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!

 

 

 

Still Work to ……

It’s a stately old mansion, especially at Christmas. Each room is outfitted with damask and velvet, richly-colored Persian rugs, and solid wood furniture with scrolls and marble tops. The dimensions outdo any modern home, even the exquisite ones.

A fireplace in each room once kept residents toasty on cool winter nights in this country estate, just south of the Mason-Dixon line. Today the immense mantles hold collections of glistening balls in tall glass jars and lush arrangements of cream silk flowers with flowing vines. Candles and exotic porcelain vases line window sills. Gas log inserts replace real wood, but flames flicker as before and warm the spaces.

Staircases abound, but the one in the “receiving room,” with balusters and broad steps leading upward on three sides around an immense crystal chandelier, …. It is majestic! Oil paintings hang everywhere and a large window overlooks the garden.

It’s almost time for breakfast, which I ordered last night from the menu attached to the room door. What a treat it was to review the options and select my favorite, along with a choice of serving times. Would I also enjoy coffee brought to my room?

As I write and sip my early coffee, the cook is preparing fresh fruit compote and an organic omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, plus fresh herbs grown on the property. This will be served with cranberry-orange juice, coffee, and a slice of banana nut bread warm from the oven. Guests will find small round breakfast tables in the dining room today, rather than on the terrace. White brocade table coverings reach to the floor, adorned with candles and fresh flowers.

This is a world apart—one that I step into on occasion. I feel joy here, peace, comfort, even love as I settle into a different time and leave the cares of today on the country road at the entrance.

The amazing thing is that my first visit was decades ago. As a young teen, I spent time at a place called Koinonia, near Baltimore, helping a family with young children. They had rented a cottage on the premises in order to attend a conference focused on Christian mission work. Known as the Koinonia Foundation, the organization that owned the property sought to evangelize and educate by going into undeveloped places of the world. They believed that education combats poverty and leads the way to world peace, and it all begins with literacy.

Dr. Frank C. Laubach made Koinonia his USA home-base, as he led the efforts with his “Each One Teach One” method, well-recognized in literacy training programs today. Based on pictures linked with words, his simple, common-sense model required that each learner should teach another. Laubach spent years working in remote villages of Asia and is said to have impacted millions of people.

The occasion of my one-week stay at Koinonia (now Gramercy Mansion) marked the 80th birthday of Dr. Laubach. He was present for cake, and countless guests who knew him personally or knew of his work shared in the celebration. To this day, I am honored to have been there—a young babysitter caring for two children. Little did I know that one day I would again come to the big old house where significant thinking and planning took place, where like-minded individuals pondered what they could do to advance peace and humanitarian causes.

The birthday cake was probably delicious, but what I recall most is the fellowship with young idealistic Christians from all parts of the world. There was international folk dancing in the great hall, and each encounter was a geography lesson as I met people from distant places. This surely was formative in my life, as I later pursued a language teaching career, developed exchange programs to promote cultural understanding, ….. and am still wanting to save the world in my own small way.

The breakfast at this lovely place is delicious, but the memories are second to none. The old mansion house has been repurposed, but its lofty spirit remains. I’ll go home refreshed—-ready to look at my dreams and set new goals. There is still work to be done!

Evening in Advent

Invitations had been sent for a little soiree after the Christmas concert, to be held at my house. Musicians always like to relax together after a performance. “What a great audience! Did you see the little boy in the elf costume? Santa was especially talkative this year.”

Wassail punch would be warm and festive on a cold December night, along with assorted sandwiches, my usual Polynesian crab dip, and the gorgeous chocolate cake I had been eyeing for months at the local bakery. It would serve at least twenty people, so this was the right occasion. I had never dared to purchase it before, but trusted it to taste delicious.

The house was ready: tree glistening by the fireplace, five stockings hanging from the mantel, and candles in place. Menu items were prepared and arranged on Christmas platters and bowls, with tiny labels on the dining room table to mark where each would be placed.

Then the snow began, just a dusting at first. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching birds at the feeder by the kitchen. Performance clothes were laid out and a hot bath waiting, when the email message arrived. “Concert CANCELLED due to inclement weather.”

Of course, this was a good decision for the sake of safety, as two children’s choirs were performing with the orchestra and many people would be driving on treacherous roads. As for the soiree, my house was ready, food in place, and Wassail punch fully prepared, just waiting to be warmed. A final to-do list lay on the kitchen counter—just three simple items. The beautiful chocolate cake sat on a silver platter anticipating hungry guests.

The evening turned out to be quiet and reflective, actually quite enjoyable. I was tired after all that work, and the snow continued to fall in its peaceful loveliness. I decided that getting ready for the post-concert gathering had been a meaningful process. And then it came to mind.

Preparing for a party is like Advent—anticipation of something very special, a time to prepare our hearts to receive the gift of the Christ Child. God’s own son would enter our lives, be a guest at our table, enjoy our company and the humble offerings we have for Him, and turn our lives around. He would impact the world as none other has done.

Fortunately, there was no cancellation of His birth so many years ago. Regardless of weather conditions and over-booking at the inns in Bethlehem, the Baby Jesus arrived safely. And the musicians performed. “Suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.’ ” (Luke 2:14)  Now that was a celebration, and it has been going on for more than two thousand years.

On that recent snowy night, one dear friend braved the weather and came by. We made a dinner out of the holiday party foods and cut two slivers from the scrumptious-looking chocolate cake. It was a perfect Advent evening!

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.

On Music, Life, Faith…

 

It’s springtime and there is music in the air! Lately I’ve been thinking about all that goes into a music performance, specifically that of an orchestra. Of course, there are the musicians who have practiced long hours over many years, purchased expensive instruments, and given up soccer games and chat time and all sorts of life events to attend rehearsals. Indeed, an orchestra requires a conductor, who has studied under the tutelage of other esteemed conductors and passed numerous benchmarks of excellence prior to reaching the podium. This journey has been competitive and demanding.  These are the obvious ingredients of an orchestra—the things we notice when sitting in the audience.

However, music performance requires many behind-the-scene tasks, often unknown to the typical concert-goer. Before each rehearsal and performance, someone must clear the stage of debris and set up chairs. The grand piano and array of percussion instruments must be carefully pushed into place, as well as music stands and microphones. Proper lighting is important so the performers can see their leader and their music.

The list goes on. Backdrops that help direct sound, risers, loud speakers, projectors and screens for special effects, unique devices in the case of live looping……. After the performance all of this must be undone as a courtesy to the next performing group.

Music teachers who attend to the endless details of performance day in our schools deserve a special “shout out” of gratitude. In addition to the above, they teach teamwork and responsibility, explore new compositions, design interesting programs, order and file music, …… AND patiently endure the squawks and squeaks of young learners.

Another lesser-known preparation for performance that occurs behind the scenes is the marking of music. For example, the section leader for the string players normally provides markings in advance of the first rehearsal. This requires skill and time. I just spent forty-five minutes with my coffee and computer, copying tiny symbols from screen to paper, each with an important purpose. Does the bow move upward or downward on this pick-up note? Do we slur four or eight notes together? A typical page of 1st violin music contains as many as twenty-five markings. Is this passage suddenly louder as indicated by the publisher or does the conductor wish to keep the volume at mezzo forte. There is an important pause at the end of bar three. I better pay attention to that. This fast section is best played in the fourth position. Better circle the D #.

Recently, while marking my violin score, I began to think about life. How well prepared am I for the next phase? Have I marked the fast sections and slow in my score, the boisterous and the sublime? Is the fingering written above the notes so that a smooth transition can occur between passages? Are dramatic pauses built into the plan?

Yikes! I am not the least bit prepared if readiness means having every detail in place. In fact, the opposite is true. Spontaneity is a part of my days, and in it I find joy and excitement. Of course, having a plan is important and success is usually related to good organization. However, plans change, other people show up, the music stops and starts again in the middle of the dance. One thing is certain: trust in a loving God makes it possible for me to adapt to the changing rhythms, even sometimes to just take a day at a time. The master plan is not in my hands, to be sure.

So then, how is living life like performing in an orchestra? I can’t imagine an ensemble in which everyone chooses on the spot what dynamic to play, how to finger a passage, or whether or not to extend a note for dramatic effect. This would be chaos. Maybe the analogy is: it’s important in life to set up the stage and anticipate critical landmarks. Beyond that, we simply must trust the conductor.