Audiobook FINISHED! Chapters 23-24 now available

It’s finished, guys! I thought this would take me until January to get finished, but once I decided to do it, I found ways to keep going. The Forest at the Edge of the World is complete! (And that last chapter is just over an hour, so take an extra long walk or deep clean your fridge as you listen. Why do I write such long chapters?!)

Yes, that means Book 2, Soldier at the Door, will be coming soon. I need to work on the thumbnail for it, then I’ll start recording chapter by chapter for that one as well.

Audiobook Chapters 20-22

Today I took my students through some Emerson, and one student said, “I feel he’s calling me out! I’m always procrastinating and I just can’t make myself do something it it’s not going to be perfect. He says we doubt ourselves and that holds us back!”

“Well?” I responded.

“Well, he’s right!” she declared, guiltily and angrily.

“And what was true nearly 200 hundred years is true now. This is just human nature, but we can dare to be better.” Then I told them about my great fear and hesitation to make these Youtube videos of me reading very imperfectly my imperfect book chapters, but that I’m doing it anyway. I can’t wait for perfection; I’ve always been a B+ student, and sometimes B+ is the best we can hope for.

And that this process has been immensely fun and going faster than I anticipated.

They claimed they were going to listen to my chapters someday, but they can’t now because none of them are allowed computers in our treatment center. And when they leave our program, they’ll have forgotten all about this and I’ll be safe from their mocking. (Whew.)

Still, this has been so much fun. I’m totally enjoying this. And it seems about half a dozen people are as well. Last couple of chapters should be up this week sometime.

Audiobook Chapters 17-19

I teach high school English at a residential treatment center, and today I showed my students selections of “Mulan” as part of a unit in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. (We’re tracking the cycle in a variety of stories and movies, such as Harry Potter and Hunger Games).

As my students spontaneously sang along with, “Make a Man Out of You!” I realized that Capt. Shang has a lot in common with Perrin, except that Perrin is of Japanese descent (“shin” means “truth”) while Shang is Chinese.

I hadn’t realized before how much Shang may have unconsciously influenced my character development of Perrin:

“Tranquil as the forest . . .”

(Admit you, you sang along in your head, didn’t you?)

“Mysterious as the dark side of the moooooon!”

(There. We both knew we had to finish it.)

Audiobook Chapters 11-13 ready (14 delayed by Relf-voice)

I was really hoping I could 14 done tonight, too, but my voice couldn’t hold out for two long chapters, and started sounding as gravelly as Relf Shin. Sadly, I didn’t have any Relf Shin lines to read, though. (Mahrree’s lines were really starting to sound bad.)

I’ll have to record chapter 14 tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .

Chapters 6-10 Audiobook ready on Youtube

Yeah, I’m cranking these out. It’s absolute joy.

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to going to my closet to read out loud. When I’m having a rough time at work (I teach at a residential treatment center for high school girls), I remind myself, “Just a few more hours and I get to read out loud about Edge. That’s your reward!”

There’s so much in these chapters that I couldn’t think of which to “meme” (plus I’m late with making dinner, so I don’t have time). But I’m finding myself startled by how much I wrote is actually happening to us right now. I kind of suspected some day these problems would be ours, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon.

The big questions: Who do you trust? And what would it take for you to completely change your mind about something?

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 Audiobook “Forest at the Edge of the World”

I never thought sitting in my closet talking to my laptop could be so fun. (And not only because I heard my husband walk into the closet and exclaim, “A chair? Why is there a chair in here?” Our walk-in closet is also part of the bathroom, so he was really confused as to my purpose. I think he’s put it together now, though, when I vanish in there for an hour at a time and talk to my clothes.)

It’s fun just reading these stories out loud, and also freeing. A dear friend of mine assured me that perfection isn’t necessary; my best is enough. What a liberating, delightful assurance! God also doesn’t ask for perfection; He asks for our best, and that is enough.

Wow. You can really get through life with that attitude.

(I did redo one of these chapters entirely, though, because I had a coughing fit in the middle of it and realized that was not my best effort.)

You can subscribe to my Youtube channel here and get updates immediately: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYu2xT0b_plwsNnIK7P6ZBw

An Audiobook! Sort of . . .

For years (about eight, I think) I’ve been wanting to turn my books into audiobooks. But the process is time-consuming if you do it yourself, and expensive if you hire someone else to do it. Since I don’t make any money off of my books, and I’m a school teacher, affording a few thousand bucks per book just wasn’t realistic, nor did I have the time to do it all myself.

But then, early in the morning of Labor Day, I had a bizarre dream that woke me up, and I eventually came to the realization that I could do a YouTube channel of me just reading my books, as I do for my high school students. The recordings didn’t have to be perfect (which I can never do anyway) so a LOT of pressure was taken away, I could make a video-per-chapter relatively quickly and easy, and best of all it’d be free–for you and for me!

So my goal is to read a few chapters a week, beginning with Book 1, and see just how far I can go.

You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYu2xT0b_plwsNnIK7P6ZBw

And here’s my first attempt at mangling my own books. (I wouldn’t dare read anyone else’s and record it, so it’s ok if I do an only half-way decent job on my own!)

There are no coincidences, especially when trying to track down your mother’s childhood home in Poland

I hadn’t realized it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. I’ve been deep in a new project which won’t let me go, and has been nagging at me since I was a teenager.

My mother’s early life has always been a mystery. She spoke of parts of it, but not the details, because they were too raw. I’ve met only one of her family members, a cousin, back in the 1980s when I was a teenager and he was visiting from Germany, but no one else.

I’ve never had the pleasure of driving by a house and hearing her say, “And that’s where I grew up.”

My mom, about 12 years old

Because my mother, Yvonne Neufeldt Strebel, grew up in a part of Germany which is now Poland. She lost her parents before her first birthday and was adopted by her grandparents.

And then World War Two happened, and essentially destroyed her childhood. By the time she was 17 her uncle and two cousins, along with many friends, were forced to fight for Germany and were killed; another two cousins were held as prisoners of war, one in America and the other in Siberia; another uncle and a male cousin, age 16, were abducted by the Russians in 1945 as forced labor and never returned; her aunt and a female cousin, age 11, were forcibly removed from their home by the Poles in 1945 and put in a labor camp for six months, on starvation rations.

That’s when my mom escaped to the west, all her belongings in a backpack, with some family friends. As a refugee renting a bedroom from some acquaintances, she was starved by the French in Ettlingen for several months.

She never went home to Neisse, Germany, which was 80% destroyed by the time the war ended in May 1945.

My mom’s hometown of Neisse, Germany, at the end of the war.

As you can imagine, she didn’t have as many happy memories as a lot of teenagers do. She shared what fun times she did have, before everything went rapidly downhill. The rest were stories she told only a couple of times.

And much of what she lived through permeated into me as well. I’ve been both equally disturbed and fascinated by the horrors my mom experienced, and have felt compelled since a child to understand it.

Decades ago my mom told me to try to write and publish her story, and she gave me journals and stories to help. But details have been lacking, and her reticence to relive her miserable years has left me with huge gaps. (She passed away a few years ago.)

Finally this summer I’ve decided to tackle this project which has sat on my shoulders since I was 17 years old. Calling siblings for photos and gathering bins of papers has shown we have little more than a few dozen photos and some old postcards from her childhood, but it was more than I expected.

Using FamilySearch I found someone willing to translate her grandfather’s 10 postcards to her, a couple which were very revealing. These are the only words we have of the man who so loved and cared for her, who she last saw as a 17-year-old. He died only four years after she escaped to the west. He never was able to leave Germany, now Poland.

Beautiful cursive, but impossible for this American to decipher. A generous and anonymous helper has been translating these for me, and even figured out the address: Marienstrasse No. 4

But digging for details about where her cousins and aunt and uncles were taken, along with the destruction of her city, now Nysa, Poland, have meant hours and hours of research. (And I’ve discovered how brilliant Google Translate is, because my German is horrible, and my Polish is non-existent.)

So I finally got smart, and using Google Translate, wrote an email to a librarian in Nysa, Poland asking where I might find details about the city during 1945 and specifically what dates it was bombed by the Red Army. I know my mom’s second house in Neuland had been obliterated by the war.

The Nysa librarian wrote back yesterday politely saying it was too bad I didn’t have addresses—

But wait! I do have addresses! From the postcards that had just been translated last month!

I sent her back, “The first house my mom lived in was Marienstrasse 4.”

Her response was swift, coming in less than half an hour, although by her Poland time her shift was nearly over and she should be heading home.

And her response left my chin on the floor: “I live in Marienstrasse 5!”

This random librarian, in a city of 43,000, lives NEXT DOOR to where my mom spent her first 12 years of life. WHAT ARE THE ODDS!?

I stared, astonished at her response, as I imagine she stared at my email that the home I’m looking for is the apartment building that’s literally attached to hers.

Then she sent me a photo—this one which she found in a book—of how the building looked in the 1920s. The same time my great-grandfather Emil Neufeldt would have bought it. The previous owners were the Rudolfs–they owned a store on the ground floor–and their two sons would in a few years marry Emil’s two daughters.

The caption of the photo reads “Block 4 and 5: Marienstrasse (about 1921/1922)”

I wrote earlier that I’d never had the pleasure of seeing the house where my mom grew up, but there before me was the house where she grew up, where her aunts grew up, where their future husbands used to live with their parents—the family house, as it looked.

I stared at that photo which I received yesterday morning for several minutes, knowing that the first floor was a store the uncles’ parents used to own, that the second floor contained two large apartments which my mom’s grandparents turned into one to accommodate when their other grandchildren came to visit and play with their cousin Yvonne.

This morning, the librarian wrote to me again: “Before work I took pictures of Marienstrasse for you. Here’s what it looks like today.”

And for the first time in my life, I got to “drive” by the family home of where my mom grew up.

UPDATE: The librarian did more research and realized that the house ACROSS the street was my mom’s, and it looks more like what she had described. It was NOT destroyed in the war, amazingly! [She emailed me again this morning, June 9, with the clarification. Sounds like she was so excited by the coincidence that she jumped the gun a little.]

This doesn’t seem to have been destroyed by bombing, miraculously. Photo taken June 9, 2021
The sidewalks where my mom, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins walked in the 1920s-1930s-1940s. Photo taken June 8, 2021
Morning on the street of where my mom used to live, Photo taken June 8, 2021

I was initially staggered by the coincidence, then immediately remembered there are no coincidences.

I’ve often heard that searching out your family’s history is a great blessing, and that your ancestors want you to find them. I never quite believed it until I connected with a random woman thousands of miles away who lives next door [actually ACROSS the street] to where my mom grew up.

My immense thanks to Basia Tkaczuk, my new librarian friend whose last name I’ll never be able to pronounce.

“You can still choose to be cynical and see only coincidences. But I choose to see miracles. And I’d much rather live in a world full of miracles than in one filled with random chances.” ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti