My Culinary Life Journey – An Evolving Adventure

“What price would you put on this?” one of the woman inquired holding up a fancy jello mold. We were sitting around the table in our church hall pricing donations for the big parking lot sale. “Nobody uses these anymore,” she stated emphatically.

It got me thinking about the role of gelatin salads in my life and wondering when this type of salad/dessert became popular and when it fell out of favor.

From Medieval times until the mid-19th century jellied dishes were strictly eaten by the elite – primarily because they were too time intensive for the average cook. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century and the rise of the middle class, that this dish became more common. When the Depression hit, jellied salads were a way of stretching ingredients affordably. During WWII when sugar and other ingredients were rationed, cooks could use fruit juice and exhibit entertaining pizzazz, despite shortages.

Knox gelatin was a staple in my home while I was growing up, and as a young married woman in the mid-1960s I made many a jello salad.  My daughter still requests a cranberry salad made with raspberry jello for Thanksgiving – although I never relent. As I look back over my food choices and preparation methods, there are influences that lingered from my mother and grandmother’s experiences during the Depression and WWII – and even earlier.

My grandmother Elizabeth Stage was born in a coal mining community in Durham County, England. Her family moved a number of times to other mining communities until her father left the mines when she was a teenager. Women learned to cook by helping their mothers prepare food for their large families (my grandmother had 3 brothers and 4 sisters). My grandmother was an excellent cook – and never used a recipe. She made excellent vegetable soup with a beef stock. While each time it was slightly different – based on what she had on hand, it was always delicious because she had a knack for knowing how to season it. She was also an excellent baker – her rolls and pies were the best!

Whether it was because it was easier ‘to do it oneself,’ or whether she didn’t want her daughter to have to spend her growing up years in the kitchen like she did, she never taught my mother how to cook. Recipe books were essential to mom as she learned to cook on her own as a newlywed. She avidly collected recipes during her entire life – a trait I inherited.

While I was too young to remember the impact, my mother learned to adapt to war-time shortages.

page from my mother's WWII cookbook

page from my mother’s WWII cookbook

Because rubber was not available, when our refrigerator gasket split, it was not able to be replaced and the refrigerator became useless. I have vivid memories of riding with my mother to purchase a block of ice each week, which she put into the laundry sink to keep perishable items cold.

Each member of the family had a ration card that determined the amount of rationed items (sugar, butter, meat, canned goods) that could be purchased. I have a copy of mine.

my WWII ration card

my WWII ration card

When I was almost five I was plagued with recurring tonsillitis. At the recommendation of one of my Dad’s work colleagues, I was taken to a doctor who used nutritional strategies to treat his patients. In fact, this physician recommended that our entire family adhere to the same diet which consisted of very little meat, very limited sweets, no ice cream – and other restrictions. My parents were so thrilled that I was no longer continually sick, they were zealots about this manner of eating which permeated my childhood and teenage years. While I am glad I grew up healthy, it made me sad to read an essay I wrote about a classmate describing her as “liking to eat meat and ice cream.”

My mother was an avid muffin-maker and involved me in making muffins by the time I was 8. Muffins were always made in a yellow fiesta-ware bowl, which now belongs to me. I wouldn’t dream of making muffins in anything else!

my muffin bowl - originally my mom's

my muffin bowl – originally my mom’s

She prized herself on being able to substitute ingredients she did not have. Periodically, after everyone was served and sitting around the table, my mom would hesitate as we started to eat and then ask expectantly, “How do you like it?”

“What did you do different?” we would always ask before taking another bite. She would have replaced an ingredient with something she had on hand. While we used to make fun of this when we were younger and laugh about her inability to discern what could be swapped for the correct ingredient. Behind her back we used to say that she had no sense of taste. While it is true that she did not adequately season, I am more forgiving of her propensity to substitute. I would image that it stemmed from learning to cook at the end of the depression and during WWII when substitution was normal.  Learning to ‘make due’ with what you had would become an important lesson I carried into adulthood.

When I became a Brownie, our troop took a cooking class sponsored by the Gas Company. While it has been many, many years since I made Bags of Gold (cheese dumplings that simmered in tomato soup), it is one of the recipes from that cooking class that survived over the years. By time I was a young mother, Bags of Gold were replaced by the much easier tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, which are still a comfort food on a cold winter day.

At Arrowview Junior High, all girls were enrolled in a home economics cooking class (while the boys took wood shop) where I enjoyed learning to make all kinds of new foods and felt triumphant when our homework was to replicate recipes at home, especially when they included foods that “were not on the diet”. I remember my mom wanting to get me excused from preparing items we didn’t eat at home, but I refused.

I took Home Ec at San Bernardino High School and for a time thought I wanted to be a home economist, until I discovered that I would be bored in most of the jobs. During my teenage years I helped more and more with meal preparation, as well as helping to can peaches, apricots and applesauce during the summer months. Baking and decorating Christmas cookies was an annual tradition. During this period of time, I began collecting recipes and started my first recipe box.

When I went to the University of Redlands and lived in the dormitory, I was like a kid in a candy store being able to eat whatever I wanted – and had ice cream for dessert every day! During the second semester of my freshman year I got a job in the cafeteria helping to make salads in bulk.

I was fortunate to be able to spend my junior year at Chung Chi College in Hong Kong and learned the basics of Chinese cooking from my roommates. After returning home, I expanded my repertoire of Cantonese recipes and frequently treated my family to a Chinese meal. After learning to stir-fry vegetables, e.g. broccoli, until it was just tender, that I could enjoy vegetables I had previously shunned because they were always prepared too well done. My go-to Chinese cookbook

my well-worn Chinese cookbook from Hong Kong

my well-worn Chinese cookbook from Hong Kong

was one I purchased in Hong Kong and is in both English and Chinese characters.

sample page

sample page

Alas, I developed an allergy to soy in my late 50’s which has limited my enjoyment of Chinese food.

Later when I served as Executive Director of The Arc-King County, I donated a Chinese banquet for six to our fundraising auction each year and discovered how difficult it was to prepare the ingredients ahead, transport them, and then do all of the last-minute cooking in someone else’s kitchen!

dishes I purchased in Hong Kong that I always used for my banquets

dishes I purchased in Hong Kong that I always used for my banquets

After I married, I looked forward to preparing meals each evening, even when I was a harried working mother.  I assiduously prepared weekly menus, often trying new recipes.

In 1974 our family moved to Washington. The Puget Sound area was not very cosmopolitan at that time and I complained to my sister that the only tortillas I could find were cocktail-sized ones in a can. A short time later I received a box from my sister and brother-in-law that contained tortillas, salsa, and packages of seasonings. One of the packages of tortillas was blue. I had never seen blue corn tortillas before and assumed they had molded, so threw them away – much to the horror of my sister when I told her.

Our home at the south end of Mercer Island backed up to the woods. I cleared land behind the house and put in a garden. I referred to this period of time as my ‘back to nature’ era. In addition to the garden, I picked apples from an abandoned orchard and wild blackberries that grew everywhere. Within a few years we ran into financial difficulties and I had very little money to spend on groceries. I dug out my mom’s war-time recipes and became creative with hot dogs. My stir fry skills enabled me to stretch meat and vegetables.

“Were you aware that things were difficult?” I hesitantly asked my oldest son BJ recently.

“No, all I remember is that you wouldn’t buy sugar-coated cereals,” he laughed.

Men really didn’t cook during that period of time and it never occurred to me that it would be important to teach my son how to fix meals until I came home late one day. My husband was busy working on his car and BJ was hungry. After that I started teaching him how to prepare simple foods.

The world of seafood opened up to me after our move to the Seattle area. We never ate fish of any kind when I was growing up, not even fish sticks or tuna sandwiches. Being introduced to fresh salmon, Dungeness crab, and oysters was a real treat. The woman who was my administrative assistant had a cabin on Hood Canal and invited the staff of The Arc to spend the weekend. I learned to set a crab pot and went home with a live crab in a pail of water. It was quite an experience to toss it in a cauldron of boiling water when I got home.

The small coffee roaster called Starbucks had opened in the Pikes Place Market area a few years before our move. At this point, it is hard to image that espresso drinks were not added until 1984 – and Seattle’s coffee culture was launched. I treated myself to a latte once a week on my way to work.

When I remarried in 1979, my cooking was celebrated and my husband feted me with fancy appliances on gift-giving occasions. I made pizza in a pizza-maker and experimented with a variety of homemade pastas with the attachment on my Cuisinart. I spent rainy weekends baking and making meals for the busy work week ahead. My recipe collection continued to grow and my mother-in-law, also a cooking enthusiast, gifted me with a large recipe box – which I still use today.

my recipe box

my recipe box

It was about 1980 when I visited my sister and brother-in-law in Albuquerque and they had a microwave. “It is the ultimate in laziness to boil water in a microwave,” I quipped to them. However, before long, we too acquired a microwave – and were among the 25% of American households that owned one. It didn’t get much use until a winter storm resulted in a broken pipe that poured water from the 2nd floor bathroom into the kitchen – right through the stove. During the time the stove was out of commission, I had to do all my cooking on my electric appliances and became quite adept at using the microwave.

Jay and Breanne learned to use the microwave when they were quite young and were able to prepare after-school snacks for themselves as they got older.

During this period I also learned to entertain. I don’t remember my parents having people over for dinner and this was not embraced during my first marriage.


However, the period of milk and honey would not last forever. Once again, money was tight and I drew upon my earlier honed skills to feed my family. We had to sell our house and moved to an apartment in Kirkland, WA before renting a smaller home. We met a family that would be come close friends. Thanks to Cathy and Lee Wangerin, I learned the joys of informal gatherings around food.

New Year's Eve - 1991 in our Kirkland home with the Wangerins

New Year’s Eve – 1991 in our Kirkland home with the Wangerin family

I am not sure whether it was childhood eating habits or my concern for the environment that drove my desire to eat fresh, pesticide-free food. During the years that we lived in Kirkland, WA I joined a local co-op and enjoyed buying foods in bulk.

By the early 1990’s my second marriage was failing and I longed for the closeness of family. While I had enjoyed my visits to Albuquerque, it seemed so prosaic. However, when Chris picked me up at the airport in November 1993, she proclaimed she had a surprise for me. The first stop was the mall where she showed me that Albuquerque now had an espresso cart. I knew I could think about moving and not worry about having to live in a ‘coffee-desert’.

Christmas 1991 - "I require a double latte"

Christmas 1991 – “I require a double latte”

Just as I adopted seafood when I moved to Washington, I eagerly learned to love green chile and appreciate that New Mexican cuisine was unique from the popularized Tex-Mex type of food.

After having both of my knees replaced in 2002, I found that when I stood long period of time in the kitchen that my legs ached and I looked for more efficient ways to prepare meals – and gave myself permission to purchase more ready-made items rather than feeling that I had to make everything from scratch, even when entertaining. I would laugh and say that I had ‘great shopping skills.’  I gained some skills that has enabled me to age more gracefully and not feel that I need to cook the way I used to.

In 2007 I subscribed to fresh produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) local farm and picked up a box every two weeks. While I have always been fairly adventurous about trying new foods, this experience stretched my repertoire of fresh vegetables. I discovered a myriad of ways to fix swiss chard and learned to love kale. My brother-in-law loves to tease me about kale and is not sure that he wants me to bring salad to family gatherings in case I sneak in some baby kale.

contents of first CSA food box

contents of first CSA food box

Travel has enabled me to sample unique foods from different parts of the world – I always want to try the local specialty: eel at a banquet in Hong Kong, reindeer sausage from a street vendor in Alaska, grilled alligator appetizers in New Orleans, and ceviche and cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. I’m sure there are more food adventures to come.

I have only been able to part with a few of my cookbooks, even though I don’t actively use most of them anymore.

my cookbook shelf

my cookbook shelf

While only a few will actually be tried, even to this day I cannot resist tearing out recipes from the monthly newspaper food supplement.


When I look back over my life journey with food, it is clear that for me cooking is more than the drudgery of putting food on the table – it has been an evolving adventure and a  form of creative expression.

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Advances in Space Travel During My Lifetime

On September 27, 2015 I was sitting in a lawn chair in the street in front of my house admiring the moon in full eclipse.

Total lunar eclipse of 'super moon' - Photo by Laurel Ladwig

Total lunar eclipse of ‘super moon’ – Photo by Laurel Ladwig

The neighbors who had wandered over for looks through my spotting scope as the moon began its trek into the shadow of the earth had lost interest and gone back into their homes. Alone with my thoughts and the grandeur of the moon, I began pondering the advances in our knowledge of outer space during my lifetime.

I think that my early interest in outer space must have been encouraged by my Dad, a civil engineer. I remember a trip to the Palomar Observatory near San Diego where we had the opportunity to see one of the powerful telescopes

Visit to Palomar Observatory - 1948

Visit to Palomar Observatory – 1948

as well as frequent visits to the planetarium at Griffith Park Observatory to watch constellations come alive as they were projected on the ceiling of the theater.

While I don’t remember being impacted in 1947 when a rancher in Roswell, New Mexico discovered unidentified debris on his property, the controversy about whether it was the crashed remains of a flying saucer or a weather balloon not only stimulated stories of extraterrestrial beings and UFO reports, but also drove the desire to reach and explore Mars.

In the early 1950’s when I was in junior high, the idea of traveling to the moon, let alone Mars, was a pipe dream. Knowledge at that time stated it would be impossible for someone to travel to the moon and return within a lifetime.

In 1956, my sister Chris received a second place ribbon for her 7th grade science project that calculated how long it would take an airplane traveling 900 mph to reach various planets.

Chris 7th grade science project

Chris 7th grade science project

On October 4, 1957, the impossible became possible when Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit around the earth. It traveled over 18,000 mph – 20 times faster than general science knowledge imagined twelve months earlier when Chris did her science project!

It was the dawn of the space age – and the space race. The United States launched its own satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958 and created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) six months later.

During the summer of 1960 while spending an August weekend in Laguna Beach, CA with college friends, we were amazed to see a satellite inching across the sky as we sat in the amphitheater watching the Pageant of the Masters. It could have been the Explorer I that was still in orbit, or perhaps the newly launched Sputnik 5.

The following spring, both Russia and then the United States put astronauts into space. While President Kennedy challenged the country on May 25, 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it still seemed impossible.

At the same time that NASA was working on its mission to reach the moon, it also developed its Mars mission. In 1965, three months after we were thrilled to learn that a Russian astronaut had walked in space and one month after a U.S. astronaut had completed this feat, a satellite transmitted the first pictures of Mars. At the same time, my husband and I were watching the popular TV show, “My Favorite Martian.”

Looking back, it is hard to know where comic book authors and movie producers got the idea that Martians had antenna or skeleton-like heads.

On July 29, 1969 my husband and I were able to leave work early to be home for a historic event. That afternoon he and I, our two-year old son, BJ, and my mother-in-law sat transfixed in front of our small black and white TV screen as Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin became the first men to step foot on the moon. I still get goose bumps remembering how we watched anxiously as the television cameras broadcasted the banks of NASA scientists in Houston describing the ascent, and then the astronauts’ voices announced their arrival by saying: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” The trip had taken only 10 days.

We held our breaths, and even normally active BJ was mesmerized, while the image switched to show the exterior of the space ship as the door opened and Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and placed his foot on the surface of the moon.

The photo actually was taken by Neil Armstrong as Buzz Aldrin left the space craft. - NASA photo

The photo actually was taken by Neil Armstrong as Buzz Aldrin left the space craft. – NASA photo

As he put his other foot down, he exclaimed “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” How thrilling it was to have witnessed that moment.

NASA photo taken by Neil Armstrong

NASA photo taken by Neil Armstrong

In addition to subsequent trips to explore the moon and continuing satellite images of Mars, satellites began transmitting images of other planets – Jupiter and its moons (1979), Saturn (1979 – 81), Venus (1990) and since then each planet has been visited with a probe. Scientific teams spending time doing experiments at the International Space Station now seems routine. Each of these visits makes me think of Chris’s 7th grade science project and now visits to these planets has been realized.

In June 1983 I cheered when Sally Ride made history as the first American woman to be part of a space voyage. She became a symbol of promise to young women interested in science. About this period of time I began to notice women sitting at consoles as part of the Houston team.

It has only been in the past few years that I have taken an interest in viewing eclipses of the moon and sun. It was not very rewarding to look at an eclipse through a pin hole that reflected the shadow on the sidewalk or similar surface. It seemed as though most lunar events happened in the middle of the night.

In May 2012 I gathered in a park with family and friends for a picnic and solar eclipse viewing party. My friend Barbara Hussey, an astronomy buff, knew several months in advance when the eclipse would occur and had ordered special glasses that allowed us to actually look at the sun – an amazing experience.

solar eclipse viewing party

solar eclipse viewing party

The recent lunar eclipse was scheduled for just past sunset on a clear and balmy evening.

Mars continues to be the next frontier. Scientists want to determine whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms, or is it possible that there are or were extraterrestrial beings.

Not too long ago after I visited the Griffith Park Observatory in May 2013 with BJ, Cori and Lilli,

Lilli and I in front of Griffith Park Observatory

Lilli and I in front of Griffith Park Observatory

we watched video clips of the moon landing. Then Lilli, who had recently turned six, wanted to watch video clips of the Curiosity Rover that was entering its second year exploring Mars. It was thrilling to me that she knew about it and wanted to learn more.

2015 marks 50 years of NASA’s Mars Mission. While I probably won’t be around to witness a manned landing on mars during the 2030’s, it will be a space milestone that Lilli will get to witness.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, believes that commercial space travel will be possible and conceptualized Spaceport America, located in southern New Mexico. The Governor and State Legislature also believe in the concept and authorize funding for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) the state agency charged with the responsibility to design, develop, construct, operate, and oversee the successful development of Spaceport America.

While who knows what will be in store for the future space exploration and travel, I feel privileged to have lived through a period of time when our knowledge went from exploring space being impossible to space probes having visited every planet in our solar system.

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My Mom and her Accordion – Part of My Musical Heritage

I am always surprised when I hear accordion music on the radio. Nobody listens to accordion music anymore, including me. However, there was something about the tune that was nostalgic. Because my mother was a professional accordionist and teacher before she got married, I grew up listening to tunes such as ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Lady of Spain,” and “Manzanita”.

At Christmas, I have fond memories of her leading a caravan of neighborhood children up and down the block and accompanying us as we sang carols at each house.

In the early fall of 1932, three years after graduating from high school, Mom became intrigued when she heard about an Accordion Group at a Los Angeles music store and convinced her parents she wanted to learn to play.  The purchase included ten free group lessons, and before long she was able to play actual songs on her own.

Mom with her first accordion

Mom with her first accordion

By that December she performed three pieces for two different chapters of the Eastern Star – and her career was off!  Her scrapbook contains page after page of newspaper articles reporting her performance for various organizations over the next two years.

“See those windows in the addition at the back of the house,” by sister Chris recalls Mom telling her on a trip the two of them took back to Santa Monica in the late 1980’s. “That is where grandpa and grandma had a room built in early 1935 so I could give private accordion lessons.  I had been teaching in the den, but it was not big enough.”  The Chrissy Stage studio was born and she started her own accordion club that met once a week.


“My Dear Miss Stage, The Music Arts Society wants to thank you for the delightful program you presented at the Santa Monica Sing…” read one of the many thank you notes that have survived for eighty years. She performed almost weekly for a variety of organizations from the Mail Carriers and Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans Service Club. Her performances became advertisements for her studio. My grandmother always had a knack for promotion, and I am sure she was the agent and advocate.

Mom at accordion performance

Mom at accordion performance

By mid-1935 she had 13 students, ranging in age from 7 to over 40. Their 11 performing members were called the Accordion Troupers. Two years later she had outgrown the home studio and she and my grandmother opened a music store in the downtown area of Santa Monica. It offered accordions, accordion accessories, music, and repair services – managed by my grandmother, in addition to instruction offered by my mother.

Mom and her accordion band - 1936

Mom and her accordion band – 1936

During the same period of time, Jimmy Walker, a cousin in England Mom had never met, also was smitten with the accordion. In his memoirs he describes being “spellbound with the instrument.” Even though he was only 17, he managed to save enough money from his part-time job to purchase his first accordion – just before the depression started. “This was the start of my long and happy association with the squeeze box,” he reminisced. When he visited the music store each week to make payments towards the instrument, he became acquainted with the owner. By time he made his final payment, he had been offered a full-time job working at the store.

Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker

Over his career he played regularly in pubs, clubs and on cruise ships. He was still playing at age 91.

A professional musician will sacrifice to obtain a high quality instrument. For an accordionist, quality of sound, range, number of keys and tone variability are critical. In addition, the instrument’s ‘pizazz’ was important. Mom’s accordion, an Italo-American, had inlaid mother-of-pear and other glamour touches that caught the light and sparkled when she played. It was probably her most prized possession over her lifetime.


I would guess that one of Mom’s deepest disappointments was that neither Chris nor I took an interest in learning the accordion, although she tried with both of us. Chris became an accomplished pianist,

Chris - piano recital

Chris – piano recital

and I played the cello in junior and senior high school.

My cello recital - accompanied by my friend Leslie Reed

My cello recital – accompanied by my friend Leslie Reed

How excited she was when my oldest son BJ developed an interest in the accordion, in addition to the acoustic guitar.

BJ with small accordion

BJ with small accordion

She passed her instrument on to him.

While I am not fond of accordion music, with the exception of beer garden polkas – in the right environment and accompanied by the appropriate beverage, I am grateful for the musical heritage my mother and her accordion contributed to my life.

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Gratitude for Childhood Vaccinations – No More Scary Diseases

I remember hearing the hushed conversation between my parents when I was about five or six: “…daughter was rushed to the hospital last night in an ambulance…polio…now in an iron lung.”  I knew that I was not supposed to hear the conversation, so did not ask questions.

It was 1947 or 8 and the country was in the midst of a polio epidemic. If I was awaken in the night by a siren, I worried that it was someone else being rushed to the hospital with polio.

There were posters in public buildings promoting the work of the March of Dimes with pictures of children wearing braces and using crutches.

Fight Polio advertisement.

Fight Polio advertisement.

At some point I saw a picture of a child using an iron lung.

iron lung

iron lung

It was a scary time. The Salk polio vaccine was not developed and available until 1957. I didn’t receive the vaccination until 1961 as I was preparing to spend my junior year in college in Hong Kong.

I began to think about childhood illnesses and vaccines last winter after the measles outbreak at Disneyland, where the majority of children infected had not been vaccinated. Since the theory that vaccinations were linked to autism had long been disproven, I wondered why parents would subject their children to serious diseases. To me who had experienced measles first hand, vaccines were one of the miracles of modern medicine.

My first serious childhood illness was Scarlet Fever, which I now know comes from a certain strain of the streptococcus virus. I contracted it when I was almost four. In addition to the rash, it settled in my tonsils and I was confined to my bed for three weeks. According to my mother’s notes, all of my paper toys had to be disposed of afterwards.

About the time of the hushed polio conversation, I came down with measles. About the time I recovered, my sister Chris came down with them. Our poor mother! When I was well enough to go outside, I still had to stay in the yard and not play with my friends since our house had a quarantine sign on the front door.

quarantine sign

quarantine sign

I came down with chicken pox when I was 9 and a half and remember having to stay home from school for about 2 weeks and being doused with calamine lotion to control the itching. Children were not allowed to return to school until all of the scabs had fallen off.

Me with chickenpox

Me with chickenpox

BJ, my oldest son, born in 1967, came along at the right time. The measles vaccine was developed in 1963, so he was immunized against measles and received his polio vaccine before he started school.

He came down with mumps when he was almost one. The mumps vaccine had just been released. It was too late for him; however, my husband and I were among the first adults to receive the shot since neither of us had contracted it as children.

BJ caught the chicken pox after my husband’s mother had shingles. Unfortunately, for my mother, he did not break out until he was visiting her in California during spring break. It was a light case; however, Mom had to play nurse-maid rather than doing fun activities. He still had some scabs when it was time for him to fly home. Mom solved the problem by purchasing a turtleneck t-shirt from him to wear on the plane.

I got my pay back in 1981 when my niece came down with chickenpox while she and her parents were visiting me in Washington.

And a few years later, my younger children also got the chickenpox. The vaccination for that childhood illness was not developed until 1995.

Dr. Lance Chilton, an Albuquerque pediatrician who is a member of the Section on Senior Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (SOSM), recently focused his weekly column in the Albuquerque Journal on remembering the days before vaccines. In response to the Disneyland measles epidemic, SOSM gathered stories of diseases that pediatricians generally don’t see anymore.

He wrote, “Like others growing up in the polio era, I had friends that were infected and died or who were paralyzed for life.”

One of his colleagues wrote “For those of us who lived those days, and saw the specter of death on far too many children, we continue to be grateful for the amazing role vaccines have had in the protection of all our children.”

In 2015, the World Health Organization announced that one strain of poliovirus has been eradicated from the world. It and smallpox have been taken off the list of infectious diseases – both thanks to immunization.

While there have been amazing advances in medicine during my lifetime, I am particularly grateful for the development of vaccines to prevent childhood diseases.

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How Things Have Changed – My Life Through Fashion Trends

The temperature was in the mid-90’s as I drove by a local high school as the students were leaving on the first day of school – Albuquerque 2015. A great many students were wearing Bermuda shorts and scooped neck t-shirts. It didn’t appear as if there was any impetus to have a new ‘back-to-school’ outfit. Aw, how things have changed.

Having a new outfit to start school was important in 1956 when I started high school (10th grade then). By the first of August, my mother and I had visited the fabric store and picked out a pattern and fabric for me to make my back-to-school dress. I insisted that it be a dark fall fabric. I remember it had ¾ length sleeves – hardly the kind of dress I should be wearing in mid-September in San Bernardino, CA where the temperature often was over 100 during the first week of school. I couldn’t find a picture of my 10th grade back-to-school dress. This the 11th grade one.

11th grade back to school dress

11th grade back to school dress

It was the era of felt ‘poodle’ skirts, two-toned saddle oxfords or ‘bucks’ that needed constant attention with pads of white powder. The skirt lengths were calf-length, whether loose and swirling or pencil thin. Sadly, I never owned a poodle skirt. Since my mother made nearly all of my clothes, she deemed the cost of the felt too expensive. When the weather cooled and we switched from blouses – that needed to be ironed – to sweater sets, we always had a little scarf tied at the neck or a string of pearls.

Me with high school friends

Me with high school friends

I and my friends poured over Seventeen Magazine, our go-to source for high school style. In one issue there was an article titled, “What is Your Perfume Personality?”  As the foothills explorer in my free time, not unsurprisingly, mine was “woodsy-mossy.”

When I started college at the University of Redlands in 1959, conservative straight skirts were worn for classes. Instead of saddle oxfords, young women usually wore flats. I asked some of my college friends what they remembered about college attire.

“I remember we had to wear nylons (with seams) and heels to the Commons (dining hall) on Sunday,” my friend Carole reminisced. “This was before panty hose, so we must have worn garters” – or girdles.

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels - 1961

Me with college friends in our dresses, nylons and heels – 1961

Penny wrote “I think that I usually wore panty hose with my skirts.  I can specifically remember that on some of those hot, HOT September days, that the perspiration on my nylon-stockinged legs rubbing together caused chaffing of my thighs while walking up to the “Hill” for classes.”

She also remembers “we couldn’t hang our laundry on the lines behind the dorm on Sundays.” And, of course, this was before dryers were common place since they were still very costly.

It was expected that we would wear hat and gloves when we attended the get-acquainted teas. I remember wearing a royal blue pin box hat with matching royal blue gloves. I felt so chic and kept both items packed away in my cedar chest for many years afterwards.

Pants, but never jeans, were worn for casual activities. I don’t know whether the private college had a dress code, or whether we were just following the norms of the times. My college friends don’t remember any written dress code – “We just somehow seemed to know what was customary” Penny relayed.

I have photos of me wearing a suit with a cropped jacket for important occasions, such as the Science Dinner, writing banquet or debate tournament.

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

Me with Penny King after a debate tournament

My sister Chris entered School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkley as the only female student in 1962. I asked her whether it gave her more liberty to dress casually. “A lot was left as “understood”.  Dresses for school and slacks for evening.  Wednesday night dinner was “dress-up” – going to church outfits.  Going to San Francisco included hose, heels and dresses,” she explained. “After several years it became apparent that I had to upgrade my clothes to be taken “seriously” and “professionally”.  Daily dress included nylons and nice shoes – even though the distance between classes included many hills.

My first job out of college was a social worker in the welfare department. I can’t imagine what the families that I visited thought when this young woman appeared at their doors wearing business attire, heels and hose!  I’m sure it didn’t create an atmosphere of rapport.

At some point in the 1960’s – after Jackie Kennedy became First Lady – the skirt lengths went from mid-calf to knee-length.

When I got married in 1965, it was expected that I would have a ‘going away’ outfit. I have no recollection what it was, except that it seemed silly, since we were going camping on our honeymoon.  I asked Chris what her recollection was when she married in 1967. “Oh, yes, I also had a going-away suit,” she stated. “Mom said it was the proper thing to do.”

For casual wear, jeans became popular and by the 1970’s pant legs went from straight to flared at the ankle. However, as I perused photo albums, it appears that on most casual occasions I wore slacks,

Me with Mom

Me with Mom

and only wore jeans for hiking and camping.

Me on a hike with friends

Me on a hike with friends

Chris got her first pantsuit sooner than I did. After receiving her degree and moving to Albuquerque with her architect husband, Bill, she interned with a civil engineer. “I got my first pant suit in 1970 when I needed to go in a private plane to a site in southern New Mexico,” she stated.

In 1971 singer James Brown released his hit, “Hot Pants” and instantly it became a fashion trend. I remember feeling racy after purchasing a one-piece outfit – a knit top with hot pants that zipped up. I wore with boots, but only a few times. It was very impractical as I had to practically undress to use the restroom.

When I moved to Seattle in 1973 and became director of The Arc-King County, it was expected that I wear business attire. At some point during the 1970’s I acquired my first pantsuit; however, it was business suits on most days.

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

Me in one of my summer business suits after receiving my MBA in 1984

I remarried in 1979. It was not going to be a fancy dress for me – and purchased a suit I could wear to work.

Wedding attire - 1978

Wedding attire – 1978

By the late 80’s when I developed a growth between my two outer toes (the product of wearing narrow, pointed-toe shoes too many years), the doctor suggested I could avoid surgery if I wore Birkenstocks like he did. I was indignant and told him that as the Executive Director of The Arc – King County, I could not effectively represent the agency at civic events in Birkenstocks.

A short time later, women’s footwear became more casual, heels lower and widths wider. Spiked heels and narrow toes have returned to women’s fashions and I know the price they will pay as their feet age.

When I attended my 30th college reunion, everyone still dressed up.

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion - 1993

Me with Penny King at 30th U of R reunion – 1993

When I moved to Albuquerque in 1994, I was delighted to learn that business attire was much more casual than in Seattle. While I had a few suits that I really loved,

photo from 1992

photo from 1992

they sat in the back of my closet for several years before I was ready to retire them.

I purchased my first denim dress.

Me with a friend - 1995

Me with a friend – 1995

What a difference 20 years makes. When I attended my 50th reunion at the University of Redlands, we were all in casual attire.

Reunion picture - 2013

Reunion picture – 2013

The best wardrobe of all is that of retirement – casual pants or crops on most days. I haven’t worn a skirt in years. I have always liked the poem “When I am old I will wear purple with a red hat…” While purple and red hats are not my style, the meaning is clear: I can now wear what I love and what is comfortable.


And, from observing the high school students that sent me on this fashion retrospective, perhaps young women today will not be bound by all of the fashion rules that women of my generation were bound by.

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Remembering Hiroshima in 1962 and on 70th Anniversary

I had left my new Japanese student friends (It’s hard to remember that the standard dress was still skirts!) in Kyoto

Me with Japanese student friends

Me with Japanese student friends

and boarded an overnight train to Hiroshima. I was not able to sleep as the train zipped along. Every half hour or so, an announcement of the next stop would come through the speaker – all sounding unintelligible.

“Will I be able to recognize the announcement for Hiroshima?” I worried.

As dawn approached, I could see the buildings from out of the window as the train passed. All of a sudden, the buildings were not grey and weathered appearing, but were newer construction. The realization that even some distance from Hiroshima everything was devastated and had been re-built settled over me like a shroud.

It was the summer of 1962 and I had just turned 20 – eighteen years after the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. I was traveling through East Asia on my way home from spending my junior year of college in Hong Kong. What would I encounter? Thinking back over my summer itinerary planning, visiting Hiroshima was probably my father’s suggestion, just as visiting Okinawa had been. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the day before his Seabees battalion shipped out for Okinawa. He helped Okinawa rebuild.

I also knew that the Presbyterian Junior Year Abroad Program that sponsored my year’s study in Hong Kong was started in 1953 as a result of Hiroshima. Margaret Flory, the program’s founder and ‘mother’ for the rest of her career, met students in Japan in 1952 with “despair and guilt in a burdened memory and the recollection of how the Geiger counters clicked at Hiroshima. The students were poor, sometimes hungry and often without hope (Gittings, J.A., JYA 10, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1964).

Growing up during the cold war, including doing duck-and-cover drills in elementary school, I had lots of reminders of the potential for nuclear destruction, but was not prepared for the lasting impact the city would have on me.

It is amazing the feelings and details that I can still remember after 53 years. The train pulled into the station around 6:30 in the morning and I, along with a handful of people, disembarked. Someone in the station was able to understand English and told me that I could take a bus tour in a couple of hours.

When I boarded the bus I panicked. Most of the others were Japanese. The few that were not, were speaking in a variety of European languages. How could I look at the sights of the city and listen to what had happened in the midst of a group of people from Japan? Would they judge me or be disdainful of what might appear to them to be gawking.

In fact, none of this happened. The others on the tour were very gracious as the bus wound through the modern city – one that could be any city in the early 1960’s were it not for the Japanese characters and signs on the buildings.

downtown Hiroshima -in 1962 - postcard purchased on trip

downtown Hiroshima -in 1962 – postcard purchased on trip

The first stop was the Peace Memorial Park where the tour guide recited the facts of the bombing and devastation in both Japanese and English. The memorial includes a cenotaph where the names of all of those who perished are inscribed. As I looked through my scrapbook for my Junior Year Abroad, I was amazed that I did not have any photographs from Hiroshima. (I must have shipped home my Dad’s camera, which I used to take slides in Hong Kong, in the steamer trunk along with my typewriter and other items I would not need that summer. I did have some post cards and was able to find photos on creative commons.)

Cenotaph - photo from Wikipedia


The guide showed us the remains of a building that had been directly under where the bomb had been detonated. It had been left both as a reminder and as a symbol of peace. In researching this story, I discovered that it was not until four years after my visit that the city decided to preserve the skeletal remains indefinitely, and in 1996 it was declared a World Heritage site.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial - photo wikipedia commons

Hiroshima Peace Memorial – photo wikipedia commons

It left a lasting impression on me.

Nearby is the Children’s, or Sadako Memorial, erected in 1958. Perhaps it was the guide’s broken English or my continued feelings of intimidation, but I did not grasp at the time the history or significance of this memorial at the time.

Sadako Peace Memorial - postcard purchased in 1962

Sadako Peace Memorial – postcard purchased in 1962

Sadako Sasaki, were she alive today, would be a year younger than I am. She was two years old when the atom bomb was dropped on her city. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with Leukemia, known by those in the area as the “atom bomb disease.” Her best friend told her about an old Japanese legend that promised that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish. She started folding cranes out of any piece of paper she could find and had completed over 1000 before dying on October 25, 1955 at age 12. Inspired by the fact that she never gave up, her friends and classmates put together a book of her letters and published it, using the proceeds to build a monument to Sadako and all of the children killed by the atom bomb. Today, Sadako’s cranes can be seen in peace museums and memorials around the world.

As the tour concluded, the guide told us that the people of Hiroshima were committed to reminding the rest of the world about the impact of atomic weapons and were committed to peace.

That afternoon as I boarded the train and headed towards Fukuoka to take the ferry to Pusan, South Korea, the skeleton of the ‘A Bomb Building’ continued to haunt me.

As I was returning from my year in east Asia, things were heating up in Indo China. When the U.S. entered into the Vietnam War, I worried about the futility of war and worried about the potential of nuclear weapons.

As I looked back on my life at each of the decade anniversaries of the bomb, I realized that my own life events crowded out the haunting image of remembering Hiroshima. In 1965 I had recently married, in 1975 I was busy with an 8-year-old son and a troubled marriage. In 1985, I had remarried and adopted two children with special needs. In 1995, that marriage had failed and I was remaking my life with two teenagers in Albuquerque.

In 2005 when journalists wrote about the 60th anniversary of the atomic bomb, the following picture jumped out at me from the newspaper

Hiroshima - 60th anniversary of atomic bomb

Hiroshima – 60th anniversary of atomic bomb

and I was able to reflect on my visit during college.

As I began to write about that experience, I scoured the Internet for information and learned about the Peace Clock Tower, completed in 1967 and dedicated by the Hiroshima Lions Club. Part of the Epitaph reads “…The chime of the clock tower resounding every day at 08.15, the time when mankind received its baptism of the atomic bomb for the first time, calls out to the world for “No more Hiroshima” and we pray that the day for lasting peace may soon come to mankind.”

Peach Clock

Peach Clock

And in the lobby of the museum is another clock, installed on August 6, 2001, that counts the days since the bomb was dropped, as well as the number of days since the last known nuclear test. The last reset, the 19th in 12 years, was August 21, 2013 after learning that the United States conducted a new type of nuclear test on May 15 to examine the effectiveness of its nuclear arsenal.

2nd Peach Clock

2nd Peach Clock

When I retired from the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico in 2006, some of my co-workers remembered my writing about Sadako the previous year and thought that it would be a fitting to tie my past with my future retirement filled with birds. Everyone joined in folding paper cranes that adorned the retirement party room.

Paper Cranes - retirement party from Center for Development and Disability

Paper Cranes – retirement party from Center for Development and Disability

Like their counterparts in real life, the strands of cranes ‘migrated’ to the Children’s Peace Statue, which at the time was at Ghost Ranch Santa Fe. The statue was designed in 1989 by Albuquerque school children at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School who were inspired by Sadako’s story. It was intended for Los Alamos, but has yet to be approved by that city. It has had a variety of homes – Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque, Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe (where it was housed in 2006) and is currently at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

Starting in January 2015, there has been a groundswell among peace organizations from many countries to have 70,000 cranes folded and sent to Santa Fe for the pilgrimage to Los Alamos’s Ashley Pond on August 6, the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima’s decimation.

The inscription engraved at the base of the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima is a plea: “This is our cry. This is our prayer: Peace in the world.” In my bedroom hangs a crane mobile made by my dear friend Valerie Ford – my daily reminder of my visit to Hiroshima and my commitment to peace.

mobile of origami cranes folded by Valerie Ford

mobile of origami cranes folded by Valerie Ford

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July 16, 1945

I knew I wanted to write about my life for my children and grandchildren, as my mother had done for us. However, my life seemed so mundane compared to those of my parents and grandparents – until I received a forwarded email from a friend asking where I was on a particular date in history. That was all I needed to get my juices going. This is the first of a series of stories linking my life with points in history.

When the first atomic bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945 at 5:45 am MST in the New Mexico desert, on land that is now the White Sands Missile Range, I had just turned three and was asleep in Santa Monica, California home. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of this event that changed the course of history.

According to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on July 16, 2015, “When a flash of light beamed from the arid New Mexico desert early on July 16, 1945, residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa felt windows shake and heard dishes fall….The end of the world is here, they thought.”

It would be another three weeks before the world would begin to know the significance of the desert event.

My father, an engineer with the U. S. Army Engineers, was not allowed to join the armed forces before 1945 since his job was deemed essential to the national security.

Dad with U.S. Army Engineers

Dad with U.S. Army Engineers

By January 26 1945, the repair and construction of airports in the western part of the country came to a close, and he joined the Navy Seabees (Naval Construction Force). He left for Camp Pendicott in Rhode Island for basic training on February 24.

Omer Brodie in his navy uniform.

Omer Brodie in his navy uniform.

Fate intervened and just prior to his battalion leaving for North Africa, he came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized. They left without him and he was assigned to another battalion that was bound for the Pacific. They spent a month at the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme (near Ventura, CA) the West Coast home port of the Navy’s Seabees and he was able to visit us at home (overnight liberties) – much to my delight.

Among the birthday gifts listed for my 3rd birthday was a “telegram from daddy.” He must not have had overnight liberties at that time. I’m sure this was nothing unusual during the war.

my 3rd birthday party - 16 days before the atomic test.

my 3rd birthday party – 16 days before the atomic test.

Because the Manhattan Project, responsible for the development of the atomic bomb, was still secret, even the Navy did not know what had happened on that morning and my father’s battalion continued their preparations to leave for Okinawa.

Dad with Seabees in Okinawa

Dad with Seabees in Okinawa

While I have never visited the Trinity Test site even though I have lived in New Mexico for over 20 years, I have visited the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos where a replica of “the gadget” is on display and there are extensive exhibits on the history of the Manhattan Project.

I am grateful for my mother’s detailed record-keeping of events during my early years and my reactions to them in Your Child Year by Year: A Development Record and Guide From Birth to the 16th Year, published by The Parents Magazine

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Following Our Grandfather’s Footsteps Through Flanders in WWI

Joseph Bell Stage, my grandfather, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Forces 2nd Contingent in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on Oct. 27, 2014 at age 35. He was assigned to the 28th Battalion and trained first in Winnipeg, Canada

Joseph Bell Stage - top row, 2nd from left

Joseph Bell Stage – top row, 2nd from left

and then near Shorncliff, England. My grandmother, with my uncle and mother, followed him, first to Winnipeg and then to England. The Battalion left for the Front on September 17, 1915, four days after my mother’s 7th birthday.

“September 18, 1915. Arrive at Boulogne (France) just prior to 5 AM after rough crossing and little sleep. A British N.C.O. announces that revile will be at 0600, and breakfast at 0700. The Battalion entrains for the Front area at noon. Entrained to St. Omer at 1500, proceed to Cassel by train 1915 and Billets at St. Sylvestre Cappel, Bn.Hq at Drouleux Farm.” 28th Battalion History, First Winter at the Front 1915-16.

In our mother’s written recollections she stated that her mother “insisted on taking us over to Calais, France to be near him…Since we were not allowed to see Dad or to stay in France, we returned to England and our apartment.”

Ever since we discovered two sources of records for our grandfather’s Battalion (1100 men and 35 officers) in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, my sister and I had longed to visit the area where he had fought and been injured. On our recent trip to the Flanders area of France and Belgium, we set out to follow in his footsteps and learn more about what he experienced, using, the 28th Battalion History, a War Diary of Intelligence Summary, Stewart A.G. Mein’s, Up the john!: the story of the Royal Regina Rifles, and our grandfather’s medical records to plot our route, as well as our mother’s written recollections of that period of her childhood.

While our grandfather had not been near Arras, where a major battle in 1917 wiped out much of the town, our introduction to commemoration of WWI on our trip began with the photo exhibit around the town square in Arras on the first night of the trip. We viewed some of the photo signs the day we arrived and I spent an hour the next morning viewing and reading each of the 100 photos.

One panel of photo exhibit

One panel of photo exhibit

Our actual pilgrimage began 5 days later near Dunkirk, not far from Boulogne-sur-Mer where he landed. Armed with the logs and maps, we wound our way along country roads to St. Omer, which was along the train route to Cassel. At first we envisioned the Battalion walking along the same roads we were traveling, until we realized that over 1100 men would have marched across field and not followed the roads.

When we approached Cassel, we followed the signs – looking left and right for a railroad station. As the road headed up the hill, we noticed that it still retained its brick construction.

Cassel, France

Cassel, France

We quickly realized that the train station would not have been on top of a hill!

“I can find the railroad track,” Chris, a train buff, informed us. “It will be south of the hill,” and she directed us down the opposite side of the hill and through some farms and soon spotted the railroad track, but no station.
FR Cassel tracks area
Upon reflection after our visit, it seems likely that the train stopped at some point and all of the soldiers disembarked and then marched the approximately 4 miles to Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel where they set up camp.

September 25 – “Marched to Kemmel where we relieved the 15th bn (battalion) trenches about midnight.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

We continued our route, following the D933 through Caestre,

Caestre, France

Caestre, France

Metern, France

Metern, France

Ballieul and
near Ballieul, France

near Ballieul, France

Locre to Kemmel.

Soldiers that died at a specific location were buried there together. At some points we passed small roadside cemeteries with a few rows of crosses marking the burial sites of fallen soldiers.

While most of the blossoms were gone, a few bright red poppies dotted the road sides – very fitting.

roadside poppy

roadside poppy

As we passed through the countryside, we were cognizant of the fact that most of the trees and buildings were less than 100 years old.

There were no remnants of war-time trenches. While I had seen trenches depicted in movies, it was a real eye-opener to see an actual reconstruction of one at the Musee de la Grande Guerre in Meaux that we visited on our last day,
as well as a ‘no mans land.’

diorama of 'no mans land'

diorama of ‘no mans land’

September 26 – “The trenches were bombarded…by German trench mortar. 1 man was killed. Another man was killed by a sniper.” 28th Battalion History, First Winter at the Front 1915-16.

Mein describes conditions in the trenches “..the Batallion packed itself into its allotted front line positions, so full of men that at times movement was almost impossible.” And, “The first tour in the front line for the 28th was relatively uneventful. It was devoted chiefly to shaking down, getting adjusted to the dank trench life, and acquiring a taste for army issue rum.”

The Battalion remained in the trenches until September 30 when they were relieved and went to nearby shelters in the village of Kemmel. The following evening at 11 PM, the Battalion was moved to Locre, 2.5 miles away. From there they worked in shifts day and night building articles to be used in the trenches and then transporting the items to the trenches.

“A large number of men being sent to the Div baths and a large percentage suffering from colds and rheumatism due to wet and exposure.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

It’s hard to imagine the conditions under which the soldiers lived and worked.

The Battalion returned to the trenches on October 6,

“leaving Locre at 4:30 pm marched to the trenches where we relieved the 31st Bn…being completed by 10:30 pm.” War Diary Intelligence Summary

The October 12 log reads “…in trenches most of the day, artillery duels in the afternoon, enemy shell buried a number of our men killing two and wounding nine…” War Diary Intelligence Summary

October 12 is the date that our grandfather’s medical records indicate that he was buried by a shell explosion. According to oral family history, he was initially considered to be dead and was one of those buried by an enemy shell. A telegram was sent to our grandmother letting her know of his death. The following day when a party went to retrieve the dead, they discovered that our grandfather had been ‘buried alive’ and was still breathing. Our grandmother received another telegram informing her that her husband was injured. Her immediate reaction was that the order was reversed.

The medical records indicate that he suffered a contusion and was initially treated in the field and then transferred to Mont des Cats, where a casualty clearing station had been set up in the abbey. On October 29 he was returned to duty, only to be hospitalized again on November 5 suffering from pain – duh. He was returned to duty after two weeks and served until April 1916 when he was transferred back to Shorncliffe, England with ‘slight’ shell shock.

He was a man who never complained, just stoically did what needed to be done. It was humbling to realize just what he endured.

While the Battles at Ypres happened before and after our grandfather fought in the area, we had planned to visit Ypres – not far from Kemmel – in hopes of attending the daily Last Post ceremony. Unfortunately, it was too late when we arrived.

Town Square, Ypres, Belgium

Town Square, Ypres, Belgium

The crowds were streaming away from the Menin Gate, so we ducked into a restaurant to assure ourselves a table before everything filled up. As we ate, I realized that everyone in the restaurant was about our age – the last generation to know someone personally who had served in the Great War. We pondered whether subsequent generations would care and visit.

Our cousin Kam stated, “This should be on everyone’s bucket list that had family fighting in this area. Peter and I have been to the ceremony three times and it was just as moving the third time.”

After dinner we walked over to the gate where the ceremony is held nightly – rain, snow or shine.

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

Everything came together on our last day in France when we visited the Musee de la Grande Guerre in Meaux.

As we walked up the front path, a motion sensor triggered a variety of recordings – first of horses’ hoofs, then boots marching, and further up the path gun shots.

walkway to museum

walkway to museum

After a historical overview that refreshed us on the events that led up to the war, we entered the main gallery.

I was reminded not only how vast the war was, but that soldiers from European colonies were conscripted.
It has been war that has led to the development of devices to assist ‘wounded warriors,’ which in turn, has benefited other people with disabilities – who previously had not been a priority.

WWI prosthetics

WWI prosthetics

Dioramas depicted soldiers marching – and very cleverly includes those who died with uncolored figures.
I was wandering in a side gallery when I came upon this photo and called Chris over to look at it.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. “It’s grandpa.”
For both of us, the reality of being ‘buried alive’ and then struggling to gradually work part of his face to the surface was staring us in the face.

Our journey through Flanders had enabled us to better understand not only our own grandparent’s experiences, but hopefully will be a legacy for our children and grandchildren.

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The Rijkssmuseum and The Louvre – Viewing Great Works of Art Despite the Crowds

Everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, even if they don’t know much about Leonardo Da Vinci. And, for those that studied art history in college, the notion of seeing and carefully examining original works of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh and Michelangelo puts European museums at the top of your bucket list. And, I was no exception.

It was a rainy Saturday when we visited Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and we were glad we had purchased our tickets online before leaving on our trip. While there was a line for those with advance-purchase tickets, it moved quickly compared with those who needed to buy their tickets on-site. As we moved along, we had an opportunity to view the intricate details of the building’s impressive architecture.

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

We had gone to the museum’s website to plan our visit and a friend had given us a map from her visit. The paintings on our priority list were in the Gallery of Honour, which was where everyone was headed. We followed the crowd up the stairs. Unlike most of the throng, we stopped to admire the large stained-glass window on our way
and Bill reminded me to look up to appreciate the ceiling art.
decorative ceiling

decorative ceiling

I was particularly interested in viewing works of Johannes Vermeer. I had read The Girl With the Pearl Earring and recently watched the movie, Tim’s Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum has four of Vermeer’s paintings, the most famous being The Milkmaid. There was a large crowd gathered at one of the paintings near the entrance to the Gallery of Honour.

No one seemed to be studying the painting, which in real life was more luminescent than photos I have seen. Instead, they were gathered taking photos with their cell phones high above their heads, as if to say ‘I was here.’ After documenting the crowd, I nudged closer to admire the details and colors of the painting.

Crowd around Vermeer's The Milkmaid

Crowd around Vermeer’s The Milkmaid

17th Century Dutch artists are the specialty of the Rijksmuseum, so we wandered through the crowd to admire masterpieces of Rembrandt, Steen and others. The museum’s most famous painting is Rembrandt’s Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) and it was interesting to learn that it represented one of the first representations by artists of ordinary people – those who performed the night watch of the city. After spending an hour in the Gallery of Honor, we decided to split up and view other areas of the museum that appealed to each of us. The layout of the museum was complicated, involving four floors in two adjacent wings that were not connected.

There is a whole museum devoted to Van Gogh that we would not have an opportunity to see, so I made my way to the first floor gallery that contained Van Gogh’s self-portrait and then to the exhibit of Delftware.

We reconvened in the late afternoon to enjoy dark chocolate brownies and coffee in the café.

As we left, the sun had come out and a smiling Rembrandt was standing along the path and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of Bill with him.

Bill Burk with 'Rembrandt'

Bill Burk with ‘Rembrandt’

We stopped by the gift shop; however, I didn’t buy anything as the offerings resembled what I could get at The Getty Museum. There was a wonderful mural along one outside wall.
Gift shop mural

Gift shop mural

A week later, we visited The Louvre in Paris.

My son and his family had been in Paris a few weeks earlier and had warned us about the crowds. “You’ll never get to see the Mona Lisa,” I was told. “It is a small painting and there are too many people crowded around it. Instead, they spent time in the Egyptian exhibit and my granddaughter had insisted that I see the mummies!

I was not to be deterred. I was not going to Paris and the Louvre and not see the Mona Lisa!

A friend had recommended that we enter from the basement after getting off the Metro. We never saw that exit and emerged from the Metro along a side street next to the museum, but were there 15 minutes before it opened and got in the fairly short line for those with the Paris Museum Pass – a VERY smart investment. Two large tour groups were already in the other line.

Pyramid entrance

Pyramid entrance

I was armed with a brochure map from another friend and had gone to the website the night before and meticulously written down the exhibits we wanted to see, their location and the order that would work best. Unfortunately, I had not noticed the small colored square next to the exhibit photos and had assumed that everything we wanted to see was in the Richeleu wing. We were surprised there were not many people going through the line to show our ticket for this wing. We walked into the first gallery we came to and inquired where the Mona Lisa was – only to discover that we were in the wrong location. A very nice guard gave us a new map and directed us.

The two tour groups were mobbing their way to the other wing check point and I joined the throng, leaving Chris and Bill to find an elevator. After emerging from the check point, I marched with the others streaming through to Room 6 in the Denon Wing, not giving a glance at the bronzes, up the stairs through the Apollo Gallery, and ignoring the other exhibits as we made our way. I felt like I was part of the ‘running of the bulls,’ trying not to get trampled.

As predicted, there was a large crowd in front of the painting – all taking photos.

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

However, as people snapped their photo and moved away, I was able to move closer,
until I was able to see the painting well.
Now I could relax and see the rest of the exhibits and met up with Chris and Bill.

Next on our list was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, where there was a large crowd. By standing on a landing above it, I was able to get a good look.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory of Samothrace

We made our way back to the Apollo Gallery to view architectural details
and then to the gallery with Roman sculpture.
Italian scuptures

Italian scuptures

Next up was Venus de Milo in the Greek Antiquities galleries. I waited until a tour group leader had finished her spiel so I could appreciate the graceful form of the statue and then take a photo with as few heads in front of the statue as possible.
Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

I was amazed to see tourists having their picture taken as they imitated the poses of the statues.
As opposed to the Rijksmuseum, there was very little visitor seating to rest our legs and I was dehydrated and beginning to regret my decision not to have the weight of my water bottle in the side of my purse.

As we passed through the various galleries, I really appreciated Chris and Bill suggesting I stop periodically and look up at the architectural details.
In trying to find our way to the Egyptian exhibit, we discovered the area referred to as Medieval Louvre, where a boardwalk curved through the lower ground floor displaying parts of the original fortress that preceded the palace and then museum,

Medieval Louvre

Medieval Louvre

Including a model of the original structure.
Model of Medieval Louvre

Model of Medieval Louvre

Before stopping for lunch, we took time to take in some of the Egyptian exhibit, including an imposing Sphinx
Egyptian Sphinx

Egyptian Sphinx

and the collection of Sarcophagus my granddaughter wanted me to see.
Egyptian Sarcophogus

Egyptian Sarcophogus

After lunch, we made our way to the Metro via the lower level that we had missed when we arrived – stopping to see the inverted pyramid.
It was an exhausting day, maneuvering through the three areas of the museum and jostling through the crowds to view the works of art we really wanted to see, but it was definitely worthwhile. Maybe I’ll make my next visit in January.

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Driving in Europe – Siri to the Rescue

The GPS sat proudly in the middle of the console of our Volvo sedan that we had reserved through Euro Car, but alas there was no instruction book and all of the options on the unit were in French, using words that didn’t exist when Bill studied French fifty-five years ago. In our haste to get on our way, we did not try to program it or get help before leaving the rental car lot at the airport – after all, Chris had painstakingly documented all of the driving instructions from the Michelin website and she was ready with the first set.

We exited the lot, but couldn’t figure out how to leave the airport – and ended up circling Terminal 2 a couple of times before we finally got in the correct lane to exit. Having landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in the early morning, we quickly joined the throngs of commuters on the highway. While there was a lot of traffic, we were moving too fast to be able to read the signs quickly enough. While this is difficult at any airport in the United States, it is even more difficult when all of the information is in another language – in this case French.

Our first destination was Beauvais, which is north of the Paris area. We missed the off ramp heading north and found ourselves driving south towards Paris. The first opportunity we had to exit was St. Denis, where there were no shoulders to pull off and study the map. All of the streets in the town appeared to be one-way – a pattern that would challenge us over and over. As Bill drove, Chris studied her map in the back seat and I tried to work the GPS with no luck.

Freeway sign leaving Paris

Freeway sign leaving Paris

The one benefit to Chris’s pre-trip research was her familiarity with the names of towns and freeway numbers. As we passed off ramps, she called out instructions and finally got us headed north again.

Even though the GPS was not programmed, we could see the number of the highway we were driving on and the names and numbers of the upcoming exits. Periodically, an upbeat voice would come from the unit in French that left us puzzling – was it an upcoming traffic or road problem, or was it an advertisement.

After visiting the cathedrals in Beauvais and Amiens, we headed to Arras where we had reserved lodging for the night. From the confirmation information, we knew that the small hotel was near the center of town and looked for Centrum on street signs. As we approached the centrum, there was another sign – a red circle with an H and an arrow indicating where the hotels were congregated. Soon there was a list of hotels, but no Ibis Hotel where we were staying. Since the streets were narrow and one-way, we tried to get as close to the town square as possible.

At the point we seemed stymied, I volunteered to ask directions and Bill pulled over next to a shop that was still open – a hair salon, which did not sound promising for English-speakers. I went in and inquired “English?”  The beauticians had panicked looks on their faces. A patron, with some English, offered to assist and gave me very good instructions. She apologized for her English, to which I replied “it is much better than my French!”

Her directions took us to an area of the town square where there was parking; however, we could not see the hotel.

Arras Town Square

Arras Town Square

Bill, resurrecting his decades-old immersion experience, was able to ask further directions, and then he and I walked to the block to the hotel. The clerk told us that we could keep our car parked where it was or drive to the underground parking. We opted to try and locate the underground parking, which involved circling the centrum several times with no success. We parked in a different square and pulled our suitcases over the cobblestone street to the hotel.

Our destination the next day was Rotterdam. At the round-about in Douai, we exited too soon and made our first of many tours through the winding, one-way streets of a ‘housing estate.’ We coined the phrase ‘wandering aimlessly,’ which would become a trademark for the trip.

Housing Estate (this one is in Netherlands)

Housing Estate (this one is in Netherlands)

Once we entered Belgium, the upbeat messages on the GPS changed to Flemish and the signs leading towards Antwerpen became very confusing. That evening when we relayed our driving adventures to our cousin, we were told “Everyone takes a wrong turn at Antwerp.”

And, as we crossed into the Netherlands, the upbeat messages switched to Dutch.

On our first full day in the Rotterdam area, our cousin planned a day in the countryside to show us several points of interest. Since she doesn’t drive, she rode with us.

“I never pay attention to signs,” Kam explained; “therefore, Peter wrote everything down for me.” She sat in the front seat to be the navigator.

While we successfully got to Kinderdyke, the UNESCO windmills site, the directions from that point proved to be as useful as the Michelin instructions.



“Peter said that we just follow the dyke,” Kam said. Bill masterfully dealt with on-coming vehicles on the one-lane roads, while Chris and I admired thatched-roofed farm houses from the back seat.

Our next stop was a village she had discovered online where I could see storks nesting – one of my trip goals. She twice stopped to make sure we were headed in the right direction, and each inquiry resulted in conflicting information.

When it was clear that we had ‘wandered aimlessly’ too long, I dug out my cell phone, turned on the data, found our location on the map app, plugged in the name of the area near the stork village, programmed the route, turned on the oral directions and handed the phone to Kam. While she laughed at the pronunciation of Dutch names, Siri successfully guided us back to the village – which we had driven by an hour earlier.

A clerk where we stopped for lunch provided the final necessary directions – “turn just past the house with the llamas, then go past the cemetery…”

After enjoying the storks, we traveled a short distance to take a car ferry over the river Lek to Schoonhoven.

Car Ferry across River Lek

Car Ferry across River Lek

Our next stop was Gouda. After circling the town a couple of times, we found a parking spot a few blocks from the square – even with a spot marked for handicapped parking. Chris hung her placard from the mirror and off we went.

Gouda City Hall

Gouda City Hall

We returned to find a parking ticket – 61 Euros!

The following day as we were following Kam and Peter in their car, the ‘check engine light’ came on – not a good sign on a trip. Despite a two hour delay in leaving Rotterdam while the Volvo dealer checked the engine, the silver lining was learning how program the GPS and be able to set it in English. The driving instructions – “turn at the 2nd exit on the roundabout,” were given by a very polite voice with a British accent. We dubbed her UK Jane. If we decided to deviate to get something to eat, she would instruct us to “make a U-turn.” When we didn’t comply, she would instruct us to “Please make a U-turn” in an ever more urgent voice.

UK Jane successfully guided us through the countryside in northwest France as we traced the route of our grandfather’s WWI battalion, which wound in and out of France and Belgium, and got us back to our hotel in Bethune in the dark after visiting the memorial at Ypres.

War Memorial Gate - Ypres, Belgium

War Memorial Gate – Ypres, Belgium

And the next day, UK Jane guided us finally back to Charles de Gaulle to return the car.

While we had a very pleasant and efficient taxi ride from the airport to our apartment in Paris, the return taxi experience was a comedy or horrors where the meter was ticking as the cab was loaded, the driver’s junk was moved from the front seat to the trunk to accommodate Bill, and as he programmed his GPS. He couldn’t read the GPS and didn’t have the sound turned up, so drove erratically as he held a piece of paper over the screen to cut the glare.

On our final day, we rented another car for the day to visit Meaux. Trying to be smarter this time, we attempted to program it before we left the car rental lot. We successfully switched it to English and put in our destination, but were not able to turn on the oral directions. The rental car attendant was no help. Since we had to follow the blue line on the device, we dubbed this GPS unit “Silent Sally.’ The blue line had us ‘wandering aimlessly’ again and at one point suggested we take the next exit – a dirt path across a pasture. Rather than following an obvious bad suggestion, we stayed on the road and found ourselves heading back to Charles de Gaulle.

I dug out my phone again and Siri came to the rescue, successfully guiding us to Meaux.

Meaux, France - Memorial from U.S.

Meaux, France – Memorial from U.S.

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