Book Review: A Home in America: A Volga German Story

A Home in America: A Volga German Story by Eunice Boeve, though listed as a Children’s/Young Adult book, would be of interest to readers of all ages. This work of fiction that takes place in 1892 captivated me as I learned about a whole segment of people I hadn’t previously known.

Although the book is primarily about the Mueller family as seen through the eyes of Eva Maria, age twelve, it delves into the Volga German people who, in the mid-1700’s, settled in Russia’s Volga River area to escape war-torn Germany and the unreasonable demands of the ruling class. Contrary to promises made to them by Russia, the Volga River area was devoid of houses, horses or plows. But there was land, and the Germans carved out a life on the Russian plains. They remained staunchly German, did not speak the Russian language, did not intermarry, and clung to their own customs and faith.

When Russia began imposing mandatory military service on all males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, Eva’s parents made the decision to emigrate to America. If they remained in Russia, her father and older brother would likely be conscripted into a service for which they felt no loyalty.

Now in 1892, the family— father, stepmother, two older brothers, a baby sister, and Eva — is leaving the only home they have ever known. One of Eva’s concerns is leaving her great-grandmother, the woman who was like a mother to her, since her real mother passed away giving birth to Eva. But her great-grandmother is 92, blind and frail.

They have a cousin in America, in Kansas, and he helps them financially and promises to assist them when they arrive.

Their journey to the Baltic Sea is a grueling series of crowded, dirty trains and finally the extreme discomforts of riding third class in the bowels of a ship bound for America. Arriving in New York, they endure the immigration procedures at Ellis Island, and finally take another train to Kansas where they are welcomed by their cousin.

The rest of the story concentrates on their first year in America, living on a farm near Herzog, Kansas, a Volga-German community with other predominately Volga residents. The newcomers are challenged with the new language and new customs.

A Home in America is a heart-warming story with the strong loyalty of family uppermost. I gained renewed respect for America’s early settlers and with the importance of working together for a common good.

Tapa Cloth: A South Pacific Treasure

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We first saw tapa at the Pago Pago market where decorative pieces were sold. Most tourists bought them for wall hangings, but for South Pacific Islanders tapa has many more uses.

Tapa is a barkcloth made in many of the South Pacific islands, primarily in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, but many other islands, too, including Hawaii. In olden times it was often used as clothing, but nowadays it is highly prized for its decorative value and is often found hung on walls or as room dividers. Tapa is a highly prized gift at events such as marriages and funerals.

Tapa comes from the bark of the mulberry tree. The bark is stripped in sections about hand-wide and person-long. The inner bark is stripped away from the outer bark and the outer bark discarded. The inner bark is dried in the sun before being soaked in water. Then the bark is beaten with wooden mallets and the strips flattened and layered using a glue made from tapioca flour or potato starch, and the painting and design process begins.

The woman in this picture is shown designing a piece of tapa. At the time we thought she was using charcoal, but after doing more research, I now think it was probably brown paint made from the koka tree.

In Tonga we often saw people, mostly elders, with tapa around their waste and down to nearly their ankles. It didn’t look like a comfortable garment to us, but we learned it was a traditional sign of respect and worn when attending important gatherings.

People in the South Pacific take tapa very seriously. It is to be treasured.

Book Review: Dolet

Author Florence Byham Weinburg has created a work of fiction based on the actual life of Etienne Dolet, a French scholar, translator and printer, filling in the gaps of the historical record as plausibly as possible. Dolet is a remarkable, thoroughly researched novel.

The novel begins in Toulouse, France with Dolet witnessing the horrific sight of his friend, charged with heresy, being burned at the stake.

Etienne Dolet, born 1509 in Orleans, France, educated under a series of scholars and later as a university law student, was known for his extensive Latin knowledge and writings. His witty and often cutting political remarks resulted in many enemies, though he also had powerful friends. He often suddenly left an area as a wanted man, or at least under grave suspicion. Often protected and financially supported by friends, he found employment using his extensive knowledge and oratory proficiency.

Dolet became a skilled printer, but his own books were criticized by the Catholic Church for their content. Dolet defends his position believing that his writing represented the true message of Christianity.

During his lifetime, Dolet spent a considerable amount of time in prison either defending himself against a trumped-up murder charge, which was actually self-defense, or because of suspicion by the French Inquisition that he was an atheist, charges made more serious because of his published books. Dolet stood fast on his efforts to reform abuses of the Church, not destroy her. He died a tragic death in 1546 on his 37th birthday.

Dolet is a fascinating read. Florence Byham Weinburg’s research is impressive as she follows the short life and times of this controversial figure. To learn more about the author, visit http://florenceweinberg.com/

iFly: Achieving Terminal Velocity

Our family looked forward with anticipation to our iFLY Indoor Skydiving date. There would be ten of us, a “party package.” The closest iFLY facility was iFLY Seattle, which really is in Tukwila, by Southcenter Mall.

We all arrived at the appointed time, one hour before flight time. We checked in individually at computer terminals. At that time we declared our fitness and our understanding of the health restrictions. For instance, the weight limit is 300 pounds, and people with histories of heart issues, back injuries or shoulder dislocations should not attempt this sport.

After check-in, we watched the previous group, a valuable experience. We gathered around the glass-encased flight chamber, a vertical wind tunnel. The tunnel has fans at the top to draw air through the flight chamber. The air is then pushed back down the sides through return air towers and repeatedly pushed through the flight chamber. The result is a smooth column of air that enables flight.

According to iFly’s website: “The invention of modern wind tunnels has given skydivers a consistent and practical way to develop and hone skills that usually require jumping from a plane. Additionally, the increase in availability of wind tunnels has created a whole new genre of sport: bodyflight. It is one of the most exciting and fastest growing sports in the world.”

We were all beginners, but the instructors at iFly can train people interested in bodyflight to pursue the sport and even go into competition.

As we watched, I realized it was nothing like I expected it to be. I had envisioned us all flying around a room. But it was clear that an instructor needs to be with you at all times, and he takes one only person at a time. Further, I expected to keep my body in a straight horizontal line, but as I watched, I saw that participants arched their body to form sort of a “V.” I could see why people with back problems might want to avoid this sport.

After watching the previous class, we were ushered into a classroom and briefed on what we should expect. Our instructor David went over hand signals, maneuvers, and explained the equipment we would use.

I was amazed with the amount of gear. We were instructed how to insert earplugs. Flight suits were furnished, equipped with “handles” for the instructor to grab. We wore our own closed-toe shoes. Goggles were adjusted to our faces, then helmets issued to protect our heads. I wondered how many people “bailed out” at this stage. We all hung in there, game for the adventure.

We sat just outside of the chamber, facing a new crowd that would follow our party. One at a time we went in with David. I was amazed at the strength of the wind. He instructed each one of us the “basics” ensuring that we understood the rudiments of the sport. Then, one at a time again, we had our second round of flight, this time more advanced and going aloft, the equivalent of 2 stories high. I found it exhilarating.

After everyone had gone through the process twice, we watched as David performed some impressive bodyflight maneuvers. We had a long way to go if we wanted to achieve that level of proficiency.

Our iFly date was fun—another great family adventure. To learn more about iFly, visit https://www.iflyworld.com

Book Review: Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington

Dan A. Nelson’s practical hiking guide, Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington, includes necessary information to ensure satisfaction for dog owners and their dogs while enjoying hikes in Western Washington.

Although dogs aren’t allowed on national park or monument trails, there are plenty of wonderful hikes to enjoy in Western Washington. In this guidebook, Nelson describes 85 hikes, complete with quick references for distance round trip, difficulty on a scale of one to five, highest elevation point, elevation gain, best season, map, contact information and GPS coordinates, followed by detailed descriptions of the individual hikes.

In addition to specific destinations, at the beginning of the book Nelson goes into some detail about hiking with a dog in general, which I found particularly interesting. In the “Getting Ready” section, Nelson emphasizes the importance of good training, including use of a leash on the trail. Permits and regulations must be obeyed, not only for human and dog safety, but for the sake of the environment.

“Leave No Trace” is discussed in detail and encompasses much more than hauling your own garbage out. It means camp a distance away from a water source such as a lake or stream, not wash in the water, but collect water in a container and take it back to camp. Camp on hard ground so you won’t trample grass or fragile vegetation. Nelson gives many more examples of ways to keep the wilderness intact by leaving no trace.

The trail etiquette section was an eye-opener for me. For instance, when dog owners meet any other trail users, dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow the other users to pass without worrying about “getting sniffed.” Another: When a dog meets a horse, the dog owner must yield the trail and ensure the dog remains calm. Also, stay within view so that the horse isn’t suddenly spooked when he sees the dog.

Another rule of etiquette I learned is that when hikers meet other hikers, the group heading uphill has the right-of-way. There are many more important points the author makes, points that make sense once the reasons are explained.

Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington is a valuable reference for hikers with dogs, or even without dogs. Dan Nelson is the author of several guidebooks, all published by The Mountaineer Books.

Excuse Me: Isn’t That a Pig?

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

Although every port-of-call was special to us, the hands-down favorite was the Kingdom of Tonga. Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state, which means it governs itself, and is an archipelago of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. Four major groups of islands form the Kingdom: Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’u, and Niua groups. Tonatapu is the main island and its capitol is Nuku’alofa. We spent about six weeks in Tonga, all in the Vava’u group.

The only Pacific Island nation never colonized by a foreign power, the Kingdom of Tonga is known as “The Friendly Islands.” Tongans are strongly Christian, the people helpful and friendly.

Upon arrival we anchored Impunity near the small town of Neiafu and rowed our dingy ashore. Tongans constantly swept their wooden sidewalks and packed earthen streets–we were impressed with how clean everything was.

Surprisingly, pigs wandered around at will. I wasn’t sure where they did their business, but we didn’t see any pig-doo along the streets. We saw pigs, of all different colors and sizes, on church steps, sidewalks, streets, in yards. They were apparently a part of the community.

Pigs had their useful purpose. The Tongans didn’t mow lawns; pigs kept them neat and trim. They ate much of the soft garbage, like fallen fruit. And, of course, pigs provided meat. We learned that domestic pigs played an important role in social obligations mainly for gifts and exchange at feasts, weddings and funerals.

During our stay in Tonga we moved Impunity around to anchor near different islands. The water was clear and beautiful–ideal for snorkeling.

Off one of the uninhabited islands where we regularly anchored, we often rowed ashore to feed a couple of piglets. Because of their coloration, we called one of the piglets Stars and the other Stripes. The mother stayed clear of us, hovering in nearby bushes, ready to protect her babies. I would have loved to hold them, but was afraid I would alarm their mother. We enjoyed the little pigs and saved our kitchen scraps for them.

Tonga was a paradise and those little pigs added immensely to our enjoyment.

 

Two Memoirs by John W. Evans

John and Katie Evans were again living and working abroad, this time in Romania. They met while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh from 2000 to 2002.

John, 29, a writer, and Katie, 30, who worked in Bucharest leading an educational effort on HIV/AIDS and family violence prevention, joined friends on a hike in the Carpathian Mountains on June 23, 2007. They had planned to stay in a hostel near Bucharest for the night, but upon arrival found there were no rooms available. Although it was nearing evening and darkness, they felt there would be time to hike to the next hostel, about a mile away. On the way, the group became separated. John ended up with the faster group, anxious to get to the hostel while rooms were still available. Katie, with the slower group, nursed a sore ankle.

When he approached a stream, John decided to wait for the slower group to help them across, telling the others to go ahead and secure their rooms. When Katie’s group didn’t come, he circled back, but at first couldn’t find them. He heard screaming and found Katie, pinned down by a large brown bear.

Young Widower is the tragic story of this horrendous event and the aftermath of dealing with overpowering grief. The story goes back in time to their earlier years, their families, and day-to-day lives, allowing the reader to know those involved. Evans’ description of coping with his great loss, plus the horrific memory of witnessing and hearing his wife’s final moments is deeply moving.

Young Widower is an extraordinary read, both poignant and revealing about the human spirit.

 

John W. Evans’ Should I Still Wish is a sequel to his first memoir, Young Widower. In the first book, Evans tells the horrific story of his wife Katie being mauled to death by a brown bear in Romania, and his subsequent grief, guilt and adjustment.

In Should I Still Wish Evans renews a friendship with Cait, whom he also met ten years earlier while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. The memoir begins one year after the violent death of his first wife.

John and Cait eventually marry and have three sons. The author uses dreams, memories, and second-person accounts akin to letters to his first son and to his deceased wife, to share his struggle through the various stages of grief and recovery. He writes of his desire to make peace with the natural world again, and to acknowledge life’s abundant joys.

Should I Still Wish is a moving story of second chances and daring to love again. Evans is an excellent writer who has a talent for describing intricate details of emotions and scenes. He teaches creative writing at Stanford University. To learn more about John W. Evans, visit https://johnwevans.com/author/

Injured at Sea

 

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

On-the-nose winds made the sail between American Samoa and The Kingdom of Tonga tough. After a five-month absence from sailing, my stomach rebelled. I wasn’t over-the-side sick, but for the first day and a half I didn’t feel my best.

On the second night, Bruce had gone off watch at 10:00 and settled down in Impunity’s midship bunk. I scanned the horizon and went below decks to make a cup of tea. Bruce had put the teakettle on the stove to heat the water for me, so I didn’t harness myself into the galley for the quick trip to fill my cup and grab a tea bag.

The boat surged up, then suddenly dropped off the back of a wave and threw me backwards across the cabin. I landed on the edge of the chart table, hitting my lower back, three inches from my spine on my right side.

I knew immediately I was hurt, that I’d probably broken a rib. Bruce had leapt out of the bunk with my scream as I crashed into the chart table. He wanted me to lie down right away, but I was anxious to see how badly I was hurt, so I insisted on standing my watch, with the understanding I’d call him if I needed to. Reluctantly, he agreed.

Sticking to our normal night watch routine, I set our kitchen timer for every 15 minutes and at that time did a 360-degree horizon check. I checked the knot-meter, compass, and trim of the sails, to make sure everything was okay. Because the seas were so rough, I sat tucked up under the dodger to stay out of the spray. By the 16th time I stood up on the rocking boat, I knew that nothing vital was broken. But I also knew that I was really hurting and that once I lay down, I’d probably not get up again until we arrived in Tonga.

At the end of my watch Bruce got me settled onto the bunk and that was it for me for the next day and a half, other than brief trips to the head. Keeping our regular ham radio schedule, Bruce talked to our doctor friend George on Wind-dancer in Pago Pago. I had already taken aspirin—lots of it. We had stronger pain medication on board, but I was hesitant to take it and be totally “out of it.” I knew if I had to I could get up and help Bruce. While George and Bruce talked on the radio, another person in Neiafu Harbor in Tonga chimed in, introduced himself and said he was a doctor, a fellow yachtie.

As we approached Tonga, the seas calmed allowing me to gingerly walk around, even prepare meals. Bruce was weary, having run the boat by himself and taken care of me.

We pulled into Neiafu Harbor mid-day and a customs agent came aboard first, inquiring about me. Word had spread about my injury. I was again lying on the bunk, not able to stand comfortably while the boat jostled into place at the wharf for the customs inspection. Then a doctor to whom Bruce had talked on the radio, the yachtie, came aboard and verified it was likely a broken rib, or a badly bruised one. In any event, the treatment was the same. He gave me ibuprofen, a pain medication I’d never used before, which was more effective for me than aspirin. He offered to tape my torso, but I declined. It was just too hot. He suggested that I could swim, very gently, but no diving off the boat. Not to worry. I knew diving was not in my immediate agenda.

It felt so good not to be crashing around at sea. Once we were anchored, I carefully climbed down our boarding ladder to enjoy a cooling swim. Tonga was blissfully quiet and unbelievably beautiful. It didn’t take long before I could freely move around and enjoy life in this true paradise. It was awhile longer before I could dive.

Book Review: The Blues

Hang on to your cowboy hat for this action-packed contemporary western novel by Susie Drougas.

When Attorney Dusty Rose accepts a wrongful death case, he’s excited that he can combine business with pleasure since the location of the incident is the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. Together with his private investigator, Mike, who also happens to be Dusty’s riding side-kick, they load up the horse trailer and drive from the greater Seattle area to where the death occurred.

The case involves a couple who had made arrangements with an outfitter to celebrate their anniversary by taking a picnic lunch to the peak of the Eagle Cap. From their base camp, they rode horses as far as they could, but then planned to hike the last 500 feet to the peak. During this stretch of the trip, the woman fell to her instant death. The widowed husband was now suing the outfitter for wrongful death.

On the way to meet the outfitter and investigate the scene, Dusty and Mike stop at a bar for dinner, the only place open at that time of night. They encounter a beautiful young woman, Stevie, and there is an instant attraction between her and Dusty. It’s a regrettable encounter because Dusty already has a wonderful woman in his life, a fellow lawyer, and he instantly regrets his lapse in good judgement. But the damage is done.

The next day Dusty and Mike talk to the outfitter and ride their horses, then hike, to the scene of the accident. Later, they talk to the widowed husband, but are puzzled by the conflicts and inconsistencies of the various stories.

The Blues, a name which refers to a location in the book, is rich in landscape descriptions and of wilderness horseback riding. As a real-life court reporter, the author also exhibits professional knowledge of legal procedures, which add significantly to the realism of the story.

The Blues is the fourth of the Dusty Rose Series. To learn more about the preceding novels and the author, visit http://www.susiedrougas.com/.

Our First Landfall: The Marquesas

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We had been at sea for 35 days. Except for the day we left San Diego, we hadn’t seen another boat. It had been just the two of us in a world surrounded by endless water. Like a little kid, I asked Bruce when we would “get there,” reach the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

“Oh, probably early Wednesday morning.”

If that happened, I would be impressed with the exactness of his calculations. Without navigation know-how, you can miss an island by days, going right past it. If an island is more than 10 miles away, a small-craft sailor can’t see it. To cross an ocean with no landmarks, using only the stars and sun for navigation, takes skill.

In any event, I had my sights set on Wednesday. I was ready to get there, to set foot on land, take a long walk, and drink something cold. Strangely, I also felt reluctance to again open our lives to others. We’d been in a world of our own and we were comfortable with that.

On Wednesday, as we approached the Marquesas, from miles away we were aware of the islands’ aroma, a tropical arboretum rich with scents of earth tinted with tropical flowers and fruits. We passed north of Ua Nuka before approaching Nuku Hiva, the largest of the twelve Marquesas Islands.

As we neared land, dolphins greeted us with wild cavorting around Impunity’s bow, slicing the water at extraordinary speeds. Our depth sounder was turned on and the dolphins kept setting off the shallow water alarm. We finally turned off the depth sounder since we had plenty of good light to see any obstacles. I stood in the bow, ready to signal Bruce if I saw any coral heads or changes in water color. I had to laugh at the dolphins’ playful antics as they welcomed us to French Polynesia.

Bruce found a place to anchor among other boats in Taiahoe Bay, yachts from the United States, Sweden, New Zealand, France, Zambia in South Africa, Germany, plus a French Navy ship. The rattling of our ground tackle was a welcome sound as the anchor was lowered 28 feet into the bay.

We made it! We’d traveled 3,200 miles in 34 days. This was the first of many landfalls, but probably the most exciting. We’d proven to ourselves that Impunity was sail-worthy. And so were we.