Timeout/Scale Back

I need to slow down and stop trying to continue down so many different paths before I crash and burn. Although it is technically springtime in the Northern Hemisphere, here in the Southeastern United States, it is definitely summertime. The kids are out of school, the temperatures are in the nineties, the days are long, and the grass and plants are begging for more water as they all wilt in the afternoon sun.

Since I was a kid, this has always been the time of year to relax and smell the roses. That is not what I have been doing, and I don’t like it. I have been trying to keep up with my two blogs, plan my summer vacation, play with the grandkids, finish redoing my mother’s photo albums, assemble a family cookbook, and write another book. Oh yes, then there is my book club. I am behind on that. (And there is always the laundry to do and toilets to clean.)

So I am cutting back on my blogs, particularly Do Svidanya Dad, since I have been tossing around the idea of turning Mommymeanderings into a book—something along the lines of Mommymeanderings: Where the Hell Did the Years Go? For anyone not familiar with my second blog, it the rambling memories and observations of a Baby boomer—me—as told to my three grown children.

After struggling to write my father’s story, I decided that perhaps my own children and grandchildren would someday be interested in learning what it was like growing up in a smalltown in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. I wrote the kind of stories I wish my own parents and grandparents had written about or told to me.

I began the blog shortly after hitting a very difficult-to-accept milestone birthday: #60!   I sprinkled in stories of my own parents and grandparents, and I am hoping that these tales will give my daughters and their children a personal history of how much the world has changed, as well as how much it is still the same.

Enough stories are written for a book, but I am still continuing that blog. It is now a matter of choosing which ones to include and how to organize it in a cohesive format. Then I will decide whether to publish it just for them or to allow for the possibility that others outside my family may be interested. I am uncertain at this time.

Do Svidanya Dad will still drop by on occasion, but for now, I need to work on these other projects and also have a little summer fun.

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International Giveaway Mailing Shocker

I have never mailed any international packages, so today’s trip to the UPS store was a real eye-opener. This mailing was related to my recent Goodreads Giveaway.

The winners of my first Giveaway were both U.S. citizens. This time, I learned that one book would be off to neighboring Georgia, while the second was going to Canada. I liked both locales, since my father had spent time in Georgia during the war, and Canada was a country he had never visited. So symbolically, Dad was off to our Northern neighbor.

I carefully composed a short message to each winner, and wrapped and addressed the two packages. Having mailed my book before, I knew the cost to mail within the states was minimal, but I had no idea what the cost to Canada would be.

The first surprise was that for International mailings, UPS required the recipient’s telephone number. “Okay,” I told my friendly store manager. “I’ll be back.”

Before leaving the store, I asked him to find out the price to mail my book to Canada. We were both shocked to learn that it would be over twenty dollars! Wow! “Perhaps you should research the cost to mail it direct from the publisher,” he advised.

The difference was huge: $6.99 direct from Amazon versus $20 if shipped by me. Lesson learned. (The price via US Mail was still pricey, albeit cheaper than UPS.)

So now I have a book with a message to a person in Canada which will stay in my house here, while that Canadian reader will receive the book without my little words of wisdom to her.

Oh well. I tried, but I had to be practical, and I never promised an autographed copy. It’s a good thing nobody in Australia won!

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Has He Broken Too Much?

I thought my first memory was of my grandfather who died when I was just 3½. Then I read a Facebook post written by my husband, and his words returned me to a moment in time a year earlier.

It was the autumn of 1957, and I was not quite 2 ½. I have a vague memory of my dad holding me in his arms on our driveway and pointing skyward as the Soviet satellite Sputnik passed over our house. This was the beginning of the space race.

According to a statement made after the launch by The Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory, “It’s a great triumph for science. It’s the opening of a new era.”

The post my husband wrote was provoked by our current president pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord this past week, followed by French President Emmanuel Macron inviting our scientists and citizens to relocate to France.

“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland. I call on them, come and work here with us to work together on concrete solutions for our planet, our environment. I can assure you France will not give up the fight.”

My husband was both furious and worried that many of the world’s great minds will no longer come to America, but instead, will decide to bring their talents to other, more welcoming, nations. He wrote:

Mr. President, our Germans are better than their Germans”.

In the movie “The Right Stuff” this was a line that was said by Werner von Braun to the President. This was a time in the world when the two super powers were advancing technology at a competitive pace. Both the United States and the USSR were in a race to space—first to launch a man to orbit the earth and then the race to the moon. Neither country did this alone.

 At the end of the Second World War, a group of German scientists working on rocket system technology ended up working on the US space program, while another group of Germans ended up working for the Soviet Union. Werner von Braun was the leader of the group that came to the United States and was instrumental in helping us win the race to the moon.

The computers that were invented for the space program have been advanced by people in this country, with the help of the smartest minds in the world. Both the United States and Russia had the potential to be the leaders of the technical evolution of the last 75 years. Why has the US advanced while Russia has not?

No country can advance science alone. We need to collaborate with the great minds of the world. The United States has continued to be the epicenter for scientific and technological advances because the great minds of the world have come to this country to be part of these advances.

We have always welcomed these people, and we have always embraced science and development. On June 1, 2017, the United States told the world that we will go it alone. All you great minds of the world go someplace else.

That was the day the President of the United States turned off the flow of information with the world. This is exactly what Russia did and why Russia has developed no products, and why Russia doesn’t even own the technology to drill for all of its oil.

This is our future if we don’t wake up and say no to ignorance.

I truly believe that the words and action of one man and his followers do not reflect the beliefs of the majority of Americans, and I do not understand why science and the health of our planet should be political. Does the world know this?

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Dad Called it Decoration Day

Since yesterday was Memorial Day, we saw scenes from several services around the country commemorating our fallen soldiers. This set off a conversation with my husband.

I asked him if he had ever heard of the day being referred to as “Decoration Day.” He did not, but I told him that I recall my father calling it by that name, and a tweet by the National Archives confirmed what I had remembered (Aha!):

#MemorialDay began as “Decoration Day” because of the tradition of decorating #CivilWar soldiers’ graves.

Apparently, Decoration Day was the original name of this day, which was originally created to honor our Civil War dead of the Union Army and eventually expanded to include fallen soldiers of all wars. (It should be noted that Confederate Memorial Day is currently celebrated as a state holiday in five Southern states.)

Sometime during the mid-twentieth century, the name officially was changed to Memorial Day, and it became a national holiday in 1971—celebrated on the last Monday in May. But to Dad it was Decoration Day.

I was curious to see if Russia celebrates a day in remembrance of their war dead, but all I could find was their equivalent of Veteran’s Day—Defender of the Fatherland Day—and Victory Day, which celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union over Hitler’s Germany.

My father’s Uncle Mark had come to America with my grandmother but returned with the family during the Great Depression. He ultimately died during the Siege of Leningrad. If my three Russian first cousins are still alive, then Defender of the Fatherland Day would be the day that they should be celebrating each year.

 

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Never Stop Questioning

It was really important for me to understand the Communist mentality because it informs the choices that people made. After years of terror, the citizens had learned not to question their government. Thus when Stalin ordered the evacuation of the children of Leningrad, it was done. It’s true that mothers put their children on trains, with their names pinned to their coats, with no real idea where those trains were going and when they would see their children again, if ever.

These words, spoken by Kristin Hannah when she wrote about researching Winter Garden, were gut wrenching. While I understand what drove these women to such desperate actions, I cannot imagine how they were able to walk away from their children.

Except for our new war on terror here in the United States, we have not fought a war on American soil since the Civil War. I hope this never happens again.

Listening to our new president wanting to limit press conferences and instill distrust in the media has made me uneasy. Shortly after the election, the president-elect tweeted: “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

Three months later, he famously tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

While other presidents have admitted to not being fond of the media, they knew its importance. President George W. Bush was constantly the source of negative comments, yet he understood the necessity of the news media: “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

If Americans begin to fear our government and stop questioning those in power—even the President—then we risk becoming like those citizens of the Soviet Union during that horrible time when my father lived there. I often wonder how he was able to write all those letters to the State Department, embassies, and even the Secretary of State after growing up during the Great Purge.

Look what is happening in Russia now, where we are hearing about  journalists being killed under the Putin regime. We never what to become that nation. We need to protest, write letters, and question those in authority. That is what living in a free country is all about.

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The Year Slipped by Without Fanfare

Somehow the day passed and I missed mentioning it. I guess it’s because the year just flew by so quickly that I did not even notice that it has been one year since the publication of my book.

Looking back, the question is, did publishing this book about my father’s life in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era meet my expectations? Do I have any regrets sharing this story with friends, family, and strangers? If I did it again, would I change anything?

My answers are that I had few expectations. While I hoped that people outside my circle of friends and family would read it to learn about a little-known part of history, I was both pleasantly surprised and also a bit disappointed that more of the readers were strangers.

Because this was a personal account of what happened during those years between the Great Depression and the McCarthy era to my family, my expectations were that my readers would have been almost exclusively people who knew my dad or me. I also believed that such people would be more forgiving of my lack of professional writing ability, knowing that I had gone into the project with the primary goal of presenting the facts as I envisioned it and sharing my findings with them, not to write a best-seller.

I have considered writing another book, this time a fictionalized account of the story told through the eyes of my grandmother, imagining what she may have felt returning to the homeland of her family, including a mother’s fears of sending her son back home alone during the early stages of the Second World War.

But then I read Winter Garden, which touches on the horrors of the Siege of Leningrad, and I decided that I do not want to write something so sad yet. I would like to write another book, but I have just not decided on the topic.

I have no regrets about sharing this story with anyone and everyone, particularly because I believe my father always wanted his story told. No one was interested in all the details at the time. I stand by my story, even the letters I wrote to him because they show the thought process I had as I was writing the book. Perhaps I should have spent more time in painting highly descriptive pictures of the settings, people, and their feelings. Maybe I will do so if I write another book!

Beginning on Thursday, May 25 and continuing until June 4, I will be doing my second Goodreads Giveaway for people in the US, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. For anyone who has not read Do Svidanya Dad and is living in those countries, enter the Giveaway. I won a book. You may too.

As someone who loves competitions with myself, I wonder if I can beat the number of entrants to my other Giveaway of 961 people.

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A Relevant Prize for Me

I am reading a book which I won on a Goodreads Giveaway. (This may be my first win ever.) I had every intention on buying the book, since it was written by the author of quite possibly my all-time favorite book—The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah.

Since I enjoyed that book so much I decided to see what else Ms. Hannah had written and was drawn to one of her earlier books—Winter Garden. When I noticed that part of the book was set in Leningrad, well, you can understand why I was intrigued. So I put it on my shelf with every intention of purchasing it, but then I won it instead.

It’s been sitting in my room just waiting for me to have the time to sit down and turn that first page. Now I wish I hadn’t waited so long, because that book has given me some insight into what life in Leningrad was like during the Second World War.

I read about people riding those evacuation trains, just like my father’s family did so many years ago, as German planes dropped their bombs from overhead. As I turned each page, I imagined what it must have been like as my grandparents and aunts huddled together on those unheated boxcars, trying to keep warm during the most brutal winter of the 20th century.

I am sure there were many times when they wondered how they would die, not if they would survive. How would they meet their demise? Would they die from the bombs, lack of food, or would they slowly freeze to death.

What I was not aware from my own research was that many of the evacuees were children, who were traveling on some of those trains without a mother or father. Thinking back on my own children, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those mothers to send their little ones off, knowing that they may never see them again. So as bad as it must have been for my father’s family, at least they had each other.

Without going into further detail so as not to spoil the story, I would highly recommend checking out Winter Garden. You won’t be sorry.

Incidentally, it’s been a year since my book was pubished, so I have decided it is time for me to do another Goodread’s Giveaway. Stay tuned for details. It will begin next week.

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