Reflections on Normandy

This past Fourth of July weekend, 2021, my husband Steve and I visited the five beaches of the World War II Normandy invasion in France. I felt at the time that once I returned home, I wanted to share the experience in a Blog. However, after several weeks of trying to process it all, I felt overwhelmed. Where does one begin? How do you encapsulate that much history, that much heroism, that much sacrifice in a simple Blog, and should a person even try? So much has already been written.

A memorial star left on Omaha Beach. We add a shell to the collection.

Would my words sound trivial? No wonder so many veterans find it difficult to share their stories. Yet, for my own sake, I wanted to put it in writing. There were some memories, some photos, some facts and quotes I didn’t want to ever fade from my memory. Some photos are from museums we visited; some quotes from books I browsed through in search of that personal, emotional connection.

Shortly after midnight, June 6, 1944, 13,000 paratroopers descended from the sky to secure their objectives and await additional troops arriving by sea. Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower in charge of Operation Overlord, decided to invade in part because the weather was rough and Nazi planes were grounded. However, this also created complications for the Allies. The paratroopers missed their intended landing zones which caused some confusion on the ground.

            “I wondered where the heck I was when I hit the ground. I spent all night trying to find my way in the dark toward my rendezvous point near the coast, dodging enemy patrols the whole way.”

– Jan De Vries

            In the dark of night.

            Behind enemy lines.

            A movement in the bushes.

            A simple handheld clicker

             to know if it is a

              friend or foe.

            One click: Are you an ally?

            Two clicks: Yes!

Dawn breaks the morning of D-Day. Ground troops land across five assault beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword which stretch along 50 miles of coastline.

Three of the code names for the beaches were named after types of fish: Goldfish, Swordfish, and Jellyfish abbreviated to Gold, Sword and Jelly. Winston Churchill considered “Jelly” to be inappropriate, so it was changed to Juno.

The invasion consisted of 73,000 Americans who landed on the beaches of Utah and Omaha; 61,715 British troops landed at Gold and Sword; 21,400 Canadians landed at Juno.

Planes dropped 13,000 bombs before the landing, but they completely missed their targets, resulting in Omaha Beach becoming a horrific killing zone, with the wounded left to drown in the rising tide. (The movie “Saving Private Ryan” portrays some of the events that took place here.)

German bunker

            “This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful, and unrelenting harshness.”

 – Adolf Hitler

            “For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke, British political statesman 1729-1797

            “Oh Kitty, the best part of the invasion is that I have a feeling that friends are on the way.”

Anne Frank – Diary entry on June 6, 1944

Steve and I take a few days to walk all five beaches. I walk behind my husband, himself a veteran, and capture a few photos of him, lost in his thoughts. It was the same when we walked the paths at Gettysburg.

I find myself wondering what goes through the mind of a veteran when he visits places like this.

            “The soil of France is really a sacred soil. All those who follow the path of freedom must feel themselves penetrated by the spirit of camaraderie and solidarity which animated the soldiers of the Allied forces who fought along this road in 1944. The same unity is still necessary if we are to maintain respect for human dignity and freedom in the world and ensure peace for present and future generations.” – General Dwight Eisenhower

As we walk Omaha Beach, we pass by an older gentleman who is sitting on a stump alone, gazing out to sea over the dunes, with a far-away, wistful look in his eyes. I find myself wondering if he is a veteran – where his thoughts are taking him. A little later we walk by a memorial statue, and I’m struck by the similarity of what we had just witnessed.

After leaving the beaches, we drive back to the town of Ste. Mere Eglise, the first city in France liberated by the Allies.

The town square with its beautiful 12th century church was the scene of intense fighting, the night the paratroopers made their landing.

Paratrooper John Steele from Metropolis, Illinois (home of Superman) found himself caught on the church steeple, dangling from his parachute. Three hours later he was captured by German soldiers and taken prisoner. Four days later, he managed to escape and find his way back to the front line. The village of Ste. Mere Eglise chose to memorialize him and placed a replica of a paratrooper dangling from the steeple.

A film crew descended on the village in the early 1960s and produced the iconic movie “The Longest Day” on this site, which was later released in 1962, and catapulted John Steele to fame.

Scene from making of the movie
Inside the church which sustained much damage during the war
A beautiful stained glass window honors the memory of the paratroopers

Steve and I take the time to walk around the village square in front of the church, where there are various displays of old war photos of the town and quotes from various veterans. I snatch a few photos of the veterans with their grizzled faces and eyes that had witnessed too much pain and suffering.

There are various before and after photos of the town buildings, as well as old photos of veterans in front of the church. There are photos of G.I.s handing out candy and gum to the children and receiving kisses from young French girls. There are photos of soldiers helping the elderly. These were not cold-hearted killers; they were young men with kind, compassionate hearts, and a willingness to lay down their lives for the cause of freedom.

A few years ago, thousands of people descended on this town to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.

The day we visited the streets were quiet and peaceful and much more conducive for reflection. We enjoyed the feeling of having the town to ourselves to explore.

Flags are still flown in front of many businesses and homes
The people of Normandy have not forgotten.
The patisseries are always so inviting!
The local flower shop
A clever name for a local beauty salon

We ended our visit to Normandy with a visit to one of the large cemeteries with row upon row of white crosses. Once again, we were grateful to not have to deal with masses of tourists. A group of teenagers walked by laughing and chatting away, but for the most part, visitors were very quiet and respectful.

I walked between some of the rows and just wanted to stop in front of one cross for a few minutes of quiet reflection, to pay my respect and just to feel like I had made a personal connection.  One cross seemed to catch my attention – the cross of Jack Catlin from Oklahoma. I stood for a while and wondered about Jack. Was he an only son? Did he leave behind a sweetheart? Had they planned to marry after the war? He died an unsung hero, and yet I stood in front of his cross that day and honored him, along with the thousands of others buried with him. Words seem inadequate to express any kind of gratitude. Willy Parr (British 6th Airborne Division) said it well, “They gave up all their tomorrows for our today.”

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Watercolors

One of my favorite mediums of painting is watercolors. I got to thinking about it the other day and just started jotting down some of the life lessons I’ve learned while endeavoring to improve my skills. It is not any easy art form to master by any means, and the life lessons are even more challenging.

  • A light hand is always more effective and pleasing.
  • Too much control can be devastating.
  • Hard edges are unsettling. Relax. Loosen up.
  • Simplicity. Simplicity. Simplicity. Less is more. Don’t overwork or everything will turn into mud.
  • Learn how to control the flow…then release it to work its magic.
  • Identify the source of your light.
  • Darkness brings out the beauty of the light.
  • Balance is tricky…it can be overdone.
  • Perspective is key.
  •  Identify your area of focus.
  •  Learn from others; but being original is always best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. You are your own worst critic.
  • Patience is a virtue.
  • One step at a time. Don’t rush it.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
  • Sometimes you just need to walk away and take a break. Nothing good gets accomplished when you’re too tired.
  • Train your eye to observe. Mother Nature is the best teacher.
  • Timing is everything. Don’t try to overwork something that is all dried up.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • There are many different colors in the palette. Some mix well; some don’t. Some complement each other; some don’t.
  • There are many different kinds of brushes; they all respond to different amounts of pressure.
  •  If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes a mistake can be turned into something unique and charming.
  • We learn from our mistakes.
  • Practice makes perfect.

My Box of Treasures

I had only been married a year, when I learned a valuable lesson. Actually, I had already learned it many years prior, but sometimes in the busyness and distractions of life, we have to be reminded. It’s so easy to lose focus of what really matters in this life. Is it because we’ve lost sight of what’s coming in the next life?

My husband Steve and I lived in a rental home in town our first year of marriage, until our landlady decided she wanted to move back in, so we had to pack up and move out. We borrowed a friend’s pickup, and thus began several round-trips to our home in the country. I had taken special care to pack one of our boxes with some of my treasures that were rather fragile. I had planned to make sure this box made it to the inside of the truck, but in all the chaos of moving, I lost track of it and it ended up being packed in the bed of the truck. Just before leaving on our first round, I noticed Steve had not tied anything down; no tarp, no rope – nothing. When I questioned him about this, he assured me that the boxes were so tightly fit together that nothing could possibly wedge loose.

We had only driven a few miles down the Interstate when Steve happened to look in the rear-view mirror and uttered the fateful word, “Uh-oh!” I turned around in time to see that a box had dislodged and was flying through the air. With a sinking feeling we watched as it crashed in the middle of the road and shattered into a thousand pieces. It could have so easily smashed into a passing vehicle and caused an accident. We quickly stopped and jumped out of the truck to retrieve the pieces before any traffic happened by. One glance at the broken fragments and my heart sank: it was my box of treasures! I stood in the middle of the road holding a fragment of an antique plate, and I just started crying. I could tell it was a piece of the plate that had been gifted to us for our wedding by my step-father’s family. It was a family heirloom that had been in their family for over a hundred years. The plate was hand-painted with beautiful white roses, and I cherished it. I couldn’t even bear to look at anything else, and made a quick run back to the truck, still crying, and leaving Steve to clean up.

Upon arriving at our new home, I got out of the truck and just started walking. At that point I wasn’t in any mood to speak to my husband or even help unload the truck. I think I must have been gone well over an hour, walking country roads through the cornfields. By the time I returned home, I had cried a bucket of tears. Our new neighbors had come over to introduce themselves, and I was a hot mess with swollen eyes. They probably wondered what kind of people were moving into the neighborhood. By this time, Steve had placed the contents of the shattered box on the dining room table. I began sifting through the pieces. Everything was totally destroyed…priceless wedding gifts, cherished mementos, high school and college graduation gifts. I couldn’t help but chide myself for placing so many of my treasures all in one box. After all, everyone knows “not to place all of your eggs in one basket!”

Then the most amazing thing happened. I noticed a flat box laying on the table. I opened it up and discovered it was another wedding gift, another plate, only this plate had survived the crash without so much as a crack or a scratch. It was absolutely the ONLY thing that had survived. It was a beautiful Lenox plate with the design of fruit around the rim. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but wish the beautiful heirloom plate had survived instead of this one.

Three days went by and I continued to MOPE. That’s the best way I know how to describe it. (Not a pleasant time for my poor husband.)  I decided I would go for another walk and try to sort things out. Why had it been MY box of treasures that had become dislodged from the back of the truck? I found myself puzzled about the fruit plate. How and why had it survived? If I had been able to select ONE item to keep, it would have been the gorgeous hand-painted rose plate. I am happy to say that on my walk that day I had an epiphany. All the shattered, broken pieces came together and I finally understood what had happened, and why. On my walk I was reminded of a verse of Scripture found in John 15:16 – “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” That was it! The sign of the FRUIT! The fruit plate was God’s gentle reminder to me to hold on lightly to those things I considered my “treasures.” Yes, they were all beautiful and held great sentimental value, but I would never be able to take them with me into the next life. However, the things that are of true value, WILL follow you into the next life. These are the things the Scriptures refer to as your “fruit.”

Are you finding yourself wondering what the “fruit” is in your life? Let me just mention a few things that it is NOT. It is not your education, your awards, your beautiful home or fancy car. It is not your rich apparel, bank account, stock investments, world travels or accumulation of “stuff.” If you can’t think of any fruit in your life, it’s time to take stock. What exactly are you going to take with you into the next life? Remember, that life will last for eternity. Maybe it’s time to take a walk through the cornfields and sort it out. If you have no cornfields around, a walk through the mountains, along a beach, or city street work really well, too. In closing, I will admit, it is nice to enjoy these “little earthly treasures” we are gifted with. They do bring us a lot of joy. We just have to remember to hold on lightly, and when it’s time to release them, we need to let go graciously and gratefully.

A very short time after this experience took place in my life, I happened to share this story at a ladies Bible study. The following week, one of the ladies presented me with a special gift she had made for me – a beautiful hand-painted china plate of white roses.

I cherish this gift and it has hung on the walls of our home, along with the fruit plate, ever since. They are a silent reminder that we are called to “bear fruit,” and it is a fruit that will remain after all our earthly treasures are gone.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Alone in a German Church

The year 2019 found us moving to Germany due to my husband’s new job assignment. Even though we were both retirement age, the spirit of adventure was calling. Who wouldn’t be excited at the prospects of living in Europe for three years? Oh, the places we could go…the things we could see! Little did we realize at the time that within a few short months there would be a worldwide pandemic and everything would literally shut down – well, almost everything.

The magnificent cathedral in Wiesbaden suffered extensive damage during the war

We soon discovered, that no matter where we went, one thing remained open – the church doors. The doors remained open, and the bells continued to ring, calling the faithful to worship. Of course, strict regulations were in place for congregational meetings. Social distancing and the wearing of masks quickly became a way of life, but the doors remained open throughout the day for passing tourists or for individuals seeking solace and quiet meditation.

Speyer Cathedral -“Why do you design such an intricate design of a bird for the top of the church spire, when no one will ever see it?’ an artisan was asked. “Because God will see it,” he responded.

As we explored various towns with empty streets, the church bells always invited us to step inside sacred walls for a few minutes of reflection. There is nothing that so defines the beauty and majesty of Europe as its cathedrals. As a passing tourist, you walk into these massive structures and you are instantly swallowed up in a cavernous sanctuary surrounded by exquisite stained-glass windows, gilded altars, wooden carvings of saints masterfully crafted, and priceless works of art and paintings of Madonna and Child. You are enveloped in flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and pointed arches. The beauty and majesty of it all can almost be exhausting and overwhelming. I am reminded of a quote from Mark Twain as he visited the art galleries and cathedrals of Europe: “We have seen famous pictures until our eyes are weary with looking at them and refuse to find interest in them any longer.”

Cathedral in Rothenburg ob de Tauber

 In all of the grandeur I have encountered in these places of worship, there has always been one thing that arrested my attention. Interestingly enough, it has been something profound in its simplicity. Each and every time I have visited one of these cathedrals, there have always been one or two individuals sitting alone, close to the altar, quietly meditating and praying. It’s a moving experience to walk into an empty, quiet cathedral and find a worshipper. Somehow it touches my heart; so, I’m sure it must touch the heart of God. Once these individuals notice the presence of tourists, they quietly get up and slip out, and you’re left feeling like you have intruded on sacred ground.

St. Ann’s Cathedral in Sulzbach – named after St. Ann, the patron saint of miners
Inside St. Ann’s
The town of Sulzbach where miners once mined for iron ore. They would make their pilgrimage to the church, walking all night in order to arrive in time for morning worship.

I enjoy taking walks in the little village where we live. It is a small town of 2,000 inhabitants and boasts three small churches. Although they are not cathedrals, they are beautiful in their own right. I stopped one day to take in the beauty of the tolling bells at the Evangelical church. A passerby stopped to speak with me, in perfect English, and let me know that I was welcome to enter the church, that it was always open. I walked in and discovered that I had the privilege of being one of those lone worshippers.

The Catholic church in our village of Edelsfeld
Our 800 year old Romanesque style church
Our Evangelical church

 I went and sat on the front pew and soaked in the simplicity of this little church and the beauty of the bells as they continued to peal their welcome. This was the same church my husband and I had visited for a Christmas Eve service, before the coming of the pandemic. My thoughts went back to that night. The church was packed and we had sat in the balcony, tightly scrunched in between strangers…our last such experience before social distancing became a way of life. We had been advised to arrive early if we wanted a seat. For a half hour we sat with other villagers in total silence. No one even whispered. Then the hour arrived for worship and the bells began to ring in their joyful invitation. We strained to understand the words of the minister as he shared the Christmas story. We caught certain words…Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus…come to Bethlehem. We felt a warm and beautiful spirit, although we couldn’t understand everything. I remember being captivated with the tree that decorated the front altar area. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was the simplicity of the tree and lack of gaudiness that attracted me…small white lights, red globes and white snowflakes. A brass ensemble played beautiful renditions of worship. There were several congregational hymns including my favorite, “Silent Night.”

Little roadside chapels can be seen all over Europe

This particular day, sitting there alone, was a wonderful time of reflection. If you’ve never sat alone in a church, I highly recommend it. You’ll be surprised where your mind and your spirit will take you. You will feel the Presence of God, once you quiet yourself. The contemplation of such an experience might actually terrify some people. They don’t like being alone with their thoughts before an omniscient God. Just remember…He is a God of love, full of compassion, and is described as a “God of all comfort.” If you come as a sinner, He is willing and ready to forgive. He is waiting for you with open arms. The doors of the church are always open. They invite you to come in and find rest for your soul.

“Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20 NLT

Germany (Holy Week 2021)

My husband, Steve, and I visited a wooded path in Ashach today, located in the outskirts of Amberg, Germany. We were invited by our friend, Emma, to visit the Stations of the Cross that had been set up along the trail.

Children, as well as adults, were extended a special invitation to participate in the display. They were asked to submit drawings or artwork representing the Holy Week and the Crucifixion of Christ. These drawings were then displayed from the bushes and tree branches along the path.

The celebration of Easter is of great importance to the citizens of Germany. It seemed, at first, that the government was going to prohibit all church and family gatherings due to the pandemic, but the order was rescinded after a rather strong protest.

Holy Week arrived early this Spring, so most of the trees and bushes have yet to bud, but we did notice a few patches of violets and “liver plant,” as well as several beautiful butterflies that followed us.

At the end of our trail, as we came up on the last station, we were surprised to see that Emma had submitted a copy of one of her own paintings. It depicts a small finch with reddish blotches. The legend states that the finch attempted to pull out the thorns from Jesus’ crown, and drops of blood stained its breast.

In the far background is the church “Wallfahrtskirche Maria Hilf”

After walking the path of the Stations of the Cross, we drove back to the town of Amberg to visit the church on the hill that we had seen from a distance on our hike. Amberg was a Medieval city, first mentioned in 1034. It was an important trading center in the Middle Ages, exporting mainly iron ore and iron products. Next to the beautiful Baroque style cathedral is a Franciscan Monastery, located on what is called the Hill of Our Lady Help of Christians.

The church has an interesting history. It began as a small chapel built during the Bubonic Plague; also known as the Black Plague or Black Death. In the year 1634, up to 40 people a day were dying in the city. The local rector donated a painting of the Madonna and Child, and plans were made to build the small chapel to house the painting, in hopes that it would call parishioners to prayer. A few months later, the plague miraculously stopped. The news of this miracle spread far and wide, and soon pilgrims were making a journey to visit the painting and the chapel. In 1697 construction began on a larger cathedral that included the adjoining small chapel.

A series of stucco Biblical figures, dating back to 1717 line both sides of the sanctuary

The forecourt of the church is characterized by a monumental three-sided staircase of granite steps.

Fresco paintings on the ceiling

The interior of the church has exquisite reliefs and beautiful fresco paintings on the ceiling which describe many Biblical stories. Emma shared an interesting story of one of the murals that depicts a group of people and a dog lying close by. A very well-known artist was commissioned to do the paintings, but he had many students and understudies assisting him. However, only the commissioned artist was allowed to sign his name to the paintings. One of the clever students managed to sneak his name onto the dog’s collar. You can spot the dog in the lower left corner of the middle fresco.

The painting of the original Madonna and Child hangs at the front of the altar

A diorama of the original chapel

The front altar

Visiting the Stations of the Cross today, followed by a visit to the church, caused me to do some serious reflection. I think we have a lot to learn from the survivors of the Bubonic Plague. What was it that caused the miraculous end of the plague; was it not the prayers of the faithful?

 We have now passed the one-year mark of our own plague, Covid19. Things are not much better here in Europe. Now there is news of variants of the plague making an appearance in other parts of the world. Could things get even worse? My question is this: are we Christian believers praying and asking God to intercede for us to stop this pandemic? Or are we looking to our various governments to come up with solutions? I can guarantee you government intervention has its limitations. Man can only do so much with limited resources and limited understanding of this pandemic. Have you heard your pastor or church leaders leading in intercession? Are YOU praying, or are you just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best? God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he allows plagues to try to get our attention.

Like I said, today just caused me to do some serious reflection.

Peruvian Legacy

I am happy to announce the official launching of my book

Peruvian Legacy

It is my hope and prayer that this book will be a real blessing to you. This story chronicles the years my family and I spent in Peru, South America where my parents served as missionaries. It is a story of love, faith, courage and the healing of a broken heart. All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Abrigo Andino (Shelter of the Andes), a ministry located in Arequipa, Peru, directed by fellow MK (Missionary Kid) Sharron Hall. This is an outreach to needy young people, and older adults who have special needs. Your comments and reviews will be greatly appreciated, as it will help to promote the book. Thanking you, in advance, for your support. Special thanks to all of you who lovingly encouraged me in the pursuit of this dream these past five years! Please visit my blog page, Peruvian Legacy, to read a few more details and information about ordering. On this page you can read the book’s Prologue which will hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest of the story!

The Ornament of Joy

Joy is the heart’s harmonious response to the Lord’s song of love. A.W. Tozer

My mother passed away in May of 2016. I remember that following Christmas it was hard for me to feel the usual festive, holiday spirit and joy. For most of us, after all, our mothers were the ones who first introduced us to the joys and beauty of Christmas, and many of our fondest childhood memories are wrapped up in this season. I was struggling with trying to feel the joy, this particular Christmas, but I went ahead and decorated our home and our tree anyway; I knew my mother would want me to.

Once the tree was up and decorated, I noticed an empty spot that still needed an ornament, and the thought ran through my mind…Just like the empty spot in my heart. I looked through the boxes lying around on the floor, but no more ornaments were to be found. I went down to our basement to see if I might not find one more ornament stored in another bin. That’s when I came across the Christmas wreath that I had hung on my mother’s bedroom door. In the center of the wreath, I had hung an ornament. Appropriately, it was an ornament of the word “JOY.” Perfect. I went back to the tree and filled the empty spot with the ornament of joy. As I hung the ornament, I was reminded of our Savior who came into this dark world of sorrow and grief, to fill the empty places of our lives with JOY…and after all, wasn’t that what the celebration of Christmas was all about? The angel announced to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you tidings of GREAT JOY!

 The Psalmist wrote, “In your presence is fulness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) I decided then and there, that if I indeed had the presence of God with me, then I shouldn’t be harboring grief and sorrow. He hadn’t left me. He had actually promised never to leave me or forsake me. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is temporary and fleeting, but JOY…well, it is beyond defining; you must allow yourself to experience it. If you allow the joy in, it will dispel the pain. The words joy and joyous are found 245 times in the Scriptures. The word rejoice shows up 150 times, and we’re instructed to be joyful and rejoice nearly 400 times! You can choose to be joyful regardless of your circumstances.

The year 2020 has proven to be rather challenging on many fronts. Consciously, or subconsciously, we have grieved through a pandemic, the unexpected loss of friends and loved ones, political turmoil, riots and unrest, lockdowns and shutdowns, economic distress, natural disasters, loss of personal freedoms, and the list goes on. in the midst of all of this trauma, however, I am reminded of the words of Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET…I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18.)

Habakkuk understood the source of his joy, despite the circumstances surrounding him at the time that were rather bleak. This Christmas season, my hope is that you will choose joy…and that despite everything that has happened this year, you and your family will experience a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter, and the spirit heals with JOY. (A proverb)

One Thousand Apples

My husband and I have three apple trees in our yard, here in Edelsfeld, Germany. It is now mid-November and two of the trees are well past producing their harvest. However, one of them refuses to quit. I believe it is the original version of “The Giving Tree.” It just keeps giving and giving and giving….

This afternoon I was gathering apples in my buckets once more…hundreds of them…or was it a thousand? It is this way every day. The neighbors now run from me when they see me coming, wanting to bless them with more apples. Truth is, these are the best tasting apples I’ve ever eaten in my life. They are red, sweet, crispy and juicy – unlike the tasteless, mushy ones sold at the grocery stores. We have truly been blessed with a bountiful harvest – a bumper crop. I stop and look up at the tree and notice the branches are still loaded, and I’m reminded of a Scripture verse found in the Song of Solomon 2:5 – Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love. I’m afraid my version would read – Comfort me with love, for I am sick of apples.

All jesting aside, every time I gather up these apples, I am reminded of the abundant blessings that have been poured out on my life. I know there are many people in the world who are starving for even a morsel of food, and would love to sink their teeth into one of these beauties. I think of the story of the young North Korean girl who scrounged for her food and managed to stay alive by eating field mice. My mother became a widow when my brother and I were quite young, and I remember some hard times, but I can honestly say I don’t ever remember going to bed hungry, or not having a warm bed in which to sleep.

I climb up to our balcony to get a birds-eye-view of our tree and see how many more apples might be coming. There are so many still clinging, I can’t even count them, and I’m reminded  of God’s faithfulness…His blessings are too numerous to count…just like my thousand apples. Oh, I haven’t counted them – just an estimate! Some time ago, I decided to keep a gratitude journal and write one thousand things for which I was grateful. I’m now at number 912. I know once I reach one thousand, I will start over on the next thousand.

I look past our tree to the hills that surround our valley and I think back to a time when this village was not quite so peaceful, and people went to bed in blackouts and shivered in fear as the bombs dropped. A memorial plaque stands in front of one of the town churches, honoring lost sons of the war. And that is another one of my thousand blessings: not once have I ever gone to sleep at night in fear for my life. I’ve known nothing but peace in my life. How many people in the world can say that?

Is that why the original owners planted three apple trees, a black-bing cherry tree, a walnut tree and blackberry bushes? Was it this harvest that sustained them during the war years? I am left to wonder. And on and on it goes….counting my blessings. Then I think about another tree…

You see, the original “Giving Tree” was actually planted on a hill called Calvary, and every good and perfect gift flows from that tree. That tree shows us the WAY…the way through the wilderness we sometimes find ourselves in; the way through the darkness into the light; the way home when we are lost. The fruit of that tree is TRUTH that binds itself around our hearts and our minds and protects us from the chaos, evil and deceit that surrounds us in this present world. That tree gives, nourishes and sustains our very LIFE – a life that is eternal. I hope you have this tree planted in your garden – I do and I gather its fruit every day, and I’m always amazed at the abundance of sweetness and goodness. My buckets are overflowing! This tree just keeps giving and giving and giving…it never stops!

So, these are some of my reflections about Thanksgiving and just a few things I am truly grateful for, but it all started with one thousand apples!

Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. Psalm 67:6

A Visit to the Borowski Art in Glass Workshop

My husband Steve and I recently toured the Borowski Art in Glass Workshop in Boleslawieck, Poland. It is very different from any other glass blowing we’ve ever seen in that the glass creations are very contemporary with a fun, whimsical twist. All the sculptures tell stories about particular situations that often translate into comical compositions and characters. The workshop is located in a remodeled, century-old building.

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This is a family run shop owned and operated by Mr. Stanislaw Borowski and his sons, Pawet, Wiktor and Stani Jan. We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Borowski and Pawet during our tour.

Borowski glass gained international recognition in the 1970s with Stanislaw’s engravings and sculptures. There is a photo in the shop featuring the presentation of a Borowski glass sculpture to President Jimmy Carter.

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Mr. Borowski opened his first small shop in 1990, and it now ranks as one of the most acclaimed art glass studios in the world, with appearances in many international exhibits.

During our weekend visit to Poland, we noticed that the soil is very sandy. The Borowskis use a secret formula for their glass making, but I’m sure the native sandy soil of Poland is probably the foundational element.

In an online interview, Mr. Borowski described his difficult, early years of working with glass. His studio was inadequate, cold and icy. He didn’t have proper tools, and had to seek permission to use a diamond saw.

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His creations are rooted in childhood fantasies. His early pieces were small, and he described them as tiny children he had to raise himself, and then give them up.

“There are some of my pieces on display in galleries around the world that I would love to be able to buy back, or steal…but I had to sell them to make a living.”

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“Every step of the way was about gathering knowledge and climbing a ladder.”

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“My work gives me inner satisfaction. It makes me feel complete, like I have accomplished something”

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“It’s up to the public to decide what’s good and what’s bad. ‘Yes, I like that very much,’ or ‘No. I wouldn’t want that in my home.’”

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“All artists need to listen carefully.”

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“I’m not a painter. So I have to remember what I see.”

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“What about the people? They’re still in pieces. What’s the plan? It’s a piece of architecture”

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“When someone asks me what’s the most important medium for my creative work, I always answer “Light!”  – Stani Jan Borowski

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Steve and I were given a special demonstration of some glass blowing. This particular session was the design of a small, whimsical whale. We ended up purchasing one of these whales as a souvenir.

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There is a shop where you can purchase some of these amazing creations, from the smallest pieces to rather large indoor and outdoor sculptures, and there is a garden area that features wooden, clay, metal and glass exhibits of some outdoor sculptures.

All in all, this was an amazing tour, the highlight of which was getting to meet Mr. Borowski and his son Pawet.

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Emma and Her German Garden

IMG_4459First impressions are an intriguing part of life, whether you are experiencing new places or meeting new people. My first impression upon moving to Edelsfeld, Germany was that the residents of our village were not only gardeners, but AVID gardeners who took great pride in their plots of land. Even though my arrival came in early November, when most trees, shrubs and flowers had ceased their growing and blooming, my walks around town and seeing all the neatly cleaned out garden plots assured me that we would be in for a feast for the eyes come spring and summer, and we were not disappointed.

Another first impression was to discover that the German people are genuinely kind and friendly. Being new to this country and to the German language and culture, my husband, Steve, and I were amazingly blessed to meet Emma, a neighbor who lives just a few blocks away. Emma invited us to her Christmas party, sight unseen, based on an email I sent her asking if she would be interested in tutoring us in German. (This connection came about through a “chance conversation” with a total stranger.) We have been in Germany less than a year now, but already Emma has become a dear friend. We have enjoyed dinners, tea, hikes, shopping, plays and concerts together. Steve and I are especially fond of playing with her dog, Ila. Walks with Emma and Ila are not only a pleasure, but a learning experience as she shares her knowledge of native plants, culture and history.

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Shortly after arriving in Germany, I came across the book “Elizabeth and Her German Garden,” by Elizabeth von Arnim, written in 1898. This book reaffirmed my first impression about Germans – they LOVE their gardens! More about Elizabeth later, but that’s where I got the inspiration for this particular blog. I really wanted to document Emma’s amazing garden. Emma was the daughter of farmers, born and raised here in Bavaria, in the little village of Holnstein, a few miles down the road. Her grandparents were also farmers, so hard work and a love for working the soil came naturally to her. Growing up she shared in the farm chores, helping with the cows, chickens and pigs, bailing hay and harvesting potatoes. Once she was finished in her family’s potato field, she would jump on her bike and ride off to her grandparents’ farm to help dig for potatoes in their fields.

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Emma’s ivy covered home in early spring

Emma married and raised three sons here in Edelsfeld, where she and her husband built their home in 1978.  Her father did all the woodwork inside the home, as well as building the framework for the roof. The home is surrounded by a garden, and yard complete with goldfish pond. So…here we go! Come along and have a tour of Emma’s German garden!

We begin by walking out the kitchen door and past the patio table and chairs. Germans, as I believe is true of most people, enjoy eating and relaxing outdoors. Emma picks a plum off one of her trees, carefully removes the pit, and feeds it to Ila, who is following us around. Amazingly, Ila loves plums so much that she literally jumps up and snatches the plums off the lower branches of the tree, eating pit and all.

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Fruit is a staple in most German gardens, as well as vegetables; a carryover from the days not so long ago when people couldn’t afford to buy their produce. If you couldn’t raise your own, it meant going hungry. Besides plum, there is an apple and black bing cherry tree. I must add, every once in awhile our doorbell rings and we are presented with some warm apple fritters, or a slice of cherry or strawberry cake. Emma’s strawberries were some of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten! She grows blackberries, as well. Emma also harvests walnuts from her tree which she uses in baking Christmas cookies, and making caramelized nuts for salad dressing. Next to the trees is a large, open grassy area where her sons’ pony used to graze years ago.

Emma cooks and bakes with everything in her garden, which leads us to the vegetables…tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, green onions, spinach, beet roots, carrots, curry herb, rapunzel, rosemary, fennel, parsley, chives, thyme, and lemon grass.

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In Italy the zucchini blossom is filled with cheese and baked

And what German garden would be complete without flowers? Emma’s flowers are scattered around and in-between all the fruits and vegetables. I’m particularly drawn to the hollyhocks and she shares a humorous story from a friend of hers in Montana. The story goes that in the old days of “outhouses” it was customary to plant hollyhocks around them.  That way when ladies came to visit, they could politely and discreetly ask where the bathroom was by asking, “Have you planted any hollyhocks?”

 

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Wildflowers bloom in every corner, and Emma is quick to remind me that they are important for the bees; even the early spring dandelions are considered important for this reason. The dandelion leaves are used as salad greens, even in some of the nicer restaurants. Emma points out a yellow cone flower which is called a “sun hat” because of its shape. It is considered a healing plant. All the pharmacies have the drops from this flower available to help boost the immune system and it is used in ointments, as well. Another one of her flowers used in medications, creams and ointments is her calendula.

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The sun hat

Other flowers around the garden include tiger lilies, chrysanthemum, anemone, daisies, iris, hydrangeas, sunflowers, morning glories and an interesting blue flower called “widow in the green.”  A large patch of lavender is planted next to the roses to protect them from bugs. Tucked along a sidewall is a patch of thistle which is dried and used in flower arrangements. One other flower I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before is a lavender poppy. Emma reminds me that poppies are native to Afghanistan, and of course the pods contain opium which has had a thriving market in that country for years. However, the seeds from the poppy can also be used for a cooking oil, bread rolls and baking cakes. The more common orange colored poppy Emma refers to as the “Iceland Poppy” as it is one of the few flowers found in Iceland.

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The lavender poppy

I should mention, that Emma collects rain water for her garden, which I have found is quite a common practice with German gardeners. And so ends our tour of Emma’s garden. As I make my way back into the house through the kitchen, I am offered some freshly baked plum cake. To begin with, I am amazed that Emma still finds the time (and energy) to bake, after all of her gardening chores. I find her to be an extraordinary person and a delight to be with. She is a busy mother and grandmother, with some new grandbabies to visit; she is a High School teacher who teaches German, English and Math, and tutors the likes of Americans like Steve and me; she is an avid hiker and walks her dog every day, as well as walking her invalid neighbor’s dog.

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Some of Emma’s watercolor paintings she has designed for her book

She is the author of a children’s book that she illustrated with her own watercolor paintings, and is getting ready to publish her second book; she makes an effort to get to the horse barn several times a week to spend time with her Arabian, Mitrano; she is also a member of a local book club. I have to wonder…where does she find the time to read?

Emma exemplifies to me the “true German spirit”… appreciative of her heritage, industrious, hard-working, organized, friendly and supportive, and a great lover of her garden and nature. Steve and I feel blessed to have her as a neighbor and friend.

And now this brings me back to my original inspiration for this blog, the book “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.” This was a fun and relaxing book to read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, unless you enjoy reading long passages and descriptions of flowers and the joys and trials of gardening. I did find parts of it rather humorous as the author has a sharp wit, but basically it is a plotless book. The beautiful, descriptive language though, makes it a delightful read, and you’re certainly left with an appreciation for the German’s love of gardening and nature. It is also an interesting commentary on society in the Victorian age. It’s a fun book to read if you’re sitting out in your garden patio with a cold ice tea, which come to think of it…is probably where you need to be if you’re reading this blog!

Following are a few more photos of Emma’s garden, and some quotes from “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.”

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My days seemed to melt away in a dream of pink and purple peace.

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The people round about are persuaded that I am, to put it as kindly as possible, exceedingly eccentric, for the news has traveled that I spend the day out of doors with a book, and that no mortal eye has ever seen me sew or cook.

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If it were not for the garden, a German Sunday would be a terrible day.

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The servants wonder why the house should be filled with flowers for one woman by herself, and I long more and more for a kindred spirit. It seems so greedy to have so much loveliness to oneself – but kindred spirits are so very, very rare; I might almost as well cry for the moon. It is true that my garden is full of friends, only – they are dumb.

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Humility, and the most patient perseverance, seem almost as necessary to gardening as rain and sunshine, and every failure must be used as a stepping-stone to something better.

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If Eve had had a spade in paradise and known what to do with it, we should not have had all that sad business of the apple.

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It is so sweet to be sad when one has nothing to be sad about.

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I felt so absolutely happy, and blessed, and thankful, and grateful, that I really cannot describe it.