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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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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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!

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!

The Humble Mediator of Miracles (Part 2 of the “Detroit Chronicles”)

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After hours of tossing and turning in a hotel bed (with possibly 2 or 3 hours of good sleep mixed in), my husband and I were ready for day two of our Michigan meanderings – our pilgrimage to the Fr. Solanus Casey Center. This was the main reason we had headed up north for a less-than-24-hours trip to The Motor City. (If you haven’t yet read Part 1 of the saga, check the archives for Discovering Detroitians, and get caught up before continuing.) I was so excited about my “meeting” with the prayerful porter, that even the bothersome symptoms of sleep deprivation were held at bay for the time being. My soul longed to attend morning Mass in the same chapel where Fr. Casey had celebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist for so many years. After that, I planned to browse through the museum of artifacts which were his daily “companions” of the priestly life, feast my eyes on the photos and stories of his large (15 siblings) Irish-American family, and (most of all) to kneel and pray at his tomb.

The self-guided tour at the Center begins with entry through a set of large wooden doors, inside of which, many years go, you would have encountered Fr. Solanus in his position as doorkeeper. His was a lowly, humble title, no doubt based on his history of struggling with the seminary academics and the resulting limits placed on his priestly functions (and, quiet possibly, a credit to his years as head porter at Sacred Heart Parish and monastery in Yonkers, NY). However, we all know that God often chooses the lowly, preferring the humble route as a means to share his love and spread the good news of his eternal Kingdom. This position was not a deterrent to Fr. Casey, whose popularity at the entryway began almost immediately upon his return to the Detroit monastery in 1924. The number of visitors to the monastery doors began to swell almost immediately. Fr. Solanus was such a kind and holy man, who took the time to listen, and help in any way he could. Word spread like wildfire, and the lines grew longer. Soon, the faithful were requesting that the front office be enlarged, and a waiting room with seating be provided. The Capuchins granted these requests, and the one-on-one sessions continued, with each caller receiving Fr. Casey’s full attention for as long as needed, while the others waited patiently for their turns. Fr. Casey often stayed at his post from 7:00 am until 10:00 pm each day. During these daily encounters, broken hearts were mended, medical concerns often healed miraculously, and lost souls found their way to the place of wholeness and joy, which is, always and without fail, found at the center of God’s will for one’s life. Fr. Solanus was a porter, a mentor, a guide, a prophet, a healer, and, perhaps most importantly, a loving and generous friend. The simple diary that he kept of his daily encounters reveals the miracles that were reported due to his intercession and healing touch.

My history with Fr. Casey goes back about eleven or twelve years ago, when I initiated a youth group at our church for my older daughters and their friends. One of my co-leaders did a teaching on Venerable Solanus Casey, and my Irish roots, combined with family ties to the Casey name, made me an instant fan of this beloved man. Since that time, so many years ago, I have spoken daily with the humble porter, and he has responded by taking me under his wing, with obvious care and intervention. When our latest wedding anniversary was approaching, I asked my husband if we could make the trek to Detroit, to visit the central hub for the promotion of Fr. Casey’s eventual canonization. It was just a few days later that I received the news that a miracle had been researched and found to be authentic, and Fr. Casey’s beatification (2nd step to official sainthood) would take place this fall. Following shortly on the heels of that announcement, we experienced our own miracle, with the healing of my client (read previous post, Embracing a Miracle).

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All of these wonderful events led up to that beautiful day at the Fr. Solanus Casey Center, where I kneeled at the tomb and, with tears in my eyes, thanked Fr. Casey for all of his prayers, and placed in his loving hands even more prayers, for so many of my friends and loved ones. We spoke with Brother Richard about the healing of my client, and he received the news with great enthusiasm, asking that I send copies of x-rays with a detailed account of what had happened. We listened with rapt attention to the center’s hostess, as she told us the story of Fr. Albert’s healing, while attending to an aging Fr Solanus in the last year of his life on earth. Then, lo and behold, Fr. Albert walked by, and we were able to meet him and hear his inspiring story first-hand. And then, for the grand finale of the day, managing to be in the right place at just the right time, we were blessed by a relic that Fr. Casey had carried with him every day, a circular reliquary case which holds tiny relics of the true cross, surrounded by relics of the twelve apostles. As we stood in a small circle, touching the reliquary with one finger as Br. Richard prayed with us, and then blessed us, I imagined Fr. Casey standing there with us, and felt the Holy Spirit flowing within me. I knew that I was being powerfully strengthened for my continued journey on the path to holiness. This heavenly “cloud of witnesses” that God allows us to be part of is such a great and incomprehensible gift. Those who have fought the good fight and remained faithful until the end, they are there for us, longing to be called upon for prayers and assistance. They will carry our needs and concerns and desires to the throne of God, and, when that happens….well, as Fr. Solanus always counseled, to those asking for healings and favors, “Let us thank God in advance,” because His gifts, though not always exactly what we ask for, are indeed, always good and always fruitful. All you Angels and Saints in Heaven, please pray (without ceasing) for us!

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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!