When You’re the Only One Who Knows It’s Their Birthdays…

Here they are – my maternal grandmother and my great aunt. They each had their stories, all forgotten now, except by me. Their birthdays come and I am the only one who knows, and that pains me a bit, though my rational side tells me it is only normal and makes me realize that this will come to me as well. That there will be no one to remember my birthday, or my story.

Perhaps that is why I write – on the off chance that someone, someday, may pick up a book and give a thought to the person who wrote it. But for now, I am thinking about their stories, their lives, what I know of them. And this year, I will write about them, so that, perhaps, someday someone will remember and wonder.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Advertisements

Christmas Markets on the Rhine …

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

While Butterscotch may have wanted to go with me, I ventured alone to meet Michele in Amsterdam. Flights went smoothly, with aisle seats – who could ask for more, except perhaps business class. Watched The Notorious RBG, a superb documentary of the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now one of my favorite people. Also read Richard Russo’s Trajectory, a good collection of related short stories.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

After a very long flight and easy entry to the Netherlands, was met by a GCT guide who took a group of us to the ship, M/S River Rhapsody. Had time to visit my room before lunch, during which Michele and family arrived. The group gathered before dinner for a port talk about the next day’s tour (Nijmegen), then, finally, to bed. Lots of steps on the ship, but I’m managing. Mind over matter…

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A morning Nijmegen tour led by our wonderful guide Bjorn, restored after an accidental bombing by the US during WWII. Rain did not deter us. Also learned about “coffee shops” which sell weed. Our group purchased a nickel bag, which yields about two buds.  Also had a lecture by a docent from the military museum about Operation Market Garden, which we know from A Bridge Too Far. After lunch, I napped – and I slept so soundly that I slept through the fire drill – only woke up when staff came to my room to check where I was. Then our Cologne port talk, dinner and to bed.

Learned that the water level of the Rhine had risen to the point where we will not have to disembark and bus to another ship further south. So we get to stay onboard!  This is great news for us, but also great news for Germany. This is the first time for many months that the Rhine has been deep enough to be navigable. Great expense entailed in unloading barges and getting supplies from one place to another.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Stollen baking demonstration in the morning, then late morning out for our walking tour of Cologne. I broke off from the group and met Gina and Ludwig in front of the cathedral. We had a delight-filled day – talking, walking around the Christmas markets there, my personal Ludwig-guided tour of the Cathedral – and a special treat – a walk to see the location where August Strauff was born, then a mere two blocks away, the church where he was baptized. Also had coffee at a café where the doors to the toilets are transparent – until you do in and lock the door – then it becomes translucent with a flower design.

Gina and Ludwig walked with me back to the ship where we had a farewell drink. Just a lovely day with these two people, whom I already love.

Then dinner and a port talk and to watch the lights of the city of Cologne as we sailed from port that night.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Started the morning with a walking tour of Koblenz, which is at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Again in the rain, but we were undeterred. Michele and I stopped in one of the markets for coffee – and saw the house where a mural of Max and Moritz was painted. Max and Moritz in the US is the Katzenjammer Kids, a Sunday comic strip that I remember from when I was a little girl at Rock Springs.

After lunch we set sail for Mainz, cruising past the Lorelei. I think this was part of my trip in 1964, but am not altogether sure. Will see if I can find pictures or some type of memory. Lots of memories all jumbled up, for sure.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A morning walking tour of Mainz, led by an interesting looking German man – one can see generations of German, of hardship, of this obviously educated guy who now leads tourists around his city, even in the rain. Visited the Gutenberg Museum, looked at architecture – the post-war reconstruction, some of which is in the old style, some in the hurry-up-and-build 1950s style. Walked around the markets – sat on a wet bench to drink coffee. All these Germans eat and drink standing up. And the food smells are fantastic wherever we go.

That evening went on the optional trip to Rudesheim, for dinner and the markets there. Lots of free time, more than I knew what to do with, especially in the rain and the treacherous cobblestones. But I explored the markets and bought a Stollen, which turned out to be very heavy to carry. Then to dinner at a German (of course) restaurant, very touristy, but then I am a tourist, so I didn’t mind at all. And sat with some nice people from the trip. Enjoyable, but a rigorous walk.

Monday, December 10, 2018

I napped after breakfast, loving having a room to myself, It’s like it’s my personal nest, private, just for me. And the treat of having coffee brought to my room in the morning – a delightful surprise.

We arrived in Speyer after lunch. I have been surprised to learn of the influence of the Celts and the Romans in this area. Love hearing all this history. If only I could remember it. Our home visit was today – four of us went to a woman’s house – she was in her 70s, I think. We saw her apartment, her garden, she was most hospitable. Talked about school after the war – Speyer was in the French-occupied area, so they had to speak French. She served a lovely cake, stollen, coffee, tea. A lovely way to spend an afternoon, and then a woman’s singing group in the evening for entertainment after dinner.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

To Heidelberg all day. Rainy, but interesting bus ride – I always enjoy seeing the countryside and the parts of the city we don’t see on our walking tours. I thought that I had been to Heidelberg in ’64, but once I was there, I think not. First the castle – very interesting, but oh those cobblestones, oh those wet cobblestones, oh those hills with wet cobblestones. I used my cane and don’t think that I would have made it without it. All very exhausting for me.

After our morning tour, we went to the city of Heidelberg – the castle was on the hill, unsurprisingly. Had lunch with the group in a local restaurant, and then Michele and Sven and I explored the markets and shops. By this time, I know that I am coming down with a cough/cold, so we picked up some super-German cold tablets.

Enjoying the food, the people, the markets, everything that we’re seeing and doing. But I must say that the pace is rigorous and walking treacherous. It’s exhausting, truly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Our ship arrived in Pittersdorf during the night and we were on an early bus to Baden Baden, another Roman site. We had a lovely city walking tour and then Michele and I walked around the markets and ended the morning with coffee and a pastry at a local shop.

The day before, a terrorist had killed four people at the Strasbourg markets, so it was decided that the ship would not go there. The markets there had closed and the borders secured. We were set to go to Freiburg instead.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The ship docked at Breisach during the night and we set off to Freiburg directly after breakfast. The borders were still closed, but the bus went through without being stopped. And Freiburg was a lovely treat. We had a walking tour led by a delightful young woman, saw the Cathedral and the city and then had a great lunch with Michele and Sven. Michele and I stayed in town and walked through the markets; also picked up some super cough drops, since my cold was not getting any better.

Everyone walks around the market drinking Gluwein – a hot, spiced wine. You can buy it at most stalls, then you pay 1 Euro for the mug; when you finish your drink, you can return your mug at any of the stalls and they refund the Euro. A pretty good system, I think.

But all in all, a lovely day and GCT made the change in itinerary seamlessly. Great job.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Our last day – spent the morning on ship where the guides did a presentation on their Christmas traditions and we had the Secret Santa – I hate those things…

Then in the afternoon we bused to Kayserburg where we explored the city – more wet cobblestones, more uphill wet cobblestones, and then on to Riquewihr, a wine village known for its Rieslings. All were lovely towns, lovely Christmas markets, but I have to say that by this time I was tired. The pace, the cobblestones were grueling, and I wasn’t feeling my best.  Was glad to get back to the ship, dinner and then pack to head home.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Up at 2 a.m. – luggage out at 3 a.m.; left for airport at 3:30 a.m. – and an exhausting check-in and flight from Basel to Amsterdam; then what felt like an endless trip to Atlanta. My poor seatmate – I coughed much of the flight and felt more miserable with each mile. Then, to top it all off, I spilled my orange juice over her. I don’t think she’ll forget that flight, nor will I. But I made it home – R and I arrived at the same time, about 7:30 p.m. G’so time.

And so…. a lovely trip, even with the weather, even with the cobblestones. And it was a delight to see Gina and Ludwig. But the trip, the pace, made me feel my age, I have to say. And made me glad that I had done so much traveling before it got so difficult. And made me realize that I need to waste no time in seeing what I want to see.

Life lessons….

On Festivus and the Inconveniences of Taking the High Road…

On Festivus and the Inconveniences of Taking the High Road…

Once again, I missed Festivus. I love the part about “airing of grievances.” For I come from a long line of folks who never do that; we call our lack of rejoinders “taking the high road,” and, indeed, sometimes, most times, it is exactly that. Plus, we get to feel superior to those who thrash and get red-in-the-face in response to an insult, real or imagined.

I am one who finds it exceedingly difficult to air my protests, and though my spouse might deign to disagree, he doesn’t know the half of it. While I have no trouble letting him know exactly how I feel, it is the others, those further removed, yet not removed enough to make them be of no concern, who rankle while I’m practicing being above-it-all.

I have not made public my protests to those “deaths by a thousand paper cuts,” each by itself too trivial, too insignificant, to bring to light – slights delivered with or without a smile, insinuations, exaggerations, or sometimes outright lies. This is how I’ve tried to live my life, what I have advised those who have come to me with both workplace and personal issues. “Take the high road. It will pay off in the long run, and you will feel better about yourself.” And when they followed this advice, which most did, I was there to congratulate and cheer them on.

Now this is one of the great rewards of taking the high road – having someone (or many) know about it. To take the high road in total private – well, you have to have a pretty strong sense of yourself to take solace in that.

And I realized that is what is missing. What I want is someone to say “Wow, are you not great? You are taking the high road. You are the better person. You are a person of character!” That’s what I want to hear. All these years of raising an eyebrow and keeping my counsel, all these years of not reporting what the other person had said or setting the story straight. There are times I want to scream “there are things I know that I haven’t told you because it would hurt your feelings or change your mind about someone you think cares about you.”

But I haven’t, and I don’t think I will. I’m working on leaving all that stewing behind. It benefits no one, especially me. It’s unlikely that I’ll change my ways, and most likely that’s a good thing.

In the end it really won’t matter. In the end we’re all dead anyway, Festivus or no.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On the Death of a Sister…

On the Death of a Sister…

One of the few pictures of us together. See much love here? Me neither.

Maybe she loved me, later on, when I was always there to babysit for her children. Or maybe not. And now I wonder if I ever loved her. I thought I did, though perhaps it was only longing, longing to be special, longing to be beloved.

She was complicated. That’s one way of putting it. She could be charming; she could be kind. And she could be vicious, a laser-sharp cruel streak that makes my heart seize in its memory.

She was my sister.

I intruded upon her world after twelve years of having our parents to herself. The one she loved was our father. The one she hated, or so it seemed, was our mother. And the introduction of a fourth person to that troubled triangle disrupted whatever balance they had assembled over the years.

I was docile, loving,with a craving to please. She was confrontational, angry, seemingly immune to disapproval or reproach. She saw me as weak, a coward. Most likely, I was. I know I was where she was concerned.

Hostile, angry, prone to violent outbursts toward me, out of sight of either parent, she was a master of physical and verbal abuse. Not a fair fight, she a teenager, me a toddler, though she relished her victories.

She was not one to tell the truth. I think her lies made her feel powerful. And I never called her on any of them. I was afraid, afraid that if I did anything to displease her,including standing up for myself, pointing out her “inconsistencies,” that she would have nothing to do with me.

Which she chose to do anyway.

 “You will see her once more, but you will never get what you want.” A tarot-reader answered my question almost twenty years ago. She was right.

A decade ago, we met in a restaurant and sat across from one another, polite strangers. I complimented her hair, still thick and auburn after rounds of chemotherapy. It was a wig,she told me, with an air of superiority and a smirk that I had been so naïve, so gauche, to mention it. Or so I interpreted it. I noticed that her nails were ragged and unkempt, and curled my fingers to hide my manicure. We parted in the parking lot, she leaning away as I moved to embrace her. It left me off-kilter.The last time I saw her.

My wounds, most of them, have healed. And I see now that she also had wounds, deeper than mine, though I know that I will never fathom why.

Would that it had been different, we, victims of generations of puzzling family fractures. And I’ll always carry a sadness, somewhere, not too near the surface.

Dear sister, I wish you well. I wish it could have been different.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Being a Writer Who Doesn’t Write…

Image result for image writer's block

On Being a Writer Who Doesn’t Write…

These days even calling myself a writer fills me with anxiety. I’m somebody who writes. Yes, I am. Just not much these days. Or should I be honest and admit that I’m writing nothing. I’m hoping that this piece, that writing this, putting my anguish out there for the world (or those few who actually read what I post) will do the trick, will get me out of my rut, will spark the engines. I could go on…but, for you, dear reader, I won’t.

I’d never used the term “writer’s block.” I always thought of it as too easy an excuse, one that could be used when it was just too hard to think of something to say, when “your imaginary friends” had other things to do, other writers to grace, or when you realized that what you wrote was just a word ragbag, too full of fancy adjectives, or synonyms, or Victorian phrasing.  I’ve experienced all those, but somehow was able to keep at it, knowing, deep down, that I could do better.

But for the last months, truth be told, I just had nothing to say. Well, that and a major dose of laziness. Each morning, I’d tell myself that at least I’d sit at the computer and do more than answer emails and read like-minded Facebook posts. And each day I would do only that. I still had nothing to say.

I couldn’t find a book that enthralled, and after binge-watching The Americans, no Netflix, Prime, or Acorn captured me. I was nothing but a mess.

And then the cloud parted, or at least became a bit more gossamer. I found books I liked – Tana French, Daniel Pink, Bill Bryson, H.L. Mencken, Lianne Moriarity. No pattern that I could discern. Some readings by author friends,. each in her own way nudging me back to the keyboard, if only to write that I cannot write.

And so here are 300 or so words. A start. And it really doesn’t feel that terrible. Fingers crossed that I will hear good news about the one story that I did write this summer and submitted for inclusion in a commemoration of a favorite author. And even if it is not accepted, I sense that my imaginary friends are on their way back to me. I will welcome them with maple tea and stale Krispy Kreme donuts. They tell me that combination is one of their favorites.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

I Hear the Economy is Good…

Image result for image poverty

I Hear the Economy is Good…

The economy is good. I heard it on NPR.

While our current president says that it has never been better, and while some may dispute that, none can deny that, yes, the economy is good. Or so they say. Not sure exactly what they use as a measure — jobs? the Dow Jones? So  there are more jobs, somewhere at least, and the stock market is high.

Now if the economy is good, then life must be good, and the president’s approval ratings are…what? And how/why do we determine how good life is by how the richest among us are doing?

I sit on the sidelines, knowing that, for now at least, I am secure. I have enough; I desire little. I have health insurance and my health. I have enough income that should withstand the vicissitudes of a fluctuating economy.

Yet I have lived long enough, and experienced enough, to know that all that could change in a flash. I have been jobless; I have worked in jobs that did not quite cover my meager expenses. I know the gnawing sense of worry that underpins life even when you are getting along. I haven’t forgotten.

And as we in North Carolina sit and worry about Hurricane Florence, we know that we can count on our president to show up and throw us a roll of paper towels; we know that we can count on those prayers from our Republican senators. So we do not worry. Because, as we all know, the economy is good.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off…

The_Great_British_Bake_Off_title

Three Life Lessons Gleaned from The Great British Bake Off

I no longer enjoy cooking. My idea of a great meal is one that someone else has cooked. And as for baking, well, I was never a baker, for baking is essentially chemistry, precise measuring, all the while considering altitude and humidity. Too much like work, when you can purchase deliciously made sweets and savories all the while supporting local businesses.

So it’s odd that I’m now enamored with The Great British Bake Off. But it’s not the baking that has captivated me. No. It’s the people, both bakers and judges and then whoever those two jocular women are who insist on picking up spoons, asking questions while bakers are trying to concentrate, and, once, toppling over a carefully arranged stack of…something that looked like a cross between a pancake and a cookie. I’m fascinated by their actions and responses and love the way that the show’s producers/directors portray them. I’ve learned a lot from them, not about cooking, but about life.

So here are three life lessons I’ll share:

First:

Sooner or later someone will take your ice cream out of the freezer without your knowing it. They will neither admit this nor apologize. It will ruin what you are attempting to do. Now, the life lesson is that you must keep your cool, though your ice cream has not, continue with what you have left, do your best, and present your product with as much aplomb as you can muster. It will get your points for poise and dash. What you should not do is throw a fit and make a production of throwing your entire creation in the trash. You will be voted off for sure and will have to live with YouTube views for the rest of your life.

Second:

There will always be someone who will want to help, sometimes officiously, even though you prefer to be left alone. They will huddle over you, they will talk to you, they will clean up what they think should be thrown away. Often it should not be. It will not matter what you say to them. And finally, as they turn to leave, they will brush against your carefully constructed skyscraper of pancakes and gingerbread. It will topple. They won’t know this because by this time they are bothering someone else. When this happens, and, to be sure, it will, though it may your ego that is toppled rather than cakes, just pile them up again as best you can and go on with life. After all, it’s only cake, or, in most cases, your self-esteem. Under no circumstances, throw whipped cream, raw eggs, or scatological insults at the perpetrator. That will only mark you as an hysteric. Time later for tears and tantrums in the privacy of your own home where, I  hope, there would be doughnuts, suitably purchased from a local bakery, certainly not a shop that specializes in doughnuts.

And, third,

There will always be a beautiful, green-eyed, gazelle of a 20-year-old, who will present her bakes with quivering lip and tear-filled eyes. She will say, her voice catching, that her work is terrible. She will enchant at least one of the judges, who will comfort her. Such comfort will involve making sure she moves to the next level, and then the next. You will seethe and try to hide it. It will give you a major migraine. But do take comfort, eventually – though we may not be around to see it – a better baker will prevail, and that person will win based on the baking, not his ability to line his/her eyes with a color that makes those green eyes even more hypnotizing. However, even though she will not win, she will be the one everyone remembers. There is no getting around this, so when this comes, and it comes to all of us, I advise finding a good book – Jane Austen, Barbara Pym or somesuch writer who appreciates excellent women.

For that is what most of us are. And, really, would you trade it?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com