Crocheted Starfish on a Frosty Log in Alaska. (c) 2017 Patricia J. Angus
The new year has arrived, and I have relocated to a sunnier place on the planet. I will miss the beauty of living in a remote corner of the world, but I recognize that it is now time to move on. New year. New Location. New Life Focus. Something I will miss a great deal is walking along a rocky beach in the summer and taking a deep breath to fill my lungs with fresh, moist air. I will miss the vast horizon where clouds touch the water, left to the mercy of Nature’s paintbrush. I will miss the elegant flight of eagles, the spray of breaching whales, the occasional glimpse of a shy black bear crossing the road, and the sweet innocence of scampering fawns. Last, but certainly not least, I will miss investigating the shoreline with my grandchildren to discover seashells, beautiful rocks, twigs, barnacles, and starfish hiding from the hot sun.
The starfish is one of many creatures I will miss the most now that I am living in the desert again. As a matter of fact, while I was preparing to move in the month of December, the starfish inspired me to create star Christmas ornaments for my family members. I crocheted a small star for each person to represent not only the new star telling of Christ’s birth, but also to represent my tribute farewell to the starfish. In each set of ornaments, I placed a copy of The Starfish Poem with an admonition that each family member make a difference in someone’s life during the upcoming year. I am sure you have read the poem many times. It goes like this:
The Starfish Poem
A little boy walked carefully along a crowded beach
Where starfish by the hundred lay there within his reach.
They washed up with each wave as far as the eye could see
And each would surely die if they were not sent back to the sea.
So one by one he rescued them, then heard a stranger call,
“It really won’t make much of a difference…for you cannot save them all.”
But as he tossed yet another one back toward the ocean’s setting sun,
He said with deep compassion, “I made a difference to that one!”
(adapted from the original essay, The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley)
Much of the world’s suffering and commotion are beyond our control. However, daily we are surrounded by opportunities to touch someone’s life in a positive way. We don’t have to look very far to discover ways we can make a difference in our own homes, extended families and communities. Let us make a concerted effort this year, and always, to feed someone who is hungry, comfort someone who is sick, clothe someone who is naked or cold, or spend time with someone who is lonely. The list of possibilities is endless and as unique as each starfish along the shore. Although each of us “cannot save them all”, we can make “a difference to that one!” Wishing you many blessings as you strive to touch the lives of others throughout 2017!
“There’s no place like home for the holidays…” drums through my brain like a broken record. I think it is a subconscious manifestation of my desire to spend the long, cold winter hibernating with the bears here in Craig, Alaska. But, since there is no rest for the weary, I find myself moving again for the fourth time in less than five years. “So, where is home?”, I ask myself. My life on planet Earth has not quite made 60 trips around the sun, but from my experience it seems that “home” takes on different meanings depending upon where and when it presents itself in the space-time continuum.
Christmas at Grandma’s House
Some people associate the scent of pine needles with Christmas, but for me it is the aroma of Grandma’s cooking. When I was a kid in the sixties, we lived with my paternal grandparents until I was seven, so “home” meant three generations under one roof with an overabundance of strudel at Christmas time, not to mention stuffed cabbage, breaded chicken, and nut rolls. If we were lucky, Aunt Sylvia would send over extra goodies like her delicious thumb print cookies and apricot pastries.
We had a bright, shiny aluminum fake Christmas tree in our small living room. Every year Mom and Dad would get out the tree (stored in its original box), and we would pop each poufy branch out of its paper tube and attach it to the silver tree trunk. With all the branches in place, I thought the silver tree appeared dazzling with ornaments old and new gracing those sparkly branches. My dad’s beloved model train circled beneath the tree every year since I can remember. In addition, a growing collection of Christmas cards adorned the large mirror above the living room couch, and Grandpa’s old nativity figures sat in a special place, either on top of the television or under the tree. As time wore on those old shepherds and wise men wore out, and a newer and better manger scene took their place. Fifty years later, I confess that baby Jesus from Grandpa’s old crèche is still hiding in my jewelry box. I think fondly of Grandpa and Christmas Past every time I open it.
A Holiday Home of Our Own
One day we moved to a “home” a mile away, and Mom and Dad began establishing their own Christmas traditions. Mom wanted a platform for the tree in the worst way and paid someone to make her one. Every year she set up the platform, covered it with some type of Christmas cloth or paper and set the tree on top of it. Something nice about the platform is that you could slide empty boxes or wrapped gifts underneath where they could not be seen.
At some point, we got a new fake tree, a life-like green one, to set up on the platform. Mom sewed Christmas ornaments from pre-printed ornament fabric that was very popular at the time. She stuffed them like soft little pillows with loops of gold elastic to hang on the branches. Every Christmas brightly colored little pillows of all varieties weighed down the fake tree, and plastic icicles draped each branch atop the ornaments. Dad set up his train set around the base of the tree just like every year before. The platform made a nice even surface for the track, and we enjoyed playing trains for hours on end.
Our family did not go out much, and we did not get together with extended family and friends for big meals or holiday celebrations, so we spent a lot of time looking at the tree platform and playing with the train and nativity figures. Culinary preparations now decentralized from ethnic food to meat and lots of it, such as ham and turkey. Mom wasn’t much into baking, but nevertheless strudels and cookies found their way into our new “home” anyway, either from Grandma or Aunt Sylvia. Sometimes the goodies were leftover donations from Christmas parties at the Duquesne Croatian Club where Grandma worked part-time as a cook.
When I became a teenager, some parts of Christmas shifted from family and “home” to my larger world of friends. I loved getting dressed up and going to holiday concerts, the school Christmas dance, and the annual Christmas party for the Duquesne Junior Tamburitzans. I guess I liked spending time with my friends more than family, because what teenager doesn’t?
Our family did not attend a specific church, but every year I tried to attend a church service on Christmas Eve. Sometimes I went to midnight mass with the Catholics or other times I worshiped at a candlelight service with Presbyterians. Those first few years of keeping baby Jesus in my jewelry box instinctively made me realize that there would be no Christmas without His birth. I enjoyed feeling the spirit at those gatherings and attempted to sing and play Christmas carols on my guitar when I got “home”. Efforts to include family members usually failed, because I sang too high and screechy, and I got booted out of the living room in no time at all.
Of course, there was always the presents to look forward to. By the time I was a teenager an uncanny tradition developed in which Santa would give me about 15 to 20 bucks to go buy my own gift. Sometime after my December birthday, I would select, purchase, and wrap a gift for myself then place it under the tree until Christmas. At least I got a gift and was thankful for it. It was something to enjoy alongside our holiday meal consisting of massive chunks of ham smothered in mashed potatoes and canned corn. (I still love ham.)
Christmas with Kids
Then it was off to college and a family of my own and through those years there was always a longing to go “home” to parents and grandparents and lifelong friends — familiar places and faces, dear to the heart but far from what I now called “home”. Of course, we began our family in the late 1970s on the cusp of an economic recession. It was difficult to make ends meet, so “home” moved from one apartment or house to the next. Holiday memories consisted of writing many Christmas cards, sewing homemade gifts, and making long-distance phone calls that lasted ten minutes or less. There was no Facebook or Skype to close the distance gap. I learned to make some of the ethnic dishes my grandma used to feed us (although I am still working on the strudel), and threw in a holiday ham or turkey provided free by my husband’s employer. At long last I entertained the little ones by singing carols with my guitar, and instead of complaining, they sang along. All those little pillow ornaments found their way to my tree followed by printed pillow crèche figures to be tossed around by toddlers, puppies and kitties too!
I saved plastic ice cream buckets from Thanksgiving and decorated and filled them with homemade sugar cookies and oranges so my kids could deliver treats to the neighbors. We purposefully set aside all the tasty gifts brought over by reciprocating neighbors to savor during our Special Christmas Eve celebration which took place in our “home” and included the story of baby Jesus and other inspirational tales. After story-telling and movie viewing, the children were sent to bed on a sugar high while we wrapped dollar-store gifts into the daylight hours. After a sleepless night of wrapping and keeping watch for peeking peeps, Christmas morning came, and we napped as the children played, safe and sound, at “home”.
My grandmas and grandpas and dad and husband have all gone “home” to Jesus now, spending Christmas on the other side. My mom is in a “home”. And, I am a gray-haired granny hopping from one adult child’s “home” to another, knowing I have family all over the world who love me and allow me to share in their family traditions. Over the past year and a half, new generations of family have taken me places I’ve never been before or have helped me develop new perspectives of places I know like the back of my hand. Recently I have left a piece of my heart in San Francisco, Sasebo, Honolulu, Monterey, Seattle, Phoenix, Juneau, Sacramento, and Prince of Wales Island. It has become clear to me that Home is not the building we dwell in, nor is it a place in which we hibernate. “Home” is, indeed, where the heart is – family, friends, and memories. So, I’ll keep humming that little tune, because whether near or far, there is No Place Like Home for the Holidays!
Step away from the noise of the World, and chillax with some of my favorite Blog photos…….Note: Video has been updated since the original publish date of November 10, 2016 — and Now you can watch via my YouTube channel! Be sure to subscribe!
Halloween would not be complete without pumpkins, candy, little ghosts and ghouls, and sore feet. If you are the family historian, this list should also include the adrenaline rush of tromping through a graveyard! A few years ago my mother navigated a few of us to the cemetery where her parents are buried. It was a lovely October day, and we visited the graves and reminisced against a backdrop of nature’s colorful handiwork. It was a day of remembrance, family bonding and refection. Whether you are physically searching for deceased family members in familiar cemeteries or perusing burial records and memorials online, it is a great weekend to dig up some data pertaining to deceased relatives!
Despite the sadness of funerals, cemeteries have always been a place of contentment for me. While growing up in western Pennsylvania, we often played in one of the several cemeteries that graced the hilltop surrounding our neighborhood. In the summer we frolicked amid the grassy fields and practiced riding our bikes along the pavement. During the winter we squealed in delight as we glided sleds down our favorite slope. In more recent years, my strolls amid the headstones have provided opportunities to connect with departed loved ones and to find peace and tranquility during life’s many challenges.
At times I have cherished the privilege of locating headstones for other people by filling requests on Find A Grave. While searching for my own family interments, I have also photographed and contributed information to not only Find A Grave, but also to the Cemetery Tombstone Inscriptions and/or Contributed Records Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. With so many cemeteries deteriorating, digital preservation is one way to preserve burial records along with local history. If you are interested in volunteering to preserve cemeteries either physically or digitally, please contact the historical society, churches, or city offices in your hometown or current place of residence. It is a wonderful way to contribute to your community and bless the lives of other family historians who are unable to travel long distances in search of deceased family members. Whether you are able to romp through your family cemetery and enjoy the fall colors in person or visit the tombstone memorials online, this is a great weekend to treat someone with the gift of information from your favorite graveyard!
There’s a form of human radar that detects the connection between nippy nights, shortened days, creeping spiders, and a tremendous craving for comfort food – the way Mom used to make it. Breaded chicken has been our family’s comfort food of choice for generations beginning well before my birth when Grandma Salopek served it to her family for Sunday dinner. I’m sure she also served it to special guests, extended family, and to the boarders she housed for so many years below the tracks in Duquesne. She loved to cook and would often begin the much anticipated meal with homemade chicken soup and dumplings followed by: salata with vinegar and oil, mashed potatoes smothered in butter, fresh corn, and breaded chicken baked to perfection. Without fail, dessert was always some sort of strudel.
For some reason the strudel-making gene was not passed on, to me at least, but I have done my best to profusely spread the love of breaded chicken to future generations. Interestingly each family adapts the recipe with their own modern twist. Whether it’s made with lean chicken breasts, savory chicken thighs or bite-sized chicken nuggets is up to the taste buds of each family. One daughter crushes milk-free croutons in the food processor to make her own bread crumbs. This is reminiscent of my mother making her own bread crumbs back in the 1960s and 70s. Mom would race over to Duquesne Village Shopping Center whenever white bread was on sale for 10 cents a loaf and grab as many loaves as she could. She cubed all those loaves of bread and laid them out to dry on a cookie sheet. When it was time to make crumbs from the dried bread, she would use a hand meat grinder that attached to the kitchen table. She cranked out enough bread crumbs for a year’s worth of Sunday dinners!
Grandma’s BREADED CHICKEN RECIPE
Grandma, of course, didn’t use a recipe, but here are the basic steps to cook up a little comfort for your family. Amounts of ingredients are approximate, but there should be enough of each ingredient to make a cookie sheet sized baking pan with one layer of chicken pieces. You may need to adjust the amounts to accommodate your taste and the size of chicken pieces used.
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. sugar
4 beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk
Rinse chicken pieces. Put a thin layer of oil across the bottom of a baking pan.
Prepare chicken, one piece at a time in the following order:
Completely cover chicken piece with the flour mixture.
Completely cover floured piece of chicken with the egg mixture.
Completely cover floured/egged piece of chicken with breadcrumbs.
Place each breaded chicken part onto the oiled pan as it is prepared.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, turning once. If making smaller chicken nuggets, decrease the time to approximately 40 minutes, turning once half way through baking.
A single candle flickered within the paper lantern, glowing warmly as it floated upon the rippling water. Other lanterns followed, one by one, as the current carried the collective downstream illuminating the river. I sat on the water’s edge contemplating what the lighted river represented – guiding lights that lead spirits of deceased loved ones back to their homes. Interesting that I should have an opportunity to visit Japan, especially to experience the Obon festival, near the second anniversary of my father and husband’s passing. Surprisingly, participation in the festival brought intense emotional release and awakened an inner desire to move forward. I felt a definitive end to debilitating grief coupled with increased strength to walk onward in my own human experience.
While charting my course into new waters, I thought about the future of this website. The website began as a hub to centralize all my personal family history projects – stories, research, and personal history blog. My intention was to make life easier on myself and simplify the sharing of information with family and friends. I didn’t even give it a fancy name. Four years later the website still remains. Not a day goes by that it does not get at least a handful of hits, and although the site has been nearly dormant for the past two years, it has led to many offline discoveries that were priceless to me and others. Incidentally the most popular posts statistically, by far, are those pertaining to Duquesne Croatians.
The Japanese lantern experience took place a month ago. This week Japanese people gather to view the Harvest Moon, but last night we decided to view an American movie instead. The film was the recently released story of Kubo and the Two Strings, the adventures of a young, paper-folding, story-telling Japanese boy who ultimately learns about the enormous strength and power of family. The story takes place in Japan of long ago with a super-sized Harvest moon, animated origami characters, plenty of Asian magic and mysticism — and paper lanterns accompanied by ancestors’ souls. The moment the lanterns appeared on the screen, I promptly received a message from the Universe. Something stirred within me, and I knew it was now time to resurrect this blog and resume my family history endeavors. The objective and tone of my posts and pages may vary slightly from what you have seen in the past, but it is time to get back to the business of family and ancestors. Hopefully, my memories of the paper lanterns will symbolically remind me of the guiding light of my ancestors’ love, beckoning me to follow the stories of their lives. My plan is to chart a course and follow them wherever they may lead. I invite you to follow along with me.
It has been a few years since I read Destiny’s Dowry, so I decide to download the other Destiny books by Rosemary Gard and read them in succession. A few pages into my reading, I recall the thoughts and feelings I had my first time through book one – insights and inspiration regarding my great-grandmothers and the lives they endured in the “Old Country” of rural Croatia. The author lays a solid foundation for captivating characters along with a good story line in this historical fiction series. I sense I have known some of these Croatian immigrants in my own lifetime!
Immigrant Katya’s story evolves throughout the first three books, and I feel like I am walking in her shoes along the twists and turns and obstacle of her life’s path. I notice Katya changes as she matures from one life stage to the next, just as my grandmothers did and just as I am changing now. Similarly, the author’s writing style becomes more seasoned as Katya’s life develops, and by book three and four Gard’s words feel increasingly fluid and natural. I want to read more to discover what destiny may bring…….in book five!
I have added the Destiny books to the suggested reading list under “My Heritage” tab on this website. In addition, here is the link for more information http://rosemarygard.com/.