I won’t lie to you guys. I’m one of those people that goes a little crazy on Christmas. The pumpkins from Halloween are barely soft before the Christmas decorations go up. The stair railing gets wrapped in holly garland, lights adorn our kitchen window, and unwitting cats get dressed in various Christmas outfits. There is lots of fun in preparing for the holidays, but it has always been the Christmas Tree that held an extra-special place in my heart. There’s just something comforting about sitting in the glow of a Christmas Tree, and my favorite is picking out ornaments to decorate it with. I love it when the stores get crammed with colorful balls, fun shapes, and sparkling decorations to hang on the tree. We already have plenty in our own ornament stash (because I have little control over myself at Christmas), but we still add to it every year in one of our own little traditions. Each Christmas, my husband and I get each other an ornament that marks something special about that year. In addition to that, I also splurge on at least one new box of regular ornaments. Last year, it was Shiny Brites (click here to read all about it). This year took me in a slightly different direction.
The first thing we saw at Talbot House was the garden. It was spacious and green. There were beautiful flowering shrubs all over the grassy lawn. Butterflies flitted everywhere. It was a haven, and I let out a nice exhale. In my first five minutes there, I saw why so many soldiers from the Great War and the nearby Ypres Salient found peace at Talbot House. As Sgt. Jacob Bennett of the Scots Guards wrote of his own visit – “In April 1916 I spent two happy days at Talbot House, and in that Garden, where all was Peace in the midst of war.”
When I first began research for my historical fiction novel about World War II, I wanted to include a scene that dealt with the bombs. I collected many materials – first-hand accounts, histories, etc. and got to work. It would be a very emotional experience for me, much more so than I expected. Stories from survivors about these two attacks left me devastated and disturbed. I could barely handle the accounts of it, I truly cannot even imagine having gone through it in person. My heart cracked so deeply that I had to stop the research, and my plans to include the bomb in my narrative were scrapped. Because even as a writer, I could not find the right words for this event. All I managed to eek out was this poem. I think it’s important that we always remember these events – for they should never… EVER… be repeated.
Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, Halloween is upon us, and every store is stocked with candy corn. It’s my favorite time of the year, and all that candy corn is a big reason why. I wait all year long for the first sightings of the familiar, brightly-colored bags on the shelves, because candy corn has been one of my favorites since childhood. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Iowa and we love corn in all its many varieties there. Maybe it’s because those colors are so pretty to look at. Or maybe it’s just that good (but I know a lot of people would disagree with me there – it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of candy). I love candy corn so much that one year I contemplated trying to make my own, but after seeing the complexities involved, I decided it was better for everyone if I don’t attempt something like that in the kitchen. Besides, I don’t know exactly what accidents our insurance policy covers. So, I won’t be sharing a personal candy corn recipe with the world anytime soon. But I am good at sharing the history – so I dug into the roots of this iconic candy to find out how it came to rule the drug stores every year at Halloween.
Boy we’re moving fast through the first part of three for my poem epic. Part I is split into seven segments and covers various angles of WWII. Here for you is Segment 5 about the Battle of Iwo Jima and the flag raising atop Mt. Suribachi, a moment that I always find moving when I read about it. Just think, two whole other parts (also each containing seven poems) to go! Thanks so much to all of you for sticking with it thus far and I hope it continues to move you!
If you ask me, it started off on the wrong foot. It was so hot out, and we intended to beat the heat with an early start. We had too much to do though, and by the time we arrived in the small town of Vossenack just inside the German border, it already pushed the lunch hour. The sun walloped on us without mercy. We walked through the quiet streets in search of the trail head. We noticed that there wasn’t a single building older than 1950. An ominous sign…
It was Kall Trail that we had come for – a winding foot path that would take us through the formidable Hurtgen Forest. The map described the trail as “strenuous,” but we didn’t bat an eye. My husband and I are both very avid and experienced hikers. So, even though it was hot, and we were down to one small bottle of water, we threw the dice. We started down the Kall Trail and entered “the Green Hell.”
We were far from the first Americans to give that trail a whirl. In September of 1944, multiple divisions of the United States Army moved into the woods to secure the nearby town of Schmidt and capture the Roer River Dams. They also wanted to keep the Germans there busy while other American troops attacked at Aachen near the Siegfried Line. It would be a quick mission that they thought would last a few weeks. Instead, it became the longest battle fought on German soil during World War II.
It was a hot afternoon in the small town of Ypres, Belgium. My husband and I had spent the whole day running around the surrounding countryside and visiting World War I battle sites. There was plenty to see too. The First World War was devastating for Ypres and nearby Flanders Fields. The town was smashed to pieces, the ground was ripped up for miles, and the soil was filled with hundreds of thousands of dead. It was so bad that a hundred years later, the scars still remain. We walked through a good many graveyards that were filled with seas of white stones. About one in five actually had names on them. The rest were marked with the tragic words, “known unto God.” We stood inside the Menin Gate, a huge memorial that is covered with over 60,000 names of the missing soldiers from Flanders Fields. We hiked through fields and woods that still bore very visible remnants of the trenches and shell craters. Some bunkers were still there, including the bunkers where a broken-hearted Canadian doctor penned one of the most famous poems in military history, “In Flanders Fields.” His words captured the horrors of war so well that a century later, the poppy is still associated with this terrible conflict and all the lives it stole from us. Indeed, it had been a heart-wrenching, albeit powerful, day.
Well, we’re home. The adventure is over. It was so amazing that I’m still processing a lot of it. I saw places with my own eyes that I’ve read about and written about for over a decade. I ran my fingers through the sand at Omaha Beach and Sword Beach. I wove through a real trench from the WWI Ypres Salient that was once surrounded by shell craters and mud, but it is now surrounded by a bustling, modern-day city. I stood on 100-year-old battlefields that still bore scars I could both see with my eyes and feel with my heart. I navigated the chilled caves of Fort Douaumont where French soldiers withstood unimaginable bombardments and lost thousands of soldiers in the First World War. I stood at the mole on Dunkirk Beach that was once mobbed by 330,000 desperate soldiers trying to cross the English channel. I walked through beautiful cities across Europe and heard their bell towers chime. I stood atop the highest peak in Germany, and I also beheld the gorgeous summit of Switzerland’s Titlis Mountain. I took a picture on the same stairs where the Von Trapp children learned Do-Re-Mi. I walked down the vast aisles of churches that were hundreds of years old and heard their massive pipe organs echo. I met and spoke with people from all over the world, some of them I even stumbled my way through in French or German. I walked across Pegasus Bridge both the original and the new. I stood in graveyards that had seas of stones and wept for people I never knew but somehow feel so connected with despite the years of time between us. I saw way too many graves marked with the words “Known Unto God.” I hiked through the heat but also froze in the snow. I ate so much Belgian chocolate I got sick to my stomach, and I also had no regrets about it. I paid homage to a dearly departed friend by finding the tiny town in Belgium where he fought in WWII. I stepped up in ways I didn’t know I could at times, and crumbled with exhaustion at other times. Then, I sat bedraggled and frustrated for two days at an airport terminal in London and could only think of one thing. Home. I learned so much about the world and myself, and I cannot wait for the next big adventure. Read More
The story of Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and their heroic stand on Little Round Top is one of the most famous from the battle of Gettysburg. While entire books have been written on the subject, a basic summary is this. On the burning hot day of July 2, 1863, the second day of fighting between Lee and Meade at Gettysburg, the slopes outside of town dubbed “the Round Tops” came to the attention of Union General Gouverneur Warren (pictured below). At that time, he was the Chief Topographical Engineer for the Union Army. He immediately realized the value of these tree-covered slopes in that they overlooked the entire battlefield. Whoever possessed them would have the ultimate advantage. Union troops were rushed to the slopes to keep them out of Confederate hands.
Welcome back to the Poetry Break and the poem epic that I fell way behind on posting! I do apologize to those of you who were waiting for the next segment. I kept getting distracted with new finds and historical places that I was excited to write about, which I suppose is a good thing. To those of you just tuning in, this is the latest segment of a 21 part poem epic that I wrote a few months back (you may find links to an intro for the series and the previous segments below). I hope you enjoy this segment about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.