It’s time again for some light-hearted, laughter-inducing entertainment, so find a comfy chair, relax in a hammock (or, even, take a knee…I’m not looking and I don’t care!!). As long as you’re relaxed and ready to be entertained, that’s all that … Continue reading
When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.
As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.
All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.
While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.
We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.
Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.
And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!
Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)
Does anyone else besides me think in old songs? Like that one by the Carpenters, that I used for the title of this blog? (“…sing out loud, sing out strong.”) Seriously, just about any thought/idea/dream/inspiration that comes into my head, my memory can match a song to it. It’s not always a perfect fit…sometimes my creative mind has to change the lyrics just a little…or maybe a lot, but still, there’s the same melody from the original song. One little prompt, and a tune gets pulled from the vast music collection in my brain (just like an old juke box pulls out a 45 and flips it onto the turntable), and puts it to work helping me process whatever it is that I am going through. (Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were – “Memories, like the corners of my mind”).
Fifty-plus years of tunes (wait, did I say fifty years… Don’t Blink, by Kenny Chesney), from kid’s songs, to camp songs, to popular hits, mixed right in with Sunday hymns, dance tunes, advertising jingles, TV show theme songs, and verses from musical productions – they’re all right there, in neat little stacks in my gray matter storage unit, and the central nervous system expertly selects them as needed, to insert into my wandering thoughts. I’m in the kitchen, and I catch a whiff of my husband’s coffee, and suddenly, my mind is performing it’s own rendition of, “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup.” Or I’m hanging out with some of my zany friends and their families (you know who you are, guys!), and the juke box in my head starts playing, “They’re creepy and they’re cooky, mysterious and spooky. They’re all together ooky the (fill in the blank) family. Du, du, du, dut, (snap, snap), du, du, du dut (snap, snap), du, du, du, dut; du, du, du, dut; du, du, du, dut (snap, snap)!” Sometimes, I do keep these little serenades all to myself, if I don’t want to seem too crazy, or if I think the sharing might offend…LOL
There are often times when things don’t work out the way I had hoped, and I am struggling with the disappointment, and, then….before I know it, I’m transported back to my childhood home, with Christmas drawing near, watching the animated TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, listening to Clarice as she sings her words of encouragement to Rudolph, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Believe in your dreams come what may. There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Tomorrow is not far away.”
Or how about those times when I am hating this city living, wishing for trees and open sky and fresh air, and planning my whole life around how many traffic lights I have to go through to get somewhere (the fewer the better, of course, because Norton, Ohio, where I grew up, had only two, full-fledged traffic light intersections when I was very young, and the words “traffic jam” were used to describe more than 10 cars. The freedom of such a simple, uncluttered life has hung with me, even after years of being citified). In my grown-up years, my choices for grocery stores, doctor’s offices, preschools, veterinarian’s clinics, drug stores…you name it, they were all chosen primarily based on how many traffic lights I would encounter on my way there. These days, when I drive to our property in Indiana (which I blogged about recently in A Walk in the Woods), and I’m reluctantly heading home after a beautiful day of bug-swatting, berry gathering, and drinking from the well, I find myself humming an old Salem cigarette ad in my head (with the word “Salem changed to my name)…”You can take Charlene out of the country, BUT…you can’t take the country out of Charlene!” Or, other times, I might break into a rousing rendition of, “Green Acres is the place for me!”
For my grandchildren, I have taken to making up my own words for popular tunes and singing to them. When little ones are fussy, I hold them in my arms while doing the bunny hop. The bouncing, along with my wacky singing, almost never fails to calm a crying child – “You’re my little baby, yes you are, sweetest little baby in the whole, wide world. (Keep repeating, implementing a key change after every two “verses,” and just keep singing and dancing, until baby is calmed or grandma passes out on the couch). Singing to little ones is one of my most precious joys, and I’m sure I will still be singing lullabies years from now, when I am residing blissfully in a home for the memory impaired.
I could go on for days about all the music in my head. (“This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because, this is the song that never ends……”) Some of those childhood songs I try to keep in deep storage, because who wants to try to fall asleep at night with Found a Peanut or 100 Bottles of Beer stuck in their head?! But at this point, it’s getting late, we’re all tired, and I’m off early in the morning, for a twelve hour drive to the northern grandkids, so I can get to work teaching them all of those obnoxious (and otherwise) songs residing in my brain. You probably won’t hear from me again until I return late next week, so I’ll leave you with this modified Willie Nelson hit – “On the road again, I just can’t wait to be heading north again. Some folks I love are way up in those northern lands, so I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Out in my tiny garden
The plants have gone hog wild.
The vines and plants now growing
Could hide a little child.
But I’m not sure I’d trust them
With little ones close by.
It’s “Little Shop of Horrors”
I see in my mind’s eye.
They started out so tiny,
I never thought they’d grow.
But something crazy happened.
Just what, I do not know.
They’ve overgrown the fences,
They’re pulling out the stakes.
They’ve hidden my best garden gloves.
They’ve eaten all the rakes.
I cannot gauge the danger,
But they have grown so huge,
And on their tree-like branches
Grows a ‘mater-ish deluge.
It’s getting hard to hold them,
To keep them all subdued.
They’re too big for the cages
And now they’re getting rude.
I sometimes feel them watch me,
Walk in the garden gate.
I tell my family, “Call 911,
If I am running late!”
Now that it’s time for harvest,
I try to play it cool.
I sing a calming lullaby,
I try to act the fool.
I sneak my tiny, little hand
Right in there on the produce.
I grab and snatch and back away,
Then just as quickly vamoose.
Then I stand back and study,
Contrive my next attack.
Before they know what’s happened,
They’re looking at my back!
And now begins the slaughter
Of juicy orange and reds.
“Off with their unripe heads!”
Those pesky seed compartments
All filled with slimy goo,
Are headed for the compost.
The crowns will rot there, too.
We’re not tomato lovers,
Until they’re doctored up.
I’ll turn them into salsa.
We drink that by the cup!
And though we really love it,
The work involved is grueling.
When I am finished canning
I always need refueling.
It takes countless ripe tomatoes
For each salsa-canning batch.
And for our salsa appetite,
The effort is no match.
The hard work will continue
Until the ground has frosted.
And by that time the harvest
Will have me all exhausted.
And after it gets colder,
And beasts are moving slow,
I’ll sneak into the garden,
And deal the final blow.
I’ll clip and lop and gut them
Remove the vining menace,
And then I think I’ll pave it,
And next year…, take up tennis!
The summer I graduated from high school, and my horse and pony had been sold in anticipation of me going off to photography school, my dad used part of our former pasture area for his first vegetable garden. He tilled and planted a whopper of a plot, considering our family size. By mid-August, we were drowning in egg plant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dad lugged piles of produce off to work each morning, to share with his co-workers at Goodyear, and there was still plenty left over for us. My absolute favorite was the zucchini…breaded and fried zucchini, to be exact. My dad and I could polish off two large zucs between the two of us, because they were so incredibly yummy. It was a special thing we shared between us, that hankerin’ for fried zucchini. Now that I’m much older, and my dad is long gone, I can transport myself back to that bittersweet, transitional summer, with overgrown zucchini from my own garden. I slice them up, just like I did for my dad and I, then I dip them in egg and flour (actually, gluten-free flour, or sometimes almond meal), fry those babies up, close my eyes and take a big bite…and suddenly, I’m back in our old kitchen, with my father, living that zucchini summer all over again.
It’s an inexpensive and safe method of time-travel, these sensory memory triggers. I travel the taste bud route quite often, with certain foods that take me back to times shared with my dad (because when little tag-along me joined the family, my mom went to work full-time, my Grandma Casey moved in with us, and my dad pitched in by taking over most of the meal preparation for our family). There were other food favorites that we had in common, like soup beans and ham with cornbread, and pot roast with potatoes and carrots. One bite of any of those, and the gustation process can carry me back in a second, if I close my eyes, sit quietly, and savor the flavor, along with the memories.
The olfactory passage to the past is closely related to the taste route, so it often takes me to the same places, but is has the power to transport me to a myriad of other memories. All I have to do is walk into a horse barn, catch one wonderful whiff, and I am at the county fair, hanging out with my 4-H buddies, cleaning the stall, showing Paco (my quarter horse) in the ring, rubbing my hand down his soft, sweaty neck, or sometimes lunching on corndogs and lemon shake-ups, or inhaling the helium from a balloon to talk like Donald Duck. I am young and carefree, my parents are there with me at our campsite, and we are sitting around the fire with friends. Or, how about the passage power of holding a baby, and smelling his/her sweet head (what is it with the smell of baby’s heads?!). These days, when a baby is in my arms, I fly back to the early days of parenting, holding my own little ones, nursing them, rocking them in my arms while singing lullabies – it’s all there, in full color and complete, sensual detail. The quality of transport and the clear view of those days-gone-by is really quite amazing.
Other times, I travel back by way of an old song that slides from my ears right down to my heart, and I find myself with an old friend, hanging out in their basement, or at one of our favorite haunts. Or I might end up at a high school prom, dancing in the arms of a high school heart throb. Sometimes it’s the sound of laughter that reminds me of my mom, and takes me back “home” again. She was the kind who would occasionally get unexplainably tickled by some silly episode, then laugh for 15 minutes, until she was crying and could hardly breathe, while the rest of us were all laughing at her (even though we were often clueless regarding the original trigger for her laughter, and she would be laughing way to hard to fill us in!). There are other times when a sound can transport me to completely unexpected places: I hear a train whistle, and suddenly, I am sitting at the tracks, in the car with my mom, counting the railway cars to make the time pass more pleasantly, and trying to be the first one to spot the caboose. A rumble of thunder, of the boom of fireworks can also occasionally work their magic on me. The hearing path to yesterday is probably the most surprising and mysterious for me, because I just never know when or where it will strike, and where I might end up.
Of course, we can’t leave out the sight triggers for time travel – there are so many opportunities. We live in the age of photography, so all we have to do is pull out an old photo album, and BAM…we’re there again, with ease. Or how about digging through those storage boxes of sentimental items? Those have serious transference power, too. But there are also more subtle ways that sneak up on us, like coming upon a field of sunflowers, or finding a beautiful shell on the beach, or witnessing a breath-taking sunset. Our mind can latch onto anything our eyes take in, and, in a millisecond, carry us back to some almost forgotten place.
And then there’s that last sense….touch. In my opinion, touch kind of tags along with the other senses, and enhances the time-travel journey. When I’m eating fried zucchini, just the feel of it in my mouth adds to the full effect. And those 4-H fair memories….if I get a chance to run my hands down a horse’s neck or side, or touch his soft nose…that just makes all the above-mentioned images come more clearly into focus. Same concept with the touch of my lips on a baby’s head, or feeling the warmth of a wee one against my body, or their soft breath upon my neck as I rock them – the memories they trigger are like a 3D movie, with all senses fully functioning.
If you have days of old that you would like to revisit, step away from the rush of life this week, and enjoy a cruise down memory lane. Your very own time travel voyage is just a taste (or a smell, or a vision, or a sound, or a touch) away, but you have to be open to the excursion and willing to put some effort into quiet reflection. I hope you have pleasant travel, and don’t forget to send me a postcard!
Back in the day, when I was a youngster, comedy was a lot cleaner. In that practically paleolithic setting, before the “f-word” came flowing freely out of everyone’s mouth like cow pies from a bovine’s back end, jokes were cornier…and much, much funnier. Comedians could actually make people laugh without relying upon vulgar vocabulary or bawdy subject material. That was true comedic artistry. It came from a sense of humor that focused inward, rather than outward, and that made it sincerely entertaining and uplifting. By the time the 60’s rolled around, mainstream comedy was, indeed, pushing the envelope towards the outskirts of civilized culture. Nonetheless, those oldies but goodies, that were safe for young, innocent eyes and ears, were (and still are) the very best.
When my family needed a good laugh, we had the Smothers Brothers, Red Skelton, Carol Burnet, and Tim Conway to entertain us on evening television broadcasts. These entertainers were the cream of the crop! Red Skelton often didn’t say a word, but he would have me rolling in laughter. The Smothers Brothers, with their engaging recipe of musical talent, dry delivery, and Tommy’s feigned nit-wittedness, were both geekishly adorable and outlandishly funny. Carol Burnett, along with Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Vicki Lawrence, won the hearts of America through their skits and lively humor on The Carol Burnett Show. I used to love all of those funny sketches they came up with, often laughing so hard that tears streamed from my eyes, and my cheeks hurt from being stuck in the laugh position for a prolonged period! Some of my favorites were “Went with the Wind,” “The Family,” and “Mrs. Wiggins.” Tim Conway would often ad-lib and pull some funny gags on the rest of the cast during the final taping, which often put Harvey Korman in stitches…and it would air like that! Those unrehearsed additions became fondly referred to as “Conway’s Capers!” Tim Conway is still my all-time favorite, with his simple (yet, genius), improvised humor. My two favorite characters of his on The Carol Burnett Show were “The Old Man,” an old guy who did everything excruciatingly slowly, and Mr. Tudball, a businessman with an awesome accent who was always calling on his inept secretary, Mrs. (Huh)Wiggins (which was how he pronounced her name) in hopes that she would actually get something done. In school with my buddies, I did my own comical impersonations of both of those characters, ad nauseam. The Carol Burnett Show ran from 1967 until 1978, which pretty much spanned my entire TV-viewing childhood (I was 7 when it began, and I graduated from high school the year it went off the air!). Between that show and Erma Bombeck’s books, my future comedy style was nailed down tight! (My “grown-up” friends, who didn’t know me as a child but who know me well now, are saying, at this exact moment, “Ahhhh……, this explains a lot!!)
Add to that my family influences, it’s easy to see how a disposition towards a comical style was an inescapable shoo-in for me. Both my mom and my mother-in-law were admirers of the classic, clean humor one-liners (and I just posted about my zany, Irish grandma a week or so ago). There were wall plaques and old postcards stuck all around in my mom’s house just to encourage a smile or chortle. One that I can recall said something about only really boring people having clean houses (my mom was definitely not boring, if ya’ catch my drift…). The best, though, were her t-shirts. She had one that said, “Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss My Mind the Most,” and another with the ever popular, “I’m starting my diet tomorrow.” Once, after I was grown and living far afield, she came to visit me just in time for Taste of Cincinnati. We headed downtown for the fun, not even realizing she was wearing the “diet” t-shirt, until someone mentioned it to her. She got several appreciative laughs and comments out of that lucky mistake!My mother-in-law was also a lover of the common man’s humor. She volunteered for years at a thrift store which benefitted a local charity, and she managed to collect quite a few wall hangings etched with plebian playfulness. My two favorites were as follows – a plaque with a drawstring that you would pull if you were waiting in line for the bathroom; it played the song, “How dry I am, How wet I’ll be, If I don’t find, The bathroom key,” and a little sign she hung out in the outhouse which said, “No job is finished until the paperwork is done.” (And, yes….I did say “outhouse,” and we still have that outhouse on our property in Indiana, and the sign is still in there!)
So, I guess what I’m getting at here, with all this talk of clean humor and innocent bathroom jokes is this…does anyone besides me think it’s time that we raise our standards on what we think is funny? Can we all start boycotting comedians who use foul language and sex jokes? Because, really, it’s not funny, it’s not creative, it’s not pleasant to sit through, and it’s definitely not condusive of a good, belly laugh. What we need in our lives right now are more Carol Burnetts and Tim Conways, who can see humor in the bothersome things of life and make us laugh about them, and, more important, make us laugh at ourselves! I think this is one of our biggest societal problems right now. We all take ourselves and our piddly little problems so darn seriously. I’m not talking about people carrying a heavy load of serious medical concerns, or facing financial disaster, I am talking about the person who goes ballistic when Arby’s is out of their favorite fruit pie (or some such weeny-head nonsense)! Take a step back people, and think of those two well-known tips on enjoying life – #1 Don’t sweat the small stuff; #2 Most of it is small stuff! We’re so wrapped up in ourselves we’ve forgotten the beauty of simple, uplifting fun and laughter. We’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled into the cesspool of modern comedy, which is only going to make us more cranky and despondent. I prescribe the following for all of you this week – find the Carol Burnett Show’s official channel on YouTube and sign up to watch a few episodes. (Or find a DVD version at your local library.) Pick out a few that sound interesting to you, take two of them and….no need to call me in the morning. I already know you’ll be feeling much better!
Most families have certain ancestral afflictions that manifest themselves in each generation. The tribal tribulations of our branch of the Casey clan are bounteous and diverse. They include the common complaints of unappreciated body attributes (ours being, for the girls, overly ample thighs and breasts, complimented, for both genders, by big ears and noses, with a tendency to being pleasingly plump) and extend to the more eccentric traits unique to one’s own family tree. One of our more interesting peculiarities is the Casey gift of wittiness and mischief. My Grandma Casey (who married into the name) was exceedingly odd in her sense of humor. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that her husband died in a train accident when their children were still quite young, my mother (the youngest) being only 6 years old at the time. Grandma had to raise those children by herself, through the economic hardships of the Depression and World War II. Through those struggles, she developed a rather peculiar, and sometimes rather puerile, sense of humor. I guess we could look at the facts of my grandma’s personality and speculate that the Casey curses might actually be the Duncan curses (my grandma’s maiden name), but from stories I’ve heard, my grandpa was also quite witty and mischievous, and gifted at planning and executing shenanigans, so we can’t be changing the story at this stage of the game! Any way you look at it, I grew up being nurtured by an unending source of Irish “malarkiness!”
One of my absolute favorite sayings, passed down from my grandma to my mom (but, going no further, because my daughters refused to let me carry on the tradition) was Grandma’s general response to the question, “What are we having for supper?” I have to admit that this question from my children usually annoyed me considerably, because I knew that someone was going to complain about the menu. Plus, why even ask that question?! You’ll know the answer in about 20 minutes, when you sit down at the table, so what’s the deal with needing advanced notification? Is it because more time is needed to whine about the food and come up with excuses to avoid eating it? I would think back to my grandma, trying her best, without public assistance, to feed her children during the depression. I’m not sure if she ever fed them coffee soup (the inspiration for the name of this blog!), or sugar/milk toast, or “practically shitless shingles,” or any of her other signature meals, but I would guess that they did have to suffer through them at least on occasion. When you have next-to-nothing, you learn how to make many a filling “meal” out of crackers and bread, canned soup and/or “meat,” and a bit of coffee and/or milk. At any rate, Grandma Casey, when being asked about the supper offering, came up with this familial pearl-of-great-price…”We’re having fried farts and pickled assholes.” I’m not making this up, people…my grandma made it up, and said it very often. And then my mother carried on the tradition and said it quite frequently to me. As a kid, I never really thought that much about it, but as I got older, it slowly dawned on me that no one else in the world ever uttered this phrase. As I matured, I found myself really thinking through this meal option, and…let’s face it, it’s just plain gross, and it really doesn’t seem very filling at all. But still, I had to appreciate the wacky humor that my grandma used to get herself (and her children) through that inconceivably difficult span of years. She was carrying a very heavy cross, but she found a way to make herself laugh through the struggle. Later, after the Depression was over, and more women were gathered into the workforce, my grandma was hired at Goodyear Aerospace, and things got better for her small family. That wasn’t the end of the adolescent-like mischievousness though…not by a long shot!
Even though I was never allowed to carry on that particular witty-response tradition, and I am disappointed that it will die with me, I do feel exceedingly blessed by the crazy spirit of survival that my grandma’s example has inspired in me. I can come up with the silliest jokes at the weirdest times. And people do often look at me like, “WHAT? She’s making jokes at a time like this?!” I don’t care what people think. My humor is not always understood by everyone. The only thing that matters is, my waggish, spontaneous comments or retorts usually lift my soul (and other’s souls) from the depths of sadness, and keep me from taking myself, and my trials, too seriously. I have made a funny comment or pun following the death of a loved one, and when I found out I had breast cancer, or when I am sitting in the hospital with a friend who is struggling through a medical crisis. I just can’t help it. These witticisms come to me unbidden, like sweet gifts of love and joy and encouragement from God. And when I can laugh, and make others laugh (or, at least smile) in the darkest of times, I feel like I’ve done a good deed for mankind.
At this point, however, I realize, you’re all wondering, “What about the whole curse-of-the-Casey-leadfoot thing?!” It’s just another element of the family humor, and something that was often brought up in conversation. I can see the manifestations of this particular curse in many of my family members. On that subject, suffice it to say, if you ever see me and Louie the Shark coming up behind you in the fast lane (see previous post, You Didn’t Know it, But I’m a Poet), get the heck out of the way, ’cause we’re racing to the end of the rainbow, to find that pot of gold. And my little Louie, under the spell of the Casey leadfoot…he don’t mess around!
My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.
Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).
I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!
My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.
(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)
So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”
I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……
The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).
And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.
I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?
Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.
I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.
Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)
Get out of bed
Go to the bathroom
Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast
Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast
Do meal planning and grocery list
Weed vegetable garden
Weed flower garden
Write a blog post
Cut up vegetables for fajitas
Make chicken fajitas for supper
Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner
Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish
Go grocery shopping
Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad
Read news stories on my Ipad
Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad
Shave my legs
Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow
Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)
Get up at 6:15
Eat breakfast, leave for work
Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do
Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)
Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad
Go to bed
Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!
Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!