Fat Tuesday Facts


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!


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.


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.


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!



Christmas in my Heart

On this warm and gloomy day The snow of Christmas slipped away. All that’s left is a pile or two That from our shoveling efforts grew.   The Christmas lights are finally down All packed away and neatly wound, To … Continue reading

Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.


As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.


All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.


While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.


Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.


And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!


Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)


My Days as a Super Hero


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.


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.


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.


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!

Utensils vs U-turns


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.


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).


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!


Dusting Off the Ashes

My return to normalcy has been slow and steady. Oh, sure – some days it seems like New Year’s Day was just a week or so ago (and, just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the “new” year of 2016!), but when I try to reflect on the past twelve months, my life blurs into one mad rush of “what-the-hell-just-happened-and-how-did-I-survive-it” scenario. We all go through times like this: long, drawn out seasons of challenge and change and confusion.

Such times are difficult, but necessary. When in the midst of these arduous passages, I often wonder if I will ever come out again on the other side. Time slows to a sloth-like progression, and daily responsibilities loom like treacherous storm clouds on the horizon. Despair casts its net, and I fight it with all I’ve got, trying to avoid being tripped up and dragged down. “Hang in there just ONE…MORE…DAY,” becomes my daily mantra, while my constant friends, hope & faith, try to remind me that this trailblazing, uphill climb is leading somewhere worthwhile. Each day takes me further and further afield, and I grow weary trying to find my own way back to where I’d like to be. What frustrates me the most in these situations is that I feel like I was listening, that God had made His plan very clear to me, and His guiding hand had gone before me. But the place I ended up didn’t seem all that great, and God was suddenly, suspiciously, quiet. I’ve been here before, but still, I always have to remind myself…often – this is where trust comes in to play. Trust is often referred to as “faith in action.” With genuine trust, people are able to get up every day and do what needs to be done, and those whose paths intersect with them do not see a lost soul – they see a person carrying their own particular cross, who acts with compassion, empathy, good humor, and hope, spreading the light of faith, in spite of the trials. I believe that I was able to do this. From the things that I shared, close friends and family knew that I was going through a difficult time, but I tried hard to give my best to those I served each and every day. (To keep this honest, however, I must confess that while I was hanging out at home, I was sometimes crabby, I played a lot of games on my Ipad, and I slept more than usual, with my cat on my lap. And creative pursuits, like blog writing and crafting, were stored on a dark shelf in the dungeon.)

Fast forward now to New Year’s 2017. Exactly how I got here is a fuzzy mix of images, but at least I have arrived safely, and the storm clouds that tormented me for months are now but a distant memory. My hard fought battle with uncertainty and anxiety has been won, and I’ve come to a land of quiet joy and peaceful beauty. I recognize this country, because…I’ve been here before as well. It is the place I stumble upon when I have won the fight, when I have refused to give up. Upon arriving in such surroundings, it always seems much too bright. I blink my eyes, wandering around in a daze, trying to get my bearings. Sometimes, quite honestly, it takes a while to realize that I am in a better setting. The transition from feeling bewildered and alone is difficult to shake off – I’ve gotten used to it, and am not sure that I want to let it go, just yet. Slowly, the sun warms my bones and sharpens my senses. I look back to the west, into the valley through which I have labored, and I am struck by the rugged beauty of it all. I am able to recollect the gifts I received, and the accomplishments I made, while stumbling down the path that was laid out for me. I can gaze from afar upon my completed course, and see the good mixed in with the bad, and the memories of the journey come back to me.

I made two job changes during the past year, first, with an agency that provided me with training for Home Health Aid certification. I had to sit in a classroom and take notes, and study for tests, and pass hands-on clinical testing, and I am proud to say that I triumphed. My new boss even hinted that I was the best of the class. I know for a fact that I was the only one who aced the final exam…100%!! (At the age of 56, these kinds of accomplishments take on new meaning.) At that point, I thought that this agency was going to be the place I retired from. Imagine my vexation when the illogical scheduling procedures, coupled with the two-hour shifts scheduled all over town, soon began to wear me to a frazzle…and, I was stuck there for 6 months, because of the training agreement. Right in the midst of this unwelcome revelation, my dearest, most beloved client died. She had been doing pretty well, then started with some virus-like symptoms, went into the hospital for a few days, and suffered a massive stroke on the day she was supposed to be sent home. She passed away about 2 weeks after that. The gift that I received through that was knowing that I had brought some spiritual rest to the end of her days, by finding a wonderful young priest to come and visit with her a few times. I was even asked to do a reading at her funeral Mass, which was a great honor and privilege. Shortly after that trauma, I had a horrifying clash with a neighbor, who stood in my yard screaming, over and over again, right in my face, that I was “foul,” and spitting on my face as he screamed like a crazy man. This was not the first time we have been verbally attacked by these neighbors, but it was, by far, the worst. This time, though, his extended family was there for a party and witnessed the whole thing. I believe that they were shockingly appalled by his behavior (and, gave him a good talking-to!). Things have been much improved since that clash, and, even though I suffered terribly after that attack, I can see the good that it has wrought. It was around this time that I also got hired (through a friend’s recommendation) by a handicapped woman needing another PCA (personal care assistant). She does direct hire, and offered me 50% more per hour than I was making through the agency, and gave me set hours. I worked for her and continued with the agency until I thought I would drop, and then left the agency almost exactly six months after my first day of work. That was a difficult, but absolutely necessary step in my “recovery.” The final stab of the difficult journey was the loss of my sweet little Albert, my most favorite-of-all-time-kitty. He had actually become very sick earlier in the year, while I was on the edge of depression, but he had rallied to stay with me for several more months. He got me through the toughest days, and then it was time for him to go. He went quickly, suddenly becoming very weak and dying within a few days of that. It still breaks my heart to think of him, I miss him so!

So, anyway, here I am now, after a blessed Christmas visit with my growing family, all settled into a new, happy place (which will be purr-fect when I find a new feline friend to sit on my lap), with a lovely, but challenging, job (that I might not have been confident enough to accept without the HHA training experience). My new client (who shares a birth year with me) is also my newest best friend. We enjoy our time together tremendously, even on the difficult days. I have learned a great deal, and become a stronger person in many ways. All I’m hoping for now is a quiet year, with no “traveling.” I’m hoping that you’ll hear from me regularly once again. Growth and challenge are good things, but, let’s face it – too much of a good thing can drive a person batty!

Good grief…I grew up with Charlie Brown!

This week, I was planning to share some time-saving tips for making your Thanksgiving celebration easier and more relaxing, however, I got so busy scalding and plucking my deceased (may they rest in peace) chickens, followed by pealing and cooking my pumpkins into puree for pumpkin pies, that Thanksgiving was over before I knew it! I’ll save all of my helpful hints for an easy holiday meal for next year. Instead, I’ll divert you with lessons learned in the course of my peculiar childhood.

Everything I needed to know about life I gleaned from my constant reading of Archie comic books and the Peanuts comic strip. My mom bought me several collections of Charles M. Schulz’s well known, and well-loved, comic strips. The Archie comics have long since been reduced to shreds, but the hardcover Peanuts books are with me still. Back then, I had every single one of those books (and there are several!) memorized from front to back. I used to have one of them lying open on the kitchen table for every breakfast and lunch during the long, lazy, summer months and/or the cold, cabin fever winters. I simply could not sit down to eat without something fun to read, some source of light entertainment. I’m sure you could find a few Spaghettios’ sauce splotches, ketchup smears, or chocolate stains still hiding amongst the pages today. When I was young and unenlightened, I thought the Peanuts comics were just plain fun…and funny. But, now, as a wizened grown-up, I realize that everything I didn’t learn in kindergarten, I was taught by all the Peanuts characters.

Let’s just start with Charlie Brown. Charlie is the lost, lonely little child in all of us. He loves baseball, but he’s a terrible manager, stuck with an inept, uninterested group of athletes on his hapless, homespun team. He never gets any valentines, even though he stands next to his mailbox hoping one will magically appear from the red-haired girl, with whom he is hopelessly in love. His kite always ends up crashing into the kite-eating tree, he always gets rocks in his trick-or-treat bag, and Lucy always pulls the football out from under him just as he takes a wild kick, sending him flying into the air. And the only help he gets in dealing with all this is the crazy, self-seeking counsel from Lucy’s psychiatric advice stand (5¢ per session). And his dog…well, he’s definitely not man’s best friend, as far as Charlie is concerned. However, through all of his struggles, Charlie Brown never gives up, and his one, true friend, Linus, is always there to encourage him. Think about that the next time things go wrong for you, and call on your inner Charlie Brown – try one more time, because you never know if this might just be the time when Lucy decides to leave the ball in position, and you’ll stand there amazed, watching as your football soars into the sky!

Speaking of Linus, how many of us have our moments of insecurity, bordering on sheer terror, when we wish we had a security blanket in which to bury our face and our fears? Linus suffers such insecurity that he can barely make it through washday, almost passing out before the end of the drying cycle. His big sister, Lucy, enjoys bossing him around and teasing him about his weakness. Snoopy likes to terrorize him, too, by snatching the blanket from him, and spinning him round and round if he doesn’t let go. Does Linus allow this weakness to hold him down? No, he doesn’t! He is confident in who he is, and he’s a wise and loyal playmate, always capable of saying the right thing to a friend in need, or pointing out the philosophical significance of an ordinary occurrence. We all have our moments, when self-doubt can freeze us in our tracks, but Linus would tell us to ignore our phobias, and forge ahead, and perhaps have an extra blanket handy for emergencies.

That brings me to Lucy, the self-proclaimed queen of crabbiness. People get on her nerves with very little provocation. She attends a crabbiness support group, and you better watch your step on meeting days! She knows the Achilles heel of all within her little comic strip world, and she aims right for it with amazing accuracy. She tries to manipulate and control with her cantankerously cutting comments, but she fails to have much of an effect on anyone (except for Charlie Brown). The person she would most like to snare in her web is Schroeder, the resident artist of the comic cast, but Schroeder, like all true creative souls, is at home only within his own expressive realm of (in his case) piano performance. Even though he plays on one of those antique, tinny-sounding toy pianos with about two octaves, he produces sounds of a concert pianist extraordinaire, until Lucy gets irritated with the artist and gives up on her oozy, beguiling sweetness long enough to get him mad. When that happens, we hear the true voice of the piano…and the irritated pianist! Schroeder brings out the soft side in Lucy, while she often draws out the best of his creative genius. Think of the two of them the next time your spouse or best friend is irritating the crap out of you…opposites attract for a reason!

I can’t mention Schroeder without getting a picture in my mind’s eye of Snoopy in the Peanuts Christmas video. Snoopy is the wild and crazy, devil-may-care persona which abides in all of us. It rises to the surface at least occasionally, if not with alarming regularity. In the animated special, Snoopy is jitterbugging to the amazing dance tunes provided by Schroeder’s flying fingers on his skimpy keyboard, and the music suddenly stops. All eyes are on Snoopy as he continues dancing with wild abandon, until it finally dawns on him that he is dancing alone, the room gone quiet. He gets embarrassed and slinks away, but we don’t feel too badly for him, because we all know he’s rebounded quickly, and is off somewhere on another reckless adventure. Snoopy is actually like most dogs we know. He is spoiled and weird and in his own little world, and, when he is not sleeping, he is usually involved in some sort of mischief. I guess that’s easy to understand, considering his owner is wishy-washy Charlie Brown, who couldn’t discipline a dog to save his life. But, still, we love Snoopy, because he’s wildly entertaining and he knows how to live in the moment, along with his strange assortment of friends.

There are lots of other eccentric characters in the Peanuts gang, each with their own little quirks. Freda has the naturally curly hair, which she mentions at every appearance, and Pig-Pen can get dirty walking in a snowstorm. Sally (Charlie Brown’s little sister) has a crush on Linus, who is still too busy with his blankie to care about girls. Woodstock, Snoopy’s little bird friend, is probably the cutest of all, even if he can’t fly in a straight line. Quirkiness aside, however, they all reveal to us the tendency in ourselves to cling to certain behaviors long after we realize they’re not working. The characters also give us the strength and courage to move above and beyond our limitations, and to realize that every day is a clean slate, upon which a masterpiece may be written, if only we are willing to let it happen.

A footnote: I hope you got a chance to enjoy “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” last week, in it’s annual airing on TV. If not, be sure to mark your calendar for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” sure to be coming up sometime soon! And, in case you were wondering, Charles M. Schulz was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1922. He died on February 12, 2000, leaving to all of us the rich legacy of the Peanuts characters, which still entertains and enlightens today. Thank you, Mr. Charles M. Schulz, for many, many years of smiles and laughter, and for showing us the fears and dreams inside our own, fragile souls!