July 4th and Me

My Writing Village – July 4th and Me

July 4th has always been a special holiday for me because it celebrates this wonderful country in which I live. America provides opportunity and adventure and the ability to live a new and different life.

Let me explain. My parents immigrated from Finland back in the throes of the Great Depression. They came to Canada and then to the United States. My father was the eldest son of a college professor and he had a business degree. My mother was a farmer’s daughter with an 8th grade education. Back in those days in Europe, it would have been nearly impossible for them to meet, fall in love, marry and stay happily married for their entire lives.

But here in American, it happened.

Now, move forward a generation: Gene and I met on a blind date my freshman year at Syracuse University. The Bonstein forbears were two Hessian brothers who came over during the Revolutionary War. They were mercenary soldiers. One fought on the side of the Brits and the other fought for the Americans. The Bonsteins are a very old, established American family with deep roots and a proud lineage that goes back to the birth of our nation.

Yet, he married me, the daughter of an immigrant, a first-generation American. My parents owned a farm in Maryland at the time, so I was also a farmer’s daughter. All this would be impossible in other, more rigid societies in other parts of the world, but here in America, it happened.

Last week, our family gathered at a large beach house in Corolla Light in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. Four daughters, four sons-in-law, 10 grandchildren. We frolicked in the surf, fished, played tennis and basketball and Corn Hole. We took turns cooking dinner and best of all, sat around and talked about old times and the blessings we enjoy. It was a very satisfying week.

God Bless America! On this 4th of July, let us truly appreciate what   we have and the sacrifices of those who came before us!

My Writing Village – Celebrating Father’s Day

I can’t help but write about my husband Gene today. He is the father of our four daughters and one terrific Dad!

We had four daughters in the first ten years of our marriage. Not much money, a whole lot of work, but we also had fun. Gene commuted to New York City (1 hour and 30 minutes on a good day) and worked 50, 60, sometimes 70 hours a week. On a good day, he got home at 8:00 p.m.

But he was always there for the girls, trying his best to attend softball games, gymnastics meets, golf tournaments, horse shows, graduations, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. I worked part-time as a writer and between our work and volunteer commitments, we did the best we could.

When Gene got home late at night, he would often do the last bottle for the babies, waking them up so he could see them and love them face to face. Later as the girls got older, when there was a behavioral crises and I doled out a punishment, he always backed me up.

Today, we have four adult children who are happy, respectable tax-paying citizens.

We never wanted our kids to be movie stars or rock stars or the governor of the state. We just wanted them to be happy, contributing members of society. We wanted them to have the same life we enjoyed. Hard work, lots of fun, sports, celebrations, and laughter. We wanted them to find someone to love and live with and, by God, they did. Our four sons-in-law are like our own kids, we are that close.

Each day, I thank God for Gene, for the life we created together, for the happiness and joy we have shared and still share.

Happy Father’s Day, Gene. I love you.

Getting Fit Helps with EVERYTHING!

I’ve been taking a Core Fitness class at Body Edge, my local gym. I thought it would strengthen my golf swing (it has), but I recently discovered a whole new benefit: gardening.

I grew up on a farm and I love to garden. Getting down on my hands and knees and pulling weeds is pure pleasure. Trimming shrubs makes me happy. Planting flowers, fertilizing, watering…. all these so-called tedious outside chores are not tedious to me.

Perhaps it is my upbringing. My mother loved to garden and had beautiful flowers; dahlias, gladiolas, lilacs, tulips and more. My father had a huge vegetable garden where we grew much of what we ate. In addition, we had an orchard with apple, pear, and peach trees.

Perhaps it’s genetic: my mother was a farmer’s daughter. My husband’s parents had a farm where he and his brothers spent most of the summer months. My oldest daughter is a landscape designer in Richmond (Nature by Design).

This year I have been revamping our yard: raking, weeding, laying down mulch, trimming, clipping and planting. For the first time in years, I am not sore the next day after spending several hours in my garden. No sore shoulders or wrists. No backache.

I think it’s the Core Fitness class I’ve been taking now for several months. The class is taught by Teri Daly, an enthusiastic, highly trained fitness coach. Our small class works with Bosu Balls and Fitballs and various pieces of equipment. Some of our work is performed while standing on a Bosu Ball, an airfilled half-ball with a hard bottom. Other times, we work on mats with Fitballs, large air-filled balls. We twist, we turn, we lift, we balance and stretch. It’s a hefty ¾ hour workout that uses a lot of core muscles.

When I first started gardening this spring, I applied 25 bags of mulch to my gardens and flower beds over a period of several days. I was never sore, never exhausted, never dead- tired like I used to be in previous years.

I must be the Core Fitness Class, I thought, and thanked Teri Daly for her excellent work. Cindy Black, the owner of the gym, is a neighbor of mine and runs many small unique classes at Body Edge and I thanked her too.

So, take fitness class at your local gym, start exercising, walking, get active. You’ll feel better, look better and you’ll be able to garden to your hearts content!

The gal in the picture is Teri Daly.

Writing, a Catharsis for the Soul

I have been writing my entire life, making up stories when I was a young child, creating poems as a teenager, moving on to college and majoring in Journalism at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. With my double major (Journalism and Sociology) I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Classes in newspaper and magazine journalism, more classes in anthropology and sociology. I even took a course in Constitutional Law. It was a smorgasbord of wonder for an immigrant farmer’s daughter from Maryland.

As an adult, married and with four children, I started freelancing for various magazines and newspapers. It was something I could do out of my house in between softball games, Girl Scout meetings, golf tournaments, gymnastics competitions, horse shows and entertaining my husband’s clients (plus cooking, cleaning, and gardening).

I wrote restaurant reviews, feature articles, opinion pieces, humor, business articles, travel pieces, and children’s stories. A few of my poems appeared in magazines. I loved every minute of it and never experienced writers bloc. Blank pieces of paper and empty computer screens make happy.  I know I can feel them with words.

I especially love poetry because it allows me to preserve my thoughts and impressions, my ideas and outlook, to save the way I felt at a given time in my life. I know this can be done in journals and biographies, but often it is best done in poetry. No need for complete grammatical sentences or proper punctuation. Just let it all hang out. Pure thought; pure emotion.

Here’s a poem I wrote a number of years ago. I’ve never submitted it for publication. It expresses what I felt at that time and I’m sharing it with you today.

Do

Do the things you dream,
Embrace life.
Love the man, the woman, the child
With deep emotion.

Take action, take sides,
Care about the earth and the living things upon it.
Look at the stars and see how small we are,
How lost in a universe of light years and quarks.

Hold others to your breast, feel their pain and joy,
Laugh, full-throated and hearty.
Weep w ithout shame, and sometimes
Allow silence to resonate your soul.

My advice to you? Write things down. It is a real catharsis and good for you. You don’t need to show your writing, your musings, to anyone if you don’t want to. I guarantee you will feel lightened and enlightened.

Autism Run/Walk in Richmond

My Writing Village – Doing What I Can: Autism

On Memorial Day Weekend each year, our whole family gathers in Richmond, Virginia, to do the Autism Run/Walk 5K.

This is a great cause and there are Autism Run/Walks all over the nation. At the Richmond Autism Run/Walk, you’ll see tall, lean distance runners, families, grandparents, and mothers pushing baby buggies. Everyone comes together to support research and help for individuals and families affected by autism.

Today, Autism occurs once in every 68 births in the United States. In boys, the numbers are higher, 1 in 45 boys are born with Autism. No one knows where these developmental difficulties come from, although there are some links to genetics and various problems during pregnancy. Autism can also be spontaneous, entering families with no known history of the disorder.

Special schooling and training at an early age, and various medications and treatments can help autistic children grow up to live a near-normal life.

Asperger Syndrome is a mild form of autism which mainly involves difficulty in social interaction and nonverbal communication. Many of these children are gifted artistically and intellectually and can become real contributors to society.

Gene and I are very blessed to have four daughters, four sons-in-laws, and ten grandchildren. We have regular family reunions every two or three years, but each and every year we gather in Richmond and walk or run for Autism.

My husband is the designated purse and drink holder, and cheerleader. We are all on “Michael’s Team” and proud of it.

The 5K takes place this Saturday, May 27. The event is sponsored by the Autism Society of Central Virginia. We begin at 8:00. The young speedy runners, like my grandson Brian Welch (who ran track at Virginia Tech and won the Ocean Isle Beach 5K while visiting us last summer) will finish at around 14 or 15 minutes.

Me? Less than an hour, if I walk fast, but I always feel proud of myself and proud of our family.

The pictures are from the 2014 event.

 

Thanks, Mom. I owe you a lot.

Today is Mother’s Day and I am drawn to thoughts of my mother. She was a very special person and the bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Elvi Honkala (my Aiti) immigrated from Finland to Canada in 1931 in the middle of the Great Depression when she was 21 years old. She was a farmer’s daughter from Lahti and only had an 8th grade education. Elvi did not speak a word of English, but she had an older sister named Impi in Toronto and that’s where she wanted to go. She left Helsinki with all of her money sewn into the lining of her coat.

She was sea sick most of the way, but when the boat started up the St. Lawrence River, she recovered. There was even a Halloween Party on board. She made herself a Mickey Mouse costume and won a prize for it.

When the boat dropped her off in Montreal, she took the train to Toronto. When she arrived, her sister was not at the station as arranged by letters. Elvi luckily found a Lutheran minister who spoke both English and Finnish took her to her Impi’s apartment.

Impi had warned her not to come, but Elvi thought she was jealous and did not want to share the wealth and good fortune of the Americas with her younger sister.

Unfortunately, Elvi found her sister in bed, sick as a dog, nine-months pregnant, about to be evicted from her apartment. Her husband had left her and she was totally helpless with a new baby on the way.

Aiti got medical help for Impi, paid the rent, stayed with her until she had the baby, then got a job as a cook for a wealthy family.

Imagine the courage, the resourcefulness, the fortitude, the strength of will, and the love that Aiti showed in that perilous time. When she told me this story, she did it humbly, shrugging her shoulders and saying, “What else could I do?”

Aiti’s life turned out just fine. She met and married my father. They moved to Baltimore, and then to a small town in Cecil County, Maryland. I grew up on a chicken farm, an only child addicted to reading.

My mother was the life of the family. She loved music and dancing. At the local dances, she and my dad would whirl around the floor and everyone else would stand aside to watch. She loved gardening and her flower beds, particularly the dahlias, were the envy of the neighborhood. She was a great cook, baking bread and making pastries and stews and fabulous casseroles. I still use some of her recipes. She loved to entertain and we had folks over for dinner frequently.

She’s been gone from this earth for 26 years, but I still miss her. Thanks, Mom, for everything you taught me and all the great memories.

Walking, Biking, Getting Fit

During our recent European Trip, I noticed a dramatic difference between the Americans and the Europeans: FITNESS!

In both France and in England, biking and walking paths are everywhere. Part of this came about naturally because their cities and towns are literally hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old, and the streets are very, very narrow and crooked. Our big SUVs and pickup trucks would simply not fit. In fact, in the older towns, certain streets were open only to pedestrian traffic.

London has public bike rentals at every major intersection, and bike paths are everywhere. You’ll see a dozen or more bikes lined up in racks all over London. You simple put in your credit card and voila: you have a bike to ride where you want. You can ride it across town and return it at another bike rack (they’re all interconnected).

I don’t remember the same kind of bike racks in Paris, but bikers were everywhere in that city too. In the countryside, there are generous, wide bike and walking paths at the sides of almost every road. We saw dozens of people of all ages merrily using their own energy to get from here to there.

With foot-power and bike-power, several excellent things happen. No pollution from carbon emissions. Less wear and tear on cars because they’re not being driven for a trip of three blocks. Less traffic on the roads, fewer parking issues, and best of all…..FITTER PEOPLE!

I think we have the wrong approach to weight loss in this country. We focus on pounds, weight loss, calories, diets, and medications. We should focus instead on creating a healthy lifestyle which includes natural exercise. Gyms are nice and I go to one regularly, but think of how cheap walking is.

Go out your door and walk a mile or two each day. Get a bike! You don’t need to spend a fortune on a fancy 10-speed racing bike, the less expensive ones will give you more exercise because they’re harder to pedal.

We’ve discontinued gym classes in many of our public and private schools. When I went to college, gym classes were a requirement. Everyone had to learn to swim, to perform various fitness routines. Do we still have those programs, those requirements?

America, wake up! Let’s get back to basics and walk to the library or the restaurant or our friend’s house. We need to build walking trails and bike paths in our cities and towns.

Let’s start a fitness revolution. What we spend on creating safe bike and walking paths will come back to us ten-fold in better health for our citizens, less pollution in our atmosphere and reduced medical costs.

My Writing Village – Stonehenge

At the very end of our trip to Europe, we flew to London. There was one special place that was on my bucket list and we saw it! I had wanted to see Stonehenge since I was a little girl and looked at pictures of the great stone circle in my father’s National Geographic Magazine.

Stonehenge was magnificent, breathtaking and somehow almost more beautiful and impressive than the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and all the palaces and cathedrals we had seen in France.

This large ring of stones, some weighing more than 25 tons were erected around 3,000 B.C., but excavations prove there were constructions and human influences in the area from as early as 8,000 B.C. First there were circular rings of wood, ditches and banks, and finally mega-stones, dug from quarries 150 miles away.

The people of that time had only rudimentary tools, like axes and stone chisels and deer antlers. They did not have a written language. How did they do it? And why?

The stones are perfectly aligned to the Summer and Winter Solstices. These prehistoric people were governed by nature and the rising and setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons. We now know that at certain times of the year, as many as 4,000 people gathered at Stonehenge. Why? What were the rites or rituals or celebrations like? What did they do and say?

Stonehenge is surrounded by burial mounds and many of the gravesites include objects placed there for the afterlife.

All around the world, and especially in the British Isles and parts of Eastern Europe, we find more prehistoric circles of stone. In South America and Asia, there are more circles, often constructed of mounds of earth.

In modern times, we have built huge castles and cathedrals, grand edifices of worship and celebration. Today, we gather at vast stadiums for sporting events. Think about it: for thousands of years, humans have gotten together for their own special rituals.

Stonehenge is one such gathering place. I was awestruck by both the age of it and the similarities to what we build today.

My Writing Village – Windsor Castle

Gene and I had been to London before on business trips and we had seen some of its famous sites, but we planned this part of our trip to catch a few important segments of London that we had missed previously.  Our travel agent, Elsa Jardine, had arranged for Malcolm Hancock of Britain by Choice to be our personal guide and driver for the day. 

Malcolm was well-informed, articulate and witty and we had a wonderful time learning the story of Windsor Castle, located in the county of Berkshire, just outside of London.    

Malcolm told us that the Queen was there on that day, pointing out a certain flag high above our heads.  Windsor is one of several royal residences and the flag flies there when the Queen is present. 

The castle was first built in the 11th Century and succeeding monarchs added to it until today, Windsor Castle is a beautiful edifice sprawling over many acres.  Over 500 people live and work in it, making it the largest inhabited castle in the world. 

Windsor Castle has been continuously occupied since the 11th Century, making it also the longest continuously occupied castle in the world.  During World War II, the royal family moved from London to Windsor Castle.  Luckily, it escaped thebombs which destroyed so much of London. 

The rooms are vast and beautifully furnished.  There are staterooms for Royal receptions and galas, private quarters for the royal family, dining rooms and offices and endless corridors.  We saw crowds of tourists and busloads of school children. 

Here in the United States, a 200 year old building is considered very old.  In Europe, homes and palaces have been continuously occupied for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.  When you stand in a hallway or a portico that has been trodden by humans for eons, you get a feeling of the agelessness of Europe and the youth of the U.S.A. 

We did learn that America is revered in much of Europe because they were governed by absolute monarchies for hundreds of years.  We came up with “government of the people, by the people and for the people”.  It was a unique concept and one which fostered many of the revolutions that took place around the world.  People over there looked at what we were doingand asked, “Why should birthright give one the power to rule?”

Our constitution was often used as a template when other countries were devising their own version of democracy.  Some kept their monarchs in formal positions, but are governed by elected prime ministers and other officials.  In most parts of the world today, there is no absolute, inherited power. 

Viking River Cruise, Looking Back

We’re done with the Viking Cruise to Normandy, but before we move on to London, I wanted to include some additional information and kudos.

The Cruise was fabulous. We traveled by night, stopping at different villages, castles, historical sites during the day. At each of our stops there was an included tour and, sometimes, an optional tour (for an extra charge). For example at Rouen, the included tour was a walking tour of the city which visited various cathedrals, the old city, historic buildings, etc. The optional tour was “Rouen Countryside and Farm Visit” which visited farms where they produce world famous cheeses and wines and produce. It also included a session to show how they train dogs to shepherd animals. At Normandy you could go to the American or the Commonwealth (British/Canadian) beaches.

On our last day in Paris, you could see Napoleon’s Chateau de Malmaison or (optional) visit the Palace of Versailles or (optional) see the City of Light by Night.

Having these choices made the trip even better and created smaller touring groups. It gave us the chance to increase or supplement our many excursions.

The staff on the Viking Rinda Cruise Ship was excellent and within a few days, we knew many of them by name. There were demonstrations by our chef, talks and discussions by our various guides about what we had seen and what we were about to see. There were cocktail parties and receptions and every day was fun. Our cabin was at the back of the boat with a deck and we enjoyed sitting outside and taking in the scenery during the day. We often sat and enjoyed the stars and twinkling lights of the shore when we were cruising.

From Paris we flew to London for three more days of excitement. We had both been to London before, but we did new things this time. We went to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge and for one day, we did a narrated bus tour of London.

Everywhere we went, we had great food, good tour guides and excellent accommodations. The whole trip (river cruise and three days in London) was arranged by our lovely travel agent, Elsa Jardine of Eike Travel, Inc. in Shallotte NC.

We took umbrellas and rain gear and never needed it. We had excellent sunny weather and a smooth trip. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!

Stay tuned.  Wednesday is about Windsor Castle and on Friday, we’ll visit Stonehenge.  Both awesome places!