Fat Tuesday Facts

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Tuesday is the big day, people. We can eat, drink, and be merry, because looming ahead is the Forty Days Of Lent! I have everything in place for our own big Mardi Gras blowout. At the store today, I bought two (yes, I said TWO!) bags of flavored popcorn and a bag of peanut M&M’s! After a normal, at-home supper, we will work on our winter jigsaw puzzle, watch the winter Olympics on Network television, and snack on the acquired goodies. WOO-HOO, this is gonna be some crazy party here tomorrow night!

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The historical intent of Mardi Gras is religiously/liturgical calendar based. Mardi Gras is French for “fat Tuesday,” and this was the day that the French Christians would finish up all of their butter and rich cuts of meat, so as to be better disposed to hearing the word of God during Lent. (Making little sacrifices does, indeed, lend oneself to being a better listener, for that I can testify!) This Wed, we will enter into the penitential season of Lent, when we give up certain earthly pleasures to allow our hearts to be more open to the joy of knowing and loving God. Some people choose to give up meat, or chocolates, or all sweets, or snack foods. Others might choose to refrain from complaining or criticizing, which is a different form of “fasting” that could be very beneficial for themselves and those whom they love. This is, at least, the history of Mardi Gras. It was a day, sometimes several days (or weeks, even), when Christians would celebrate and eat heartily prior to Ash Wed. Sometimes there were masked balls and public celebrations, particularly in France. In the UK and Ireland, the day before Lent is referred to as Shrove Tuesday instead, which points more strongly to the true nature of the observance and the coming Lenten season. Shrovetide (which is actually the whole week leading up to Lent), comes from the word “shrive, which means to confess, or to be pardoned. In other words, folks in England & Ireland are promoting a visit to the confessional during that week prior to Ash Wednesday, to prepare oneself appropriately for the coming liturgical season. And, then, for some unknown reason, they all go home and eat pancakes. Don’t ask me why.

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With our country’s fair state of Louisiana being historically settled by a strong French influx and influence, it was natural that the more extensive Mardi Gras observances would flourish there. Everyone has heard of the contemporary Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and thousands travel there to join in the excitement. Over the years, however, they have thrown out the Christian concept of the season, and have adopted the observances of the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia. This was a feast (around the same time of year) to honor the pagan god of fertility. In addition to feasting, there was lots of booze and “carnal behavior.” Sounds pretty much exactly like what goes on in New Orleans these days. You could not pay me to go there! In my house, we will stick to the liturgical sense of the season, which doesn’t lead to possible weight gain, hellacious hangovers, and serious deathbed regrets.

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So, if you haven’t already, get to the store, get to confession, and get ready for Ash Wednesday. It will be here soon, and by then, all of the pancakes will be long gone. You don’t want to miss out on those pancakes, and you don’t want to miss out on a holy Lent, either. Lent is one of the best “gifts” of the liturgical year, so don let it slip by unnoticed. So, when the Mardi Gras celebrations are but a memory, head to church this Wednesday for (what I call) “Must Ash” day (Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches can be counted on for observing this practice). You’ll feel the gritty ash against your skin as the shape of a cross is imprinted upon your forehead. Wear it proudly throughout the day….you’ll be glad you did!

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A Seasonal Song for You

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This time of year, some of us are walking on eggshells, wondering if we are “allowed” to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Is it more proper to say “Season’s Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays,” or perhaps, “Bah, humbug!”? I got news for ya’ folks. If it weren’t for Christmas, there would be no seasonal greetings needed, and also no holidays to be happy about. The “season” was built a long, long time ago, around Christmas! Yeah, there’s New Year’s Day, but…who cares about that?! This lowly holiday gets top billing only because it happens to come a week after Christmas, which is the holiday, and the reason for the “season!!” And folks have been using those different seasonal greetings for years, and they all refer mainly to Christmas, followed by that humble holiday who just happened to be lucky enough to tag along with the Star! (the Star……get it?!) When folks use those salutations of Season’s Greetings and/or Happy Holidays, they are, in fact, wishing you a Merry Christmas anyway…they just don’t realize it.

Here’s what it boils down to – you can offer to me whatever you like, by way of seasonal greeting, and I will sincerely thank you, and then wish you a Merry Christmas, BUT, I will only say that when Christmas is really here. Because here’s the next big surprise that will cause a wedgie in your “holiday” PJ’s…Christmas starts at midnight on Christmas Eve! It didn’t start shortly after Halloween, when the stores immediately clearanced the left-over Trick-or-Treat candy and set out the Christmas sweets, decorations, gift bags, Santa hats, Christmas socks, etc, etc. And, it didn’t start on Black Friday, when people got up hours before the sunrise and started the mad rush to buy gifts for everyone on their list. Nope! Christmas starts on the anniversary (or at least the date that has been traditionally celebrated, for nearly 2000 years, as the anniversary) of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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So, while you’re all biting your tongue wondering what greeting to offer, I ask you to consider this new approach. Greet people within the confines of the correct season. I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to be doing. When someone tosses any of the above mentioned good wishes my way (or offers a greeting for any other holiday of their choosing), I am going to respond with this gem, “And a blessed Advent to you!” I don’t know why I didn’t think of this years ago, but, this little idea finally found a way to get my attention, and I am groovin’ on this ingenious concept! I no longer have to worry about whether or not to say Merry Christmas, because…., IT’S ADVENT!!

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I have spent the past few days standing in front of the mirror, practicing this response, and I think I have it down pat now. “A blessed Advent to you!” I even made up a little song, just for fun, and in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing it with you.

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I Wish You a Blessed Advent

(sung to the tune of, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

(refrain)

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

Cuz it’s not Christmas yet.

 

Slow down and take time

To truly employ,

The gift of a holy Advent

And the coming of Joy!

(repeat refrain)

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That was my early Christmas gift to you and, yes, I am still allowed to say the word Christmas – I’m not being a tyrannical scrooge, here! If you go Christmas caroling, go ahead and sing the word Christmas at the top of your lungs, but just keep in mind, we’re still waiting for Christmas to arrive. Once it does, I’ll be wishing people a Merry Christmas for at least a couple of weeks, maybe even until Epiphany, and folks will look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, not even realizing that they are being liturgically incorrect by packing the Christmas albums away the day after Christmas! At any rate, right now, in December, we should all be preparing our hearts to genuinely rejoice and celebrate the birthday of Jesus at the proper time. And that, my friends, is what this season of Advent is all about – not shopping, not parties, not gift exchanges, not decking the halls….just waiting, and watching, in the still of the night, as though we were lowly shepherds in the field, always on the alert for the sound of angel voices. They always come when you least expect them, but only if you find a quiet place, and take the time to listen. So….embrace your own holy and blessed Advent, while there’s still time.

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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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Fried Zucchini Summer

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The summer I graduated from high school, and my horse and pony had been sold in anticipation of me going off to photography school, my dad used part of our former pasture area for his first vegetable garden. He tilled and planted a whopper of a plot, considering our family size. By mid-August, we were drowning in egg plant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dad lugged piles of produce off to work each morning, to share with his co-workers at Goodyear, and there was still plenty left over for us. My absolute favorite was the zucchini…breaded and fried zucchini, to be exact. My dad and I could polish off two large zucs between the two of us, because they were so incredibly yummy. It was a special thing we shared between us, that hankerin’ for fried zucchini. Now that I’m much older, and my dad is long gone, I can transport myself back to that bittersweet, transitional summer, with overgrown zucchini from my own garden. I slice them up, just like I did for my dad and I, then I dip them in egg and flour (actually, gluten-free flour, or sometimes almond meal), fry those babies up, close my eyes and take a big bite…and suddenly, I’m back in our old kitchen, with my father, living that zucchini summer all over again.

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It’s an inexpensive and safe method of time-travel, these sensory memory triggers. I travel the taste bud route quite often, with certain foods that take me back to times shared with my dad (because when little tag-along me joined the family, my mom went to work full-time, my Grandma Casey moved in with us, and my dad pitched in by taking over most of the meal preparation for our family). There were other food favorites that we had in common, like soup beans and ham with cornbread, and pot roast with potatoes and carrots. One bite of any of those, and the gustation process can carry me back in a second, if I close my eyes, sit quietly, and savor the flavor, along with the memories.

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The olfactory passage to the past is closely related to the taste route, so it often takes me to the same places, but is has the power to transport me to a myriad of other memories. All I have to do is walk into a horse barn, catch one wonderful whiff, and I am at the county fair, hanging out with my 4-H buddies, cleaning the stall, showing Paco (my quarter horse) in the ring, rubbing my hand down his soft, sweaty neck, or sometimes lunching on corndogs and lemon shake-ups, or inhaling the helium from a balloon to talk like Donald Duck. I am young and carefree, my parents are there with me at our campsite, and we are sitting around the fire with friends. Or, how about the passage power of holding a baby, and smelling his/her sweet head (what is it with the smell of baby’s heads?!). These days, when a baby is in my arms, I fly back to the early days of parenting, holding my own little ones, nursing them, rocking them in my arms while singing lullabies – it’s all there, in full color and complete, sensual detail. The quality of transport and the clear view of those days-gone-by is really quite amazing.

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Other times, I travel back by way of an old song that slides from my ears right down to my heart, and I find myself with an old friend, hanging out in their basement, or at one of our favorite haunts. Or I might end up at a high school prom, dancing in the arms of a high school heart throb. Sometimes it’s the sound of laughter that reminds me of my mom, and takes me back “home” again. She was the kind who would occasionally get unexplainably tickled by some silly episode, then laugh for 15 minutes, until she was crying and could hardly breathe, while the rest of us were all laughing at her (even though we were often clueless regarding the original trigger for her laughter, and she would be laughing way to hard to fill us in!). There are other times when a sound can transport me to completely unexpected places: I hear a train whistle, and suddenly, I am sitting at the tracks, in the car with my mom, counting the railway cars to make the time pass more pleasantly, and trying to be the first one to spot the caboose. A rumble of thunder, of the boom of fireworks can also occasionally work their magic on me. The hearing path to yesterday is probably the most surprising and mysterious for me, because I just never know when or where it will strike, and where I might end up.

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Of course, we can’t leave out the sight triggers for time travel – there are so many opportunities. We live in the age of photography, so all we have to do is pull out an old photo album, and BAM…we’re there again, with ease. Or how about digging through those storage boxes of sentimental items? Those have serious transference power, too. But there are also more subtle ways that sneak up on us, like coming upon a field of sunflowers, or finding a beautiful shell on the beach, or witnessing a breath-taking sunset. Our mind can latch onto anything our eyes take in, and, in a millisecond, carry us back to some almost forgotten place.

And then there’s that last sense….touch. In my opinion, touch kind of tags along with the other senses, and enhances the time-travel journey. When I’m eating fried zucchini, just the feel of it in my mouth adds to the full effect. And those 4-H fair memories….if I get a chance to run my hands down a horse’s neck or side, or touch his soft nose…that just makes all the above-mentioned images come more clearly into focus. Same concept with the touch of my lips on a baby’s head, or feeling the warmth of a wee one against my body, or their soft breath upon my neck as I rock them – the memories they trigger are like a 3D movie, with all senses fully functioning.

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If you have days of old that you would like to revisit, step away from the rush of life this week, and enjoy a cruise down memory lane. Your very own time travel voyage is just a taste (or a smell, or a vision, or a sound, or a touch) away, but you have to be open to the excursion and willing to put some effort into quiet reflection. I hope you have pleasant travel, and don’t forget to send me a postcard!

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Vintage Comedy, The Best Medicine

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Back in the day, when I was a youngster, comedy was a lot cleaner. In that practically paleolithic setting, before the “f-word” came flowing freely out of everyone’s mouth like cow pies from a bovine’s back end, jokes were cornier…and much, much funnier. Comedians could actually make people laugh without relying upon vulgar vocabulary or bawdy subject material. That was true comedic artistry. It came from a sense of humor that focused inward, rather than outward, and that made it sincerely entertaining and uplifting. By the time the 60’s rolled around, mainstream comedy was, indeed, pushing the envelope towards the outskirts of civilized culture. Nonetheless, those oldies but goodies, that were safe for young, innocent eyes and ears, were (and still are) the very best.
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When my family needed a good laugh, we had the Smothers Brothers, Red Skelton, Carol Burnet, and Tim Conway to entertain us on evening television broadcasts. These entertainers were the cream of the crop! Red Skelton often didn’t say a word, but he would have me rolling in laughter. The Smothers Brothers, with their engaging recipe of musical talent, dry delivery, and Tommy’s feigned nit-wittedness, were both geekishly adorable and outlandishly funny. Carol Burnett, along with Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Vicki Lawrence, won the hearts of America through their skits and lively humor on The Carol Burnett Show. I used to love all of those funny sketches they came up with, often laughing so hard that tears streamed from my eyes, and my cheeks hurt from being stuck in the laugh position for a prolonged period! Some of my favorites were “Went with the Wind,” “The Family,” and “Mrs. Wiggins.” Tim Conway would often ad-lib and pull some funny gags on the rest of the cast during the final taping, which often put Harvey Korman in stitches…and it would air like that! Those unrehearsed additions became fondly referred to as “Conway’s Capers!” Tim Conway is still my all-time favorite, with his simple (yet, genius), improvised humor. My two favorite characters of his on The Carol Burnett Show were “The Old Man,” an old guy who did everything excruciatingly slowly, and Mr. Tudball, a businessman with an awesome accent who was always calling on his inept secretary, Mrs. (Huh)Wiggins (which was how he pronounced her name) in hopes that she would actually get something done. In school with my buddies, I did my own comical impersonations of both of those characters, ad nauseam. The Carol Burnett Show ran from 1967 until 1978, which pretty much spanned my entire TV-viewing childhood (I was 7 when it began, and I graduated from high school the year it went off the air!). Between that show and Erma Bombeck’s books, my future comedy style was nailed down tight! (My “grown-up” friends, who didn’t know me as a child but who know me well now, are saying, at this exact moment, “Ahhhh……, this explains a lot!!)

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Add to that my family influences, it’s easy to see how a disposition towards a comical style was an inescapable shoo-in for me. Both my mom and my mother-in-law were admirers of the classic, clean humor one-liners (and I just posted about my zany, Irish grandma a week or so ago). There were wall plaques and old postcards stuck all around in my mom’s house just to encourage a smile or chortle. One that I can recall said something about only really boring people having clean houses (my mom was definitely not boring, if ya’ catch my drift…). The best, though, were her t-shirts. She had one that said, “Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss My Mind the Most,” and another with the ever popular, “I’m starting my diet tomorrow.” Once, after I was grown and living far afield, she came to visit me just in time for Taste of Cincinnati. We headed downtown for the fun, not even realizing she was wearing the “diet” t-shirt, until someone mentioned it to her. She got several appreciative laughs and comments out of that lucky mistake!FullSizeRender.jpgMy mother-in-law was also a lover of the common man’s humor. She volunteered for years at a thrift store which benefitted a local charity, and she managed to collect quite a few wall hangings etched with plebian playfulness. My two favorites were as follows – a plaque with a drawstring that you would pull if you were waiting in line for the bathroom; it played the song, “How dry I am, How wet I’ll be, If I don’t find, The bathroom key,” and a little sign she hung out in the outhouse which said, “No job is finished until the paperwork is done.” (And, yes….I did say “outhouse,” and we still have that outhouse on our property in Indiana, and the sign is still in there!)

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So, I guess what I’m getting at here, with all this talk of clean humor and innocent bathroom jokes is this…does anyone besides me think it’s time that we raise our standards on what we think is funny? Can we all start boycotting comedians who use foul language and sex jokes? Because, really, it’s not funny, it’s not creative, it’s not pleasant to sit through, and it’s definitely not condusive of a good, belly laugh. What we need in our lives right now are more Carol Burnetts and Tim Conways, who can see humor in the bothersome things of life and make us laugh about them, and, more important, make us laugh at ourselves! I think this is one of our biggest societal problems right now. We all take ourselves and our piddly little problems so darn seriously. I’m not talking about people carrying a heavy load of serious medical concerns, or facing financial disaster, I am talking about the person who goes ballistic when Arby’s is out of their favorite fruit pie (or some such weeny-head nonsense)! Take a step back people, and think of those two well-known tips on enjoying life – #1 Don’t sweat the small stuff; #2 Most of it is small stuff! We’re so wrapped up in ourselves we’ve forgotten the beauty of simple, uplifting fun and laughter. We’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled into the cesspool of modern comedy, which is only going to make us more cranky and despondent. I prescribe the following for all of you this week – find the Carol Burnett Show’s official channel on YouTube and sign up to watch a few episodes. (Or find a DVD version at your local library.) Pick out a few that sound interesting to you, take two of them and….no need to call me in the morning. I already know you’ll be feeling much better!

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The Curse of the Casey Leadfoot

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Most families have certain ancestral afflictions that manifest themselves in each generation. The tribal tribulations of our branch of the Casey clan are bounteous and diverse. They include the common complaints of unappreciated body attributes (ours being, for the girls, overly ample thighs and breasts, complimented, for both genders, by big ears and noses, with a tendency to being pleasingly plump) and extend to the more eccentric traits unique to one’s own family tree. One of our more interesting peculiarities is the Casey gift of wittiness and mischief. My Grandma Casey (who married into the name) was exceedingly odd in her sense of humor. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that her husband died in a train accident when their children were still quite young, my mother (the youngest) being only 6 years old at the time. Grandma had to raise those children by herself, through the economic hardships of the Depression and World War II. Through those struggles, she developed a rather peculiar, and sometimes rather puerile, sense of humor. I guess we could look at the facts of my grandma’s personality and speculate that the Casey curses might actually be the Duncan curses (my grandma’s maiden name), but from stories I’ve heard, my grandpa was also quite witty and mischievous, and gifted at planning and executing shenanigans, so we can’t be changing the story at this stage of the game! Any way you look at it, I grew up being nurtured by an unending source of Irish “malarkiness!”

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One of my absolute favorite sayings, passed down from my grandma to my mom (but, going no further, because my daughters refused to let me carry on the tradition) was Grandma’s general response to the question, “What are we having for supper?” I have to admit that this question from my children usually annoyed me considerably, because I knew that someone was going to complain about the menu. Plus, why even ask that question?! You’ll know the answer in about 20 minutes, when you sit down at the table, so what’s the deal with needing advanced notification? Is it because more time is needed to whine about the food and come up with excuses to avoid eating it? I would think back to my grandma, trying her best, without public assistance, to feed her children during the depression. I’m not sure if she ever fed them coffee soup (the inspiration for the name of this blog!), or sugar/milk toast, or “practically shitless shingles,” or any of her other signature meals, but I would guess that they did have to suffer through them at least on occasion. When you have next-to-nothing, you learn how to make many a filling “meal” out of crackers and bread, canned soup and/or “meat,” and a bit of coffee and/or milk. At any rate, Grandma Casey, when being asked about the supper offering, came up with this familial pearl-of-great-price…”We’re having fried farts and pickled assholes.” I’m not making this up, people…my grandma made it up, and said it very often. And then my mother carried on the tradition and said it quite frequently to me. As a kid, I never really thought that much about it, but as I got older, it slowly dawned on me that no one else in the world ever uttered this phrase. As I matured, I found myself really thinking through this meal option, and…let’s face it, it’s just plain gross, and it really doesn’t seem very filling at all. But still, I had to appreciate the wacky humor that my grandma used to get herself (and her children) through that inconceivably difficult span of years. She was carrying a very heavy cross, but she found a way to make herself laugh through the struggle. Later, after the Depression was over, and more women were gathered into the workforce, my grandma was hired at Goodyear Aerospace, and things got better for her small family. That wasn’t the end of the adolescent-like mischievousness though…not by a long shot!

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Even though I was never allowed to carry on that particular witty-response tradition, and I am disappointed that it will die with me, I do feel exceedingly blessed by the crazy spirit of survival that my grandma’s example has inspired in me. I can come up with the silliest jokes at the weirdest times. And people do often look at me like, “WHAT? She’s making jokes at a time like this?!” I don’t care what people think. My humor is not always understood by everyone. The only thing that matters is, my waggish, spontaneous comments or retorts usually lift my soul (and other’s souls) from the depths of sadness, and keep me from taking myself, and my trials, too seriously. I have made a funny comment or pun following the death of a loved one, and when I found out I had breast cancer, or when I am sitting in the hospital with a friend who is struggling through a medical crisis. I just can’t help it. These witticisms come to me unbidden, like sweet gifts of love and joy and encouragement from God. And when I can laugh, and make others laugh (or, at least smile) in the darkest of times, I feel like I’ve done a good deed for mankind.

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At this point, however, I realize, you’re all wondering, “What about the whole curse-of-the-Casey-leadfoot thing?!” It’s just another element of the family humor, and something that was often brought up in conversation. I can see the manifestations of this particular curse in many of my family members. On that subject, suffice it to say, if you ever see me and Louie the Shark coming up behind you in the fast lane (see previous post, You Didn’t Know it, But I’m a Poet), get the heck out of the way, ’cause we’re racing to the end of the rainbow, to find that pot of gold. And my little Louie, under the spell of the Casey leadfoot…he don’t mess around!

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My Days as a Super Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

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

While in New Jersey/New York/Connecticut…

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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