Memories Matter…Never Forget – International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Eternal Flame at the Holocaust Museum’s Hall of Remembrance

Memories Matter.  Never Forget.  Those were the words that Holocaust Museum volunteer, Harold “Hal” Wittman spoke to me and asked me to repeat when I visited the Holocaust Museum in May 2014.

I was in Washington DC for a conference and visiting the National Holocaust Museum was high on my list.  I arrived right when the museum opened on my last full day in DC,  thinking I would only stay for a short while and then walk on to the Washington monument.   Four hours later, I left the museum feeling so saddened by what I had seen there but also determined to share my experience and the words that Hal repeated to me as I was preparing to see the permanent exhibit.

When I arrived that morning, there was a Holocaust Survivor scheduled to speak in the auditorium.  Volunteers were encouraging people to go and hear the survivor speak so I walked in and an elderly gentleman was seating people.  As I walked toward this man, he directed me to a seat and then told me to keep the seat next to me – on the aisle – free for him.  He needed quick access on the aisle so I did as he asked.  As the program started, he took his seat next to me.  We didn’t speak until the presentation was over and I began a conversation with him.  I really don’t remember what I said to him but he thanked me later for “taking the initiative to stop and talk.”  Hal and I continued talking for quite a while and we shared many stories and opinions during this short time.  I talked about Hispanic issues in Alabama and he talked about things to see at the museum that resonated with him.  We stood in the auditorium for so long that the moderator for the presentation with the Holocaust survivor joined us.  I don’t remember his name but he was a local newscaster and he knew Hal and easily joined into our conversation.  Both were very interested in what was happening in Alabama surrounding immigration issues which I wasn’t expecting.  After the moderator left and we were walking out of the auditorium together, Hal suddenly stopped, turned to me and said he wanted me to repeat something he was about to say.  That’s when he said to me “Memories Matter and Never Forget.”  I repeated these words back to him and he smiled at me.  It became my mantra that day.

It was getting close to time for me to go through the permanent exhibit but Hal wanted to show me around the main floor.  It was great having my own personal guide through the museum.  We walked through Daniel’s Story, an exhibition for children,  as well as the Wall of Remembrance filled with tiles made by children and dedicated in 1993 to remember the children who lost their lives in the holocaust.  We spoke for so long that I missed my tour time but Hal walked me through the long line of people and straight to the elevator so I could get through.  Before I got on the elevator, he gave me his card with his phone number and said, “I don’t want to be forward but I’ve so enjoyed speaking with you. After you go through the exhibits, I would like to hear your thoughts on what you see.”  I told him I would be happy to share my thoughts with him and took the card.  Then, before the doors closed he said to me again – “Memories matter – never forget!”  I repeated those words back to him…

With those words freshly planted in my mind, I went through the exhibit.  I will tell you that it isn’t an easy museum to go through.  I had moments where I had to just stop and sit for a while because it was so overwhelming.  There were several times where what I saw just took my breath away. One of those times was when I walked through the “Shoe Room.”  As you walk through, you don’t see much at first but you are hit by a smell…a smell of mustiness.  Then as you look closer, your eyes are overwhelmed by a sea of shoes – thousands and thousands of shoes on either side of you.  As I looked closer, I was moved to tears.  There were shoes for all walks of life – men’s shoes, women’s high heels, slippers, children’s shoes…and there were baby shoes.  When I saw the baby shoes it made me think of a young mother carrying her child, getting on a train and not knowing what was to come of their lives.  I was looking at the soles of these shoes and sensing the souls of the people who once wore them.  Then I read the quote on the wall…

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.  We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers from Prague, Paris and Amsterdam, and because we are only made of fabric and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.” – Moshe Szulsztein

I ended my visit at the Hall of Remembrance.  An Eternal Flame burns on a black marble block which contains dirt from 38 of the concentrations camps in Europe.  Also included is dirt from a cemetery in Europe where American soldiers are buried to honor the American liberators of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.  The quote on the wall is from Deuteronomy – “only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life.  And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children.”

This is where the words “memory matters” really made sense to me.  These words from Deuteronomy are about the responsibility of memory.  My visit had come full circle thanks to Hal and the words he asked me to repeat.

Later that evening, I called Hal and shared my thoughts on the Holocaust Museum.  I told him I wished I could have spent even more time there because there was so much more I wanted to read and learn.  He was pleased with what I shared and repeated those very important words again as we finished our conversation.  After we hung up, I wondered if Hal had family impacted by this time in history.  I’ll never know but as a volunteer for the museum, he was so invested in sharing the story of the Holocaust and making sure that people who visit understand what happened and share their experiences in their corners of the world.  I’m forever grateful that I met Hal that day…and I’ll always remember those words he shared…Memories Matter / Never Forget.

 

It’s National Concha Day!

Conchas from Mi Pueblo Supermarket!

…well, almost…

I was scrolling through Instagram last week when I spotted a post from Raggedy Tiff about a gathering on December 8th for National Concha Day.  This was right after I found out I was hosting my annual cookie exchange party ON National Cookie Day so I was interested in finding out more about National Concha Day!  (Oh…and I know there’s a list of these national food days somewhere too and I plan to find it soon!)

What I found out in my research was that Jessica Resendiz of Raggedy Tiff, Alicia Becerra of Alicia’s Delicias and Karina Jimenez of Viva Los Cupcakes – all in California – had created a Change.org petition back in July to establish a National Concha Day on December 8th!  After gathering 5,000 signatures, the petition would then be sent to Governor Jerry Brown and 8 senators to request this special date become reality.

But wait a minute…maybe I should explain what a concha is and why this is important before going any further!  Also called pan dulce, a concha is Mexican sweet bread.  It is recognizable by its large shell-like shape.  In fact, concha means “shell,” and the top of the bread has a sugar shell pattern on it.  This bread has a “light” sweetness to it…much different than a donut or other pastry.  Buying a bag full of these conchas from Mi Pueblo Supermarket’s extensive bakery in Homewood is always a treat because they look so beautiful in the bag!  I generally select every color they have too.  Grab a cafecito and you have a delish breakfast or late brunch on a Saturday or Sunday, although traditionally a concha is eaten with a cup of hot chocolate!

Of course, having a National Concha Day would not be just about the bread…it’s more about a recognition of Mexican culture and traditions.  I’ve seen artists online who use the concha as an art form, creating earrings, necklaces and bracelets with this iconic bread on them.  I’ve also seen my share of t-shirts with funny slogans on them like “Let your conchas be your guide” and “don’t be self conchas!”  I may need to order one of those!  The concha is just such a mainstay in the Mexican culture and was influenced by the French, even the French occupation ended with the Battle of Puebla, better known as Cinco de Mayo.

As the petition states…”The creation of a National Concha Day would be a fun and exciting way to honor the Mexican pastry and its culture. Such a day would not only bring smiles to people’s faces, but also create cultural awareness of our customs and traditions.”  Plus…they are delicious!!!

I signed the petition today and they are so close to getting those 5,000 signatures!  If you’ve enjoyed a concha and love them and feel so inclined, hop on over to change.org (click here) and add your name to the petition.  Maybe this time next year it will be official and we’ll be saying a la Oprah…”you get a concha, you get a concha…everybody gets a concha!”  Meanwhile, tomorrow I’ll be having coffee and a concha and celebrating!

The pretty pink concha set against my Mexican Christmas tree this evening!

Feta, Corn and Black Bean Salsa – Always A Crowd Favorite!

Ingredients for my feta, corn and black bean salsa! Super easy!

Every year for my annual cookie exchange extravaganza, I serve up margaritas and a little Mexican food for my guests.  A few years ago though, I wanted to add a little something extra for everyone to nibble on.  I went through recipes I had collected over the years and found a recipe card I had picked up somewhere for a feta, corn and black bean salsa.  Of course, the “salsa” part got my attention with the Mexican food theme I had going on but what really got me was “feta!”  I LOVE me some feta cheese!!!

The first time I served it, I don’t think I had much left over to enjoy for myself later!  I took that as a good sign.  So the next year I doubled the recipe and was still lucky to have some left over!  It has become a crowd favorite, for sure…just like my mother’s homemade salsa always is each year.  She brought two large jars of that salsa over last night and it was ALL gone by the time we finished exchanging cookies last night!  (Click here to read about her salsa and get the recipe!)

The best part of this feta, corn and black bean salsa recipe is how easy it is to put together.  You just mix it all together, chill for 4 hours, and you’ve ready to serve!

Ingredients include:

  • 2 cans low sodium black beans (rinse and drain)
  • 2 cans of sweet corn (rinse and drain)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) of Feta Cheese
  • 1/4 cup of green onions, chopped (or you can use purple onion)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar (or you can use a substitute like Truvia which equals about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Each time I finish making this salsa, I fill up a small bowl and just savor the flavors.  After it has refrigerated for a few hours though, the flavors really get absorbed into the corn, black beans and feta.  It goes great with those scoop corn chips!  This is the perfect easy recipe to take and share with friends!  I promise your crowd will like it as much as my crowd!  Buen provecho!

Feta, corn and black ben salsa!

 

 

Blog Like Crazy- Third Year is the Charm!

Writing journal, canon camera and a glass of wine…

Today marks the end of a challenge I accepted on November 1st…#bloglikecrazy!!!  This is the third year I have participated in this as part of the See Jane Write network.  As I mentioned on the first day, I wasn’t sure if I’d have “time” to participate this year and that still makes me laugh since I retired from corporate life in July.  Still…my life has been busier than ever since I quit my day-job, as they say!

I spent some time outlining my month and what stories I wanted to tell and write.  I felt like I had a good balance and then life got in the way.  If I had decided earlier in October to participate and not on October 30, I could have gotten ahead of the game.  I did pretty well with the scheduling of stories the week I was at the beach.  That was VERY helpful and I was proud of how that all worked out!

Meanwhile, some of the stories I had planned didn’t get published…at least not yet!  I have several that I want to share but I also make a point to include photos and in these cases, I need to go through old photos in order to publish them.  Those stories are written and just waiting so stay tuned!

Tracy Martin during Flaco Jimenez’s performance!

I always find it interesting to see which posts resonate with people.  My best post this time was about Alabama’s Dia de los Muertos event.  I know that particular post got shared quite a bit so that helped!  My thrifting posts got a lot of attention as well.  At first, I didn’t plan to write much about thrifting but I started on one post and it morphed into several!  Those were fun to write too because I had been photographing everything that I’ve found this year so it was easy to draw from that album.

Mikasa Jamestown Platinum Trim crystal from the Salvation army thrift store!

My Thanksgiving at the Beach post also was pretty popular.  People get nostalgic around the holidays and that’s what I’m attributing the big response for this post to.  Personally, I like to see what others do around the holidays – the family traditions, the fun and games and the decorations all appeal to me so that’s what I try to include in my posts.

Family photo on the beach – we used this for our Christmas card photo that year!

Finally…my She Shack post has really done well!  Who knew the female equivalent of a Man Cave would garner so much attention!  I love my new She Shack and so does my pup, Lucy.  In fact, today I was in our upstairs laundry room when she blew past me and hit the door with her head to open it thinking I was in there!  Let’s be honest…that’s her room as much as it is mine!

My She Shack…my daughter’s daybed is visible when you walk in – displaying my colorful pillows and my grandmother’s brass lamps.

I’m anticipating a lot of “me” time in my She Shack devoted to photo scanning, writing and blog posting in the new year.  This challenge was the perfect way to get myself motivated too.  I’m so glad I decided to participate in #bloglikecrazy again this year, even it if WAS at the last-minute!  They say the third time is the charm and I believe that’s true for me this time!

 

Making Spirits Bright

Our family Christmas tree 2017

It’s been a full three days of decorating at my house!  Generally, I have my decorations up by the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but since we went to the beach I got a late start.  Normally I wouldn’t have been so anxious to get it all done by tonight, but I’m having my Fiesta board over for dinner on Thursday night and I want it to be just right!

Of course, instead of just doing what I did last year I decided a change was in order.  Don’t ask me why I do this to myself but I decided I wanted my front door and staircase to be silver and gold!  This meant buying a new green artificial wreath and finding just the right plastic gold and silver ornaments to use.  In the process, I also needed new lights for the swag over the door as well as the staircase.  Little bits of inspiration were hitting me all week as I pulled out items I haven’t used in a while.  I have a set of Southern Living at Home very heavy silver glass ornaments from way back.  I used to simply put them in a large vase in my bookcase but this year they’ve taken on a new look hanging from rhinestone ribbon and evenly spaced out on my staircase!  I actually found three extra of these ornaments at the thrift store a few months back so it must have been meant to be!  I’m loving the look…and the sparkle!

My front door wreath turned out pretty nice too, if I do say so myself!  This despite THREE finger burns with the hot glue gun!  Yikes!  I don’t know what was wrong with me today but that hot glue kept wanting to stick to ME rather than the ornaments!  I had two sizes of ornaments and decided it needed some smaller ones to fill in the gap so I headed to the Dollar Store for those.  I used the leftover plastic ornaments to make bundles of silver and gold to use on the outdoor swag and one I hung in the entryway.

Tonight, we decorated the family Christmas tree…me, my husband and my daughter, Emily.  It was a little bittersweet for me.  Generally, the last act of decorating for us is on Sunday night and all the kids make a point to be home to help out.  We take bets on how many of my Hallmark ornaments Eddie will break.  None this year…YAY!!!  We added just a few new Hallmark ornaments to my huge collection this year so they are safe until next year!  I always try to add the most ornaments to the tree after the rest of the family gives up.  All that is except for my son-in-law, Ryan!  He always sticks with me to pack the tree full!  Still…it was nice to spend time talking with my sweet Emily and watching Eddie look for gaps in the tree so we could fill them with ornaments.  We listened to Christmas music on Pandora and sang along.   Our annual family photo in front of the tree will have to wait until everyone is together over the holidays.  I look forward to that…

 

She Shack….Baby, She Shack!

My She Shack…my daughter’s daybed is visible when you walk in – displaying my colorful pillows and my grandmother’s brass lamps.

So…what do you call the female equivalent of a Man Cave?  Why, you call it a She Shack!!!

Several years ago, I remember saying to my entire family that it wasn’t fair…they all had their rooms and I didn’t have one of my own!  My husband had his man cave, even though he says it wasn’t truly his, as the kids would take it over and I had a lot of my stuff down there.  But I didn’t really use it much in all honestly.

I stored all my photos, slides and negatives there but after trying to use the space to work on organizing all this stuff, I finally gave up.  I would pull everything out and start getting things organized to scan, only to discover that everything had been moved and was not disorganized and I would just get frustrated and…well…it just wasn’t working out.  I moved to the dining room table at one point, but then we’d have family events throughout the year so it wasn’t the best place to pull everything out and leave.

So, when my daughter Anna Marie got married in 2015, I decided her room would become MY room…or my “she shack.”  It was exciting to pull everything out of the basement and begin sorting and organizing and decorating.  I had a vision of what the room would look like but in reality, the room wasn’t big enough for my vision!  I had to do some accommodating.  I began making “some” headway but as I added more and more photos – from the days when I’d get film developed and order an extra set of prints – I realized the room just wasn’t big enough.

In May this year, my son moved out and relocated to Wetumpka.  With his vacant room, I decided this was my true She Shack!  We began painting all he bedrooms in our house and as soon as it was done, I began moving everything from Anna Marie’s room to Charlie’s room.  I really loved the extra room and the way things were shaping up.  The final item I added was a new desk that I found at World Market.  It’s a natural wood and has plenty of surface space to really sort photos and other things.  My husband also made me a TV stand from a Black Stallion wine box that we brought back from our 25th anniversary trip to Napa!

I really love that this is a place where I can leave things and they won’t get disturbed.  I’ve enjoyed a little time in my she shack so far and expect that the new year will have me camping out in there – especially when I get Netflix on that TV!!!  One of my favorite things in the room is the display of my cameras.  I’ve kept pretty much every camera I’ve ever owned.  I also have my dad’s Leica camera and his camera case on display.  Dad’s manual typewriter is also prominently displayed.  I love this old typewriter and actually used it from time to time when I was younger.  My electric typewriter – remember those? – is also in my room but I haven’t figured out a way to display that yet.  It takes up so much room!

I’ve been able to add quite a few things to the room that I’ve found and kept stored for a while.  Some of the bigger items include my grandmother’s brass lamps from Bangkok, Thailand that I cleaned up and I’m using on either side of the day bed.  My cedar trunk, which I bought when I lived in Illinois, is being used as a makeshift coffee table.  Several thrift store finds have made their way into the room as well, like the mirrored end table and a large five-drawer chest of drawers that my husband stripped and cleaned up for me to use for my photo storage.  I still need to polish up the brass handles and put them back on.  Meanwhile, I think I might need another!  My new Crossley turntable graces the top of this chest of drawers.  I got it at 2nd and Charles for $5 after turning in $65 worth of books.  Not a bad haul that particular day!

My husband dubbed this room my “she shack” last year.  Honestly, that’s the first time I had ever heard of such a thing.  It made me think of the song “Love Shack” by The B-52s and I wasn’t sure what to think about that!  Then it began growing on me the more we talked about it.  If he could have a man cave, I could have a she shack!  But now, when I think of my room, I think of the Beach Boys song, “In My Room.”

When I was growing up, my room was my refuge.  I shared a room with my sister, Helena, until we moved to Chicago in 1971.  That’s when I got my own room and it was the best feeling!  I used to joke that when my parents sent me to my room, it made me happy because that’s where all my stuff was and that’s where I found the most peace and solace.  Thinking of that Beach Boys song makes me feel cozy and warm.  I think everyone should have their own room, or space, to create in or just “be” in.  I’m grateful that this has finally been afforded to me.  I’m loving my new She Shack!

In My Room – Brian Wilson and Gary Usher

There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room
Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday
Now it’s dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room

It’s a Wonderful Life!

The 50th anniversary commemorative book on Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

I’m in the midst of decorating my house for Christmas and I have worked hard to get everything organized by room.  Several years ago, I took a week in January and sorted and labeled all my decorations to make it easier each year.

The largest box in my collection is the one that holds my “It’s a Wonderful Life” village.  This Frank Capra movie is one of my all time favorites and when I found the  village at Walgreens many years ago, I was so excited.  In fact, I was a little late to the village collection party it would seem.  There had been several buildings already out in previous years from what I gathered.  They were made by Enesco.  I started my search and eventually accumulated 7 of the buildings from Bedford Falls including, Gowers Drug Store, The Bijoux theatre, Ma Bailey’s home, Bedford Falls Trust and Savings Bank, the high school, the church and of course, the Sycamore House.

I also managed to find Ernie Bishop’s yellow cab.  Other IAWF items are in ornament form including Martini’s bar.  I also found the Mark Twain book that Clarence was reading, the Bedford Falls sign, and the movie poster in porcelain.  Two unique ornaments are the televisions I discovered displaying a scene from the movie – one with George Bailey and Mary Hatch singing Buffalo Gals and the other when George is running through town in the snow after he wishes to be alive again.  Centering all of these ornaments on greenery I put over my bakers rack display is a Hallmark ornament with Mary, George and Zuzu representing the iconic scene when the famous words are spoken by Zuzu – “every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings!”  The ornament also has a little bell on the bottom.

I’ve looked for additional pieces over the years and some are pretty sky-high online!  I also discovered that Target had an IAWF village too but I never saw that one in the stores.  I would love to add a few more items I’ve seen to my village but right now I love the way the display looks every year on my kitchen bakers rack.

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? – Clarence Oddbody

Last scene in It’s a Wonderful Life movie…