Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bis auf Wiedersehen! (See you April 1st)

(Me, 1969)

I'm going back to my roots.

(Us, 1969)

Dee has on his Lederhosen and I'm twirling in my Dirndl. We're leaving for Ößterreich (Austria).

(Dee, Germany 1966)

Our excitement is enough to lift us right off the ground. We could probably fly on our own power!

Austria is the eastern-most country in the western world.
The name in German means Eastern Kingdom.

Salzburg was founded before 700 B.C.
We found it in 1969;
this will be our 14th visit to that city.

We're not sure if it will be winter or spring,
but we don't care a bit.

(Sound of Music was filmed there.)

Apfel Struedel at a Viennese Cafe
will be next on the list.
We'll be heading to Prague, and other places unknown.

Dee is gathering history for a family with beginnings in Bohemia.
We'll be haunting bookstores, libraries, and archives; searching for addresses, graves, and hometowns; taking photos, interviewing descendants and touring villages.

Since we started our love affair in this lovely land, we feel young again whenever we visit.

(Dee at Werfen Castle, 1969)

We think we can do anything!

The reality is more like this.

(Not really. This is the real Maria von Trapp.)

You'll get the details later.
Check in with me April 1st.

'Til then, "So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye..."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Baby Talk

This baby turns 30 today.

A couple of quotes from her baby-bonnet era:

After staring at our bearded repairman intently, she hesitantly asked, "Why do you have a tail on your chin?"

She handed me her plate. I said, "Thank you, Honey." She said, "You're welcome, Peanut Butter."

It doesn't seem possible, but she's even cuter grown up.

Happy Birthday, Heed!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Why Do I Blog?

This is why.

She's eight and her sister is ten. "Oma! We've been reading your blog. We're going to read it from cover to cover." I've received their comments on posts from months ago, with suggestions and ideas. What a thrill to connect in cyberspace!

This week she got her own email address. I answered her announcement letter, and quickly got this dramatic, excited reply complete with yellow emoticons winking, and colors flashing.

Dear Oma!
I am crying tears of joy (sniff, sniff) that you wrote me my first email!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

There were smiley faces, hearts, and graphics decorating her message, and the word Oma written in a variety of fonts. I printed it out and put it in my treasure box. It's not often my writing gets such an emotional review!

A friend told me she wished she dared to use the Internet, but with "all the dangerous stuff out there..." she couldn't allow it in her home. She's in her 50's, single, with kids and grands living elsewhere. I told her it was like a giant, wonderful library, and she could choose which shelves to explore, and which to stay away from. But she is afraid all the bad stuff will jump out at her, uninvited.

Another woman complained that her kids are too busy to call her regularly. "With all their computer equipment, you'd think they could remember how to use a telephone."

The answer is to get on the other side of their computer! Since that's where they are, she's more likely to see them there. Changing to a digital camera and learning to send and receive photos by email is another move in their direction. (Just get a book and teach yourself.) It's not neglect that keeps loved ones away. There are just new ways of communicating.

"Why do you blog? Really, who do you think wants to waste their time reading about your life?" (Yeah, I got that, too.) It's funny. While some people look at the computer and see a blank screen, I look at it and see a magic window to the whole world.

I love visiting new places. Blogging is like traveling, and safely living with strangers, actually staying in their homes. We converse about our unique and similar problems and successes, philosophies, experiences, and how we cope with challenges. I can visit whenever I want to. When either of us is bored by the conversation, we can click to a new one, and nobody gets their feelings hurt. And there's no food to fix or bed to make. The perfect visit.

Or I can just listen. Surfing the Internet is like attending a seminar featuring my own combination of favorite topics, with innumerable discussions and classes available at all times. I stop by and listen until I feel like trying another lecture. It's free, ongoing, and there's no dress code. (I could rave forever on this subject.)

Basically, I don't want to be left behind. My grandmother didn't drive. Someone always had to take her to the doctor, or the store; she felt like a burden, dependent. Driving a car hadn't been necessary to the life she'd led in 1940, but in 1980 she needed new skills to participate. She was lost in changes. I want to participate, even if it means painfully weighting my mind, and exercising my intellect.

At times I feel like my 20th century brain will burst, with all this stretching. I didn't learn to learn this techno-stuff, and it's hard to function in a whole new medium. But blogging has coached me on using the computer and the Internet. I'm now comfortable with icons, and toolbars. I understand the language, and I've learned to read the map, to get where I want to go.

Best of all, the Internet has put me on a road where I'll occasionally run into my far-flung family members. "I'm crying tears of joy" whenever we connect! (Smiley face, wink, wink!)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Keep Going

Family Piggy Back Race 2005

We're not in a human race. It's more of a relay/ marathon. When we can, we grab someone's baton and let them jog along for a while, unfettered. When we need to, we pass off the baton to whoever is closest. If one of us drops out of the contest, we all lose, but if the whole team finishes, we all win.

It's not a 50-yard dash, and it's not about who gets there first. It's all about staying power.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Spit and Polish

Waiting for me this a.m., newly shined.

Many years ago when we first started traveling in Europe, there was a quaint custom in even the smallest hotels. If you left your shoes outside the door, they would be polished for you in the morning.

It seems I have a shoe-shine boy in residence, too. Every once in a while I wake up to find my regular old shoes buffed, burnished and dazzling.

This is a photo of Dee I took 38 years ago. The second Saturday after I met him, he offered to polish my shoes! (I took a shine to him right away.)

I lived in this room in the Steinlechner Hotel
when I met Dee in Salzburg, Austria
in 1969.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dropped Stitches

My neck tickles just thinking of it!
(This isn't me, of course.)

Mom and I took a knitting class together when I was in 9th grade. I made a blue mohair sweater (on circular needles) and she made a pink one from the same pattern. Although the fluffy yarn made me look quite fetching, it was fuzzy and itchy. I only wore the sweater once, but it stayed in my drawer as evidence of latent creativity.

Reading Sher's blog reminded me of my own adventures with stitchery. (She creates masterpieces, while mine are just memories.)

Smashed between a couple of siblings on a road trip to California, I started a ski sweater. Knit one, purl two...I got into a rhythm and the needles clicked away for several hundred miles. When I finally climbed out of the car and held it up, it was ankle length! I unraveled it and knit the sleeves out of very curly yarn. The day after I got my braces off, I proudly wore my new sweater. The dazzling combination must have gotten me a date because I didn't have time to knit anymore.

(Not mine, of course.)

Afghans were crocheted while I sat on the porch and watched my little kids play in the dirt. The new baby got a welcoming cocoon to twist around her tiny fingers and toes. But I wasn't hooked; my interest didn't last.

Macrame then became my craft of choice. Who doesn't need a few plant holders dangling from the ceiling? But with a bunch of kids continually requiring water, I got annoyed by the creeping ivy begging for it, too. When the plants died, so did my enthusiasm for tying knots.

Quilting with yarn was all the rage in my neighborhood during the 70's. It was a combination of techniques. I quilted patterns using embroidery stitches and baby yarn. Each kid got a sampler quilt out of gingham, featuring cross stitch, French knots and lazy daisies. I even taught classes!

These are some of my creations.
The bedspread was quilted with red yarn, using embroidery stitches. Trust me. It was cute.

I dropped these hobbies as easily as I dropped stitches. Needlework brought out the worst in me. Threads tangled, pins poked and fabric frayed--by the end of a project my vocabulary wasn't fit for a decent home.

I didn't create him. I got him as a gift.

Finally, Dee took my needles away from me. Josh was a new cub scout and I was up late sewing patches on his uniform. The needle wouldn't go through the heavy fabric and it kept jabbing my finger, causing bloodstains on the shirt. Knots were forming spontaneously and my eyes teared up in frustration, making it impossible to guide the thread into the needle. The dog was hiding in the corner, scared by my outbursts. Gently Dee sent me to bed.

The next morning I found the shirt all ready for Pack Meeting. The elves must have come! From then on I let Dee handle the sewing projects. I've realized I'm not mature enough to handle dangerous objects like hooks and needles. Some things are meant to be dropped.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Advice on In-Law Kids

Cool! Somebody remembered my advice column!

I got this email the other day:

Dear M,
Our daughter is in love. We don't feel good about the guy she wants to marry, but the more we try to advise her, the more she seems to defy us. Should we just stand by while she makes a big mistake? Did you ever have this problem?
Worried Mom

I didn't have this problem; I was this problem!

Last year I wrote a series of blogs about my own experience with love at first sight. (I was just nineteen and my parents were not at all happy about it.) This old post might be a response to Worried Mom:
Losing Control, 1969

After That Tuesday Dee and I both sent letters home describing each other and how we had fallen in love. I was sure my parents would be thrilled that I had found my soul mate. I was very mistaken.

The first letters back arrived March 13th. My dad was extremely upset. He listed every stupid thing I'd ever done, and told me I was incapable of making a decision as important as this one at such a young age. I was crazy to think I knew what love was, and naive and inexperienced to think Dee really loved me. He wanted me to come home.

I was devastated!

My mother's letter was a little softer in tone. She thought I was dazzled by my surroundings, unable to think straight, and I didn't know enough about this boy to make any commitments. She felt it just wouldn't work out in the real world.

Their lack of trust undermined my relationship with them at a very crucial time in my life.
They put me in a position where I had to make a choice: Them, or Dee. I loved my parents, and had always felt close to them, so it was heartbreaking to me. I chose Dee.

Eventually it worked out, but there was a lot of damage done. Dee was fully aware of their pre-judgments and reservations about him. It was not a good way to start a friendship.

I was the oldest, and it was the first time my folks had lost complete control of a child; they didn't like it. I wanted approval and respect, but I didn't feel any. It had a negative impact on me. I felt guilty that I had to make my parents unhappy to choose what would make me happy.

In March, 1970, before we had kids, I wrote this Mission Statement in my journal. I don't know how well we've followed it, but I still think it's sound.
I feel each child should be encouraged and expected to do their best, and then allowed to do it, without criticism, either expressed or implied.

I hope to build my children's self worth by allowing them to be self-sufficient and independent in carrying out assignments and responsibilities. It would rob them of satisfaction if I re-did things or implied that I could have done it better myself.

When they make poor choices, they will learn to accept the consequences, and know they are loved and accepted in spite of their mistakes.

Each child will have gifts and talents, and they will be better able to recognize them than we will be. We need to trust them to receive their own inspiration.

Our children will not be OURS. They will have their own lives and their own mission and purpose, just as we have ours. We will try not to impose our unmet goals on them. They will each be unique individuals. We have no right to take that away from them.

(See how important it is to blog? How would I remember all this if I hadn't written it down? Letters, journals, blogs, advice columns...whatever, record your thoughts!)

Parenting is a lot easier before you're a parent. But it's valuable to back away and remember what we felt, and what we were actually capable of doing when we were young.

So, back to Worried Mom. I think she should trust herself. She's already taught her daughter skills to make choices about her life. And what adult child actually takes their parent's unsolicited advice anyway? If she marries the guy, she'll need her mom's support. If it's a mistake, she'll need to know she still has her mom's support.

I took the easier road. I just fell in love with my in-law kids at the same time my kids did!

(There are some comments from the first time I posted parts of this blog last year. I don't know how to take them off. But you're welcome to comment again!)

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Illustration by Stephen Gammell

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." --Jane Howard

I grew up in a fun family. Five things I remember:
  1. Going to a college football game with my dad was a Saturday ritual. One afternoon the other team was ten points ahead and my dad was pretty disgusted. He decided we'd leave a couple of minutes before the game ended to beat the traffic. By the time we got to the car, and turned on the radio, our team had won! I can still picture Dad smacking his hands on the steering wheel as he moaned over and over. We never left early again.
  2. We went out for ice cream every Sunday after church, at a place right across the street from the chapel. Half the congregation was there. Going to the grocery store was "breaking the Sabbath" but somehow buying ice cream was allowed. I was fine with it.
  3. Ping pong contests were held in our big room (family room in the basement) accompanied by roast beef sandwiches soaked in melted butter. Everybody played. Dad won. Then we watched The Walt Disney Show on our color TV. Yeah...we were pretty cool.
  4. Dad played the piano while we all sang Show Me the Way to Go Home. The second time through, he always changed the words: "I'm fatigued and I want to retire..." instead of "I'm tired and I want to go to bed." We loved it! He sang another one I loved. "Last night I had a fight with Satan, as I lay half awake. He came right down by my bedside, and oh, how I did shake..." (There's a cute photo of Dad playing the piano somewhere. I'd love to have it.)
  5. Mom and Dad took Arthur Murray dance lessons and taught us how to do the swing. My brother and I whirled and twirled around the room when Dad played his fabulous rendition of In the Mood. Mom did some cute little dance from the '40's, where she shook her fingers in the air. Does anybody know what that dance was called? (Something like The Chickadee??)
I know I'm lucky. I think I even knew it then. There was a lot of laughing and teasing in my house, and I knew my parents loved each other and loved me. What could be better?

Do you have some childhood memories of your family life?