It was my first ever Cold Day. This occurs when school is canceled because the weather is too cold outside. This morning’s temperature was -2 degrees Fahrenheit (felt like -26, so weather.com told me). I didn’t think it would happen. But, it did. After a quick trip to the curb to drop off recyclables, I was more than happy to stay inside for most of the rest of the day.
The horse seems to be doing well. She is eating and is in good spirits. Around 2:00, she was down in the valley grazing. That is one tough mare. The dog and I, meanwhile, are comparative wimps. He had on his winter blanket, a fleece scarf and his snow boots. I wore my barn coat, two scarves (one inside the coat, one outside), a hat beneath a hood, my fleece-lined boots and my tough gloves (that are falling apart at some of the seams, that I have tried to repair, that I have discovered I need a thicker/stronger needle in order to fix). This morning, the cold was intense. The wind was biting. This afternoon, at least, there was sun. All of the trips have been short and the house, struggling to stay above 60 degrees, feels like a sauna when you first come in.
I made lentil stew for lunch and some cornbread. Here’s the recipe for the (one-pot) lentil stew:
1/2 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
2 medium carrots chopped
2 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups chopped green beans
1 cube vegetable bouillon
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste
As for the cornbread, I experimented a bit and it fell a little flatter than usual, so I am not going to share that recipe. I will spare you the disappointment.
This afternoon, the boys went to nap while I nearly finished a library book I have been reading, Elsie and Mairi Got to War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front, by Diane Atkinson. I picked this book up last Thursday while Philip was in his reading session with Ms. Jo. I wandered the book stacks looking for something, but I didn’t know what. All I knew is that I wanted something different. I found this in the history aisle and I am glad I did. The book chronicles the lives of two women, Elsie and Mairi during World War I. The two women met because they were both motorcycle enthusiasts and attracted the attention of a man named Dr. Munro. He was was recruiting for a ambulatory service in Belgium for soldiers in the trenches and thought they had the “pluck” needed to do the job. As I read the tales of their exploits (driving down muddy roads with injured soldiers, warming men up with hot cocoa, trying to create hope in the face of fear), I was reminded of another book I had read recently: Hope in Hell by Dan Bortolotti. In both cases, some days would be calm. Other days would be tragic. Every day was uncertain. Sometimes, bureaucracy, interpersonal dynamics and resources helped make things bearable. Other times, they would be a source of strife. In Hope in Hell, there is an extensive discussion about the “showmanship” of some of the founders, how often they used publicity to raise funds and awareness. This World War I organization was not much different. Elsie and Mairi, celebrities in their day, frequently found themselves in the position of petitioning for funds to help sustain their operations. Letters sent to friends in England were subsequently published in local papers with pleas for aid from the editor. When supplies ran low, Elsie and Mairi would go on speaking tours, tell their stories and solicit funds. These women were serving in a war and had to actively raise the money to support their efforts. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that marketing across multiple channels and networking are not new phenomena. In fact, Elsie Knocker seemed to use every opportunity to raise funds for their cause. She was so committed to her work.
Fame fades with time, though, unless vigilantly managed. Both Elsie and Mairi moved on to different careers after the war ended. I found myself appreciating their struggle for a post-war identity. Despite their notoriety and many awards for bravery and service, doors were not opened to them. While they had a brief stint with the Women’s Royal Air Force, that group disbanded a year after they were recruited. It must have been hard for them both, who probably defined themselves so strongly with their acts of service, to find their skills no longer in demand. We often speak of these occurrences in the face of layoffs and collapsed companies. Employees are forced to reinvent themselves or perish in the marketplace. We grudgingly accept it as a fact of modern life. Yet, these women, who led unconventional lives for a time, experienced this a century ago. Was it more or less difficult for them then? I suspect it was a greater challenge. So many more stigmas and limitations.
I laughed to Bruce that it seemed to me that many people are very loyal to products and brands, but they are not necessarily as loyal to other people. All the photographers that took photos, the journalists who wrote stories, the leaders of different aid societies who solicited funds probably continued to take pictures, write stories, and raise money for a cause. They just moved on to different causes and different phenoms. All in a day’s work.
It’s a reminder. So many of our personal challenges have been faced by someone else before, in a different time, a different place. Our challenges should not be measured relative to theirs as better or worse. Just human. And, as such, we should all remember that, like Elsie and Mairi, when you face obstacles, you keep trudging through because you believe in an idea and the best you can do is try.