Spinning…

Look closely at this photo of some fall veggies sitting on my counter to see a metaphor for the writing life:

On the top tomato, do you spy a whitish, fuzzy object? It’s hard to get a good shot of this. Let me have my husband try. 

 

Hmm… maybe a little clearer. Or not…

When I picked that top tomato from our vines sprawling wa-a-a-y out of control, this small caterpillar attracted my attention. Spinning away, in the business of transformation. 

That’s how my days pass–spinning stories, except when I surface to instruct a class, facilitate a writing workshop, or attend a grandchild’s ballgame. On September 10, 17, and 24 this year, I have the joy of interacting with an incredible group of writers at an Iowa State University OLLIE class. Such fun discussions–wish I lived closer! 

Spinning, spinning…that’s my task, weaving the threads of characters’ lives together. Or in the case of the WWII nurse I’m writing about now, discovering how the actual threads of her life carried her through the horrors of war.  Five long years she gave to the effort–the best of her twenties.

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing this incredible woman’s voice in a DVD as she spoke to a group in her later years. Oh my! What a memory she had…what a lovely, intriguing woman. I’m indebted to her daughter, who sent me that video presentation, along with photos and information.

In November, I get to meet this daughter, and possiblly her brother as well. I’ll be facilitating a writing workshop at the Joliet, IL library, and be able to walk the streets Dorothy walked during her post-war life, see her photo albums, touch the many campaign badges she earned…

And it will all center on spinning. 

Interesting that I’m a disaster at sewing, and after several knitting lessons, never did master that precise art.

But I am spinning, always. 

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.

The Humble Milkweed

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Probably many of my readers recall picking milkweed as children–such an unique plant.

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Yesterday my twelve-year-old granddaughter and I reveled in the superb softness of milkweed down. She sent it flying far and near, and piped, “Grandma, it’s softer than my special silky blanket!”

For the sake of the Monarch butterfly,  people have started re-growing this “weed” that used to flourish in Iowa’s ditches. Back in the forties and fifties, milkweed fluff was everywhere.

Many of us ran our fingers over the satiny floss that floated like dandelion fluff on sunny fall days. But few realized how vital this wispy white stuff had been in the World War II effort to save sailors’ lives. The Japanese controlled kapok, the normal life vest filler, so milkweed floss became a workable substitute.

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I’ve been reading an incredible book called And If I Perish, about nurses and doctors who risked–and often gave–their lives to help wounded soldiers. My research also gave me the story of an Indiana sailor who suffered in the waters of the Pacific and would have died without his life belt. He brought it home as a keepsake, and when his mother looked it over, she realized the inspection number on the belt belonged to her.

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Yes, she worked in a factory that produced life belts and vests. Such an ironic twist to this sailor’s story of deliverance. The war era is full of these stories–I can’t get enough of them.

 

One thing is certain, I’ll never look at milkweed quite the same way again.

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