Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Tree

Sue: “Mommy, it's the prettiest Christmas tree we ever had!”
Mom: “Yes honey, it is.”

Mom: “ It's the prettiest Christmas tree we ever had!”
Sue: “Oh Mom, you always say that.”

My children: “Mommy, it's the prettiest Christmas tree we ever had!”
Sue: “Yes, it is.”

Sue: “Children, it's the prettiest Christmas tree we ever had!”
My children: “Oh Mom, you always say that.”

My grandchildren: “Gramma, it's the prettiest tree we've ever had!”
Sue: “Yes, it is.”

Sue: “Grandchildren, it's the prettiest tree we've ever had!”
My grandchildren: “Oh Gramma, you always say that.”

Sue: Whispering heavenward, “Mom, it's the prettiest tree we've ever had!”
My mom: Smiling from heaven, “Yes honey, it always is.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Dressing

I stirred and stirred. My mom kept telling me I had to keep stirring the dressing until it tasted good. She would come and taste it often. Sometimes she added a little more of this or that. I stirred until she declared it tasted good. The dressing was an all important item for our thanksgiving meal. I loved it then. I love it still.

I was twenty-two years old with a young family of my own when we moved across the country. It became my job to fix the dressing. I was filled with trepidation at this all-important task. I called home crying that I didn't think I could fulfill this great responsibility. Mom assured me that I could do this.” “Just make sure you stir it till it tastes good.” I made the cornbread and prayed for success. That first thanksgiving on my own I had to re-make the cornbread after mice nibbled their way through most of the first pan. I protected the second batch from the mice. The dressing was good, but not as good as Mom's.

Today my daughter is doing the cooking. I am looking forward to eating a big plateful of dressing.

Here is my mother's recipe for dressing. It is wonderful. You just have to be sure to stir it.

Turkey Dressing
By Gramma Byrtle
             Make a big pan of cornbread. Then add about as much stale light bread as you have cornbread. Crumble all into little, tiny pieces.
            Cook neck, gizzard, etc. of turkey till good and done – use plenty of water for stock to pour over the bread. Cut this meat up (some of it) & add to the dressing – save enough giblets back to put in gravy.
            Beat up about 6 (maybe 4) eggs and add to dressing & add salt & pepper to taste – also a small amt. of sage – too much makes it a mess - about a tsp. I think
            I cook quite a lot of celery & a big onion (cut up fairly good) in pan of water separately & dump all this in dressing too. (a chicken bouillon cube may be used too if you want) (or poultry seasoning may be used instead of sage.)
            Taste till it’s good –I like it kinda moist – not too dry. Stuff into bird just before roasting – a danger of spoiling if you put it in ahead. Left over may be baked in pan separately. Big Mama used to stuff a cloth bag of extra dressing & bake it along side of turkey. I hope you good luck, Sue!
            (This letter is the recipe sent from Mom to Sue in 1965 - our first Thanksgiving in Maryland. I tried to follow it for several years, but could never get it to taste like my Mom’s dressing. After that I used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix.)


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

He Is Really Doing It

In early September my husband came home and said something I never expected him to say. I am still stunned by the decision he made that day. He looked at me and said, “It just isn't much fun any more. I think it is time to retire.” My astronomer has always loved his job. He got up each day looking forward to going to work. He loved figuring out the problems of the universe. He looked into the far reaches of the heavens and could see what he called the light left over from creation. Few men found such joy in their chosen career. He has been blessed. He says it is now time to do something else. He is so interested in so many things that he could not do because of his NASA obligations. He wants to have time to work on some of those things. Among other things he wants to write a book about four dimensional geometry (I have no idea what that is). Of course I have a long list of honey-dos to keep him busy and we will probably do some more traveling. He will not be bored.

Yesterday he was given a retirement party by his friends in the lab where he has worked for so many years. I had never seen this place where he spent so much of his life. It is not easy to get onto the NASA campus with all the security they have now. For this occasion some of our children, grandchildren and I went through security and joined the festivities in his lab. This place which all his co-workers refer to as Dennis's Lab is just a big room full of computers and people. It is a place where he is greatly honored and loved. I was told that he is the heart and soul of the lab. When he leaves the sparkle will will be gone. Everyone was given a bolo tie and a fake beard so we could pose for a picture with this bearded, bolo tie wearing, beloved astronomer.The party was just right.

Tomorrow will be his last work day. Monday he will go collect signatures from a large assortment of people as part of the official sign-out procedure. He will turn in his badge. Then he will come home.

The adventure of retirement lies before him. We are excited about what the days will bring.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Full Week End

I spent most of Friday in the church kitchen. There was a memorial service that day for a much loved lady. She was remembered with laughter, tears, good stories and beautiful music. Her ashes were spread in the memorial garden to feed the beautiful flowers and plants growing there. Her friends then gathered to remember, to share, and to eat. These moments seem like such sacred times in life. I feel blessed to be able to help in these moments. I am served far more than I serve.

Friday evening was stargazing night. We gathered with friends on a small, quiet beach on the Chesapeake Bay to enjoy the night sky and the company of good friends. My astronomer brought his telescope. Through it's lens we could see mountains and craters on the crescent moon. It looked like an exquisitely carved ivory tusk. He readjusted the viewing field and there was Jupiter with three planets circling around it. It was an impressive sight. Later we lay on the beach snuggled into warm blankets and admired God's beautiful sky. We saw the great square of Pegasus, and watched as Orin rose above the horizon. We could see the faint spot that is the galaxy of Andromeda. Pondering the immensity of the universe tends to make the world seem to a more manageable size. I saw a great, beautiful shooting star. The cold finally became too much and we had to come home, but it was a lovely evening.

Bright and early Saturday morning I joined more than forty volunteers to help run an H1N1 flu clinic. The public health department and our church joined forces to vaccinate over two-hundred people. It was so well organized that there were no major problems. People began lining up about an hour before we opened and waited patiently for their turn. The weather was sunny and warm and people chatted and visited with neighbors as they waited. I can't say that all the children were thrilled to be getting a shot, but their parents were quite happy and thankful.

Today is Sunday. I do love being a part of a church family and being able to worship God together with people I love. This morning the bell choir played. Playing the bells is one of my favorite things. We shared a big pre Thanksgiving dinner after church. This time I stayed out of the kitchen and just enjoyed the food and the fellowship. I took a nap this afternoon.

Next week will be full of good things.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Reads

Two long airplane rides and some peaceful afternoons floating down the Nile gave me time for a lot of reading. I enjoyed several good books while we were on our vacation.

The first was Dan Brown's new novel, “Lost Symbol.” If you enjoyed “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” then you will enjoy this thriller too. Brown takes an impossibility and turns it into a scary reality with lots of unexpected twists that make the book hard to put down. The fact that it is set in Washington DC with it's familiar locations made the story made it seem even more real. It is a good read.

“Sea Glass” by Anita Shreve was a much quieter story. Shreve is so good at making her characters feel real that I felt like I was part of this story about people in a small mill town in New England. The background of this story is the fall of the stock market in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. This story brought tears to my eyes several times as people struggled through great hardship and pain. Life can be very hard. This was a good read of a different sort.

Mitch Albom has a new little book out called, “Have a Little Faith.” It is a beautiful written story of two very different men from two very different communities. One story is about Reb, a devout rabbi born into a long history of faith. The other is Henry, an inner-city back man who grows up in a crime-filled neighborhood. He becomes a drug-addict and commits all manner of crime. He spends many years in jail. Eventually Henry finds Jesus and becomes a minister to others who are lost at the bottom of society. In this book Albom demonstrates the great comfort in believing in something bigger than yourself. I found it to be very inspirational. I'm glad I read it.

What have you been reading? Do you have any recommendations for a good read?

Monday, November 16, 2009


We had such a pleasant, interesting trip on our Nile River boat. It was a comfortable floating hotel. One evening we enjoyed a fun Egyptian costume party. (Doesn't Dennis make a grand-looking Egyptian?) After a week though it was time to leave and fly back to Cairo for our final two days in Egypt.

Cairo is a big, crowded, noisy city. Twenty million people call it home. There are huge modern office buildings, small old-fashioned shops and open-air markets. The traffic is unbelievably terrible. Cars and trucks crowd five lanes of traffic onto a two lane road and honk constantly. Mixed among the millions of cars are donkey carts and bicyclists balancing baskets on their heads piled high with bread. The skyline is dominated by the great pyramids which are at the edge of the city. Mixed among all this loud confusion are some very interesting, historical sites.

Cairo, like all of Egypt, is a predominately Muslim community. There are large populations here, though, of Christian and Jewish communities. In an older part of the city we saw the oldest known Christian church building in the world, the oldest synagogue in Egypt, and the oldest Mosque in Egypt. It was interesting to see these ancient places of worship in such close proximity. As our guide explained these faiths have much in common. They all worship the same Almighty God. They all trace their roots back to Abraham. We are all known as people of The Book. Wouldn't this world be a more peaceful place if would celebrate our common heritage and respect our religious differences?

The most beautiful mosque we visited is know as the Alabaster Mosque. It was built by Mohamed Ali (not the boxer) in about 1800. It is a magnificent, awe-inspiring building.

The oldest Christian church building was built in the third century. It is know as the Hanging Church. We visited while a service was in progress. This is a Coptic (Eastern Orthodox) Church and the service was conducted entirely in the Coptic language which is only spoken by the priesthood. It is an ancient language understood by very people today.

The courtyard of the church was filled with beautiful mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Jesus.

Just down the street from the Hanging Church is the oldest synagogue in Egypt. It is said that the site of this building is where the holy family hid from King Herod and the slaughter of the babies.

Our last afternoon was spent in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is filled with an amazing treasure of antiquities. The most spectacular were the wonderful treasures found in King Tut's tomb. No cameras were allowed inside the museum so I cannot share pictures of those wonders.

Then it was time to pack and get ready for the long journey home. We were filled up with wonderful memories of our journey through Egypt, but our hearts were turning toward home.

We celebrated our last meal in Egypt at this world-famous international restaurant.

It is good to be home.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Each of the ancient sites we visited was unique, fascinating and interesting, but after two weeks they did begin to meld together in my brain. Egypt is so full of well preserved temples that it just boggles my brain. These ancient people were great builders and artists who left us such a treasure of beauty to ponder. I'll try to show you just a few of the many sites we saw.

One of the most fascinating places was the Valley of the Kings, the burial ground for many pharaohs. These tombs were hidden in the dry rock and sand of the desert for thousands of years. They were hidden because the ancients had discovered that great pyramids invited tomb robbers. These tombs were also discovered and robbed, but the carvings and paintings remain. The art work is stunning. It was here that the famous tomb of King Tut and all it's treasure was discovered. Alas, the Egyptian government forbids any cameras in the valley so I cannot show you it's beauty.

Luxor has two great temples. Karnac was amazing with it's hundreds of huge columns and obelisks. The man in the center of the picture is our guide, Hatem. He was a wonderful, knowledgeable Egyptologist who helped us understand what we were seeing.

The sacred lake of Karnac is here. This small body of water was thought to be the site of the beginning of all life, sort of like the Garden of Eden.

The great Karnac temple is connected to Luxor temple by a great causeway several miles long lined on both sides by sphinxes.

Luxor temple was also filled with beautiful columns and hieroglyphics. Ramses is present almost everywhere.

One of the more common pictures seen on temple walls was that of the god Set, the fertility god of ancient Egypt. The story goes that the ancient gods all went off to war and left Set behind to protect all the goddesses. When the gods returned from battle they found that all of the goddesses were pregnant. Set's great prowess was greatly honored. The black area on the wall is from the hands of women tourists who feel compelled to touch Set's greatness.

The temple at Dendera was new by ancient standards. It was built by the Greeks who ruled as the Ptolemies, the last pharaohs of ancient Egypt On one wall there is a carving of Cleopatra and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarean.

Hatsheput was a female pharaoh. Her temple was built just outside the Valley of the Kings. From a distance it looked more like a modern office building than an ancient temple. There is still a lot of restoration that still needs to be done here. It was 105 degrees the day we toured here which made climbing all those steps very difficult.

A crocodile-headed god was worshiped a the temple of Kom Ombo. The walls here contained a hieroglyphic calender which depicted the three seasons of ancient Egypt, flood, planting and harvest.

The temple well at Kom Ombo was not an ordinary well. It was used as a nursery for baby crocodiles. When they were big enough they were used in temple worship. Mummified crocodiles were buried all through the temple.

The one temple that was like no other was Abu Simbel. This great temple honoring Ramses the Great was built in the far south of Egypt, at the Nubian border. It was built there as a reminder to the Nubians that they had been conquered by Ramses. This massive temple was carved out of a mountain, from one huge rock, so it could never be torn down. Amazing to think about it. The other amazing feat was that it was moved. The entire mountain that contained it was moved to protect it from rising water when the high dam was built at Aswan. It is a stunning sight.

There was so much more that we saw. We were overwhelmed by the wonder of it all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Along the Nile

We left crowded Cairo and flew 500 miles south to Luxor where we boarded our boat, the Miriam. For the next week this would be our floating home as we cruised up the Nile. I loved sitting on the deck and watching as scenes of modern Egypt slipped by. It looked liked pictures from somewhere long ago and far away.
We saw many small farms where the people worked the fields with hoes and spades. Farm machinery was a rarity.

We watched fishermen in small boats throw out nets along the bulrush covered shoreline.

The sand and rock of the Sahara was never far away from the fertile Nile valley.

The villages looked like peaceful places where life appeared more simple and more peaceful.

I don't think these mud-brick homes were all that poor. If you look you can see satellite dishes on most of the roof tops.

In this Muslim country there were minarets visible everywhere. All day on Friday, which is their sabbath, we could hear prayers being sung from these tall towers. I found it to be a peaceful, holy sound.

The sunsets were beautiful.

There was one very obvious sign of something less than peaceful along these shores. There are many highly visible well-armed guards everywhere. The Antiquities & Tourism police guarded the docks and all the tourist sites with a heavy presence. At night a machine gun was placed on the top deck to protect us. We never left the boat without a well-armed escort. I never saw any sing of trouble and I couldn't decide if this armed guard made me feel more or less safe.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


All my life I have wanted to see the pyramids. I just couldn't believe that I was really standing here in front of the great pyramid of Egypt, the real deal built by old Pharaoh Cheops almost 5000 years ago. It is huge! Until just a hundred or so years ago it was the biggest structure in the world. It was built with over two million stones that weighed more than two tons each. Next to it are two slightly smaller pyramids built by his son and grandson and several queens' pyramids.. The precision workmanship is just astounding. I feel overwhelmed at it all. The great sphinx sits just below the pyramids, standing guard over these ancient tombs.

After seeing the pyramids we visited Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt. All that remains there are a few broken statues. The ancient Egyptians worked very hard to build places to spend eternity, but very little remains of the houses and places where they actually lived. Life was temporary. Eternity was forever, so they spent their life preparing a place for a happy afterlife. Here is a fallen statue of Ramses II, Egypt's longest ruling pharaoh, were it fell in Memphis.

We then crossed back over to the west bank of the Nile to see some even older pyramids. In ancient Egypt all the tombs were built on the west bank, toward the setting sun. The cities were all on the east bank. We saw the red pyramid, the step pyramid and the bent pyramid. These are several hundred years older than the ones at Giza. They were built while they were still figuring out the best way to make a pyramid.

We entered two ancient tombs near the step pyramid that had been prepared for ancient noblemen. The low entry required us to bend over as we walked through a tunnel about a hundred feet long. Inside the walls were covered in hieroglyphics and colorful paintings. I wondered what all that writing said. The paintings were beautiful depictions of everyday life - fishing, feeding ducks, writing, chasing butterflies. Just amazing!

Of course no trip to Egypt would be complete without a camel ride. This was really a lot of fun.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Today I woke up at 4AM, wide awake and ready to go. It will take a while to adjust to the eight hour time change between home and Egypt. We had such an amazing and wonderful trip. My mind is swirling with memories I want to share. I will try to sort them out so you can make sense of the awe and wonder I felt seeing this ancient, far away land.

Our first touring day was Tuesday, October 27. We walked out of our hotel to board a bus to Alexandria. I looked across the street and there, right in front of me was the great pyramid. I felt completely awed by the sight, but we would have to wait a day to see it more closely. We headed north for a two hour drive through the desert. This part of the desert has been reached with some irrigation, so there were plants growing along the way. It reminded me of the California desert, with palm trees, oleander bushes and eucalyptus trees. We passed grape vineyards and a banana groves.

I loved Alexandria. It is a big, modern, vibrant city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The streets are narrow and crowded with cars and donkey carts and beautiful people sharing the roads. We saw crowds of Muslim school girls, men in sidewalk cafes smoking their water pipes, and old women in black head coverings shopping in the many small open markets. There flocks of sheep in the middle of downtown. Bright laundry hung from the windows of most apartments looking like colorful banners decorating the city.

Mixed int the middle of this modern city are the ruins of the ancient civilization that made this place famous. The great library of Alexandria has been replaced with a modern building that only reminds us of the ancient library Alexander built.

Alexander the Great built a lighthouse here that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was destroyed long ago by an earthquake. A citadel stands there now that was built by a great sultan in the ninth century.

This causeway was built by Alexander the Great to connect the city to the great lighthouse.

Dennis was fascinated by all the wells in Egypt. Here he is posing by the well at the Citadel.

My friend Sharon and I standing in front of the Citadel

We visited the Alexandria Museum and saw many old artifacts, including a mummy in a sarcophagus.

Recently the ruins of an amphitheater were unearthed that had been built during the time of Roman rule. I could imagine Roman soldiers and maybe even Cleopatra and Antony enjoying a performance there.

Our last stop was at Pompey's Pillar flanked by two sphinx that were placed there by Cleopatra to honor her two great loves, Julius Caesar and Antony. It made me realize that these were real people, not just characters in a movie.

Egypt kept on reminding me that all these famous ruins were built by real people, not that much different than us.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


We're home.The trip was wonderful beyond our wildest expectations. We've been traveling for the past 25 hours. Very tired and happy. Pictures soon.