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. —–

The kayak glided gently…..

…. by cattails and wildflowers as I quietly dipped into the water, one side, then the other. I stayed near the shoreline, to slip in among tree branches that bow over the water and observe the habitat and vegetation. It was shady there … and cozy. 

Shrubs and wildflowers in shades of blue and purple, saplings along with knobby old specimens, floating logs, and an occasional upturned tree with its massive root system exposed provided a fascinating “shore-scape.”

There were birds to observe, even a snake hanging from a tree limb. Turtles sunbathed on protruding rocks and then slipped away into the dark water. Families of ducks drifted along, all in a row following their mother. From the lake-side trail a dog barked.

It was a hot sunny day during the pandemic and the state park was more crowded than usual. In the normally deserted cove, I found people secretly tucked in along the shore line among bushes and trees. They had hiked with lawn chairs to find a perfect spot by the water and take in the beautiful vistas across the lake. One sturdy-looking man sat alone with an open cooler by his chair and cell phone in his hand. I could hear his business meeting going on as I slipped by. Around the bend two women sat on a little outcropping of flat rocks in the shallow water, absorbed in chatter about kids and mothers.

Further down the shoreline a dad was busy showing his young son how to cast a fishing line. Luckily, I avoided getting tangled in their line. Two women in kayaks passed by at a distance and, surprisingly, their conversation carried over the water, clear as a bell. One had a new boyfriend, a nice man, she said, and she hoped this one would work out. I decided to turn away to explore the bulrushes.

Of course, there were other sounds on the lake on this bright summer day. Groups of teenagers had rented paddle-boards and were laughing and falling into the water. How good it was to see them having fun during such a challenging summer! On land, handsome young men wearing prize-winning tans and masks moved about the concession stand area, matching up customers with rental boats and handing out life preservers.

Then there were the old-timer fishermen, some on land, some in small boats. silently threading worms onto hooks and casting into the deep water.  They appeared to be serious about their sport, though I didn’t see any fish dangling on lines. Like many things in life, the value of fishing may be largely found in the effort, rather than the result.

The lake was especially beautiful and peaceful on that hot August day.  I vowed to return soon and headed toward the sandy beach for the final balancing act of getting out of the craft without tipping. Accomplished!

What followed was robust work—dragging the kayak up a slope and getting it on top of the car. And then, just after the last shove to get the kayak onto the roof rack, a young woman appeared and said, “You look fit, but is there anything I can do to help you?”  How sweet of her.  “I think I’ve got it! But thanks so much!” was my reply, and we both smiled.

 

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!

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.

Holy Saturday morn

Rain storms during the night have left the Earth green and heavy with moisture.

From my window I see the blue green of Colorado spruce needles, lime green of new sycamore leaves, deep green of pine trees in the backdrop, and delicate light green of spring grasses in their thick tufts and lush stretches.

Tiny streams have carved pathways on the hilly banks. A burst of wind sways the branches and sends a spray of droplets into the air.

Mounds of fluffy white daffodils bounce in the breeze at the house across the way, nodding approval of the generous watering of the Earth.

From their secret hideouts, birds chatter away, as they happily await the sunshine.

On this Holy Saturday, may we too be filled with hope and wonder as we prepare for the amazing joy of Easter morning.

Friday Morning

The sign said Fresh Pretzels and Logs. Interesting enough, but what really got my attention was the wonderful aroma of yeast, sugar and cinnamon, plus a smidgeon of savory sausage and melting cheese!

Behind the glass wall, a young Amish girl rolled out dough, stretching and pulling and then cutting it into fist-sized balls, laying aside the extra as she began to shape one portion at a time. Working quickly, she snipped off a long piece, then rolled again, tied a loose knot and flipped the newly formed pretzel onto a large baking sheet.
Without a pause she darted over to trays of freshly baked pretzels, carefully picked up each one with a tong and dipped it into melted butter. As a lineup of customers waited at the counter, mouths nearly watering, the warm buttery treats landed in a drawer of cinnamon sugar and then into small paper bags.

Three little tables stood tucked in beside the glass window on the customer side, fully occupied. One kindly gentleman had an elderly mother at his side; he spoke loudly and tended to her constantly, picking up her napkin whenever it fell and offering her another cup of coffee.

Several mid-aged ladies looked like they were ready for a casual date wearing colorful sweaters, smart leather shoes, and a touch of jewelry. A few sported freshly done hair, as if they had just come from the salon. They looked fit and healthy too, though were eating warm pretzels dripping with butter and sweetness. Several ladies munched on sandwiches filled with meat and cheese. Everyone was smiling.

Not one young person was among them. On the porch outside, I had seen a handsome- looking older couple on old-fashioned rockers, chatting as if it were perhaps a first opportunity. Could these folks be members of Seniors Meet or Match.com for the silver sneaker crowd?

The event was an informal convention of retirees, it seemed. Very likely, in fact. According to data, ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five each day, and they are the healthiest and best educated generation in our nation’s history. They are out and about. Well-tuned representatives of this population were snacking on freshly-baked pretzels and enjoying their Friday morning, right there in the local farmers’ market.

I was on a speed visit to get a few donuts for the weekend, but decided to slow down and take it all in: a stroll through the country furniture aisle, a sample of home-made pickles, people-watching at the gourmet wing counter where at least eight different flavors of chicken wings created some drama, a leisurely visit at the corner shop that sells everything from buckwheat pancake mix to chocolate-covered strawberries.

Of course I remembered the donuts, warm with sticky icing and fresh cream filling, and then made my way to the door, again passing the pretzel and log shop. The tables were still full, customers still smiling. I was tempted to ask them the name of their club but decided to simply come back next Friday and take a place at one of those tables. After all, I’m retired too!

Christmas Magic

The little envelop had been tucked behind my screen door. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” it said in bright red. I knew this was from the trash collectors. Each year I notice it and set it aside for a day or two. Before long, Christmas has passed with its rush of activity and I realize I have not thanked the service people who show up faithfully every week to remove my discards.
It was early this morning when I heard the truck rumble around the corner. Still in my robe, I quickly grabbed the envelope, stuffed cash into it, and darted to the curb where the blue recycling bin had just been emptied. The two men, quickly moving on to the next home behind their trash-laden truck, paused to say “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And God bless you!” I heard the last greeting twice and it rang in my ears. Tears filled my eyes and I quickly responded with my own “And God bless you too.”

A curbside blessing at 7 AM on a bitter cold December morning. The younger man accepted the envelop with a gentle smile. Was he amused by the fact that I was wearing a big fluffy robe? He seemed to be truly grateful. The older man, all decked out with a long grey beard (almost like Santa himself), waved to me with his blessing, continuing to heave a garbage bin with the other arm. This all lasted about a minute.

I wonder how many people show appreciation to the service people in their lives. There are many possibilities, if you stop to think about it.

As a classroom teacher I enjoyed the little surprises that quietly showed up on my desk at Christmas. They included chocolate dipped pretzels with red and green sprinkles—a perfect pick-me-up for a tired teacher during the hectic days before holiday break. One year there was a lovely necklace in a box, another year a colorful Christmas tin filled with buttery hazelnut cookies, homemade. This was a treat that I took home to share. The building principal even stopped by with a gift to show appreciation for my work. There were personal cards, sometimes in German, which delighted me no end, and kind verbal greetings as the students left the classroom on the last day.

At the hair salon I see boxes of candy with bright red ribbons from appreciative customers. Sunday School teachers deserve recognition, as well as mail carriers, gas meter readers if you can catch them at their work, the plumber who comes just in time to fix a problem before guests arrive for the weekend.

If in each encounter we do or say something special to show appreciation, peace and good will could be spinning around in our communities like never before. Christmas magic that lives on and on. Now that would be a good thing!

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.