A GOOD DAY

I dig my hands in the black soil of my garden.It is still a garden of plans and dreams. It has not yet evolved intoThe green plant-filled oasis that it will soon become. It is a place forMe to watch summer arrive.I visit the garden early in the morning. Dewed spiderwebs dot theLawn. Light and shadows play through the woods. The haunting sounds ofCrickets and toads still pierce the morning air. I pull some small weedsAnd pull some solutions for the day’s problems right along with them. TheWeeds appear to spring from nowhere. I am in a hurry, but the weeds areNot. The weeds hang onto their place on earth with a determinedCussedness. People may run out of patience, but nature does not.Time slows down as I go about my work. Arrogant squirrels do theirTrapeze acts in the trees over my head. Nature finds us in our hidingPlaces. The birds sing their morning chorus to accompany my activities.I am convinced that we cannot live without birds and their songs. ItIs difficult for a person to take himself too seriously while the birdsSing. I listen to the vocalizations of the birds. Their songs lift mySpirit. There are times when I think that listening to birds is the onlyTime that I am sure that I know what I am doing. Birds change us. TheirVoices cause us to become more meditative. I feed the birds. I plantShrubs for them. I provide water for them. I plant blueberries. INever eat one of the berries. I might add that I love blueberries. INever eat any of the blueberries because the birds beat me to them.There are those who claim that we do not need birds. I do not agree.I will not argue with people who feel that way, but I will offer them someAdvice. Even those people who believe that birds are not needed should doSomething for our wild birds. Whenever our souls need tending to, weShould care for the unnecessary.We can make a difference here.– Al Batt

A Beautiful Moment

When one beautiful moment ends, another begins. Do not holdSo tightly that you miss the beauty altogether.With a thankful heart, enjoy the goodness that comes yourWay in things great and small. The way to make sure youNever lose it is to simply let it be.In good time the joys of life come, one after another. BeOpen and accepting of what is now here, and you’ll connectWith the abundance that is all around you.Each moment is a blessing. Treasure its unique gifts and doNot rush to the next one, or worry that the last one wasInsufficient.Relish the beauty that is now, and know that there will beMore. Fully live and appreciate what you have right here andNow.In this beautiful moment is great and profound treasure. LetIt be, and it is always yours.~~Ralph Marston

A National Moment of RemembranceOn Memorial Day

That poem about where poppies blow and, the crosses, row on row Still rings true, these ninety yearsAfter written, still brings tears.We still have Dead, amid the gunsAnd lose our young and our loved onesThose who lived, short days agoWho, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.In Flanders Fields, the poppy redStill grow near where the blood was bledThey, Take up our quarrel with the foe?And still die for Freedoms that we know.They pass, The torch to, hold it highAnd not, break the faith with us who dieFor they, shall not sleep, though poppies growBeneath all those, crosses, row on rowIn Flanders Fields.

I AM YOUR FLAG

I am the symbol of living America, The badge of it’s greatness, The emblem of it’s destiny.I am faith. It is I who keep men mindful of their Priceless heritage, life, liberty, And the right to pursue happiness. I am hope. I represent the land of promise wherein, already, man’s loftiest dreams have approached closer to realization than ever before On this earth. I am life. Each strand of my being is a memorial, Dedicated to the sacrifices of all those strong men And steadfast women who have lived and died In the nation’s service, that it might live forever. I am tolerance. So long as I shall wave, All people under my protection may freely Worship, think, write and speak, Undaunted by the shadow of fear. I am justice, tempered with mercy. For I am a friend to the oppressed And downtrodden of every land. I am a sign of the future. I wave over schools throughout the nation And in them the nation’s future is molded. I am the Flag of the United States… The last, best hope For peace on earth. Always remember that along with the picnics and fun and the time off from Work, The reason we enjoy all our freedoms. Take a few minutes to think of the men and women who died so that we may Live. Teach our young people about the individuals That gave the greatest sacrifice anyone can give, Their very lives, For those of us they would never meet And to ensure the safety of future generations. Happy Memorial Day!

Traveling Human


Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.~Seneca

At a rest stop on Interstate 80 somewhere in Iowa, I ended up in a conversation with a crusty old character from Nebraska. “Nebraska,” he said, “is so wide open that just about anywhere you go, there’s nothin’ between you and anyplace else ’cept hundreds of miles of cows.”Seated on a picnic bench, he leaned back against the table and said with a chuckle, “Yep. Some of our state troopers will patrol up to 500 miles. When one pulls you over, it’s not to give you a ticket. It’s to have someone to talk to.”Neb, as I called him, made me laugh out loud. I met him about eight hours into a two-day road trip my husband Terry and I were taking from Detroit, Michigan to Custer, South Dakota where my father lived.Normally, that conversation would never have occurred. Trips in the past had meant racing to every possible touristy thing in record time. But there was nothing like a life-changing blow to force you to slow down and open your eyes. A recent acquisition and reorganization at work had cost me my job. Seven years of proving myself were wasted, apparently. So this trip was different.A few hundred miles before I met Neb, at a rest stop in Illinois, a man had strolled past me walking a strange little dog. Then I realized it was no dog, but a baby raccoon. Intrigued, I wandered over to where they had stopped.“That’s a baby raccoon,” I said, pleased with my cleverness.“Yep. His name is Buddy,” the man answered. He explained that a car had killed Buddy’s momma.“Can I pet him?” I asked.“Sure!” he replied. “He loves it.”I crouched beside Buddy and started stroking him. He seemed to be enjoying it when suddenly he went rigid and keeled right over.I jerked back, horrified. “What did I do?”The man laughed. “He wants you to scratch his belly.”Tentatively, I reached down and scratched. Sure enough, Buddy stretched out with delicious languor, his little eyes closed.It was a timely encounter with a man and his baby raccoon, a strange and wondrous sight that I saw as I took my time exploring a part of our great country.A few days later we were in Custer, South Dakota, staying in a little hotel called the Bavarian Inn. Every morning at breakfast, Terry and I would see this same big man seated alone at a corner table. He was a huge, imposing fellow with a goatee, an earring, tattoos, and a jet-black Mohawk ponytail. No sensible person would want to irritate this mass of a man.One morning after breakfast I took a stroll to investigate the outdoor pool at the back of the property. The big man was in it, lazily backstroking. I turned to leave when a deep voice said, “Hi!”I turned around. The big man swam to the edge, smiling, extending his enormous mitt at me.“Jason,” he said.I mustered the courage to accept the hand and watched mine disappear inside of it.It turned out that Jason, a mix of Choctaw and Cherokee, was living there for the summer while teaching at a school on a nearby reservation. He was also in the process of obtaining his doctorate in English. English had been my major. Jason and I were kindred sprits with the same love of the written word. More amazingly, this dangerous looking man’s dissertation was on, of all things, female Native-American poets.Over the next week, Jason, my husband, and I breakfasted together, enjoying many lively conversations. One favorite thing about Jason was how he would raise a massive fist and say “Right on!” whenever he really liked something, though the phase has been long extinct. We sometimes honor our memories of Jason by mimicking him that same way.A few days later, I met Linda. Linda owned a small grocery in Pringle, South Dakota, with a population of eighty. That day, we were meeting my father and his wife there for lunch.Arriving a little early, Terry and I waited outside on a porch, seated in a row of eclectic chairs. A dusty truck pulled up and two burly fellows who looked alike climbed out, eyeing us as they shuffled past and into the store.A minute later, one of them stuck his head out the door.“You here for Al Kopka?” he said.“Yeah,” I replied. “He’s my dad.”He came over. “Remember me?” he asked. “I’m Warren Schwartz.”I remembered him then. The other guy, his twin, was Lawrence. They were the locally famed handymen “The Schwartz Brothers.” I’d met them several years earlier when my sister and I flew out for a visit. I realized I should have known them in the first place since they looked to be wearing the same clothes as last time.Warren invited us inside. We followed him through the store to the back where several mismatched tables and chairs were arranged. Several other locals seated inside smiled at us as we timidly came in and took a seat with the brothers. To one side was an open kitchen area where a woman somewhere in her forties moved around like a tornado.Within a minute, the tornado was setting plates of food in front of us. Warren and Lawrence dug in. My husband and I looked at each other. We hadn’t ordered yet. We hadn’t even seen a menu.Seeing our baffled expressions, the woman said, “You’re here to eat, right?”“Uh . . . yeah,” Terry said.“Well, enjoy,” she said with a smile and whirled off.Apparently, if you were there, you were there to eat whatever Linda, the owner and cook, was making. That day it was ham steak, corn, potatoes, biscuits and lemon meringue pie. For six bucks, everyone got the same meal, made from scratch, and more delicious than anything in this world.I managed to have a conversation with Linda afterward. She had purchased the store a year ago and business had been so poor she would cry herself to sleep some nights. Then she got the idea of serving a meal every day to attract more customers, so she renovated the back and built her little café. Word got around and people came — including a couple of tourists from Michigan.Linda made me want to follow my dreams.I discovered treasures of all sorts during that trip, mainly because I thought I’d lost everything else. I still encounter treasures now because now I know where they are. I even became grateful to have lost that job. Away from the chaotic commutes and corporate politics that can turn you cold, I was reminded of what I was part of — a great land filled with heart. The spirit of my home and its people helped me find my way again.~Karen DeVault

Mabel Made This Family

When someone leaves, it’s because someone else is about to arrive — I’ll find love again.

~Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

Before Mabel, there was just me. I was thirty years old and single. The long-term relationship I had invested all my energy in for the last five years had broken down. My heart had a big crack in it, not entirely broken, but not in perfect working order, not capable of real trust. I felt cold on the inside, so I went to warm clubs and danced with sweaty people. I was lonely and sought company.

In this manner, I ended up with a heart that was not only still cracked but also tired. It was tiring to try to connect with people when I was trying to protect myself at the same time. If I went on a date with a handsome young man and he asked me reasonable questions about myself and my life, I would come up with evasive answers. I would hear myself trying not to let him know me. When, after two or three meetings of this nature, he didn’t call again, I would sink into a new layer of my old sadness.

When my elderly neighbour passed away, I grieved for that loss, too. She had been like a grandmother to me. A magical sort of little old lady, she’d also been a cat breeder. One or another of her five Abyssinian cats would climb across me and leap onto her shoulder while we chatted, while the other four sat contentedly on shelves and windowsills, grooming their sleek, sandy-coloured coats or cocking their large ears at noises from the garden. When I heard that she had died I needed some comfort, so I went to visit my friend Alex.

I didn’t know how many cats to expect to meet when I went to see Alex. There was always Lucy, her gorgeous Tortoiseshell, but there were also others. Alex worked for a charity that rehomed feral cats. The cats would be rescued from the city streets, neutered and either re-released or brought to Alex for socialisation. Some of these cats had never been touched by a human before. Upon arriving in her apartment, the cats would invariably hide under the bed, where they would stay for as long as it took for trust to grow between them and Alex. There was no one more patient than Alex.

That day, I said hello to Lucy on her armchair, and then Alex introduced me to the beautiful ginger kitten who jumped up onto the coffee table. She explained that he was just about to be adopted by a couple who were on their way over. He was a real scamp, full of life and energy. “The mother was brought in just before she had her kittens, so these guys have been an easy case,” she said.

Then I saw the other one. She was sitting off to the side, watching me. She was mostly gray, but when I looked closer I could see patches of orange and white beneath the smoky coat. “That’s Mabel. I thought her name was Marble because I read her papers wrong, but she looks like a marble, doesn’t she? She’s a Dilute Tortoiseshell.” She picked her up and put her in my arms. The purr that started up was like a small engine, and I held her against my chest. I felt my shoulders relax as a smile spread across my face. I rubbed my cheek along her spine. She twisted her body to see me, and I looked into her sparkling green eyes. She blinked slowly and then held my gaze again. I didn’t want the moment to end. But she was full of life, too, and she clambered up to my shoulder, just like my elderly neighbour’s cats. She perched up there, her purr idling in my ear until the doorbell rang and she jumped down.

The young couple fell in love immediately with Mabel’s ginger brother and coaxed him into the carry case they had brought with them. While Alex was explaining his food and preferences, clearly having a bit of trouble saying goodbye, Mabel reappeared. She sat on my feet. She stared up at me. She said to me quite clearly, I am going home with you.

A few days later, I was back at Alex’s with my own carry case. This time, the parting was joyful. Alex would be able to keep in touch with Mabel. They would always know each other.

I took Mabel home and let her out in my bedroom. She explored every corner, climbed on every surface, pounced on the toy mouse I had bought her and patted at it playfully. She leapt onto the windowsill and swiveled her gray ears at the sounds from the garden. She seemed to be satisfied, and my cheeks ached because I was smiling so hard.

Then, as though she had done it a thousand times before, she lay down on my pillow. She stretched her front legs out past her whiskers and sighed. I lay down beside her, my arm around her soft, little body. Her purr started up, and I felt tears slide across my face. For the first time in a long time, I felt my love received and returned. Mabel’s warmth was like hot tar, finding that old crack in my heart and sealing it up for good.

Within six months, I met Eddie. By summer, we were talking about the future. By autumn, he had proposed. After a really special weekend together, Eddie started packing reluctantly. He threw his bag on the floor, and when he turned to put in his dirty socks, Mabel was sitting inside the bag, staring up at him with her emerald eyes. Eddie laughed and called to me to come and see. I picked up Mabel, and the pair of us held her between us. “So, you like him?” I said to her. “Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere.”

We got married and moved in together. Mabel had just found a spot on our new windowsill when I became pregnant. Now she lies against my big, warm belly. I tell her that the baby will be here soon, and she blinks slowly and knowingly. My family has come into being because of Mabel. I let myself love her, and then I let myself love the man who became my husband. I am so grateful for this spirit, Mabel, who looks like a marble. She sat on my shoulder and my shoes, and mended my cracked heart.

— Jessica Parkinson —

The kiss

At the end of their first date, a young fellow takes the girl back to her home. On the front porch, leaning against the wall with a bit of swagger, he decides to try for that important first kiss.He: “Sweet thing, how ’bout a good night kiss?”She: “Oh, I couldn’t do that. My parents will see us!”He: “Oh come on! Who’s gonna see us at this hour?”She: “No, please. I would just die of embarrassment if someone saw us.”He: “Baby, there’s nobody around, they’re all sleeping!”She: “No way. It’s just too risky!”He: “Oh please, please, I like you so much!!”She: “No. I like you too, but I just can’t!”He: “Oh yes you can. Please, Sugar? Please?”She: “No, no. I just can’t.”He: “Pleeeeease?…”Then the porch light goes on and the girl’s sister shows up in her pajamas, sleepy, hair disheveled. “Dad says go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he’ll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!”

Memo from God

Effective immediately, please be aware that there are changes YOU need to make in YOUR life. These changes need to be completed in order that I may fulfill My promises to you to grant you peace, joy and happiness in this life.1. Quit Worrying Life has dealt you a blow and all you do is sit and worry. Have you forgotten that I am here to take all your burdens and carry them for you? Or do you just enjoy fretting over every little thing that comes your way?2. Put it on the List Something needs done or taken care of. Put it on the list. No, not YOUR list. Put it on MY to-do-list. Let ME be the one to take care of the problem. I can’t help you until you turn it over to Me. And although My to-do-list is long, I am after all… God. I can take care of anything you put into My hands. In fact, if the truth were ever really known, I take care of a lot of things for you that you never even realize.3. Trust Me Once you’ve given your burdens to Me, quit trying to take them back. Trust in Me. Have the faith that I will take care of all your needs, your problems and your trials. Problems with the kids? Put them on My list. Problem with finances? Put it on My list. Problems with your emotional roller coaster? For My sake, put it on My list. I want to help you. All you have to do is ask.4. Leave It Alone Don’t wake up one morning and say, “Well, I’m feeling much stronger now, I think I can handle it from here.” Why do you think you are feeling stronger now? It’s simple. You gave Me your burdens and I’m taking care of them. I also renew your strength and cover you in my peace. Don’t you know that if I give you these problems back, you will be right back where you started? Leave them with Me and forget about them. Just let Me do my job.5. Talk to MeI want you to forget a lot of things. Forget what was making you crazy. Forget the worry and the fretting because you know I’m in control. But there’s one thing I pray you never forget. Please, don’t forget to talk to Me – OFTEN! I love YOU! I want to hear your voice. I want you to include Me in on the things going on in your life. I want to hear you talk about your friends and family. Prayer is simply you having a conversation with Me. I want to be your dearest friend.6. Have Faith I see a lot of things from up here that you can’t see from where you are. Have faith in Me that I know what I’m doing. Trust Me; you wouldn’t want the view from My eyes. I will continue to care for you, watch over you, and meet your needs. You only have to trust Me. Although I have a much bigger task than you, it seems as if you have so much trouble just doing your simple part. How hard can trust be?7. Share You were taught to share when you were only two years old. When did you forget? That rule still applies. Share with those who are less fortunate than you. Share your joy with those who need encouragement. Share your laughter with those who haven’t heard any in such a long time. Share your tears with those who have forgotten how to cry. Share your faith with those who have none.8. Be Patient I managed to fix it so in just one lifetime you could have so many diverse experiences. You grow from a child to an adult, have children, change jobs many times, learn many trades, travel to so many places, meet thousands of people, and experience so much. How can you be so impatient then when it takes Me a little longer than you expect to handle something on My to-do-list? Trust in My timing, for My timing is perfect. Just because I created the entire universe in only six days, everyone thinks I should always rush, rush, rush.9. Be Kind Be kind to others, for I love them just as much as I love you. They may not dress like you, or talk like you, or live the same way you do, but I still love you all. Please try to get along, for My sake. I created each of you different in some way. It would be too boring if you were all identical. Please, know I love each of your differences.10. Love Yourself As much as I love you, how can you not love yourself? You were created by me for one reason only — to be loved, and to love in return. I am a God of Love. Love Me. Love your neighbors. But also love yourself. It makes My heart ache when I see you so angry with yourself when things go wrong. You are very precious to me. Don’t ever forget that! With all my heart I love you.

GOD

This Magic MomentBy Jennifer AndersonIt was

It was like many Maui mornings, the sun rising over Haleakala as wegreeted our divers for the day’s charter. As my captain and Iexplained the dive procedures, I noticed the wind line moving intoMolokini, a small, crescent-shaped island that harbors a large reef.I slid through the briefing, then prompted my divers to gear up,careful to do everything right so the divers would feel confidentwith me, the dive leader.The dive went pretty close to how I had described it: The gardeneels performed their underwater ballet, the parrot fish grazed onthe coral, and the ever-elusive male flame wrasse flared theircolors to defend their territory. Near the last level of the dive,two couples in my group signaled they were going to ascend.As luck would have it, the remaining divers were two Europeanbrothers, who were obviously troubled by the idea of a “woman” divemaster and had ignored me for the entire dive.The three of us caught the current and drifted along the outside ofthe reef, slowly beginning our ascent until, far below, somethingcaught my eye. After a few moments, I made out the white shoulderpatches of a manta ray in about one hundred and twenty feet of water.Manta rays are one of my greatest loves, but very little is knownabout them. They feed on plankton, which makes them more delicatethan an aquarium can handle. They travel the oceans and aretherefore a mystery.Mantas can be identified by the distinctive pattern on their belly,with no two rays alike. In 1992, I had been identifying the mantarays that were seen at Molokini and found that some were known, butmany more were sighted only once, and then gone.So there I was: a beautiful, very large ray beneath me and myskeptical divers behind. I reminded myself that I was still tryingto win their confidence, and a bounce to see this manta wouldn’thelp my case. So I started calling through my regulator, “Hey, comeup and see me!” I had tried this before to attract the attention ofwhales and dolphins, who are very chatty underwater and will comesometimes just to see what the noise is about. My divers were justas puzzled by my actions, but continued to tryto ignore me.There was another dive group ahead of us. The leader, who was afriend of mine and knew me to be fairly sane, stopped to see what Iwas doing. I kept calling to the ray, and when she shifted in thewater column, I took that as a sign that she was curious. So Istarted waving my arms, calling her up to me.After a minute, she lifted away from where she had been riding thecurrent and began to make a wide circular glide until she was closerto me. I kept watching as she slowly moved back and forth, risinghigher, until she was directly beneath the two Europeans and me. Ilooked at them and was pleased to see them smiling. Now they likedme. After all, I could call up a manta ray!Looking back to the ray, I realized she was much bigger than what wewere used to around Molokini – a good fifteen feet from wing tip towing tip, and not a familiar-looking ray. I had not seen this animalbefore. There was something else odd about her. I just couldn’tfigure out what it was.Once my brain clicked in and I was able to concentrate, I saw deep V-shaped marks of her flesh missing from her backside. Other marks ranup and down her body. At first I thought a boat had hit her. As shecame closer, now with only ten feet separating us, I realized whatwas wrong.She had fishing hooks embedded in her head by her eye, with verythick fishing line running to her tail. She had rolled with the lineand was wrapped head to tail about five or six times. The line hadtorn into her body at the back, and those were the V-shaped chunksthat were missing.I felt sick and, for a moment, paralyzed. I knew wild animals inpain would never tolerate a human to inflict more pain. But I had todo something.Forgetting about my air, my divers and where I was, I went to themanta. I moved very slowly and talked to her the whole time, likeshe was one of the horses I had grown up with. When I touched her,her whole body quivered, like my horse would. I put both of my handson her, then my entire body, talking to her the whole time. I knewthat she could knock me off at any time with one flick of her greatwing.When she had steadied, I took out the knife that I carry on myinflator hose and lifted one of the lines. It was tight anddifficult to get my finger under, almost like a guitar string. Sheshook, which told me to be gentle. It was obvious that the slightestpressure was painful.As I cut through the first line, it pulled into her wounds. With onebeat of her mighty wings, she dumped me and bolted away. I figuredthat she was gone and was amazed when she turned and came right backto me, gliding under my body. I went to work. She seemed to know itwould hurt, and somehow, she also knew that I could help. Imaginethe intelligence of that creature, to come for help and to trust!I cut through one line and into the next until she had all she couldtake of me and would move away, only to return in a moment or two. Inever chased her. I would never chase any animal. I never grabbedher. I allowed her to be in charge, and she always came back.When all the lines were cut on top, on her next pass, I went underher to pull the lines through the wounds at the back of her body.The tissue had started to grow around them, and they were difficultto get loose. I held myself against her body, with my hand on herlower jaw. She held as motionless as she could. When it was allloose, I let her go and watched her swim in a circle.She could have gone then, and it would have all fallen away. Shecame back, and I went back on top of her.The fishing hooks were still in her. One was barely hanging on,which I removed easily. The other was buried by her eye at least twoinches past the barb. Carefully, I began to take it out, hoping Iwasn’t damaging anything. She did open and close her eye while Iworked on her, and finally, it was out. I held the hooks in onehand, while I gathered the fishing line in the other hand, my weighton the manta.I could have stayed there forever! I was totally oblivious toeverything but that moment. I loved this manta. I was so moved thatshe would allow me to do this to her. But reality came screamingdown on me. With my air running out, I reluctantly came to my sensesand pushed myself away.At first, she stayed below me. And then, when she realized that shewas free, she came to life like I never would have imagined shecould. I thought she was sick and weak, since her mouth had beentied closed, and she hadn’t been able to feed for however long thelines had been on her. I thought wrong! With two beats of thosepowerful wings, she rocketed along the wall of Molokini and thendirectly out to sea! I lost view of her and, remembering my divers,turned to look for them.Remarkably, we hadn’t traveled very far. My divers were right aboveme and had witnessed the whole event, thankfully! No one would havebelieved me alone. It seemed too amazing to have really happened.But as I looked at the hooks and line in my hands and felt the torncalluses from her rough skin, I knew that, yes, it really hadhappened.I kicked in the direction of my divers, whose eyes were stillwide from the encounter, only to have them signal me to stop andturn around. Until this moment, the whole experience had beenphenomenal, but I could explain it. Now, the moment turned magical.I turned and saw her slowly gliding toward me. With barely aneffort, she approached me and stopped, her wing just touching myhead. I looked into her round, dark eye, and she looked deeply intome. I felt a rush of something that so overpowered me, I have yet tofind the words to describe it, except a warm and loving flow ofenergy from her into me.She stayed with me for a moment. I don’t know if it was a second oran hour. Then, as sweetly as she came back, she lifted her wing overmy head and was gone. A manta thank-you.I hung in midwater, using the safety-stop excuse, and tried to makesense of what I had experienced. Eventually, collecting myself, Isurfaced and was greeted by an ecstatic group of divers and acurious captain. They all gave me time to get my heart started andto begin to breathe.Sadly, I have not seen her since that day, and I am stilllooking. For the longest time, though my wetsuit was tattered andtorn, I would not change it because I thought she wouldn’t recognizeme. I call to every manta I see, and they almost always acknowledgeme in some way. One day, though, it will be her.She’ll hear me and pause, remembering the giant cleaner that shetrusted to relieve her pain, and she’ll come. At least that is howit happens in my dreams.

Meals on Wheels

Once upon a time, there was a cat who died. When she got to heaven, God asked her how she liked being on earth. She told the Lord that it was awful — she had to sleep in cold back alleys, where there was no food and life was hard. God told her that he was sorry it had had turned out that way — but here, in heaven, she would be happy and He would give her the most comfortable, warm pillow to sleep on.The cat laid down upon the pillow and was happy.A few days later, about a dozen mice that came to heaven together and God asked them how they had liked earth.The earth was no better for them than it was the cat.They explained to God that it was tough and exhausting and their feet were worn out from always running from cats and dogs and people. God felt bad for the mice and decided to give them rollerskates.One day God sees the cat again and asked her how she was liking heaven. She explained that it was absolutely wonderful.The pillow he gave her was the most comfortable place that she had ever slept on, but even better than the pillow were the meals on wheels.

OLIVE GARDEN ZUPPA TOSCANA

yield: 8 SERVINGS

prep time: 15 MINUTES

cook time: 30 MINUTES

total time: 45 MINUTES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.
  2. Add Italian sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and set aside.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have become translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in sausage and spinach until spinach begins to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in heavy cream until heated through, about 1 minute; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with bacon.

Pepper salad

Recipe details

  • Yield6 Servings
  • Time spentPrep time: 15 Minutes|Cook time: 0 Minutes|Total time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

FOR THE SALAD

  • 2 green peppers, cut in strips
  • 2 orange peppers, cut in strips
  • 2 apples, cut in strips (not necessary to peel)
  • 8 medium radishes, cut in strips
  • 2 cups jicama, cut into strips

FOR THE DRESSING

  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped mint

Instructions

FOR THE SALAD

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.Pour the dressing over the top and toss to combine. Refrigerate before serving.

FOR THE DRESSING

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

The traveling nun

A nun was going to Chicago. She went to the airport and sat down waiting for her flight. She looked over in the corner and saw one of those weight machines that tell your fortune. So, she thought to herself “I’ll give it a try just to see what it tells me.” She went over to the machine and put her nickel in, and out came a card that said, “You’re a nun you weigh 128 lb. And you are going to Chicago, Illinois.” She sat back down and thought about it. She told herself it probably tells everyone the same thing, but decided to try it again. She went back to the machine and put her nickel in. Out came a card that read, “You’re a nun, you weigh 128 lb., you’re agoing to Chicago, Illinois and you are going to play a fiddle.” The nun said to herself, “I know that’s wrong, I have never played a musical instrument a day in my life,” She sat down again. From no where, a cowboy came over and set his fiddle case down next to her. The nun picked up the fiddle and just started playing beautiful music. Startled, she looked back at the machine and said, “This is incredible. I’ve got to try it again,” Back to the machine. She put her nickel in and another card came out. It said, “You’re a nun, you weigh 128 lbs., you’re going to Chicago, Illinois and you’re going to break wind. Now, the nun knows the machine is wrong; “I’ve never broke wind in public a day in my life! “Well, she tripped, fell off the scales and broke wind. Stunned, she sat back down and looked at the machine. She said to herself, “This is truly unbelievable! I’ve got to try it again.” She went back to the machine, put her nickel in and collected the card. It said, “You’re a nun, you weigh 128 lbs., you have fiddled and farted around and missed your flight to Chicago.

White trash bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 sleeves Ritz crackers, 60 crackers total
  • 1 1/2 cups toffee bits
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Spray a 8×8 pan with cooking spray
  3. Crush the Ritz crackers in a large zip-top bag.
  4. Pour toffee bits into zip-top bag and combine with cracker crumbs.
  5. Pour cracker/toffee mix into prepared pan.
  6. Pour entire can of sweetened condensed bars into cracker mixture.
  7. Stir until evenly Incorporated, press gently into pan.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes until edges start to become golden.
  9. Remove and allow to completely cool.
  10. When cooled, frost with buttercream or dust with powdered sugar.
  11. Cut into squares.

Just the Way I Like It

It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.~W.S. Gilbert

I was excited! I was going home to visit Aunt Marge. Marge lived in Kansas and I lived in Seattle so although I called her every week, I hadn’t been home to visit her in years.I’d been a neglected child from a broken home and the happiest memories of my childhood were the brief visits I spent with Marge. Spending a few weeks with Marge in the summer was an oasis in my life and I always thought of her as my real mother. She was cheerful and kind and patient and fun to be with and she was a fabulous cook. Every meal was delicious and even after all the food had been eaten, no one was anxious to leave the table, so we’d often sit and talk for an hour while the food dried on our plates and the ice cubes melted in our sweetened tea.When I knocked on her door, I hollered, Mom, I’m home!It was a happy and tearful reunion.I cooked all your favorite foods, Marge said.She had cooked a meatloaf that was burned and crusty around the edges and she made lumpy mashed potatoes and half-cooked corn on the cob. She had sweetened iced tea, and she had sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and doused them in vinegar. For dessert, she had baked a chocolate cake that had fallen in the middle and was evened out with extra frosting.It was the exact meal she’d cooked for me many times when I was a child. It was perfect, and she was right it was my favorite meal, because Marge was my favorite person.At Marge’s table, burned meatloaf and lumpy potatoes were a banquet, because she loved me. I told her everything was delicious and perfect because I loved her. We sat at the table and talked about the old days, family, friends, and a hundred other things, because when you had a meal with Marge, you were never in a hurry to leave the table.The next morning she fixed my favorite breakfast, coffee with cream and extra sugar and burned toast. She scraped most of the black crumbs off the toast and she covered the toast with extra butter and jelly to hide the burned parts.We sat at the kitchen table watching the birds come and go at the birdfeeder outside the window.I like? I started.Meadowlarks, Marge said, When you were eight, you liked meadowlarks.I still do, I said. There wasn’t another person in the world who knew or cared that I liked meadowlarks. Marge knew me better than anyone else and she was the only person beside myself who remembered my childhood.That evening we sat on the front porch and listened to the locusts in the elm trees. I felt eight years old and although Marge’s hair was now white, I remembered when it was dark auburn.Do you still have Suzie? she asked.No, she got lost a long time ago, I said. Suzie was a doll with a cracked head and one missing eye. The rubber band holding her arms onto her body had rotted and her arms had fallen off, but she’d been my favorite doll when I was five.Too bad, Marge said. I’ve really missed you. I wish you didn’t live so far away.I’ve missed you, too, I said. I hadn’t realized how much until now. I’ll come home more often, I promise.The sun went down and we went inside to watch television.We should have a snack before we go to bed, Marge said. She went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a bowl of ice cream for each of us. When I was a child, we always had a bowl of ice cream before we went to bed. Tonight it was strawberry ice cream with broken potato chips sprinkled on top because that was how I liked it the summer I was seven.I knew the next day, and every day of my two-week visit, would be the same. The meals would only vary by which foods would be burned and which foods would be half-cooked. We’d scrape the black crusts off the meat, potatoes, rolls or toast. We’d reheat undercooked vegetables. We’d laugh and do whatever we needed to do to make it edible, whether it was just scooping out the middle and leaving the black edges stuck to the pan or if it meant covering something with gravy that was either as thin as water or thick enough to cut with a knife. When she accidentally dropped a hot pad into a boiling pot of chicken and dumplings she dug the hot pad out with a spoon and asked, Do you think that will affect the flavor?I told her no, I didn’t think so, and it didn’t matter it would taste like a feast to me.Because with Marge, it was never about the food, it was about the love.~April Knight

Just the Way I Like It

It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.~W.S. Gilbert

I was excited! I was going home to visit Aunt Marge. Marge lived in Kansas and I lived in Seattle so although I called her every week, I hadn’t been home to visit her in years.I’d been a neglected child from a broken home and the happiest memories of my childhood were the brief visits I spent with Marge. Spending a few weeks with Marge in the summer was an oasis in my life and I always thought of her as my real mother. She was cheerful and kind and patient and fun to be with and she was a fabulous cook. Every meal was delicious and even after all the food had been eaten, no one was anxious to leave the table, so we’d often sit and talk for an hour while the food dried on our plates and the ice cubes melted in our sweetened tea.When I knocked on her door, I hollered, Mom, I’m home!It was a happy and tearful reunion.I cooked all your favorite foods, Marge said.She had cooked a meatloaf that was burned and crusty around the edges and she made lumpy mashed potatoes and half-cooked corn on the cob. She had sweetened iced tea, and she had sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and doused them in vinegar. For dessert, she had baked a chocolate cake that had fallen in the middle and was evened out with extra frosting.It was the exact meal she’d cooked for me many times when I was a child. It was perfect, and she was right it was my favorite meal, because Marge was my favorite person.At Marge’s table, burned meatloaf and lumpy potatoes were a banquet, because she loved me. I told her everything was delicious and perfect because I loved her. We sat at the table and talked about the old days, family, friends, and a hundred other things, because when you had a meal with Marge, you were never in a hurry to leave the table.The next morning she fixed my favorite breakfast, coffee with cream and extra sugar and burned toast. She scraped most of the black crumbs off the toast and she covered the toast with extra butter and jelly to hide the burned parts.We sat at the kitchen table watching the birds come and go at the birdfeeder outside the window.I like? I started.Meadowlarks, Marge said, When you were eight, you liked meadowlarks.I still do, I said. There wasn’t another person in the world who knew or cared that I liked meadowlarks. Marge knew me better than anyone else and she was the only person beside myself who remembered my childhood.That evening we sat on the front porch and listened to the locusts in the elm trees. I felt eight years old and although Marge’s hair was now white, I remembered when it was dark auburn.Do you still have Suzie? she asked.No, she got lost a long time ago, I said. Suzie was a doll with a cracked head and one missing eye. The rubber band holding her arms onto her body had rotted and her arms had fallen off, but she’d been my favorite doll when I was five.Too bad, Marge said. I’ve really missed you. I wish you didn’t live so far away.I’ve missed you, too, I said. I hadn’t realized how much until now. I’ll come home more often, I promise.The sun went down and we went inside to watch television.We should have a snack before we go to bed, Marge said. She went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a bowl of ice cream for each of us. When I was a child, we always had a bowl of ice cream before we went to bed. Tonight it was strawberry ice cream with broken potato chips sprinkled on top because that was how I liked it the summer I was seven.I knew the next day, and every day of my two-week visit, would be the same. The meals would only vary by which foods would be burned and which foods would be half-cooked. We’d scrape the black crusts off the meat, potatoes, rolls or toast. We’d reheat undercooked vegetables. We’d laugh and do whatever we needed to do to make it edible, whether it was just scooping out the middle and leaving the black edges stuck to the pan or if it meant covering something with gravy that was either as thin as water or thick enough to cut with a knife. When she accidentally dropped a hot pad into a boiling pot of chicken and dumplings she dug the hot pad out with a spoon and asked, Do you think that will affect the flavor?I told her no, I didn’t think so, and it didn’t matter it would taste like a feast to me.Because with Marge, it was never about the food, it was about the love.~April Knight