People make my world go “round.

The year 2020 has been different, odd, crazy, and full of unexpected circumstances.  We started quarantining in late February, before the mandates were issued and though prior to the pandemic we were not the type of folks who go out a lot by any stretch of the imagination, we did go out occasionally.  A few times a year, we would hit a karaoke bar and dined out here and there probably a couple times a month, mostly Asian food of some variety.

We truly didn’t have to alter our lives too much with this pandemic.  Perhaps we already lived a bit in quarantine since we “bought the farm” in 2017. It certainly seems that way.  Even with the restaurants soon going to 50% capacity, I have only dined out once since March to meet a girlfriend for some Mexican food.  I just like to be home and cook and farm and it is probably safer that way though I am concerned with the fate of all the bars, restaurants, hotels and everyone being affected financially.

I am a born entertainer.  Now, not in the way that I invite people over to my house and sing to them or something, (though that has happened). I like to cook for people and gather folks who don’t know each other and watch everyone engage.  I especially like to watch first time guests enjoy the sights and sounds of nature at our farm and covered back deck area and watch them look around our groovy hippie house!  Hospitality is my thing.  It started with cooking dinner for my first boyfriend’s coworkers and friends when visiting him in Cleveland while I was still in college and has evolved to a whole experience that I like to give people.  I just adore readying our house or chalet for guests, putting out linen napkins, preparing plates of all sorts of yummies and libations, lighting my oil lamps (see a previous blog on the secret of life which is also about people) asking Alexa to play something in particular that I know they will enjoy and then sitting back.  I just love people.

Even during Covid, I don’t believe I have curbed my desire to talk to strangers.  Usually it is ME engaging with others, but here is a story about two folks who came to me and because of them both, I am grateful and hopeful for the future.

This summer, while dining on some takeout from a favorite Thai restaurant outside the restaurant, a really BIG young man came up to talk to Mitch and me.  He had just eaten his takeout in the car and came to speak with us, telling us he was kind of new to Pittsburgh and wanted to meet some people.  So, we had Bryan over to the farm for dinner the very next day and when I broke my wrist, he volunteered to help out in any way. Soon Bryan returned to the farm with a lady friend and they helped Mitch work on a fencing project while I cooked and healed.  I feel very certain we have made a lifelong friend. Coach BAM is so awesome!

Jaya is a young woman who would talk with me while checking out my purchases at Tractor Supply. Every time I came in there, you could see her smiling under her mask and she was always so sweet.  We would chat briefly and she seemed so interested in the farm that I gave her a business card and told her to contact me.  Now, I meet tons of people and have passed out hundreds of cards at supermarkets, gas stations, the post office, etc., and very rarely people contact me.  If they do it is usually a man and honestly, he isn’t interested in my cooking, my honey or my blogs.   I find many people puzzling, but Jaya took me up on my offer and sent me an email, started reading my blogs and soon we had her over to the farm.   I had no idea it would be an hour drive for her to get to us, but she didn’t seem to mind.

During her first visit, I wasn’t sure how old she was and told Mitch, a young lady is coming to the farm.  She could have been 16 or 21 and of course that didn’t matter.  I just had no idea honestly.  Well, Jaya is a 20 year old artist and studying to be an art teacher.  She is beautiful, kind, smart and such a talented painter.  She seems interested in learning everything I can teach her!

We talked and talked and ate a bit but mostly talked and I began thinking as I watched her, this is the daughter I never had.  Conveniently, she could use a local mother figure too so visits with Jaya are just THE BEST.  I have taken her hiking, shopping and exploring Pittsburgh, we have painted together, we have had her and her boyfriend (who is an amazing guy in his own right) over for dinner and I can’t wait till the next time we get together. I have so many ideas!!!!!  This is going to be a lifetime of fun and I am hoping opportunities to offer advice, help out in ways she may need and be a maternal figure to this amazing young woman.

Because I could also use a mother figure, I will leave you with one more new friend story from the Covid-19 era in my life.

I had my first ever surgery right before the lockdown in early March and the nurse Molly who cared for me while I was being prepped was just so sweet.  She saw I had brought a copy of Mother Earth News and a Better Nutrition magazine to read and before they wheeled me in, she wrote her mother’s name and phone number on my MEN magazine and told me her mother and I are two peas in a pod, to CALL HER.  So, I did.

We had one chat on the phone then started emailing and we became pen pals.  I have never before and may never again meet a woman who has all the same interests that I do.  Heck, she even grows elderberries and when we finally did meet in August, after 5 months of sharing farm successes and failures, and talking bees and healthy herbs and foods and husbands, I just knew that she was my soul sister.  I mean, SHE GAVE ME 2 GALLONS OF ELDERBERRIES (see previous blog on the trials and tribulations of a professional berry picker) and has bees living in the WALLS OF HER HOUSE that she will not harm.  I am working on a way to have them move themselves to a new spot that is a bit more convenient for both her and the bees.  That day, we exchanged many handmade and home-made things and she has inspired me to work with colloidal silver.  Stay tuned for more on that.

We have been to England to visit a man we met eating a chicken wrap and drinking a Guinness at Quaker Steak and Lube, 300 feet from where we met Bryan.  I have made friends with Russians and Bulgarians and folks from other cool places by just saying hello.

You can wear a mask and still not shut yourself off from meeting new people.  I challenge you to open up yourself and you never know who will come on in and move into your heart! I’d love to hear about those encounters.  Write me, call me, text me… #secretoflifeispeople #putyourselfoutthere #makenewfriends #betheinspiration

 

 

My day working the polls

Earlier this month I was asked to help work the polls during my state’s primary election day. Two of my neighbors who I also know from my women’s only gym have been working the polls alongside a small group of other women for decades now and I was honored to be asked to join them. In all honesty I had always admired the folks who “man” the polls during elections. I often wondered what that job was like. So, I said yes with no questions asked and showed up at 6 am with a soft packed cooler of food and drink and a book. I figured there would be some downtime during the day and I always like to have with me a book I am reading and a pile of magazines I am behind on reading.

I had voted several times in the three years we have lived in Hopewell Township and had casually seen the whole setup in the township building, but now I was going to experience every minute of it.

There were new voting machines to be put into operation and since this was during the whole Covid-19 global pandemic situation, new protocols were in place to keep the community safe during the voting process.   We had tape to place 6 feet apart on the floor for people to wait in line, lots of hand sanitizer and wipes for the machines to set out, cotton swabs for people to use to sign their names and also choose their selections on the machines. There were signs to put up everywhere. Mrs. Black was in charge and this is a charming woman in her 80s and I was amazed at her energy. We did what we were told and at 7 am we were ready and opened the polls.

We had an armed constable to keep the peace I guess and a parade of residents came in throughout the day. There were plenty of farmers fresh from the fields, several mechanics in uniform and covered with grease, families showing their young children and grandkids about the whole democratic voting process, couples, singles and people of all shapes, sizes and ages. What I did notice and I had already figured this out from living in this community, we didn’t have anyone of color come to vote. We live in a rural community where there isn’t a lot of diversity. It isn’t an issue, it just is.

I bring up diversity because at this time there were lots of protests, demonstrations and rioting happening in large and small cities around the country due to a recent horrible incident involving Minneapolis police officers and an African American man, but there wasn’t even a mention of any of those things here. This reminded me of a Norman Rockwell idyllic drawing of peaceful, caring people coming to cast their vote and visit with their neighbors and friends.

I loved seeing people gathering several feet apart but talking about and celebrating babies being born, showing concern for those who are ill or passed away, passing on information about who might need some assistance and help and everything in between. Many people were discussing the economic issues facing our local businesses. Many people’s businesses had been on a mandatory shutdown and we were all feeling the effects of living a smaller, closed-in life.  I was so pleased to meet many new folks and do some networking.

In the 14- and one-half hours that I worked the polls, there wasn’t one incident of anything even remotely upsetting or stressful. Yes, we had some blips with people not showing up on the record and one ballot wouldn’t feed into the machine, but all those minor and few issues were resolved and in addition to the previous mail-in ballots, we had a showing of less than 150 bodies come and cast votes. I learned the we had 600 registered voters in Hopewell Township and I was surprised at finding out who was and was not registered. I have always felt voting is an important responsibility.

In amazing and unexpected news, I was paid! When my friend Minna, who recruited me, announced I had paperwork to complete so I could get paid, I said, “I am getting paid?” Honestly, that had never occurred to me. I thought this was going to be yet another thing someone asks me to do that is a volunteer thing. Happy day! 😊 So, leaving the farm for an entire day was going to put a little jingle in my pocket. Cool.

There were plastic cards we gave everyone as they signed in and they were not surprisingly red and blue so everyone knew who everyone was voting for and in the primary, you could not do any straight party votes nor vote for the other team. It didn’t matter who you cast your vote for, there wasn’t any discussion, argument or anything. People voted and either ran out to continue the rest of the lives or hung out a bit to catch up with neighbors. I loved every minute of it.

When Shirley’s husband of more than 60 years I believe came in, seeing her get so excited and tell us all that her heartthrob was here, just tickled me. I was also excited when my husband came in and I had told the girls to prepare for long rock star hair on him. Since this was near the end of lockdown for hair salons, everyone came in with 3 months of roots and unkempt hair unless they were able to take care of those grooming issues themselves. Again, no one cared about any of that. Everyone was here to do their civic duty.

By the end of the day, we were all tired and even my usual perkiness was wearing off. The last resident came in at 7:58 pm to vote. Then we took down all the signs, packed away all the supplies, printed out the final voting tally, locked up all the machines, gathered all the important paperwork, signed off on everything and went home. I am really happy that I participated in this and was asked to come back in November so I guess I did a good job. Now, I can say that I am one of those people I admired who worked the polls and I was pleased to do it.

I also admired those women who run around in gym clothes carrying yoga mats and water bottles and look sweaty, fit and contented. I’m one of those gals too and look forward to seeing all my sisters from the voting booth at the gym now that this is again a place we can go!!!

I love that I have a community of supportive and active women who do all sorts of things, are so much to so many and are there for each other.

Who knows what adventure awaits me next but I’m looking forward to learning and doing it whatever it is! Bring it on!

#getinvolved #workingwomen #vote

The highs and lows, trials and tribulations of a professional berry picker!

When I was probably 4 years old, my gramma lived on a mountain in a heavily wooded area about an hour from where I have my farm now.  This was in Elco, Pennsylvania, a very small and rural town. She lived with my grandfather and aunt and her kids and they lived rather primitively.  For at least a while when my father drove and deposited the trailer on the land they purchased, there was no indoor plumbing from what I remember.  Until the trailer was dropped, there was an OLD outhouse for doing your business near an old shed and a nearby spring to gather water.  My cousins and I would fill gallons of plastic jugs with the water and carry it back to her trailer.  We made a lot of trips back and forth.    

At that time, I remember going to the general store in town and she purchased a bunch of peeps.  Looking back on it now, I don’t understand why they weren’t put into a fenced in area at that time, but I remember chasing around a little peep trying to catch her and it having a heart attack and dying.  In my memory, it sort of exploded which was traumatic and my first memory of chickens. but this story is about berries, so we won’t have any more dying chickens here. It is just a memory I have of the same time period I am describing so wanted to share that.

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

On that mountain I was taught to pick blackberries with both hands and carried a container that must have been tied to me.  I just loved picking the warm, ripe berries and after we were done with the picking, we would get a bowl of berries topped with sugar and milk.  It was the most delicious treat. 

I would watch my gramma make pie crust from butter and flour and she baked many blackberry pies and made jam and jelly. 

On this mountain there were probably more than a hundred acres of beautiful land and the woods were filled with blackberry bushes. We could wander anywhere we wanted.  There were no neighbors, only a gun club at the top of the hill, but no one there ever seemed to notice or be bothered by us as we were playing on the rocks and picking berries.

Because blackberries have very harsh thorns, or jaggers as we call them in our part of Pennsylvania, we had to be fully covered with long sleeves and pants while picking despite the humid summer temperatures.  I would always get a lot of scratches on my hands and face but I never remember suffering from poison ivy as a child. That change to my tolerance happened in my late 20s.  I had moved to Ben Avon and found a walking trail where I took my dogs and I was delighted to find blackberries. 

The heat, mosquito bites, poison ivy and scratches are a small price to pay for all this free food though and to this day I feel that exact same way. Despite having to get Prednisone every year at least once, if I see ripe, wild berries growing somewhere, I WILL submerge myself into the thicket come what may!

I have been known to get out of the car while waiting in traffic to get into Star Lake Amphitheater in Burgettstown and yes, I know it isn’t called that any more.  If you are local to Pittsburgh and over 35, you know where I am writing about!!!!

Anyway, along route 50, the back way into that place, I have left the car, grabbed a plastic bag that inevitably would be under the seat for potential dog poop needs and go pick berries until we were moving again.  I have been golfing a few times too and inevitably there are wild blackberries growing along the wooded areas and I have stopped and pick some then too.  I just can’t help myself.   

Don’t even get me started about visiting my family in Bellingham Washington.  They have bike trails EVERYWHERE and bordering all those MILES and MILES of trails are the most giant blackberries I have ever seen.  They are a different varietal than we have here in PA and apparently are a nuisance there because they are so prolific, can you believe it?  The first time I saw them I thought, I need pickers!  I need to move here and hire pickers.  No one wants for blackberries in that beautiful place and probably never has to buy one single berry.

I am pretty sure I blogged about the yellowjackets that I stepped on while picking berries on my grandma’s mountain when I was about 9 years old.  I didn’t know they lived in the ground and as I stepped on them, they attacked me and I panicked and kept jumping up and down on their nest and aggravating them.  30 stings later I enjoyed my bowl of berries, milk and sugar once I calmed down and didn’t die from all those stings. Today, I carry an EpiPen with me as I am also now allergic to bees, yellowjackets and mixed vespids.  I’m still picking berries and keeping bees though.  Those are some of the more severe and dangerous trials and tribulations that I meant in the title! 

Photo by Halie West on Unsplash

Over the years I have picked millions of blackberries, tens of thousands of black raspberries and now I am on a huge elderberry kick.

Back on that mountain there were some elderberries, but I don’t remember there being a plethora of them.  I remember grandma making some elderberry pies and jams but not too much.  The taste was different than a blackberry for sure and they were so rich and PURPLE.  I did like them but largely I forgot about them for decades. 

Anytime I am hiking the dogs in a new place, I am always looking for more blackberries and was thrilled to see so many wild dormant berry bushes when we first looked at the farm.  I could certainly recognize those bushes even in winter.  The previous owner also showed me the berries he had planted.  In addition to a row of dilapidated grapes, there was one elderberry bush, two gooseberries and some honeyberries.  I had never heard of, seen nor tasted gooseberries or honeyberries but I was thrilled to be the new owner of such interesting and unique berries.  Turns out, honeyberries are similar to a small blueberry and the gooseberries are unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I will say when you pluck them from the bush, they come off with a small stem that needs removed before you do anything with them so those are a bit of a pain to actually use in any capacity, but I still enjoy them.

Last fall, I was visiting a friend up near our cabin.  This woman and her husband are true lovers of everything green.  They have a nursery at their home and sell tons of starter plants of all kinds.

I told them I was looking for more elderberry as my Mother Earth News magazine and the annual fair we attend had gotten me interested in making healing elderberry wellness syrup.  I decided to do that, I needed more bushes.  Why buy berries when you can grow your own, right?

They sold me one small plant and told me about a wild bush about 5 miles away right on the main road.  I was excited and immediately got my berry picking gear and went searching.  After some scouting, I did see them and the bush was COVERED with clusters of wild elderberries but they were probably 8 to 10 feet high and a few feet into the woods with no clear path to get to them.  I knew it would be impossible to get them so left them for the birds. 

Back in my younger days, I would have considered somehow catapulting myself to get to the center of the berries, but I am over 50 now and decided I better not.  If you have ever been deep into the woods where I find myself pretty much daily, you’ll know it is tricky getting through all those ‘jaggers” and all kinds of old thorny trees to get to the good stuff.  Nowadays, I also have to diligently look for poison ivy too and there are ticks EVERYWHERE and all matter of tangled trees, vines and whatnot grabbing at you.  Picking wild berries is definitely not for the faint of heart and you better not be afraid of spiders or their webs.  So many varieties of nature’s beings are trying to trip you up and the birds do not like you stealing their sustenance, so 40 + years of berry picking has resulted in all kinds of injuries, stings, bites and various booboos.  As I said earlier though, these are FREE and gifts from God, so I just plow through literally, to get to those giant luscious berries, but I TRY to be careful!!!!  I’m tough or crazy or a little of both!

Anyway, seeing those wild elderberries lit a fire in my belly and I decided I needed to stop focusing on blackberries and see if I could find some wild elderberry bushes near the farm.  I mean, there must be some.  So, back home I took a really good gander and found 3 or 4.  I was excited.  I have no idea how I hadn’t seen them before.  One was smack dab in the middle of a really good blackberry patch and 3 were planted around this old pony barn that is falling down.  The whole thing needs torn down and eventually we will get to that but for now, I could see some decent bushes and I was so excited. 

Then as I started to really recognize what the bark and the leaves looked like, I found one more.  This one was near the pond and covered on all sides by some really thick thorny bushes, but I figured, I could cut my way to it to harvest. I was motivated.

I showed Mitch all of these telling him that as he is clearing some old crap around the farm, he is never to touch these.  To me, these were like the fabled unicorn, something magical and I was beyond blessed to have found these.

Well, 3 weeks ago, Mitch went up to the pony barn to tear down the one part that was really falling down and while I did momentarily think I should remind him about the elderberries, I honestly never thought he would touch them.  I knew where he was going to be working with the backhoe and thought, only one was in the way and I was pretty emphatic when I gave the instruction to leave them.  Spoiler alert!  My next blog is going to be called Can You Hear Me Now and deal with Mitch’s significant hearing loss.  But suffice it to say, when I went up the hill to see what he had done, I almost cried.  I could not believe he had mowed down 3 beautiful bushes.  I went running back down to tell him what he did and I knew he felt terrible but I was so MAD and hurt that those things that were so important to me, he just didn’t see them.  Metaphor for larger things?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I took my snips and went back up to try and salvage pieces.  I was going to attempt to root them and make a whole slew of new bushes from those.  I was also able to pull the old roots out of two of them and Mitch helped me pot all the pieces and parts.  They are now in various stages of either dying or surviving and I told them that I will keep them in those pots until next spring and keep them under the grow lights and tend to them every day through winter if they will just PLEASE DON’T DIE.  We will see how all that goes.  I read a bunch of articles online and am hopeful at least some of them will take.

In the meantime, I started clearing a big area opposite our house.  It is still early spring and it will be easier to do this now than in summer and I needed something to do while the seedlings grow.  Outside work is still my favorite and though it has been largely chilly, we have had some decent weather days.

As I was clearing, I was struck by a few long stems with leaves that were emerging and looked so familiar.  Could it be?  Was this an elderberry?  I went up to the one planted in the grape field and compared them.  My heart started beating fast.  I thought YES.  So, I then opened my eyes and kept clearing and low and behold, I uncovered more than a dozen elderberry bushes in this area from a few feet to taller and with many shoots like they had been here for YEARS!!!!  At this early spring stage, there is not much growing yet so they truly stood out like a sore thumb.  Now that I WAS LOOKING for them, I could see what I had been missing.  I put little fluorescent flags at the base of each one and Mitch cleared out several old and gnarly trees that were blocking the sun from them and over the past two weeks, we have really cleaned up Elderberry Grove.  Mitch is forgiven and I told him maybe everything does happen for a reason.  If he hadn’t chopped those ones down by the pony barn, I wouldn’t have really looked at those plants in early spring and known what to look for.  Now, I am finding some more small ones here and there in the woods and marking each one so I can measure their growth and planning my new elderberry business.  I can’t wait to blog about the mountains of berries I will be picking.  Good times are coming!!! #berrypicker #farmlady #wildforallberries

My Elusive Friend Sleep and My Enemy Anxiety

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

I have had sleeping problems since I was a young girl.  As my parents were getting divorced, my mother moved us to Squirrel Hill from Ambridge. We shared a one bedroom apartment in a place that wouldn’t accept children, but they made an exception for me if I would be quiet. 

This was in the middle of first grade.  I was in a strange place. I didn’t know anyone and felt completely insecure about everything. I was having separation anxiety at school and at night I started sleepwalking. When I awoke, I was going through some sort of emotional and mental breakdown that I can’t even accurately explain except my mind was racing and I had this oppressive feeling that I was so far behind and had to start over again which felt daunting.  I couldn’t even explain what I had to start over, but it was the worst feeling in the world and it happened night after night after night.  I didn’t even want to go to sleep.  IT WAS HORRIBLE and really frightening and I was 7 years old. 

Eventually, I settled in to my new life and more or less normal sleep resumed.

As I grew though, in times of turmoil and great stress, I would experience problems sleeping and excess worry which I now know as anxiety.  I believe I was conditioned to worry by my mother.  She had a lot of coping problems.   Internalizing stress just became my natural response.   To this day, I still let things bother me and can really work myself up into a tizzy.  I have always been this way.

In my early 30s, I had undiagnosed health issues and this triggered a lot of anxiety and insomnia.  I called this the Circle of YUCK and this period was a very dark time.  I felt physically horrible, couldn’t eat or sleep, dropped pounds and mentally felt generally full of gloom and doom. 

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Doctor visits and testing didn’t seem to be coming up with anything wrong. I ended up seeing an endocrinologist who did a bunch of hormone tests on me and decided I had REALLY high levels of cortisol in my body.  I remember sitting in her office and crying.  I was so exhausted and just felt horrible.  She gave me a script for 30 MG of Temazepam and told me to take it before bed.  This was prior to GOOGLE so I couldn’t do what I would do now and research the heck out of Cortisol and the medicine.  I filled the script, took it before bed and slept like I maybe had never in my whole life.  It was AMAZING.  I thought see what ample sleep will do for you?   I was a new woman!!!!!

She had given me a form of VALIUM, so no wonder I felt rejuvenated and was able to sleep.  My whole mind and body just relaxed so I slept. 

On my next visit to her she asked how I was sleeping.  I stupidly told her that my husband could pick me up and move me into a whole other room and I wouldn’t wake up and she said well, that’s not good and immediately dropped the refill to 15 mg.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. 

To this day, I don’t know what if anything was wrong with me physically at that time, but my mental status of heightened anxiety had totally affected by body and I was making myself sick with worry.  I wasn’t particularly happy in my life and it affected my body and soul.

Some years later I was experiencing a bunch of changes at once or in quick succession.  My mother was causing severe problems for me which again I am not ready to write about, but it was a very stressful period.  My husband and I had borrowed money from everyone we could and mortgaged everything we owned to buy our own business and had been successfully running that for a few years.   I had given up my career to help run the business.  We were working pretty much nonstop.

Our dog Carly had died, (see previous blog about Wo”Man’s Best Friend) and soon after, the cats that I had for 16 and 17 years also crossed the rainbow bridge.  All those losses affected me.

We had moved to The Cork Factory (not my idea), which was the very first high-end rental apartment complex project in the Strip District.  That top floor 1000 square foot loft apartment with 17-foot-high ceilings of useless vertical space, one closet and an electric cooking stove cost as much as our first and second mortgage on our house that we still had not sold.   I was VERY concerned about money or the lack of it.  All of that sent me into what can only be termed as close to a nervous breakdown.   

I was freaking out.  I had a very heightened sense of anxiety 24 hours a day.  I could never come down to a feeling of normal.  I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at night and I could barely function.  This went on for 6 months.  I thought my adrenal glands might overwork and I wasn’t sure what that could lead to.  I worried about having a stroke or heart attack. I WAS A MESS. If I could manage to fall asleep, I would wake up minutes later with what I describe as heart rushes.  I guess they are panic attacks.  Whatever they are, they prohibited me getting any rest.  I was a walking nervous zombie who was a mere shell of myself. 

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

My PC physician was not helpful and eventually I ended up seeing a psychiatrist.  Filling out that paperwork to just see him sent me into feeling panic.  It talked about involuntary hospitalizations and such which added a new level to the anxiety I constantly felt but thankfully, he knew what he was doing and after a bunch of written tests and a 60-minute appointment, he quickly diagnosed me as suffering from General Anxiety Disorder with slight depression.  In the beginning, he put me back on that magical Temazepam that I mentioned had helped me sleep years before and prescribed a little 10 MG pill named Celexa or generically, Citalopram. 

Photo by Maria Ionova on Unsplash

At the same time, Anna Nicole Smith died and I read her list of medications and immediately became worried that I would end up that way.  I know, that is completely irrational but that is where I was mentally.  I was assured by my therapist, that would not happen to me. She instructed me to take my medication, see her at therapy weekly and check in personally on how I was feeling and promised within a few weeks, I would feel like me again.  And I DID and it was the STRONG, CAPABLE me, not the weak, frightened and anxious me.  It was such a huge relief and after I felt normal again, I made some real changes in my life. 

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Fast forward to more than 13 years later.

In the COVID-19 environment that we are collectively as a world living in, perhaps we are all experiencing real anxiety and the news is full of stories about just that.

I have been talking with my friends and everyone agrees we ARE feeling way more stress and frequent anxiety.  We have absolutely no control over this situation that worldwide we find ourselves in.  How long will everyone be staying home, perhaps not working at all or certainly not working out in the world, not attending gyms and dance classes, school, social gatherings of any sort, religious events, graduations, weddings, funerals or anything?

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

In this time of social isolation, I have looked into meditations and most recently brain reprogramming because as the psychiatrist said years ago, it will happen again and it is.  Now, I am not feeling even 1/4 of the level of anxiety I was back then, but I can recognize the signs and symptoms and do NOT want to return to that place.   

My sleep has been affected for the last several years but now again it seems to becoming a real problem.  The heart rushes are back which make it impossible to take naps or sleep deeply and I’m feeling more worried than usual.   So,  I made an appointment to see my good PC and will most likely ask for meds.  It is going to take a while to see her though and with the added risk of going TO a doctor’s office amidst the virus, I’m seeking ways to help myself. 

I truly am interested in reprogramming my brain to function better so once and for all I can deal with stressful situations in a way that won’t send me into a panic.  I have a friend who had brain damage caused by Lyme’s Disease and she recommended I check out www.neuromeditation.com.  On quick glance this looks like a really cool site.  I have been doing some guided meditations and working on changing my mindset to think positively that this situation will end and a new normal life will come sooner rather than later. 

My husband has taken this “down” time to delve deeper into his guitar practice and came across www.GuitarAcceleration.com.  The man who came up with this is also apparently touting reprogramming of the brain and I am learning some really cool ideas about increasing brain myelin which should help in all sorts of ways. Seriously Google myelin.  

Checking out those new learning strategies led my husband to researching The Vagus nerve and this is REALLY interesting stuff.  He brought it to me thinking learning about it and changing my breathing could help. I had never heard of this until he mentioned it a few days ago and then boom, on the TODAY Show, they had a whole segment about it. See, EVERYONE is feeling anxious and looking for relief.

We have all heard that a certain type of breathing can slow the heart rate and calm us, well it is true and you can train your sympathetic nervous system to work differently to diffuse anxiety and promote a more relaxed state.

So, I have many new ideas to learn about and test on myself while I am staying home like we all should and I really hope we come out of this on the other side, survivors and more healthy in mind, spirit and soul.  I’m certainly going to try!!! #conqueranxiety #learnnewthings #calmyourselfdown

 

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

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That is the title of a 1997 song from REM.  I miss that band.  I have some time now so maybe I’ll Google what has been happening with them. We all probably have more time now.  It’s odd, isn’t it?

Usually we humans are rushing about getting ourselves and our family members to all the scheduled and overscheduled obligations with which we fill our lives.  And now, we are not.

While the world is experiencing a pandemic of COVID-19, we are ceasing all outside group activities, are stocking up on food and toilet paper and cleaning products and being told by our government leaders to stay home.  People who can are working from home.   Social gatherings are being postponed or cancelled and only really essential businesses are remaining open.  Everything else is shutting down.  It is a scary situation but hopefully temporary.

No one knows what is going to happen.  This is definitely unprecedented in the modern world.

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I’ve done some research recently on the flu epidemic in 1918, and as everyone else who has internet access, I have an unlimited supply of articles to read.   Here is what I learned from Wikipedia.

The Spanish flu infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Most people have passed away who lived to experience that pandemic.  The last many generations have never seen anything like this, so therefore, may not be taking the protocols seriously.

In 1918, people weren’t travelling like we do now, or did until recently anyway, so I worry that if this really does become serious, we could have staggering loss of life. 

Photo by Morgan Vander Hart on Unsplash

Knowledge is power, but in this instance, I think it would be wise to STOP Googling things around the virus or watching news stories and just shut off the devices.   Instead, get back to the pastimes of the predigital age.   Read books, write poems, songs or stories, do crossword puzzles, play boardgames, exercise in your house by doing sit-ups and pushups, pull out the vinyl records and show your kids the amazing album covers and music of your youth, do some arts and crafts projects, learn a new skill and by all means, avoid human contact as much as possible.  

All of the professional speakers I know have had events cancelled or postponed through April 2020, and few groups are booking events for the foreseeable future either.  In just this one industry, think of the repercussions and lost business. Commerce in that sense has STOPPED for everyone.

Many people we know work at or own retail stores and gyms, work in restaurants and bars or provide non-healthcare services of many types and those businesses are not operational right now.  There is a real fear about making money to pay bills, but most of us are all collectively in the same boat.

Photo by Sophie Backes on Unsplash

The government is trying to stave off total economic panic by lowering interest rates, halting trading and implementing other things to try to stabilize the wildly fluctuating markets and economy.  I guess it would be a good time to refinance a mortgage, but I think we will just wait things out and see what happens.  We truly aren’t “buying” anything right now, and we most certainly are not checking on retirement account values.

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We are very lucky, and many say smart, to have left the city and bought our farm three years ago  We have been implementing homesteading techniques and learning to live simply which requires a lot of physical work and planning. 

At this time of year, I would always be tapping maple trees and making syrup, starting all the pepper, peas, eggplant, rhubarb seeds and also many lettuces and herbs.  I will say depending on what actually happens in the world, I will be planting WAY more vegetables than I usually do.  I have the greenhouse ready to grow many more varieties of vegetables, and we have some ideas about adding other crops as well.  I am also taking really good care of my chickens as they give us eggs. I bought a ton of locally grown and milled ancient grain flours and yeast to make bread. 

We were talking last night about putting the freeze dryer back into operation again and making a lot of dog and cat treats from chicken and cuts of beef.  We can also freezedry food for ourselves, which we haven’t done in a while.   

As long as things don’t really go crazy and we maintain electric service, we should be okay because we are pretty self-sufficient out here, but, electric is really important and hard to do without.  I made sure all the flashlights and oil lamps are loaded with fresh batteries and oil, and yes, we did some target practice this past weekend.

Am I getting paranoid worrying about everything that could happen during a complete social and economic breakdown and apocalypse?  I am an avid horror fiction reader and show watcher, so have seen in make believe what happens to cultures when we have some sort of massive shift change.  I worry about the what-ifs.  It is my nature. 

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I worry about our friends and family in densely populated areas.  People who live in crowded urban areas can’t easily escape masses of humans and the germs we can transmit.

I have German relatives and we have been Direct Messaging daily going over the latest developments in our respective countries.  Everyone is self-isolating.  Worldwide, schools are at least temporarily educating students online and people are practicing lots of healthy habits that honestly we should have been doing all along.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purz

Being the daughter of a nurse, it was drilled into my head as a child to NEVER TOUCH YOUR FACE, wash your hands as soon as you enter from the outside and be as clean as possible with your personal hygiene and belongings.

I am lucky that I don’t anymore work in an office environment or a retail store.  I have worked in both types of places and definitely had more illnesses when I had greater exposure to humans, no matter how many times I washed my hands.  Germs are spread through the air and human contact, so this social distancing we are hopefully all practicing for two weeks or longer should help stop the widespread travelling of this virus.  We have to protect ourselves and others, especially the elderly and immunity-challenged/compromised.  

Yes, life has changed, and no matter what happens with this virus, whether we have mass casualties worldwide or the majority are spared with these good practices and healthy immune systems, our awareness about our fragility has changed and will be forever etched into our psyche.  After this is over,  I do not believe humans will as carefreely bebop around the planet without considering what we and others could be carrying around and giving to one another and what our actions do to each other.   I think there will be a heavy layer of innocence lost and that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I think we take for granted our 21st century healthcare and our ability to source everything we need quickly.  I wonder if we truly appreciate our democratic society that provides a nice place for us with pretty much all the goods and services that we need to survive. 

I think that as we all together face the unknown and the loss of income and personal freedom, the suspension of socializing for any reasons; weddings, funerals, sporting events, music and dance recitals, charity fundraisers etc., that we may gain a greater respect for what is truly important. 

Photo by Caleb Gregory on Unsplash

I think this could be a good opportunity to learn and practice more empathy, more caring, more kindness, understanding and compassion and gratefulness for what we do have even now.

Hopefully we will come out of this on the other side better people and stronger for the next pandemic that will eventually come.   I hope our world scientists find a vaccine and life returns to normal soon.

God bless us all.  #grateful #helpothers #wewillsurvive

 

Mentors are so important!

As we grow and develop into hopefully fully functioning humans, we most likely had a little help and guidance along the way.

Recently, I was thinking about people who took an interest in me and I immediately thought of three important people that definitely made a positive difference in my life.

I want to thank them.

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When I was 14, I took tennis in gym class and started hitting balls around.  I really liked the sport.   When I was a small girl, I used to watch my mother hit tennis balls against a wall in Leetsdale and one day while she was doing this and I was walking along the broken fence passing the time, I slipped and got my ankle caught in the steel that was disconnected at the bottom.  That was my first stitches experience and trip back up the hill to Sewickley Valley Hospital where I was born and it was horrible.   I still vividly recall the whole ordeal. 

Anyway, fast forward 9 or 10 years and I bought a cheap used tennis racket at the thrift store and started hitting my own balls against any flat wall I could find. 

My mother was the kind of woman who really wanted to be involved in everything that I did so we would go to my high school and hit balls pretty much every day on one of the four hard courts.

One day, an old man with no teeth wearing a thin white t-shirt, raggedy shorts and really thin flipflops came up to us on the court and told me to work on my second serve first.  I didn’t even know what that was. 

His name was George Koernich and that may not even be the correct spelling of his last name, but he will forever remain in my heart. 

George was the kind of man who most likely played in all whites with the Rod Laver crew back in the long pants history of tennis.  He knew what he was doing for sure.  That summer he spent tireless hours with me teaching me everything about tennis.  My mother scraped up some money to buy me a new wooden Tracy Austin tennis racket at K-mart and I played the hell out of that racket.  I probably played 5 hours every day that summer learning everything I could and I loved it. 

I remember George bringing dozens of old balls from home that didn’t have any bounce left and we served hundreds and hundreds of balls with those.  They still had life for that!

He taught me how to slice the serve and return a slice, explained and showed me how to deal with topspin, taught me defensive moves like how to lob, play the net with volleys and really gave me appreciation for the game.   

At the time, Chris Evert was being usurped by powerhouse Martina Navratilova and I watched every match that I could, read every tennis magazine the school and local Laughlin Memorial library had in its archives and really did nothing but learn and play.

I will say that the local players were never kind nor helpful or encouraging to me, him or us but I’m guessing they watched the progress.

With George’s help I made the tennis team that first year and he and I even ended up entering some regional tournaments playing mixed doubles which yes he played in old flipflops.  George was one of a kind.  He tapped maple trees and brought me the water to drink and it was delicious.  Every time I put a tap in I think of George!

I ended up quitting the tennis team soon after I started my first job at the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe at age 16.  The coach was not understanding that I HAD to work to help my mom so I quit the team.  Priorities!  😊

Enter mentor number two, Andy Amygdalos.  Andy was an amazing man who passed away a few years ago.  Years later Andy told me that when I came in and filled out the application he thought I wasn’t going to be able to hack it.  He didn’t know about my tennis muscles!!!  I could lift those 50 pound buckets of chili and haul boxes of meat no problem!   It ended up being that I became his favorite and best employee of all time or so he told me.   I stayed there with Andy for 7 years.

I have blogged about that first job before but I didn’t say much.  Today I want to share tales about a man who was more of a father to me than my own and I loved him.

Andy had come from Greece and had loaned fellow Greek, Lou Pappan, money so he could open Pappan’s restaurant, which became a very successful Beaver County chain.  I know the fact that Andy worked tirelessly and hard for DECADES for can I say it, (a jerk) that he could have ROCKED his own restaurant no issue, but he didn’t.  Life is about choices.  Andy taught me that. 

Andy taught me responsibility and trusted me to count the daily register, showed me how to schedule employees, order supplies, serve and treat people, make tips, cook, clean and WORK HARD.  Within a year or two, he trusted me to train all the new employees and he knew I would do things as he expected.  I respected him. 

During the first year of college I lived on campus but came home on weekends to work and he always gave me as many hours as I could handle. 

To this day my biggest regret is moving home after Freshman year.  One day I will blog about my mother but not yet. Suffice it to say she was incredibly lonely without me and guilted me to come home. For three years I had to take two busses and spend three hours each day to travel back and forth but I did it and I worked the whole time as many hours as I could.  During college, I didn’t go to a single football game or do the fun college stuff but again, life is about choices and honestly, those “sacrifices” made me who I am today. 

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Andy would let me study and do my homework when we were slow and he was always interested in what I was studying, and included me in his family.  I know he felt like I was a daughter to him and I felt it too. 

Andy had a bad heart and took nitro pills and once in a while he struggled.  One day he had to sit down for hours and rest and I ran the restaurant.  I LOVED that I could help him and wished he didn’t have to work so hard. 

Andy put his three kids through college and one son became a doctor.  I remember his daughter Julie’s graduation party where he made me a high ball drink which just about put me under the table!  He also filled me with terrific Greek food and taught me to speak conversational Greek.  The little old Greek men who spent their days at the counter, smoking their cigarettes and drinking coffee with just a touch of cream also helped shape me.  They sat and watched me, commented on any friends who would stop in, gave me gifts for my birthday and really became a needed family for me.  I still remember them and am so grateful that they also played a part in my development. 

For some reason as I write this on my 52nd birthday I think of the people who knew me between the ages of 16 and 22 and it is making me cry.  I miss them.  They loved me and it was so awesome!

Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

After college, I got a job through a temp agency at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith in downtown Pittsburgh.   This was a really male dominated place but there were a handful of strong female brokers and I had the pleasure of working with one such woman named Marta. 

Marta still is a beautiful, smart and accomplished woman and successful at work and in her family life.  She has a great husband and a fabulous son who keeps her busy plus adult stepchildren and dear friends that she cultivates relationships with.   

Back in 1990 when I started there, I knew absolutely nothing about being professional.  Marta and the two leading ladies, Nancy and Karen who were the direct bosses of all us sales assistants, really helped shape me into a working woman.  They were encouraging to me and after a couple of years when I knew what I was doing, also trusted me to train new hires.  I loved that.

Marta was an only child too but she had a great upbringing with loving parents and included me in so many fun things that I would never have had a chance to experience.    And she appreciated how I helped her in her business and treated her clients and she spoiled me. 

I think Marta may be the reason I have taken on the role of mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I mentor a growing girl because Marta’s friendship and love meant so much to me. I appreciate what Marta did for me so much that it was and continues to be inspiring in my life.

Even after I left that job 7 years later, she and I are still connected and she was there for me when I left my first husband and embarked on my new life.  That was a hard time for me and I love Marta for being supportive.  She will always be someone that I respect and adore.

Photo by Karina on Unsplash

I really hope that I can be a great mentor for my Little.  It isn’t always easy knowing if I am being a positive influence and teaching Maci how to be a full functioning person.  I want to expose her to all the things I can and give her experiences so she has a fuller life than what I had as a child.

It is a journey that is two years in and we have 4 ½ years yet to fulfil our commitment to each other. 

I am looking forward to sharing the lessons we both learn from this experience in future blogs.  Maybe someday she will take on a Little of her own! We shall see what life brings to us both but for now, I heartily thank the people who helped me in so many ways. They are definitely still with me!

Music makes the best connections!

A few times a year now as opposed to weekly like when I was a young lass, Mitch and I venture out to sing a few songs at a local bar.  We are still exploring the area around us in Washington and other points south of Pittsburgh.  We are also old now so instead of going out at 10 pm, if I can find a karaoke bar that starts at 8 pm, I jump up and down.  Add the idea of a NONSMOKING environment and this is the trifecta of perfect karaoke.  We recently had one of those nights and it got me thinking.

A few weeks ago, I was in line at the local post office where I often find myself and instead of scrolling through FB or IG I am known to engage my fellow waiters into conversation.  These are always fun chats.  I meet the most interesting humans in lines and it passes the time as well as opens the doors to new friendships.  It also gives me a chance to try and spread the word about my personal chef business.  I literally carry my business cards in a Seresto collar tin.  It is the perfect reuse for something that I hated throwing away.  I can’t tell you how confused everyone is when I pull that out of my purse!  😊   

One such day I was chatting up the person in line behind me and passing out cards when a stout little smiling man came in and asked about a photocopy machine.  He was told there was one up the hill at the Shop n Save.

I happened to glance at what he wanted to copy and saw it was a flyer about karaoke on Wednesdays 8 pm at the Bradford Lounge.  I knew exactly where that was.  I had toured the George Washington Hotel in the hopes to have Mitch’s upcoming 60th birthday party there but it was sadly booked.  This bar was part of that cool old venue.

“Hold it,” I said.  “I need a snap of that flyer.”  He gladly obliged.

This place is smackdab in the middle of town across the street from the beautiful and historic Washington County courthouse and steps away from Bradford House for which I’m guessing it was named.  Festivities for the Whiskey Rebellion are held every summer right in this area.  That is a terrific 3-day event full if history, music, storytelling, reenactments including a REAL tar and feathering and endless fun.   

Washington like many such towns in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas have seen some hard times through the last several decades but just in the almost three years that we have lived here, I can see sparks of resurgence happening and I hope a continued trend upward becomes the norm.   

We have enjoyed some really tasty meals at several GREAT restaurants in town too but had yet to wet our whistle at this place.  I was excited!!!

At 8:05 pm we showed up and ordered drinks.  A quick look around the bar showed just 3 others in the place all crowded at the far end of the bar.  Mitch told me at that point he thought this was going to be on the boring side where we would sing a couple of songs and quickly go home.  That didn’t happen.

I informed the karaoke guy who was set up right at the front of the bar that we were there to sing and he smiled and gave me slips of paper and a pen.  OLD SCHOOL is what I thought. 

Back in the early days of karaoke, there were actual books, papers and pens all over and you pored over the books and wrote down your song choice titles, the artist’s name and your name and then passed it to the karaoke people and waited your turn.  Usually in every karaoke place I go, people are shy or need a drink or two to sing, so I start the karaoke,  but this place was different.  People kept arriving and adding their songs to the lineup and list.  I was 3rd in the rotation and everyone was WONDERFUL.  We quickly made friends, started sharing business cards and cheering each other on.  What we loved SO much was the many different kinds of songs everyone was singing.  It was glorious because this group was all folks in their 50-60s I would guess and the music and talent was incredible.  NOT that karaoke is about being good, but it certainly makes it more interesting when the singer can hold a tune and he or she chooses really cool music.

Who knew we would be in the company of Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Dennis DeYoung from Styx and more legends of the good old days?

The bartender who as soon as we started singing seemed to be a bit more generous on my pour, (Mitch was driving) came up and helped me sing The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.  She just ran around the bar, grabbed onto the mic and started belting it out with me.  I was thrilled she loved the song as much as I did.  The fact I had never sung that song in public before is amazing.  I keep waiting for more members of the band ( I have yet to find a Lindsey Buckingham) to show up and sing with me, but since karaoke has all the backup vocals, it was high time.  What a thrill!!!

During the next three hours, I did more Stevie Nicks, some Walking After Midnight from Patsy Cline, sang a little Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and more Fleetwood Mac.  It was an old time karaoke night for me which I adore.  Mitch sang a great Rolling Stones tune, some Mark Cohn, Tom Petty and rocked the whole place.   

The lady sitting next to us who sang some fun songs too wanted to tell me about her teenage years going to concerts at the Meadows, a local racetrack that has entertainment. I can’t even imagine what the place was like in the 50s! She regaled me about a night when she was a teenager and saw the Platters, the Drifters and The Coasters together and seeing the Beach Boys in her youth too.  I loved hearing her fun musical memories.

Everyone there shared stories of the bands that all have played in or still play with and the great musical acts they have seen.  The gigantic smiles of everyone there was a sure sign everyone was connecting through music.   

Being the only child of a single mother, I often stayed home by myself while she worked.  I played her records over and over and learned about singing harmony from the Mamas and The Papas, practiced my Soprano with Barbra Streisand and am still haunted by the song Suzanne by Judy Collins. 

Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

The thousands of hours I spent listening over and over to those records seriously created the foundation for my musical tastes today.

I could recite albums front to back, and would never tire of listening to music.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, music is my favorite thing and for my 40th birthday I had help creating a double CD of my favorite songs to gift all the party guests.  One CD was For the Heart and included love songs and the other was For the Feet and a dance compilation.  I borrowed that idea from the late George Michael. 

For my 50th birthday party, I made  a thumb-drive with my favorite 50 songs of all time with MP3 files.

I wonder what technology will exist for my 60th.  I am already thinking of what that musical gift will be and jotting down long forgotten tunes. 

#musicmemories #singkaraoke #karaokerocks

Life is all about Perspective

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I’ve been saying this for years.  

What I have learned about perspective is sometimes funny, at least for one side of the situation.  For example, during the recent deer hunting season my husband relayed a story about a hunter who was regaling him about how delicious suburban deer taste.  The residents who live in the suburbs care deeply for their bushes, shrubs with tender growth and flowers and lament the destruction deer do to them.  The hunters who later kill those well-fed deer can TASTE the expensive landscaping and he/she and their families appreciate and benefit from that.  I thought that was seriously funny and a PERFECT example of how depending which side of the fence you are on, (your perspective), you can relate.

Professionally, for a couple of decades, I have been working with folks who speak for a living and have matched up hundreds of corporate, association, government and education audiences with speakers.  The folks who I have booked sometimes have gotten no speaking fee for their time and a few have been in the $25,000 (plus expenses) PER HOUR range but most have fallen in the 5-10K area.  What I have always found is that the groups who have a really low budget for speakers are the most grateful planners and audience.  If they are a nonprofit and have maybe $1500 for a keynote slot and a speaker who usually gets a lot more for basically that same speech agrees to do it, those speakers are treated so WELL.  Those groups really appreciate the time, inspiration and energy a speaker shares with them.   

Sometimes the speakers have told me NO to the reduced fee invitation.  They tell me it’s about fee integrity and worry they would be cheapening  their “brand” to full fee clients by taking the severely reduced fee. 

It is a whole different world.  I won’t comment beyond saying, again, it is about perspective.  $1500 to one group is like that $25,000 to the other but everyone has a value in their mind for their time.  

Photo by Charlotte Karlsen on Unsplash

Next up is a story about a dear friend of mine.  She is a retired Army veteran and had two deployments, leaving her husband and two children, her company, family and community to serve our country.  During her final deployment in Afghanistan, she was blogging and I believe it was her final blog that really struck me.  It was called One Pullup and I remember being amazed at her courage and commitment.  Pullups are really hard for woman.  I have never been able to do one and have thought many times when I have a particularly challenging moment in my life about Chris and her success at setting the goal, working toward it and DOING IT.  Good for her.  One pullup may not be a triumph for an elite athlete, but it indeed was a triumph of body, mind and spirit for Chris.  It’s all about perspective.

My friend Richie died a few years ago.  He was in his mid-40s.  That is WAY too young.  Richie turned his financial life around by working a lot and was saving and saving and saving. He had 4 mortgage free properties and was paying for everything in cash, setting himself up for a stress-free early retirement.

I wanted him to have a romance, a relationship and I told him that.  He told me in no uncertain terms, “I want to retire in two years and the only thing that is going to F*&# that up is a woman.” 

One of the last times I saw Richie, he came to our house on the river and I had painted a quote that was hanging on the wall.  It begins…. Love Fiercely, Cry when Worthy …..and ends with Life is NOT a rehearsal.  I have a very distinct memory of Richie telling me that day, “Remember, Life Is Not A Rehearsal.” 

A month or so before his retirement he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.  Richie fought the cancer bravely but succumbed.  In the end, I don’t know if he regretted all that work and independence or not.  All I know is every time I hear Melt With You and Drift Away, I remember karaoking with Richie and sigh about what could have been.  Life is all about perspective. 

My dad is a hard one for me. 

He was there when I was very young but not there really much at all as I grew.  He wasn’t there when I learned to drive, went to college, got my first real job, suffered my first broken heart, moved into my first apartment, got married the first or second time and I literally had to set up a ruse with a friend to see him in the mid-2000s.   He made a lot of bad choices in his life and he admits this.  He has been trying to make amends during the past 6 years or so but he frustrates me A LOT.  When I NEEDED a dad, he wasn’t there.  I was hospitalized when I was 4 years old.  I had what I guess was stress induced blood filled colitis.  I can only assume my condition was caused by living in an environment that was coming apart into divorce and two households.  I remember those several days really clearly yet my father doesn’t recall this at all. That blows me away.   Now, he needs me and I’m here for him, but it is not always easy.

Without embarrassing him and now at 77 that he is on the internet, connected to the world and following what I do, say, cook and write, I don’t want to say anything more except that I have been cautioned by a friend who no longer has a father that I need to forgive all that and just accept what he is now and what we can be together.  It is about perspective and being grateful.  I am trying to see things from his side of life and trying to be more patient and kinder.  My gramma would have wanted that.  She died when I was 6.  I have only a few memories of her and in every one she adored me.  I felt it.  I’m glad I had her for even those few years.  I know it is more than many get to experience and my dad misses her every day.  She adored him too.

So yesterday, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and 7 other people died in a tragic helicopter accident. I am not a basketball fan and probably have watched less than two minutes of professional basketball in my entire life.  However, I know who he was and that he was widely respected, revered as an athlete, family man, humanitarian and philanthropist.  He was also really young and had so much more to do. 

I can’t even imagine what his wife and surviving daughters are going through or the family and friends of the other people who died.  It is simply horrible.  I’m guessing they are thinking about what could have been if things had been different, if they had more time, if….. so many things. 

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

No matter what happens, don’t waste your time on those useless activities.  In the end, I don’t think any of that will matter.  

We need to be present, appreciate every experience, good and bad and inhale and exhale deeply every breath we take because remember, Life is NOT a rehearsal.  No one knows how long we have here.  Make every moment count!  If life is all about perspective then try to take a step back and see your situations and relationships from the other side.  I’m going to really try to do better at this.  I want to have more empathy, more fun, less worry and stress, more quality time with friends and family away from my phone, sing more, publish my cookbook, volunteer more, exercise more, learn to bake REALLY good bread and see more of the world. 

The secret of life

The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time.  That is the first line of a song by James Taylor.  I love his music and this song, but I think the secret of life is really PEOPLE. 

While we can all count so many examples of humans being really awful to each other, animals, the earth, property, whatever, there are people doing good things too. 

At holiday times we hear all the news reports about good things humans do to be kind and I think we should all make a concerted effort to do more of that all year long.

In a previous blog I mention the two ladies who live down the street from us.  There was a brother and his two older sisters and they lived all together in this little block house which is prone to flooding as it sits in a valley.  I always worried about them.  Gary, the baby of the family, was always putzing in his garage where he had a really nice Corvette, a cool old truck and lots of “toys.”  When I would walk the pups down the dirt and gravel road to their house, we would often meet up and have a nice little chat then I would head back up the hill.  I gave them eggs and lollipops every time I made a fresh batch.  When I was tackling the landscaping around the house, I pulled out a ton of bulbs and they planted them all around their house.

On the visits I learned about their parents, the apple trees they used to have and we talked about the farm and what we were growing.  They love fresh veggies and gave me a huge bag of green bean seeds to plant.  I grew beans and passed them along.

Two years ago in the fall, Tractor Supply advertised that they scheduled a farmer day where farmers would set up their wares in the parking lots and I asked for a spot.  TSC management was THRILLED I wanted to participate in their event.  I told the neighbors I would be there.

It turns out I was THE ONLY farmer to sign up so I chose a good spot outside by the entrance, set up my table and tent and waited.

Nobody else that I told came, but the neighbors did.   They bought a few things, I gave them some things and it was just so nice that they CAME. 

That was the last time I saw Gary.  He died of a massive heart attack a couple of weeks later at the age of 60 and on my next trip to see them I learned the news.  I was shocked.  I asked why they didn’t call me.   I asked if they were alright.  I asked if they needed anything and asked what were they doing for Thanksgiving.  Betty said, “We aren’t having Thanksgiving.”

I said, you must come and spend the holiday with us. 

From then on in earnest I check on the girls.  Neither one ever learned to drive nor marry. I’m not even sure if they worked outside the home.   They were now alone.  Gary was their EVERYTHING. 

I learned they do have a nephew nearby but I have never seen anyone over there so I make it a point to check in and bring them soups and stews and whatnot when I cook and make sure they are ok.  They sold all of Gary’s vehicles and arranged for a service to take them shopping and to doctor appointments.

The girls spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays with us.  They came for my dad’s birthday dinner this year too.  Dad is in charge of bringing “his girlfriends” to the house and depositing them back home safely.  I know he gets a kick out of it.  I was really glad they came to the Fall Festival and it is a pure delight for me to see them smiling and having fun.

At Thanksgiving we were talking about the oil lamps that I collect and one of the gals said they have a bunch of them.

A few days later I stopped in with eggs and they presented me with 15 antique oil lamps and I swear none of them have ever been lit. 

I have them filled with red and clear lamp oil and have been enjoying the warm glow and that delightful smell lamp oil brings to the air when it burns.   They are so beautiful. I just LOVE them.   I can’t WAIT for Christmas day to show the girls.    They have little in property but had something they weren’t using that I would appreciate and they gave.  They GAVE.  This makes me weepy every time I think about it. 

I asked my friends and family for examples of kindness they have experienced or given and I was overjoyed to read some amazing tales from a total stranger being present when my cousin lost her first husband and father of her children to a car accident and was crying in a parking lot.  A man seeing her distress took her hand and said we both needed each other today.  She still remembers that meaningful act of kindness 7 years later.  Others spoke of the kindnesses their family has shown them and the support they get and some mentioned the little things I like to do and give that they have received from me. It is heartwarming.

Recently, I was at CVS and there was an older gentleman with a cane and he had these hearing aids he was trying to get to work.  He was asking the clerk for help but she was busy.  I took them and yelled in his ear that my husband uses hearing aids and I would try to help. 

I found the batteries that would fit and assembled them.  He asked me to put them in his ear.  He told me his friend gave them to him.  I was skeptical that they would work as hearing aids are personal and built to fit YOUR ear and your particular hearing needs, but I put them in his ears as best I could.  Can you hear me better? He looked at me and smiled and said it was ok and went on his way.  The clerk thanked me for helping and it felt good to help.

People, we all need each other.  There are animals that need adopted and my husband and I talk about how we could never volunteer at a shelter as we would bring them all home, but we can do more and we SHOULD.   We can brighten someone’s life, help people load groceries into their car, be patient, consider what may be happening to people and give folks a break once in a while.  We can pay a kindness forward and connect with people, give them some time, LISTEN to them.  Sometimes it just takes a minute, a gesture, a touch on the shoulder to make a difference.  It is a finite time we have on this earth.  Let’s make the best of it.

I am teaching my Little Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters to pick up a piece of trash when you see it, place things back on the shelf that have dropped, do something to HELP others and the planet!  I think by showing up and being a positive person we can inspire ourselves and others.  Let’s do it!

To eat or not to eat, that is the question.

To me, food is life.  

Since the beginning of the world and life on our planet, we eat to live.  We eat because we are bored, we eat for comfort, we eat as members of our communities at fairs and festivals.  Many times throughout the year for all sorts of occasions, we gather with family and friends and EAT.   We eat special foods or fast for religious reasons.  Food is a huge part of our lives. Do you attend meetings for work or groups that you belong to?   Inevitably, food will be available. 

We are in the throes of holiday merriment now and overindulgence is the rule, not the exception.  As I write this blog, I am also working on the list of ingredients I need to purchase and prepare for a event I am catering next week.  Food is on my mind pretty much all the time!!!!

So, what kinds of food should we be ingesting?  Do you find the bombardment of commercials, news reports, documentaries, books, the news, magazine articles, food and travel networks and cooking shows espousing their ideas contradictory and confusing?  I sure do.

Food is very important to me.  I plan my gardens and crops carefully, tenderly tend to each plant hoping it reaches a delicious and nutritious end, and feel sad when things go wrong.    After the plants are done producing, I save seeds to help propagate the next crop.  I am always seeking new plants to grow and I rely on our bees to pollinate pretty much everything.  As a cook I care deeply about what I prepare for myself, loved ones and clients alike and am always interested in what the newest science might be saying about the type of diet to which we humans should be subscribing.   

I have read many books that discuss what we eat and why we should avoid certain foods.  For me it started with Wheat Belly by William Davis MD and that book pretty much convinced me that the wheat we consume now is not the same wheat with which our grandmothers baked bread.  The wheat that most of our commercially produced food is made from has been genetically changed.  While in some cases, there is a good argument for GMO foods, in this case the truth seems to be that wheat as we know it, is a fast producing, disease resistant dwarf wheat which has led to all these celiac issues. 

So, after reading that, I started looking for sources of ancient grains and for the most part avoided traditional wheat products.  I had stopped eating cereal years before. 

Then my friend Amy gave me a book called Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and I was entranced.  Read that book too.   Both books really delve into what we eat, how foods are produced and explores ideas of what we should consider is food.

We all know that if you want to be a healthy person, you should eat less (or no) processed foods, we know it.  Yet, 75% of the grocery stores are filled with packaged crap and new “foods” are being invented every day to keep up with the demand we have for JUNK.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have eaten A LOT of that crap in my life.   I still walk by Kraft Macaroni and cheese or Poptarts (Cherry or brown sugar and cinnamon were my favs) and remember EXACTLY how they taste.  I enjoyed the heck out of those things but now I care more about what that stuff does to my body that I just can’t eat them anymore and I will encourage you to avoid such items as well.

About 18 months ago we watched a show on Netflix called The Magic Pill.  At the end of that program we decided to make some big changes to what we ate.  The gist of that show boils down to a few simple things.  Mainly, that SUGAR IS EVIL.  If we took only one thing from that show, it was that cancer cells need sugar to reproduce.  You eliminate sugar from your diet, you WILL be healthier.  Of course all the sugar consumption in our country has resulted in an epidemic of public health problems, diabetes being the main one. 

Basically, they were touting the Ketogenic diet which recommends 70-80% of your daily calories come from animal or plant FAT, eating an adequate portion of protein (fist size) and the rest of your foods should be plant material.  They were of the opinion that we should concentrate on low carb veggies and limit fruits and with this diet, we could heal our bodies and reduce symptoms of autism, cancer and more.  It was REALLY convincing.  Basically, you are training your body to burn FAT for energy instead of the mass quantities of sugar Americans consume which creates insulin resistance.  Stop consuming the carbs (sugar) and you will train your body to burn Fat for Fuel, a book by Dr. Mercola.  I read that book and his cookbook and several others on the keto diet.  It is truly fascinating. 

So, on our farm we harvest honey from our bees and tap maple trees.  That is ALL SUGAR.  They are natural forms of sugar but sucrose none the less. 

I am a major purchaser of sugar.  You may not know this but I am the Sugar Fairy and I make all kinds of lollipops and confections.  I don’t consume hardly any personally, but I am a pusher for sure.  I wondered if I could still make all these sugary treats for others when I wholeheartedly believed we shouldn’t be eating sugar.

By eliminating most things that contained or broke down in the body into sugar, I learned a new way of cooking.  I experimented with cheeses and almond flour and learned to make a really convincing pizza crust.  We did try the cauliflower recipes too but NO ONE was fooled into thinking that was PIZZA.  My husband’s acid reflux disappeared with keto and as men will do, he dropped 30 pounds like INSTANTLY.  I stopped drinking wine which is sadly all sugar.  I learned about Stevia, erythritol and xylitol and could use those to sweeten items so we never felt we were missing out on treats.  I can even make a grain-free cookie that will knock your socks off. 

As with anything, 21 days of doing something makes it a habit so now when we are being strict, I just avoid most carbs and never feel deprived.  If eating out, there are tons of low carb and keto-friendly options and if I am given bread, I take it home for the dogs or chickens.  My weight is really good and I feel healthy.  We eat a lot of vegetables and in my opinion, we have a healthy diet.  I control the food in the house and we eat REAL food.  I am proud of this. 

Recently though, several of our friends from different camps started talking about another Netflix show called Gamechangers.  I knew it was about a vegan diet and purposefully didn’t want to even see it as I could see no reason to not consume meat, dairy and eggs.  I mean, pretty much the whole reason I wanted a farm is because I wanted chickens.  I LOVE my girls and their eggs which are amazing tasting. 

Last fall we bought a half a grass fed cow from farming friends in Erie and have LOVED the meat. We are almost out of that.  The freezer is almost empty!   

Right now, it is hunting season in PA and Mitch has been hunting deer on our property for almost a week now.  I’m reading a book on raising Dairy Goats and had dreamed of making my own cheeses. I mean, we are pretty entrenched in animal products around here!

But we watched it.   

While we aren’t elite athletes which this show featured, the report was compelling.  The scientists, researchers and doctors all had extremely good arguments for why we should not eat animal products.   Besides the environmental issues which are real, it seems like our bodies would be healthier if we gave up meat and dairy.  Maybe we should consider this.

We talked about how it COULD work.   We are taking a trip to Europe for the new year and I fully intend to imbibe in Portuguese foods which will include wine, cheese, seafood and more, but  we are thinking when we get back that we will start with dairy.  Slowly we can eliminate the cream, cheese, cheese and did I say CHEESE?  This is going to be a hard one for me.  With keto, my snacks are nut butters and cheese with almond crackers.  I currently have at least 7 kinds of cheese in my fridge. 

On the plus side,  maybe we can have oatmeal again but use almond milk in it.  Hmmmm….  Maybe or would we just keep with the no grains and eliminate dairy too?  That sounds so restrictive and would that be sustainable?

I personally don’t HAVE to eat meat.  While I enjoy a few gyros a year, I could stop eating meat.  I did it once for almost a whole year and it was a Primanti’s sandwich that brought me back.  Corned beef egg and cheese…..  fries on the side please! 

Anyway, so Mitch has agreed we will start with the dairy and finish off the beef in the freezer and then stop the meat. I think this will be hard for him. 

I am ordering The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100.  I saw this featured all week on the Today Show.  This National Geographic researcher went to different parts of the world where people have excellent health and longevity and learned what they ate.  I am pretty sure it is mostly a plant based set of recipes so I will approach with a good attitude and report my findings.   

I believe the plant based eating thing will indeed become A THING and you will be seeing this everywhere. 

If any of you try it, please drop me a line and tell me your experiences. I am attending the school of life which is continuous learning.  I’m up for any new knowledge on all things food. 

Eat eat eat and bee healthy!  😊