Taming the Savage Tomatoes (another fun poem!)

 

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Out in my tiny garden

The plants have gone hog wild.

The vines and plants now growing

Could hide a little child.

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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.

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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!”

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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!

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And now begins the slaughter

Of juicy orange and reds.

Tomatoes overflowing,

“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!

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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.

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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!

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To Totality and Beyond

Sub-title – “From Pacific to Atlantic, Gee the Traffic Was Gigantic”

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Monday, August 21st was a day of wild and crazy events in the heavens and on the roads, but we lived to tell about it. We started out at 8:15 am, headed to Auburn, KY, a small town well within the total eclipse zone. The drive time prediction was 3 hours, 45 minutes. We got snagged up for a while on the Bluegrass Pkwy, which added an agonizing half hour or so to our trip, with us not knowing what was going on, and having no access to any exits. The sun entered into partial eclipse status while we were on that stretch of highway. Finally, we were able to merge onto the main interstate, and after that convergence fanned itself out, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way. We arrived at our destination in plenty of time to catch the main event.

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I had originally resigned myself to the idea of missing the party, even though I really wanted to go. My husband’s thinking on the subject was that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. But, then…he started researching total eclipses, and suddenly, we were in the planning mode. Articles he read were saying that a partial eclipse is NOTHING compared to a total eclipse, and he decided to believe them (thank you, people, whoever you are, for your influence in this regard!!). He did a remarkable job with his planning, getting us to a perfect location – a huge park in a podunk town. There were maybe 100 to 200 people there, all spread out over this massive piece of property. My husband, youngest daughter, Benny (our dog), and I had the entire football field to ourselves!

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We used our special, eclipse glasses as the moon traveled further into the path of the sun, and noticed as the air got considerably cooler, and the sky grew eerily dark (except for the horizon all around, which looked like a 360º sunset). The buzzing of the noisy cicadas ceased suddenly, a few birds swooped down over us, and our view through the glasses went completely dark – time to whip off those glasses and be awed by the heavens like we’ve never been before. Cheers and whistles went off in all directions from the crowd, someone even brought a few firecrackers to set off precisely at that defining moment of reaching totality. One planet and one star came into view in the shadowed sky, and the lights came on in the distant parking lots. But the incredible dance of the sun and moon quickly blocked out everything else – I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was beautiful, amazing, inspiring, incredible, and absolutely way beyond anything that I could have imagined. I’m sharing the photo my daughter took on her I-phone, but it doesn’t do it justice, of course. Nothing can ever do it justice, except living through it, and seeing it for yourself.

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A few seconds after totality slipped away, people starting jumping in their cars and hightailing it out of there. We took our time driving through our new favorite small town, taking a few photos, and filling up the gas tank, and then we, too, hit the side roads. We avoided the major highways until we were almost to Louisville, and then decided, “It can’t be all that bad,” so we jumped on I-65. That was the longest 45 minutes of our trip home. We bailed out again as soon as we could figure things out (without data on our phones or a GPS unit), found more back roads, crossed the river at Madison, IN, drove on up to Rt 50, and turned towards Lawrenceburg and a short hop home from there. Eight hours after leaving the park in Auburn, we were home. Some of our best adventures of the day happened on those side roads!

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Here are some more photos from our day, for you to enjoy, along with a link to a simple pano shot my husband did of us. If you missed this celestial event, maybe you can join us for the next total eclipse in 2024, in Indiana, just a stone’s throw from us (and, possibly, our Indiana property might fall in the totality zone…wouldn’t that be perfect for our next prodigious penumbra?!). Don’t miss the next one, peeps. It is God’s handiwork at its finest!

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IMG_2893.JPGall thumbs up after the big event

IMG_2860.JPGmaking friends with fellow adventurers

IMG_1090.JPGMe, in a chair, after the eclipse (“Honey, I shrunk myself!”)

FullSizeRender-2.jpgthe country’s smallest post office…?

IMG_2885.JPGthe scariest bridge we crossed

The Chill Pill the World Has Awaited

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Does anyone else out there feel like the world is spinning out of control?! We are all stressed, that’s for sure…some of us way more than others; we all have needs and concerns and desires that are not being met in the way we think they should be. We are feeling lost and scared and angry and abandoned, and unsure of what the future holds. Just look around you, or read the daily news (if you can stomach it and/or put up with the news media’s modern goal of driving an inflamed, suspicious wedge between our country’s citizens). Folks these days get angry at the drop of a hat, or the honk of a horn. I‘ve always liked to give a polite little “beep” if the car in front of me takes longer than 3 or 4 seconds to respond to a green light. I’m not feeling at all angry, I’m just saying, “Hey, if you took this opportunity to read a text or dig in your purse for a tissue, I’m okay with that, but this is just a friendly, light touch of the horn button, to bring you back to the present! Peace be with you!” I mean, I appreciate it when the guy behind me provides that service to me! However, these days, with all the stories of people being shot in their cars from a road rage incident, or dragged out of their car and beaten to a pulp, I’m starting to feel a bit leery of employing the amiable green-light toot. Back in the old days, the worst response I might have received is someone yelling at me to “take a chill pill,” but in this chronically overwrought population we live with, my life could be ended by a misunderstood horn blast. And, of course, there are much worse examples of crazy overreactions to any perceived insult or threat. People are getting run over in the streets, in random acts of violence, by angry, broken (and, possibly brainwashed) people. At the international level, nuclear war threats are making headlines, while the inhabitants of some countries are, realistically speaking, being held captive by power-hungry and (seemingly) insane leaders. What can we do? Is there any hope of a cure for what ails and threatens us? The answer is……yes, THERE IS!

There is a potent prescription for all of us, just waiting to be pulled from the medicine cabinet, dusted off, and put to use daily. It is a balm designed to help us take a step back, and remember by whom, and for what, we were given life. We are made to love and serve and to strive for holiness. We are gifted to be co-creators of life and beautiful works of art, and our minds are made to solve problems and build bridges and give broken objects new life. Unfortunately, as witnessed in the increasingly selfish, ill-tempered, and morose crowd around us, our hearts will continue to grow more and more unsettled, until we are able to grasp the truth and find the courage and fortitude to embrace it. The prescribing physician is well known, even though many people choose to steer clear of his “office,” preferring to deal with sickness on their own, until they reach a point where they can barely function anymore. For so many, I guess that the unrelenting pain and emptiness is all worth it, as long as you can still have “control” over your own life….(sigh). If you, for one, are tired of the daily, meaningless grind, the Mighty Physician’s treatment plan really is quite easy to follow, and you can ramp up on it slowly, if you like.

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Here’s the detox phase, to get you started – begin with a short prayer each morning. Offer your day to God, and ask him to help you be, just for this day, the person that God wants you to be. When you go to bed at night, thank God for the gift of that day. Follow this simple formula for twelve weeks. If your heart begins the healing process (which I believe it will!), you will start to desire more from God. From there on out, “listen to” the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ask for the gifts that will lead you further and further down the road to wholeness. Sometimes you’ll forget, or be too tired to pray, or sometimes you’ll feel lost and unable to pray. It’s okay. When Peter tried to walk on the water, and he got scared and sank like a rock (which, by the way, Peter was, and is – Petra means rock in ancient Greek, and Peter/Petra was the rock on which Christ built his Church. So, being a rock is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, depending upon the situation, but that didn’t stop God from using our feckless, fickle Peter in an astoundingly huge way. St. Peter gives me more hope than just about any other saint, when it comes to realizing that my shortcomings don’t keep God from working in me and through me! In my weakness, God is made strong.) Our Lord did admonish Peter gently, by pointing out the smallness of his faith, but then Jesus reached out and saved Peter in his distress. God will do that for us, too. Constantly calling us deeper and deeper, but always traveling right beside us, ready to reach out and grab our hand when we cry out.

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Suddenly, there’s an old song playing in my head, recorded by Bette Midler in 1990. The lyrics tell of a God who is “watching us from a distance.” It is true that God is watching us, but he is not far away, gazing down on us from some lofty height. He is right behind us, just waiting for us to turn around, just waiting to be our healing physician, just waiting to calm our fears and lighten our hearts and lead us to the fulfillment of all that we are created for. And once we take that step, we can lead others, and they can lead more, and we can initiate change in our little piece of the world, one heart at a time, through the omnipotent love and power and mercy of our Creator God. Will it sweep away the bothersome struggles of this world, will it take away all the pain? No, because many will continue to refuse treatment, and that’s their choice, but it will change our outlook and our understanding of life, and give us hearts filled with love, flowing with God’s mercy and compassion. Better than any chill pill, is God’s will pill…(and that’s a motto I’m going to copyright!)

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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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Cat Kidnapping Caper

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Over the past few months, a stray, black cat has been making fugitive appearances around my client’s house. We cleaned out the freezer a few weeks ago and found some pre-cooked bacon to put out for the wildlife. (My client and her dad live on a wooded lot, and they love feeding the wild critters, especially the raccoons, possums, and birds.) Minutes later, as I watched, the petite, black kitty snuck stealthily up onto the deck, snagged a piece of bacon from one of the bowls, and hightailed it off into the underbrush. Sometimes, a member of the local cat society will stop by for a check of the daily lunch special, and I guess the menu had finally appealed to this feline “critter.” However a few weeks passed without another sighting of the black mouser (or, should I say, “baconer”).

Seemingly out of the blue, she showed up again earlier this week, and, bold as you please, tried to waltz right into the house when we opened the door onto the deck. I finally got a chance to hold her and get a good look at her. She was sweet as could be, but the poor little thing was missing her left eye. It was an old injury, the wound healed and shrunken, but still, it broke my heart. She did not appear to be underfed, but there was no collar (which to me, always implies homelessness for a cat!), plus, she seemed more than ready to move in with my client. I concluded that she was probably an unwanted pet who had been dropped off in the woods. My cat-loving instincts, along with my cat-whispering skills, came bubbling to the surface. I called my personal, cat-rescue mentor, Regina, and asked her what I should do, in my efforts to save this cat. First thing to do, she advised, would be to get the cat to a local animal clinic, get her scanned, and see if she had a microchip. By the time I had received that message, the cat was gone. I went walking through the woods, calling and calling, to no avail. I put my cat-saving super hero cloak away for the day.

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Two days later, I was at work again, no sign of the cat. At 3:00 in the afternoon, my client decided she wanted to go to Ikea. Considering the time of day, the potential traffic, and my shift ending in three hours, I was a bit skeptical about this Ikea idea, but I rallied, as any good employee (and loving friend!) would, and we were on our way to the van, when, “MEOW, MEEOOWW, MEEEEOOOWWW!” broke into our thoughts. Where was that noise coming from?! I scrutinizingly scanned the landscape, as I grew closer and closer to the source of the caterwaul, until I seemed to be standing right under it. I looked up, and sure enough, there was that black cat, stuck in a tree, the nearest branch at least 15 feet up. (Photo below, actual tree, she was in that little crook, where limbs start branching out! Okay…..maybe it was only 12 feet, but it felt like 15, or more!) I did what any self-respecting lion tamer would do…I tried to sweet talk her into coming down. No dice. She continued to complain…loudly. Time to call out the heavy rescue team.

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I went back inside to rustle up the rest of the emergency brigade, my client’s 88 year old dad. Together, we managed to drag a huge, heavy, extendable ladder out of the garage, up the driveway, and painstakingly (not to mention rather three-stoogishly, with only two stooges) get the ladder leaning, somewhat securely, against the tree. I started climbing. After a few rungs, I came back down to see if we could get the top of the ladder settled a bit more snuggly against the tree. I started back up, still noticing that the ladder was slipping off the tree a bit on the right side, but knowing that the two of us were not going to do any better with a third attempt. Each rung of the ladder became a prayer. Slowly, nervously, I inched my way to the top. Once there, I grabbed the cat like a mama cat would, by the back of the neck. She was not happy about that, at all! She howled at the top of her lungs and grabbed onto the tree for dear life. I am wrestling with this cat at the top of this ladder, thinking to myself, “If I fall, and I don’t die, my husband will kill me for taking this risk for a cat!” Somehow (no doubt through my prayers, my client’s prayers, and the watchful eye and intercessory prayers of St. Francis), I got the little lynx into my arms (or, one arm, to be exact), curled her up close to me and said, over and over, “You gotta trust me babe, you gotta trust me!” Then, painstakingly, white-knuckling the ladder with one hand, I deliberately worked my way down, one careful step at a time, until we were back on solid ground. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking as I placed the sweet (and now, calm) little girl into a carrier, which we had waiting and ready.

Fast forward through, 1: getting her to the vet;  2: getting a reading from the chip (YAY!);  3: calls made to the pet recovery service;  4: attempted calls to the registered owner which went unanswered;  5: realizing that we were obliged to house this cat until the owner responded, and stuck with finding alternative housing if the owner had vanished;  6: providing my cell number in the hope that they would hear from the owner and he or she wanted to contact me about getting pussycat back.

After returning to my client’s home, we set up plush, temporary housing in a basement room, which would protect little missy from my client’s two cats, and vice-versa. I headed home, after hearing from Regina that our only option for kitty (if we failed to hear from the owner) was to take her to the local SPCA, where she had originally been adopted from. They promised she would not be euthanized, and a new home would be found for her.

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Finally at 9:30 pm, my phone rang. IT WAS THE CAT OWNER, very surprised to have received a message that his cat, Olivia, had “been found,” because he had no idea she was even lost! Turns out, he lives practically in my client’s back yard (albeit an acre’s worth of woods away)! He was thinking that she had stayed out a little later than usual, but wasn’t really worried. I related the entire adventure, from bacon to basement and (luckily) he laughed and laughed, and so did I! We ended our conversation in hopeful agreement that Olivia’s tree-climbing days were over. But I was left with a slightly guilty conscience, realizing that I had been gloating about my successful foray into cat rescuing, while all along, I had actually been carrying out a clandestine cat kidnapping! After sheepishly swallowing my disagreeable dose of humility, I texted Regina to tell her the news, and apologize for wasting her time. She promptly forgave me by signing me up as an official volunteer for her cat rescue non-profit. Wow….I am an official cat rescuer now! Regina….., can I have a cape?!

Broccoli Buds on my Bicuspids

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Making the choice, and the concentrated effort, to eat healthier has many obvious good effects. However, some of you may be wondering, “What are the negative consequences of eating healthier?” I am here today to enlighten you on this taboo subject, to boldly go where organic farmers fear to tread (which is a pretty short list!), in order to bring into the light these hidden dangers of being a foodie.

First of all, eating healthy is just a lot of hard work. In simple terms, you can no longer eat out of a box or bag. No more easy-fix hamburger helper or mac & cheese, and don’t even think about soup from a can! And going through a fast-food drive-thru…..pphhttt….that’s gonna require DAYS of advance, online investigation! This way of life will necessitate premeditated food selection and labor-intensive food preparation. Just deciding to eat healthier is a big step, which you will have to present to those in your life who might be affected by it. After clearing that huge hurdle, this new lifestyle requires never-ending research, and driving around town to farmer’s markets and alternative vendors’ drop-off sites to find what you need. This burden has been lessened to some extent by the local grocer’s dive into the “natural foods” market (i.e., they saw a chance to cash-in on the latest eating trends). You have to be very careful, though, with the grocery store offerings, because food producers like to put all kinds of information on their labels that make their products sound healthy. Since finding out that I have a pretty serious gluten sensitivity, I have discovered all sorts of “gluten-free” items at the grocery store. I can safely drink a six-pack of Mountain Dew, or eat an entire box of Popsicles, and I will not have any allergic reaction, because they are gluten-free foods. Well, whoopdedoo and laudeedah…thank you, food mega-companies, for being so helpfully informative in your labeling practices.

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I must admit that I never make it to Farmer’s Markets anymore, but not because I don’t want to. I used to belong to a CSA, even worked the market for a couple of summers with my organic farmers, but then I got a job which has me working on Sunday mornings, and that’s the time of the market, so there went that plan. I miss it sorely, and have finally been forced to take up gardening again, to plug up, somewhat, the gaping hole left in my local, fresh, organic produce options. I find it amazing that what is now taking me so much work to grow, or extra money to purchase, is what God had all planned out in the first place, as being the PERFECT food sources for mankind…go figure. God’s design always wins out in the end, no matter what we’re talkin’ about!

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Some of the other “negative” side effects of healthy eating include, but are not limited to:

*constantly coming up against the naysayers and devil’s advocates of this world, who choose to believe everything the government “feeds” them, and like to question the need for healthier choices in eating, and complain about the harder work and higher cost of acquiring healthy food (most often climbing on their soapbox while they are stuffing grossly-processed piles of crap into their body, with an ingredient list which is illegible to all but the most highly schooled scientists among us!).

*coming up with additional storage spaces/appliances for piles of fresh produce and fresh eggs and sides of beef and whole chickens from your garden (or fruit trees or chickens) and/or from a local, organic farmer.

*finding tasty recipes for ways to use above mentioned produce (some of which you have never heard of before in your entire life, and also some of which you might not like) and whole chickens and unusual beef cuts and chicken bones and beef bones……in other words, learning to be good and adventurous stewards of “the harvest!”

*taking up the age-old practice of canning, when above mentioned produce gets out of hand.

*starting a compost pile because above-mentioned produce creates a lot of useful compost material.

*burning off most of your daily caloric intake by chopping up tons of the above-mentioned produce for your supper!

*realizing that you are beginning to get cravings for (GASP!) salad greens, and dealing with your friends’ teasing when they find this out.

*getting into a habit of always, before venturing out in public, checking your teeth for bits and pieces of fresh greens that may have become stuck on your teeth, and/or flossing to remove tiny broccoli florets.

*running out of storage room for all your new recipes (either on the bookshelves or on your Ipad).

*expanding your organic/natural preferences to other categories, like personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, health care, hair dye, etc.

*gloating about feeling healthier and more energetic, improving your metabolism, and maintaining a healthy weight

*struggling to remain humble, all the while knowing that you are doing good things for your body (and your family), and for the earth.

I, personally, can vouch for the authenticity of each of these healthy eating “side effects,” because I have experienced every one of them. I’m still on the journey to restoring my body to the level of health I was at prior to chemotherapy treatment nine years ago, but I am definitely heading in the right direction, and I will not give up, and neither should you, because this healthy way of eating will not “lettuce” down…even if it does get stuck in our teeth! IMG_2626.JPG

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!

Discovering Detroitians

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Until earlier this week, I had never been to Detroit, Michigan. For a lot of folks, that statement would make a perfect set-up for a one-liner about this convalescing metropolis, but I will refrain. The truth is, I quite enjoyed myself (east-side urban blight and I-75 south closed for miles notwithstanding). My husband and I traveled to this struggling city to visit the Fr. Solanus Casey Center (that’s where I am, in the photo above), which is on Mt. Elliott Ave. When we arrived late Sunday afternoon, the Fr. Solanus Center (aka, St. Bonaventure Monastery, of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin) was closed for the day. We had little to do but try to locate a place to stay for the night, and grab some supper. Finding ourselves practically at ground zero of the Detroit blight, but also of a frugal mindset, we looked up a few cheap hotels/motels that seemed to be located in a slightly recovered part of town. We said a prayer, charted a course, and headed to Gratiot Ave. Driving up Mt. Elliott on the way to Gratiot, we saw some of the sad remains of the Heidelberg Project. I had never heard of this monumental artistic/educational endeavor before, but my husband knew about it and had researched it. Sadly, I have a feeling that we missed the heyday by several years. As we continued up Elliott, onto Gratiot, then turned left on Van Dyke St., we witnessed the signs of death and decay of neighborhood after neighborhood. Our sight-seeing drive led us through a ghost town of houses in disrepair, many gutted and covered with graffiti, some the charred remains of arson; open lots with piles of rubble from houses that had fallen down; neglected weeds and bushes taking over sidewalks and buildings; and boarded-up windows of shuttered businesses. It was heart-breaking and hard to believe. I had heard of the Detroit blight, and seen a few pictures now and again, but I had no idea of the widespread destruction of neighborhoods. Seeing it in person made me sad.

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As signs of life began to reappear, we started looking for a Red Roof Inn we had researched. A quick drive through the parking lot alerted us to the shakiness of that option. We headed to a nearby Victory Inn. At the front desk, we met a very nice young man. I will not mention his name, but he was extremely polite and helpful and he bent over backwards to make us feel comfortable and find the perfect room. We chatted with him for quite some time, and come to find out, he is 19 years old, and has only been in the U.S. since his early teens. His entire family, after several attempts to flee a very dangerous situation in a Middle East country, had finally ended up as refugees in Detroit. I (figuratively) wrapped my arms around this young man (who is now, btw, a U. S. citizen), and am praying for him daily. I hope that he finds success and joy (and, a supportive faith community) in his “new” life in America. I left him with my email address, so that, just in case he ever makes it to Cincinnati, he can get in touch with us, even stay with us, if he likes. I sincerely hope to see him again someday!

After getting settled, we walked to a nearby Bob Evans, that (based on the size of the supper crowd) seems on the brink of shutting down. Our server there was a young man named Tuesday. Yes…that was really his name. I said to him, “You should be working at Ruby Tuesdays!” A big smile spread across his face, and he replied, “No one has ever thought of that before….that is a great idea!” From there, things just got better. I pointed out the picture on the wall, of the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio, and told him we had been there a few times, and that I had actually won the hog-calling contest once, at the farm festivals they used to host. He was very impressed. He kept returning to our table to chat and I fell in love with him, too. That kind, hospitable, hard-working young man/husband/father is going places, if he can chart a steady course, and meet someone who can offer him a good opportunity. He’s also been added to my daily prayer list. My husband and I walked back to our hotel, feeling blessed and encouraged by our “chance” (i.e., Holy Spirit orchestrated) encounters with these young men. Little did we know, our day’s journey was not yet complete.

Back in our room, we perused the Detroit tourism magazines, which are standard fare in guest rooms. I have a fondness for microbreweries, and my husband noticed an ad for a place not too far from us, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. It closed at 10:00pm on Sundays, and it was now 9:00. If we hurried, we might make it in time for a brewsky. Using our handy-dandy, vintage road map once again, we made it to the pub by 9:30. We ordered a flight of five brews (my favorite being a Scottish ale called, “A Few Shillings Too Many”), and began to chat with the one other patron and the server. We informed them that we were in town to visit the Fr. Solanus Center, which required (as usual) a retelling of my Fr. Casey “story” (if you haven’t yet, read last week’s post!). In our continuing bar patron palaver, we mentioned our 35th anniversary the following day, and the fact that I was a breast cancer survivor, 9 years out now. The reaction to that news brought to our attention another (previously undetected) patron at the opposite end of the bar, who then applauded me, and asked me how it had changed my life. I gave him the abridged version of growing in faith, learning to appreciate the little things, and eating healthier. By this point, the servers were locking up, so we asked for our bill. We noticed an interaction between our server and the man at the end of the bar, and after a few minutes, our waitress came back with our bill, announcing that we had received a 50% out-of-towners discount. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled. Another little gift, dropped in our laps, simply because people were noticing our joy and kindness, and were reacting in kind. Uplifted and grateful, we returned, once again, to our night’s lodgings. We set our alarms for early the next morning and dove into bed with the anticipation of tomorrow’s visit to the tomb of Fr. Solanus Casey….which is a “whole-nother” story in itself, and makes this tale a “to be continued” enterprise. Make a note on your calendar to visit with me again next week, to enjoy the rest of this entertaining travel saga!

Mow It Down March

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It all started with No Shave November. Someone on social media came up with this (somewhat) alliterated phrase suggesting that this was the month that all of us womenfolk burn our razors and let the leg hair go wild. As soon as Halloween has passed us by, we’re subjected to posts regarding the winter shaving habits of women all around the world (or, possibly, just in the northern hemisphere). Of course, this isn’t something that has come about since social sites became a means of sharing our every move with every one. I, personally, have been in the habit of relaxing the winter shaving schedule since these facebook youngters were knee-high to….to my shaved knees! My patella protrusions were shaved back then, even during the winter, because knee-high socks were in style, so the lower, hairier parts of my extremities could be safely hidden behind my hefty hosiery. I only had to worry about public exposure of the neglected leg locks during gym class and church on Sunday. Knee socks were a life-saver, all through the long, wooly winter. Anyway, I still allow my facebook friends to have their fun, while reluctantly withholding the history lesson.

However, I’ve always been frustrated with the no-shave focus limited to just November. The way I see it, No Shave November is merely the first in a five step cold weather custom. In a climate where most legs (of season-smart dressers, anyway) go into hiding for the winter, I’m wondering what my lanate lower limbs motto should be for the remainder of the hibernation months. I’ve been waiting for someone on facebook (who obviously has lots of time to waste) to figure this out for me, but it is just not happening, so allow me to take the bull by the hairy legs, pull out my thesaurus, and get the job done.

No Shave November slips by quickly and quietly. No one really notices the nubs that have sprouted like garden plant seedlings, hidden in the basement, being quietly nurtured with gentle care. Before you know it, the stuffed bird has left us stuffed, and we’ve moved on to…Decidely Shaggy December. This is the trickiest of all the no-shave months. Many of the faithful followers of the no-shave community cave at this point. There are holiday parties and skimpy dresses to wear to said parties. At this point, only the toughest and bravest can continue to carry the torch. We carry it through the blaze of the holidays, packaged up in bright Christmas socks and long pants, right into Just Plain Pileous January.

Life in Ohio during January, as you all know, from my previous posts, is barely worth living, and it is certainly not worth shaving for. For all the diehards who have held fast to the no-shave plan through December, January is a breeze! In January, I simply don’t care what anyone thinks of my legs. They are either wrapped up in warm boots or buried under a pile of blankets, and if something comes up where they’re going to be exposed, like a doctor’s appointment or emergency room visit, I consider it a good test of a doctor’s professionalism and/or sense of humor. A shave free January is a no-brainer, so let’s just move on, people, to Fabulously Furry February.

This is the month of valentine cards and chocolates, so the numbers of our cult dwindle, once again. This commitment is not for the faint of heart, and if women want to choose romance over membership in our club, so be it. And, good riddance. We have no tolerance for the temperamental. If you can’t say good-bye to the blade for the whole winter, you’re not fit to call yourself a No-shaver. Which brings us to the next, and final, month for our No Shave Society.

Spring weather is on the prowl, and will soon be a daily encounter. Some of you may have even had a pretty good taste of an early spring this year, before old man winter pounced relentlessly upon us, one last time. It was tempting to give up on tending the lower tresses during the week of temps in the 60’s. But I did not give up. When you’ve come this far, there are shrouded, secretive ways to carry on, which I will not divulge at this time. Suffice it to say that it can be done, when one has made an unyielding commitment to the pledge. Spring begins officially today, and so, I can celebrate by dusting off my razor and participating fully in the springtime ritual of the No Shave fanatics. Happy Mow It Down March to all of my fellow, (and, now) clean-shaven comrades. Have a lovely spring and an adventurous summer, and I’ll see you all again in November, for the next No Shave kick-off!