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!

…. 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.

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.

I love teachers…

and especially teachers who are also swim coaches. Picture yourself at a junior championship meet on a steamy Saturday morning, 88 degrees in the shade at 9 AM. Parents and grandparents set up their camping chairs under trees, but the coaches are out there in the sun for hours. They don’t even get to jump into the pool to get cool!

“Don’t forget to put on sun screen, Lauren.” “Ten and under boys breaststroke line up here.”  With clip board in hand the coach calls out names from the roster for the next relay and guides the children to line up in order. Then he reminds them to hold hands, the little ones at least, and follow along, forming a snake of tiny bodies in identical suits and caps weaving its way through the crowd at water’s edge. The destination is the end of the pool where the young contestants will climb onto the block in their assigned lane.

These things go like clockwork, it appears. No time is lost. The participants in the previous race stay in the water until the next group has entered. Time-keepers are in place. An announcer has already named the swimmers and their lanes, which is helpful for us proud grandparents because each child looks about the same. The best part is the finish. If one or two children lag behind, the entire group cheers for them. Each is congratulated for his or her time, not for beating out the others. The swimmers reach across lane lines and shake hands.

I like this spirit of excellence without harsh competition. The teacher-coach encourages each child to reach maximum performance, appreciates the effort and courage it takes, and……….no wonder my grandchildren come back to such a rigorous summer activity year after year.