My kids, grandkids, and sister will be coming tomorrow around noon. Thirteen of us. The entertainment this year will be taking turns snuggling little five-week-old Adeline Ruth.

I’m also deeply thankful that my oldest granddaughter, Hannah, is here safe and sound. She is a voice student at Pepperdine University out in California. Her school was right in the middle of that terrible forest fire in Malibu.

Here’s an aerial photo of the campus and surrounding area right after the fire. The circle is where my Hannah was living. Firefighters managed to save the school. The students are all okay and home with their families now, but it was very frightening.

Something else I’m extremely thankful for is my readers! I think I might just have the best readers in the world. Sometimes they astonish me with the depth of the emails they send.

This one from a reader in Australia left me in tears. I think it is too inspiring to keep to myself. It came after a reader finished one of my historical romances, The Measure of Katie Calloway, a novel which deals with a wife escaping an abusive husband. I am printing it here with the author’s permission. I hope it will inspire you as much as it inspires me.

 

The Year of the Spud

Dear Serena,

Katie reminded me of my younger self.

I came from an abusive background. Life was a struggle at every stage and yet amongst that struggle came faith and joy and eventually love. I learned that HOME is people. Community is a blessing when as a group we share experiences. I learned that finding ways to survive and the ability to do so is of greater value than money alone. Your lumber felling community brought this to mind again.

I was reminded of a similar situation in my own life: The Year Of Spuds and The Year Of Apocolympic Rissoles.

Let me explain:

I’d had to escape a ten year marriage of every abuse my husband could think up. Fortunately for me, he was so promiscuous my young conscience freed me, biblically, to run and hide from him after ten years of abuses and having lost multiple pregnancies. I was still only 29.

Two abandoned children came into my life soon after. Their parents left them with me for a week or so which turned into ten years. Their excuse? “we need to find ourselves”. Apparently they had to abandon their young children in order to do that. The children had come to trust me, with their big eyes and one thumb firmly plumped in one mouth to self soothe…there was no way I could leave them to Social Welfare. Yet I had nothing at all to offer, except my love. For I’d escaped literally with only the clothes I had on my back and two mismatched shoes!

Having so little, I made a game of everything. Even eating potatoes creatively for a year! 

I could dig potatoes locally. And so by day, I ran after tractors filling huge baskets with potatoes. Each basket was tallied to give me cash and then by night, with the children, we’d grate potatoes, or cook potatoes in milk and onion, or fry potatoes with an egg drizzled over, a potato chowder, or potato mornay and so on. It was indeed THE YEAR OF THE SPUD.

The Olympic Games was a highlight the year after the spuds. Also a religious cult was on the TV, declaring the same year as being The Apocolypse. 

The lad I was bringing up cleverly called it The Year Of The Apocolympics. They were both frightened by what this cult predicted and so to make light of it, we made a game of it.

A slight increase in finances that year meant we could afford one kilogram of minced meat each week. Lamb was economical but I varied it to include beef, fish or cheese. And so at night we’d grate whatever vegetables we could find, with wild herbs, the meat and an egg or two, mixed it with stale bread by hand into burgers. And so it became The Year Of The Apocolympic Rissoles. The children never complained about eating vegetables because they were involved in growing them and preparing meals.

I remember that even though we were poorer than most families, I felt powerful for the first time in my life. And the children thrived under my care as we learned together how to stretch a tiny income. The Social Welfare paid us a visit right in the middle of one of our food preparations and they were noticeably impressed. I remember the social worker asking the children if they always helped. It gave me joy when they answered by saying it was fun living with me because they were allowed to help. 

And I felt closer to God as I was clearly able to see His hand at work in my basic, uncluttered life.

Thank you for reminding me of what truly brings joy into a home Serena.

— Posted with permission by Mandy QKS —

The Year of the Spud © 2018 Mandy QKS | First Published Nov 21 2018 

 

I spent a large chunk of this past rainy Friday in a hospice room at the Veteran’s Hospital. Visiting with my cousin, Neil, and his sister Eva, reliving our childhood memories was time well spent.

Neil and Eva are my first cousins, part of a family of six siblings. Their home was only a short hike through the fields. There was always something interesting going on there and I always wanted to be in the middle of it. Their mother never seemed to mind an extra kid or two running around her house.    

When one grows up like that, first cousins start to feel a whole lot like brothers and sisters.

The reason Eva is staying with him is because sometimes Veteran’s hospitals are not all they should be. To make certain Neil is well cared for, Eva drove across several states and moved into her brother’s room. She is sleeping in a cot in his room, monitoring everything from his meds to his meals. She has always had a gift for turning everything into a party. She has decorated his room with family photos and other mementoes of his life. She offered me tea from her new Keurig machine as we talked.

In addition to childhood memories, we also discussed the war. Neil was a soldier in Vietnam—part of a fighting group that went on near-impossible assignments. He told me that his officers frequently gave the impression that they did not expect them to return. It was on one of those missions, deep in the jungle, while low-crawling toward the enemy, that Neil saw a grenade arching through the air and heard it thud into the ground beside him.

With no time to think, he did the unthinkable. He deliberately rolled onto his back, directly over the grenade, mashing it into the dirt with the heavy radio equipment he carried on his back, and absorbed the blast with his own body.

He had not expected to survive, but he did survive—in spite of extensive injuries. His quick action saved not only his own life, but the lives of all the other soldiers around him.

Later, recuperating from his wounds in the hospital, he received an unexpected visit. General Westmoreland came to personally present him with his Purple Heart. Neil said Westmoreland stayed a few minutes to talk, thanking him for his heroism. Those few minutes alone with the commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam are among the most cherished of his life.

The Purple Heart medallion I hold in my hand in the picture, is a replica of the real one he has at home. He carries this one in his pocket.

Neil is battling cancer. The reason behind the cancer is not a mystery. He and his fellow soldiers spent a large part of their time in Vietnam covered with Agent Orange. As we were talking about Agent Orange, he made a face as he brushed at his sleeve, as though still trying to brush the chemical off.

“It was nasty stuff,” he said. “We rarely had the opportunity to wash it off. Usually we had to just let it wear off over time.”    

He also described his bewilderment when, as he made his way home, there were strangers who tried to kick, hit, and even spit on him because of his uniform and participation in the war.  

My cousin, for most of his life, did not talk about his war experiences. He tried to forget and move on with his life, but there are some things that are impossible to forget. Like so many returning soldiers, he struggled with relationships and work. Like most of us, he has not led a perfect life.

But now, as he faces the cancer that, barring a miracle, will eventually consume him—it is encouraging to see the soldier coming out in him once again as he faces his future with an impressive dignity, faith, and courage.  

 

Years ago, while fishing on Ice Lake on Manitoulin Island in Canada, my family and I discovered the ruins of a huge, mysterious-looking stone house overlooking the lake. There wasn’t much left standing except a few portions of the old stone walls.  

Later, we met a man in Michigan who had grown up in that house. He had a photo of it hanging on his nursing home wall and he told us stories of how their family had built the house with rocks that they dragged from the earth with horses.  

Soon after that we heard the good news that the house, which the islanders called ‘Stoney Castle’ had been purchased by an outsider who was having it rebuilt. The difficult restoration project was tackled by Sheppard Bros. Construction, a company known on the island for the quality of their work.

The next time we went, the house had been restored to its former glory. The new owner was kind enough to allow us to make a video to take home to show our nursing home friend.  

In showing us the house, the new owner said that master stone masons were rare, and he had worried about finding one expert enough to take on the complicated task. Fortunately, one of the best lived on Manitoulin Island, and Sheppard Bros. Construction was able to hire him to do the stone work. The owner proudly pointed out how well the old walls had been blended in perfectly with the new.

(Photo: Master Stone Mason Launie Gibson and Ron Sheppard of Sheppard Construction )

Ultimately, that experience inspired the thread in my latest book series. Love’s Journey On Manitoulin Island. Which is a story about a master stone mason who takes on the job of restoring a derelict lighthouse and the granddaughter of the family who once lived there.

While researching stone masonry for the story, I read a book written by a stone mason. My favorite portion was a passage in which he explained that the human eye craves variety, and that is why stone walls are so much more appealing than those built with concrete blocks. He described the value of each stone being unique and said the stones he worked with often seemed to take on personalities. Sometimes he found a stone that was such an odd shape he thought he’d have to throw it away. Then there would come a moment when that “grumpy old rock” turned out to be the perfect fit for some portion of the wall which would be stronger because of it.  

I thought back to how many times my husband, during his years of ministry, would deal with an individual church member who just didn’t seem to fit in. Then suddenly, there would be this unique niche only that “grumpy old rock” could fill, and the church would be stronger because of it.   

 

To my delight, a reader who lives on Manitoulin Island, Wanda Whittington, recently sent me photos of some of the men who rebuilt Stoney Castle. So many readers have contacted me since the first book came out, telling me about their own good memories of Manitoulin Island and their first glimpse of Stoney Castle that, with Wanda’s permission, I’m including these photos for their enjoyment.   

Love’s Journey on Manitoulin: Moriah’s Fortress (Book 2) was released Friday (September 1st) and I’m really excited about this new series and I hope everyone really enjoys it too! I can’t wait to hear what people think about it!

 

-Serena