Friday, February 26, 2016

'The Nightingale' ... Remembering a Trip to Mauthausen

My book club just finished the exquisite book, 'The Nightingale', by Kristin Hannah. When we picked the book, it came with high recommendations ... which didn't stop me from wondering if I would enjoy a book set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. But, I did love it. I highly recommend it. When it ended, I wasn't quite ready to leave. I loved that it was a book about two very different, but equally strong, sisters. I loved that it was a book about resilience ... in particular, that of women trying to survive and protect and, under the most brutal of conditions, make a difference. And, I loved that it felt real. Yes, it is a fictional book, but the non-fiction woven throughout transported me back in time to my visit to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1992. At the time, it wasn't a place I wanted to visit ... but, I knew it was a place I needed to see.

The reflection below comes straight from my college photo book, highlighting my time as an exchange student in Austria. While most of the entries and captions are happy and hilarious, this one is devastatingly solemn. When I put the photo book together, this particular entry was the only one that displayed no photos, just words.

Mauthausen Concentration Camp
October 18, 1992

I suppose the weather was what one would call "perfect" for a trip to a concentration camp - cold and damp, with a constant drizzle falling from the cloudy gray sky. For me, the weather added to the heaviness and gloom that I felt as I walked through the buildings and grounds of the camp. Mauthausen was built beginning in 1938, and was listed as a Level 3 camp, i.e. no return to society. Thousands died in this labor camp under the Nazi regime.

As we entered the camp, the first building our group was shown was a bunker. The rooms in the bunker had wooden bunk beds in them - each bunk bed wide enough to fit one normal-sized man laying flat on his back. The "prisoners", however, were forced to sleep three men to a bed. Even at the extremely emaciated state these men and women were in, this would have been extremely difficult. I'm sure, however, that this must have been one of the only ways they were able to stay warm throughout the night.

Next, we were directed towards the museum, where we were also shown a movie about the holocaust. The things I learned from the movie and museum were disgusting, sickening, and fascinating. Thousands of prisoners were forced to carry large boulders up the steps of the "Stairway of Death." If one of these people were to slip or "get pushed", it would turn into an avalanche of people and stones, killing hundreds. Himler, who was in charge of the camps, stated that he didn't "enjoy" his visits to the camps because they made him "sick to his stomach". While Germans and Austrians usually had some chance of survival, Poles, Russians, and Jews had no chance. Prisoners were usually fed every third day, only three spoonfuls. If they ate more they were beaten to death. When it rained, the prisoners had to lay on the ground and form a human carpet for the S.S. men to walk over so their shoes wouldn't get wet and dirty. No matter what the weather, prisoners had to stand outside from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Towards the end of the movie, I could hardly bring myself to keep my eyes on the screen. I kept forcing myself to watch, however, because it's too easy - in our day and age - to forget the tragedies that occurred so many years ago. It's so easy for us to simply turn our eyes away and not watch. The movie showed piles of emaciated dead bodies; bodies being carelessly thrown into carts; close-ups of bodies covered with flies. The pictures were powerful and frightening. How could any human care so much for dictatorship and so little for human life and dignity? After seeing the movie, I didn't want to be at the camp any longer. Many people came out of the movie in tears.

We continued our tour in an amazing silence - there was absolutely nothing that could be said. We walked through rooms with human-size ovens which were used to incinerate dead bodies, then continued into a room resembling a large communal shower area. The prisoners who walked into this room thought they were going to get a shower . . . instead of water, however, they were sprayed with fatally poisonous gases.

We were led through a torture chamber, and into an area resembling a hallway. This hallway, however, had open spaces on either side, and its walls were chipped and worn. A single sign posted on the wall stated something to the effect of "The chambers on your left and right were once used as storage for dead bodies." I could envision the bodies carelessly piled on top of each other as if they were really there. I stood in that one spot for a long time.

Americans are generally taught in school that the Jews were the prisoners in the concentration camps. However, the Jews were only one of a large number of populations, including black people, Poles, Russians, homosexuals, Germans, Viennese, and many more. Prisoners wore I.D.s which identified why they were in the camp. There were even "special" I.D.s for those who fit more than one category.

After touring the buildings, we were encouraged to walk around the grounds of the camp. Several of us decided to go find the "Stairway of Death". It was raining, and the rocky path leading down to the stairs was slippery. From the path, we could see the cliff that the S.S. would push prisoners off of into the lake far below.

I wanted to take a picture to show my family and friends what this place was like, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. A picture couldn't do justice to what really happened. All anybody would be able to see in a picture would be a lake and a cliff, or steep, rocky stairs, or an empty building ... but, that was not what this place was.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Morning Walk ... Uh, Carry ...

How Zeke and I roll on morning walks when he ...

is not feeling inspired (no human brother & sister, birds, cats, or dogs contained within fences to chase), is feeling stubborn (completely normal), and/or is spooked (by scary Halloween lawn ornaments, other dogs/humans in his path, newspapers wrapped in plastic, or large RVs parked curbside).

I guess we should just call it a morning 'carry'. Silly pup. :-)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sidewalk Chalk Graffiti ... Take 2!

I just had to do one more post highlighting my son's sidewalk chalk graffiti. I love the words and phrases he draws (and, hey ... he took one of my suggestions from my last post! :-)). Sometimes, it's just him ... other times, there are several kids in our driveway creating entertaining images and uplifting words.

The best part is the feedback we hear ... from neighbors we know ("It made my day to walk to the mailbox and see these words!") and exercisers who just happen to be passing by ("We look forward to seeing what word is written on your driveway when we come by each night!").

His artwork continues to be a great reminder to me of how easy it is to share some hope, a little love, and a smile.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Love ...

My son was busy expressing his creativity this weekend ... sidewalk 'graffiti', he called it. He and his younger sister picked all the words ... I had nothing to do with it. I just watched, as words that so perfectly represented the history-making weekend we were in the midst of seemed to appear, one after the other, on the scorching pavement. 

Love ... Peace ... Bold ... Laugh ... Hope ... Joy. All the things we wish for every single soul. If everyone abided by these simple, straightforward words ... I suspect more problems would be solved than created.

I think he did ask me for a word, at one point … but, I liked the direction he was heading, and decided not to add my two cents. I’ve been thinking, though … about words I might suggest, if he asked again. Kindness … Respect … Smile ... and maybe even Forgive.

What word would you add?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Good Things Await ...

Waiting. I don't think I'll ever be very good at it. For me, it is one of the hardest parts of the writing profession. Not just waiting for any response ... waiting for a positive response! So, once again, I'm turning to the outdoors for a little lesson in enjoying and appreciating the wait. Granted, my garden provides a much more colorful and gratifying perspective on waiting than my e-mail in-box. Daily, there are beautiful berries needing to be monitored for ripeness; blossoms foreshadowing the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to come; and new blooms opening on the hydrangeas. It's easy to see that good things await ... and I'm certain that will be the case for the writing as well.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Disturb Us ...

There are times when you hear something that is not necessarily directed just at you, it's shared with a wide audience and you happen to be a part of that audience, but it feels like it was spoken at just the right time and place so that you would hear it.

As I sat, listening to the below prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, specifically the part about our dreams coming true because we dreamed too little or sailed too close the shore, I felt the message settling in.

It isn't that I've dreamed too little ... my dreams are pretty big.

It's that I need to take a different path to get to them, and I keep talking myself out of it ... convincing myself I'll likely fail or the potential financial impact will be too great or I won't have the time I need to make it work. The reasons rotate based on the day ... maybe even the hour. Regardless, they are the wrong reasons to keep close to shore where I feel safe.

It's exactly what I needed to hear.

I think ... :-)

Disturb Us, O Lord

(This prayer is attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake)

Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life when,
having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly,
to venture into wider seas where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Dr. Seuss Quotes to Change Your Life

I came across this wonderful infographic by and - in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday and Read Across America day - had to share it! My absolute favorite is #11 ... it's a keeper, and one to be passed along to my children!

Which one is your favorite? (You don't have to pick just one! :-)).

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Candy Man

The first time I met Sam, I was in the midst of my strength training routine. As I strained and sweated to lift the weights just a few more times, he came around the corner and – extending an old-fashioned doctor’s bag toward me – said brightly, “Would you like a piece of candy?”

I stopped what I was doing and peered into the open pouch on the side of his bag to find a multihued assortment of hard candies. I smiled and asked, "Are there butterscotch discs in there?”

“Oh, yes … I’ve got those,” he said with confidence as he dug his hand into the bag and plucked out a golden disc.

“Thank you!” I said, with the giddiness of a child surveying her haul on Halloween night.

He turned to leave, then stopped and glanced at the weights I was using, “You know those come in lighter versions.”

I laughed.

I soon learned his very appropriate nickname - Sam the Candy Man. I also learned what a treat it is to watch him work the room of fellow ‘Silver Sneakers’ exercise classmates, offering them candy and bringing joy to their faces.

Outgoing and jovial, his response to the question “How are you, Sam?” is – with 99.9 percent certainty – always a hearty “Super Darn Whoppin’!” And, as if he has planned it because he knows I love them, there is always a butterscotch disc sitting atop the array of sweets when he extends his bag to me.

I do realize there are a couple rules being broken with this story. The first time I was approached by Sam, I did – in fact – take candy from a stranger. The very opposite of the rule we drill into our children’s brains.

Second, the candy is being distributed and accepted at a fitness club where, it seems, most people would be working to thwart the effects of such sweet temptations.

But, these broken rules are countered by the simple happiness and feeling of camaraderie his smile, his kind greeting, and his sharing of a small piece of candy bring to my day.

Recently, Sam was wearing a shirt with the caption “SAM-tastic!” splashed across the front. I wholeheartedly agree. And, to that I would add “Sweet”.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Choose Kind

If you and your 5th grade and up child(ren) have not yet read R.J. Palacio's "Wonder" ... do it! It is phenomenal (and the author's FIRST book - - yow!)!
Then, click on the below 'Choose Kind' badge below and join the national movement to 'Choose Kind', proving that each and every act of kindness can make a difference!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Put it on your calendars ... Screen Free Week is coming - April 29 - May 5! Click the link below and enjoy the video!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Luck of the Irish

In honor of St. Patrick's Day ... a re-posting of one of my favorite stories. Enjoy! :-)

I was standing in line at the post office when I heard, “And how long are you going to be?” I looked behind me to see an older man, possibly in his sixties, with an unwavering face and twinkling eyes that just screamed of dry humor and wit. I smiled and laughed, noting that I just had the one box and would make it fast.

I didn’t expect the conversation to continue. Thankfully, it did.

“My wife has me mailing these birthday cards to Ireland,” he continued gruffly. “We’re always sending things over there.”

Being a travel fanatic, I was intrigued. “Ireland, huh,” I responded, “I’ve never been there, but it’s on my list of places I want to visit.”

“Oh, we’ve been there many times … at least a couple dozen,” he said. “Both of our families are from there, and many are still living there.”

“Really?” I asked, “Is that where you met?”

“Oh no …”, he chuckled. “I was an auctioneer. Traveled all over the place. One day, I received a call from a rancher in central Oregon. I was to come pick up some items that would then be auctioned. That’s when I met her.”

“At the ranch?” I asked, amazed at such a chance meeting.

“Yep … she was the rancher’s daughter. That was thirty-some odd years ago … and things have been going downhill ever since,” he added with a sly grin.

“Well … it couldn’t be too bad if you’ve been together for thirty-some years!” I countered with a smile.

“Well, she was quite the successful businesswoman. I couldn’t give that up,” he said with the dry wit that had become the trademark of our short conversation. He then went on to explain that she had owned several thriving businesses – including a clothing shop and a salon – in the very complex we were standing in. “Back in the day, there would be a line of people waiting to get into her salon,” he added with a hint of pride.

I glanced at the service counter where, fortunately, the customers in front of me were having some sort of difficulty with their mailing progress.

“I can’t believe both of you are from Ireland, and you ended up meeting on a ranch out in the middle of central Oregon,” I added.

It was then that he told me that on one of their first trips back to Ireland as a couple, they decided to check into each of their family histories. Through their research, they discovered that their grandparents had been from the exact same small town in Ireland. His had owned a hardware store; hers had owned a grocery store. They traveled to that little town and discovered that – even to that day - his family’s original hardware store and her family’s original grocery store sat on the very same street, right next door to each other.

“Wow,” I said with all the eloquence of a rock. “That is absolutely amazing … a marriage meant to be.”

The customers at the counter retreated and it was my turn.

I mailed my package and turned, intending to smile and convey wishes for a good day with this man who had shared his wonderful story with me.

He was nowhere to be seen.

I couldn't help but smile. ‘A marriage made in heaven’ came to mind. Yes, definitely that … sprinkled with a little ‘Luck of the Irish’, had clearly brought these two individuals together.

My potentially-tedious trip to the post office was made special, with a beautiful and unexpected story of providence usually saved just for the kids and grandkids. It made this German-Irish girl feel a little lucky too!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Seuss-tacular Day!

What's better than Read Across America Day combined with
a Scholastic book fair combined with
a celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday
combined with Grandparents' Day
celebrated by having
visiting readers in the classrooms and
grandparents enjoying a concert put on by the children
plus a special lunch
plus 'Seussville' set up in the gym, complete with
games and candy ...
plus more Cat in the Hat-themed treats in the classroom?!
Not much!
It definitely made for a fabulous Friday
and fun start to the weekend!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taking the Scenic Route ...

Today, I'm remembering this quote ...

Thank you, Mary Engelbreit, for the artwork.
In the corporate world, I met my goals in a very linear fashion ... working hard & smart, thinking before speaking, being fair, having a positive attitude, showing dedication, and maybe a bit of luck and good timing all amounted to promotions that had me climbing the ladder at a very snappy pace.  

The road to becoming a published author has been, well ... much more circuitous, requiring many lessons in patience and a constant pick-yourself-up-again perseverance. It has been filled with wonderfully uplifting feedback, close calls, and so much knowledge gained, but the time and place has just never been exactly right. It will be (hopefully soon!), but - in the mean time - I'll keep reminding myself that this meandering journey is my 'scenic route' to the reward!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy Plate Guy

Long ago, back in the day when I was still participating in the grueling world of dating, my very dear friend was rushed to the hospital. I headed to the hospital the minute I received the call. At one point, when a doctor came in to check on her, I decided to leave her room to give her some privacy. 

That was my first mistake. 

I should have insisted on staying through whatever it was that prompted me to leave!  But no … I was polite and ushered myself to the waiting area.  It was late evening, and the waiting room was quiet and empty.  Except for a hospital employee dressed in scrubs.  I remember thinking that he was cute … and had nice hair.  And, I have to admit I wasn’t terribly disappointed when he started chatting with me … then flirting … and eventually asked me out.

I agreed to the invitation. That was my second mistake.

From what I had seen and heard that evening at the hospital, I pegged him to be the rugged, four-wheel drive driving, sporty type of guy. 

So, imagine my surprise when, upon walking out to his car on our infamous first (and last) date night, I saw a large, dull-butterscotch-colored, 4-door, boat-like sedan … plastered with political bumper stickers.  P-L-A-S-T-E-R-E-D!

As my eyes quickly scanned the myriad of opinions shared via the bumper stickers, everything in me wanted to turn and run!  I decided to give him a chance.  First impressions can be so misleading (by the way … they can also be right!).

Mistake #3 … giving him a chance.

As we drove to the restaurant, talk radio twittering away in the background, he regaled me with all the reasons music radio was bad-bad-bad, along with all the brain-related benefits of talk radio.  A topic that bored my early twenty-something self to tears. 

I began creating escape plans in my head. He continued to chatter about talk radio, as I attempted to figure out the logistics of opening the car door and performing some spectacular maneuver that would effectively and safely fling me from the car, allowing me to land safely on the freeway and quickly escape from being run over by the hundreds of other 60-mile-per-hour-moving cars on the road.  After all, I reasoned, I’d landed safely after parachuting out of a plane. How hard could it be to apply the emergency-landing drop and roll movement I’d been taught to an escape from a moving car?!

I stayed in the car. 

We arrived at Red Robin, ordered, and attempted to make conversation.  As the food on our plates dwindled, he decided it would be a good idea to order dessert.  Red Robin had one of my favorite desserts - apple crisp - so, I folded and ordered along with him. 

That was when he looked at me, then my plate, then up at me again, and asked, “Aren’t you going to make your plate happy?”

“Hmmmm?” I questioned, not certain I’d heard him correctly.

“If you want dessert, you need to eat all the food on your plate.  You need to make your plate a Happy Plate,” he matter-of-factly explained. 

“You know … I’m getting a little bit full.  I think I’ll take the rest to-go,” I replied carefully, not wanted to ruffle any last vestiges of his sanity.  After all … I still needed to get home safely.

Mistake # …. well, I’ve lost count … anyway, that would be letting him drive me to the date location.

Dessert arrived, thank goodness, and I dove into my haven of apple crisp.  But, once again, I quickly got full and had to stop eating before finishing.  I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t notice my very unhappy plate.  Actually, it was a bowl.  With deep sides.  So, I thought there might be a chance that he wouldn’t see the remnants of apple crisp still sitting inside. 

Of course, he did.  But, this time, he went a step further.  After confirming that I was not, in fact, going to be personally making my bowl happy, he took the bowl, spooned what he could of the remaining crisp, and then LICKED the bowl clean. 

At that point, I remember my shoulders slumping a bit, as I looked around to see if anyone I knew was in the restaurant and watching this whole pitiful story play itself out.  Then I turned to my date, and watched him blissfully finish licking the bowl. “There,” he proudly stated, “now it’s happy!”

Unlike me … who was quite the opposite of happy, and just wanted to get home.

But, no.  As luck would have it, a Halloween store had opened up in the same complex as Red Robin.  Not a nice home d├ęcor-type Halloween store, with stylish pumpkins and cute decorative ghosts.  But, the freaky Halloween store, with gory masks and fake blood and cackling voices and grotesque creatures hanging from the walls and ceiling … and that stale, funky smell of I-don’t-know-what.

He was ecstatic over the discovery of this store.  Me … not so much.  Surprise, surprise.  But, being a nice person and a tad concerned about his mental state, I went along with it … walking with him through the store and feigning amusement and delight over the Goth and gore.

Thankfully, the evening ended with me safely arriving back home, sharing a kind thank-you and goodbye, then quickly high-tailing it to my apartment where I promptly locked the door and ran to the window, peeking through the blinds to ensure his car had driven away.

My worst date ever.  But, definitely a memorable and humorous one.

So, thank you, Happy Plate Guy – wherever you are … and, please, stay where you are – for giving me such an unusual, unique, implausible, and – in hindsight – amusing experience. Seriously, though ...