Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty-One: Poland

Y’all, I had fun researching Poland. I think European countries have been my favorite this year while doing the Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks series. There was so much about Poland that I couldn’t fit into the story because there’s simply not enough room. For instance did you know that in Poland courteous hand-kissing is still a common practice? How cool is that? Or that Poland shares its borders with no less than seven countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Germany? Pretty neat, right? 

Anyway, enough chatter! I hope y’all enjoy the twenty-first segment of my fictitious continuing story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I’m already looking forward to finding out where we’ll travel next week… 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty-One: Poland
Most of what I knew about the country came from reading Historical Fiction centering around WW2 and taking place in the Poland. Which, now that I think about it, that’s probably why I was so shocked to find a vibrant and seemingly happy world when I stepped out of the airport. In some tired corner of my brain I’d been imagining soldiers, concentration camps, sadness, and suffering. I was very thankful that wasn’t the case.
My family grew up with Jewish neighbors and their daughters were my best friends when I was a little girl. The father was forever singing the praise of the Poles, telling story after story of how they’d saved so many Jews during the Holocaust. Apparently he had relatives who had been hidden by them and never forgot it. When I grew up I researched it some, curious as to what exactly the Poles did to receive such praise. 
It turns out the Poles represent the biggest number of people of any nationality to rescue Jews during WW2, saving around 450,000 of them. No wonder my neighbor sang their praises. Poland also holds the record of having the most people to have been awarded the title of “Righteous among the Nations” by the State of Israel, with over 6,130 people having received it. 
The noteworthy works of the Poles didn’t come without a price though. I read one place that around 50,000 Poles were killed by the Nazis for saving Jews… Such a soberingly large number. WW2 was such a horrible and sad era of the world, and yet I hope it’s never forgotten. Remembering what happens when people turn a blind eye to evil is very important because what we don’t learn from we’re bound to repeat and I would hate to repeat that. 
There were so many places I wanted to visit in Poland and the first night I was there I spread out a two inch stack of tourist info pamphlets out on the burgundy hotel bedcover. Warsaw was full of churches, palaces, history, and museums. Zakopane appeared to be a great place for outdoorsy types of adventures like skiing and exploring caves. The Balowieza Forest pamphlet promised European bison, parks, forests, and nature reserves. It also had beautiful pictures of lynx and other magnificent animals. 
Gdansk looked delightfully calm with a harbor and breathtaking sunsets. A place called Jelenia Gora sported everything from castles and palaces, to churches and mountain biking, as well as things like theater. Seeing a play was something I had yet to do on my journey so far, and it was an inviting thought to stop by there. 
Krakow pulled me in with professional photographs of Gothic architecture and lots of Jewish history. Poznan had a zoo, Swinoujscie had beaches, Kudowa-Zdroj had open air museums, and Polesie National Park had wetlands. 
It seemed as if every new piece of literature I looked at a new world of possibilities opened up to me. There were so many different things to look at and explore and research. Poland was like a treasure chest just waiting to be discovered and I hardly knew where to start. 
I decided to visit a couple of museums in Warsaw. The first one I went to was the Copernicus Science Centre and it promised that it was kid-friendly and interactive, that sounded like a good way to start the day. Overall I enjoyed the museum but from an article I read made it seem like the founders didn’t believe that science and the Bible go together, so that kinda bugged me. Oh well. My favorite part of the museum was Robothespian, a fully programmable humanoid robot who sang The Sound of Music to me. It’s weird to find a robot sweet, but Robothespian was sweet and I took a selfie with him.
After the Science Center I walked around doing some sightseeing and found a little sidewalk cafe to eat at. I ordered pizza because I’d been craving it for a couple of days. I was surprised when the pizza was served without sauce. Instead the waiter brought ketchup to the table for me to use as the sauce. Surprise, surprise. It was also then that I found out people traditionally ate the biggest meal of the day around 2 pm. I knew I wouldn’t be hungry for another meal in a few hours, but I decided to hold off on lunch during the rest of the week so I could be in sync with the culture. 
Along with the pizza I drank some oranzada, which is sweet and carbonated and tastes like orange. I liked it a lot better than the pizza – it was cold and refreshing. According to the label on the bottle (it was served in a glass bottle), oranzada is pretty popular in Poland. It originated in France, then came to Poland in the 18th century.
After eating the pizza (which was good, but totally not what I’d expected), I indulged and had a couple of paczki, which are Polish doughnuts and one of the most traditional Polish desserts. They became popular around the time of King Augustus III of Poland who reigned in the early 18th century (I’m not sure which came first: the oranzada or the paczki). According to the waiter, paczki’s are most popular on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday. He said that over 100 million paczki’s are eaten each year on just that one day. Craziness. It was no wonder though, because the doughnuts were really good. 

After lunch I went to the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The museum covered over 4,000 square meters and the exhibits had English descriptions which made me happy. There was a huge amount of information regarding the Holocaust which was sobering. I wanted to rush through that part and dwell on the happier aspects instead (because there were plenty of happy displays, too), but I didn’t. 
I found the display of photos taken in the Ghetto by members of the Nazi propaganda unit and the contrasting truth in the form of diary experts from an actual inhabitant of the Ghetto to be especially eye-opening. It’s scary how people can twist and turn the truth to make it into whatever they want. 
For supper I had bigos, which is one of Poland’s traditional dishes and pretty well-liked by the Poles. It’s a stew made from Polish sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, different types of meat, prunes, dried mushrooms, onions, and spices. It’s cooked for several days and then served with potatoes and bread. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but in reality it was one of my least favorite things I tried during the year so far and I could barely gag it down. I did though, and that night I celebrated the victory with a couple more paczki.
The next day I was off to explore the Bialowieza Forest, which was a several hour trip by train. The possibility of seeing a European bison was exciting and I could hardly wait.

Out of the Depths By Edgar Harrell: Book Review

Out of the Depths 
By Edgar Harrell 

Find it on: 

192 Pages

About the Book (Backcover Blurb):

The Inspiring Story of a World War II Hero’s Miraculous Survival at Sea
July 30, 1945–The USS Indianapolis and its 1,196-man crew is making its way toward a small island in the South Pacific. The ship is sailing unescorted, assured by headquarters the waters are safe. It is midnight, and Marine Edgar Harrell and several others have sacked out on deck rather than spend the night in their hot and muggy quarters below. Fresh off a top-secret mission to deliver uranium for the atomic bombs that would ultimately end World War II, they are unaware their ship is being watched. Minutes later, six torpedoes are slicing toward the Indy . . . 

For five horrifying days and nights after their ship went down, Harrell and his shipmates had to fend for themselves in the open seas. Plagued by dehydration, exposure, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks, their numbers were cruelly depleted before they were miraculously rescued. This is one man’s story of courage, ingenuity, and faith in God’s providence in the midst of the worst naval disaster in U.S. history.

Why I Choose this Book: 
I’ve been interested in the story of the USS Indianapolis for several years now. We have a friend, Bob Welsh, who is a storyteller and has an amazing talent of weaving true historical accounts into verse. I’ve sat spellbound many times while listening to his poem, Sleep Well, Ye Men of Indy’s Crew. (The poem is rather long, but well, well worth listening to!) A couple of years ago Bob even brought one of few survivors to meet our family – it was history come to life. 
What I Thought About this Book:
For some reason this book was extremely hard for me to get into. Like, over two years hard to get into. I started it in 2014 and picked it up several times during the next 24 months, but it didn’t hold my interest. Then I picked it up a couple days ago and like a switch was flipped, I hardly wanted to put the book down. It was incredibly interesting and pulled me in and made me almost feel the horror myself. 

The story is amazing – really a miracle, and I don’t use that word lightly. The author is very clear that he believes it’s only by the hand of God that they were saved. He describes how so many different elements worked together to create their rescue, and it’s astounding. 

True war books always leave me sad. It’s horrible and the cost of life is staggering. I’m so very incredibly thankful though for those who offered and gave their very lives so that we could live in freedom. 

I’m so amazed at how the survivors were able to hang on. I have no clue how anyone could have a strong enough will to fight through what they did as the days slipped away in agonizing pain and terror with little to no hope of being rescued. The group of men from the Indianapolis are truly astonishing. 

The crew from the Indianapolis unknowingly played a huge part in ending the war and yet because of Navy politics weren’t fully recognized for around 50 years. I feel honored to have been able to thank one of the survivors in person for fighting for our freedom. 

This book isn’t for kids. It describes in some detail the horribleness of what the crew endured and it was gruesome. At the same time though, I don’t think the author went into too much detail, it just isn’t suitable for kids. 
I’m giving Out of the Depths Four Stars (eight out of ten).

*I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review*

The Hiding Place Part #1 // Giveaway

I was planning on writing about my Europe trip in order of how it happened, but since so many people have expressed interest in The Hiding Place, also known as The Ten Boom House and The Beje, I decided I would start with that. 

Ever since I found out we were going to go to Europe, I began asking if we could go to Holland and see the Beje. Seeing the Beje has been a dream of mine since I was about nine years old and read In My Father’s House for the first time. That was my first Corrie ten Boom book, and I was decidedly enthusiastic about all of her books from that point on. I went on to read Father ten Boom, The Hiding Place, My Years with Corrie, Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith and others, many of them multiple times. 
Corrie ten Boom’s books inspired me and changed my life. They were also one of the factors that got me interested in writing. I saw how my life had been changed through a book, and I wanted to be able to write books that would do the same thing for other people. 

For those of you who don’t know who the Ten Boom family is, I’ll give you a quick overview:
The Ten Boom family lived in Holland in the town of Harlem, in a narrow house over a watch shop that had been in their family for several generations. During WW2, Corrie ten Boom, who was in her 50’s at the time and a watchmaker herself, became very involved in the underground work. At this time she lived in the Beje (their nickname for the house, pronounced bay-yea) with her father, and older sister, Betsie (I actually have a sister who was named after Betsie ten Boom). Their house was a kinda in-between house where Jews would stop on their way to some safer place. Eventually though, they had a group of Jews that stayed with them because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

One day the Ten Booms were betrayed by a fellow Dutchman and the Beje was raided. the family was taken to prison and eventually to concentration camps. Thankfully, they had built a hiding place and the Jews and some underground workers were able to hide there (more about this tomorrow). 

Corrie’s sister and father both died in the camps, along with one of her nephews (although not from the same raid) and Corrie’s only brother died soon after the war because of the horrible treatment he got in a concentration camp. 

After the war, Corrie traveled all over the world, sharing about God’s love and forgiveness. She even went as far as to turn the Beje into a home where Dutchmen who had betrayed their fellow countrymen and turned them in to the Nazis could come and stay. She also found out who it was who had betrayed them and wrote to him when he was sitting in prison, about to be killed for his war crimes. She told him what he had done to her family and how she forgave him and then she told him about Jesus’s love. 

We left our cars quite a ways from the Beje, and were walking all over Harlem, trying to find the house. I hadn’t realized we were so close to the Beje, until someone said “There it is!” And I realized I was standing just across the street from this history and loved filled building. I had been recalling and telling stories to my younger brother about the Ten Boom family during our car ride to Harlem, and it felt so amazing to be standing on the very street corner where these accounts had taken place. The watch shop is a jewelry shop now and they had watches displayed in the windows, which made it feel almost as if time hadn’t really passed. It was a marvlous experience.

I’m so very thankful for the people who run the Corrie ten Boom Museum. You don’t have to pay to go into the house (although if you wanted a guided tour it does cost a little) and it’s not affiliated with the government at all. They said they have it this way so that they can keep Corrie’s message true and strong and share the gospel and God’s love with everyone who goes there. 

 When we first went in, we were in the dinning room, and my first impression was “Wow, this is so small!” How they able to fit so many people in there, I have no clue. I remember how Corrie often mentioned how crowded the table would be when everyone was gathered around, but I hadn’t realized just how crowded it really was. There were so many of us in the room I didn’t get many good pictures, and then after we left the room, they said we weren’t supposed to take pictures, so sadly I don’t have many.

I was standing there, looking at the table, then I looked out the window and I saw how we were about nine feet up from the street, and that’s when I was suddenly like “OH MY GOODNESS!” Because I could very clearly see in my mind the scene where they were sitting around their table with all their Jews and suddenly they saw someone’s head right outside their window and they kinda freaked out since generally people couldn’t see in the window and hence it being safe for them to have the Jews eat with them. Right away they had begun singing happy birthday and acting like they were having a party so the person wouldn’t think anything unusual about so many people being there, then they realized that why he was so tall is because he was on a ladder, cleaning the windows. It turns out he had gotten the address confused and was cleaning the wrong windows, but they were still scared for a while that he was really spying on them.
I can’t describe how it felt to remember that part of the book while standing in the very room it took place in. I wished I could have just spent all day, or all week, walking around the house, reading the books and imaging them taking place there.

And then I saw the Alpina sign, which they put in their windows, advertising a certain brand of watches they sold, but it was also a signal. When it was up, it was safe for the underground workers, if it was down, it wasn’t safe. During the raid Betsie had knocked the sign off the windowsill, but a guard noticed and realized that it must have been a sign, so he fit it back together (it had broken into three pieces) and put it back up. That was really bad, because some of the underground workers knew that the Ten Boom family had been found out and came to warn them and since the sign was still there, they didn’t know that the Nazis were in the house, so they kept getting caught. I think the Nazis got around 27 people in all, although not everyone was part of the underground. 

This blue sign says “Jesus is victor” and is a phrase Corrie ten Boom used quite often and she even wrote a book with that title. It helped remind her that even though evil was so prevalent and seemed to be winning at times, Jesus was still the victor and in the end, everyone would be able to see that. 

I’ve read where Corrie refers to this crown so often, yet I never realized how beautiful it is. This picture doesn’t do it justice at all, because the lighting was bad. Corrie used to carry this crown around with her, it’s cross-stiched and the back looks like a big mess and not beautiful at all. The idea comes from a poem by Grant Colfax Tuilar: 
My life is but a weaving 
between my God and me, 
I do not chose the colours, 
He works so steadily, 
Oft times He weaves in sorrow, 
and I in foolish pride, 
Forget He sees the upper,
and I the underside.

Not till the loom is silent, 
and the shuttle cease to fly, 
Will God unroll the canvas, 
and explain the reason why. 
The dark threads are as needful
in the Weavers skillful hand, 
As the threads of gold and silver
in the pattern He has planned. 

I was able to buy some bookmarks there that had a picture of each side of the crown, as well as the poem. Plus, I was able to buy a few of Corrie’s books, which was extra, extra special! I never imagined I would be able to go to her house and actually buy her books. 

Now, I hadn’t planned this at all, but when I saw how interested a lot of y’all are with the Ten Boom family, I decided I could share since I’ve been so blessed as to actually be able to go to the Beje. Therefore, I decided to host another (totally unplanned!) giveaway, where one of you can win a copy of Corrie’s book In My Father’s House, that I bought in the Beje. I hope y’all are as excited about this giveaway as I am! Plus, I’m also giving the aforementioned bookmark to five more of you wonderful people. With this giveaway, the first winner will get the book, and the next five will get the bookmark. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Check back tomorrow for the next part of my trip to the Beje! And don’t forget to get more entries for our European postcard-tour giveaway! As always, when you share about the giveaways it really helps me! Thanks so much for passing the word along, y’all are great!

*Sorry, but the prizes can only be sent to addresses in the US. 


WW2 & Hawaiian History

Since I’m going to be going to Pearl Harbor next month (we’re leaving in eleven days!), I’ve been studying all I can about WW2 and also Hawaiian history. I’ve always been really interested in history (especially WW2 history), but haven’t spent very much time studying it this past year. Boy has it been fun being back in the ‘history groove’ again recently!

During the past three days I watched a eight-part, seven hour documentary that was actually made around the end (but before it was over) of WW2. It was really interesting seeing what the perspective was back then.

It’s been fun just totally immersing myself in what life was like back then. It’s been pretty good for me, too, because I haven’t been feeling well and watching real footage from a war helps me from feeling sorry for myself! I am so thankful for everyone who has fought for our freedom! I feel especially blessed to personally know some WW2 veterans. What they did for our country (and our world) is beyond compare.

I’ve also watched five different WW2 movies, including The Battle of the Bulge and Sands of Iwo Jima.  Plus, I’ve read a couple of books, including The Zoo Keeper’s Wife, and A Boy At War. I have four or five more books to read, too.

I found one book on Hawaii’s history, The Last Aloha. That was really interesting! I had read a couple of little snippets before of how Hawaii became part of the USA, but it was really eye opening reading a whole book about it. I’d be delighted if any of you knew of more Hawaiian historical books I could read! (Fiction and non-fiction, both.)

Hawaii here I come!