If you like class and charm combined with country girl/city girl complexities and romantic confusion—complete with a cloud of mystery and a climate of World War 2 concerns— you’ll probably be captivated by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Alan enjoyed the story as a novel when it came out in 2008, but ten years later, it’s become a movie . . . still totally charming, but focused more on the young woman who wrote the book than on the original story itself. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a fictitious name for a group of friends who ended up discussing books during World War 2 as a means of keeping up their spirits. Although the entire story is fictitious, is does give a somewhat lighthearted sense of insight into the courage and daily lives of the people who lived on Guernsey during the Nazis’ occupation in World War 2.Guernsey is a small island in the English Channel off the Normandy Coast, and although it’s technically a part of the Channel Islands rather than the British Isles, the citizens are still very English in their consciousness, considering Queen Elizabeth II their monarch and looking to England for their defense. The story begins in 1946, shortly after the end of World War 2, when a young London writer goes to the island of Guernsey to do research for a writing project. Through fan mail, she discovers that there is a “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” which meets every Friday night. This piques her interest, and she embarks on an adventure to learn more about the society and the island. As in all the best stories, there are ups and down, twists and turns, and subplots of mystery, romance, and drama. There is a city-slicker fiance to consider . . . but also the alluring charm of simple sincerity. Juliet (the heroine) finds herself falling in love with the irrepressible spirits of people and their island home.But, what would a story be without complications? Aren’t the endings happier when there are problems to be solved, troubles to be overcome, and broken hearts to be mended through forgiveness, love, and understanding? After all, isn’t that what life is all about?If you have a couple of free hours some evening and want a movie to warm the cockles of your heart, try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. “And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged” (Luke 7:40-43).
Alan was born and bred in da Yoop (translation into English:
“the Upper Peninsula of Michigan”). I was a transplant who spent her teen years in Michigan’s gorgeous upper peninsula…long enough to fall in love with both da Yoop and da husband! In the spring, buttercups and other flowers popped up here and there, and in the summer, Alan’s mom planted red geraniums in flower boxes. Da Yoop is largely rural and wooded, a place of quiet industry where they say “people work to live, not live to work.” In da Yoop, people love the great outdoors and are content with simplicity. Historically, many Finnish immigrants settled in Michigan’s upper peninsula because they felt at home with both the climate and the culture. During my years in da Yoop, I had 2 spiritual moms who were sisters…100% Finnish, 100% beautiful, and 100% devoted to the Lord. They (and their husbands) would be nearly 100 if they were still alive, but they’ve all gone on to be with the Lord. I still miss them…a lot! They taught me (and modeled) so much of what I know about how to be a wife and mom that I always say I have a Finnish heart. Mommu (Mother Anita) loved birches…and by some miracle the Lord allowed a clump of birches to survive in her front yard, even though she lived too far south for paper birches to flourish after she was married. She used to tell about getting all cleaned up in their sauna, using birch switches. I still think of Mommu whenever I see anything made from birch! When we lived in da Yoop, we had a sauna too…and loved getting cleaned up as a family Saturday nights…even rolling in the snow the way Finns do! (Did you know there are 5 million inhabitants and over 3 million saunas in Finland??) I also grew up spiritually at the feet of Mother Linda, who was Mommu’s sister. Their father’s first wife and children died in a storm at sea trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the two sisters’ own mother (married to their father 10 years later) died in childbirth with twins when Anita was 3 and Linda only 18 months. Their father gave the twins to two childless couples but bravely reared the other 5 (the oldest was only 8) on his own. Amazingly, both women remember their childhood as a time of contentment and joy. Despite their humble childhood, both girls worked extremely hard during the depression to achieve excellent educations. On top of that, they ended up marrying highly educated men, one an orthopedic surgeon and the other a dentist. So, in their later years, all their hard work made them both amply wealthy. Both of these lovely Finnish ladies were wonderful hostesses, and whenever I visited, we would always share tea…and often other treats too. So, it’s no surprise that when Alan and I went to Finland, we delighted in the opportunity of spending an afternoon visiting a Finnish family near Helsinki. That’s right! Helsinki, Finland. But, at their home, Alan and I both felt like we were back home in da Yoop! In fact, don’t these pictures look familiar? This could be our lake! (Here’s our lake for real, but all the rest of the pictures were taken in Finland during our spring visit!)No wonder Finns love da Yoop, and Yoopers love Finland! I often think that heaven will seem wonderfully comforting when we get there —even though we’ve never been there before—because of all we’ve experienced here on this earth…the love and lessons passed down to us by our spiritual mentors, the accounts from Scripture about those who’ve gone before us, and the daily opportunities of living.Are you looking forward to an eternity in heaven? I am, and I hope you are too!
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
The Hermitage in Saint Peterburg, Russia is one of the largest, oldest, and most magnificent museums in the world.The Hermitage houses over three millions items and includes the largest collection of paintings anywhere in the world. This extraordinary palace was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 as her personal residence and private collection of treasures, but since 1852 it’s has been open to the public. (Picture above from Wikipedia. Attribution: A. Savin.) The collections occupy a large complex of six historic buildings along Palace Embankment on the River Neva and include the Winter Palace, which was a former residence of Russian emperors. It was our great privilege to enjoy a performance at their theater and tour this monumental complex during our Northern European cruise, and I wanted to share some of the Hermitage’s mind-boggling beauty with you.I think one of the major differences between The Hermitage and other of the world’s greatest art museums that I’ve visited—such as the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution, and Metropolitan Museum in the U.S. and the Uffizi in Italy—all of these were built as museums. The Hermitage was built as a palace, and for this very reason, even the intricate details of each wall are gold-encrusted displays of opulence. Catherine wasn’t showcasing world treasures, she was showcasing her home, and she wanted it to be unsurpassed for beauty apart from any furnishings.As in the Catherine Palace, every detail in each room is artistically crafted, right down to the colors and designs in their elaborately parqueted floors. But don’t look down for long. Looking up takes your breath away!There are massive chandeliers in every room, and every ceiling is a masterpiece of art. The windows are dressed with richly embroidered draperies, silk, and velvet (note the marble window sills inlaid with gold-plated duct work)! and a closer inspection of things only leaves one more and more enthralled! 🙂 For instance, notice the balance and beauty in this rose sitting room. Now notice the gold and satin! Imagine reclining on one of these chairs! Oh, and have I mentioned that each room has its own hand-crafted fireplace? Can you imagine sitting by a snug fire playing the harp in this room? Frankly, it’s hard to imagine trying to sleep in a room this huge and grand…but I could get used to eating at a silver table inlaid with mother of pearl. Besides being palatial, The Hermitage is one of the world’s greatest museums. There are rooms filled with “first editions” and original works by famous authors and composers, ETC. Also, the Hermitage holds the world’s largest art collection, including a phenomenal portrait gallery…and my personal favorite: The Raphael Loggias, a long corridor filled with pictures depicting the Biblical narrative from Genesis through Revelation. There are also entire rooms dedicated to the artwork of Rembrandt and other of the world’s greatest artists. Even if you couldn’t read, I think by the time you’d finished studying the pictures, you’d have some conception of God’s great love for us through the life and sacrificial death of Christ, making a way for all of us to be reconciled to God through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Jesus. Furthermore, God is preparing a home for his children in heaven that is far more marvelous than we can even imagine—even more beautiful than the Hermitage! It is my prayer that everyone who reads this post will find refuge in God and that—before you exit this life, you will have peace in the assurance that God is preparing a special abiding place just perfect for you in heaven!
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
(Spoken by Jesus Christ in the Bible: John 14:1-3)
Someone asked me if I actually saw the Catherine Palace or just promised to write about it. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Condor Man (which is a ridiculous spoof on From Russia with Love…but our family all thought it was very funny), then I’d like you to know that, like Woody, I test out everything before writing about it in the comics (or this blog, whichever comes first).Yes, we really did go on a marvelous cruise of Northern Europe in the springtime and although this one picture (showing the magnitude of the palace complex) was taken by “Royal Russia,” all the rest of these pictures were taken by yours truly and my trusty husband of 41+ years, who has endured and enjoyed world travels and cultural experiences with me! The Catherine Palace was originally commissioned by Catherine I in 1717 as the summer residence of the Russian tsars. Through the years, it changed in style and grew in magnitude and opulence, but in January of 1944, the palace was totally destroyed by the German army as they left after the bloody 872-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2. Today, much of the Catherine’s Palace has been restored to its former Rococo grandeur, but in order to raise funds for completing their renovations, the Catherine Palace now rents out its dazzling “Great Hall” for special events, & we enjoyed being beneficiaries of one of their magical evenings of entertainment! Alan and I were part of a group who arrived at the front gates early enough to tour the palace before the concert, but even then we were welcomed with music!It is said that more than 100 kilograms of gold have been used to guild the glorious rooftop and intricate stucco facade of the Catherine Palace, but I think the complete value of this treasure house is beyond estimation.For example, the walls in every room are enhanced with gold-guilding, and artfully adorned with exquisite furniture and statuary. Stunning curtains line the windows.The floors are crafted with intricate parquet inlays; the ceilings are graced with ethereal scenes from the world’s great artists;and each room has a gigantic, blue and white porcelain heat radiator. The Portrait Hall covers 100 sq. meters and is filled with superb oil paintings. In the Light Gallery (and on the evening we were there) over 696 lamps are lit near the mirrored walls and windows and hanging from the chandeliers, giving the room a magnificent, golden glow. (Does this look like Lumière from Beauty and the Beast, or what??!) Well, besides touring the palace and the Royal Carriage House, we were treated to an evening of classical music and a royal reception (not really at this table) to try some of Russia’s famous champagne (which I opted out of) and caviar (which was exotic but excellent). The evening ended with a stroll through the perfectly manicured palace gardens while enjoying even more musical entertainment! I couldn’t help but be impressed with all the music, and I believe it’s really true that Russians (and probably all of us) love beauty, music and dancing. It’s hard to even imagine the beauty and joy that awaits us in heaven!
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)
St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city with a population of over 5 million. It is also Russia’s second largest and most western city. St. Petersburg was named for St. Peter, the Apostle of Christ, and it’s filled withfantastically ornate, colorful and unique churches and cathedrals. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts one of the world’s largest and most impressive art museums, The Hermitage (which I’ll write about in an upcoming post). Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 at the intersection of the Neva River delta and the marshlands at the Eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in the Gulf of Finland. Tens of thousands of workers died building the intricate grid of canals and (eventually) the 342 bridges that interconnect this beautiful city. St. Petersburg has earned such nicknames as “Venice of the North” and “The City of 101 Islands.” Personally, I would call her the Amsterdam of the North, since the canals are lined with colorful buildings and alive with boats of every size and description. There is the ultramodern “Western High Speed Diameter” for road vehicles, but I would say that—in St. Petersburg—ships rule! Unlike most cities, St. Petersburg has gone through a series of name changes that reflect the political upheaval of this great nation. During World War 1, Lenin changed the name to Petrograd, and after his death in 1924, the city was named Leningrad in his honor. It wasn’t until 67 years later when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that St. Petersburg was again called by her first (and—to me—best) name. Do you know what your name means? Mine means “pure battle maiden,” and I’ve tried to live up to that name, but over the course of my life, —in troubled times—someone might have called me something less. 😦 None of us are always consistently what we aspire to be, nor is life as idyllic as we wish it to be, but it is our “name” and aspirations that make us truly unique.No matter what your name is, or if you’ve changed it several times or failed to live up to it, there is a “name above all names.” We don’t have to die for our God; He died for us! All He asks is that we repent of our sins, believe in Christ and trust Him to save us. He will help us grow in our ability to love and be kind.It’s true we’ll never be as flawless as we’d like to be, but God loves us anyway! “Jesus, name above all names
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
Blessed Redeemer, Living word.”
“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:13).
There have been many palaces in Western Europe that have taken my breath away, but the stunning opulence of St. Petersburg’s Grand Palace at “Peterhof” caught both Alan and me by surprise. Peterhof has been called the “Versailles of Russia,” and I think it’s a well deserved title! The 30 great rooms of this baroque mansion are exquisitely decorated with lavish chandeliers, inlaid parquet floors,magnificent murals by masters, and decorative artwork embossed in gold. In fact, in 1717 Peter the Great resided at Versailles’ Grand Trianon, and many of the features of Peterhof (like this flooring) are almost exact replications. There are both upper and lower gardens at Peterhof and a brilliant system of water reservoirs and storage pools to provide for spectacular water fountains.If you have a chance to visit, be sure to take time to stroll through all the lovely formal gardens. (Yes, the fountains and gardens are also a bit Versailles-like!) Peterhof was built on a 200-foot bluff with sweeping views down to the Gulf of Finland along the shore of the Baltic Sea, and there are delightful pathways through the woods leading to other retreats and royal residences along the shoreline. It’s definitely worth taking the time to explore the grounds, and you never know whom you might meet along the way! Of course, if you can’t jaunt over to Russia just now and are wishing for a beautiful stroll through some gardens filled with spring flowers and tulips, you can always join me here (see below) in Holland (MI) for the Tulip Festival!
Have you ever thought about the way to try to imitate what we admire, no matter who we are? Not only do we try to imitate the gorgeous gardens of Holland here in Michigan, even someone as “great” as Peter the Great studied the palace of Louis XIV and incorporated many of the French king’s ideas when planning his own “yard and garden” show…which has lasted as a stunning spectacle for almost 300 years and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Way to go, Peter! I do admire your style! However, I have to confess, I admire the Apostle Peter even more (for whom the entire city of St. Petersburg was named)…who worshiped and imitated Jesus Christ. Although Jesus never built a monument, He has influenced more people than anyone else throughout history, and I study Him every day, trying to become like him…his grace, his love, and his goodness. Whom do you admire and imitate? I hope Someone GOOD!
“Ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
“There is none good but one, that is, God.” (Matthew 19:17)
(Credit for the three pictures from inside Peterhof goes to their official literature, since no one is allowed to film inside the palace.)
Although Tallinn is the birthplace of Skype, one of the world’s top ten digital cities, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 5,000 years, has a population of 430,000,* and is the capital and largest city in Estonia, I had virtually never heard of it until we went on our Northern European Cruise last spring. We came into the city via the Tallinn Passenger Port, which is one of the busiest cruise destinations in the Baltic Sea. We docked very close to Toompea Castle, part of the fortification system for “Old Town,” the ancient city center, and commenced with a delightful walking tour of the city. St. Olaf’s church (far right) was the tallest building in the world from 1549 to 1625 and is still an impressive landmark today, although there are many beautiful churches! (Lutheran, St. Mary’s Cathedral)(Russian Orthodox, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) (St. Nicolas Church, was dedicated to the patron of fishermen and sailors in 1275, but today it’s a concert hall and houses a museum of ecclesiastical art.) In many ways, Tallinn has never lost its Medieval look and charm, although now everything has a touch of modern class added! Ancient walls are adorned with modern art for sale, and the town center is flanked with inviting open air cafes,some with snuggly sheep skins adorning the chairs. Talk about warm and plush!We visited in May—a great time to travel!—and there were flowers blooming everywhere. The markets were also bursting with colorful bouquets for sale. The Town Hall Square (aka “Raekoja plats”) is home to “Raeapteek,” founded in 1422 and one of the world’s oldest continuously operating pharmacies! Of course, not all the attractions on the square are quite so ancient. 🙂 After a long morning of trekking all over Old Town learning about Tallinn’s heritage and taking in the sites, we were treated to a traditional tea featuring both savory and sweet, stuffed croissants in a historic restaurant. (This fresco was painted on the ladies’ bathroom door!)I mean, this was a seriously, authentically ancient building! After a chance to rest and relax, we made our way past some lovely lassies in traditional garb to the “Fat Margaret” Tower and city gate, which now houses a fascinating little “Estonian Maritime Museum.”There’s also an excellent open air museum in Tallinn, which we didn’t see, because we just didn’t have time to see it all, hear it, taste it, or experience it all.But, I think that’s just the way it is! My dad used to always paraphrase Huckleberry Finn: “You pays your nickel, and you takes your choice.” No matter how hard we try, we’re only going to experience bits and pieces of life. We’ll notice certain things, but we may never really understand them. We’ll figure out some things…but there will be all sorts of things we miss. That’s why I’ve chosen to put my trust in God, who alone is omniscient! On this wonderful “cruise” called life, we’ll never get it all figured out, but God knows and understands everything, and He can lead us into the ways of peace.“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
(*The above aerial view of Tallinn was taken from Wiki Commons)