Springing into Spring

What’s on your agenda this spring? For me, it looks like a return to golf. Sigh.

My husband used a pro shop credit he’d won in a member-guest tournament in Greenville as a partial payment for this lovely set of ladies’ clubs. Golf and I have a mostly unpleasant history. He thinks that can be remedied by new clubs and lots of practice. Sigh.

Incidentally, those glass trophies and bronze statues you see in the background? All his, won in various tournaments over the years. There’s a hole-in-one plaque as well. He’s actually made two. Maybe one day I’ll break 100. Sigh.

Hope springs eternal, though, right? Walking around my yard these days helps me to forget about my lack of skill in the fairway. The azaleas are blooming! It seems early, but then my daffodils were at their peak in February. Are we on an accelerated schedule this year?

I have different types of azaleas, so my yard is a rainbow of colors ranging from pink to white to purple to red. A hodge-podge which reflects my tendency to buy azaleas on impulse. In addition to different hues, I get different blooming times, which helps to stretch the season.

These are just now budding. I wish I could rattle off the names of all my azaleas, the way my mother used to. She knew every species in her yard: Martha Washington, Coral Bells, Hershey’s Red, Snow. These were the traditional assortments. I’ve picked out newer varieties in the nursery, planted them, and then promptly forgot their interesting names.

These old-fashioned snow (?) azaleas are in full bloom. These were here when my husband and I bought the house, so I’m guessing on the name.

Unfortunately, the late frosts killed most of the buds on this lilac formosa-type variety, which dared to try to bloom too early. The same thing happened last year. It seems like this azalea would wise up. Its mate on the other side of the house is in better shape.

My never-say-die dogwood is lovely right now. I bought this tree as a sapling years ago when Home Depot was in Rocky Mount. My husband has cut dead limb after dead limb from it, pronouncing it a goner many times. It always rejuvenates. Given the story of the dogwood, that Christ’s cross was made from its wood, this new birth each spring seems appropriate.

The azaleas and my dogwood are not the only signs of spring in my yard. The blue-black salvia, a perennial, is sprouting. This plant draws the hummingbirds, and I have it in a couple of pots as well as beneath the spot where I hang my hummingbird feeder.

I bought the blue-black salvia at a Master Gardener sale several years ago. I got there late that day, and it was about the only thing left. It looked rather sad, with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree kind of appearance, and had been marked down. From its humble beginnings at that sale, it’s flourished in my yard.

That’s sedum, another hardy perennial that spreads each year, pushing through the pine straw. The deer and rabbits around my house keep the sedum “trimmed” during the summer. Fortunately, these rascals don’t seem to like the taste of salvia.

My emerging hostas, caviar to deer, are safe since I have them inside my fenced-in backyard. So far, rabbits, which squeeze through the slats in the fence, haven’t been interested in hostas.

The flowering quince my middle daughter gave me is showing off this spring. I texted her a picture this week, with the caption, “Blooming! The rabbits haven’t gotten it so far.” Last year, it was nibbled down to sticks before I got smart and put a wire cage around it. I should probably get that cage out of the storage building again this year to prevent another “pruned” plant.

I’m thankful that so much in my yard has bloomed early this year. I was afraid I would miss the azaleas due to an upcoming trip to Israel and Jordan. This tour was booked for spring of 2020 and due to Covid was re-booked for spring of 2021. Israel wasn’t open last spring, so again, there was another re-booking.

I’m hoping this third time is the charm. It’d better be. I’ve started studying.

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Fun and Facts from a Texas Trip

For our 45th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to two large cities in the big state of Texas: Austin and San Antonio. We were in for a lot of fun with a dose of history.

We flew first to Austin, the state’s capital. I’d booked a hotel room downtown, within walking distance of all we wanted to see. I didn’t realize until we checked into the Driskill that it’s a hotel with a history.

Built in 1886 by Colonel Jesse Driskill, a wealthy cattleman who spared no expense, the Driskill was known as the finest hotel south of St. Louis. Sadly, Colonel Driskill soon lost his hotel in a high-stakes poker game.

Today, the place is supposed to be haunted by a number of ghosts, including the Colonel himself, who allegedly makes his appearance known by the smell of his cigar smoke. On a less spooky note, the Driskill was also a favorite hotel of Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson. The story goes they had their first date there at the Driskill Grill in 1934.

The Driskill Hotel today
Us in front of the Colonel’s portrait

From the Driskill Hotel, we walked down historic Congress Avenue to see the Texas State Capitol. There, we encountered a demonstration at the edge of the Capitol grounds. A passionate crowd with anti-Putin signs protested the invasion of Ukraine.

The Capitol Building, like Texas itself, is big and showy. Inside were portraits of Texas governors, the most famous being Sam Houston, Ann Richards, and of course, George W. Bush.

Austin is known for its live music scene. (Maybe you’ve seen Austin City Limits, the longest running music series in television history.) Sixth Street, lined with bars featuring all types of musical performers, is the epicenter of what’s happening. It was a short walk from the Driskill, so once the sun went down, we were off to find the tunes.

My husband and I were definitely part of the older crowd packing the music venues, but we had a great time listening to country and rock while also people watching. I’d heard Austin is a popular bridesmaids’ weekend destination, and I saw the proof.

After three nights in Austin, we moved on to San Antonio, an hour south. Our first item on the agenda there was to see the Alamo. We’d been warned this site wouldn’t measure up to its depiction in the movies (true), but it was still awesome to stand within its walls and imagine that motley group of men, vastly outnumbered by Santa Anna’s army, who fought and died for the freedom of Texas.

San Antonio is also known for its River Walk, and I’d picked a hotel with easy access to this attraction. We took the lazy boat ride through the channeled waters and walked the surrounding streets filled with restaurants. We were true Lone Star tourists eating lunch at a restaurant called The Republic of Texas where we drank an Alamo beer.

Our riverboat guide had told us about a free projected light show at the nearby San Fernando Cathedral, one of the oldest Catholic churches in America. Watching scenes of the history of San Antonio flicker on the ornate facade of this historic church was a nice way to end our final night of the trip.

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A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day Gift

Counting courtship and marriage, this guy and I have celebrated a half century of Valentine’s Days. During that time, I can’t remember a year when he didn’t buy me something on February 14, usually the traditional gift of candy or flowers. This year, though, I received a different kind of present.

I’m trying to lose that stubborn five pounds that has crept on and seems to want to hang around, so as much as I love a box of chocolates, especially a Whitman’s Sampler, I asked, please, no candy this year.

I’m too old for teddy bears, and besides, I have an attic full left over from the childhoods of three daughters. My husband knows not to bring home any more stuffed animals, cute though they may be.

I love cut flowers, especially roses, but a bouquet often lasts only a few days. I felt fifty years of spending Valentine’s Day together needed something a little more permanent than a dozen roses that would all too soon turn brown around the edges, droop, and die.

“I know what I want for Valentine’s Day this year,” I announced last week to my husband. (When you’ve been married as long as I have, you speak your mind.) I want a camellia bush planted in the left corner of the back yard near the storage building.

Today, Valentine’s Day, we went to Allen’s Nursery, where in Greenhouse #8, I found a camellia bush with a single red bloom. This afternoon, my husband planted it in the spot I designated.

I hope to look out my kitchen window for many years to come and see my Valentine’s Day camellia bush, maybe full of blooms, a reminder of once celebrating fifty years of February 14ths with this good man.

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Viewing a Snow Day from Inside

What’s not to love about a snow day? If, of course, a person doesn’t have to drive to work or haul a kid back up a hill on a sled. Yep, being old and retired has its benefits. A body can view (and take pictures of) a snow day out the window while staying inside, where it’s nice and warm.

Notice the tiny snowbirds on the ground behind the flag in the picture below. My husband was smart enough to top off the feeders on Friday before the snow arrived. We’ve had fun watching an assortment of birds dashing by for a nibble here and there.

We were even graced by the presence of a cardinal, our state bird, which seemed to dodge having its picture made by eating on the side of the feeders we couldn’t see from the kitchen windows. I guess this redbird knew we weren’t coming out of the house. My husband finally got a decent shot of it sitting on a bare branch of a snowy crepe myrtle with our neighbor’s house in the background.

The side yard was just as lovely as the backyard. The snow on the bird bath looks like a giant plastic bottle cap or maybe a fancy white tablecloth. This would be good place to scoop off the top layer for snow cream, if I’d ever learned to make it to taste the way my mother’s did. I fondly remember her slushy concoction. My few attempts always tasted like ice with vanilla flavoring.

The stems of rosemary are wearing their winter white quite well, don’t you think?

Part of the fun of a snow day is checking in with others to see how many inches they got. According to one of my daughters, we beat Charlotte this week. She eyeballed her deck there and pronounced only a couple of inches.

My other Charlotte daughter is in Beech Mountain this weekend, where, if it’s January, there’s sure to be snow.

Out my front window, I can see the neighborhood snow-day hangout. There’s a hill, well as much as we have a hill in this neck of the woods, that ends in a cul-de-sac. It’s good for sledding down although there’s no ski lift to bring sledders back up. (See job of parents on snow day in first paragraph.)

Of course before sledding down, if you’re a kid, it’s fun to throw a few snowballs and just roll around in the snow.

Alas, the sun came out for a while, raising the temperature just a little, and the sledders gave their slope a workout. Before long, the once pristine “hill” became a little slushy. Often a snow day in eastern North Carolina is just that, a day. It’s fun while it lasts, though, especially if you can view the winter wonderland from inside the house.

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Please Write a Review

Facebook friends who’ve read my book, please write a review on Amazon. It’s really quite simple.

First, find my book, Life and Death in Narrow Creek, on Amazon. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link:

Now scroll down until you find Customer Reviews on the left. (You’ll see the stars.)

Under Customer Reviews, find the words, Review this product. Underneath is a rectangular box that says Write a customer review. Click on it.

I’ve given you the steps, but you can also just click on Write a customer review (in purple below) to take you where you need to go to review Life and Death in Narrow Creek.

Customer reviews

Review this product

Share your thoughts with other customers

Write a customer review

You’ll be taken to your Sign-In where you’ll need your password. (You must have an Amazon account to leave a review. You probably have an account if you’ve ever ordered anything from Amazon.)

Password (TV series) 1967.jpg

Now you’re ready to write something. This might be the stumbling block for many folks. It shouldn’t be. Don’t worry about sounding like a professional book critic. Your review doesn’t have to be long or profound. Just be you.

What did you like about the book? Which character(s) were your favorite? Did you like the setting? The writing itself? Did this book remind you of another you’ve read? Be as specific as possible. Try to give someone who’s deciding whether to read Life and Death in Narrow Creek something to go on.

Here’s an example of a review I’ve received:

What a delightful read. This book is filled with small town Southern charm, relatable characters and situations. No matter where you live, someone is always up to something and everyone is talking about it. People want to know “whodunnit and why. Dee Ann makes it her mission to find out. Ms. Dee Ann’s career, as an amateur sleuth, is a funny and often precarious balance of her life as a young wife, mother, teacher and “newcomer” to Narrow Creek. So come sit a spell and enjoy some time in Narrow Creek for another fun and intriguing adventure. You will be glad you did. This second volume is like having a family reunion with some people you are always glad to see and some you wish had stayed home.

Be careful, though, not to give away the ending. Don’t tell who poisoned Floyd!

Above all, be honest and fair. Don’t automatically give a five-star. Four stars are good too. And if there’s something you didn’t like about the book, give it fewer stars, but again, be specific. Why didn’t you like the book? Don’t just call it stupid or boring.

Why am I begging for reviews? Because they matter. Here’s the deal. Nobody is exactly sure, since Amazon guards its data so closely, but some experts speculate that one million new books are published on the Amazon Kindle Store each year. I’ve also read there are 7,500 new Kindle books each day, more than one per minute.

Life and Death in Narrow Creek is up against a lot of competition, y’all. I need to make my book visible. Reviews help do that.

I’m a little (okay, more than a little) jealous of how many reviews Inez Ribustello has for her memoir, Life after Windows. Look at the information on this page at the beginning of her book: 130 reviews and still counting. (I just checked Amazon. She has 261 ratings. I really am jealous now.)

Seriously, Inez is a lovely person and she’s written a great book. She deserves her success. She’s even been kind enough to buy and read both my books and give me a shout-out on Instagram.

So I’m going to channel my jealousy into inspiration. If Inez can get 261 ratings, maybe I can get 50 reviews? If you’ve read Life and Death in Narrow Creek, please take a few minutes and help me reach this goal.

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The Simple Joys of the Season

Amid all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I try not to miss the small things that make the holiday special. For example, I noticed this camellia bush in my backyard blooming just this week.

This plant has a history. My middle daughter, who shares my love of gardening, gave it to me several years ago. It was much smaller then, and it almost didn’t live in the first location I chose for it. Or the second. The third site, fortunately, proved to suit it.

Since this camellia bush was a gift from my daughter, I worked hard to keep it alive, digging it up and replanting it two times. Had I bought it myself, I probably would have written it off as dead in its first location. Looking at it now, though, I’m glad I persevered in finding just the right spot in my yard. The camellia bush is rewarding me by blooming here at Christmas.

Another small Christmas moment, this one funny. Look at this young fellow, one of my grandsons. His mother has reported that not only did he eat all the chocolate candy in his Advent calendar early, he also polished off his brother’s as well.

I know the feeling. I had the same problem rationing that bag of double-dipped chocolate-covered peanuts from Smith’s Grocery. We can only laugh.

This five-year-old is also super-excited about his one big Christmas gift from his granddad and me. Whenever we FaceTime these days (he lives in Charlotte), I have to walk the phone upstairs, flip it around, and show him the package wrapped with “Grinch” paper. The present is so big I haven’t put it under the tree.

I hope he’s as excited once he opens the gift as he’s been about getting it. (In case you’re wondering, it’s some kind of Hot Wheels garage, suggested by his mother.)

Speaking of presents, each year I hang this Chinese good luck knot, once given to me at Christmas by a student at the community college. English was his second language, and he struggled in my composition class. Still, he was always positive, hardworking, and respectful.

It’s not often those of us who teach adults get presents from our students, so I treasure this token of appreciation.

Another simple gift that I cherish hangs on my tree. Early in my married life, some forty-plus years ago, my grandmother handstitched these gingerbread men for me. She was trying to help a young bride with a tight Christmas budget have something to fill up a Christmas tree.

These days, I could certainly replace these humble felt gingerbread fellows, a little ratty now from years of use, with something more elegant. I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

With all the busyness of the season–the parties, the presents, the food, even the family time–it’s easy to lose sight of the true significance of the holiday. A simple cross near the top of my Christmas tree helps keep me centered. I look at it often and remember the words from the Gospel of Luke:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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Judging a Book by Its Cover

And now there are two. Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder has been joined by Life and Death in Narrow Creek. I see postings of books all the time next to a cup of coffee, so that’s why my morning shot of 100% Colombian Folgers is in this picture.

Can you tell by the similar covers that the two books are part of a series? Well, it’ll be a series when I finish the third book. Right now, I guess it’s more accurate to call my new novel a sequel.

What went into designing these book covers? You may recall the action of Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder takes place in 1979-1980. Dee Ann is 25 years old, and in the first part of the book describes her wardrobe as consisting of jeans, tee’s, and flannel shirts. Her dressy clothes are corduroy or polyester pants and knit tops.

So why is she wearing a conservative blue dress on the cover? After her visit to the Narrow Creek Ladies’ Society meeting where she realizes she’s underdressed, Dee Ann decides she needs a makeover. The picture shows her in a dress much like the one she sews to wear to work at the Ladies’ Society Arts and Crafts Bazaar, where, incidentally, this time she’s overdressed.

Vintage 70s fast easy Simplicity Jiffy 6079 sewing pattern image 1

Dee Ann’s hairstyle as pictured on the book’s cover is also a result of her makeover. She visits Veronica, her hairdresser, and asks for a curly perm so she can look like Olivia Newton-John in the last scene of Grease.

Grease

The blood spatters on the cover (those red dots) allude to the shooting death of the town’s playboy, Gary Whitt. The Welcome to Narrow Creek sign that Dee Ann and Baby Heather are standing in front of is meant not only for Dee Ann but the reader as well, since this first book introduces the Narrow Creek Series.

For Life and Death in Narrow Creek, I supplied the illustrator with a description of Dee Ann’s house behind her landlords’. This description actually came from the beginning of Chapter 2 in Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, where Dee Ann sees her new home for the first time.

“Our landlords, Floyd and Josephine Powell, lived in the grand house on the right side of the driveway…. I was quite impressed by their stately red-brick, colonial-style home, complete with third-floor dormers. Eight multi-paned windows framed by pewter-grey shutters punctuated the front of the house on the first and second stories.

A matching version of the house stood maybe a hundred feet or so behind the Powells’ residence. This version didn’t have any dormers or shutters, though, and it was a good deal smaller. Also, where the Powells’ house featured a massive double-entrance door and a big brick porch with Chippendale rail, the bottom floor of this building had one ordinary front door and a tiny, unadorned stoop. Simple four-pane windows–two on the second floor aligned over two on the first–reflected the bright April sunshine. It was nothing fancy, but at least our new home didn’t appear to be a dump. Joe had informed me we’d be living on the second floor since the Powells used the ground floor for storage.”

The cover designer got it right, don’t you think?

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No Creepy Graveyards Here

It’s almost Halloween, so graveyards are supposed to be spooky, right? Not to me. I find old cemeteries to be full of history, not haunts, especially in a town like Charleston, South Carolina.

On a recent October weekend, I wandered the downtown streets of Market and Meeting, entertaining myself while my husband and daughter were attending a business conference. I happened upon the cemetery at the Circular Congregational Church, established in 1681.

Can you guess why this church has circular as part of its name?

The old church itself is intriguing, but on a fine fall day, I was more interested in the surrounding graveyard. A sign invited me in, and I took a stroll. The “circular” architecture was even more apparent from behind the church. The old tombstones drew me like a magnet. I couldn’t wait to read the inscriptions.

I discovered the final resting place of the first mayor of Charleston, Richard Hutson. Look at the year he graduated Princeton! Note his many accomplishments: he was part of the founding body of the College of Charleston, a member of the South Carolina General Assembly from 1772-1794, served in the militia and imprisoned by the British during the Revolutionary War–well, you can keep reading.

I love the archaic wording at the top: “Herein Lie The Remains Of .”

You may have to enlarge the picture to read the inscriptions on the tombstones pictured below, especially the first. I’ll save you the time. The smaller one is inscribed with the name of Thomas Lehre, who died “in the 65th year of his age” in 1858.

His widow, Jane Carolina Lehre, has the larger tombstone (hmm) slightly in front of his. She died in 1892, “Aged 85 years and 7 months” (how’s that for being exact).

I especially like the inscription at the bottom of her tombstone:

“My flesh shall slumber in the ground. ‘Til the last trumpet’s sound; Then burst the bands with sweet surprise, and in my Savior’s image rise.”

That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

How peaceful to “slumber” in such a cemetery, honored by a lovely tombstone under an old tree, its huge arms draped with Spanish moss. We should all be so fortunate (when the time comes, of course).

The Spanish moss on the trees in the graveyard deserves an extra picture.

The sight of a spire not too far away caused me to explore further. Around the corner, I found St. Philip’s Church, whose sign declared its denomination as Anglican and the year of establishment as 1680. Interesting. I thought the Anglican church became the Episcopal Church in America, but here’s one that didn’t (or reverted?).

St. Philip’s also has a cemetery open to the public. In fact, I met a tour group leaving as I entered. I wondered whether someone famous was buried within this historic graveyard.

I didn’t have to look long before I found the rather elaborate resting place of John C. Calhoun. I recognized his name but couldn’t remember until I read it on his tombstone that he had served as a vice-president of the United States (from 1825 to 1832, I learned when I googled). His tombstone/vault/crypt certainly indicates he was somebody important.

Accompanied by my daughter, I spent my afternoon in Charleston shopping on King Street. Not everyone shares my love of history, especially the kind found in old graveyards.

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Sailing with the Pirates

My husband and I both graduated from East Carolina University, and for most of our married lives have bought football season tickets. For years, we purchased a package of five, taking our three daughters, encouraging them to become faithful little Pirates.

Two of the three grew up and graduated from ECU. One chose the other Carolina.

Times have changed, but my husband and I are still choosing to be in the stands, cheering on the Pirates in person. We’re happy to be back in the stadium after last year’s Covid shutdown. We’ve long since traded in our family pack of five cheap-seat tickets for two on the alumni side. These days our seats come with backs on them, and we’re surrounded by more “mature,” shall we say, fans.

We’ve also got a good view of the Pirate head that blows out the purple smoke, followed by the team running out on the field.

Purple and gold (yellow is acceptable) are the school colors. I never seem to get the memo, but there’s an apparel color suggestion for each game. Standing in line at the gate, I soon figured out purple was what fans were supposed to wear at this last home game.

That day, I had on my gold (yellow) Polo shirt with the monogrammed Pirate logo and what I call my Pirate shoes, worn only to warm fall football games, which is always nearly every game.

We beat Tulane that day, 52-29. It was a great day to be a Pirate, especially there in the stadium. You can watch a game at home on TV, but there’s nothing like being in the stands when your team enters the red zone at your end of the field. I find myself on my feet, screaming for a touchdown.

The football team doesn’t always win, of course, especially in recent years, but the band never loses. My husband goes down at halftime to meet his cousin and hash over what’s happened so far, but I stay and watch the Marching Pirates before hitting the concession stand.

Purple and gold may be the colors of the Pirates, but our fourth-quarter flags, brought out before the beginning of the last quarter, are a deep red. I love the “No Quarter” Pirate phrase, just one part of all things Pirate.

Yes, there’s a lot that can be done with a Pirate theme. The students sit in an area called The Boneyard, there’s a film clip from Pirates of the Caribbean that plays on the Jumbotron telling us to “hoist the colors” when we raise our Pirate flag at the beginning of the game, our mascot is dressed as–what else, a Pirate,–you get the idea.

My girls may be grown and gone, but there’s a little Pirate fan who sits in front of me every game. Maybe he’ll go from being in the stands to being in a classroom on campus one day. He seems to love being a Pirate right now; as his cape says, he’s “Bad to the Bone.”

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Part Four: Romania

The last country I visited on my recent trip to Eastern Europe was Romania. Most of my time there was spent in its capital, Bucharest, a lovely city sometimes called “Little Paris.” Some of the city’s ornate buildings help explain this nickname.

In addition to French-inspired architecture, another reason Bucharest has been dubbed “Little Paris” goes back to around 1900 when it became fashionable for citizens to greet each other in French and wear the latest French fashions. All things French became a kind of status symbol, I guess.

The fascination with French culture can certainly be seen in some of the architecture that has survived two world wars and communist dictatorships.

Bucharest even has its own Triumphal Arch, modeled after the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The picture my husband took from our tour bus doesn’t do it justice, but just like its counterpart in Paris, this monument is surrounded by a roundabout that bustles with traffic.

The elaborate architecture was also evident in a restaurant we visited in the old Lipscani district of Bucharest. This place featured arched doorways, a mosaic-tiled floor, paintings on the walls, balconies, tall ceilings–and a violinist to serenade lunch patrons. I believe we were told the restaurant had once been a church.

Speaking of churches, Romania’s predominant religion is Eastern Orthodox with more than 81% of Romanians identifying themselves as Orthodox Christians. Many of the churches are stunningly beautiful. This Eastern Orthodox Church features a vaulted ceiling with every inch of wall space used to depict scenes from the Bible or paintings of saints. Many of the early church members were illiterate, so these elaborately decorated churches helped them learn their Bible stories.

A feature of the Orthodox religion is the prevalence of icons, sacred images painted on wooden panels. I bought this icon from a shop in Bucharest. I’m Methodist, not Eastern Orthodox, but I believe a picture of Mary and Joseph on a bedside table works for any Christian.

The People’s Palace, Romania’s parliament building, was built during the years of communism, but is surprisingly as ornate as the French-inspired architecture of the city. And it’s big; in fact, it’s the second largest office building in the world.

Construction began under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, the last communist ruler of Romania. Although he was tried for crimes against his country and, with his wife, immediately executed on Christmas Day in 1989, work on the People’s Palace continued, and this grand structure was finished eight years after Ceausescu’s death.

Revolution Square in Bucharest is full of symbolism. The square is named for the beginning of the uprising which led to the overthrow of the brutal communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In early December 1989, over 100,000 people gathered there. Authorities expected the crowd to applaud Ceausescu’s speech condemning Romanians who were beginning to protest communist rule.

Instead, people began booing and jeering. The scene was caught uncensored on the state-run national television station. The cat was out of the bag, with Romanians across the country seeing the level of support for ending communism.

Ceausescu gave this speech from a balcony of the building in the picture, then called the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The obelisk in the center, adorned with something that looks like a pierced hornet’s nest, has been erected since the revolution and is officially called the Monument of Rebirth.

I can’t talk about Romania without mentioning vampires, particularly Count Dracula of Transylvania. The area of Romania known as Transylvania is real, and unfortunately, about a four-hour, one-way drive from Bucharest, making it a very long day trip. We didn’t have a day to book such a trip to see the castle that supposedly was the setting for Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula.

What we could do, though, was book a local excursion to see where Vlad the Impaler is buried. Who is Vlad the Impaler? Though Transylvania is a real place, Count Dracula wasn’t a real person/vampire. Bram Stoker made him up.

However, the Count is based on Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian lord who stopped the invasion of the Ottoman Empire towards Western Europe. Despite the fact that the man was vicious–he impaled his enemies, leaving them to die a slow, painful death–he is considered a national Romanian hero to this day. His bloodthirsty style inspired Bram Stoker to use him as a model for Count Dracula.

Incidentally, Vlad the Impaler is buried without his head, which was separated from his body when he was killed and delivered to his enemies in Constantinople. Maybe an example of you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Due to the coronavirus, this trip to Eastern Europe came with hassles. I had to take three Covid tests, two saliva and one very unpleasant nasal version. Each time, I held my breath, praying I wouldn’t test positive and be quarantined somewhere far from home. Also, I endured endless hours of wearing a mask both while sitting in airports for layovers as well as when flying.

Still, the trip was worth the inconveniences. I saw a part of the world that had been off-limits to Americans most of my life. I learned about life there during World War II, the years of communism, and now the period of adjusting to capitalism.

I came home happy to be an American.

Banner, America, Flag, Usa, United States

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