Sacrificial Love: The Story of Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler learned that when someone is drowning, you jump in and help.

Irena Sendler never thought of herself as a person who did anything out of the ordinary. She believed she was just listening to her heart when she worked to rescue thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

I learned about Irena while touring the Holocaust Center of Maitland, Florida. Currently the museum is hosting the “Heroes of Warsaw” exhibit which shares the original artwork of illustrator Bill Farnsworth. The exhibit will be on display until December 28, 2018.

Farnsworth’s illustrations appear in the children’s book, Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin. (Holiday House 2011) I was so intrigued by Irena’s life, I borrowed a copy of the book from our local public library.

THE SETTING

After the German army invaded Poland in 1939, thousands of Jewish residents of Warsaw were rounded up and packed into a ghetto with eleven foot high walls. Soon a typhus epidemic broke out due to poor sanitation. The Germans were horrified the epidemic would expand beyond the walls of the ghetto. They permitted Polish authorities to take care of health and sanitation inside the walls since they were afraid to enter.

THE PLOT

Irena Sendler was a young Catholic social worker who dressed as a nurse to gain access to the Warsaw ghetto. Armed police were stationed at every entrance. As a member of the underground group Zegota, she used her cover to smuggle Jewish children to safe homes, where they assumed false identities. In the book the author describes the creative means by which Irena bypassed the armed police. Irena hid children in coffins and under the floorboards of ambulances. Babies were tucked into potato sacks and toolboxes.

Her efforts were not without personal sacrifice. Irena had become a prime mover in the Zagota organization.  Eventually she was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by the Nazi’s. She escaped her execution with the help of a truck driver who accepted a bribe for her release. While Irena was in prison, her aunt saved the record of the children’s true identities. After her escape, Irena recovered the lists, stored them in glass bottles, and buried them under an apple tree.

After the war ended she gave the lists to Dr. Adolph Berman who placed the children in Jewish homes. Irena liberated four hundred children herself. Zegota saved over two thousand. Most of the parents of the surviving children were executed in the Treblinka death camp during the war.

THE MORAL

When asked why she risked her life to save others, Irena responded by sharing something she learned when she was young.

“I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don’t just ask if they can swim, you jump in and help.”

Irena never thought of herself as heroic. She believed, like many selfless people she was simply doing what she had to do. Irena thought the real heroes were the Jewish mothers who gave up their children to unknown persons. 

IRENA’S LATER YEARS

On October 19, 1965 Irena was recognized by the World Holocaust Remembrance center of Jerusalem. Polish Communist leaders did not allow her to travel to Israel to receive the award. She was later presented the award in 1983.  

Irena Sendler died in Warsaw in 2008 at age 98. Her life reminds me of Psalm 41.

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and bless his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. 

The Holocaust Center sponsors educational programs dedicated to combating ant-Semitism, racism, and prejudice. Plans have been unveiled to move it’s location to a newly renovated facility in downtown Orlando which will serve as a symbol of the city’s diversity and acceptance.

Redefining Age with Valerie Ramsey

There are many phrases which try to describe anyone past the age of sixty. Phrases like, “over the hill,” “past my prime,” and “slowing down” come to mind.  None of these describe Valerie Ramsey.

I heard Valerie Ramsey speak at a luncheon for seniors last week. Now 78, she defies every concept I previously believed about aging. Valerie’s story is amazing. A mother of six, and stay at home mom,  she entered the work force at age 53. Valerie began her career selling golf balls at Pebble Beach Resorts and worked her way up to the position of  Public Relations Media Director.

Soon after she accepted her dream job at Pebble Beach, Valerie was diagnosed with cancer and heart disease. She made a decision to not let adversity stop her from doing the work she enjoyed. Valerie overcame her health issues and continued her position as PR director for fifteen years.

End of story? No way.  At age 63, Valerie was discovered by the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency of San Francisco. Tall and slender, Valerie fit the perfect image of a beautiful mature woman. It’s hard to believe she kept her fulltime position at Pebble Beach while working modeling assignments part time.

If that wasn’t enough, Valerie is an author. Her book, “Creating What’s Next Gracefully” (Pathfinder, 2013) inspires readers to do great things, no matter what their age. At 78 she is a popular motivational speaker on the national and international circuits and has no intention of slowing down. Valerie has appeared on many TV shows, including the Today Show, Fox News, and Extra. Oh and by the way, she still models.

Back to the luncheon… During her presentation Valerie encouraged listeners to create what’s next in their lives by keeping their eyes and ears open for new opportunities to pursue their dreams. ” One way to power past fear is to imagine a positive outcome,” shared Valerie. “Above all, don’t let who you were define who you are.”

I have to say I’m inspired by Valerie’s message. So many people, women especially, look at their advancing years with a feeling of dread. Valerie sees her age as a positive. After all how many people succeed in new careers in their sixties and seventies?  At age 64, I’m not considering a modeling career, but I am looking forward to more adventure.  Are you thinking about your next chapter? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s encourage one another.

 

 

One Beagle’s Battle with Degenerative Disk Disease

If you’ve followed my blog during the past year, you know I like to travel.  This month my main trips have been to the veterinarian’s office.  The four-footed furry member of our team, experienced a set back in his health, forcing him to be on medical leave.

On our most recent camping trip, Buddy, our beagle, couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He paced, shivered, and whined. Buddy suffers with degenerative disk disease. On occasion he struggles with pain in his back. We phoned our vet, who advised us how to handle the present emergency. Fortunately, we brought along some medication to relieve his pain. Can you believe we actually carry a first aid kit for our dog? We administered the medication, but decided to come home early in case his condition worsened.

The next day Buddy improved. The combination of pain medication and steroids halted what might have been another terrible event.  In 2013, one of Buddy’s disks ruptured, resulting in paralysis of his hind legs. Click on the “buddy’s world” tab above for details.

We scheduled a follow-up appointment for Buddy with Dr. Enrique Duprey of the Corrine Drive Animal Hospital. The two of them have an understanding. Buddy strikes a cute pose and stares at Dr. Duprey. Few can resist Buddy’s beguiling brown eyes. Buddy knows his cuteness pays off in treats. On this visit Dr. Duprey offered more than treats. He offered laser treatments.

Low-level laser therapy is a relatively new concept being used to treat dogs with arthritis and degenerative disk disease. This illness is fairly common in long-bodied dogs. The treatments use light to stimulate cell regeneration, reduce inflamation, and increase blood circulation. For almost four years after his surgery and recovery, Buddy got along very well. His recent pain episode indicates the disease is still present.

A typical treatment session lasts ten to fifteen minutes. Buddy wears special dark goggles to protect his eyes. I’ve been told the laser feels good to the dogs. Buddy hasn’t complained. If laser therapy reduces his need for medication and prevents another ruptured back disk, we’re all for it. Right now he’s receiving two treatments a week. If he continues to do well, the treatments will be decreased to once a month. He’s had eight treatments so far. Buddy enjoys all the special attention he receives from the technicians at the animal hospital. He’s the coolest beagle in Orlando.

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Looking back, we’re not sorry we share our home and our lives with Buddy. Beagles give more than they take. Buddy is charming and congenial.  He’s a great companion. Relatively calm, Buddy’s not a nuisance barker, but he’ll let us know if cats or other visitors are near. Then he omits a loud baying sound heard for blocks. Out on a hike Buddy is attuned to the smells and sounds of the woods, a part of his hunting heritage.

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If you’ve experienced medical issues with a pet, or if you are simply crazy about beagles, leave a comment. I’d like to hear your story.

 

 

Sharing Books with Kindred Spirits

During the past year I’ve written several posts about camping. I’m not always out in the wilderness with Herb and Buddy. At home, I like to read and hang out with friends. Here I am with my Kindred Spirits Book Club.

Our book club celebrated its third anniversary this month. Some of the members, myself included, are retired teachers. We spent most of our careers teaching children to read. Now we have time to read for our own enjoyment. We’ve discovered that books are much more interesting and memorable if shared with friends. We chose our name from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. In the book, Anne referred to her closest friend, Diana, as a “kindred spirit.”  Together, they shared similar interests.

Our group meets monthly for lunch, usually at one of the members homes. Before the book discussion, we chat about our personal lives. After the dishes are cleared away, we conduct our “business.” During the business meeting we make decisions about future books we plan to read, and set dates to meet. Our group is very accommodating of each other’s suggestions. A member will suggest a book title and author, then tell something about it. We bat the idea around a few minutes, and come to a consensus.

Unlike some book clubs I’ve heard about, we actually do read and discuss our book of the month. After all, teachers are very responsible regarding their homework.  Whoever is leading the discussion drafts specific questions and emails them to the group a few days in advance of our meeting. We’re a serious book club.

I love hearing the members reaction to some of the books we’ve read. Here is a snippet of one discussion.

“Why do so many books seem to be about dysfunctional families?”

“Because if everything was hunky-dory you wouldn’t have a story.”

Over the past three years we’ve read thirty-one books.  At our last meeting I asked the group to share their favorites.

Our number one book is A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith…. The story of three generations of a pioneer family in Florida.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah …  Two sisters struggle to resist the German occupation of France during World War II.

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde …  A burned out teacher turned foster parent travels the country in an RV.

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore…  The true story of a friendship between a homeless man and an international art dealer.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers …   Retells the biblical love story of Gomer and Hosea in the times of the California Gold Rush.

Life From Scratch by Sasha Martin … a memoir of food, family, and forgiveness.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg … A comical novel of two women who gather their courage to learn to fly, each in their own way.

Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy ….Historical fiction based on true events of racial violence set in Florida.

The Giver by Louis Lowry … Young adult dystopian novel.

Red Midnight by Ben Mikaelsen … Two children make a daring escape from war-torn Guatamala.

As you can see we love fiction, and our favorite books are those which inspire. Many of these works feature admirable characters who overcome poverty, war, and racism.  A good book is one that you want to read again. Even if you read it as a young adult, and pick it up later in life, you still learn something from it.

Life From Scratch is Sasha Martin’s memoir.  The court declared the author’s mother unfit, and terminated her custody of her children.  Sasha lived away from her mother for most of her teen years. Cooking provided a way for her to remember the family she lost. She includes recipes from her culinary journey around the world in this book.  During the Christmas season our group met to share our own family recipes and memories associated with each dish.

If you enjoy reading inspirational books, and can recommend any titles or authors, leave a comment below.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”      L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables.

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Posing with “Anne” at Green Gables, Cavendish, PEI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Hurricanes in Three Weeks: Lisa’s Story

Lisa regularly flies from Orlando to Texas to visit her elderly parents. However, her most recent trip was one she’ll never forget. On August 24 her plane to Dallas was delayed. She missed her connection to Beaumont and was forced to take a later flight. After spending hours waiting in the Dallas airport, she wondered if it was an omen of bad things to come.

Lisa was aware of Hurricane Harvey’s location in the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t think it would affect Beaumont.  Her parents, Glenda, 84, and Lindy, 90, had a relaxed attitude.  At their age they’d seen many storms come and go along the Texas coastline. The weather forecast predicted thirty inches of rain for their area. Her parents thought it would never happen. Still, Lisa encouraged them to go shopping for extra bottled water and food, just in case they might not want to go out in the rain.

On Saturday, August 26, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi and looked like more of a threat for Beaumont. Lisa encouraged Lindy to fill up his gas tank. He did. That night bands of rain arrived and continued off an on for four days. Lisa emptied the rain gauge in the yard every time it was full. They received thirty- five inches of rain on their property.  The family was amazed their home did not flood, nor did they lose power. Every time the water would rise on the patio, the bands of rain would stop long enough for the water to recede.  Lisa attributes this miracle to the prayers of friends and family.

On Thursday morning she turned on the faucet to make coffee and there was no water.  Flood waters from the Natchez River contaminated the city water treatment plant. The local news reported the water would be off for several days. Lisa and her parents were resourceful. They gathered buckets and coolers and put them in the back of Lindy’s pickup truck. Lindy drove to a nearby soccer field which had become a retention pond.

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Lisa helped her parents carry buckets of water from the flooded soccer field to the truck. Back at home, they used this water to flush the toilet. They still had bottled water to drink, but wondered how long it would last.  Without water, it was necessary for every store and restaurant to close.

Originally Lisa planned to visit Beaumont for five days. With the airport closed, and roads flooded, she was stranded. Still, her main concern was the welfare of her parents. She knew they had to find a way out. If they could evacuate to her sister’s home in Dallas, her parents would be safe and she could get a flight back to Florida from there. She managed to access a Texas Department of Transportation website that posted passable driving routes.  One road, Highway 90, was passable.

Friday morning Lisa, Lindy, and Glenda threw their suitcases in the back of Lindy’s truck and started driving. The trip was frightening at times, especially when they drove onto a bridge across the flooded Trinity River.  A drive which  normally took six hours turned into nine, but they made it. Along the way they watched scores of vehicles coming toward Beaumont to help people evacuate. The lack of water forced those in hurricane shelters to leave.

Lisa flew home from Dallas to Orlando September 2.  Within two days she and her husband Bill were busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. Because of her experience with Harvey, Lisa’s first thought was to stock up on bottled water. Panic ensued. Publix and CVS had no water left on the shelf. She bought empty containers at Target, filled them with water and placed them under their carport. Hurricane Irma was a long time coming, and the path kept changing. Finally, the morning of September 11 hurricane force winds hit Orlando. Lisa and Bill’s power went out and stayed out for a week. City water was unaffected.

Between the two hurricanes, Lisa states her experience with Irma was much more difficult. “Living without air conditioning in Orlando’s heat and humidity is a big challenge.” By Friday night she and Bill checked into a hotel. Their power came on the next day.

Prior to all of the hurricane madness, Bill and Lisa had planned to take a cruise scheduled to depart from Puerto Rico. It was cancelled of course, by another storm named Maria. Lisa was fine with the cancellation. “I didn’t want to see a third hurricane.”

 

 

At Home on the Road

Greg and Ann’s home looks like any other cozy apartment inside. The kitchen includes a stove, convection oven, dishwasher, and microwave. The door on the full size refrigerator/freezer is plastered with family photos. A washer/dryer unit and half bath are conveniently located off the kitchen. In the living room a soft leather sofa sits across from a wide screen TV. A short hall connects the kitchen to a master suite with a king size bed and full bath.

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This home seems normal except for one thing. It can be driven! In 2016, Greg and Ann sold their house in Las Vegas and purchased their dream RV. Since last December they’ve traveled across the country, eventually arriving in Florida to spend time with family. I caught up with Greg and Ann while they “camped” at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville.

ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME

The couple selected their 2016 Holiday Rambler Endeavor because of the amount of livable space inside.  Beautiful woodwork and cabinets make the RV feel like a home instead of a camper. The unit features three slide-outs that increase the width of each room. The Endeavor is forty feet long, contains three air conditioners, and features a huge amount of outside and inside storage. “I love the icemaker,” Greg remarked as he sipped his iced tea. “That’s something every home needs.”

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A JOINT DECISION

Greg and Ann’s journey into full time life on the road began years ago with shorter RV vacations. After Greg retired they took extended trips, spending six months at a time away from their house in Las Vegas. Whenever they returned it took them three months to catch up on maintenance and yardwork. Finally they realized the expense and effort involved with keeping their house wasn’t worth it. So they joined the many retirees who have chosen to live in their RV fulltime. Greg advises couples to “jump in the shallow end of the pool” before making the decision. “Don’t do it unless you both agree.” Life on the road involves adjustments.

Since their marriage in 1974, Greg and Ann have never had to share one car. They tow a vehicle behind their RV for day use. The couple must consider one another’s needs before making plans. Ann joked, “Since we live in closer quarters, we’ve learned to shout at each other, more quietly.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR STUFF?

Even with the ample storage, it’s impossible to fit the contents of a whole house into a forty foot RV. Greg and Ann sold many of their possessions. Greg admits he misses his home workshop, but the experience of seeing so many beautiful sights makes it worth the loss. Two of his favorite possessions, a kayak and an ATV are in storage. The couples policy regarding purchases: “For every new item brought into the RV, one item goes out.”

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SELECTING CAMPGROUNDS

Since Greg is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, they are eligible to park their RV at military bases. The couple also joined Passport America which offers its members a fifty percent discount at individually owned campgrounds. While in transit they plan their route one day before departure and reserve their next campsite the same day they expect to arrive. If they want to stay in one area for more than a few days, Ann makes a reservation further in advance.  Greg and Ann also benefit from a membership in the Escapees Club. This club offers mail service and educational tips for full time travelers.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

During our visit, Greg shared that they are currently in the process of selecting their state of “permanent residence.”  Florida, South Dakota, and Texas are the top choices for establishing residency for those who travel full time. These states offer no income tax, and low vehicle registration fees. When choosing medical insurance, its also important to select a policy that travels with you.  Requirements to drive an RV also vary from state to state. In Florida, RV drivers are exempt from obtaining a CDL. However, Ann is planning to take a hands on class in order to feel more comfortable driving. Greg completed the CDL requirements of Nevada.

LONG RANGE PLANS?

Greg loves baseball. The couple has seen games in twenty-one of the thirty cities with baseball stadiums. Like most outdoor enthusiasts, they want to visit every national park in the country. Both love the coastline of Maine. Long range plans? They’ve agreed to reevaluate their lifestyle in five years. Greg laughed, “I know of some retirement RV communities where you can hook up permanently.”

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Now I’m Sixty-Four

When I was fourteen my best friend and I listened to Sergeant Pepper’s until our ears bled.  This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the album’s release. A popular song on the album is When I’m Sixty-Four.  Paul McCartney’s lyrics describe what it might be like when two lovers grow old together.  In 1967 I thought people who were sixty-four probably needed canes and hearing aids.  And now here I am.

As a teenager, I couldn’t relate to When I’m Sixty-Four. It didn’t speak to me so I would usually lift up the needle on the record player and drop it down on A Day in the Life.  Now there’s a song with social significance, a satire about the news media! Like other baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, I challenged the status quo.

My first attempt at reforming the world occurred in 1970 when I was elected student council president of my high school. I petitioned our local school board to change the dress code to allow girls to wear “pantsuits”. Unless Ohio temperatures dropped below ten degrees Farenheit, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses. Students thought it unfair as temperatures frequently dropped below twenty, but rarely below ten.   Imagine my surprise when the school board agreed with me and changed the dress policy to permit “pantsuits” (no jeans yet) year round.  I was the heroine of our small community.

Baby boomers work hard to achieve their goals. When we started kindergarten in the fifties, schools were overcrowded. We had to perform well to get the teacher’s attention. When we graduated from college competition for jobs was intense. This made us competitive and ambitious. We relish achievement. Our identity is often tied to what we do.

Is that why old rockers keep on rocking? I attended a Paul McCartney concert in 2013. At age seventy-two he moved around the stage like a young man. He performed for three hours without taking a break. The concert made me feel like I had just taken a dip in the fountain of youth. Afterward I realized my life was slipping by too fast.  So I left my teaching job to write and travel more.  I wonder what Paul McCartney might think if he knew he inspired someone in their sixties to pursue their passion?

Like everyone, I don’t know what lies ahead. I feel good now, but what will I feel like in ten years? Twenty years? Remember my motto?  I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can with no regrets.  Is sixty really the new forty?

By 2029 the number of Americans over age sixty-five is expected to be 71 million (twenty percent of the population). At least I’m in good company. Although my generation is known for changing what we don’t like, aging is unstoppable. We can try to hide it with hair color and anti-wrinkle cream but time marches on.

My mother tells me, “Old age is not for the faint of heart.” It takes a certain amount of courage to accept the reality that aging brings physical decline. How will I handle old age?

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 84?”