Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Holocaust Remembrance Day

 

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.


This year will mark the 76th Anniversary of the day that the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by the Red Army.  

 

Auschwitz is about 40 miles west of Krakow, Poland. Over 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, most of whom were Jewish.  When the Soviet Red Army arrived most of the prisoners had already been evacuated from the camp by the Germans, led on the now infamous death marches.  According to historians, only around 7,000 of the weakest prisoners remained.  Soviet soldiers were shocked at what they found. 

 

Last year, for the 75th anniversary, more than 200 survivors gathered at the camp, with each passing year we lose more survivors.  It is so important to remember the events of the Holocaust and honor the survivors.

 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic I was fortunate enough to do some travelling, and in the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. It was an amazing trip, and the entire time I was there I wondered about my family’s history. I had always known that my relatives were from Poland, although at the time they lived there it was still part of Russia, but I knew little else. As my tour bus rolled through the forests and fields, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of my family members had hidden in just those woods? How many had escaped, and how many had been killed at one of the many concentration camps? 

 


On that trip I was able to visit both the Auschwitz and the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps.  The iconic images of the entrance sign, with ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the train tracks leading into Auschwitz-Birkenau were as powerful as you would imagine.



Walking around the grounds was surreal, it was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining, but the well-preserved fences and barbed wire were a constant reminder of what had occurred there.



In carefully preserved rooms lay the evidence of all of those who died at the camp. Piles of discarded luggage and shoes were a visceral reminder of the people who perished. 

 


Visiting one of the remaining crematoriums highlighted the true horrors of that place. 

 

My visit was so powerful. I felt profound sadness and I felt angry, so very angry about what had happened there. In those moments I have never felt closer to the Jewish side of my family.  

 

This past year I discovered some of my family history, thanks to my daughter and some research on Ancestry.com.  I learned that my great grandmother was born in a town called Oświęcim, Poland. Oświęcim is also known in German as Auschwitz, yup – my great grandmother was born in the town that would become known for the most infamous concentration camp of the war. 

 


My great grandmother emigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s but there is no doubt that had she stayed, she and her whole family would likely have perished in the very town she was born in. 

 

The realization that I had been there, in the town where my Great-Grandmother was born, and where one of the worst horrors in history had occurred was incredible. 

 

The Baltic countries are beautiful, and once it is finally safe to travel again, I highly recommend this trip to everyone, but for me this trip was also incredibly emotional. The reality of the Holocaust was apparent everywhere we went. 

 

In Lithuania I learned that before war over 40 percent of population was Jewish with over 100 synagogues.  During the war Lithuania lost 90 percent of its Jewish community. Only one synagogue remains.

 

Jewish Ghetto in Riga Latvia

Prior to the war over 93,000 Jews lived in Latvia, but only 14,000 members of the Latvian Jewish community survived. 

 

In Poland the numbers were truly staggering. Jews had been living in Poland as early as the 11th Century.  

 

There were over 350,000 Jews in Warsaw before the war. Mostly in the north district. This became the infamous Warsaw ghetto. Today there are only about 7000 Jews left in Warsaw.  There were 68,000 Jews living in Kraków before the war. Today there are around 700. There are similar numbers all over Poland.

 

There are only about 35,000 Jews living in Poland today, there were over 3,000,000 Jews in Poland before the war.  

 


On Holocaust Remembrance Day we all must take the time to remember what happened, to remember the lives lost, to remember the horrors that occurred, because if we fail to remember these events, we will be in danger of allowing them to happen again. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Big Decision

 


I am so excited to share that I have now co-authored a brand-new children’s book with my daughter Rachael Couch.  

 

We were inspired by the recent presidential election and wanted a way to explain this election to my four-year-old grandson. The Big Decision is a bright and engaging look at the choices made by each of the states, who are personified by beautiful illustrations

 

We wanted to explain voting and the election to pre-K and early elementary kids, and make sure it was done in a very child-friendly and engaging way. 

 

My daughter shared a story about a family walk around the neighborhood on the day after the election, November 4th, and a sweet, precocious third-grade neighbor child approached them on their walk and he wanted to know all about the current status of the election and which states had been called so far. She was so impressed at his literacy in the process and the electoral college. 

 

She wanted her four-year-old to understand what was going on beyond just Mommy and Daddy voting and giving him stickers, She and I began to collaborate on the story, coming up with the idea of personifying the states and we found an amazing children’s illustrator who brought the story to life. 

 

I’m especially proud of the Arizona page where we recognized the Navajo people who rode on horseback in order to vote.

 

As a former teacher I believe that talking about the voting process & the value of a peaceful transition of power in the United States with your kids is important. I strongly recommend that parents use this book as a resource to have meaningful conversations with children about how the process of American democracy works, particularly as the new inauguration happens next month. 

 

 

The Big Decision is now available in paperback or ebook versions on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08R2DNFFD





 


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Feeling Overwhelmed


I have talked to so many people lately who are emotionally exhausted by this pandemic. The days stretched into weeks, which have now stretched into months, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I know that not everyone has been quarantining as vigilantly as my family has, but for us this has felt like a loop that we just can’t break out from; like our own version of the movie Ground Hog Day.

 

With Covid-19 cases rising all across the country, and an election that has divided our nation like nothing since the civil war, we are all feeling a bit overwhelmed; trying to find calm in a sea of chaos. 


One of the hardest parts of all of this has been the separation from my family.  Unable to visit my daughter and grandchildren has been so hard. We do our best to stay connected, but FaceTime is just not the same as a hug and some snuggle time with grandma. 


The biggest challenge for everyone has been the unknown. How long will this last? When will a vaccine actually be ready? Will the vaccine be safe? Even if it is safe, will enough people take the vaccine? Just typing these questions causes me anxiety, and I long to feel calm.

 

For me, a place of calm has always been my home. It is my refuge. Sitting in my living room, looking at my mother’s credenza or the pictures from my honeymoon hanging on the wall, this is my happy place and even though I have rarely left my home in eight months, it continues to make me feel safe and secure. Sitting in my back yard or snuggling on the couch with my husband scrolling through options on Netflix or Prime, my home has always been my shelter from a storm. 

 

We all have somewhere or someone who we turn to when we are feeling out of control. Where do you go to feel safe and secure? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Sad


 

I woke up today with a profound sense of sadness. While the national election is still ‘too close to call’ with the likelihood of a Biden victory, I am so deeply disappointed.  I had hoped for a resounding rejection of the bigotry, lying and corruption that has been the hallmark of the last four years.  Now the final votes will be counted, the lawsuits are already filed, and the balance of this election very well may be decided by an illegitimate court. 

 

I have more optimistic friends who are celebrating the fact that Arizona is a now a ‘blue’ state, and that many of the people I know and like were elected, or re-elected to office, and while I do want to celebrate those victories, my heart is hurting today. 


I am sad that so many of my fellow Americans chose to re-elect someone who, in my opinion is the worst President in the history of this country. They saw his racism and sexism and they didn’t care. They saw him lie about the pandemic, disregarding the scientists, as a quarter of a million Americans died, and they didn’t care. They saw him rip children from the arms of their parents and put them in cages and they didn’t care. Worse yet, some of them applauded him for these actions.

 

This is not like 2016. This is not a situation where many people saw someone who was an outsider and wanted to shake things up, this time they knew exactly who and what he is and what he stands for and they chose to cast their vote to re-elect him. 

 

I have lost faith in my country.  I am no longer proud to say I am an American. We have lost our way.  Regardless of the final outcome, this election has forever changed the way I will view my country and the people who live here. For the first time I don’t feel at home here. I don’t like who we have become. 

 

And for that I am extremely sad. 




Wednesday, October 14, 2020

He is getting so tall

 

This is Hard! I need to acknowledge this fact because today I am struggling.

 

I am sad. 

I am frustrated

I am angry

I am scared

I am overwhelmed

I am tired

 

This morning when I woke up my son-in-law had texted a picture of my grandson, something he does quite often, but the picture this morning was pointing out how big & tall my grandson is getting. My daughter and son-in-law are constantly sending pictures of my grandson and my granddaughter. These photos and videos have become a lifeline for me and my husband during this pandemic because my daughter and her family live in Tennessee and we have not felt that it was safe to travel there, so these moments are our connection to our grandchildren. We call and FaceTime with our grandchildren, and we celebrate each moment that we can spend together, even if it is through a screen. 

 

Looking at the picture of my grandson this morning felt like a gut punch. He is getting so big and it hurts so much to not be there to see it happen. I used to travel to Tennessee every 2-3 months. I haven’t been there since March. If there was no pandemic I would have been there with them at least three or four times so far.  I would feel how tall my grandson is getting when he gave me big hugs. I would feel his little legs and know how much longer they felt when I picked him up for kisses and hugs.  I would have squeezed the chubby arms and legs of my granddaughter as she shared drool all over me – and I would have loved every sticky messy minute, but for now pictures and FaceTime will have to do. 

 

Like most of us, I have good and bad days, but during this pandemic my good days are the ones where I can distract myself enough to not feel sad, and my bad days are the ones where I am missing them so much it physically hurts. 

 

I think we are all overwhelmed right now with this big cloud of uncertainty; struggling with the pandemic and our disastrous, ugly political climate. Sometimes it just feels like too much.  

 

We have all been trying our best to cope for these past six months, and as the holidays loom ever closer, it just adds more fuel to this big ugly mess of emotions that we are all feeling. I want to be happy about the holidays, but this year I won’t get to enjoy a happy thanksgiving meal with my father. I won’t get to excitedly browse in stores for just the right present for my loved ones, I won’t get to be there when my grandson opens each carefully chosen present to see if he genuinely likes the choices I have made.   

 

I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. So far in my family, no one has gotten ill with Covid. We are exceptionally fortunate that no one has lost their job. We have a nice home and we are still able to pay our bills. I know that there are millions of people who are not nearly as lucky, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of this is hard. 

 







He really has gotten so tall, and I just wonder how much taller he will be when I finally get the chance to see him. 



Friday, May 22, 2020

A Very Different Looking Memorial Day This Year


This year Memorial Day will look very different for most of us. Big camping trips and backyard barbeques of the past will now be replaced with much smaller and more intimate events.  So many of us are longing to spend the weekend at a beach, camping or at a big family gathering, but fears of spreading the Coronavirus have changed all of that. 

This pandemic may have changed our type of celebrations, but the meaning behind Memorial Day not changed. We will honor the men and women of our military who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Their willingness to face danger and put their lives on the line are a debt that we cannot ever repay.  During this pandemic we have seen medical professionals show that same kind of courage. 



Memorial Day has become known as the kick-off for the summer. School is done and warmer weather is here.  This year, summer plans are put on hold as states across the country begin to cautiously open back up, but fears of a ‘second wave’ will keep many of us close to home. Memorial Day will likely see our country cross an unimaginable threshold of 100,000 deaths due to the pandemic.*


Perhaps now, more than ever, we truly understand the value of human life. 


So far, more than 7,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2,298 in Afghanistan and 4,572 in Iraq) and over 52,000 have been wounded.  In Vietnam 58,209 US servicemen were killed and 153,303 were wounded in combat.  In Korea 36,516 servicemen were killed and 92,134 were wounded.  In World War II 405,399 US servicemen were killed and 670,846 were wounded.  In World War I 116,516 US servicemen were killed and 204,002 were wounded.  We owe a debt of gratitude to each and every one of these individuals, and we should NEVER enter into war without considering the enormous price these men and women have paid for our freedom. 

*as of Friday afternoon there were 97,637 deaths in the United States.   
(https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fear, panic & facing an uncertain future

I have struggled to put these thoughts into words. Not only have I suffered from anxiety and brain fatigue, but like so many others my emotions have been on a roller coaster ride of epic proportions for the past two months.  

The Coronavirus has affected all of us, and it is unlike anything we have faced before. It has stripped the layer of protection that so many of us felt we had in our lives. No one, rich or poor, old or young, urban or rural, is safe from this tiny enemy and we have all had to deal with our fear, grief and anger in different ways. 

I recall a story that I read, and I wanted to share it here:

The story goes like this:
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her.  She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up.  She was tired of fighting and struggling.  It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen.  She filled three pots with water.  In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans.
She let them sit and boil without saying a word.  In about twenty minute she turned off the burners.  She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl.  She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.  Then she ladled the coffee into a bowl.  Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots.  She did and noted that they were soft.  She then asked her to take an egg and break it.  After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.  Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee.  The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.
The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity… boiling water – but each reacted differently.  The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting.  However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.  The egg had been fragile.  Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior.  But, after being through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.  The ground coffee beans were unique, however.  After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked the daughter.  “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?  Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
Think of this:  Which am I?
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat?  Did I have a fluid spirit, but after death, a break up, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?  Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean?  The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain.  When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor.  If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.
When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
How do you handle adversity?
ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?

As I think about this virus, I am again struck by the wisdom in that story. We all have different ways of reacting to this pandemic.  

I have to remind myself almost daily how very fortunate I am. I am still employed and I am able to work from home. My husband is working part of the time from home, but he does have to go in to work, and that means he has to go into hospitals, which is a frightening thought during this pandemic. We have been careful. We have groceries delivered when we can. We have stayed home, except for a few rare excursions where we did not even get out of the car near any other people. We have masks that we use for any needed shopping or errands. 

We are taking this virus very seriously, not out of fear, but out of respect. My 91 year old father absolutely would not survive if he were to get coronavirus. My daughter has asthma so I am worried about her health if she were to get the virus. I don’t want to unknowingly spread this virus to anyone. 

It is frustrating to not be able to go see my Dad or make plans to go and see my daughter and grandchildren in Tennessee. I am sad, but I am more than willing to put up with these inconveniences if it means that my loved ones are healthy and safe. 

I am a history geek. I love learning about history. Right now my knowledge of history is helping to give me hope. Our country has faced great struggles in the past and we have gotten through them. This virus threat will pass, we will find effective treatments and hopefully a vaccine, and when we do I know we will be able to see and hug our loved ones without fear of anyone getting sick. I also know that this virus has the ability to teach us something very important about ourselves and our personalities. Like the carrot, the egg and the coffee beans, we all will have the chance to let this experience weaken us, harden our hearts, or we can grow through this experience. We can become kinder, more caring, and more aware of the importance of our relationships; we can change and become better people.