bridge are a testament to that rare combination of beauty and functionality. Even though it was a drizzly day, B. packed a light picnic that was delicious.
     Thanks again to Tess, who minded the fort while I went out. Mom was happy to make pudding when I returned. She received her first letter in the mail from a nephew (Her nephew is eighty-two!) and the day ended fairly well. She told me at dinner that she needs to write a letter to another nephew. I believe we've stumbled upon a hobby she enjoys with this letter-writing. She dictates them to me and I take care of the rest. : )


Saturday, July 4, 2015

An Apple Pie Day

     Today was a laid back kind of day. We had no plans other than to grill steaks and perhaps light a few sparklers. Mom feels better when she has things to do. She was a fantastic pie baker in her day, so I decided we could bake an apple pie together. She can no longer make an entire pie, but she can peel the apples so this was her task. Steve asked that we make it a lattice top, and voila! Here we have it. It was a delicious end to our day, served with vanilla ice cream, of course. We hung out on the porch for the evening and Steve plucked out the Star Spangled Banner, Jimmy Hendrix style, on one of my dad's electric guitars. I liked how the sound echoed over the field and off the treeline. I hope the neighbors all the way down the road enjoyed it. Haha!
     I stole some time upstairs to continue my project of repainting one of the bedrooms. It felt good to finish up the final details of the room and I'm excited about the change in color. I love to have projects and this one has been a satisfying transformation. The room was a mossy green color and I brightened it up by changing it to a shade of yellow. It required three coats of paint to get that green covered, even using Benjamin Moore's paint and primer in one. While I was at it, I decided to repaint the trim as well.  My goal is to simplify the house by using the same shade of white on every bit of trim. Until now, each room had a different shade of white trim, depending on our whim when we originally painted the rooms. This makes it very confusing when touch-ups are needed. Now, with Benjamin Moore Dove White on everything, life just got simpler. Plus, it looks good.
     The most exciting happening of the day came in the form of a phone call. It all started while sorting through my father's things a few weeks ago. Among his things I found a note from one of my dad's army friends scribbled on a newsletter. It was dated thirty years ago. My late father's silence of his war experience never made sense to me against the fact that he saved everything relating to his service. I've been intrigued that he would speak nothing of something that was obviously so very important to him. I decided to look this man up on Google and see if he was perhaps still alive. If so, maybe he wouldn't mind speaking to me. His name and phone number were listed online so I gathered up my nerve and dialed. I got a generic answering machine and left a message explaining who I was. Personally, I hoped I didn't sound like a crazy lady. Apparently I sounded perfectly normal because his daughter returned my call today! She is as excited as I am to make this connection. Her father is indeed still alive. He is ninety years old and remembers my dad well. It turns out that my dad was a pack rat and saved everything yet talked very little about the war and this man saved nothing yet recounts his war experience all the time. His daughter and I chatted for half an hour and agreed that I would begin corresponding by letter with her dad. I am thrilled to finally have an avenue that might lead to connecting the puzzle pieces of my dad's memorabilia. I'm particularly interested to know my dad's role in the infamous Battle of the Bulge and the horrific loss of the 551st Paratrooper division, of which I believe my dad was involved. I also enjoy writing letters and this man's daughter said her father is going to love this.
     It seemed appropriate that she should call on the day we celebrate our country's independence. She and I agreed that our fathers' service in World War 2 greatly impacted their lives and shaped the way they raised us, their children, to be patriotic and filled with respect for our country, even with all its flaws.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Tale of Zucchini, Chapter Three

    Another wonderful recipe from my grandmother that I've shared before are these tender rounds of zucchini dipped in batter and fried in olive oil. I could eat a whole plate of these, but I generously shared with three other people tonight. The amounts of ingredients are vague because it's one of those recipes passed down from one generation to the next.

1 egg
1 Tablespoon flour (it usually takes more to get the right batter consistency)
dried Basil (maybe a 1/2 teaspoon? More if you like.)
1 small zucchini (for a largish zucchini, I would triple these ingredients)
Olive oil for frying

Whisk eggs, add flour, Basil, and salt.It should be the consistency of pancake batter and stick to the zucchini slices.
Slice zucchini into rounds about 3/8" thick. Dip into the batter and then fry in hot olive oil until tender. Sometimes an extra sprinkle of salt on the finished rounds is nice.

     There's no such thing as a small zucchini in our house this summer. One day there are no zucchini on the vine and the next day there are three and they're as big as baseball bats.
Mom can't stand long enough to fry things on the stove anymore, but she watched me for a little while. She said when she was little, her mother would fry any leftover batter and give it to her. What do you think mom found on her plate tonight?

How Could I Expect That It Wouldn't Get Ugly?

     Apparently there will be good days and bad days. Nothing new there. The good days are when I feel like mom might be settling in. The bad days are when she still believes this is a vacation and she is miserable here and wants to go home. She's convinced that she can live alone and take care of herself and she was doing just fine before I butted in.

"There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know."     John Heywood

   The bad days are the days she argues and stares out the window and rocks in her rocking chair. I recall from my growing up years that if mom was rocking in the rocking chair, it wasn't good. That meant she was thinking too much and had a lot of nervous energy. She pretty much rocked all day today.
     She is in denial about how bad her living conditions and health had become while living alone. If given a chance, she would go back home in a heartbeat and live that way again. Her home would become her coffin. My heart breaks for her inner struggle and the sorrow she feels of missing her home. I understand. I pray in time that those feelings will wane and she might find a little comfort and even joy in her remaining days, weeks or years.
     I've been out of my mother's house for so many years that I forgot how my mom could be. On weekly visits over the past thirty eight years, I only saw the nice side of her. All the tumultuous years fell away and we began to get along very well. Unfortunately, she's still the same mom and I'm still the same daughter. Oil and water. I had forgotten how my sisters, dad and I devoted our lives in trying to make mom happy. We survived by walking on eggshells and trying ever so hard not to upset mom. It was an impossible task. (Daughters, please tell me this is not me! If I have ever parented like this, I apologize with my deepest regret!) My biggest challenge is this: How do I maintain my identity and my joy and not allow my mother to suck that away from me because of her own unhappiness? I had fully girded myself to care for a frail and elderly mom. But I had overlooked the possibility that a frail and elderly mom can still be manipulating and emotionally abusive. How did I miss that?
     Friends have been wonderful this week by inviting me out for coffee. Tess graciously stayed home with grandma so I could go. It felt good to drive down the road and be alone. I thought, "There you are! You've been lost and it's so good to find you again!" It's unusual for there to be dissension and arguing in our home. We went through a spell of that when our daughters were teens, but we outgrew that and our home is a peaceful haven now. There is never, ever any fighting or pointless arguing around here. My mom has changed that up a bit and it's difficult for me to adjust to the stress.
     As a friend said to me yesterday, this is about how I will change, not about expecting a ninety-three year old to change. One of the biggest lessons I'm learning is about the way I love my own daughters. Never, ever would I or will I go into their homes and be anything short of gracious. I appreciate my daughters fully and their lives are not, and should never, be about me.
     In the midst of struggle, here are Three Beautiful Things : )
1. I walked away from the house with Henri. We broke into a run, up the back hill. I turned to look back at the mountains. "See, nothing is changed", I told myself. "The world is still there."
2. As my heart raced and tears of frustration sprang forth, all I could do was recite Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restores my soul..." and I feel my heartbeat calm.
3. Steve, Claire, Chelsea, Audrey, and Tess. (Daniel, Mari, Jack, Matthew, Jared, Simon, and January Baby)