Author * Speaker * Editor

Excellent storytelling, accurate historical reporting, and gritty, persevering characters

April 27, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
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April 27, 1945 in Berlin, Germany

From my novel Daisies Are Forever:
April 27
From the cellar, Mitch and the other residents listened to the rounds of gunfire outside the window. Across the room, Frau Mueller’s lips moved in silent petition. Gisela sat next to him on the bench. He squeezed her hand.

He hadn’t been this frightened in Belgium or France. Perhaps wanting a future with this woman changed his outlook. Or being responsible for nine others, all of them helpless.

Yes, helpless. God would have to save them.     More Stalinorgels. Only God could save them.

They picked at their food, though they now had a few supplies. No one spoke much. Hour after hour, they sat in the dank semidarkness of the lower level, wondering if they would die in the next instant.

Renate had never sucked her thumb so vigorously.

The day wore on. Gisela dozed on his shoulder. He stared out of the window.

A wild screech, almost like the American Indian calls Mitch had seen in the motion pictures, pierced the air. The style of boots remained the same, though now the pants were greener. A few feet were wrapped in nothing but rags.     Gisela sat up straight at the yelling.

A tank rolled past the window, down the narrow street.

Mitch pushed to his feet and gazed out the small, dirty pane of glass. The faces of the men in the tank were not German. Their greasy hair was black and stuck straight out of their fur ushanka hats. Their dark, slanted eyes gave away their ethnic origin.

He had difficulty drawing a breath. He clenched his jaw.     Gisela stepped behind him. “Mongols,” she whispered, shuddering.

They watched the foreign troops process down the road. For the people on this street, the war had ended. They were now in Russian-occupied territory.

March 24, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
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Trip to Georgia

I’ve been home for over two weeks now, and I’m just getting to posting my pictures from our trip to Georgia. Sorry about that. Life has been crazy. I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you that.

Anyway, it was an amazing trip. Alyssa wasn’t feeling well before we went. I’m afraid she was kind of miserable the first couple of days. Still, it was great having her as a traveling companion. She kept me company and held my hand on take off. That’s why I can’t fly alone!

My friend picked me up in Jacksonville. It was 84! She laughed when I stopped, opened the front flap of my suitcase, and pulled out my sandals. Wow, it felt good to slip them on! Our flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville was delayed, so we were about 1 1/2 hours later than we thought. Since they don’t feed you on the plane anymore, we stopped at a restaurant along the way. It was true Southern cooking! We enjoyed fish, and I had hushpuppies again for the first time in many, many years. I know, they’re not gluten-free, but it was worth it all. They were delicious.

One thing we discovered, is that in the South, you get two sides with all of your meals. We ate well while we were down there. Probably too well. It was all delicious. Anyway, after we ate, we made our way to our hotel. The other woman who was putting the speech together met us at the hotel with a great big welcome basket. By big, I mean big. It was loaded with chips, and chocolate, and granola bars, and socks, and hand sanitizer, and I could go on and on. What a great welcome! Pure Southern hospitality!

The next day, I went to speak at their homeschool group. They had a great crew there. The kids were enthusiastic, and I really enjoyed speaking to them. There were several who were rather interested in writing, so I was able to share some tips with them. I love it when I get to meet young authors. It’s great to be able to encourage them.

That afternoon, we went out to lunch with several families from the group. There is a whole bunch of us, but we felt so welcomed and included. It was really a great time.

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After a bit of rest, they took us out for dinner again. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my entire life. But it was so good, I couldn’t help myself. This time I had steak, with two sides, it was all delicious.

Saturday was the day I was really looking forward to. I wanted to let Alyssa sleep as long as she could, hoping that would help her to feel better. I sat in the breakfast room doing some research, and waiting for my cousin’s daughter. I hadn’t seen her since we were little girls. Never you mind how long ago that was. Anyway, she peeked around the corner, and I was so excited to see her. We hugged and cried and sat down and started to talk as if we had seen each other last week. We have so much in common, and it was just great to reconnect after so many years. I wish we lived closer together. We definitely won’t go another 40 years without seeing each other.

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A little bit after that, my cousin and his wife arrived. I had seen him about five years ago, but his wife I never remember meeting. We all sat and talked and shared funny stories about her family. Alyssa came. I told her she could text my friends daughter and they could hang out if they wanted to, but she wanted to stay with us and hear the old family stories. Warms the mother’s heart to hear that. I love talking to my cousin because he remembers my grandparents much better than I do. He told some stories I had never heard before. He also told about Penny the dog. Everyone in my family tells that story. We’ve heard it about 1000 times. It still hilarious though.

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Time flew by. We went out to lunch (yes, I had two sides), and before we knew it, it was time for my cousin to leave. I’ll tell you, I didn’t want that day to end. We were having so much fun, time got away from us, and I didn’t have too much of a chance to get ready for my speech. Fortunately I had everything just about ready. We went to the church and got set up. My friend and her friend did such a magnificent job. The social hall was beautiful, and they put together a great program. There was a praise band, and they had so many door prizes.
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My speech went very well. I pray that it was uplifting and beneficial to the hearers. I was so glad that my cousin’s daughter was able to stay and hear the speech, since these are her family stories, too. We were pretty exhausted but also very happy by the time he got back to the hotel.
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I was able to have breakfast with my cousin’s daughter before she had to be on her way home. What a sweet, sad parting. We enjoy church with our friends, and a pizza party afterwards. Even managed to get me a gluten-free, dairy free pizza. After my friend and her daughters packed up, we headed back to Jacksonville.

Along the way, we stopped at Jekyll Island. It’s just off the coast of Georgia. It’s so beautiful. They took us to a beach where there is lots of driftwood. Alyssa Knight even put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean. It was chilly, but still not as cold as Lake Michigan. She wants to have her senior pictures taken there. We may have to arrange a summer vacation there in a couple of years.

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Leaving that place and as people is very hard. I think we may have found the place where we want to be snowbirds when we get older. Alyssa and I enjoyed their hospitality so very much. They were so kind and warm to us. We really appreciated it.

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I hope this hasn’t gone on too long. It must be like sitting through somebody’s vacations pictures. Actually, it is sitting through my vacation pictures. Anyway, I wanted to share with you the very special weekend that I had. I honestly think it will go down as one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.

February 19, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
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Answers to the Trivia Questions from Tonight’s Party

Thank you to all who stopped by my Facebook party tonight. What a fun time! Hope you enjoyed it as well. To those of you who missed it, I’m sorry you did! Please join us next time!

Caitlin from Litfuse, who did such a wonderful job putting together the party and handling everything on the technical end, asked me to post the answers to the trivia questions. So, here they are. How did you do?

Is Irene’s aunt named Lisa? False

Is the Santo Tomas internment camp in Hong Kong? False

Was Rand a nightclub owner? True

Was Rand a member of the military? False

Was “Chattanooga Choo Choo” a popular song at the time? True

Is pizza my favorite food? False (that would be chocolate!)

Do I own a dog? True

Do I have five children? False

Do I like gardening? True.

Thanks so much for playing along! Congratulations to the winners!

 

February 10, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Walking the Straight and Narrow

I love going to our cabin in the winter, because I walk my dog in the woods then. In the summer, there are too many bugs and ticks.

I like to be able to let her walk off leash. She does well. She loves to romp ahead of me and stays on the path most of the time. She wags her tail and has a grand time. When we come to a fork in the road, she stops and looks at me as if to say, “Which way, Mom?”
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Sometimes she runs ahead of me a little too far, but if I tell her to stop, she waits for me,  always looking back at me. Every now and again, she decides to go her own way. There are too many other interesting things to see that aren’t on the path. Even when I call to her, she ignores me. She is too busy doing her own exploring to listen. At those times, I have to go and bring her back.

Our walks have made me think. Often, I am much like my dog. I obey my Master’s call most of the time. I frequently stop, and look back, and ask the way.

Other times, however, I am stubborn. I run too far ahead. The Master needs to tell me to stop and wait for Him. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I don’t.

And all too frequently, I go my own way. It’s difficult to stay on the right path. Temptations lure me from the way I know I should follow – too many bright and shiny things in the world. Even when my Master calls me, I ignore His voice. He has to come and lead me back to the right path.

My prayer is that I will learn to walk alongside my Master and to heed his voice. I am so thankful that He is not willing to let me wander far from the way I should go.

How has the Lord led you?

February 3, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Interview with Santo Tomas Survivor Sascha Jansen – part 3

1. Were you ever afraid you wouldn’t be liberated?

“No. Beginning in September 1944, the Americans started bombing different targets in Manila. We knew they landed in Leyete in October. We knew they were on their way. The talk always was, ‘When our boys get here.’ My mother had a little bit of lipstick left. She was saving it for ‘when our boys get here.’ When the Americans arrived, she wouldn’t go see them until she had put on her lipstick.”

2. What kinds of food did you fantasize about?

“Food was all we thought about. We talked about nothing other than food. Every night, my family would play a game where we would order food. I would order pork chops. My brother and sister would say that’s what they wanted to, but then they would ask what are pork chops? My sister never remembered good food, and my brother had nothing other than lugao in his life. People would obsess about food. That’s all they ever talked about. Women put together cookbooks. Not being able to taste the food, they would create recipes with crazy ingredients.”

3. Did your parents eat less so that you could have more?
“Yes. Though my father worked in the kitchen, we weren’t able to get extra. He made sure that people didn’t steal anything. He was very fair. We had to wait in line at the chow hall with everyone else.  My father would give you an extra spoonful. We didn’t realize that he was hungry, too. By the end, my mother weighed only 78 pounds. She used to weigh 148. My father had to carry her to see the Americans when they arrived. She was very close to dying.”

4. What was it like when the Americans arrived?
“It was very exciting. You can imagine the thrill. I was watching him an upstairs window. The ground began to shake. Then the tank with its searchlight broke through the gate. We couldn’t believe that our boys had finally come. We had to go down to see them. We had to touch the tank. They gave us candy, and we ate it until we had diarrhea. We didn’t sit down all night.”

5. How long was it until you were able to return to America?

“The Battle of Manila went on for a month after we were liberated. We couldn’t go anywhere then. It was too dangerous. In the middle of March, we were flown to Leyte. It was in the middle of a typhoon. From there, we were put on a ship to America. We stopped in Hawaii, but didn’t get off the boat. We arrived in San Francisco just around the time President Roosevelt died.”

Sascha (second from left), her father, mother, brother Walter, and sister Doris aboard the USS Admiral W. L. Capps on their way home to the US.

 

Ms. Jansen’s family settled in California. She is very active in civilian ex-POW causes. It is very important to her that this story be told, and that it be told accurately. She is currently in Manila, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Santo Thomas camp.
I want to thank Ms. Jansen for agreeing to this interview and for all the time that she spent with me helping me to get the details of Remember the Lilies just right.

February 2, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Interview with Santo Tomas survivor Sascha Jansen – Part 2

Today, we continue our interview with Santo Tomas Internment Camp survivor Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen. In this post, we’re going to talk about everyday life in the camp. If you missed part 1 of the interview, you can catch up here.

What was it like going to school in the camp?

“I only went to school there for a little while. At first, classes were held out under the trees. That was fine. I contracted polio when I was 18 months, so I wasn’t able to climb the stairs to the classroom when they moved it to a higher floor of the building, so I stopped going to school. My mother had taught me at home before we came to the camp, and she continued my education inside, too. Every day, she had me write down what was happening. I had to hide my diary. It would be dangerous if the Japanese found it.  I liked to draw pictures, too. And I would take my book outside and sit under the shade of the big taro plant leaves and read.”

Sascha surrounded by some of the pictures she drew in the camp.

A drawing of the outdoor kitchens at Santo Tomas that now hangs in Sascha Jansen’s home.

You can read some of Sascha’s diary entries here.

Do you have any happy memories of the time?

“We had happy times there. We were together as a family, and that was good.”

Did you ever get sick?

“There was so much disease in the camp. We had measles. I had both bacillary and amoebic dysentery. Everyone had dysentery. I had dengue fever. They called it break-bone fever because that’s what if feels like – your bones are breaking. The pain is terrible.”

What was  a birthday celebration like?

“We entered the camp in February 1943, just a few days after my 10th birthday. We were liberated on February 3, 1945, just a few days before my 12th birthday, so I only spent one birthday in the camp. I was sick then, so it wasn’t much of a birthday celebration. And there wasn’t much to do about a celebration, because there wasn’t food, and there were no gifts.”

January 30, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
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Interview with Santo Tomas Survivor Sascha Jansen

I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen, a Santo Tomas Internment Camp survivor, while I was writing Remember the Lilies. It was such a highlight for me. She was gracious enough to spend yet another hour on the phone with me as she was preparing to travel to Manila for the 70th anniversary celebration of the liberation of the camp on February 3rd. This is the first of a three part interview. I will post part 2 on Monday and part 3 on release day, the 70th anniversary .

Sascha and her brother inside the camp.

Thank you for joining us, Ms. Jansen. We’re so glad to have your perspective on the war and on the Santo Tomas camp. It’s important to both of us to make sure future generations hear the true story of what happened 70 years ago.

How old were you when you entered the camp?

“I was 8 years old when the war started, but I didn’t enter the camp right away. My brother was three months old, and the Japanese didn’t make nursing mothers enter the camp at first. We were able to stay at a convent. Only my father had to go. Once a month, we would go to register and we could see him and bring him food. Eventually, though, things became bad on the outside. Food was harder to get, and we were afraid of the Japanese soldiers. We thought it would be best to be with my father, so we joined him after about a year, just around my 10th birthday.”

What members of your family were with you?

“It was my mother, my father, my sister, my brother and myself. I also had an aunt and an uncle in the camp, so I did have family there.”

Why were you living in the Philippines at the time?

“My family was from Hawaii. My grandfather ran a sugar plantation there. The company also had a sugar plantation in the Philippines, so he went to work there around the turn of the 20th century. My father worked at the same place, and that’s where I lived. By the time of the war, my grandfather had returned to California. We had a very comfortable life there.”

How did you feel about going into the camp?

“Because my father was inside and we were outside for that first year, it was really a sense of relief to get into the camp. We were all able to be together as a family again, and that was good. It was scary on the outside, and we felt safer in the camp with my father. I don’t remember being afraid about being in the camp.”

Where did you live in the beginning?

“At first, we lived in a building called the Annex. That’s where mothers with small children were. We were in a room with thirty other mothers and children. There was a lot of disease because of the close quarters.

Arial view of Santo Tomas. The large building is the Main Building. Behind it, on the right, you can see the building shaped like a backwards C is the Annex. You can also see some of the shanties.

My father built a shanty, about 10 feet by 11 feet, and he was able to stay there, but we weren’t. The shanty was made of sawali mats – bamboo reeds woven together – and a thatched roof. The floor was made of bamboo strips, and the shanty was on stilts. After a while, the women and children could stay there, too. We had to have a hole in the side so that the couples didn’t do anything the Japanese didn’t like.

A closer look at the shanties.

“The hut was small. We had a little sink with a hole that went to the outside. There was a table with chairs. My parents had a mattress to sleep on, sort of on this platform. After a while, I had a mattress, too.”

Look for part 2 on life in the camp on Monday.

January 29, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Pre-Party Fun: What Would You Dream of Eating?

Three weeks from today, I’ll be hosting a super-fun party on my Facebook page with a bunch of great giveaways. With five days to go until the release of Remember the Lilies, I thought we’d have a little bit of fun. Each Thursday for the next three weeks, I’ll post a tidbit from life at Santo Tomas Internment Camp. At the end, I’ll ask a question. You may either answer the question here on my blog or over at my Facebook page. The following Wednesday, I’ll pick a winner from all the commenters to win a great prize! This week’s prize is a great package from Leelin Filipino Bakery.

I posted a few weeks ago about what the food situation was like at Santo Tomas. You can read the post here. The people were starving to death, surviving on about 700 calories a day. One of the favorite things to do in the camp during those horrible times was to talk about food. Not just talk about food, but obsess about it. Conversations centered around food. It was all the people could think about.

And they didn’t just think about it – they made up their own recipes. There was no way to cook the meals or to taste if they were any good, so they would list ingredients that would never go together. All in the pursuit to calm their rumbling stomachs. And they wrote down their recipes. Many women left the camp with new recipe books. If anything in the books was palatable, we don’t know.

What food would you most fantasize about if you were starving to death? If you could eat one dish, what would it be? And let’s have some fun. Post your recipe or a link to the recipe. Perhaps we can all come away with a few new dishes to try!

This is one of my family’s favorite Filipino dishes, Adobo.

3-4 pounds chicken legs/thighs (I’ve used boneless/skinless chicken breasts. They work, they’re just drier.)

1/2 cup Datu Puti or cane vinegar (DON”T use regular. You can find this at a better grocery store or an Asian grocer)

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic

Brown chicken, drain fat, and set aside. In a slow cooker, combine the Datu Puti, soy sauce, bay leaves, and garlic. Add chicken, stirring to coat. Cook on low heat for six hours. Serve over hot rice. It will fall off the bone and be absolutely delicious!

I can’t wait to read all of your yummy recipes!

January 22, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Review of the Movie “Unbroken”

On Tuesday, Alyssa and I went to see the movie Unbroken. For months, I’ve been hearing about both the book and the movie. A few of my friends had seen it, and some were rather lukewarm about it, which was surprising. Still, I went with quite a bit of anticipation.

The movie was fabulous. From the first moment, it will keep you on the edge of your seat. Though I knew the basic plot – or maybe because I knew the basic plot – I was invested from the beginning, holding my breath.

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It was emotionally intense. By the end, I was drained. And moved. Though I had read about what happened in POW camps in my research for Remember the Lilies, seeing it on the screen drove home the reality of what these men endured. Let’s never forget what they went through to ensure our freedom. We owe men like Louis Zamperini a huge debt.

There were similarities between Unbroken and Remember the Lilies. One scene in the movie shows the POWs standing for roll call and bowing for the Japanese soldiers. Toward the end of the war, when the military took command of Santo Tomas, the internees also had to stand for roll call. If they didn’t bend at the correct angle, they faced punishment, often some kind of beating. Roll call was a grueling ordeal for the underfed prisoners, especially in the hot Manila sun.

One scene in the movie shows Louis Zamperini being forced to stand and hold a large board over his head for a long time in retribution for his not working hard enough. In Santo Tomas, if a prisoner gazed at the American bombers overhead, he would be tied to the camp’s front gate and would be forced to stare at the sun for many hours.

The joy and almost disbelief at liberation is another commonality. We can only imagine what it must have been like to see American soldiers again after years of mistreatment. How wonderful it must have been to be free to go and do what you want, to have enough food to eat, and to sleep at night without fear.

Louis’ faith is mentioned in the movie, though not too much is made of it. To be fair, the movie ended with him arriving back in the United States, and he didn’t become a Christian until a few years later. If you want to hear more about how he came to Christ and what happened to him after the time span of the movie, check out Captured by Grace. It’s produced by Billy Graham’s organization and is very well done.

Overall, I give high marks to Unbroken. It’s well done, captivating, and riveting. It’s also a great glimpse into what at least some of the conditions were like at Santo Tomas and what I pictured when I wrote Remember the Lilies.

January 6, 2015
by liztolsma@gmail.com
2 Comments

Word for 2015: Dedication

I know that many people don’t make resolutions, but they have a “word of the year”. 2014 was good for me in many ways, but difficult in many others. I had a different word picked out, but as I was thinking about it this morning, the Lord gave me this word instead.

Dedication.

I encompasses so much.

Dedication to my writing. To learning more, working harder, networking better. Dedication to becoming better at my craft.

Dedication to my family. Even when I have deadlines, I need to remember their importance to me. Alyssa doesn’t have that many more years left at home. I need to spend time with her. Marriages need attention. I need to be dedicated to my husband and our relationship.

Dedication to my work, both my church work and my work at home. I cannot neglect either. I’ve been called by God to be dedicated to these areas of my life as well.

Dedication to my health. That means exercising more and eating better. I know I feel better when I do these things. When I feel better, I can be more dedicated to the things above.

And above all, dedication to my Lord. Dedicated to spending time with him each day, even on the busiest of days. Dedication to prayer. Dedication to worship.

What do you want to be more dedicated to in the new year?