Where Love Has Led

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!)

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Weathering the Storms of Life

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As a country, we’ve been going through the valley lately, experiencing some pretty serious hardship. In our lifetime (despite all of mankind’s advances in science and technology), most of us will face some sort of calamity or painful loss, possibly even catastrophic destruction, sometimes individually, sometimes as a community at large, sometimes as a nation. The United States of America has just endured the one-two knockout punch of back-to-back destructive hurricanes. Add to that the tragic, widespread fires out west, the anniversary of the indescribable terror of 9/11, and the crippling division being displayed amongst our citizenry, and…yeah, we could definitely quote Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite novels, which I highly recommend, if you’ve never read it!), “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We have “it all,” and yet we are finding (more and more often, it seems) that it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. The question is, will we confront these challenges facing inward, focusing only on ourselves and our own problems, or facing outward, together, with a disposition of serving others? In other words, will we allow it to make us stronger, more compassionate, and united, or reduce us to an outraged, bitter, broken people? From what I have seen, so far, from the stories of people reaching out to help, sending money, praying unceasingly – most of us have opted for the healthy and fruitful orientation.

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The absolute best perspective on all of this tragedy comes from an (almost) unbelievably sweet and adorable couple, who I know you have all heard about since Twitter (whose existence I usually refuse to acknowledge) is apparently abuzz with the news of these people. I am referring, of course, to Irma and Harvey Schluter, the elderly couple from Spokane, WA (ages 92 and 104, respectively), whose story has been shared on every reliable (and, otherwise) news source since last Friday when the story first broke.

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These are two remarkable people, who survived the challenges of World War II, had three children, and then fostered over one hundred more children. If the story stopped here, that would be enough, but Irma and Harvey also offered some sage advice. This amazing couple (who are still in love and still relatively healthy, with minds as sharp as tacks) shared these pearls of wisdom from their years of commitment and sacrifice:

“Each one’s gotta have love,” says Harvey.

“That, and faith,” adds Irma, “Two things that were here before and will be here after (the other Harvey and Irma pass from history).”

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THAT’S IT, PEOPLE!! Yes, it’s as simple as that! That’s all we need to get through this – faith and love. (And, yes, they are referring to faith in God, because that is their history and their personal motivation – they even taught Sunday school classes together! – and it is what facilitates a growth in self-sacrificing love.) As a former foster-parent of two children, I know, without a doubt, that welcoming one hundred & twenty foster children into your home (and doing the job with the proper spirit) requires a supernatural “inpouring” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and authentic love (spelled out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13). If we open our hearts and our lives to embrace these truths, we will weather the storms of life, no matter how widespread and devastating they might be, and we will do it together. And together (i.e., hand-in-hand, united, with one voice, committed to one another, in concert, linked together, etc, etc.) is where we need to be right now. More “storms” are on the horizon, some we can see, some not even on our radar, but they are there, and they will come. Will we face them together, or separated; in a spirit of “love thy neighbor,” or a spirit of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will hate and mistreat you because your beliefs don’t jive with mine”? The choice is ours, and our choice will decide our ultimate fate. As for me and my family, we’re gonna follow the example of our country’s “very own, real-life, time-tested” duo, Irma and Harvey, from Spokane. I speak from personal experience when I say: Love, rooted in faith, will build an effective fortress, a sturdy stronghold, in which we can withstand the onslaught of any and all storms that head our way. Let’s keep building….together!

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Fried Zucchini Summer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Curse of the Casey Leadfoot

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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!”

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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!

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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.

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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!

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My Days as a Super Hero

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Everyone owns an interior cache of heroism, which rises to the surface in time of need. We can choose to act upon the gallant impulse, or talk ourselves out of it. That’s the dilemma with use-of-valor evaluation – the call to action does not ride alone. It comes accompanied by fear, suspicion, and the instinct of self-preservation. Not that those are bad traveling companions. In most cases, it really is quite prudent and essential to think twice before diving in, but sometimes, you just gotta trust your gut. Some of us are called to a continuous, high level of heroism. These are the kinds of people you will find most often in jobs of civil service, such as police officers and fire fighters. Take that one step further, and you’ll find members of our armed forces. They’re the folks who personify courage and self-sacrifice, living examples of bravery each and every day on the job. They also practice safety and prudence, but, because of their desire to serve others, they knowingly face unseen dangers at every turn. This is what is known as “laying one’s life down for a friend.” For the truly heroic, everyone in need of protection is a friend.

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However, that’s not to say that smaller deeds of valor have no significance – quite the opposite, actually. Tiny deeds, done with love, are magnified by God’s grace into life-changing acts of intervention. I have, in my lifetime, executed several acts of pint-sized prowess, and have often been repaid with unexpected blessing beyond measure. I believe that God sees into the heart, and is filled with joy by any act of courageous self-sacrifice, be it big or small, and just as any loving father, he rewards such actions with a big hug and “words” of encouragement. As a means of inspiring you in your day-to-day heroic efforts, I will share with you a few stories of my meager, super-hero exploits.

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I grew up in a rough neighborhood. At first glance, it might appear to be the quintessential, small town neighborhood – old houses with big yards and plentiful gardens, mixed in amongst farms with cows and/or horses in the pasture. I was raised on local produce, freshly harvested honey, and…..street fights. Yeah, you heard that right. And it wasn’t gang warfare, it was rugrat girls. We just could not get along. We’d pair up in groups of two, and wage battles against the other pairs. This way of interacting wasn’t limited to my local turf. This happened all around our little village. At the pool, down by the village Lawson’s store, at school, on a local playground, anywhere there was likely to be a group of young lassies, you could almost count on a girl-fight. Most of the time, it was a rather tempered tiff, with hair-pulling, scratching, kicking, pushing, throwing whatever was handy (and sometimes, even biting!) being the weapons of choice. At any rate, I often tried to step in and save the day, especially if things seemed to be getting a little out of hand, or if other people joined in and starting ganging up on someone. The intervention I remember most vividly actually did involve my small neighborhood group of girls. One winter, while going in search of my friend, I discovered her being attacked by the other girls. She was holed up in a small barn, which housed a pony that she was caring for. The enemy had taken up position outside the fence and would not allow my friend to walk out of the barn without being pelted by hard, icy snowballs. I swung into immediate action. I ran through the gate into the barn and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket. Using it as a shield, I ran out to the small watering pond and managed to break enough ice to fill the bucket half-way with water. Then, I worked my way over to the enemy camp, dodging ice-balls as I stumbled along under the weight of the bucket. I will never figure out why those girls just stood there while I walked right up to them, in plain view, with an arsenal of (literally!) freezing cold water in my possession, but that’s what they did. I strategized and aimed, and tossed the water so that it saturated both of them, and no one has heard anything about those girls since that day. Just kidding about that last part. They were around for many years after that, and I ended up being friends with both of them, after we outgrew that warring stage of adolescence, but, I did gain a reputation after that day of someone who should not be messed with, so our neighborhood really was a lot more peaceful after that brush with death!

Some other escapades (from later in my life) that I can recall are:

1) Chasing a young guy through the streets and alleys of downtown, after I witnessed him stealing an old lady’s purse. I followed him relentlessly and kept him in sight until he decided to drop the purse, which I was able to retrieve. I found some ID in the purse and returned it to its rightful owner.

2) I saw an older man struggling to get the door open to his downtown living quarters. I held his meager bag of groceries (which he was probably afraid to put down, in fear of them being grabbed by someone) while he got the door open. I looked in the door and saw a long flight of stairs heading up…no lobby, no elevator, just a poorly lit, steep stairwell for this elderly fellow. So, I offered to carry his groceries. Up we went, two flights, until we came to his tiny apartment, which was packed to the gills with all of his earthly possessions. He felt so blessed by my kind assistance that he gave me 25¢, and I graciously accepted it, along with the memory of helping out this sweet, old guy. I was filled with the hope that I somehow made a difference in his lonely, impoverished life.

3) Planning and executing many service/mission trips over the years, for teenagers and young adults in our homeschool community. We have had amazing, life-changing adventures, and made a difference in Appalachia & Tijuana, Mexico, and also right here in our own city, and God has allowed me to help fill many young hearts with a love for service and humble self-sacrifice.

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As you can see, being a hero doesn’t require a cape and/or local news coverage of the event. It only calls for you to step out of your comfort zone, practice compassion (and, maybe a little war-like strategy on occasion), and affect positive change on someone’s life. Be courageous this week. You might even earn a quarter!

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

Yeah, I know, it’s been way too long since my last post, but, hey….I was in New Jersey, visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years, and I couldn’t get the posting steps to work on my iPad, so I ditched you guys for a week. Get over it! And, just to PROVE that I was in the greater NYC area, here are some photos with captions so you can vacation vicariously through my adventure.

While in New Jersey/New York/Connecticut…

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…I made myself dizzy looking up at tall buildings, including my short exposure to Times Square (which put me into a sensory overload),

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and continued with my view of the “Freedom Tower” (One World Trade Center), built on the grounds of the original World Trade Center Towers that came down in the most horrific terrorist attack ever, on our country’s soil in 2001. That tower, along with the Memorial Pool, made my heart ache all over again. I walked along the edge of the large pool and ran my hands over the names etched into the marble stone, saying a prayer for them and their loved ones who still miss them, and carry the tragedy of that dark day with them always.

 

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…I swam in a sound for the first time in my life (at least, that I know of)! It was awesome. For a midwest girl, any hint of ocean water, or the mildest whiff of salt air, are like gifts straight from heaven. I walked out on the jetty, applauded an opera star wanna-be singing in the ocean (made his day, I’m quite certain, with my “Bravo, brravo!”), made several new friends, and sat on the lifeguard stand (possibly breaking a rule there…?). I gathered a few shells and rocks to bring home (because I’ve been a rock/shell collector since I was a wee little lassie, and I can’t stop now!). Plus, I re-learned about what a sound is (geographically speaking), and in particular, about the Long Island Sound and how it was formed. All that while enjoying a beautiful beach with ocean waves and wind rejuvenating my spirit. That was one, perfect day!

 

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…I rode on a ferry and cruised around Manhattan, meeting a tall lady in green, and lots and lots of bridges.

 

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But, most important, I spent six lovely days with one of the dearest friends of my life. I cannot even put into words how much this trip meant to me. I am feeling extremely grateful for forever friends, restorative vacations, surviving my airport adventures (I don’t mind flying at all, but airports send me into a tizzy), and being able to leave NYC and come home to my nice, manageable little city in Ohio! And, once I’m recovered, I’ll get workin’ on that next blog post – one of my usual, entertaining stories for your reading pleasure…I promise!

You Didn’t Know It, But I’m a Poet!

In my last post, Utensils Vs U-Turns, I used a quote from one of my all-time favorite poets, and suggested that I could, perhaps, have a bit of poetry in me. The truth is, I have always enjoyed, for as long as I can remember, writing poems and making up new, original verses for popular children’s songs. My poetry is the “Old Mother Hubbard, Went to the cupboard” brand of verse – I am drawn to reliable meter and perfect (or at least near perfect) rhyme. In an effort to share my gift of poetry with you (and, also, to get a quick blog post in before I head out of town for a week in the “greater” Big Apple area, visiting a dear, old friend), I have composed an “on-the-edge-of-epic” poem about my car, Louie. Get a glass of wine, light a cigar, and sit back and relax. You are about to be courted by some cultivated verse.

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Louie the Shark    

I bought an older Hyundai,

A sweet, reliable guy.

He’s the greatest transport buddy.

If I lost him I would cry.

 

There is one crazy thing, though,

he thinks he is a shark.

I know because he told me,

one night when it was dark.

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At first I thought him loony.

He’s just a common ride

who’d never seen the ocean,

and not once rode the tide.

 

But as I looked much closer,

I was surprised to find

a cute gray fin upon his back,

a baby sharkish kind.

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He had a battle scuffle

etched on his auto nose.

I’ve seen a real ocean shark

sporting one of those.

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And so, in part, for his sake,

I headed to the shore,

all the way to Virginia Beach.

six hundred miles and more.

 

My plan was for his welfare.

I hoped that he might find

a day spent near the ocean

would soothe his shark-like mind.

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He couldn’t hang out on the beach,

The lifeguards wouldn’t let him.

An access road with ocean views

Was the closest I could get him.

 

But, Oh, he was so happy,

his horn beeped Ode to Joy.

He didn’t want to pull away,

he shouted out, “Ahoy!”

 

I witnessed this with merry mirth,

my gray car’s alter ego.

And now I could believe him,

my auto shark amigo.

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I’m considering a vanity plate

(if they didn’t cost so much),

‘cause what I’d put upon it

would be the sovereign touch.

(“LUI SHRK”)

 

So someday you might see us,

driving in your town,

me and my harmless, land-locked shark,

sporting our sharky crown.

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I hope that you will greet us

and give my shark a wave,

’cause waves are what he longs for

my car shark, true and brave!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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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.

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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).

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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!

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Illusionary Lists

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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!?

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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.

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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 guacamole

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

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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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!

These Busy, Blazey, Way-too-crazy Days of Summer

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Whatever happened to the quintessential “summer break?’ If you’re over fifty, you’ve most likely heard (at least the first line of) the 1963 tune performed by the smooth, jazzy voice of Nat King Cole, ”Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” That line is all you really needed to hear, especially if you were a kid. It’s the ultimate theme for those hot summer months. Summer is hazy (in most of the U.S.A.), and you should spend a good portion of it being lazy, with any leftover time invested in doing something just a little wild and crazy.

These days, the summer months for youngsters can prove to be just as overly-scheduled, and as excessively controlled and monitored, as the school year. Parents fill out applications and send checks to numerous organizations, then drive to and fro (or…pay someone to drive to and fro), transporting their children to a myriad of planned activities, while kids spend their summers learning, studying, engaging in sports at expensive indoor and outdoor facilities, swimming like a populous school of fish with their summer camp leader & fellow “campers,” and/or playing games or “socializing” on their electronic devices in the comfort of some air-conditioned facility. There are, of course, a few holders-on to the old ways, with stay-at-home parents, or babysitters, sending their young charges out to play with the neighborhood kids (if there are any to be found, with an open time-slot in their schedule). I find myself really noticing these children in my locale, because it is so unusual to see little squirts running around or riding bikes outside (without several adults hovering nearby), and/or an I-phone in their hands. I have made it a point to mention to these members of the younger generation that their neighborhood game of tag, baseball, running through the sprinkler, lounging in a small backyard pool, or whatever it may be, warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. The kids usually seem to appreciate my comments. They grin and say thanks, then scamper off quickly, to avoid being captured by whoever is “it.” These encounters never fail to draw my thoughts back to memories of my own childhood summers.

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Do you remember, as a young child, standing on the edge of summer?! I can easily call to mind the last day of school, the last bell, and suddenly, my classmates and I were free, launching ourselves, with an emotion not unlike hysteria, into the land of summer, with no restraints! Well….maybe there was about a week of lying around, being bored, trying to figure out what to do with all that spare time on our hands, but once we got into the swing of things, there was no stopping us!

During my childhood summers, we sweated and swam our way through a full season of outdoor, spontaneous adventures. After a long day of outdoor activities of one sort or another, I often had a difficult time falling asleep in my un-air-conditioned room. I never once heard the terms “Global Warming ” or “Climate Change.” Maybe they were being discussed behind closed doors, in scientific circles, but it had absolutely no impact on my summer plans. June, July, & August (and often September) in Ohio have always been hot and muggy, so we just suffered through it, like everyone else, and were completely acclimated to the swelter by the Fourth of July.

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When I was old enough to venture off on my own for my daily allowance of activity and fun, I would spend entire days at the local pool and/or lake. Sometimes my cohorts and I would splash and play in the water for hours, doing somersaults and handstands in the cool, deep water, swimming out to the docks, going down the slides, coming out reluctantly only when the whistle blew for the scheduled lifeguard breaks. Other days, especially at the pool, we would dive and jump off the diving boards until we could barely walk anymore, in and out, in and out, mixing our attempts at graceful diving with silly, creative leaps, choreographed with precision comedy to bring giggles to our friends’ faces. Someone’s parents would show up to pick us up shortly before it was time for the park or pool to close.

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When we weren’t at the pool, we were busy trying to figure out how to build our own playhouse or fort (usually in someone else’s woods), or picking and eating fresh produce in a freind’s back yard orchard or garden, or gathering in the neighbor’s field for a game of tag, or kick-the-can, or Indian baseball. Our game was an interesting variation of the original version, and was endlessly entertaining, usually topped off by raiding someone’s freezer for a round of popsicle treats. There were campfires, cookouts, and campouts in backyards, family reunion picnics (with those distant relatives we only saw once a year), occasional trips to local amusement parks (no such thing as gold passes back then, but there were smaller, family friendly parks scattered all over the place), not to mention the carnival that set up every year in our small town’s shopping plaza parking lot. All of these adventures gave us the opportunity to live our “lazy, hazy, crazy” summers to the fullest, and the funny thing is, most of it cost us pennies on the dollar, compared to today’s standard summer fare. I grew older, of course, and transitioned into the summer-job phase of life, but I had learned to treasure the gift of summer break (done properly!), and I administered it in large doses to my children when they were young. I can witness this family “tradition” continuing now, with my oldest daughter and her children. I see the simple, inexpensive, spontaneous outdoor activities she offers my grandchildren, and I know…our growing family is doing summer right, and I hope we’re able to continue in this same vein, for generations to come. And, I challenge you to be on the lookout for opportunities to enjoy something luxuriously lazy and kind-of crazy in the hazy weeks ahead. Be careful, though…you might just find yourself craving a popsicle!