Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections For The New Year

I shared this post one year ago. The photos are taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The clouds above and the obscuring fog below led me to reflect what lies ahead and how futile it is to plan and attack the new year with gusto and new resolutions.


It is easy for us to reflect on the year just concluded. It is much harder to reflect on what lies ahead.

To start with, we must agree, there is no guarantee of a tomorrow; not even one next minute. So in that sense, there is no use in any new year resolutions. We quickly come to understand we have no control what comes next. The Almighty, not you or I, directs all things. The old adage "If it's the Lord's will, . . ." becomes the crux of the matter.

What do you see out there in the picture above? Something in the distance? Is that the mountain you plan to conquer this year? You can't even see it all. . . . Look, it is covered with uncertainty.

Not only are you not guaranteed the next step, but you don't know what is lurking in the valley. In your mind you may see your goal clearly, and even the joy of the blue sky beyond, but still, it is not you that will get you there.

That is why from our vantage point, at the beginning of a new year, we must look up. You will notice the clouds above resemble the clouds below. They are there to remind us that God obscures what's ahead, but He can lift the clouds and lift uncertainties.

TRUST, is the key word. After all, what is the purpose of it all? The purpose of this life? –– Like Jesus said: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, but loose his soul?" . . .  "I have come to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also." . . .  "Don't worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own." . . .  "Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." . . .  "My peace I will give you; not like the world gives . . ."

Those are eternal words for an eternal life, an unclouded day. –– He is "The Way, the Truth, and the Life . . ." He can lift the clouds of greed and selfishness and let you look into the new year with a Hope, a Hope of Glory, far beyond the days ahead.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Brr . . . Lets Go Back A Month Or More

Even the nandina is bowed in prayer.

The pines are hushed, drooping to shrink from the cold.

All wants to return in time when late summer breezes tickled and fluttered leaves and blades.

To a time when color was king . . .

To a time when warmth invaded the bones . . .

Dreaming of cattails and broom sage . . .

But . . . the time has gone.

We dream to enjoy once more. . .  Let us not forget who has given us every day, as He sees fitting for us.

I thank God and His Son Jesus for every breath, every step, and every day.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snowed-in, Treed-in, And Iced-in

Snowed-in, Treed-In, and Iced-In

The Christmas celebrations finally ended. Not to say, “I’ve had enough,” but to finally get a chance to come down from heights of excitement, grandchildren, and family.

The day after the ho-ho-ho we ventured out to Copper Hill, our getaway cabin. It sleeted so hard when we left that by the time we had travelled a mile it became apparent that maybe we should’ve stayed at home. The wipers had trouble keeping up. Nine-tenth of the way up goose creek hill we came to a spinning stall. I slapped the truck into four-wheel drive to get us to the crest. Ten miles later I eased it back into straight drive and made it all the way to our drive at Copper Hill.

Back in four-wheel drive we inched our way toward the cabin in three inch thick ice and snow. The barren trees and pines drooped with thick and heavy ice, a natural winter wonder. Harsh winds a week earlier left their mark on the driveway. We were able to navigate around several trees that sprawled across the drive. About a thousand feet from the cabin our luck changed. Two thick pines, to big to climb over with the truck, blocked our way. This called for a chainsaw. After I whacked off the portions that hindered forward progress, I hoofed it to get my farm tractor. Thank God for the front-end loader and four-wheel drive I pushed the problem out of the way. On to the house we went.

Home and safe at last. However, the heat did not run. No electricity. The place had cooled to a humbling 55º. The inside of the truck became our refrigerator. We dare not leave any food outdoors for the critters to smell. Soon wood heated the place to a cozy 68º.

At four in the afternoon the power came on. Great! The day however, was too cold to melt any of the thick ice on the pine trees. The weatherman prophesied strong winds during the night and into the next day. Not good for 100 foot tall white pines near the cabin.

Carol threw a third quilt on the bed; just in case! The cast iron stove packed with hot coals persuaded us to crawl into bed. The wind whipped. Ice and branches blew unto the tin roof. In the forest trees snapped. Angry clouds scurried past the full moon. Ice from the roof tore loose and seemingly landed above our heads . . . we prayed.

The wind whined. Debris hit the windows and tin roof. Nearby massive snaps sounded like guns going off and followed by the tear of dozens of branches cracking, plunging to the ground. 

I got up again and helplessly watched a half dozen 100 foot pines, 50 feet from the house, sway in wild circles. I prayed some more.

The projected temperature on the ceiling read 65º inside, 30º outside. Under Carol’s quilts, too nervous to relax, I checked the temperature again. . .. Nothing. No power!
The wind moaned. Huge trees snapped. Then a horrendous crack, followed by an earth shaking thump, a massive pine top hit within a few feet of the house. The white snow outside the window looked black, covered by the fallen pine. Hell didn’t subside all night. Helpless we all are in facing the fury of God.

It's 23º this morning. Over 2000' of driveway. I'm glad I was home for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Magic Of Christmas

This short story is from my book "A TIME AND PLACE The Making of an Immigrant." It is expanded and will be published as part of an e-book in the future. 

The day of December 24 started and continued like any other day. However, my sister, Dagmar, and I knew this was the big day. Our home showed no sign of Christmas, no tree, no decorations, only the smells of the special time. 
We helped Mom bake a variety of cookies. We cracked nuts and greased pans. Dagmar and I knew that sometime before the end of the day, the Christ child would come. 
Around four in the afternoon, Mom put us to bed. She told us if the Kristkindle is going to come, it would not want to be seen. It is a heavenly Being and it only took a moment to come and be gone again. The timing had to be perfect. 
So we went to bed, full of excitement and expectations. We lay perfectly still. Quiet. Whether sister went to sleep, I do not know. As for me, I was too excited to do any sleeping. I listened, dreamed and imagined, trying to put the magic in order. I was a thinking little fellow, always wondering why things worked in certain and often unexpected ways. 
Around 8 o’clock Mom woke us up. As we entered the kitchen the whole world suddenly glowed in splendor. The single light bulb, hanging from the ceiling, was turned off. In the corner stood a tall Christmas tree, shimmering, trimmed with many glistening ornaments and tinsel all lovingly placed one at a time. 
White wax candles flickered, each with its little drip bowl to catch dripping wax. The candles were clipped to the branches of the fir tree. Tinsel hung like angelic hair. It quivered and slightly swayed from the candles’ warmth. We stood close to this wonder, enthralled by its magic. The angelic hair responded to every breath. 
The glass ornaments, very fragile and sprinkled with many sparkling tiny crystals, shimmered as they reflected the magic. 
Our little family stood mesmerized in front of the tree. We held to each other as we sang Silent Night, Holy Night. After singing Mom lifted us up, one at a time, to blow out the candles. To this day I love to smell a snuffed candle’s smoke. 
Once more Mom pulled the string to the light. With the Christmas magic still in our hearts we searched under the tree for presents. The presents were mostly woolen clothes knitted by Mom. One year I also received a drafting ruler 10 cm long. In other years a set of coloring pencils and paper to draw on, a stamp collecting album. One year I got a compass set with a fountain pen. 
After opening the presents, we sat and enjoyed the wondrous evening eating cookies and drinking Glühwein. A hot mix made with cheap red wine and equal amounts of hot tea. The belly warming blend sat on the stove and simmered with orange peels, cloves, cinnamon sticks and sugar; any alcohol the wine might have had now long evaporated. The taste and smell, to this day, means Christmas. 
Just before midnight, if we didn’t go to midnight mass, we heated Weisswurst (a white sausage) in a pan of water. Dipped in sweet mustard, along with warm potato salad and buttered hard rolls . . .. Heaven came down. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Remember Safe and Free?



Do you remember when the words safe and free could be used interchangeably?

Remember when children went out to play for the afternoon and the only instruction they were given by the parent was to be home by supper time.

Those were the days when child molesters and perverts understood their position in society. When our culture found such behavior repulsive. When it wasn’t a joke or fashionable to step out of the closet and swoon with likeminded beings.

Yes, children could play all day and be free. Free of predators who have sunk so low in their lust to carry off children.

Remember when the truth didn’t depend on the situation?
Remember when stealing was an understood act and not an available item to rip off?
Remember when adultery was the destruction of ones integrity and not a fling or an affair?
Remember when gay meant having a joyous and merry time?
Remember when a relationship was among businesses? Now relationships start innocently in middle school, but the term also includes devious behavior, such as same sex, groups, and your cute potbellied pig. 

Coming back to my point.
We are now a society where not only our possessions are no longer safe, but our children are subject to being snatched from us at any moment. We hold on to them tight. Our eyes never leave them. We bolt the door, check on them during the night.

Yes, we are no longer free, weather child or adult. The child is not free although it does not know it. The adult is not free because they know it.

The fact of my lament here was driven home to me in a recent visit to my local gas station. 
I was pumping gas when another car pulled up to do the same on the other side of the pump. A lady in her late twenties pumped ten dollars worth into her tank. After she hung up the nozzle, she opened the rear door and unbuckled her child from the safety seat. She picked the two year old up and carried him into the convenience store. Within seconds she returned, having paid her bill, placed the child back in his seat, latched the boy tight, slid into the driver’s seat.

Before she drove off I asked her if she unlatched the child because she felt it was not safe for thirty-seconds while she stepped into the store. She said, “Yes, I didn’t want to leave him out here alone.” 

The young mother and I agreed that we are living in a wicked world.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Christmas Goose

This short story is from my book "A TIME AND PLACE The Making of an immigrant." It is expanded and will be published as part of an e-book in the future. 

Several times we had goose for Christmas. Imagine, looking back, how did Mother do it. I wouldn't doubt she cashed in a silver coin for it, one of the ones she illegally hoarded in the early forties. 
No such thing as a frozen goose. Freshly butchered, the only way to go in the forties. Though I never witnessed the act, but after the head came off the blood drained immediately into a pot for future use. 
We dipped the lifeless goose into scalding water after which our little family plucked off the feathers. Mom carefully removed the non-edible innards. She cleaned the goose feet then dropped them into the pot of goose blood. The neck she cut off and also put into the pot. The gizzard she turned inside out, cleaned it, and it also ended up in the pot. The heart, split in half, and the fresh liver, all salted and peppered, was fried on the spot. It made a lip-smacking snack. 
Now, that pot of blood, with its delectable additions, was destined to become the New Year’s Eve meal. Before the lid went on the pot, Mom added a good cup of vinegar, salt, bay leaves, a couple of sliced onions, some celery leaves, fresh carrots, parsley, and plenty of peppercorns. This special concoction marinated until the appointed day when all was brought to a boil and left to simmer till done. To achieve the desired thickness of the blood based sauce, mother added flour.
On New Year’s Day the feast was complemented with Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), cabbage, and boiled sugar beets. This Bavarian delicacy is called Gansjung (young goose), a perfect extension and finale of the holiday season. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Our Christmas goose was stuffed then oven baked. Stuffing included chopped stale bread and hard rolls, onions, celery, parsley, a couple of eggs, some sage, salt and pepper tossed together with scalded milk to get a loose, moist mixture. 
Every meat dish always grew much gravy. The Christmas goose was certainly no exception. Gravy not only stretched a meal, but it added comfort to the other trimmings. 
Of course, the rendered goose grease was like gold. Some of that fat Mom skimmed off the gravy. A golden yellow spread when cooled. Sort of granular, it easily covered rye bread with a little added salt for a mighty treat when the snows howled.
A bit of that yellow gold we saved for medicinal purposes. Hot goose grease rubbed on the chest, then covered with hot damp towels, was a sure bet to loosen a winter cough. 
Story has it, the fat Christmas goose had been force fed. The way my mother explained it, it was simply done by placing the goose in tight quarters. She was then systematically forced to eat much more than normally. This they did by holding the head back, pry open the beak, then stuff the food down the throat with the handle of a wooden spoon. Not a comforting picture, but it rendered a bounty of yellow gold.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Evil, What is it?

Our inner being, our human spirit, can perceive, analyze, and make a willful decision.

By nature we can conclude extremes and total opposites.

We live with light and darkness. We know light dispels darkness.

We know there are undisputed truths, not situational ethics, that can never be overcome by lies.

We know instinctively hate can never eliminate love, but expressed love can, and always overpowers hate.

We use the word Evil, but what is it?
What defines something as evil?
What is the basis of our judgement to call something evil?
What do we have to compare to make evil so repugnant?

If we just throw the word evil out there, and don't know the absolute opposite, we ourselves, are in the realm of evil. Our human spirit is willfully excluding the absolute opposite of evil––which is Holy.

At this point God is rejected.

The world admits to "Intelligent Design" because evolution admits it has no beginning. The world however, does not admit A Beginning who is Holy. The Word says He is Holy, Holy, Holy. God is all powerful, all knowing, everlasting. He is Truth, Love, and Justice. He is the opposite of absolute Evil.

Don't call something or someone evil unless you know the true God. What you are doing is admitting your own capabilities and dominance of the evil in you.

Choose today whom you will serve. We all have a Master. We cannot serve both. We will either love the one and hate the other!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nickolaus And His Knecht

This is an amplified story from my book "A TIME AND PLACE The Making Of An Immigrant"

A Picture Out Of My Book
Practically every day on the calendar the catholics honor a saint designated to that day. If your name is the same as the saint's, you celebrated your Name Day. 
December the sixth is Saint Nickolaus’ day. The German celebration has nothing to do with Christ Jesus and His birthday. Activities of honoring St. Nick are a bit unusual and is not related to what is call Christmas in the America. 
In my younger days Saint Nick visited family homes on December 6. We didn't have malls or television, so the only way a kid got to see this colorful character, bearded and royally cloaked, is when parents thought it worthy to either reward or punish their children. Let me tell you what I mean.
Saint Nick is always dressed in a red coat with white cuffs. He wears a tall hat like the Pope would during certain religious festivities. He walks with a tall staff in one hand and is proud of his long white beard. He has a sack over his shoulders with goodies in it. 
When Saint Nick comes to visit on the evening of the sixth, he asks the parents for a report on the behavior of the children during the previous year. If the child is deserving, it may get some cookies, apples, nuts or rock candy, along with a little admonishment to strive to be an even better person the coming year. 
To have a Saint Kick come to ones house, parents visited a local Gasthaus where men, wearing St. Nick outfits, were gathered and waited to be hired. 
However, for the kids who really needed a bit of reprimand, St. Nick’s helper, Knecht Rupprecht, would have to come along. This Knecht Rupprecht doled out the deserved punishment. 
Oh this Knecht, he is an ugly, bent over, mean-looking creature. He wears a sackcloth mantle over his shoulders and a crude rope tied around his waist. His hair is dark and scraggly. He is marked with dark shadows under his beady eyes and has a deep frown extending down from each side of his mouth. A long and heavy chain, which he drags on the ground behind him, introduces him as the coming of doom. He snorts and grunts and makes eerie noises as he comes up the front walkway, or up the steps to pay a visit. 
I recall one night in the mid 1940s, when our little family visited the home of a friend with two daughters in their mid teens. During our friendly and jovial visit a terrifying commotion outside the house suddenly pierced my ear and heart as Knecht Rupprecht approached the shut front door. St. Nick had to restrain his Knecht from totally going mad and breaking down the door. My sister and I shivered. We vowed never to do anything wrong again as long as we lived. We did not want to face this evil creature. 
After a brief report from the girls' mother, the Knecht stomped and smacked his wooden switch to the floor. He chased the giggling girls around the house and into the bedroom. Soon the calamity subsided. The girls received their reward. I, however, could not understand the disrespect these girls had for an individual of such authority. 
I also remember on one such night when a young boy, a little older than me, still having respect for “authority” was rewarded with Rupprecht's whipping cane. After the good salting the naughty boy found himself stuffed in Knecht Rupprecht’s sack. The Knecht, grunting and mumbling, carried the boy into the night several hundred yards from the boy’s house. After the boy was shaken from the sack into the deep snow in the woods, he received additional stern warnings and told to find his way back home. I bet the boy changed his clothes from the inside out after that ordeal!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Odd Feasts

Franz's Symbol of Wisdom
I have eaten snails, snakes, eels, turtles, tongues, ears, snouts, jowls, brains, lungs, liver, kidneys, gizzards, hearts, sweetbread, blood sausage, blood gravy.

I've had aligator, squid, piranha, muscles, clams, oysters, shark, sailfish, and other fish.

I've eaten sheep, goat, deer, rabbit, squirrel, and South American groundhog.

I've devoured stuffed chicken neck, stuffed pig bladder, and a hundred variations of stuffed intestines called sausage in natural casing.

I've eaten strange combinations of pickled stuff. Pickled eggs, pickled herrings, pickled lungs, pickled pig's feet, pickled tongue, jowls, and snouts.

Back in 1957, working at my full time job, I, the apprentice had to pick up lunches for several of the older workers. I would take the order to the local lunch counter and wait for the cook to get it together.
One lady in the front office often ordered peanut butter and bacon on rye. I have loved peanut butter since I first came to this country, but never tried this combination.

Only recently, 55 years later, I tried it. Instead of rye bread I used two slices of wholewheat thin bread.
I dolled up my plate with some grapefruit slices, sat down ready to enjoy.

You know, the combination didn't do anything for me. The bacon overpowered the peanut butter and the peanut butter overpowered the bacon. It had no taste. Truly is a strange combination. I could not distinguish any flavor. Sad, but I ate it all anyway.