Keep Calm and Carry On

That’s a mouthful at times. I have a friend who’s facing surgery with extensive recuperation, plus two dreadful diseases in her close family.

Keep calm, you say?

With another friend, we have an ongoing discussion about how people make it through suffering, sorrow, illness, and loss. Sometimes I think it’s a combination of this “carry on” attitude plus faith, of course, and a good dose of everyday concerns that keep us going.

 

On our recent trip, Lance ordered bangers and mash, also known as sausages and mash, a traditional British and Irish dish combining sausages and mashed potatoes. The flavored sausages may be pork, lamb, or beef (often specifically Cumberland sausage. The dish is sometimes served with onion gravy, fried onions, or peas.

This dish, even when cooked at home, may be thought of as an example of pub grub, quick and easy to make in large quantities. I’ve read accounts of wartime children being sent to pick up the family’s order of this dish at a local restaurant, since both of their parents were working.

During World War II, I wonder if, in addition to seeking divine comfort, the necessary constant task of providing food for their families helped everyone make it through. Here in the states, women survived dire Depression-era poverty and went on to endure the wait for their loved ones to return from the second world war.

Maybe it’s no wonder that generation taught us to eat everything on our plates and placed high value on a good, solid meal followed by a lush dessert.

Some World War II ladies we met at Bletchley Park

Talk about authentic…take a look at these women – oh, so stylish! The one with the white hat has a Veronica Lake “victory roll,” prevalent during World War II. This hair-do kept women’s hair out of the way in such a busy time, and helped them avoid accidents with machinery at their jobs, as well.

 

One of these ladies might work in a factory, like her American counterpart, Rosie the Riveter, or as a secretary to someone in Winston Churchill’s underground war rooms.

These are the types Addie and Kate would have encountered in Charles Tenney’s office, or on the streets of London.

 

PHOTOS – Bletchley Park

Styles of the time…for some reason, the seams don’t show up on their hosiery.

 

But here’s the smuggler we met at Bletchley…isn’t he cool?

And behold some of his wares:

I wanted to buy everything…don’t you LOVE the look on his wife’s face?

Finding specific name brands was such a gift for my research…what a day, what an incredible day.

The United Kingdom – Favorites

First of all, a caveat: I’m one of those whose perfectionist tendencies used to keep me from producing much in the way of writing, so I’m plunging in regardless. There will probably be errors, and I apologize beforehand. An extremely tentative outline started going through my head in the shower this morning…let’s call it a list.

Although I have a strong inkling I won’t stick with it, I wrote the list for my own sake, so I can look back and remember where I thought I was going. (Kind of like life in general.)

Our grandson helped me with this by asking, “What was your favorite thing about England?”

Mind you, this was about an hour after we arrived home, and it was 2 a.m. UK time, so everything was a happy blur of memories. But I replied that Bletchley Park had to be right up there, vying for first place.

And then I told him about the nifty man dressed in a WWII suit standing next to his wife, with her perfectly elegant suit, WWII hairdo and hat. He crooked a finger at us when he saw me staring, and we walked over.

“If you need anything, I most likely have it here.” He tapped his small black cardboard suitcase. His eyebrows and surreptitious stance shouted BLACK MARKET.

“Could we see what’s in there?”

He nodded and cleverly turned the case toward himself, clicked open the latches, and drew us closer. Then he allowed us a peek. Silk stockings, sweets and other rationed items, all in their original packaging.

Ah…I’ll treasure this memory! We’d just stepped into one of the buildings at Bletchley Park, the highly secretive location where brilliant “nerdy” types were sent to break enemy codes during the war. In numbered “huts”, nearly 10,000 workers wracked their brains to untangle the German enigma machine codes, as well as ones used by the Japanese. Their work made an unfathomable difference in the outcome of the war.

We spent hours reading about these dedicated men and women who endured long, sometimes very cold, damp weeks and months laboring over intercepted messages. One tour guide said their mission was so top-secret that many never spoke of it again.

Decades after World War II ended, he started leading tours. When his elderly father heard that, he told him, “You can’t go up there…that’s top secret.”

On one of this guide’s tours, an older couple were listening to him introduce the particular work that had occurred in a certain hut. To the guide’s astonishment, the visitor ventured, “I worked there during the war, in hut ten.”

His wife turned to him and said, “You did? So did I. I was stationed in hut six.”

Can you imagine? They’d never even told each other what they did during the war. 

Tidbits like these stay with me, along with the “God wink” that the day we arbitrarily chose to visit this amazing place happened to be “dress-up day.” We had no idea, but seeing women wearing hosiery with seams running down the backs of their legs and prim hats soon let us know.

In the green expanse outside the huts and museum, re-enactors displayed field hospitals, SOE agents at work, WWII women making corned beef hash attractive to their families, medic tents, ammunition dumps, the list goes on and on.

I promise I’ll share some photos of them and that natty little fellow with the black case as soon as I figure out how to find them in the thousands of images Lance shot during our stay. I’ll probably say it several more times, but having him catalogue everything this way was a great relief–so much to take in, so impossible to recall it all.

Needless to say, if you plan a trip to the UK, I’d suggest setting aside a full day for Bletchley Park.

Changed Plans and Reminders

A promise is a promise. I said I would send photos from England and a continuous report of what we are doing over here. However, the photo part has to wait because my husband is at a camera shop right now seeing if his camera damage from the trip over the Atlantic can be fixed or if he needs to buy a new camera.

In the meantime, he has been taking what we hope are wonderful shots of everything we have seen so far. So here goes from Portsmouth where the D-Day Museum completely captured our attention and where I put my pinky in the very cold waters of the English Channel.

The Salty breeze from the channel made me very thankful for the coat our daughter found for me last week. We stayed minutes from the channel in the Easley guest house where Steve and Clare provided great breakfasts and loads of information about Portsmouth now and during World War II.

One of the highlights for me was meeting a couple of women on vacation during breakfast the first day. One of them grew up in a big brick house across the street and told us that along the line of houses, where we now could see a more modern one, that meant the original one had been bombed out during the blitz.

As usual meeting these women was a highlight for me. We also explored a bombed-out local Garrison church built long before Jamestown was founded.

We went to the Mary Rose museum. The Mary Rose was Henry the VIII’s pride and joy, his best warship. But he watched her sink from Portsmouth Harbor. Centuries later, she was partially brought to the surface and is now reconstructed underneath a huge glass enclosure. So many artifacts retrieved from the Mary Rose and it’s amazing they were still recognizable.

Today I am taking a break from concrete and cement for my poor aching feet, but ice is helping. We wanted to be on a tour today, but as often happens in life, had to change our plans. The same thing happened with being able to check my emails so if any of you have written me and not received a reply now you know why.

Still, it’s a gorgeous day in Oxford England. Yesterday we saw punters rowing their flat-bottomed boats—which they call “punts”—on the river beside the colleges. We ate dinner where C.S. Lewis and his buddies met every week. It’s a pub called The Bear and it was flooded with Americans. I sure hope Lance’s photos have turned out OK. He can’t tell at this point, but hopefully will be able to send some soon. For now, a few from our phone will have to do.

 

In the meantime, I’m reading The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis out in a beautiful back yard of our hotel and being reminded that even when our plans go awry the beauty around us reminds us of what really matters. Signing off for now.

Recalculating

For over a week I’ve been telling myself I must start blogging again, after quite a traumatic time of grief in our little church. This word recalculating keeps coming to mind – you know, the voice on the GPS that tells you to re-define your direction?

During times like this, support and encouragement arrive to cheer our hearts. Lance’s photography hobby stalled for a while, but this morning he captured this little wren singing her heart out in one of our lilac bushes.

Realizing how tragedies affect pastors, a friend sent us flowers. I’m drying the gorgeous yellow roses upside down to hoard something of this bouquet’s beauty, to remind me of his kindness.

It’s probably no coincidence that my sign Love deeply, be happy, and share the joy got included in this photo, albeit upside down. It’s a good reminder that loving deeply, though this kind of loss causes great pain, is worth the effort.

If you’re acquainted with Addie and Kate and Domingo from my books, you know how this concept applies. I’ll leave the analyzing to you this time, and share another cheerful birdie pic…

Such gloomy days here lately, but we had to smile when Iowa’s state bird paid us a visit.

There, I’ve written a blog again – thanks for waiting. I want to let you know, too, that Lance and I will be leaving this week for our fortieth anniversary journey to England. Lots of research ahead…soooo many WWII museums and airfields and STORIES – Oh MY!

I plan to send updates, so stay tuned. I imagine we’ll  be recalculating often during this trip! And thanks again for taking valuable time to read what I write and passing on the news.

 

April 18, A Winter’s Day in Iowa…

Well, it’s the third snowstorm since March 23. Just sayin’, and returning  from my indoor walk this morning, I still marveled at how light and huge the flakes are. A fall so thick we can barely see across the street.

And the birds are wild at the feeder…free food, why not?

While it lasts, they’re seizing the moment. Might as well embrace the unexpected or undesirable experiences that come our way. So they thought they’d be sitting on their eggs by now…not so much.

At the risk of redundancy, I have to say that during World War II, if you were deployed or doing clandestine work as a secret agent, this attitude would get you a long way.

NOTHING was expected–if you could predict an occurrence, something probably had gone wrong. Murphy’s law multiplied. 

Starting next week, I plan to make posts from actual locations where Lancasters took off with their precious cargo of agents like Kate Isaacs. Yes, and from the underground tunnels where Winston Churchill and military leaders made decisions that changed the world. And from Baker Street…and…

In the meantime, enjoy some more shots from our back room during this heavy snowstorm. An undesirable storm…but embraced.

April Surprises

April fools came a couple of days late this year, and yes, I snapped a picture of these birdie prints just outside our door. Maybe a sparrow seeking sustenance between the cracks in our deck.

I consider myself fortunate. My husband shoulders the work snow brings. Early this morning, he was out creating walkable paths for the likes of moi.

 

Why so bundled up? Try seven degrees F.

He also takes amazing photographs of the flora and fauna around here–we used to comment that we’d know when we’re old when we started watching birds. Weeel…

A humble sparrow, fluffed against the cold. She thought she’d be building her nest and laying her eggs by now.

But April or no April, expectations or no expectations, iNature dumps a snowstorm when she pleases. These days prove perfect for researching.

As usual, I’ve been studying WWII history, and am so impressed by British citizens’ tenacity. They took hit after hit after hit, long before we Americans even entered the war. Entire towns leveled by the Luftwaffe…thousands of lives lost. Attacks foiled, with unbearable losses.

But those losses would mount far higher…the war had only begun, and words like unbearable would take on new levels of meaning.

Yet in the historical annals, photo after photo attests to ordinary British citizens’ pluck. It seemed that as suffering and challenges increased, so did people’s stamina, endurance, and proactivity: in a word, their pluck. 

We don’t use this word much any more, but pluckiness will get you through a lot. Yesterday I came across a picture of two women emerging from the rubble of their bombed out homes, each with a houseplant in her hands…and they both wore a smile. 

There’s a lot to be said for pluck…it’s fluffing out your feathers in the face of a storm. It’s picking up your shovel and starting in…or keeping on. It’s that indefatigable hope dwelling inside that keeps you going, no matter what.

The Quality of Light

“Of all the facts I daily live with there’s none more comforting than this; If I have two rooms, one dark, the other light, and I open the door between them, the dark room becomes lighter without the light one becoming darker. I know this is no headline, but it is a marvelous foot note; and comforts me in that.” ― Gerhard Frost

Probably there’s some scientific explanation for why light affects darkness, but not vice-versa. These kinds of questions intrigue me, so I guess it’s no wonder they furrow my characters’ brows, as well.

Why doesn’t darkness “move into” light when we open a door or when a light shines outside our windows? Instead, brightness penetrates into the formerly dark area.

In my last novel, Kate, Domingo, and the wily priest who accompanies them on some of their clandestine missions ponder such concepts. Why didn’t one of the assassination attempts on Hitler’s life succeed? How could such evil run rampant over Europe?

If you enjoyed With Each New Dawn and A Purpose True, you’d most likely appreciate the story I’m working on right now, too. Stan, an all-American guy-type, considers philosophical questions in the mountains of Bataan, where he and a captain escape to carry on guerrilla warfare instead of succumbing to captivity in a Japanese POW camp.

Add to this the captain’s literary mind bursting with quotes, and his penchant for employing them in everyday conversation…plus his bouts of malaria and dengue fever. Needless to say, Stan has his hands full.

As usual, I keep thinking this novel must be nearly finished…and that day will come. Meanwhile, Easter’s not a bad time to consider the effect of light on darkness, and the failure of darkness to squelch light.

Have a meaningful holiday.

 

Making Do

This past two weeks have tweaked my perspective after I fell and hurt my wrist. Since driving is out, these days have been more isolated than normal. Some friends came to my rescue with groceries and other household needs like chopping vegetables, opening cans, and vacuuming.

Some other friends visited, too:

Nice to have company…the first few days, I read through a pile of books I’ve been meaning to get to, and learned so much…about World War II. How’d you guess?

Once I could type again, even one-handed, my latest hero and heroine kept me company. Oh, what the ordinary citizens of the 40’s went through–they made do all the time. For this story, I’m researching the war in the Philippines.

Here’s one of my resources, a compilation of the Los Angeles Examiner’s wartime headlines. With a trusty magnifying glass borrowed from a friend, I’ve unearthed some real gems–hopefully, you’ll read some of them when ALL FOR THE CAUSE is published.