Giving Thanks and a Praise to The Healer and Comforter

Have you ever felt that God had turned his back on you? Has your lack of faith ever lead you down the wrong path?

While feeling trapped in both a bad marriage and a dead-end job, I found it difficult if not impossible to feel gratitude for any aspect of either situation. The fact that I didn’t merely feel sorry for myself, but sacrificed time and money to attend school at night to build and maintain a solid set of skills yet still was not able to dig myself out of my negative work atmosphere made me feel worse. I have always subscribed to the philosophy of “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” but my future remained cloudy. The boss’s son not only blocked my professional advancement but also gave me poor references when I attempted to change jobs. Oddly, there never was any question of my being let go.

As you might imagine, my work woes followed me home and further weakened my already frayed and failing marriage.

I’ve been a Christian (not a good Christian who always trusts and obeys, but a Believer nonetheless) most of my life, but after fighting to improve my life and never gaining any ground, I began using profanity. Is there anything worse? I’ve never used certain vulgar terms because I was raised to believe speaking about bodily functions reflect poorly on not only the person using them but also his or her family. However, as my life continued to worsen, I broke The Third Commandment daily. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7).

I craved tender attention from my husband, but our marriage had deteriorated into the tattered shreds of an emotional woman coupled with a cool, uncaring man. The more I needed him, the more he withdrew his affection. I still don’t know how we lost our way. However, even in our darkest times, I was grateful for his efforts as a father and he equally respected me as the mother of his children. He worked two jobs when the kids were little so that I could stay home and I devoted myself to my children.

No matter what else has been going on in my life, I’ve always taken great pride (but was raised to believe that pride is a mortal sin that destroys grace and charity of the soul) in spending time volunteering by, among other things, reading to the blind, rescuing animals, and building websites for small, grass roots organizations.

An incarcerated woman told me that although she was grateful for my daily letters, she wanted me to stop complaining as she was already depressed. If I couldn’t change my situation, then adjust my attitude. I will always be grateful for her honesty and I did my best, searching for the silver lining in any cloud. As I like to think that I am an authentic person, I felt like a spin doctor manipulating the facts of my life. It took me awhile to get the hang of things and realize that seeing the bright side and downplaying the darker is not lying. This concept is still difficult for me to understand and I continue to work on it.

My world stopped turning on a heartbeat when my husband suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. As I performed CPR, unsuccessfully, while awaiting EMS, I realized how much I loved him.

His death devastated me, financially as well as emotionally, leaving me with a drastically reduced income. I was still working at the dead-end job, and as a new widow I now had the additional burden of being bullied by a co-worker. I guess she felt that there is nothing like kicking someone when she’s down.

What did I do? What could I do? As a Christian, I turned to the Lord, often falling asleep praying and waking up the next morning with my hands still clasped in supplication. I begged for my own forgiveness and also asked for mercy on my husband’s soul. Moments before he died, my husband uncharacteristically spoke of a song he’d heard about September 11, The God Song – Silent Night, when God asked someone trapped in one of the towers if they wanted to go with Him. This gave me hope that his faith was rewarded with Eternal Life.

God is My Psychiatrist, and I although I don’t like bragging or braggarts, I am comfortable boasting that My Psychiatrist is the World’s Best Doctor. He listens to me, and He comforts me. I could not have survived my husband’s death or all the resulting problems I faced without Him.

As I grew closer to the Lord, I finally – finally! – realized that instead of always asking for things, I needed to praise God and practice the art of gratitude. This simple step has changed my life.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this day. Because of Your mercy, I can see. I can walk, talk, hear, read and write. You continue to bless me with food in the refrigerator and enough money to stay afloat financially.

I could not find anyone to help me with home maintenance until I appreciated what I did have. Thank you, Lord, for the shelter You have given me. Thank you for my floors, my ceilings, my bed, my heat, my water, my electricity. Since I have turned my back on my profanity laced speech and become grateful, my life has improved. I found a reliable and affordable man to help me with my housing needs, and instead of being ashamed of my home, I enjoy its comforts.

Thank you, Lord, for my car, its tires, gasoline, my car insurance and my license to allow me to drive to work. Thank you for my job, my health insurance. After practicing gratitude, I have been blessed by an employment opportunity and am no longer stuck in a dead-end job or at the mercy of a bully. I can’t thank God for the bully having been in my life, but I do pray for her.

The first night after my mother died, I gave thanks. Mommy lived a long life and although she had her share of hardships the last fifteen years were relatively easy. My brother provided her with a comfortable home and she remained in good health well into old age. She got up one Sunday morning, took care of her personal hygiene, walked up and down the hall as her daily exercise, drank her tea, ate her toast, sat down, and said, “Oh, Jesus!” She never spent a day in a hospital except for her three maternity stays, thanks to my brother she never even had a worry of going to a nursing or assisted living facility, and she died suddenly in her own home.

I try to add new things to my praise and gratitude whenever I can, sometimes being light hearted. Thank You for pictures of cute kittens. Thank You for the smell of freshly mowed hay. Thank You for pumpkins and puppy kisses.

Thank You, Lord, for life.

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Making a Living by What We Give – My Volunteer Job is My Lifeline

We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give. — Winston Churchill

My mother would be happy because her youngest child is finally eating greens, thanks to a volunteer job. Salad? Me? No, thanks. Although I have been a life-long gardener, the fruits of my labor have been limited to tomatoes, pumpkins and flowers. I devoured the tomatoes, fresh from the vine, not bothering to rinse or salt them, but even the pumpkins were for decorative purposes only. I did not appreciate the value of good nutrition and declared my “hatred” for the taste of all things green.

While working full-time at a demoralizing dead-end job, I came home and planted – daffodil bulbs, lilac bushes, distressed plants on clearance at nurseries, tomatoes, peach pits, ditch lilies collected from the road, anything I could get my green thumbed hands on – and was refreshed and my spirit renewed, no matter how exhausted I might have been before I picked up the shovel.

After an early retirement, I enrolled in and completed a Master Gardener program offered by the local extension office.

As an intern I was required to provide fifty hours of community service within two years and twenty annually thereafter. Even a few hours a week add up quickly; at the end my first twelve months, I was hovering around three times what was needed to stay certified. When severe weather grounds me, I feel guilty about not being able to go in. This is my job and I take the responsibility seriously. However, it is more than that. I miss my co-workers.

Among our choices were maintaining the garden at the governor’s mansion, manning an information booth at the county fair, cultivating perennials at the courthouse, or teaching at a sheltered workshop for disabled adults. I believe we have a match! A grandson on the autism spectrum, gardening and a ten minute drive – it’s me!

The first day on the job, I was assigned to teach Kimberly and Steven double digging and planting tomatoes in square foot sections. Even though I had no practical experience with these two techniques, I dug in, figuring enthusiasm and desire was all it took. (I was not wrong.) Double digging is an effective method of aerating the soil as well as a strenuous activity. As the season progressed, Kimberly, Steven and I planted radish, pumpkin, green bean, cucumber, lettuce, zinnia, cosmos and other flower seeds along with several types of peppers. All summer long we weeded, watered and picked vegetables. Our large garden furnishes produce to sell at our farmers’ market and to local eateries. In addition, we have provided flowers for weddings and bushel baskets of tomatoes for home canners.

My mother would be shocked to learn that I brought home Brussels sprouts, steamed them, ate them, and enjoyed them, without first suffocating them under cheese sauce.
We are Midwesterners which means that outdoor gardening is possible for only a few months a year. To earn additional money for our clients, we Master Gardeners team up with the sheltered workshop clients growing, harvesting and providing microgreens to upscale restaurants. Most crops are easy care and ready to harvest ten days after planting. Sprigs of beets, cilantro, basil, bak choi, radishes, and sunflowers adorn steaks, baked potatoes and salads at select bistros. When a harvest produces more than we can sell, clients and Master Gardeners sometimes are allowed to take home an ounce or two. I’d never even heard of bak choi but now sprinkle it on fried rice. At home, I grow cilantro and radish microgreens but as I walk by I can’t resist grabbing them for a taste before they mature. I am eating greens!

My co-workers have captured my heart.

As months passed, Kimberly and I became special friends. She tells me about her cat who calls her “Mom.” She shows me her new shoes and shyly displays the jewelry Steven buys for her. She even tells me her dreams of becoming a bride. Kimberly is forty years old, looks twenty-four, and is severely developmentally disabled. She hugs me when I leave, and I tell her I am proud of her and I love her. Our first Halloween she gave me a precious piece of hand drawn artwork: a jack-o-lantern with hearts replacing the customary triangles for the eyes, nose and mouth. She signed it, “Your nice.”

At our Christmas party, Steven proclaimed us The Three Musketeers.

Imagine my surprise when Timothy, severely autistic, after months of harvesting together, spoke to me for the first (and only) time as I was leaving for the day. “It was nice to see you.” This gives me hope that my own grandson will someday initiate a conversation with me.

Jeffrey, whom I call our unofficial quality control supervisor, is meticulous when harvesting microgreens. Not one speck of soil dare fall into the colander. Sometimes when I hurry I do make a mistake, which Jeffrey immediately catches. He points to the offending particle, shakes his head slightly, and rewards me with a wry smile when I retrieve it. In spite of my occasional carelessness, Jeffrey elbow bumps me and refers to us as BFF.

We have two artists, Michael and Jeremy, working in our group designing and creating toad houses, toads, and frogs to sell as accessories to those in the community who have outdoor fairie gardens. A special mix of vermiculite, cement and terra cotta coloring is spread over the outside of a hanging basket, cutting a hole large enough for Sir Toady McToad to enter, then dried and topped with a hand crafted toad.

Each client has an individually designed program to foster job skills and independence. Michelle, a bubbly, talkative and athletic young woman recently transferred out of the sheltered workshop to a job out into the community as a part-time receptionist, a position that fits her personality perfectly. Steven works afternoons four days a week at the community college cafeteria and Kimberly is training as a shampoo assistant for a dog grooming business. Graduating “out into the community” is a goal of my co-workers, something that can take years to accomplish.

My Master Gardener experience benefits me in many ways. I retired early to escape a job where I was bullied, and working with the clients, and the plants, at the sheltered workshop has helped heal my emotions and I have learned to trust people again. Gardening is physical, even hard, labor and needed exercise for a middle-aged woman. The other gardeners and I share plants, seeds and back yard tips. When I passed out canna rhizomes I was in return bombarded with hostas as well as milkweed, eastern purple coneflower, Shasta daisy and other seeds. Each year we Master Gardeners host a Halloween and a Christmas party which allows us to relax and socialize with the clients while enjoying home baked goods.

Volunteering at the sheltered workshop has changed my view of life. At the end of every shift, I hug Naomi, the paid employee (“kindness” is the word she lives by) who oversees our operation, and say, “I get so much more from here than I could ever give.”

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Inner Joy of Peace and Light – Christmas Memories

Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace. Pope Francis.

My memories of Christmases past include hiking into the woods, Daddy picking out a pine tree, chopping it down, and the two of us dragging it home. Looking back, I’m not sure the trees were always on our property, but if not, people in those days were generous and fence rows were for keeping cows in, not neighbors out. Old Clarence beat us to our “secret” mushroom patch every spring and helped himself to our raspberries in June and we all knew about it and no one cared.

Back at our house, Daddy would nail the bottom of the tree to the “x” he created from two boards. It might not have been the best tree stand in the world, but it served its purpose until one year when … We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but I promise we will return to the end of this little story. Mommy would bring our boxes of colorful glass ornaments that had been in our family for years before I was born, my favorites being the birds with fiberglass tails that scratched me when I touched them – and I always did – and we would drink old fashioned hot cocoa that Daddy made. It seemed my friends’ hot chocolate was milk chocolate from a mix, but our family was stuck with the dark chocolate that wasn’t as sweet and was made with water, not milk. I confess to having been a little envious at the time but I know better now.

Mommy was thrifty, both by nature and necessity. Had she been to the manor born, she still would not have wasted anything. We weren’t allowed to rip open our gifts, but instead had to remove the wrapping paper gently so that she could fold it and put it away. I remember the same bright blue foil gracing my presents for what seemed years until it finally disintegrated.

What is your favorite childhood Christmas gift? I loved my Cinderella watch which came in a glass (plastic) high heeled shoe, and always looked forward to books (except Black Beauty which made me sad), but my most cherished present was a sled, when sleds were wooden and long and had metal runners and not today’s plastic saucer shaped things.

By the time I was born, Daddy was closer in age to being a grandfather than a father, but he was young at heart and loved the outdoors. A little girl plopped on top of an older+ man sailing down a snowy hill was a frequent sight. We had fun, if you don’t count the day we went flying down our lane and into the road, able to stop only in front of a car with an alert driver at the wheel. “I knew it was you, Ray,” stated family friend Gene. Gene was calm, and so was Daddy. We never told Mommy about our little misadventure but she probably would not have been surprised.

Another vivid memory is getting a little white gift bag from our small church: an orange, a few Brazil nuts, and chocolate covered vanilla cream drops. It was such a simple offering, from hard working folks, but to me it was a treasure and I pretended it was from Jesus.

Where were we? Ah, the homemade Christmas tree stand… One year one of Daddy’s cousins stopped by, bringing along his youngest son, approximately my age, in need of a little Christmas cheer as his wife of twenty years had run off with another man. My parents could not understand why, but although I was ten, I was a worldly (I thought) ten. Our cousin had several children, all boys, and nineteen dogs and twenty-one horses. Even I could figure out that all those animals cost a lot of money, as well as time and attention that his wife could have used. Please don’t ask me how many pets I have had in my lifetime, or even how many I have now, because all I will tell you is that my bed gets pretty darned crowded in the winter and I don’t always end up winning the battle of the covers.

Did I mention that our cousin brought along one of his dogs on his visit? His beagle and our beagle played tag throughout the house, even running into The Good Room which was normally off limits to both two and four footed creatures. Where do you think our Christmas tree, loaded with glass ornaments dating back to the Great Depression, stood on that rickety hand-made stand? How many of the ornaments do you think survived the great crash caused by the beloved beagles? Not many. I will always recall the sound of that disaster, but even more shocking was the sight of my mother calmly sweeping up the broken glass and never once commenting about the carnage. Perhaps she thought it could have been worse. Our cousin could have brought his entire herd of dogs over to play, or one or two of his horses and we could have suffered a Level One Calamity.

Daddy’s older sister, Aunt Oatie, was a widow whose only chance at motherhood ended (allegedly) with a botched delivery by a country doctor, a stillbirth, and damaged female parts. She also had to pinch her pennies as she was far from wealthy. You might think that her circumstances would have made her bitter toward life, but you would be wrong. Among her interests were watching Dean Martin on tv (anyone who mistakenly called her on Thursday nights would be politely reminded that “Dean’s on” before she gently hung up the phone), riding around in a red convertible with a much younger man who in those days was referred to as a “confirmed bachelor” and making Christmas goodies. One lucky niece would be invited to her house for a day of measuring flour, sugar, salt and various ingredients, stirring in real butter, walnuts, vanilla and other yummy fixings, then sneaking a taste here and there before popping cookies into the oven. Her candy cane cookies were plain and delicate, but delightful. Aunt Oatie also made taffy, fondant, fudge, and potato candy, and was generous with her secret to successful confectionary delights. “Humidity,” she would tell my mother. If there was too much humidity in the air, candy would not set up. Mommy took her advice to heart, but she never was able to master the soft ball stage of fudge making.

I loved all her Christmas goodies with the exception of potato candy which I thought was too rich, almost to the point of making me sick. Of course my tummy ache could have been the result of indulging in everything.

I will always miss Aunt Oatie, and at Christmastime I often wish I could open one of her gaily wrapped boxes and sample her culinary efforts. I also wish I had some of her recipes, not that I could replicate her treats.

Mommy, Daddy, Aunt Oatie, Gene and even our animal loving cousin are gone now. But every year I make small donations in their names and others to honor them, and Christ.

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Binding Society with the Golden Chain of Kindness – All the While never Allowing Thy Left Hand Know what the Right Hand is Doing

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Being kind costs nothing.

Although we were raised to help those in need in any way possible, we were also admonished by my mother that “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” Matthew 6:3.

I do as many random acts of kindness as I can, but have trained myself to forget them lest I be a braggart. However, some of them are routine and easily remembered.

A group of us belong to an informal online club. We visit virtual graves and leave flowers and messages of hope. Although this is our main objective, we have branched out into something I like even better: card showers. One “elderly” woman is confined to a nursing home. Developmentally disabled, she has never married, has no living relatives, and never had much of a life. Members of our group send nightgowns, bed jackets, stuffed animals for her birthday and Christmas along with inexpensive dollar store trinkets. My contribution consists of colorful, cheerful holiday cards @ 50 cents each designed for children, two a week when in season and signed by Shiloh, my furbaby and our numerous cats. During the drought between Easter and Halloween I send picture postcards.

Containing my mother’s legacy, I also search out card showers, sending greeting cards to anyone else I find out about. Last year, my grandsons and I made cards for a boy suffering from cancer. We also sent cards to two autistic young men.

Planting daffodil bulbs each fall and eagerly anticipating their spring arrival is one way to help me get through the increasingly long seeming winters. I buy bulbs on clearance and have been known to beg a few from friends and transplant them into my own yard. At last count there were over a thousand: trumpets, doubles, short cups, long cups, split coronas, in shades of yellow, pink, white, orange. I scour yard sales and thrift stores for vases so I don’t have to worry about them being returned. Family, friends and co-workers are sometimes showered with flowers and I love taking them to nursing homes. I often deliver several bundles when the flowers are in full bloom. “Are these for someone, or anyone?” I was asked the first time. Now I automatically suggest they be given to someone who doesn’t get many visitors.

One long, frightening night while waiting for my brother to be treated for an irregular heartbeat, I read every magazine the emergency room offered. The selection was not good, unless a person’s tastes run to out of date celebrity rags, parenting magazines or children’s periodicals. I subscribe to twelve magazines, all purchased with points, and after a quick glance through (making sure my hands are clean), I put them in the recycling bag to be delivered to guest services of the hospital for distribution to inpatients. I make frequent drop offs to insure that they are current. I like to imagine a bored, lonely or frightened patient learning some of Martha’s secrets of gracious living or reading about the latest hot rod.

Weather permitting, I perform a random of act kindness upon Mother Nature as I wander back roads in search of aluminum cans. The exercise does me good and the cans are given to an animal rescue organization who redeems them. This money goes into our spay-neuter kitty. Special thanks to a man who unwittingly regularly performs a random act of kindness as he tosses empty cans of Bud Ice into a plastic bag, ties it with rabbit ears and leaves it in a public trash can. I hope he likes cats, because he is responsible for several operations.

One of my favorite acts of kindness occurred last year. While attending a fall festival in what is considered a ghost town in a poorer county, I noticed a bookshelf with a sign stating, “Take a book, leave a book.” The village had recently lost funding for its public library. Even though I am far from wealthy, I took on the challenge of helping these residents have reading material. I rummaged through paperbacks purchased for a quarter each, hoarded for summer reading by a pool, and came up with several bags. On to the public library (our county, I pray, will always have one) where I bought a few hardbacks (three for $1.50) and explained my purchase. “Take a few, free.” Into my pile went two Patricia Cornwell, a Janet Evanovich, and several James Pattersons. A call to my daughter, who if it is possible loves books more than her mother, added to the stockpile.

I drove to the ghost town, an hour’s drive each way, one Sunday afternoon, but to my disappointment, the public building was closed as was the antique store and the historical society. The only place that was open was a biker bar. I don’t frequent bars, but bikers are generous souls, aren’t they?

Into the bar I went, explaining my plight to the bartender. When I assured him I would be buying something, he told me I could stack them in the corner “as long as the boss okays it.” Since he was married to the boss, everything worked out.

My daughter-in-law’s family took up a collection and I made another round of libraries, and two weeks later my eleven year old grandson and I made a second delivery, this time to the antique store. Big E emptied the car for us and we celebrated with cans of root beer.

When I told a group of fellow gardening volunteers about my little project, I was rewarded with so many books that on the designated day I had to drive immediately to the ghost town as my there was room only for me in my car. The front and back seats and trunk were neatly and tightly stacked with all kinds of books: coffee table picture books, popular novels, kids’ books. It was a few days before Christmas and the owner of the antique store and the director of the historical society were overwhelmed. At first I thought they were upset, but then realized they were stunned by the group’s generosity. I explained that a friend worked at a private library and was able to take as many discards as she wanted. Many of the books were new and all were in good to excellent shape but for one reason or another not needed.

An easy act of kindness is to stop an elderly woman who obviously made an effort to look her best. Compliment her. Make her smile. She might not have heard these words in a long, long time.

Recently a woman told me I had mud on the back of my pants, got a wet wipe, had me bend over, and scrubbed me clean. Normally I feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end, but I l appreciated this random act of kindness.

Easy Ways to Spread Kindness:

Be kind to the earth and future generations by recycling, reusing, and repurposing.
When shopping look for containers that can be recycled.
When decluttering, consider donating to local free stores instead of nationally known thrift stores. Check out CEO’s salaries of any organization before giving – unless you want to fund a millionaire’s lifestyle.

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[amazon asin=&text=]In the Kitchen with Maggie and Izzie

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Making Peace with My Body – Finally

I have dieted and starved myself to my current weight, which is about twenty pounds more than I would like but less than what it was at its highest.

It all started when coworkers at my first real job decided we were all “fat.” I weighed 128 pounds but when someone else pointedly pointed out that she was going on a diet and she weighed 118 pounds, I bought a carbohydrate counting booklet and found out that not much other than meat, eggs, and fish would allow me to stay under the magic 60 g. I lost eight pounds and gained a lifelong craving for pasta. In all fairness, it was the one diet that did take off the pounds, no matter how much steak, butter, hamburger, fish and eggs I ate.

Not realizing that my metabolism had been damaged, I went off the diet and within days regained the lost weight plus a few extra, up to a shocking 135.

A doctor (who eventually lost his license) insisted that at my height of 5’3″ I should weigh between 93 and 113 pounds and prescribed “energy pills” to help me achieve that perfection. In my innocence after taking what I later realized was speed, I was unable to sleep for 48 hours. That was the end of that.

Back to the high protein diet and a regular at the figure salon, I became a trim and shapely 118 pounds, sought after at the local hang out. Innocent Saturday nights were spent at drive-ins, of both food and movies, and several suitors suggested I should become a Bunny or Playmate.

Newly engaged after a whirlwind romance, I bought a two piece, boy legged blue gingham patterned swim suit for a week-end getaway with my love and his slightly older friends. The more flattering high cut suits were not yet in fashion and unfortunately I hadn’t yet fallen into the one piece black suits are mandatory for anyone not suffering from the anorexia nervosa trap.

“We’re going to have to put you on a diet!” were not the most romantic words I’ve ever heard. Yes, I was hurt and the engagement eventually dissolved.

Still relatively innocent of the ways of the world, I dove back into the dating pool and once again had no trouble getting dates. Since this occurred during the VietNam war, and many of the young men were not available I felt that being able to collect a few hearts verified my attractiveness.

Within a few months I was once again engaged, this time to the one and only man I was ever to marry. Usually I bought my clothing at discount houses but I splurged on a color block play set. I loved it! The top consisted of wide strips of hot pink alternated with white, and the shorts were solid pink.

“Hello, Chubby…” Yes, I married him.

Determined to be what I then considered being a good wife, I spent evenings cooking and baking. Enter 145 pounds and years of starving, emotional eating, excessive exercising, and the resulting weight gain and loss.

The most dangerous diet of all consisted of two bananas and all the pineapple I could eat the first day, all the fresh pineapple and watermelon I wanted the second day, and my blood pressure plummeting the third. By this time I was the mother of two preschoolers and their welfare was much more important than my vanity. To this day I don’t care for fresh pineapple, although I enjoy it canned and crushed in salads and smoothies.

Since I wanted to look good (health still wasn’t a priority), I tried a few other things. Richard Simmons seemed to understand people like me so I exercised with him. (Good.) I walked five miles a day. (The best.) I drank water. (Also good.).

Most of my life I wore black in an attempt to “hide” a few pounds, but instead appeared to be an aging goth.

As the years flew by, stuck in a dead end job and in a failing marriage, I drowned my sorrows in the only source of love that I could find: food. Breakfast consisted of one, then two, bacon-egg-cheese biscuits, followed by two candy bars and two cans of cola. Cola and candy were at hand all day. While working full-time I no longer was afforded the luxury of the time to walk five miles each day, but I did aim for two, and I continued to drink water. How much did I weigh? I don’t know, but I would guess somewhere in the 200 pound range. I looked and felt terrible.

My marriage ended abruptly.

When I began dating again, frequently being rejected due to my weight, I decided to approach the problem from a different angle. Health, not weight, was what mattered. Instead of six to nine colas, I treat myself to one, icy cold, instead of slurping it down all day.

I also developed a taste for fruit and preferred it to cookies and cake and candy, as unbelievable as that may sound. I’m still not my fighting weight, but I have learned that perfection is not necessary.

Furthering my health goals, I joined a club and began hiking. We’ve traversed the plots of Greenlawn Cemetery, in which residents include presidential ancestors, a famous WWI flying ace and Indianapolis 500 driver, circus performers, hospital founders, business tycoons, bank financiers, everyday citizens, a married college professor who rode the Lightnin’ Bolt after killing his paramour circa 1930, and Irish immigrants, one of whom a traveling cobbler and incidentally my great-grandfather. Our hiking club also walked the perimeters of the ruins of an eight foot wall of a prehistoric mound, and a trail deep in abandoned mine country of southeastern Ohio. I might not look like a supermodel or tri-athlete but I’m in good enough shape to keep up.

One of my fitness fails occurred when I signed up to rock climb a wall at a metro park, causing me to have nightmares of being stranded at the top of a needle nosed top mountain. I begged my adult daughter to accompany me and against her judgment, she reluctantly agreed. We slipped away after we were embarrassed about not fitting into women’s safety harnesses and needing to wait for men to finish so we could borrow them.

Two years ago, tired of drama and no longer struggling with diets or emotional over eating, I met a guy. He’s several years younger, tall, good company, and still enjoys an occasional game of hoops.

Deciding we deserved an old fashioned courtship, he took things slow. He didn’t hold my hand until our second date, hug me until our third, or kiss me until our fifth. You know what I thought, don’t you?

I will never forget when he chuckled, saying that I didn’t think he was attracted to me.

To anyone with self esteem issues, I ask you to take care of your health, eat well, drink plenty of water, enjoy the Great Outdoors, and above all, love and accept yourself. You are perfect, just the way you are. As the saying goes, “God didn’t make no junk.”

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One Harvey at a Time – #Crazy Cat Lady Memoirs

I confess to being a crazy cat lady, having obtained my crazy cat lady starter kit years ago. Since I do admit to being a crazy cat lady (having more than a few during my lifetime is understood) choosing one feline out of many precious pets should be difficult. However, it wasn’t. “What a guy, what a guy, what a guy” describes the sweetest, most beautiful, loving cat who ever lived. Harvey.

When my kids were in the early years of elementary school and I was still a stay at home mom as soon as the school bus departed I would lace up my sneakers, walk down my lane, and begin my daily five mile trek over hills and occasional rugged terrain. We live(d) across from a state lake which often seemed deserted – if you didn’t count the birds, the wildlife and unwanted, frightened stray cats who had been dumped out. (Don’t get me started on the inhumane treatment of any animal.) My daughter and I fed them but were never able to bring any of them home. Until Harvey.

Since the area around the lake was desolate I quickened my pace as I strode by, always glad when I reached civilization in the form of a few houses.

One autumn morning I thought I heard soft meowing, but even after slowing down and gently calling out, I didn’t see a cat. I continued my walk, went home, and thought no more about it.

The next morning, when I heard another meow and called out, I was rewarded by a cat – not, no “a” cat, but “the” cat – running up to me and jumping into my arms and onto my shoulders. It was love at first sight.

We already had two cats, two dogs and a strained budget, but even if I had been able to find a home for him, we were keeping Harvey.

Harvey was a Morris lookalike but even more handsome. His fur was long and silky, and he was one of the sweetest guys I had ever known.

My daughter, a first grader at the time, wrote in her journal for school, “Every morning when I brush my hair, Harvey The Wonder Cat jumps on the counter so that I will pet him. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll miss the bus.”

My son, in third grade, coined the term, “Harvey, what a guy, what a guy, what a guy.”

We were Smokey Robinson fans and when singing one of his greatest (of many) hits, we made one substitute and One Harvey (not Heartbeat) at a Time became our family anthem.

An impulsive person, one morning I grabbed Harvey along with several pieces of pork and drove to the kids’ school, interrupting their classrooms as I demonstrated Harvey’s special trick: eating ham. Both teachers were gracious and the students loved Harvey. They were allowed to get out of their seats and stand in line to pet The Wonder Cat. Some were even able to feed him (until the meat ran out).

Although Harvey loved us all equally – he was that kind of guy, loving and fair and kind, excluding no one – I liked to think I was his favorite. In my entire life only one pet has ever made a nest in my hair and slept on my head. Harvey.

Harvey would often jump in my lap for an evening of petting and gentle rocking in the same chair from my kids’ infancy.

One of my favorite family pictures features our cars at the time, but The Cat lounging on my son’s skateboard in the foreground is the showcase. Harvey.

One afternoon while I was outside a strange (as in unfamiliar; I have no opinion about her personality) woman walked up our lane. “He looks just like my Lawrence!” I grabbed Harvey and held him against me. “This is Harvey!” Ms. Unknown calmed my kitty-knapping fears by agreeing that Harvey was indeed my cat, not hers. She never did reveal the reason for her visit.

Harvey became listless about the same time a feral cat gave birth and we brought the kittens inside, and we assumed, wrongly, that he was jealous of the attention the new babies received. When he stopped eating, we took him to our veterinarian. Diagnosis: antifreeze poisoning. Condition: terminally ill. We had him put down that day and it was difficult for me to forgive the carelessness of the person who had poured the concoction onto the ground instead of properly disposing it.

I would have loved to have been able to have had a “grandcat” in the form of one of Harvey’s offspring, but that was not possible as every domestic animal that sets foot into my life is taken to the vet for The Big Fix.

Although it has been many years since we lost Harvey and I have had other cats that are sweet and loving, there are tears in my eyes as I write this.

Do you believe in Heaven? I do, and there are at least as many pets as humans awaiting me on that faraway (I hope) day. Do you think he will jump in my arms the way he did the first day of our life together? I’m going to hug him and sing One Harvey at a Time and this time my tears will be tears of joy.

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Cupid’s Misguided – or Nonexistent Arrow Misses Yet Again

Valentine’s Day has been a constant reminder that Cupid must be unaware of my existence. For years, I dreaded February 14 but now all I feel is a momentary twinge instead of loss at what could be.

One of my major flaws is seeing how things – and people – could be, should be – and not life’s realities. One notable Feast of St. Valentine I attended a creative writing course (all women, of course) where we wrote and read aloud letters about love and romance. I wore green, the opposite of red, and everyone else, save one woman, wore black. One classmate read a letter to her sexually abusive father, telling him that his long reign of terror was over and that she was finally able to trust a man. She wore red in honor of the love she shared with her first ever boyfriend. She was in her forties.

My letter was to Life, complaining that although I was married I was not cherished, loved, respected or even acknowledged. I loved my husband throughout years of rejection and coldness until it finally withered and died due to neglect, I was a caring, devoted mother to our children, I managed our finances to the best of my ability, I volunteered for charitable organizations, yet I didn’t feel love. To be fair, my husband was a charitable person, too.

Fifteen years ago today I was sitting at my desk in the hellhole aka as my place of employment wishing I had a gun so that I could drive to St. Mary’s Cemetery and kill myself over my husband’s grave and wondering why more people don’t commit this ghastly act. Maybe it is more prevalent than we know but it doesn’t hit the news.

I knew I could never do such a thing because I am terrified of guns and wouldn’t know how to get one; I am also terrified of the incapacitation which could result in a botched attempt; and most importantly I am terrified of dying.

While these horrible thoughts were running through my head, I received a phone call from a friend. Even though I am a coward and would never harm myself, I believe she saved my life that day. Remember that always.

For years I pined over a married guy. Yes, I deserve any comment or judgement you might bestow on me. We met when he uncharacteristically ran across a heavily traveled thoroughfare, against the light, as he spotted me walking down the street. I had been crying over a bullying incident at work and was vulnerable to a man’s romantic attentions. It was winter and I will never forget his white silk ascot loosely tied over his black wool coat and his soulful eyes. He was The Love of My Life and we spent many hours, in half hour increments, of course, making out in his car, because he couldn’t be where he shouldn’t be for any length of time. Aside from the first few dates when he was wooing me, we never went out to eat or did anything else in public. When I asked him to go on a hike he politely declined, causing the love I felt for The Love of My Life to disintegrate and now about the only time I think of him is when a certain commercial comes on. The Catheter Guy looks just like him. After two years he still calls every few months but I never pick up.

Two years ago the guy I was dating was stuck on the Mighty Ohio in a snowstorm two hours away and I was driving home from work, trembling and forcing myself to keep going through the drifting snow. At the time we seemed perfectly matched but unfortunately he gradually drifted away. I’d like to see him again.

This anniversary of The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre has been quiet, without the drama and disappointment of years past. I’m single but not heartbroken. Earlier in the day I helped the developmentally disabled with their indoor garden at my volunteer job, then came home and scoured the road, picking up aluminum cans. This is a dirty job to be sure, but it is environmentally friendly and the recycled cans generate money for a spay-neuter program. I’m currently cuddled on the couch with The Real Love of My Life, my sweet baboo beagle, and two cats watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent, eating malted milk balls, and wearing jeggings (showcasing my best feature) and a comfy turquoise shirt emblazoned “OVER IT.” Very apropos.

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