10 Things You’ll Find in Venice in March

 

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Our Venice view from our window in San Marco near Campo San Stefano.

 

  1. An unlit candle in a bowl on a round table outside a glowing café.
  2. A lone fuschia glove dropped on the steps of a bridge in Campo Sant’Angelo.
  3. A woman sweeping her windowsill with a handheld broom.
  4. A cocoa-brown poodle posing happily for its owner’s camera.
  5. A row of uncomfortable, wood-and-metal chairs lined up behind the pews in St. Zaccaria church.
  6. The staccato shouts of middle school students playing out-of-doors, just beyond a brick wall you cannot see behind.
  7. A woman begging for alms, kneeling, head down, enveloped in black, silent, holding a withered paper cup in her hand.
  8. Orange, lavender and smoky-gray marzipan fish glistening in a store full of sweets.
  9. A troop of ten-year-olds skateboarding in Campo Santa Margherita at nine o’clock on a Saturday night.
  10. An overturned green plastic flower box waiting for spring.

 

87 years ago today, Warren wrote to his mother

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Warren Kerns (right) with his brother, Nelson

Below, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Warren Kerns, 17, who was killed in an airplane accident with his brother Nelson, 15, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here. He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable. I just transcribed the letters as best I could, leaving out editing marks to avoid distraction. For example, I’m not sure that the first word in the last sentence is “Play.”

It’s eye-opening to read how life was so vastly different back then in southwest Missouri. My ancestors worked hard. Their days were consumed with difficult, laborious, time-consuming, hot, sweaty work. This will be even more evident in other letters I have and will eventually post. True, we work hard today, but with much less exertion. My ancestors also enjoyed relief from their work-filled days in the simple joys of ice cream and socializing.

June 10, 1930

Dear Mama: 

How are you getting along. We are all getting along fine. Charlie and I have been plowing corn most of the time since school was out. I sure was glad when the last day of school came. It rained today and is rather cool now. I s’pose it is nice and warm where you are. We went to two children’s day exercises Sunday. We went down home Sunday and had all the ice cream we could eat. You don’t know what your missing. I have to wear an overcoat to plow corn in. Where are going to spend the forth of July. It is not very far away. I don’t know where we will go.  Most any place rather than in the corn field. Things sure are cheap here. Eggs are $.16 and cream $.25 in Hume. I am going to a community sale tomorrow, which they are starting in Hume. It is now nine o’clock about my bedtime (sometimes). Well, this is all I can think of to tell you. Answer my letter soon and send me a good measure of California summer. Play like you are receiving kisses through this letter also. 

With Love, Warren

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Is an overseas internship in your daughter’s future? (Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. You, on the other hand…)

 

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My daughter in Venice. Photo: Stephanie Trujillo

Last December 2, I backed out of the driveway headed for the rural middle school in southwestern Missouri where I teach language arts. It was 7:02 a.m. My phone rang. I saw it was my daughter. Awfully early to get a call. I wondered whether something was wrong.

“Mom!?”

“Yeah, what’s going on?”

“I got the internship!” My heart soared. Two months earlier, she had applied for an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum in Venice, Italy. She would venture to the beautiful floating city to undertake museum duties such as guarding masterpieces, giving presentations, hosting tours, and sculpture cleaning from Feb. 2 to May 2.

She was beyond excited. So was I, but now that her acceptance was official, it was impossible to imagine her moving to a foreign country and working for three long months away from her home, her language, her friends, her family, her life. The night she received the acceptance email, I lay in bed and cried.

I simply could not see it happening. but it did. True, it was a rough transition for everyone at first, but we made it, and it was a beautiful, life-changing experience… for her and me.

And let’s be honest, I realize this isn’t intimidating for everyone. Many kids and their parents have no problem doing this type of thing; however, for Midwesterners like us, just traveling to the coasts of the U.S. is a major excursion. In our eyes, Venice might as well have been Venus.

Internships that pay, like my daughter’s, are popular and highly valued. Study abroad programs are also. Should you ever be so fortunate as to have your child venture out alone on a similar endeavor, here are some tips to get you through it.

1. Be Strong. Even though I was excited, I was also scared for her, but I couldn’t let my reservations known. I had to be strong and encouraging because I knew that deep down she likely had reservations as well. Even though living in Italy and this particular internship had been her dream ever since we discovered it on Google, interrupting her college career and moving to a foreign country would definitely be outside her “comfort zone.” I had to show I was positive about this opportunity.

2. Send your spouse to get her settled. This was my first and best idea. My husband would fly over with her in January to help her get settled and accustomed to her new home. After all, she had never been to Italy, or even Europe for that matter. She had traveled with our family to South Africa five years earlier, and with a group of other college students and veterans to Vietnam in 2015. But Italy? For three months? Alone?

3. Make sure she doesn’t stand out. We Americans like our colors. Once my husband realized her bright floral umbrella could be spied far ahead through a crowd, he purchased her a black one. In looking at her Facebook posts that first week, I noticed her eye-catching, crimson-red purse.  I texted my husband to make sure to get her a black one of those, too. Maybe we were being overly protective, but after watching a few Youtube videos of tourists and residents walking around Venice, we knew the city is a labyrinth of narrow, sometimes dark, walkways interspersed with those picture-perfect canals. No reason to look like an outsider, especially if you’re female.

4. Use technology. Numerous Facetime calls, the app People Tracker, Facebook, and Instagram made Italy seem not quite so far away. She started a blog called “From Venice with Love” that kept her in touch with friends at home. Happily, her work and social schedule quickly filled her time, and posting to Facebook and Instagram became more convenient.

5. Send a care package. We waited a couple of weeks, but then sent things from home she couldn’t find there. For example, the Venice grocery stores she frequented didn’t carry American basics such as Ranch salad dressing or pancake syrup. Peanut butter is  hard to find. So are Ziploc bags.

6. Visit. If possible, visit for a short time about halfway through. This helped me understand the new lifestyle my daughter was experiencing. Her pictures and posts made more sense and I gained a new appreciation for the life-changing time she was having. Plus, it was Venice, people. We had to.

7. Break the trip into “chunks.” This made the trip seem more “doable.” My daughter’s internship broke down into three parts: one five-week period after my husband left, one weeklong chunk when we would visit, and finally one six-week chunk. Honestly, this last part flew by for both my daughter and I as she was finally comfortable and confidently knew her way around the city.

8. Pray. I relied on this daily. It was a great comfort to know that He would protect and care for her continually.

My daughter’s Venice experience was indeed life-changing. She now has an international set of friends she keeps up with daily through What’s App and she can’t wait to return and tour southern Italy. Her internship also confirmed her next steps: to complete her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and then pursue a master’s degree in Art History with the intention of working in a museum setting someday. She is already filling out applications for another overseas internship. I, on the other hand, am writing myself a note to re-read this post when she lands it.

I want to write something we can learn from.

The valentines in this picture will probably lead you the wrong way. They make this picture look colorful, nostalgic, and cheerful. If you study the other documents in the picture,  you will see a tragedy emerge. And it’s one that is very difficult for me to think or write about.

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Here it is: when my grandmother (who passed in 1998) was 21, her two younger brothers, ages 17 and 15, took an airplane ride at a 50-year celebration of the founding of Hume, Missouri. Apparently, the pilot underestimated the length of the field when it came time to land and to avoid a fence, he ascended, planning to give it another go. On the ascend, the plane stalled, nosedived, and crashed. All three on board eventually died. One boy died on the way to the hospital 25 miles away, the other died later that night, and the pilot died three days later. The crash occurred on July 24, 1930.

My grandmother never spoke of this. I only learned about it and of her brothers, Warren and Nelson Kerns, when I happened to discover a photo.

The boys’ mother, at the time of the accident, was visiting her parents in Santee, California. She returned by train, alone, to her husband and daughter (my grandmother) to bury her sons.

The tragedy shocked and devastated the tiny community of Hume. One newspaper reported that approximately 1,000 people attended the funeral service.

My mother assembled a large envelope of documents for me about the boys and their untimely deaths: newspaper clippings, photos, school grade cards, handwritten letters, valentines. One brittle envelope contains locks of hair I presume were gathered from the boys before burial.

Warren and Nelson were fascinated with aviation, which may have seemed like a fantastical vocation to two boys who worked hard, long hours on the family farm.  I also found in that envelope some airplane diagrams drawn in pencil. They obviously possessed a propensity for mechanical thinking and creativity.

I have thought about my grandmother’s brothers many times over the past several years. I feel compelled to somehow honor, or at least recognize, their lives and deaths and the unspeakable pain that my grandmother, great-grandparents, and other family members endured. I don’t know what I will write or create.

The story will be difficult to tell properly because I know I have a tendency to dwell on sentiment and sentiment can be boring, predictable, manipulative. I want, instead, to write something that will honor the coping, the perseverance, and pragmatism of these people from whom I have descended. I want to write something we can learn from.

This was written in a letter that the boys’ mother received from her own mother two months after the deaths: “I have been so worried over it all I have not been fit to think right or do anything. One must try hard to turn our thoughts on other things. There is plenty to do and we must surely go forward and do our part. The dear boys are safe and happy and free from all the trials of this world and soon we too may be over there with them. Life is short — at the longest — and there is much to do and we can be happy in doing if we will.”

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Why am I learning how to erase my iPhone from NBC Nightly News?

iphone-6-1523232_1280-2According to NBC’s Rossen Reports, if someone sells their iPhone or any smartphone, for that matter, without erasing their data, the next owner (or hacker) is able to access text messages, apps, shopping activity, banking information, you name it.

Jeff Rossen, NBC investigative reporter, even found some previous owners who had sold their phones online to let them know that their information is still “out there” on their old phones. They were all surprised. Why? Because Apple doesn’t quickly/easily/freely tell you anything.

If I need to know how to fully use my iPhone, why must I instead search for the online owner’s manual, or find an online forum or go to the FAQs? Wouldn’t a nifty printed manual be easier? It would. Of course, it would.

Maybe my idea is old-fashioned (yes, it definitely is), but I would really appreciate a printed manual with my $600 iPhone. True, Apple might have to reconfigure the packaging to modify the clean, edgy minimalist look we all know and love, but Apple should do it anyway. I shouldn’t have to scour the Internet — or rely on Jeff Rossen — when I need to learn how to protect, of all things, my privacy.

Merry Christmas. 

I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus Christ was sent to Earth to save humanity from its sinful nature. He did save us. It is finished. There is nothing you can do to earn the grace of God provided by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. It is freely provided to you when you repent of your sins and accept Christ. 

Yes, it sounds too good to be true. That’s why so many of us reject its simplicity. But salvation, eternal life and joy for this life on Earth can be yours.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Merry Christmas. 

My Kit-Cat Clock Swings Again: Let Christmas Begin!

cat-2My daughter gave me a Kit-Cat clock two years ago. Y’know, the black cat clocks with the moving tail and eyes? It’s one of my favorite things and looks great in the kitchen. About two months ago, I noticed it had stopped moving. It still kept time, but the tail and eyes were stationary. A Kit-Cat clock that doesn’t move looks sad and stifled. Stagnant.

I figured that there was probably a trouble shooter’s guide online, so I googled and found videos and said guide. I viewed all the videos, read the instructions, replaced the two “C” batteries exactly as shown in the diagram, balanced the clock on the table, gave the tail a nudge, and it still didn’t work. Kept time, but no moving tail and eyes. Bummer.  I couldn’t get the magnetic forces and batteries coordinated, apparently, to power the animation.

So I went after the eyes. They must be the problem, I thought. The website said that any dust or grease on the eyeballs might cause friction in the magnetism, so I cleaned them off.  Prowling (sorry) around inside the clock, I thought how this bit of 1930s-era Americana kitchen decor is an engineering marvel. There are  J-clips, a platform, a lever, eyeball pins, eye stems and loops that rotate and hold the stems. There’s a magnet, two batteries, that tail and the back panel. So I put it all back together, and still no cat show.

I hung it back up, deciding to tackle the problem another day… which brings me to today.  I pulled the clock back down and  removed the back panel of the clock. Actually, sliding-snapping-scootching (in that order) the back panel off is probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal.

I’ll put brand new batteries in it again, I thought, clinging to the hope that it could be that simple. I pulled out the left battery and caught a glimpse of the battery placement diagram embossed in the shiny black plastic.  Positive up. Whoa. Positive was down. How did I screw that up, I wondered? I thought I had replaced them earlier exactly as shown. All this toil, head-scratching, opening, closing, and scootching and an upside down battery is to blame?  I flipped the battery around, nudged the tail, and my Kit-Cat clock was back in business. Problem solved. Order restored. You may now resume your Christmas festivities.

Okay-Tasting Ugly Stuff: A Freakie Love Affair

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I learned to like ugly stuff in the 1970s. Didn’t everyone? Did we have a choice? For example, Freakies Cereal came out in the early 1970s and it was ugly. However, it was also yellow and crunchy and okay-tasting. Cap’n Crunch without the peanut butter flavor, if I remember correctly.

The Freakies were a gang of seven monsters that remind me now of the blobby ghosts in 1984’s Ghostbusters movie. The gang included BossMoss, Snorkeldorf, Cowmumble, Hamhose, Grumble, Goody-Goody and Gargle.

The Freakies plied their namesake cereal in TV commercials whose length would rival today’s never-ending pharmaceutical ads.The Freakies were always searching for the Freakies tree, which is where the cereal grew. Naturally.

For a while, Freakie fans could collect colored flexible Freakies magnets.I remember arranging the magnets on our white refrigerator. I would usually put one in the middle, as if it were onstage, and the others would encircle it. Or sometimes I would arrange them in rows.

I remember having a disproportionate number of Boss Moss magnets.  He was green and bumpy, and held up one index finger as if to say, Please don’t forget us after we’re gone! I didn’t. Even though they were all friendly creatures, they were also a little bit odd and other-worldly, sorta like E.T.

The Freakies were always on a quest to find the Freakies tree so they could eat Freakies cereal. The best one, for a nine-year-old girl anyway, was the pink female Freakie named Goody-Goody. I only pulled one of those from the box. Ever.

…and I still wonder

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Edith Douglas as a young girl

I should have asked my grandparents more questions when I was younger. Now it’s too late to ask them, and there are some things I will never know. And I’m not only referring to “big issues” like politics, careers, or religious beliefs. I’m also referring to the smallest of details. Small details that may, in the end, not matter one whit, but still leave me wondering, reminding me that I should have asked my grandparents more questions.

My father’s mother, Edith Douglas, was known in our family as Granny. It always seemed a less appealing name for a grandmother, but we called her that anyway because she wanted us to. My father’s mother was elegantly tall and thin-shouldered. She wore snug gray curls and had a tan complexion from time spent out of doors. She always wore cotton housedresses as most women did then. Her silver-rimmed eyeglasses with ornamental corners and temple pieces framed her light blue eyes. When she was lost in thought or just working in the kitchen, she could look stern, but she wasn’t. Her broad, friendly smile flashed often and revealed an easy-going yet industrious personality. I had known her to butcher chickens and feed kittens buttermilk from the carton all within the passing of ten minutes’ time.

I never asked her about the one thing I noticed every time I was near her: the nail on one of her index fingers had a crease, a break, down the center. I always wondered what caused the crease.  I’m sure she would have told me had I asked. It appeared to have been caused by a painful experience. But then again, perhaps not. Maybe it had always been there. Maybe it had just grown that way. I remember that nail simply because I never asked about it, and I still wonder.