Barry McGuire: A Decade Later

It always amazes me to receive notice that one of you had done the search, found the first blog post about Barry, and left a heart-warming comment. (See https://annchristinefell.com/2012/11/30/barry-mcguire-2/) The latest comment asked for an update on our resilient friend. Barry and I decided it was due. Perhaps overdue.

“Give me a pot and a bit of soil.”

Fully immunized and boosted, Barry has weathered the Covid outbreak with little effect on his general health. He remains in the country cottage where we moved him after his disappointing move to New Jersey, holed away in a reclusive existence. He no longer drives, but “gets by with a little help from my friends.” And his nearby friends are delighted to assist with his living needs.

For a year, he’s enjoyed a furry little roommate, a cat he named “Miss Kitty.” (With a nod to Gunsmoke.) As the Covid months lingered on—and on—he started hosting a trusted friend now and then. With a pizza dinner, topped off with his favorite cherry pie, a few of us helped him celebrate his latest birth anniversary, #92! And he’s still going strong. Mental calisthenics keep his mind hopping, even if his legs won’t cooperate, and he corresponds via email with faithful friends across the country. He has sadly bid a final farewell to some of those longtime friends as they made the final checkout in recent months.

The computer and his Roku connections on television are his window to the world and he keeps up with all the global news and trends. Every few days we take a walk in the local park, weather permitting, and he keeps his bones moving. His health is generally good for a nonagenarian. He’d be as spry as a thirty-something if it wasn’t for his arthritis and his hearing loss. He prepares all his meals, and is a superb chef. Once in a while he will accept invitations for restaurant fare, or allow friends less-adept in the kitchen to share meals with him. (Like me.)

At this honorable age, we couldn’t let his special day in March this year go by without some kind of celebration safe in the confines of his 3-bedroom abode. With that in mind, I issued an invitation to his faithful friends to suggest a good title he might use if he were to write a memoir of his remarkable life. The suggestions are a world of entertainment themselves. To extend his celebration further into his 93rd year, I share them below.  Enjoy!

On stage with Lois Smith

Possible titles for a memoir:

  1. Gentleman Rebel: The Life and Times of Barry Edward McGuire
  2. A Bus to Broadway
  3. Joy in the Moment
  4. My Life Before an Audience
  5. The Art of Taking a Bow
  6. A Man for All Seasons: Magician, Puppeteer, Actor, Director, Poetic Gardener, Theater Builder, Tourism Promoter, and All-around Neat Guy
  7. Prudent, Patient, Persistent: Savoring a Life
  8. Magic in the Desert, Flowers in the Town—Bringing Enchantment to My Little Corner of the World
  9. How to Talk to Geese—and Keep Them out of Your Garden and Away from Your Strawberries
  10. No One Gets Through the Forest of the Blue—How Puppets Saved Santa’s Village

    Cripple Creek, Colorado
  11. Give Me My Walker and Watch Me Go! I May Be Stooped but I’m Not Slow—Staying Active in Your Golden Years
  12. Typewriters and Toasters—The Fun to be Had With Classics
  13. Baking Bread with Barry
  14. I Danced with Debbie Reynolds! My Life on Stage and Screen
  15. Surviving the 7th Day Adventist Missionary Visits. Know Your Bible and Have Some Fun
  16. A Life of Adventure and Love—The Places I’ve Been and the People I’ve Known
  17. It’s Been One Hell of a Ride! Things I Know Now I’m Glad I Didn’t Know Then
  18. Barry McGuire’s Garden of Life
  19. From Stage and Screen and a Zen Monk’s Mail Route to Rescuing a Great Plains Town
  20. Barry McGuire’s Magical, Amazing Life Played in the Key of Kindness
  21. Waters Run Deep and Wide at Little House in the Woods
  22. Barry McGuire: the Entertainer, the Music Lover, and the Friend
  23. A Diamond Found in Kansas
  24. Barry McGuire: the 20th Century Star and a Good Friend of Mine
  25. To Follow a Dream
  26. Life is What You Bake It
  27. The Barry Magic of Barry McGuire: Dancing With the Stars and Entertaining Young, Old, and Everyone in Between

    Dancing with Debbie
  28. Life with Man’s Best Friend: The Cat
  29. Finding Life’s Truth Through Characters on Stage
  30. 57,718 Million Miles and Counting: Adventures on Spaceship Earth Through 92 Revolutions
  31. The Multitudinous Achievements of Barry McGuire, or What Happens When You Unleash One Creative Kind o’ Guy in Southeastern Kansas!
  32. A Magical Life . . . All and All

Her Passion was Pianos

Perhaps once in a lifetime, a person might just encounter an unforgettable spirit whose influence extends far beyond one human lifespan. This is the story of my chance meeting with such a woman who gave her heart to music and pianos all her life. February being the month for passion, it seems like a good time to share the story of E. Marie Burdette.

Back in my early days of piano service work, I offered my limited skills to local friends, just trying to help out. Joyce was one of those friends. At one piano appointment, she invited me to play with her in an upcoming county-wide piano duet festival. I’d never heard of such an event, but the idea intrigued me. Through the teacher of her teenage step daughters, we signed up. The year was 1992. The piano teacher was E. Marie Burdette. The event itself was one in a long history of monster piano concerts in Cowley County, dating back to the 1930s, all of them organized or influenced by this tiny whirlwind of a musician and piano teacher.

That 1992 festival was held in the gymnasium at Cowley College, with about 25 home model acoustic pianos loaned by local families, churches, and music stores. They arced in  rows around a director’s podium. The whole experience was a blast. For me, it was also a life-changer.

The idea of getting two dozen borrowed pianos together–and tuned!–in time for a weekend rehearsal and concert astounded me. I was hooked. And I wanted to be part of the next one. Sponsored in every leap year by local music clubs as well as the county’s Walnut Valley Music Teachers Association, I decided to support the groups, and to get my own children involved in the next piano duet experience. I joined the WVMTA. Later I located the Wichita PTG chapter and joined it also, in hopes of being part of the prep work on the 1996 monster concert. Sadly, never since 1992 were acoustic instruments involved, and never again on the gym floor. Instead, ten or twelve Clavinovas were provided for stage use in the Brown Center auditorium at Cowley College. A couple times, we added a few of the college’s acoustic pianos, and in 2020, we utilized the stage Steinway D piano, but the challenge of tuning up to 30 pianos did not present itself.

Those monster concerts were the idea of the amazing devotee of keyboard music and pedagogy, Miss E. Marie Burdette. In 1992, she observed her 91st birthday, and though not present at the festival itself, she sent her students in droves. It would be another five years before I actually met her, when she called on me for piano service. With a bit of trepidation, and a bit more awe, I answered her call to the modest brick home her parents built in 1942. I have taken care of her 1966 Mason and Hamlin A ever since.

Emma Marie Burdette, (E. Marie) whose name is nearly synonymous with “piano” in Winfield, was born July 3, 1901 in Cedar Vale, Ks. She was half of a set of twins, born moments after her brother Penrose. Her family moved to Winfield in 1909, where they settled. Her first piano lesson at age 8 was at Winfield’s College of Music, a school on Main Street that exists today only in the historical museum. From that first lesson, she knew she wanted to be a piano teacher. She excelled in the art of performance, and joined the College of Music faculty before graduating from Winfield High School in 1920.

After four years teaching at the College of Music, she spent a year in New York as the assistant to nationally recognized composer and teacher Mrs. Crosby Adams. At the end of her year, she returned to Winfield with continued employment at Southwestern College, where she taught until her retirement in 1970. During the summers of 1927 and 1930, she studied organ with Marcel Dupre and piano with renowned European masters in Paris, France. Her friendship with the Dupre family lasted a lifetime, and she brought them to Winfield for performance and speaking engagements at Southwestern College.

Miss Burdette belonged to all the music organizations in existence during her lifetime–piano, organ, and teaching groups. She served as an officer in most of them. Through her connections, she brought international talent to Kansas and Winfield. Some noted guests were Marcel Dupre, Mrs. Crosby Adams, and the widow of Edward McDowell. There is even a report that she brought Rachmaninoff as a performer to an early regional music conference held at Southwestern College.

But her biggest legacy involves the students she taught. She loved teaching, and she loved her students. There are many Winfield residents who remember her lessons and how much she cared. She never turned down a student, regardless of age. My friend Joyce, that 1992 duet partner, took lessons from Miss Burdette as an adult. “She never treated me like a child, but asked why I wanted to study piano. What were my goals? And then her focus was to help me reach those goals.”

She never pushed a student to do anything they didn’t want to do, but instead offered understanding and gentle encouragement. “You can do it. You have what it takes!”

Encouragement was a hallmark of her teaching method. “Even when her aging eyes fluttered closed, she knew when I made a mistake,” Joyce said. “Her eyes opened, and she offered a gentle reminder—’remember the fingering”, or she helped with the count ‘one-sy, two-sy’, was all she’d say.”

Jim, who started piano lessons with Miss Burdette as a Middle School student during the 1970s, still hears her voice as he plunges today into a Chopin Prelude he’s always wanted to play. “I have a heavy touch and she had this way—when I butchered a note, she touched my shoulder to demonstrate. ‘Not this touch,’ and then with another touch to my shoulder, ‘Like this.’” And he felt the technique in her touch.

Her students were her family, and her life. Single for every one of her 104 years, she worked tirelessly to teach, to pass on her love of music and pianos and organs. Her biggest efforts came about in those monster concerts.

A mass piano concert in Winfield probably in the 1950s

She organized several at Southwestern College in the 1930s, and one in Wichita as well. The 1939 Winfield event featured 340 participants and 42 pianos, including 15 grand pianos. But the 1945 event surpassed them all.

With help from countless community members, Miss Burdette organized a monster concert with 100 pianos on the gymnasium floor at Southwestern College. It caught the attention of William F. McDermott who wrote an article for Recreation about the music life in Winfield, Kansas, leading off with the piano event. The article “Mad About Music” ran in the October 1945 edition of Recreation and was reprinted in a shorter version in the November 1945 Reader’s Digest.

From McDermott’s article: “It soon will be time for another ‘Piano raid’ at Winfield, Kansas. . .Sedate citizens, with sleeves rolled up, will help to ‘hustle’ pianos from homes, churches, and club rooms—but mostly from Cunningham’s, the town’s leading music store—to the huge gymnasium of Southwestern College. There the volunteer movers will set up ‘pianistic battalions,’ ready to renew one of the most unusual music festivals ever held anywhere.

“. . .While the town of 11,000 ran riot with bands, orchestras, and choruses, for years there was nothing to satisfy the ensemble desires of the piano players. A piano teacher, E. Marie Burdette, pioneered the idea of a mass piano festival.

“The piano shifting is on a huge scale. Here and there home-built ‘dollies’ are used to trundle two or three pianos of a neighborhood into one living room for a week or two. There a group of players practice every evening from supper until midnight. Next they assemble at the music store where up to fifteen pianos are used for a week’s rehearsal each by consolidated groups—and finally there’s the grand rush on the gym with 100 pianos.

“For two days and a night at the gym, relays of players, assembling in company formation, rehearse in groups of fifty, polishing off their ensemble performance. A battery of tuners goes over the instruments and puts them in harmony. Now the big night arrives.

“Through an arch come the performers—lawyers, bankers, debs in evening gowns, mothers in their Sunday best, bobby-soxers and college athletes, grocers and insurance men, barbers and preachers. They march with heads high and eyes gleaming. . . At a signal the players seat themselves, two to a piano. The director lifts his baton, and 400 hands begin rolling over the keys.

“The music pours out like a mighty wave, filling the vast room to the rafters. The crescendo passes, and the roar of 100 pianos played in unison diminishes to a note so soft that it seems impossible so many instruments are in action. The crowd holds its breath as the nuances make richer the melody of the piece. Here is more than unity of performance; it is a unity of spirit born out of love for music.”

                                        

There was nothing E. Marie wouldn’t do for the love of her students, to share the music. Jim still hears her words of instruction and encouragement, her voice echoing in his mind as he practices. “I think she’d be smiling to know that she’s still teaching,” he said. “That has to be the greatest legacy of any teacher.”

E. Marie Burdette preparing to celebrate her 100th birthday.

A few years ago, Jim chose a Mason/Hamlin grand piano for his own, remembering Miss Burdette’s teaching instrument. Interestingly, her own 1966 model continues to inspire musicians in a generation she never met. In 2000, at age 99, E. Marie Burdette was recognized by the Kansas governor as the oldest working woman in the state. Soon after that, she did retire for good, after teaching four generations how to play the piano. Her Mason/Hamlin was donated to the Winfield public schools and I continued to care for it there. In early 2016, ten years after she died at age 104, a young man who had never had a single lesson, whose parents frowned on his interest in music, fell in love with Miss Burdette’s piano in the Winfield Middle School vocal room. School music staff helped foster Emerson’s interest, gave him lessons, encouraged him along. As a senior at Winfield High School, after only four years of sporadic piano study, he participated in the most recent piano duet festival at Cowley College. That fall he enrolled in the music program there.

When most of the music faculty in the Winfield school system retired following the COVID shut down, Emerson convinced the new music teachers (who were more into electronic instruments) that, rather than let the little mahogany grand piano just sit, unwanted and unused, they should give it to him. And they did. I have twice called at his little house to tune the Burdette Mason/Hamlin. While I’m there, we also talk music, pianos, pedagogy, and technology.

Nearing the end of his course of study in music at Cowley College, Emerson plans to continue piano study at Wichita State University, and possibly learn piano service work as well. Though he never met E. Marie Burdette, her piano changed his life and she would be smiling to know that also.

Through her passion for pianos, her gift to the world continues. This post is dedicated to her love affair with music that extends beyond the grave. May she rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that her music and her teaching will continue to impact lives for many years to come.

Who is Elsie Lenore?

The fourth book I have available at the Christmasland Writers of the Wheat event is a sequel to Sundrop Sonata, the 2020 suspense novel Sonata of Elsie Lenore.  Released just before COVID shut everything down, Elsie had a rough launch, but she’s hanging in there.

The story begins fifteen years after Sundrop concludes. Izzy anticipates the birth of her first grandchild. Daughter Melody has married a Cuban pianist, Stefano Valdez who was stranded in New Orleans (or what was left of it) after a horrific tropical storm battered the area.  Mel’s interest in relief work dates to the time her mother compromised the family’s safety to help an orphan girl.  Her work takes her to disaster sites from coast to coast in a world increasingly plagued by intense storms.

With his career thriving and a baby on the way, life looks good to Stefano Valdez until a postcard from the past shatters his world. Days before the expected birth, he heads south to find the author of the card, a sister he long believed to have perished in the storm that left him a refugee in New Orleans. Trailing her to Cuba, he unwittingly places his Kansas family in the sights of the crime ring that destroyed his sister. Will he discover the hidden message in her hastily-penned words in time to save his family?

Sonata of Elsie Lenore is Stefano’s story, from southern Kansas to Cuba and back again, where he discovers that Mel has left him to work a tsunami disaster site on the west coast.

Chapter One

LENA VALDEZ CRINGED when her husband hammered the Steinway piano lid with his fist.

His rage growing, Enrique’s knuckle bones threatened to burst through his skin. “I told you,” he said, “no more of this Lecuona crap. Do the jazz. Tonight we want the best Cuban jazz.”   The youngest of the three Diaz brothers punctuated every other syllable with his fist until the piano’s heavy bass strings vibrated with a rising cacophony.

She shrank from every blow.

“Understand?” he yelled.

, Enrique,” she said.

“Get to the jazz. I’m counting on you tonight. ¿Comprendes?

She looked down, her fingers rubbing the familiar ivory ridges of the piano keys.

“¿Lena?” he said.

She felt rather than saw his arm rise and spoke with haste. “Please, Enrique. Don’t hit the piano.”

“Jazz then. Hear me?”

She nodded. Yes, she heard him. How could she not? She could hardly recall a time he spoke to her without yelling. “, I will play jazz.”

“One hour. Then we dress for the show. No more Lecuona.”

She flexed her fingers, took a deep breath, and leaned into the keys. A recent island melody by Jorge Marin swelled from the piano. Swinging with the beat, Enrique danced out the door of the Caribbean Breeze, a nightclub in New Orleans.

Her hands flew over the keys as she coaxed melodious rhythms from the worn Steinway. It wasn’t that she hated jazz. After all, jazz expressed Cuba’s heart and soul. It sang of the courage and beauty of her countrymen. She loved jazz, but she loved classics more and she needed Lecuona right now. Their mother raised her and her brother on Lecuona, embracing classical Cuban tradition.

Lena completed the Marin number and stifled a sob.

“You okay Señorita?” Roberto, the bartender and manager of the nightclub, peeked in from a back room.

She nodded. “I will be fine.”

“I heard some yelling,” he said  and  cocked his  head,  inviting her to say more.

She forced a laugh.  “Enrique. He’s always yelling,” she explained away the outburst. “It will be fine.”

“If you’re sure.” He turned back into the storage room.

She waited a moment,  gathering her nerve,  her fingers silent on the piano keys. In a timid voice, she said, “Roberto?”

When  he  didn’t respond,  she  tried again,  louder.  “Roberto?”

He stuck his head through the swinging door again. “You say something?”

“I just wondered if you would tell me where I could mail a postal card.” She fished a postcard from her handbag.

“Sending greetings from good old New Orleans?” he said with a smile.

Sí. I want to contact my brother.”

“Stefano? How is he anyway? I heard he’d tied the knot with a beauty from up north somewhere.”

She nodded. “I just want to let him know I am here. Where could I mail the card?”

He extended his hand. “Leave it with me. I’ll make sure it goes out tomorrow.”

Gracias, Roberto.”

The bartender disappeared into the back room with her card.  Lena took a deep  breath before she  continued  her  rehearsal. If only Stefano would meet her here. Would he even get the postcard in time? He didn’t know she was booked at the Caribbean Breeze, their old favorite nightclub. Maybe he wouldn’t even believe she was here, set to perform on Mama’s piano, “Elsie Lenore.” He sure didn’t know she’d married into a family of drug smugglers or that she was miserable.

He didn’t know.

She launched into another Marin number. At its close, she whispered into the keys, “Elsie—Elsie, what will I do?”

Unexpectedly, her mother’s voice whispered in her mind. “We do what we must.”

In a flash of recollection she visualized the lewd sneer of her former stepfather as he appraised her youthful body and her mother stepping between them— “Not my daughter, you bastard!” Her mother had split up with that man before the next week passed.

A year later a new gentle suitor presented her mother with the same Steinway she’d lost after the Revolution. A gift from her father when she was young, she had fondly dubbed the piano Elsie Lenore. It was offered as a wedding gift for the woman  he’d loved all his life  and Lena’s mother could not refuse his proposal. Lena and Stefano had grown to love that piano as much as their mother did.

Her mother’s voice whispered again. We do what we must.

“Yes, we do.”  Lena’s  hands  teased  the  keys as she pondered her limited options. Elsie Lenore and her brother Stefano offered one thin thread of hope. Surely he would understand. He had to.

Her fingers caressed the keys and cajoled an Afro-Cuban piece from the belly of the piano. The melody grew, and then waned. She dropped her left hand and allowed her right hand to sketch a rhythmic melody up the keys as she diverted her left hand to the piano case.

Following the melodic sequence, she ran her fingertips to the treble end of the mahogany trim at her waist and pried upward. With a full-keyboard glissando, she moved to the bass end and inched up the trim until the keyslip was free of its mounting screws. She placed it across the music desk without the slightest click.

The music soared again when her left hand joined in. She strummed repeated staccato chords, lifted her hands at the finale, and froze, listening.

Silencio.

Roberto must have gone out for a few moments. Nobody remained inside the club.

She retrieved a set of dining utensils and a paper napkin from the nearest table and spread the napkin beneath the bass keys. Slipping the knife tip underneath a key, she scraped against the key frame, teasing a fine white dust to the edge. She repeated the process under four keys, and scraped the powder onto the napkin. Tossing the knife to the floor, she lifted the napkin’s corners, cradled the powder into its middle, and with a sigh folded it into a tiny envelope. Her brother would have been proud to know she’d learned some intricacies of piano construction. She, for her part, was grateful for his fascination with the technical side of the instrument.

Gracias, Stefano,” she whispered.

She tucked the parcel securely into her cleavage, replaced the trim, and lost herself in the music.

 

To find out what happens next, drop by the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work.

 

 

How About a Little Suspense?

After completion of the memoir in 2014, I plunged into crafting a tale of fiction. Using personal expertise in the field of music, piano teaching, and piano tuning, a story based on abandonment and revenge wrote itself in my head. Today’s featured book is my first suspense novel, Sundrop Sonata, published in 2016. It was a lot of fun to write, and has gathered several awards and great reviews, which launched my plan to write a few more piano suspense tales, the Sonata series.

What is this Sonata about? With her passion for helping people, piano tuner Isabel Woods loves her job–but passion can be a dangerous thing. Reluctantly agreeing to harbor a client’s autistic daughter, Izzy’s good intentions unexpectedly expose her own family to a fiend with a chilling agenda. Human trafficking and bio-terrorism are no longer just buzz words from the nightly news. For Izzy, they have become terrifying and real. As the deadly Sundrop Sonata begins to play, Izzy has one chance to save the people and the country she loves armed with nothing more than courage, intelligence, and her esoteric knowledge of pianos.

Sundrop Sonata will be available at the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Chapter One

IZZY

A chill shot down my spine the instant our eyes met. Nola Pack looked ten years older than she had a week ago when we met in town. She stood in her open doorway, clenching its frame. Her red eyes sought mine as a breeze teased her disheveled hair. The ranch wife I remembered from previous meetings would never have appeared with even one stray hair on her immaculate swept-up bun.

I smiled and greeted her, but her grave face stole the sunshine from the bright spring morning. I no longer heard songbirds sing in the nearby flowering orchard as I searched for clues to her distress.

Nola didn’t return my smile, nor did she speak. Her bloodshot eyes narrowed as she studied my face. She stepped aside, still clutching the ranch house door with a grip that raised veins on the back of her hand. I stepped into the picturesque entryway, put my tool case down, and stooped to remove my shoes.

“No. It’s fine. Come in,” she said.

“You don’t want me to remove my shoes?”

“Not today, Mrs. Woods. Come in.”

“If you’re sure,” I said, wiping my shoes on the entry mat before I stepped onto her white carpet. “And please call me Izzy.”

Awash with sunshine, the music room issued a warm invitation. A sofa and two chairs faced the walnut grand piano across the room, its lid open on full stick. A violin leaned against a matching walnut music stand that filled the piano’s graceful curve.

“What an improvement over the old upright,” I said. “When did it arrive?”

“About ten days ago.”

“Anything I need to know before I begin? Problems? Concerns?”

Her brow narrowed. Still unsmiling, she shook her head and looked over my shoulder to the window beyond the piano. I set my tool case against the wall and tucked a stray curl into the hair clip on the back of my head. “I’ll get started then,” I said over my shoulder.

“Wait, please,” Nola said. “I need your help.” She closed her eyes. Her voice almost a whisper, I strained to understand her words.

“You don’t want me to tune your piano?” I asked.

“No. Not now.”

“A few minutes then? Or did you mean not today?”

“Not today.” Her voice carried unmistakable urgency. “Please. Come with me.” She turned and walked into the hallway beyond the living room.

Another chill raced through my body. I stood rooted to the white carpet. Nola turned and looked at me from the other end of the hall. With a frantic wave she beckoned me to follow.

I walked from the music room, past four closed doors. Two doors displayed a child’s colorful paintings. I knew there were children in the house, or at least a child. During an earlier call a girl had peeked at me for a moment before Nola scolded her. I had never been invited beyond the music room though, until today.

The hallway opened into a glassed-in dining room aflame with spring sunshine. Nola led me outside to a redwood deck extending over a pond, water slapping the rocks beneath us. In the far corner of the deck, a slender girl slumped on a lounge, her arms wrapped around her chest. She stared at the blue water, humming in a split voice that sounded as if she sang in two pitches at once.

I tilted my head toward Nola and narrowed my eyes.

Nola met my puzzled gaze. “She’s talking to herself. She does it when she’s under stress.” Her voice was devoid of any emotion, fear still in the undercurrents.

Nola brushed aside a tree branch bursting with fragrant blossoms and knelt at the girl’s knees. In a soft voice she said, “Laura, this is Isabel Woods, the lady I told you about. She’s our piano tuner.”

The girl didn’t move. If anything, she hugged herself a little tighter.

“Look at me, sweetheart,” Nola said.

The girl turned to her mother, but her gaze shot beyond Nola toward me. Her eyes didn’t appear to focus. I offered a tiny smile, but Laura didn’t respond.

LAURA

Laura Pack squeezed herself, as if tightening her grip on her own shoulders could wring the stench from her mind. All morning the awful smell had overwhelmed her. The pungent odor of putrid diapers drove her mad. Baby poop. Hour after hour, the reek of excrement filled her mind. She couldn’t sleep. She even tasted the stuff. She swallowed, desperate to stop the bile rising in her throat.

Why this happened, she didn’t know. Every time she faced her fears, every time her world went wrong, this same awful odor permeated her nostrils and filled her brain. Mama didn’t believe her. She would shake her head and say she made it all up, that there was no rotten smell because Mama couldn’t smell it.

But after that awful phone call, Laura sure could.

And it grew stronger and stronger until it filled her mind. Mama had decided to send her away. So she’d be safe, Mama said. She didn’t think it would make her safe. She didn’t think she’d ever be safe without Mama.

Laura heard her mother call her name. It sounded so far away. She turned her head, dazed. The awful smell – why wouldn’t it stop?

I can’t see you, Mama. I can’t see you. Don’t look at me. I don’t want to see you. Can’t see you. Can’t see you. Can’t see. Why do I have to go? Why? Why? Why? Don’t want to go. Won’t go. I won’t. I won’t see you, Mama. Don’t look at me. No. No. Baby poop. No.

No – wait. Look at me. I want to see you. Look at me. I see you. I see you, Mama. I’m scared. I’m so scared. It smells so bad. I hear you. I hear your voice. You say I’ll be safe. I’ll be safer. Why? Why? Why? You come too. Be safe. Be safe, Mama. Be safer. Look at me. I can see you. I see you. I don’t want to go. Don’t want to.

Laura’s gaze focused on the piano tuner. The strange woman’s frizzy gray curls struggled to escape from the loose clasp on her head. Laura found no comfort in this stranger. Not even when the woman smiled.

I don’t know that lady. Who is she? I’m scared. Scared, Mama. I see you. I see you, Mama. I see her. She’s looking at me. She’s smiling. I see her. Okay. If you want me to go, I’ll go. I see her. She smiles. She’s kind. She’s kind of – not you!

Don’t want to go. Don’t want to, Mama. Don’t want to. Don’t want to. Don’t want to leave you. Baby poop, Mama. It’s baby poop. You come too. Be safe. Safer, Mama. Come too. Come with me. I see you, mama. I see you – I see you – I see you. I love you, Mama.

Nola clasped her daughter’s hands in her own. She pulled the girl to a stand and pressed Laura’s hands together over her heart. Their eyes met.

IZZY

After a few silent seconds, Nola nodded once. She turned to me.

In a shaking voice she said, “I don’t know how to ask you this. We need your help. Could you – please – would you take Laura for a while? We’re desperate.”

Oh, my God. I don’t believe this. I coughed, choking on my response.

Laura pulled away from her mother.

“She could be in danger and I need time to sort things out,” Nola said.

I glanced from mother to daughter. The girl’s shoulders shook as she sobbed, her head buried in her hands.

What was I to do? I couldn’t take a strange child with me, drive out the driveway, head toward – head where? My appointments filled the day’s schedule. This would never work. What in the world was happening here?

But, I’d never been one to turn down a plea for help. What could I do?

“Please.” Nola’s whisper screamed in my ears.

I shook my head. “I need to think.”

“We don’t have time.”

“Are there no family members? Grandparents? Aunts or uncles?” I asked.

“My family lives in New York. They’re too far away. I need help now.”

“What about neighbors or friends?”

“I don’t know anyone around here. Except you. ”

That I could believe. The Pack family was a mystery to their neighbors. Hints and stray comments dropped when I tuned pianos a couple miles up the road confirmed nobody knew these people. They had no local friends. Just the piano tuner.

Incredible.

“Ranch hands?” I said. “You must have hired help.”

“I don’t trust them.”

“Is that why you think Laura’s in danger?”

“Please. There isn’t time to explain.”

I scratched my head through the mess of curls. Frizzy Izzy. I was living up to my childhood nickname, the hair an outward manifestation of my inner turmoil. “Have you called the sheriff?” I said.

“No. I can’t call the police.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Please. I can’t involve them.”

“This is crazy,” I said. “I can tell you’re desperate. But you haven’t told me why. You want me to pack up your daughter, the girl you’ve never even introduced to me on prior visits – load her up and take her away. But why? ”

“It’s an emergency. I need Laura to leave for a while.”

“I kind of want to leave too. In fact, you’re making me want to race from here as fast as I can go. But I don’t know why.”

“Just take Laura with you. Please.”

She had me. Could Nola read people enough to guess I’d find it impossible to refuse? My passion to help others usually served me well. I was, after all, in a service profession, traveling all over the countryside to tune pianos for people. Service with a smile, was the homily I always told myself. Make harmony from discord. And I loved the work. I loved the people. I found pianos fascinating, each one a variation on an ingenious theme.

This, however, was a first. This was different. Not a discordant piano today. This time, I was being pulled into a desperate situation.

Nola, should I tune your life?

A knot of anxiety hardened in my stomach. I didn’t know how to refuse. “For how long? How long is a while?” I asked.

“Might be only an hour or two. Perhaps a couple of days. I’ll call you when the crisis is over. Don’t call me.”

Chills raced through my body. “Why not? What if something happens?” I said. “What if I need to get in touch?”

“I’ll contact you as soon as I can. Just don’t call me.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Take the girl. No police. Don’t call Nola.

Laura wilted into the deck lounge and wailed.

In a soft voice, Nola said, “Izzy, believe me, if there was any other way, we would never put you in this position. The situation blew up on me this morning. You’re the miracle we need right now.”

“Please tell me why you’re so afraid,” I said.

She shook her head. “There’s no time. You need to go now.”

I touched the girl’s trembling shoulder with my fingertips. “Laura, are you okay with this? Will you come with me until your mother calls?”

Still sobbing, Laura ventured a tiny nod and turned to her mother. They grabbed each other in a desperate embrace.

Nola gently pushed the girl away. Taking her hand, she said, “Let’s go.”

She pulled Laura through the open doorway and gathered a few bags from the dining table. We dashed down the hall and into the music room, the bags in Nola’s arms brushing Laura’s artwork as she ran. I collected my tool case and hurried out to the waiting Blazer.

After I tossed my tools on the back seat, Nola handed me a briefcase. “Don’t lose this,” she said. “These things can’t be replaced.”

What does she mean? Another wrinkle.

I scrutinized her for a moment before I set the briefcase behind the driver’s seat.

Nola deposited Laura’s bags on the back seat and tucked her daughter into the passenger seat. She leaned inside and kissed the child.

“God be with you, Laura. I’ll see you soon.” A tear dropped into the girl’s stringy blond tresses.

Nola wiped another tear from her cheek and glanced at me. “Now quickly – go!”

I turned the Blazer onto the long gravel drive and spun the wheels as we left.

Accelerando, Isabel. Step on it.

We jiggled across the pasture lane. Laura shrank against the opposite door and wailed. Her thin voice vacillated with bumps in the road. At the end of the long driveway, we rumbled across the cattle guard and through stone pillars. The remotely controlled gate surged to life as soon as we cleared it.

“Your mom must be listening,” I said.

Laura’s strange two-tone whine rose a notch in volume.

I braked enough to navigate the turn onto the deserted county road. Heading south, I floored the accelerator. Less than two miles later, we met a two-ton flatbed pickup. It raced toward us, engine roaring.

“That guy’s in a hurry,” I said.

Laura gasped. Mouth open, eyes wide, she clung to the door, her gaze riveted on the truck. She ducked, hiding her eyes behind her long hair.

“Laura?”
The truck aimed straight for us. I swung the steering wheel right and braked hard. The farm truck thundered by as my Blazer crept along the shoulder. “Dang, take your half out of the middle,” I said.

Laura dissolved into hysterical sobs.

I pushed our speed again. We sailed along the road, sunlight streaming through the windshield. The bright morning mocked the grim mood inside our cab. Tears streamed across Laura’s cheeks. She reached up with her right arm and wiped her face with her sweatshirt sleeve. I reached over and squeezed her rigid hand.

“That was a close one, wasn’t it? You recognized the truck. Did you know the driver?”

Laura nodded. Her chest heaved. She worked her jaw, as if trying to speak, but her words didn’t form through her wail. She screwed up her face, knotted her hands into fists and managed to blurt in her strange split-tone voice, “My dad.”

“Your dad?”

She nodded and shrieked heart-wrenching sobs.

Her dad?

Was he the source of Nola’s panic this morning? Were her urgency and desperation because her angry husband headed home? Why would Laura’s life be endangered at her father’s hands?

I wished I could have stolen a look at the truck driver. I’d never met Laura’s dad. In all the previous service calls, not once had he been home. Did he look into my car? Did he recognize Laura? The thought horrified me.

“Honey, do you think your dad saw you as we passed?”

She shook her head. She must have watched his face, even if I didn’t get a peek.

“Is your dad the reason your mom sent you with me?”

A hesitation. Then a quick nod. This was a family dispute.

Nola’s words echoed in my mind. Her life is in danger. I shuddered.

In danger from her dad. Something she failed to mention.

No police, Nola had begged. Why not?

“It’ll be all right, Laura,” I said to reassure her.

Would it though? I was unconvinced.

 

To find out what happens next, drop by the

Christmasland Writers of the Wheat event!

December 3, 2021, 4:00 – 9:00 pm.

Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita.

Holiday Cooking with Grandma Georgia

As I prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner today, I am drawn into memories of Grandma’s kitchen. That were her habitat. Queen of her kitchen, she was in command of all the fixins. I recall helping to roll up the butterhorn rolls, a favorite task for granddaughters. Nobody went hungry at Grandma’s house. After the clean up, folks stretched out for a nap before we all drove the seven-mile journey to the family farm for a walk through the bare winter trees. It’s amazing how just cooking something from the past makes me feel close to family that is gone.

Today I will feature the latest publication that will be offered at the Christmasland event with Writers of the Wheat on December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste. It seems appropriate on Thanksgiving to share a cookbook.

Foreword

Georgia’s Recipe for a good life:

Work hard.

Love deeply.

Laugh often.

Georgia Wells Harris was born in southern Missouri October 3, 1891, the third child in a family of 5 children born to George Calvin and Edith Malinda Wells. By 1900, the family had moved to Kansas, utilizing covered wagon and train transportation. They settled in Skiddy, and later Dunlap. Georgia married Charley Harris on November 20, 1912. They raised four children, Frances (born 1914), Lester (1918), Wallace (1925), and Paul (1935).

No stranger to hardship and heartache, Georgia struggled to keep her family fed during the 1930s. Her farm kitchen remained stocked mostly with things produced in her garden or on the family farm.

Her oldest son Lester, an engineer on the USS Gherardi in WWII, was killed December 2, 1942 in a violent storm off the coast of Rhode Island. Charley died ten years later, and cancer took daughter Frances in 1959. Through it all, Georgia opened her heart and her home to family and became a role model in resilience, generosity, and compassion for others. I have precious memories of her hearty laughter, which was easy to trigger and very contagious.

She was an excellent cook, and queen of her kitchen. Many holidays the entire family gathered at her round dining table to feast on exquisite cuisine.

She died June 25, 1990, well on her way to her 99th birthday.

Her meager possessions passed to various family members. After her son, my father Wallace, died in 2010, her worn pink recipe file came into my possession. The lid had long since disappeared and it was stuffed full. Many tabs of the various sections were almost torn off, but I felt a connection to my grandmother, reading those recipes—most written in her own familiar handwriting.

I suspect the file is far from complete as a collection of the dishes she served, but it’s a nice collection. Some I have specific memories of. Most I do not. Some must have been given by friends, as the handwriting was not her own. Perhaps she gained several in recipe exchanges at her women’s “72 Club.”

I long intended to divide up the cards and share them with my sisters and cousins, but time got away from me. In 2020, the year that COVID stalled many usual activities, as October rolled around I pulled out the file and started studying the recipes. Who should get which ones? It was impossible to decide. That’s when the idea of constructing a book was born. We each will have access to every single recipe in her recipe file. Each of her living grandchildren will still get a selection of her hand-written cards, but with this book, we’ll all be able to use and enjoy her recipe collection.

Several recipes were incomplete, listing only ingredients, or confusing instructions. I imagined she was standing behind me saying, “Well, you ought to know what to do with those.” After all, she knew. Where I tried to add suggestions, my words are in italics.

In places, I have transferred her exact notes, regardless of punctuation and spelling, just like they are on the cards. I find them endearing. In other places, I did a search to clear up some uncertainties. I didn’t always find answers, but where I did, I shared them.

Some ingredients are unfamiliar to me, and may be pretty hard to find. Thus there may be recipes that are not practical or useful in today’s kitchen. But they are interesting.

In many ways, recipes are heirlooms. The people she credited with some of the recipes are different than those I think of when I make the same concoction. Names in ( ) are her referrals to the sources of the recipes, but they don’t always match the credits in my own recipe file.  The cookies I think of as Grandma Georgia’s brown sugar raisin cookies, she credited to her younger sister, Ola. I wonder who Ola thought of when she baked them?

The evolution of our table food is an unending process. Special dishes remind us of gatherings, good times, and laughter. Others help us remember people we love who are no longer living. Those we favor tend to get passed around.

During the COVID seasons, I was drawn to the family favorites and felt comforted by memories of loved ones long gone as I shared their culinary delights with my loved ones today.

Mixed into the section headings is a sprinkling of wisdom as Georgia viewed life. It seems appropriate to include some thoughts she left in letters and recorded conversations, as seasonings for the book, just as her principles seasoned her life. Let your mind roam back over the decades, and just try to imagine the earlier days. She would be thrilled if we applied some of her shared thoughts to life in this century.

For more holiday food ideas, be sure to stop by the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita December 3. Visit with talented local authors. Browse the book selections. Find something special for everyone on your Christmas list.

 

What is a Windshadow?

Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.

What is it about?

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future.  Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.

I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.

Prologue from the Book

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered  inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them.

 I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”

He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

 

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega Part 2

Since I was young, I found peace and unconditional acceptance in the natural world, even in difficult times. Especially in difficult times. During a traumatic adolescence, I surrounded myself with nature in my hideaway room at home. There was a fifty-gallon aquarium, and shelves in the windows filled with houseplants. Some even vined across the ceiling. My own private forest.

In Nature, I found evidence of a supreme being beyond what our senses show. Through countless moments filled with awe and wonder at the mystery of life, of connections with other beings, I grew to love the Earth, its life, and its mysteries. As we approach a precipice of no-return in the global crisis brought on by our industrial and consumer-oriented lifestyle, I feel great sadness, along with deep gratitude for the gift of life itself, and for all the moments when I sense the Beyond through simple contacts with other living things. Climate grief is a true thing.

I wonder what awe-filled moments do you recall that you wish your grandchildren—and theirs—could experience?

Have you ever . . .

Watched an eagle soar and listened to its distant call?

Sat on a trailside boulder and watched an aspen seed float to the ground?

Had a hummingbird check your red bandanna for nectar?

Watched a glacier calve an iceberg?

Heard a rush of wings in the stillness of a heavy mist?

Watched a loggerheaded shrike hang a field mouse on a locust thorn?

Risen before dawn to visit booming grounds of lesser prairie chickens?

 

Watched a lone prairie dog scamper away from its village into the sunset?

Surprised a family of deer on a winter walk?

Watched a flock of robins sip melting snow from your house gutters?

Walked with a flashlight after dark in September to watch orb spiders at work?

Witnessed a black bear check out the milo fields on the high plains of Kansas?

Heard the scream of a cougar outside your tent in the middle of the night?

Watched autumn leaves dance with hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies at dusk?

Held a newly metamorphosed moth in your hand and watched its virgin flight?

Heard barking sea lions as they congregated on the shore below the seaside cliff where you stood?

Through six decades, travels from Oregon and California to Maryland and Florida, Minnesota to Arizona, as well as journeys to Japan, India, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico—not to mention my own backyard—the wonderments of Earth have held me spellbound in every little nook. With deep gratitude for all I have been fortunate to witness, and with fervent hope that we can stop our catapult into disaster at COP26, I offer Part 2 of the slide show from my younger days. Let humanity not be responsible for the Omega curtain on our gem of a planet.

Music: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Chorale Symphony.”

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega

A week from today in Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 is set to begin. The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the 1994 United Nations treaty on Climate Change has been called the planet’s last best chance to establish commitments around the globe that will mitigate the worst consequences of human blundering and greed. Glasgow, a Global Green City with plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, is an appropriate location for the conference. Like Greta Thunberg, I have grave doubts that anything pertinent will come from the proceedings.

But, it’s crucial that we take drastic steps to reverse the damage humanity has done to this gem of a planet. Every culture and faith tradition that I know of dictates great honor and respect for the forces that created the living biosphere we call home and rely on for our very existence. My background is the Christian tradition, where in earliest stories, God the divine, the Creator, brought into being the systems on Earth—and saw that it was very good.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The greatest crime against the universe is human arrogance and greed that ignores the rest of our brother and sister species to bring about catastrophic change and ultimately destruction of the Earth systems that support all life forms.

I fell in love with nature in my childhood. My parents took us traveling to wonderful places every year and we camped in the wilderness before RV-ing became a “thing.” The church were I learned “God is Love” used beautiful scenic photos on the weekly bulletins, and I wanted to take photos like them.

In college, my best friend (who later became my husband) and I bonded over escapades in natural settings. We reveled in outings where we traipsed joyfully through hills and meadows with our 35mm SLR cameras slung over our shoulders.

The first church we attended as newlyweds was a country Mennonite church in southwestern Kansas. Though neither of us had a Mennonite background, the love, the service, and the music of this congregation provided a perfect support for beginning our married life. For these people, we put together a slide show of our own scenic shots, accompanied by scripture from the Bible. The original show was held in 1978 in a local auditorium, using a Kodak carousel projector and reading scripture at a microphone as we advanced the slides. At the time we thought how nice it would have been to include musical background, but lacked technological skills to accomplish that.

I lost my first soul mate to cancer. A lifetime later, with advancing digital products and home computers, I was able to convert the original 35mm slides to digital format, set it all to music with the help of a tech-savvy stepson, and post to a YouTube video channel.

I offer the show here, for love of the Earth, of Creation, of our gem of a planet which unquestionably deserves better than we’ve allotted to it. As COP26 approaches, can we all agree that Earth is unique in the universe? Can we, out of respect for its Creator and Creation itself, and for love of generations to come—generations of all species that make up our Earth family—commit to protecting and preserving this unique planet which holds mystery and miracles and wondrous splendor?

See Part 1 of the slide show we called “In the Beginning” here, set to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in F minor op. 84:

Part 2 to come.

What’s a Grandma to do?

With the preponderance of plastic items everywhere you turn, it’s a real challenge to figure out how to reduce my use. Take, for instance, the celebratory picnic of grandson’s swim team season two weeks ago. Hotdogs and hamburgers would be furnished, but each family was to bring along “prepackaged” sides to make the meal complete. Prepackaged? I visualized single serving chip bags, plastic containers of fruit or pudding, industrial cookies and brownies, wrapped and sealed in plastic before packaging in paperboard boxes.

How to reduce my family’s plastic contribution?

Here’s what I decided to do. I baked a batch of home-made oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips, and put one cookie each inside a single paper sleeve.

I had found a supply of these online when preparing a promotion of Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File at an old-time crafts festival.

Then I cleaned and sanitized 24 small plastic cups that included plastic lids, which came with the free USDA summer lunches provided during COVID for the grandson. I selected ripe and attractive grapes, chunks of melon, and a bing cherry, and made two dozen fresh fruit cups. I sealed them with the cleaned lids. Okay, I know. This was still in plastic, but at least it was re-used plastic before it was tossed into the trash bins.

(Fruit cups similar to the picnic items. I forgot to take a picture of those.)

This reducing plastic thing is hard. It’s everywhere, and we’re so used to it, we don’t even think about it anymore.

Moving Toward Zero Plastic One Step at a Time

After watching the documentary The Story of Plastic with several friends and neighbors last month, and reading Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,  I am convinced we need to move toward a plastic free world sooner, rather than later. Like maybe, yesterday. Or last year.

It’s not going to be easy. Look around. Nearly everything we do, everything we have, everything we shop for at the local stores is–if not made of plastic itself–wrapped up in it, sealed with it, packaged, bottled, bagged in it. We are so used to plastic in our lives, where do we even begin?

Beth Terry has some really good ideas about that. Her book is chock-full of tips, personal stories (mostly from her experiences), and suggestions for alternatives. I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s written so engagingly, that I was trying some of her ideas with each chapter, without waiting to finish the book. For quick starters, she also blogs at https://myplasticfreelife.com/

For instance, take plastic bags. These nuisances are very bad for the environment, totally unnecessary, but so hard to avoid. I am old enough to recall the days before plastic bags when everything was bagged in paper bags. And of course, we were urged to change our habits then to save the trees! What about the days before paper bag convenience? What about a hundred years ago? What, even, do some other countries do today (or at least in the more recent past, before the bag-pushers got to them)?

People once were responsible for providing their own take-out crates, bags, or boxes. And in some places, that custom still exists. Here at home, it seems that every worthy organization offers free re-usable shopping bags. Some are more road-worthy than others, but at least they aren’t hard to find. I have a dozen in my car, ready for toting new purchases. The good thing about cloth bags is that they can be tossed into the laundry and cleaned for reuse. We just have to remember to take a few into the store when we get the week’s provisions.

If you are a little short on bags, Beth Terry offered good ideas for making your own. How many of us have a drawer-full of old t-shirts we’ve collected at various events? I know I do. They serve a purpose for a day or two, and then gradually get buried under other shirts. Try digging out some t-shirts you haven’t worn for years and make them into shopping bags.

It’s easy–

  1. Trim the sleeves off, just outside the seams. Trim the neckline to make the top opening bigger. This need not be hemmed, just leave it raw cut.
  2. Turn the shirt inside out and sew two seams across the bottom. Two seams adds strength.
  3. Turn it right-side out, and you’ve got a bag.

If you happen to have a tank top that hasn’t been worn for a long time, it’s even easier. No sleeves to trim! Just double-seam the bottom edge and it’s a ready-made bag.

If you have no sewing machine, just cut a fringe and tie knots along the bottom. For a festive look, add beads, or other bits of things.

You can express yourself with the shirts you choose, and have a Uniquely You collection of reusable shopping bags. Or make some to give away each time you shop.

One other homemade  bag suggested in the book is one crocheted out of plarn. I had never heard of plarn, but it’s a thing. Google it and you’ll find all kinds of video instructions on how to make a ball of “plarn” (that is, plastic yarn) from shopping bags. There are detailed instructions on the crocheting process, and even patterns for other items, like bedrolls for homeless people. (Really!) Talk about re-using something. A bedroll would take lots of bags from landfills already overflowing with once-used plastic stuff, or re-purpose hundreds that otherwise might blow into the trees in your hometown or the pond in your park, and might even provide a bit of comfort for those with precious little of that commodity.

My experimental plarn bag, still light-weight, but with the strength of 50 single-use bags:

Show and tell reusable homemade bags at the screening of The Story of Plastic:

Zero Plastic, Step One: Carry (and use!) reusable shopping bags.