At the US Post Office

Reposted from an untitled draft, dated 2017

—– A scam was in process. At least, what I saw and heard pointed in that direction. The man was elderly, wearing old pants with a partially open mid-seam and frayed hem held up by a safety pin. He spoke loudly, probably due to a hearing deficit, and all of us waiting in line could hear. “I just won two million dollars. They told me to send this in by Tuesday.” He seemed to enjoy sharing the news. For sure, he got my attention.

The clerk I’ve known for years, a veteran employee at our tiny post office that sits sandwiched between a boutique dress shop and a cozy coffee nook. She calmly followed his instructions. Certified mail. He needed to fill out a form. Did he want to receive notification that his mail had been received? It seemed likely that he was sending money in order to receive his so-called prize. Recent reports of fraud had involved a similar situation.

I considered congratulating the gentleman and then asking if his children knew of his good fortune. We could have chatted and maybe, just maybe, I could have helped to prevent …… At least it was a noble thought. No, it was not my business. I convinced myself that the mail clerk, who has had years of experience, would pick up on the clues and try to do something, if indeed it were a scam.

Is she able, by law, to question what someone is sending in the US mail? If I were his daughter wouldn’t I be grateful if a well-intended stranger were to ask a few questions? Could anything I say avert an incident such as loss of money to a scam artist? Probably not. I held my tongue. Perhaps the clerk already knew something and would set his letter aside for investigation. My mind was racing……had I devised a conspiracy theory?

The gal in front of me was fidgeting with her phone the entire time. I don’t think she even noticed the man. The young lady behind me was pregnant and attending to a toddler and a stack of boxes at her feet. She had other things on her mind. I decided to quietly wait my turn and then make a nonchalant comment to the clerk about the lucky lottery winner.

“Do you think that gentleman actually won the lottery?” I blurted out. Not so subtle after all. She shook her head in dismay, while counting out my stamps, and replied. It turned out that she and her colleague have been trying to figure this out for some time. His sister died and left him money. Someone knows about it, she said with certainty. The man comes in frequently with the same announcement of having won a large sum of money and needing to send off a letter to confirm it. He lives in his home with a disabled son. Hm…….my concern was not unwarranted.

I don’t need to know if this particular elderly man was being taken advantage of, but my Saturday morning jaunt to the post office highlighted an increasing problem. Americans live longer today than in any past age. They may suffer from declining physical or mental health and need assistance, yet they have the right to age in their homes and try to care for themselves. For many, in fact, there is no other option. They live alone or with an elderly spouse or even perhaps with a special needs adult child. They may not see or care that their clothes are ripped or hems are hanging loose, but they manage. They want to remain independent and make their own decisions. They are incredibly vulnerable.

The gentleman moved away from the counter and walked slowly toward the door, a bit shaky and cautious with each step. Then he turned and called back to the clerk, “See you next time.” And he left. —–

Sweet Memories

Dear readers  ……

A little camping or cabin excursion may be the perfect pandemic getaway for your family. Perhaps this account will give you inspiration. It was originally published in Ruby for Women, 2018, as “Cabin in the Woods.” Thanks for reading ……   Cindy

It was quite a week! Seven days in a cabin nestled among hardwood trees with a sunny glade in front and paved lane below. Perfect for children with scooters and bikes, the lane became a playground for bunnies and deer in the evening. Nature provided sufficient music for the week, with swells of chirping crickets, piercing bird calls, and strange sounds at night. It was a delightful setting in which all four of us—three granddaughters ages six through thirteen, and one Oma, aka grandmother—were eager for adventure.

Two weeks ahead of time, preparations began: cooking and freezing meatballs and homemade cinnamon rolls; getting out the camping bins to check supplies, restocking paper towels and plastic bags; and adding a whisk and can opener.

Pots and pans are always essential for life at the cabin…..

  • small pot with lid for boiling eggs or water for coffee
  • large pot for cooking corn on the cob, making soup on a rainy day, and rinsing hand-washed dishes (No fancy dishwasher on site!)
  • favorite cast iron griddle for pancakes, French toast, grilled cheese, even scrambled eggs if stirred gently

Speaking of coffee …. it’s a ritual for Oma, first thing in the morning when the children are still asleep. Hot water, paper filter fitted into a large mug, and ground coffee work just fine for that early morning comfort. It’s especially lovely while watching the sun rise from the rustic porch of the cabin or curled up in a comfy chair in the living room with a book or journal. Before long, squeaking bunk beds and the patter of little feet remind me to heat up the griddle and mix up a batch of pancakes.

Not to be forgotten in the preparation is a stash of matches, best stored in a tightly screwed jar, along with a sealed bag of fire starters. These are torn up paper egg cartons. They’ve been covered with candle drippings, to be placed under the kindling of the campfire. During the winter, I repurpose Christmas candle stubs and egg cartons from holiday baking into fire starters.

At least one meal will be cooked outdoors—hot dogs, Bratwurst, burgers, barbeque chicken—and of course it would not be a cabin week without s’mores. Campfires are not just for cooking! They’re for imagining and dreaming, especially enchanting in the cool of the evening, and perfect for sharing stories and songs.

The above-mentioned s’mores consist of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows, and melting chocolate and always cause a sticky mess. My best solution: the large cooking pot filled with warm sudsy water and brought outside to sticky fingers along with a fresh towel to help control the mess, if there is anything like control in this situation.

I’ve learned that plenty of towels is a bonus in many regards. Things can get damp in the woods and there is nothing like a clean drying towel to make the cabin kitchen feel like home. A fresh towel after a hot shower is also a treat!

Now this was a unique week. It rained every day, at times in heavy downpours. We sat at breakfast one morning and discussed an emergency flood plan that included climbing onto the kitchen table, swimming over to the top bunk bed, or climbing one of the gigantic trees by the cabin. One child said she couldn’t climb that high, so we decided to use a strap to connect her to the strongest of us to keep her safe. No one would be lost.

Luckily, the drainage was good. The cabin sat up on a little hillside and streams of water flowed downward all around us. We could see water running off into the woods below. Being at risk was unlikely, but having an escape plan is always a good idea. And, it’s smart to pick a cabin or tent site on high ground!

The sun made an occasional brief appearance, and at each opportunity we got out the scooters or took short walks. One day we enjoyed a quick picnic by the lake, another a jaunt to the playground. What we eliminated from the plan was the lengthy hike to a fire tower—not a good place to be caught in a thunder storm.

Crafts, cooking projects, and inside play became the focus. We painted bird houses and ceramic mugs, acted out fairy tales and hero stories, played board games, and even completed a 500-piece puzzle on the last night. Culinary efforts by the children resulted in a delicious breakfast egg casserole, cinnamon pretzels of unique shapes, and a dinner of black beans and eggs prepared by the eldest granddaughter, who had just returned from Mexico. Every meal tasted delicious!

There were several visits of friends and family, one unexpected cabin lockout that required a volunteer to climb in through an open window, naps among the trees in the hammock, and friendly chats with neighbors. Our gregarious and thoughtful teen suggested next time we should bake cookies early on the first day to take to families as they arrived at their cabins.

One day was sunny from the start with no storms predicted. That was the day we went to the pool. Soaking in the sunshine, splashing and playing games in the water, …. we had a wonderful and totally exhausting day. At bedtime, one child asked: “Oma, did you pray and ask God to give us sunshine so we could go swimming?” She had begged every day to go to the pool regardless of the weather. “I asked God to give us a good day,” I replied. “And He did! Isn’t that wonderful? We can be very thankful.”

Now, with the grandchildren returned safely to their parents, I’m doing laundry, reorganizing the supply bin for next year, taking naps….and feeling grateful!

 

 

 

To market, to market, to buy a fat …..

This is a tough one. They were sweet and docile lambs, without specific names because they had been designated as the ones to go to market. You see, my brave granddaughter is raising a flock of sheep, and in the process is learning both the joys and sacrifices of farm life.

For months she’s been arriving at the barn by 7 AM to feed and nurture her flock, clean out their pens, give them fresh water, and play with them, and then again in the afternoon. Every day. She’s learned to take temperatures and give medicines and to help her dad deliver babies, which arrived en masse from the Finn mothers who are known to be prolific. Some survived, others didn’t. That was an experience for all of us, especially for a fifteen-year-old young woman!

Then it was time for the summer market auction. As it turned out, raising farm animals was a costly undertaking, with feed to purchase, as well as milk supplements for the babies who were competing with their siblings for mama’s milk. Plus, there were  occasional visits from the veterinarian. Part of the arrangement from the onset had been to learn management and business skills and that meant…….sending two of the animals to market.

The auction was a quite an event! The young 4H members groomed their animals and  accompanied them in the show where they competed for ribbons. The next day they bravely escorted them onto the floor again for the sale and …. let them go.

It breaks my heart to think of it now, a few hours later, but also fills me with wonder and respect for the farm families of our communities. What they do is hard work that requires commitment, strength of character, and resilience. I applaud them all!

Post script – I also want to share the positive atmosphere and sense of caring among those at the auction

  • one farm family for another
  • friends who offered generous bids to support the effort
  • those who made a purchase and then gave the animal back and donated the funds or turned the animal over for resale, supplying the tables of hungry families in the community
  • those who took the animal home to their farms
  • the many volunteers who worked at the auction
  • and, most of all, the young people who made it all possible — emerging leaders in our communities. Without a doubt, we can count on them to do amazing things in the future!

Heat Wave

It’s mid-summer and the weatherman warns of excessive heat on the East Coast. As political ads begin to fill the airways, we’re still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, something that’s changed our lives drastically in the past five months.

Notable to me is the great divide that marks our lives. In a phone conversation with a new acquaintance I can tell in the 1st conversation which TV news he is watching, just by the way he speaks of the many riots occurring in our cities. Another friend banters away on FB about peaceful protests in our cities.

A kindly older man in my neighborhood walks daily, always with a stretchy mask covering most of his face and neck, while others stroll along in groups, wearing no masks, laughing and shouting. A lady enters the grocery store and cleans hands and grocery cart handle with the sanitizing cloth provided at the door. Up and down the aisles, she fastidiously cleans her hands again after touching each item.

Several shoppers follow the arrows and 6-feet markers diligently while others move around as usual with no attention to social distancing. A tall food rep in jeans and t-shirt stacks shelves with pretzels wearing a small mask that has slid off his nose. He certainly doesn’t understand the reason for masks or, if he does, isn’t taking it seriously. I find his exposed nose repulsive and quickly side step the situation and head for the cashier.

Young mothers are nearly hysterical in their online conversations re: home schooling curricula, hybrid models, or simply returning to a normal in-person school schedule like the good old days.

COVID relief should include tax benefits for certain people or COVID relief is strictly about victims of the economic shut-down. The police force should be reformed or defunded, depending on your side in this polarizing conflict. It goes on…and I’m sure you’re surrounded by it also.

How sad that we can’t cross the divide and tackle the common enemy together, a pandemic that is unprecedented in our time. We could commit to joining forces in dialog and creative effort, to practicing safety precautions prescribed by experts, and to providing quality care to all who are sick and vulnerable. Surely then we would gain the upper hand in this challenge.

Indeed, we’re having a heat wave in more ways than one!

Shortage in the Ice Cream Aisle

There was evidently a run on mint chocolate chip ice cream! I’d heard about the toilet paper race and didn’t even enter that aisle. It was to be a quick trip to the store, with efforts to stay away from people. I did speak with the lady in the meat section, only to learn there was nothing left in the butcher’s stash behind the mysterious swinging doors. Quickly gathering up a ham from the bin, I headed for the dairy section. A few containers of milk, one carton of eggs, and a supply of cottage cheese lined the shelves. And then, on to the ice cream aisle before I’d escape to outside air and the safe haven of my car.

Creamy green mint sprinkled with chunks of dark chocolate…hm….I could already see it melting and dripping down the sides of a cone.  There were at least eight brands of ice cream and a decent number of options on the shelves, but not one mint chocolate chip remained.  Wanting to move along to the cash register, I hastily selected a runner up—butter pecan—and found the quickest line. Alas, the young man at the register was scratching his nose. Oops…I slipped over to another line and gladly paid for my few items and got away.

Life will probably not be the same when we get beyond this virus. I’ll use my own clean stylus when signing the screen for a credit card purchase, and avoid picking up a pen that hundreds have used before me. A friend decided to wipe down each grocery item with a mild bleach solution, after they had been hand-delivered from the food market. Sterile wipes will be in the car in case I find myself at a fancy restaurant with valet parking—not likely in the near future. However, my steering wheel could use a good wipe-down right now.  I’ll never stop hugging my grandkids, but if anyone is ill, we’ll use a hand gesture from the heart. Or at least try.

Little do we know all that will change, but I suspect education/schools will not be the same. Travel, a beloved activity of so many Americans, will be affected. Cultural events in concert halls and theaters are at risk, along with countless business venues such as restaurants and shops,….

Sad and unexpected as the current health crisis is, we can try to see it as an opportunity. A closer sense of community may grow out of the dismay and uncertainty, as we support each other at a distance. Families will begin to spend more time together playing board games, watching movies, cooking, just talking. Church leaders will invent new ways to connect with their flocks, and teachers will reinvent their skills and curricula to reach students with online instruction.

As for me, I’m quilting and have challenged myself to create a new quilt top each day. My blog, asleep for several months, will be a venue for communicating. Thanks for reading this, by the way. A friend texted to say she’s watching movies and cleaning windows. Another is binging on cross word puzzles to keep her mind stimulated.

Dear reader, I hope you’re taking care of yourself, staying at a distance until this passes, finishing an old project or two, reading a good book, and eating ice cream. If you happen to have mint chocolate chip in the freezer, please enjoy a spoonful for me!

 

 

 

 

Tragic Weekend

By all reports it should have been wonderful. The weatherman had predicted perfect summer weather, just right for a picnic in the park or kayak excursion on the lake. I had invited friends for dinner: the house was ready, shopping was complete except for garden veggies from the local farmer, and freshly baked oatmeal-nut bread was cooling on a rack.
The table was set with blue willow china, a gift from my mother, and I had even dusted and reorganized the shelves of the old corner cupboard. It has a beauty of its own and displays impractical but beloved items, such as a large crystal bowl given by a friend, a pair of tiny Blumenkinder figures purchased in Germany, and white china dessert plates edged in platinum. During the dusting process two of the delicate plates slipped from my hands and shattered on the floor. No worries…”I’ll just clean up the pieces. There are still four plates left and others stacked in a cubby in the kitchen.”
Then breaking news appeared on my phone. Another gun event, known as a m… s…, as if it should have a common name. How many times does it take? Proposed legislation that would help deter such violence gathers dust on desks in fancy offices while our elected leaders enjoy their summer leave. Shock and collective sadness, prayers, and conversation occur after each event, and yet nothing changes. Shortly after the first reported shooting, another occurred in a different city. Unbelievable!
How will history books record these times? I shudder to think of possible chapter headlines.
Mass shootings became commonplace, Americans killing Americans
Gun industry stocks rose at the expense of human life
Politicians were unable to act for the common good due to powerful special interest groups
USA became a dangerous place: freedom without responsibility
The possibilities go on, including Mental health crisis led to frequent mass killings or Violence in the media desensitized citizens.
My little dinner party took place as planned. Guests were jovial, telling stories of good old days and discussing the future. No mention was made of the tragedies that had occurred only hours before. Out of courtesy I let the conversation take its own path during the evening and we enjoyed our friendship! But underneath it all, we knew there were shattered families in sudden grief over lost loved ones, countless individuals suffering physical injuries and uncertain about the days ahead, communities torn apart, and an overwhelming sadness that this is where we are—here in the nation we call home.
I welcome your comments.

…. for the Living

It was an uplifting evening of beautiful music and remembrance. The concert choir of Henderson High School, West Chester, PA, consisting of eighty-nine talented teenagers had paired with a community vocal group, the renowned Brandywine Singers. Their soaring melodies were supported by a fine chamber ensemble, a blend of high school string players and Chesco Pops musicians. Jonathan Kreamer, director, had selected opioid addiction as a focus for the performance, with proceeds benefiting several addiction treatment centers.
Prayers and poems of various religious traditions alternated with inspiring music which floated up to the high rafters of the lovely Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA. Special guests spoke of the opioid addiction crisis including Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs of PA, Jennifer Smith. Ms. Smith referred to opioid addiction as a disease that changes the brain. Recovery is possible, but relapse is common. This is a community issue and we all play a role in the solution. She urged families who are dealing with opioid use concerns to acquire a supply of NARCAN (available at local pharmacies without a presciption). The PA hot line for all to remember is 1-800-622-HELP.
The message was heart-breaking, but it clearly raised awareness among the more than five hundred people in the audience — spell-bound during the presentation. Especially important, in my view, was the fact that many young people were present.
A reverent reading of seventeen names followed, friends and loved ones who were lost to the epidemic in 2017. This was a year in which 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses. Silence followed and then …….. the ethereal sound of treble strings gently entered the space as the feature composition of the evening began. This work was Dan Forrests’s Requiem for the Living.
It was a masterpiece of beauty; the rich sounds of the choir and orchestra, the energy and emotional involvement of the conductor, the magic cast over the audience ……. perfectly fitting for the solemnity of the occasion. Five movements sung in Latin transported us from the Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, to the Lux Aeterna, place of eternal light.
The joyous proclamation of “Hosanna” rang out repeatedly during the Sanctus. My neighbor in the pew, with whom I had shared a crowded space in the second row, turned with a smile and said, “Isn’t this perfect for the eve of Palm Sunday?” Wiping my eyes, I nodded and smiled. We had shared an amazing event, not to be forgotten.
Boisterous applause and a standing ovation were instant at the close of the performance. Within a few seconds the strings had their bows in place again, and we were treated to an encore of the “Hosanna” portion. Beautiful planning ……. while the urgency of the opioid threat had been imprinted on our minds and hearts, Maestro Kreamer sent us back into the world with joyful sounds of optimism.

Creation

The rain began ……

… as a faint rustling, barely noticeable. It was Sunday morning, early. Gardens and fields were already saturated from the long, wet summer. It could not be raining again! Inside, the house was cozy and dry. I pulled open the sliding glass door to check the conditions and decided this was a writing moment…….

Wrapped in a warm fleece robe and sitting by the open door, the contrast was stark with cool air swirling in around my legs. The raindrops became steady and gently washed the earth and found their way into ponds and rivers, already overflowing their banks. Lucky for me, my house sits high and drainage is good. Not so for many people.

A recent hurricane brought high winds and heavy rain to coastal regions of North Carolina and neighboring states. Hundreds of people remain without electric power and still others have abandoned their homes due to dangerous floods. The natural phenomenon known as Florence will be recorded as one of the most devastating storms to land on our shores.

Meanwhile, Western Europe suffered a hot, dry summer, also a record for the history books. Wheat crops were decimated in some areas and the price of flour has already increased in a society where bread is a staple. In addition, communities are trying to assist thousands of asylum-seeking immigrants who have fled war zones in the Middle East and beyond—these folks need bread too!

Extreme heat and dry conditions have caused dangerous wild fires in our western states. Glaciers are melting, beaches are eroding, ….. Is this normal? Do we learn more about urgent natural situations today than in the past, due to the high level of info sharing? And the speed with which news travels? And the ability of meteorologists to predict weather changes? Have such extreme conditions always made appearances from time to time throughout history? Some folks believe this.

Perhaps I’ll stay here by the window for a few days, quietly observing, drinking tea, and reading. The rain will surely end and the sun will again cast bright dancing patterns onto the balcony and grass beyond. Warmth will flood my little space.

It sounds idyllic. Yes, I’ll wait patiently for the sun to reappear, and my footsteps will be lighter when it does. But also, I’ll read widely to learn from experts who study climate change and the impact of human choices on our planet. I’ll support those who want to protect the environment. I’ll try to live in a way that helps assure a beautiful and healthy world for my grandchildren and their children.

And, I will pray that God gives us the wisdom and courage to stand up for this beautiful creation He made for us. It’s time.

Precious Seeds

The sunflower is looking better. This is no ordinary plant. It grew from the seeds my mother gave me one bright summer day a few weeks before she died. She moved precariously that day, but with the stability of a walker we navigated safely through the large automatic door of her nursing village. We both squinted in the bright sunlight. And then began a tour of her outdoor world: raised bed gardens that residents could reach, bird houses and feeders gathered near large windows, neatly mulched beds by the porch filled with colorful zinnias and all kinds of hosta. Bright white-painted rocking chairs moved in the breeze. A pretty wooden bench beckoned to us, so we sat and rested a bit. I loved those times with my mother.
Then we moved along further and found the sunflowers. It was already late summer and several of the plate-like bursts of color had faded and presented seeds. She ceremoniously reached out to pluck off a few and gave them to me. “Here. You take these. You can plant them in your garden.” She was reaching right into my heart but only later did I fully understand. You see, my mother and I shared a love of gardens, beautiful flowers and herbs, and the practice of cultivating something lovely.
I have never forgotten that day. With time, sadness came as she became ill and eventually left us. But I kept those seeds in a little baggie, a few brown pods that she had gently pressed into my hand from hers, for the day when I would plant them. The time came; the seeds found their way into my little “Secret Garden” and one robust leafy sunflower plant emerged weeks later. Before long it produced tiny buds that grew and grew.
Then one morning as I visited the garden the buds were missing! A deer from the woods nearby had likely smelled the scent of those luscious young morsels and had himself a delicious dinner during the night. My first order of the day was a stop at the garden shop. Before long, a fine spray to safely deter deer and other critters became part of the daily garden routine.
Thankfully, the precious plant has produced more buds. This lovely reminder of my dear mother speaks to me of her courage and resilience, her beauty and strength. The sunflower will live on, along with the memories, and I will guard it with greatest affection. She too lives on in her Heavenly home, where she is surely enveloped in the brilliance of a magnificent field of sunflowers.