Thursday, October 22, 2020

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Once Upon A Time in Germany - Memories Informing My Views Today

In the late 1970's, shortly after I graduated from high school, I headed to Kiel, Germany for a year of living, studying and a bit of volunteer work abroad. 

Homesteading in Nebraska.
My own family of origin's ties to Germany were pre-WWII. My ancestors immigrated to the US during the late 1800s, three generations before me. My knowledge of German history was vague and incomplete. As I set off for Europe, I was primarily interested in travel and adventure in the present. I was in many ways oblivious to the influence on the country of the events of the past. Traveling to new places, was my focus. Fortunately, first hand experiences always offer education, sought after or not. 

While in Kiel, I lived with a host family. My host family consisted of my host mother, father and their teen daughter, an only child. The family had regular contact with and consistent in person visits with aunts, uncles and the grandparents of my host sister on both sides of the family. These visits gave me the opportunity to get to know three generations of Germans in an extended family. However, until I had the ability to understand and converse in German, I didn't have many conversations of substance with the grandparents.

Despite several years of taking German language classes in high school, my German was very limited. My host family actually didn't mind. Learning English themselves, was a factor, in their motivation to host me. Hosting an American student was an opportunity to have an in house tutor and to improve their own and their daughter's command of the English language. Over time we all improved our communication skills in both languages, plus quite a bit in pantomiming.

At the time I took these photos, the Berlin
Wall was still very much a reality. People
attempting to escape East Berlin 
were still shot.

As my fluency in German improved, my interaction with the extended family members of my host family increased. One of the grandfathers made attempts to speak English with me. He made it known that he was interested in having a conversation once my understanding of German improved. Living in a setting where learning a second language is a necessity, provides an optimal opportunity for becoming conversational in that language. Eventually, having conversations of substance in German became a possible and proud reality. 

As a young adult, I was surprised when the grandfather in my host family broached the subject of Germany during WWII with me. I listened, respectfully, to my elder, who had clearly been anticipating the chance to address me, the young American about Germany's history. He was anxious to describe and explain the participation of the German people in the Nazi movement. He clearly wanted to explain his own membership as a teen in Hitler's youth.

Another American exchange student and I
had the opportunity to visit Berlin with a
family whose siblings were separated from one
another by the Berlin Wall. They had
been unable to see close family
members since the end of WWII.

He described the hardships in Germany during his youth. He described economic depression, the prevalence of crime, violence and unemployment. He explained the hopelessness, the lack of opportunity for self determination and personal advancement. He presented a story of the impossibility of providing for oneself and one's family. There was in his view, nothing available for himself or his fellow German citizens of the time, to better ones situation, or improve one's life until, it seemed, the rise of Third Reich and the hope it offered.

He was led to believe, at the time, that participation in the organized youth movement of the dictatorial government was the only opportunity to work to improve ones life and the prosperity of their country. It was a chance for the people to be a part of something bigger and important. There were no other options. That is what he was told and what he believed. 

Basically, what he was saying to me, was that he and his fellow young countrymen bought the propaganda of the time and place. It promised safety, security and prosperity. The lies promised prosperity without risk. Little did they know (Did they have any idea? I still wonder.) the huge cost to themselves, their Jewish neighbors, to their country and ultimately to the world. They were headed into a life without choices, a life of complete tyranny. They did not anticipate the horrors that were the result of handing over personal belief, integrity and responsibility to those obsessed with power. Life without freedom. Life controlled by the state. A state without, accountability. Or morality.

Visiting the Berlin Wall with a family whose
lives were  so profoundly affected by it's
presence was beyond eye opening.
That was another experience to write
about on another post.
As an older German, this grandfather had lived through an atrocious time in history. He carried the lifelong burden of having followed lock step with the powers that controlled everything. It was hard to determine from what he told me, if he had ever truly felt his participation was optional. Personally chosen or not, he carried the burden of joining in enough to feel a need to explain himself, even to an unaware and na├»ve American student.  

I see similarities in our current political environment to what I learned about the time described to me by my host Grandfather. 

There are parallels in our current culture, with mandates to follow new guidelines without question. There are restrictions in our movement, interactions, businesses and worship. There are requirements to wear specific clothing items, and to conform. There is a silencing of dissenting ideas. Views different from the mainstream are shunned. Many are afraid to voice an opinion that differs in anyway. In real life interactions or on social media platforms one risks being verbally attacked for sharing independent thought. Symbolically, we wear covers over our mouths, quieting our voices and hindering even our breath. The forced conformity is being easily implemented by the extreme fear that has been fostered upon us though the natural human desire for safety. The conformity is enforced by critics, neighbors and even friends who have now risen to new levels of condescension, those around us have become the snitches, dubbed the "Karens", they are the enforcers in our lives, in our own times. 

An attempt at life with every risk eliminated, of complete security and with all of our desires met without any effort of our own, is not likely to result in growth or deep understanding. If all of our basic human needs are to be supplied by someone seemingly more intelligent, with more resources and more personal power than ourselves, where is our own growth and self actualization? If only another can provide, what happens to our own power of choice? We will ultimately view those providers with envy.  Will we only participate begrudgingly in a system from which we will always want more? Will we always look to others to provide easy solutions for ourselves without assessing our own responsibility?

The conversation I had with my host grandfather, so many years ago has come to mind frequently in the last months. As we  have all acquiesced to following the ever increasing limiting rules for our own safety and security, I remember his need to explain. As we continue to obey every new level of restriction, we are relinquishing control over our own lives at each step. We are trading our own individual judgement and power for the false promise of complete safety and life without risk. 

Despite my own struggles with the fear and anxiety due to the threat to the health of myself and my family, I have lived long enough to know that life without risk really just doesn't exist. It just doesn't work that way. We take precautions but none of us really live a single day without risk. If we do, it is not likely to be a very satisfying life. Living  life while attempting to be completely safe and watching others around me attempt the same, the fear that has grown in me has been the fear of our entire citizenry living in complete compliance. The anxiety churning in me during this ongoing lengthy crisis is of being surrounded by others controlled by the power of false safety. I fear living in the midst of the willingness of others to march lock step without evaluating the situation. Seeing completely unquestioned compliance with power terrifies me beyond the fear I have of an illness.

It all has served as a reminder to think for myself, encourage my grown children to do the same and to value the freedom we have had the good fortune to be born into. I pray that I will have the courage to continue to trust my own thinking, speak it when helpful and to act on it when needed.

He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security. - Benjamin Franklin

As a result of current events,
I've been digging more into
history. Currently reading
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.
Find good books!

Another thought provoking resource for deeper insights, I found:

Friday, September 25, 2020

Shelter At Home Rewards & Memories 2020

As our time sheltering in place with everyone at home has come to a close, it is with anticipation that I am looking to the future again. Our three young adult offspring have all headed back to their own individual residences, to their now, somewhat altered lives and activities, that were only just beginning and abruptly interrupted last spring. I am thankful for any and all of the opportunities for them to begin again, to take even small steps back into the world, beyond our home in lockdown. 

However, the transition back into the world warrants some reflection as well, especially given that the unexpected extra time together provided many joyful moments and a significant amount of productive activities together. 

Below are a few photo highlights documenting some of the goodness we redeemed while being forced to stay home together for an extended time. We attempted to maintain a tone of gratitude during the unusual circumstance that was so frequently and accurately described as unprecedented. Reflecting on all we gained, I hope to hold the many precious memories as reminders to approach the future with courage and even awe after seeing what can come from such uncertainty. I suspect that ongoing courage will be needed as we continue 2020.

So as for the many memories, first and foremost; food, delicious food. Our kitchen got busy again with more people to prepare and have meals with. The unscheduled extended time offered the chance for lots of baking to happen and breaking bread together. 

Creativity and making... sewing and embroidery. My daughter and I both enjoy making things; both the process and the results. Needles, thread, scissors kept our hands busy and led to more ideas than we could actual bring to fruition. 

Sewing, knitting, teaching Adah new sewing skills with the added advantage of being available to answer her questions on technique immediately was a delight. Making is a joy we have cultivated together. I am thankful to have so many shared interests.

Adah produced new items for herself and added items to her Etsy shop. Online shops provide an easy opportunity to learn about having a business. 

My sons and I enjoy photography. We work in collaboration sometimes and have all contributed to documenting Adah's making, modeling and dancing. We took advantage of the shut down's slow traffic and relative empty local business district for photo walks together.

Asher, son number two, has moved into video editing, he was the guy behind the camera for a dance video idea I had. Communicating that idea to him and collaborating with him as videographer and Adah as dancer and choreographer was great artistic fun. Can't wait to see his final edit on this one!

And finally Adah, had the opportunity to get in enough drive time practice to be ready to test at the DMV once it was open again. She tested successfully and obtained her driver's license. She is happy, proud and enjoying more independence as a result.  We are all ready to get on with this journey that is 2020!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Trust in 2020

For the last couple of years, inspired by other bloggers, I have chosen a personal word of the year. Just a single word to return to throughout the year, to keep a particular idea or goal in mind when I need a simple reminder to return from the drift.

Early in 2020, one word, as a likely candidate  for my word of the year, didn't come readily to mind. Since it didn't come easily, I didn't force it and I didn't write a 'word of the year' blog post. Sometime during the weeks, (or was it months?) after the beginning of the new year, a word surfaced that resonated for me. That word that kept surfacing was 'trust'.

Appropriately, given the adjustments to our new family configuration of teens and young adults moving out of the house (mostly), I was in a new season. I needed to trust the process, as I re-imagined and restructured my life with more options for myself with time to pursue my own individual goals. Somehow during that process in the early months of a new year, I skipped writing about and sharing my 2020 word choice.

Fast forward into the second half of 2020... now.

Here we are - all of us, myself, my husband, my young adult children and undoubtedly, you, too, in the wildest overtly most uncertain year of most any - in our lifetimes.

My unacknowledged word of the year has come in handy and not in the ways I initially imagined it would. I have turned it over and over in my mind. I have turned to it regularly and clung to it. It might have begun as a word to focus on, as a hopeful hedge against the concerns of my children's forays into their new beginnings, or as simple motivation to keep taking the next step myself, as I restructured my own time and goals, but for obvious reasons, it became a word, a thought, a concept that has meant much more. Trust in those expected areas of transition, in the first few months of 2020, was it seems now, relatively easy. Looking back, those changes were just par for the course, hardly an overwhelming challenge. Trust - no problem - I've got this!

And then..... mid-march, it all hit the proverbial fan. Pandemic, bring and welcome all three kids back home, additionally my husband began to work from home, online work from home for everyone, online classes to complete the year's educational goals for two, including dance classes via zoom in the living room for my daughter. No in person church, gatherings or even meetings with friends,  shopping for groceries equals a whole new adventure. Each of those experiences individually haven't been too hard, but piling them up, one on top of another has caused some trembling.

You know - you've been adjusting to the same things.

“Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing.”
― Emma Donoghue, Room
Somewhere, in the midst of all of this, is when my word of the year, chosen but somewhat forgotten and not publicly shared, became internally louder. It remains, my one word hold on peace. I think it, I speak it, I pray it - daily and not because it is automatic for me to do so. I use it against the other word that comes more readily and unbidden to mind.

I use my intentionally chosen word against the word that comes more naturally, viscerally invading so much of  my experience these days. I use it against that word, that feeling, that comes oppressively heavy handed in 2020. Trust, repeated again and again. Breath in, breath out - trust - to fight the thief, and replace the the word that is, fear.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Shelter In Place Low Cost Meal Ideas

We began stocking up on staples a week or so before the official #stayhome directive. The most important ingredients on our grocery lists were inexpensive, easy to store, healthy ingredients to keep on hand. (We weren't really thinking toilet paper, at that point). The following recipes (loosely defined)  and the listed ingredients are all ones that we have generally kept on hand in our family larder. Beans and and rice have consistently been a staple in our kitchen because of the low cost and easy storage.  They also provide substantial nutritional value especially for the price.

If you happen to be a Dave Ramsey follower, you will know that he frequently recommends "rice and beans, beans and rice" as a low cost meal suggestion to reduce food costs and assist in attaining financial goals. I don't know how many people take his suggestion literally but we've been using those two ingredients in our family's diet long before we ever knew who Dave Ramsey was.

We have always included beans and rice as regular meal items in our family menus. Dried beans are inexpensive and healthy. Thy are an excellent source of protein that store well for long periods of time. The only downside of dried beans, in my opinion, is in the planning and preparing side. Dried beans need to be soaked in advance to allow for a shortened cooking time, so failing to plan ahead can lead to a change in plans for a meal. One fail to plan back up is to keep canned beans on hand as well as dried.

A few of the basic meal ideas that we start from are below. Most include the extraordinary high value per $ power of dried bean nutrition. All are easily adapted to personal taste or what is on hand in the pantry.

Kidney and/or black beans. Canned stewed tomatoes.
Diced peppers and onion sauteed lightly.
Frozen corn kernels.
Ground turkey or ground beef.
Season with chili powder, garlic.

Navy Bean Soup
Navy or white beans.
Sliced carrots. Cubed potatoes.
Saute onions and garlic.

Soft Tacos served with rice.
Pinto beans in tortillas (flour or corn).
Serve with rice and other yummy additions, like sliced avocado, sliced sauteed peppers, cheese for individual garnishing.

Split Pea Soup with potatoes carrots and onions.
Yellow or green split peas. Add chicken broth if you have any.

Garbanzo beans, sometimes referred to as chick peas blended with the following;
Olive oil
Optional additions: Pumpkin. I try to keep canned pumpkin on hand.
Serve with bread.

Other low cost, easy to store ingredients to create from:

Pasta. Any kind of noodles.
So many possible variations:
All the options can include serving with veggies on the side or over the top.
Saute veggies to add. Frozen veggies are easy to store.
Make a pasta salad or a casserole that includes tuna.
Serve noodles with a peanut sauce; so simple, heat peanut butter with added water. Add soy sauce to taste.
Serve noodles with spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes.

Dried Oats for oatmeal
Add peanut butter & sliced banana. Both affordable and easy to store.

I'm sure by now, most visitors here have adapted to the current normal. Even within the stay safe  restrictions, most of us can eat healthy and remain within a budget that helps our finances stay healthy, too. If you situation makes that extremely difficult, please reach out for assistance in your community. We are all in this together!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Slow Projects

As someone who has a variety of artistic interests, I have often found myself wanting more time to spend pursuing an art or craft idea. Designing and making things is fulfilling. I have in some years, particularly while in the thick of homeschooling my kids, found it difficult to consistently block out time to focus on my art.

I always have a backlog of creative projects waiting for me. I enjoy creating designs for embroidery and stitching them. There is usually a hat, scarf or baby blanket on my knitting needles. I frequently have an idea for a drawing or painting floating around in my mind.

Our new lifestyle of an empty nest has opened up the prospect of bigger blocks of time for me to follow through on more of those ideas. Over the last several months, I have been developing the routines I need to really dig into my own creative pursuits again.

Now with the social distancing and shelter in place directives our home has suddenly returned to full and overflowing. Even with a full house, I have been able to utilize the forced time at home productively and creatively.

While it is currently a scary time in the world with social distancing and shelter in place orders in effect in Illinois, I can't say that I mind the slowing down aspect of it all. Even with the return again to a full house, I am have been able to utilize the forced at home time productively and creatively.

So far I have completed one, left from last year (lol) Christmas project, made progress on a pieced baby blanket and worked on more than one painting. I have also enjoyed getting out the watercolor paints for shared time creative experimentation time with my 18 year old daughter. Sharing the creative process with her is such a delight. We have been working on sewing some clothing items for her, as well.

For myself, an ongoing creative project can begin with a favorite image I've captured with my camera. I enjoy exploring a variety of ways to present an image. Using different mediums to create the same or similar composition allows me to emphasize different aspects that are interesting.

I am missing my forays out into the world with my camera but I  have plenty stored and ready for some editing. Many have been taken as a way for me to record an image idea for future inspiration and use as a catalyst for new ways to explore an image. Below are a few visuals from one of those adventures.

One thing leads to another...

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Reality

They just keep coming, transitions, adjustments and overall new realities in our lives. In our home, we recently experienced a big taste of an empty nest as each of our three launched into the big wide world. One set out on his own with a job and into an apartment. Another for his final two years of college, at a university about a 100 miles away, the third and 'baby' to pursue dance training in a city about 500 miles away.

And then the return began, with the awareness  of COVID-19. The threats it presents have been shaping a new reality. Due to the demands for health and safety for, ourselves, our neighbors and communities, they have all three dove back into the nest of our home. It is in many ways, lovely to have them here. Due to the surprise of it, it is in many ways a more impact-ful change than their leaving was. It is lifestyle altering again for each of us individually and for all us as a family. From a family perspective it is a return to a former stage of family life but not of parenting.  From an entire life, work and world perspective, it is a new reality, beyond what any of us have confronted before.

For how long? Who knows? Make plans? Live in the moment?

As a former homeschooling family with three young adult graduates, I have been used to having everyone home. Some seasons included more inside all together time than others. Some seasons were filled with activities, schedules and commitments.

There were weeks of jam packed schedules with activities of travel, work, sports participation, volunteering and other obligations. Other seasons, there were quieter times of stay at home art projects, outdoor nature wanderings, backyard picnics, lots of read aloud time. They were in our homeschooling years frequent days of unstructured time without a schedule.

There were many days when the three kids began some self-
initiated or group project among themselves. I rarely interrupted those self initiated endeavors with my own agenda. A day of them recording their own "radio show" on an old tape recorder, home developed animated lego videos, as just a couple of examples, seemed to have, potentially, more value than would have been gleaned from a lesson from an academic program I could impose.

Even in those free for all, unstructured times it was valuable to approach the day with a routine. To begin together with a breakfast or brunch gathering, a read aloud or a check-in to see what was on everyone's list of to do lists. and pursuits.

Winter was generally a more low key for us but it also frequently, meant responding to what the weather prompted. There were ongoing commitments to neighbors to shovel snow, deliver the local weekly paper despite the cold or assess the temps that produced the right conditions to skate in the backyard rink.

All the many activities and experiences contributed to real life learning and skills; math, reading, writing, communication, project management, along with some joys and disappointments along the way.

So for now, sweet families, try to enjoy each other and your time together. Choose happiness. Choose to be positive. Choose to see the blessings. Relax, meditate, breathe, pray, read, think. Let your mind empty, wander, enjoy the quiet moment and the chaos. Be willing to see what brilliance you yourself posses and can discover in each of those you are sheltered in place with.

What the World Needs Now - for Virtual Orchestra

Beautiful Work!

Berklee College of Music Students
Produced by Shelbie Rassler

All credits on the original post. Please view and share.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Reading: 1st Quarter Goals Accomplished

Apparently recording, reviewing and sharing my own 2020 reading goals on this blog, on a monthly basis, is at this time, a little beyond my reach. My new plan for the blog is to post my reading accomplishments quarterly. First quarter list below:

I set reading goals for myself for the year of 2020.
These titles are the ones I've gotten through during the first three months of 2020. I am noticing  the rewards of being intentional with my own reading again. I've been choosing titles based on the goals I set of two fiction, two non-fiction and one audio per month. I'm feeling the rewards and the challenges of actually consistently setting aside time to engage in the printed word. Now, with the added changes to all of our lives this year, having this goal continues to be a helpful. I expected social distancing to create an atmosphere for increased reading. Despite remaining at home, the world situation has actually made it more difficult for me to focus.

Reaping the Benefits of Reading

Setting a reading goal for myself at the beginning of the new year propelled my reading back to where it has been at other times in my life. I have found sitting with a good book to still be as pleasurable as it has always been throughout my life. Immersing myself in a good story, or theory or approach of an accomplished writer is so very satisfying. Attempting to apply an approach and/or instigating conversation beyond the books has contributed to deepening relationships and added joy in my current life in only the past two short months. Honestly, it has!

My 2020 list so far.



Atomic Habits, An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
The Legacy Journey. A radical View of Biblical Wealth by Dave Ramsey

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Taken for Granted by Gianno Caldwell
One Simple Act by Debbie Macomber
All the Places to Go How Will You Know by John Ortberg

The Enchanted Hour The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon
This is my new favorite regarding the joy of reading aloud.


Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls
The Glass Castle A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
A bit more about these two titles on an earlier post.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

And one audio. 

I love this option from our library. Digital listening allows me to knit while listening to a good book. For ongoing inspiration, Sarah Mackenzie's was a perfect listen to read.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

Social distancing has presented the opportunity for more reading. In recent weeks, when I have been able to get started with a good read, I have found the time reading to be a welcomed escape from the anxiety that currently shapes the world and has managed to intrude into our homes and lives. Taking the time to dive into a good story, individually, gives us a break from our current day to day concerns. We might discover a better point of view from which to approach our intended plans. If we are sharing the experience of reading a title with others for a book group discussion or as a read aloud we share the experience of thinking about higher ideas or another's story and have another basis for deeper connections and creating community. My hope is for my family, friends and everyone, really, to enjoy the benefits from picking up a former favorite title or a recommended new one during this unprecedented beginning to a new year.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Reading for Me

The first month of 2020 is gone. February is flying fast right behind. I didn't and I haven't in the past made many resolutions or used the year's beginning as the only time to set goals but this year I did set some reading goals for myself. I have planned to read one fiction, one non-fiction and listen to one audio book each month of 2020. One and a half months into 2020 and I have exceeded my goal. I have been thoroughly enjoying my reading for myself based on my own interests.

While browsing at a bookstore, I discovered the Literary Journeys A Readers' Journal. A small splurge has me recording the books I'm reading this year. I indulged myself and bought the reader's journal for the sole purpose of recording my own reading progress. In the past I've keep a running list in a word doc but I have often skipped adding what I've read to the list and though I've added notes about some titles, the list method just wasn't inspiring me to keep track anymore.

For the first time, I set a New Year's reading goal for myself for the new year. Entering 2020 with an empty nest, I have felt the need to establish more than a few new routines. Reading has brought me hours of joy through out the years so it's time for me to intentionally return to that experience intentionally and regularly.

It's been awhile since I've read a novel just for the sheer joy of reading. The first novel for my reading year was Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls.

Half Broke Horses led me straight to another title of Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle A Memoir. This recounting of her life story was fascinating and in some spots a little to close to home. In particular her description of her father's process of detoxing from alcohol, an experience I witnessed with my own father when I was a teen. Despite the fact that this is based on the authors life story I found myself frustrated with the ongoing dysfunction of her parents. Had this been a fictional novel I would have put it aside for the lack of resolution. Given that it was someones real life, I kept reading. Thankfully the story does have some redeeming resolution. You'll have to read it to discover the outcomes for yourself.

To add to the fun and my own sense of accomplishment, I'm keeping track of the titles by recording what I've read in a reading journal. While browsing at a local bookstore, I discovered the Literary Journeys A Readers' Journal. The small splurge of purchasing the journal has me listing the books with the sole purpose of recording my own reading progress. In the past, I've keep a running list in a word doc but have often skipped adding what I've read to the list and though I've added notes occasionally about some titles, the list method just wasn't inspiring me to keep track anymore. With space provided in the journal to include notes, other titles by the same author, writing down thoughts inspired and quotes by authors in one place, it is helping me to see my reading journey as a process of growth and the motivation to keep it up.