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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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

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

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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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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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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!

I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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What I Did on my Summer Vacation

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

While in New Jersey/New York/Connecticut…

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

You Didn’t Know It, But I’m a Poet!

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

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Louie the Shark    

I bought an older Hyundai,

A sweet, reliable guy.

He’s the greatest transport buddy.

If I lost him I would cry.

 

There is one crazy thing, though,

he thinks he is a shark.

I know because he told me,

one night when it was dark.

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At first I thought him loony.

He’s just a common ride

who’d never seen the ocean,

and not once rode the tide.

 

But as I looked much closer,

I was surprised to find

a cute gray fin upon his back,

a baby sharkish kind.

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He had a battle scuffle

etched on his auto nose.

I’ve seen a real ocean shark

sporting one of those.

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And so, in part, for his sake,

I headed to the shore,

all the way to Virginia Beach.

six hundred miles and more.

 

My plan was for his welfare.

I hoped that he might find

a day spent near the ocean

would soothe his shark-like mind.

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He couldn’t hang out on the beach,

The lifeguards wouldn’t let him.

An access road with ocean views

Was the closest I could get him.

 

But, Oh, he was so happy,

his horn beeped Ode to Joy.

He didn’t want to pull away,

he shouted out, “Ahoy!”

 

I witnessed this with merry mirth,

my gray car’s alter ego.

And now I could believe him,

my auto shark amigo.

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I’m considering a vanity plate

(if they didn’t cost so much),

‘cause what I’d put upon it

would be the sovereign touch.

(“LUI SHRK”)

 

So someday you might see us,

driving in your town,

me and my harmless, land-locked shark,

sporting our sharky crown.

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I hope that you will greet us

and give my shark a wave,

’cause waves are what he longs for

my car shark, true and brave!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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