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!

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.

X Country Memories

I love teachers and especially those who coach sports! Recently I observed and wrote about swim coaches during an especially humid and hot Pennsylvania summer. What follows takes us to a cooler place and time, to the vast open spaces and dusty winding paths carved into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Imagine a sunny day in Ft. Collins with low humidity and a beautiful sky that stretches on forever, except where the mountains rise up abruptly in the West and draw a jagged line against the sea of blue. The altitude is 4,984 feet. High school cross country runners in brightly colored uniforms arrive and walk 1/4 mile or more to the stadium, where at least twelve other groups are staking out their territory and setting up “camp.” Team members help coaches carry coolers packed with fruit and snacks, large water jugs, and assorted equipment included a large tent awning.

The first to arrive plop their backpacks onto the grass and work together to raise up the poles of the canopy. Others talk with the coaches about the course and schedule. Some nap, play cards with friends or quietly stretch. I sit by one of the coolers and smile as the students help themselves. It’s a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.

Before long, groups of uniforms make their way onto the dry crackling earth of the stadium and gather behind a yellow line. The coaches accompany them to give last minute reminders and encouragement. Teams form circles and sing chants and then line up as they await the ringing shot that sends the entire mass of color and energy bursting down the course like a herd of great creatures.

I cheer for the red and gold team and then slowly meander back to my seat in the shade as the runners disappear into the distance. For the coaches there is no rest, however. They run ahead to the 1-mile marker in order to time their students. Then on to the 2-mile marker for more record-keeping and finally they race to the finish line at the 3.1 mile marker ( 5 k) to welcome their hard-working runners. This seems pretty strenuous to me for adults who get up before dawn to prepare for the day and begin teaching by 7:30 AM.

Now this is the key! Anyone who has ever set foot in a high school classroom knows that total attention and energy are required to effectively implement a lesson and manage a class. Teachers need to respond to the surprises that occur and, most important, they are committed to offering each student special individual care. Most teachers have five classes daily and that translates to as many as one hundred fifty students. As well, they teach various levels and content throughout the day and must prepare materials, write and grade tests, answer emails, attend meetings, administer make-up work, etc. This sounds like a full-time job! Teachers who coach sports move directly from the classroom to the responsibility of supervising students at practice and in competition. I never fully appreciated the extra rigor and energy required to be a teacher-coach—until now.

Back to the throngs of students who are pacing themselves, breathing, and concentrating on strategies while moving along the course…….it’s soon time for me to leave my comfy chair and find the finish line. Some students look like they’re in pain. All are perspiring. Some lurch forward with new energy as they approach the end. Others barely make it across. I cheer for each runner equally as he or she makes it to the finish.

 

………..This all occurred on a Friday after school. I was proud to be there and to secretly applaud my son, one of the coaches. As dusk fell, we returned to his house, engaged in lively chatter about the personal records made that day and the positive team spirit I had witnessed over and over. I learned that the coaches check in with each runner after a competition to ask if goals were met and what new learning has occurred. If a runner has a bad day, encouragement and understanding from the coach are essential. I discovered that it’s not about winning, but rather about character, learning, and growth. Eventually, we discussed dinner and came up with a nice menu of quinoa, spinach salad, and leftover grilled beef. It tasted great, but I shouldn’t have been hungry. After all——-I hadn’t run anywhere.

Memories….

…….. of springtime as a young girl bring to mind images of my mother in the kitchen working at the little black featherweight sewing machine. Springtime meant Easter was approaching and we girls needed Easter dresses. Mother always seemed to find beautiful fabric that had been tucked away in a closet or wooden chest along with patterns for fancy dresses with flowing skirts, puffy sleeves, sashes, and bows that were just the right size or nearly right. She was very skilled at both altering patterns and sewing.

As Easter approached there were late night “parties” in our kitchen—pressing darts, setting in sleeves, basting lace, and measuring and hand stitching hems. My sister and I helped as best we could but mother did most of the work. When the dresses neared completion we tried them on for fit and then climbed onto a dining room chair and stood patiently as she moved slowly around us with a pin cushion and yardstick. Standing still was important with those prickly pins all around our legs!

A new dress for Easter was only part of the project; a flowery straw hat, black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, and white gloves completed the outfit. Our mother was a smart and practical woman and so we passed the hats down, if they hadn’t been sat upon, and  purchased the shoes at a special spring sale. However, in all her frugality she put aside the cost factor for the final item. There was no skimping on the beautiful fresh white gloves. Indeed, it was the gloves that added an extra touch of elegance and beauty to the lovely new dress, colorful hat, and shiny black shoes.

My how times have changed! The once-popular featherweight sewing machines are now found mostly in antique shops, little girls wear dresses and shoes made thousands of miles away in factories where the workers are children themselves, and white cotton gloves are worn only by magicians. Mother was very proud of her girls in their Easter finery as we sat together in our usual church pew, sang joyful hymns, and listened to our father’s sermon. She too looked beautiful and must have been very happy……. However, she would have had trouble pumping gas on the way to church in her pretty white gloves, if indeed a gas station had been open. Yes, things have changed.