Looking for answers to life's questions

Frau Zanker was a long time friend of my mother’s. We had apparently (I was too young to remember) lived close by when I was quite young. She had raised her two boys quite well. One of the Zanker boys was several years older than I and the other closer in age. We spent a great deal of time together in those early years prior to our leaving Germany for the three years my dad was stationed in other places. The friendship resumed on our return and they came to visit often.

With her two boys in tow, Frau Zanker had convinced my mother to let her take my sister home with her for several weeks. She knew I was needed as mother’s helper with two more babies in our home. Frau Zanker thought she would be borrowing a younger version of me. My mother relented, not having the energy to continue explaining to Frau Zanker that my sister was a larger handful than she could imagine. What could go wrong, right?

Augsburg was only 25 miles or so from our home and my mother had not learned to drive yet. Frau Zanker was going to bring her home and we were going to get some much-needed rest. Mom sent her off with six pairs of jeans and shirts. Of course, there were a few of the mandatory dresses all little girls wore.

Shortly after the incident with the neighbor lady accusing my sister of painting the bicycles in the basement, my mother got a call from Frau Zanker asking if mom could come and get her right away and please bring more clothes for her.

Mom had dad drive us down to Augsburg to get my sister. Their house was surrounded by a huge wrought iron fence and gate with pointed arrows at the top of each post. The fence was over six-foot-high and my sister was well under that at the age of three. She was safe inside the yard.

When we arrived, there was no sign of my sister. The distraught Frau Zanker said my sister had figured out how to get over the fence and disappear into the city leaving bits of torn clothing behind…daily.

It looked something like this.

I was sent to find her once again along with the younger Zanker, who had been hunting her down each time she escaped the yard. He had an idea of where she might go. We walked quite the distance and across a very busy street until we found the park. It took awhile and I was getting frightened by the large city traffic, noise and large amounts of people. We did finally find her and brought  her back in another pair of torn jeans covered in mud she found somewhere in her adventure.

Mom thought Frau Zanker was kidding when she said my sister needed new clothes. Every pair of jeans and all her shirts had been ripped as she climbed the fence or the trees in the park. My sister was on holiday and enjoying herself very much. She was having fun but not pouring paint on bicycles.

The one thing I can say about all those years with a sister like mine,  it was good preparation for when I had a daughter very much like her. Fearless little Houdini’s that could disappear in the blink of an eye over the tallest of structures. I wish I had one iota of that fearlessness.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself


I was in the house helping mom with my little brothers when the banging on the door started. Someone on the other side wanted to make sure they were heard. Mom went immediately to stop the noise before my baby brothers started to cry again.

The woman standing there was someone we didn’t know. She asked where that rotten child was because she had done a lot of damage and we were going to pay for it. Mom sent me to see what the lady was talking about. Off I went down to the basement on her half of the building. Not somewhere I spent any time. I  stayed out of the basement area because it didn’t feel safe to me.

Then the lady pointed to her children’s bicycles with paint dumped all over them. Oh, my goodness! That was a mess. I could see why she was upset but something didn’t feel right about it. The lady kept raging on about little kids running wild and being destructive as we walked back up to our apartment. She was absolutely certain my sister was the hooligan that had done all the damage. As I got closer to our door, I was trying to figure out why it didn’t add up. She was yelling so much I didn’t get a chance to think until mom opened our door and she told me to go find my sister and bring her home to be punished for the damage.

Then two things dawned on me. This was a destructive and malicious act which was not what my sister would do. She might be daring or thoughtless but not mean or malicious. As I started to think about where to find my sister, I looked at my mother and said “she’s not here, she’s in Augsburg with Frau Zanker this week.”

My sister was twenty-five miles away on loan to Frau Zanker for two weeks so she could have a little girl around for the first time. Frau Zanker had two boys closer to my age and was so envious of mom having girls that after much begging, mom had given in after a stern warning that things were often not as they appeared. My sister was a handful and Frau Zanker was getting in over her head. Two boys were nothing compared to my sister.

The yelling lady stopped yelling. My sister was not in town and could not have done that damage. My mother looked at me and I could see her mind trying to wrap itself around the idea that she had assumed as everyone had, that my sister had done this deed but also how she did not realize immediately that my sister was not there to cause it.

I don’t know if they ever found out who did that damage to the bicycles in this woman’s storage locker, but I was so happy my sister had nothing to do with it. This is not the end of this story though. More on the other end.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

This month has turned out to be all I had hoped for after my January letdown. My bookcase is plastered with the valentines I received from friends and family. I didn’t get any sent out. Other things called for my attention.


As I’ve mentioned, I have been trying to clear clutter and make my space more user friendly. It’s been ongoing since I moved into my house. I have a lot of stuff for creative endeavors.

On Valentines Day I received a special gift. My blogging friend, Alys from Gardening Nirvana came to visit. It was our first meeting and I was looking forward to it as she is dear to my heart. Alys is an advocate for kindness, animals, and an uncluttered life. She has another blog that she rarely posts on entitled Organized at Heart. It’s how she makes her living.

Coming off the airplane I’d recognize her anywhere

Soups all gone Very tired traveler.

I spent many days cleaning and clearing before she arrived as you would guess. There is more company coming next week. I couldn’t think of where to take her to show her around the Portland, Oregon area. So we just let it happen. We had a simple dinner of homemade lentil soup and veggies,  The next morning we went to Bob’s Red Mill for breakfast. She buys their products but had no idea of what we would find there. Who knew it would be a huge birthday party for Bob’s 89th birthday with a band for entertainment. We even got a slice of birthday cake and a free cup of oatmeal to take home.

Entertainment getting ready

Bob at 89 stops in every weekend when he’s not working. The oldest working CEO in the country I think.

He looks great at 89. Saying happy birthday.

After breakfast we needed to walk a bit so I took Alys to Fabric Depot. It’s an acre of fabric and notions where you can find anything you can possibly imagine. She did find something that had to come home with her. I left it all there. I shop at home now. The party continued through the afternoon. Back at my house, I had to sit and rest my poor sore foot and Alys started to move like someone had set fire to her. She was everywhere at once. Asking how I felt as we proceeded. She immediately honed into the areas that were causing me the most grief and visualized an immediate solution. I was awestruck!

Right at home

We can make this easily

Watch yourself Vanna

Shelves were emptied and moved and other shelves were emptied and moved and then everything went back together looking like a department store had set up a beautiful display but she didn’t do what I was so afraid an organizer would do. She didn’t suggest I throw things away. I looked at things with different eyes and a lot more left to the thrift store. We found things my daughter wanted to keep with her.

Above the washer has never been so pretty. One day maybe a closing cabinet.

The next day, we had a light breakfast to fortify us for a trek through Powell’s City of Books, occupying an entire city block and housing approximately one million books. We only spent and hour and a half but managed to find things we couldn’t live without.

My sister had to drive us there as it’s out of my safe range. Then we went to have lunch at a nice and noisy restaurant friends of my sister own. We waddled out but stopped at Salt and Straw for our evening dessert to go. My sister drove us by the Rose and Japanese gardens but it was too cold and wet to stop.

Much lighter without the bookcase on top.

This bookshelf was on the kitchen desk.

That rack was originally in the laundry room looking quite ugly. Much better here.

Getting back home, Alys once more became more energized and the next thing I knew three more rooms had their Chi fluffed big time. I hobbled along the best I could but Alys was moving like lightning making changes to make my life so much easier. It’s like she read my mind and saw how I needed things to flow. I’m now able to do my sewing and crafts in a way that brings peace to my soul.

This was next to the desk in the kitchen. An emergency basket on the floor by the back door. I’ll paint this bookcase and the others this summer.

Will be putting a tension rod to cover the detergents.


My daughter came the next morning and was overwhelmed by how well Alys had read my needs and provided them. My daughter has dubbed Alys her new Goddess Hero for making my life so much lighter. She was gleeful as we moved more things around. In Feng Shui, there is a phrase that if you want to change your life, move 27 things. I think big changes are coming now.

Would you be able to let an organizer help you?

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

During my sister’s third year of life, she was more or less a Houdini. My mother would send her out to play because that’s what you did with children that would not quietly sit on the square of a blanket and play quietly with their toys. That is how things were done back then. My sister would find another neighbor kid banished to the out-of-doors and hang out until called for dinner.

I was always the one sent to get her but finding her was always the challenge. Our base area was not gated in or walled off like many are. School was right next door and up the hill maybe half a mile was our non-denominational church. Another half mile or so was the commissary (grocery store) that children were not allowed to go into. They had a caged area in front for us to wait for our mother to finish her shopping. like little monkeys.

Most of the time mom would leave the kids with me while she did her grocery shopping so we didn’t have to be in the cage. In my search for my sister I found her and another little boy sitting along the back of the closed commissary munching away on packages of Oreo cookies and they had many packages of Juicy Fruit gum spread all around them.

They were so cute sitting there with their picnic and I asked where all the cookies and gum had come from. Maybe the little boys mother gave them packages and packages of cookies and gum. But that didn’t feel like the answer I was going to get. I asked again, “where did you get the cookies and gum?” “From the jail my sister responded.” “What jail” I asked?  My sister got up and showed me all the little windows lining the bottom layer of the building on a side I had never noticed. The little windows had bars on them. She pointed to one that was partway open.

Sis and her friend had wiggled into the basement of the commissary and carried out all those packages of Oreo cookies and Juicy Fruit gum and managed to get back out with them. I couldn’t imagine how they did it but I knew this was not good. I had them scoop up their loot, and I walked the boy back to his apartment and then walked my sister back home. She was pleased as punch with herself for discovering this treasure trove.


I’m hiding her behind me. Notice the slippers, They will be important later.

My dad was less pleased. He told my mother and I that she was not be outside of the house for any reason for at least two weeks in case someone might see her and identify her as the thief. He knew that if someone found out, he could lose his stripes over it and that would reduce our income. Then he went to visit the little boys family to make sure they understood what had transpired and the ramifications.  I’m pretty sure my mother was well on her way to a breakdown after those two weeks with my sister confined to quarters. I’m also certain there was some stiff corporal punishment along with the confinement so that she never went near the commissary again. In the meantime, I developed quite the lifelong taste for Juicy Fruit gum and Oreo cookies. Yum. My baby sister, the procurer of contraband. How I loved that child. I smile every time I think about it.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

January was a long and arduous month. I was happy to wave goodbye. I accomplished little to speak of other than finally recover from the bronchitis I got after my back went out so completely my daughter had to wheel me into urgent care.

I used what they told my daughter to take for her bronchitis as it seems she gave the bronchitis to me while she was caring for me in my incapacitated state. What a sight we were. It seems you are most contagious the 3 days before symptoms present. We picked up masks as we entered the urgent care because there were so many with flu in there.

Avoiding the flu before we knew we had bronchitis. At least no one got that.

The first of February saw some return to health but still the need for resting. Now I’m almost back to normal and accomplishing a few things. I sent out several cards to friends as well as a birthday card to my aunt Mary who is my dad’s youngest sister and only a 18 months older than I am. We first met when my mother and I were left across the street from dad’s family while he was doing a yearlong tour of duty in Korea. Someone thought it would be cute to dress us alike.


Who thought dressing us alike was a good idea/

I didn’t see her again until I was 10 and then again at almost 14 when I move in with my grandparents. I was the little sister she never, ever wanted. For a year, she tried to teach me all the things a teenage girl should know. I was a little slow but she was a as patient as any 16-year-old could be with some little tag along. I’ve worked hard to nurture the friendship even though we have not seen one another in more years than I can count. She’s family and I appreciate what she did for me.

I’ve managed to get a little machine embroidery done. These are part of a set of six that will go into a quilt top wall hanging when complete. I’m avoiding a project that scares me so I decided to do these until I’m sure my brain has settled down from the coughing and sneezing as well as painkillers. I do not do well with medication. Scrambles my brain so I don’t connect the dots well. Can you tell here?

Lighting makes all the difference on how the fabric color looks.

Five by seven inches then borders will be added

I am also finally well enough to do a major clear and clean with some help from my sister. We can make a pretty good team. This has all needed doing for quite some time but the trick is to invite someone to visit that has never seen your home. My friend, Alys of Gardening Nirvana will be here next week and I have definitely let this place go for way too long. So, a fire has been lit under my lackadaisical self and things are finding their proper homes once again. I have filled more boxes for the thrift store and delivered them.

Half full of possibllities

Still room for more. Headed for the Senior center.

A box of “She was gonna”

There is another one in front of me that I have named the “she was gonna” box. The box of “good intentions” to read and make and do. Giving myself a break by passing it off to let someone else have a crack at it. It’s feeling so much lighter here already. And the weather feels like spring and will remain so all the way through her visit! I am so excited to finally meet after all these years of reading each others blogs.


What does it take for you to get things done you’d rather put off?


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

A couple of months after my eighth birthday mom brought home another little brother. So there we were, an eight year old, a three year old, a one year old and an infant. I’m pretty certain that is why my sister managed to be so elusive for my mother. Our play was required to be quiet and sedate. Not exactly descriptive of my sister. We were in military housing and things had to remain perfect for our exit inspection. They always were. No hand prints and no marks on the walls or floors. Kind of a neat trick. Go outside and play was the constant refrain.

Mom and dad must have somehow managed to afford a shiny new 24” skinny tired bicycle with green fenders for my 8th birthday. I was so surprised and delighted with this vehicle of freedom that I was off riding any of the few spare moments I had.

One afternoon I was inside helping mom with my little brothers when something caught mom’s eye. There were GI’s in the windows of the barracks across the street  with frantic looks on their faces.

Mom knew that look. She had seen it before and probably would again. “Where is your sister” she said. I went outside but didn’t see her at first glance. A moment later I saw a flash of green flying by. My three-year-old sister was straddling the lower curve of my bike with her arms outstretched to reach the handlebars and her feet and legs back behind her peddling for all she was worth. I stared just like the GI’s with my mouth and eyes wide as she weaved expertly in and out of the parked cars in front of our building. Then she turned in the other direction and rode back down the side of the street where no cars were parked for some distance, turned,  then repeated the pattern between the parked cars.

I was sure she would hit one but somehow, she managed to awkwardly turn the handlebars at just the right moment and keep going. When I finally had the presence of mind to call her name, unable to apply the brakes at that awkward angle, she just jumped off the bike and let it crash-land. Apparently, she had taught herself to ride it while I was in school but hadn’t figured out the braking part yet. All those crash landings would take my bike from shiny new to well-worn to all but destroyed in a matter of months. Somehow she remained unscathed.

So much for my freedom rides. My sister had them now. The odd part was she looked so happy riding that bike and I rarely had time. Nothing was going to slow her down.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

Our little family of four made the move back to Germany when my dad was reassigned there for three more years. I’m certain mom was glad to be back in familiar territory with her family some distance away but at least on the same continent. Not long after our arrival, my first little brother arrived.

We were technically in Base housing but not isolated or walled off from the city in general. There were five or six large concrete buildings one behind the next that had six apartments on each side and there were two sides to each building with a floor below for storage and a floor above each side that help maids quarters and a playroom at each end. The top floor and bottom basement that had storage units for extra personal things were the only floors that connected the two sides. Each apartment I believe had three bedrooms and one bathroom. There was no outside play area provided.

Mom holding my sister’s hand to keep her in the photo, Aunt Helga and one of her sons sitting in front of mom. Perpetual cigarette in hand. I took off my glasses for the photo

Directly across the street were rows of barracks facing us. Single GI’s lived there or those without families or without families along.. They worked odd shifts so they were there infrequently and stayed to themselves.

My little sister loved to dance and thought she was quite good at it. She didn’t even need music. I think she had her own music playing in her head. She was always happy and carefree with more energy all of us combined. Mom had her hands full and was in a chronic state of overwhelm so my sister just ran. She would sneak out and mom could do nothing till I got home from school as she had a newborn to requiring constant care.

I came in from school one afternoon to see mom staring across the street at the barracks across the street. The GI’s were looking up at the top of our building, which was almost a mirror image of theirs. Mom asked me to go upstairs to the 4th floor where the playroom and empty maid’s quarters were located and see if my sister was playing with the neighbor kids up there.

As I walked into the playroom, I saw my sister up on the wide window ledge with the windows open, dancing. She thought she was entertaining the troops and her friends, having the best time ever. She waved at the GI’s as they held their collective breaths. My heart stopped.

I may have only been 7 but I knew an accident waiting to happen when I saw one. Somehow, I managed to calmly talk her down without incident and took her home. As a hyperactive two year old, listening was not what she did well.

I was just grateful that my sister came down when asked. Probably one of the few times in her life she did as she was told. I wish that was the last time she was in that window or that someone had the foresight to put bars on them but I never saw that happen.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself