Book Break: Fried Nerves and Other White Meat

This post is a little different from some of my other book break posts, as it isn’t a review, and the book I want to tell you about hasn’t even been printed yet. However, I have had an opportunity to read it because I am currently editing it. So, even though it isn’t available yet, I still wanted to share with you a little about this book and its author.

fried-nerves-book-coverFried Nerves and Other White Meat is a book of memoirs written by a pretty amazing woman. Its text is compiled from the blog posts (Fried Nerves and Jam) that Micaela Bensko wrote during a particularly trying time in her life. While confined to bed for 11 months after a “freak” accident right in her own driveway, Micaela had a lot of time to think:

“not just about life, but about those random memories that float through the mind but life is so busy we are not able to take time to reflect on how each of them truly impacted our life. In each blog entry, I attempt to wrangle these memories and dissect them, unraveling the meaning behind each one, and how it taught a lesson I was never able to learn, until now.”

In future posts, I look forward to sharing some of Micaela’s “Aha” moments of discovery with you as well as some of the nuggets of hope and encouragement that you can eventually read for yourself in her book, Fried Nerves and Other White Meat. (If I can ever get my part of the process finished.)

hope-redefined

Here is a glimpse into the life of this multi-talented (and full of heart and hope) writer, photographer, friend (she is friends with one of my sisters), wife, and mother taken from her online bio:

Micaela recently published her first children’s book The Soldier and the Squirrel, which has been procured by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to raise awareness of the Purple Heart to our youth. [You really should check this book out too; especially if you are a librarian (hint to my sis-in-law, Jana).]

front-cover2

As a photographer, Bensko was featured as a leader in her field by Professional Photographer Magazine. Her photography has been displayed at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and has been the subject of an Emmy Award winning FOX News segment. Bensko is also Vice-President of Rebuilding America’s Warriors, providing free reconstructive surgery to troops returning from war. Bensko is married to Don Bensko who is a Producer (of TV and children). They have four children and live in Los Angeles, California.

micaela

Some other random thoughts from Micaela to describe herself:

“I worry if I’m parenting properly. I believe love is based on respect and without respect there cannot be love. The proudest moment of my life was completing my degree as a single mother of two. … I believe fame is fleeting. Feeling is forever. Relationships are the key to purpose and meaning is only found in following your truth. … I think we have many soulmates and not just one. Like many teachers so we learn different lessons. I think marriage is made by hands with hope for the future of our world. …

Perfection to me is fascinating and then boring. I like my dogs to sit on the sofa. … My husband is my best friend. …

When I feel strongly about something I will express it, but time has taught me to listen more than to speak. …

I believe in God. A power greater than anything our world could ever understand. So I don’t try to understand. I just believe. I believe God is in me. In my children. My husband. In my neighbor’s quiet house. It is in the boy who broke my heart and the man who stole it and made it whole. I believe one day it will all make sense. So for now the only thing I can do is be me. I am broken but aren’t we all? We connect because we have missing pieces that others fill. Life is a puzzle. When it’s complete we will see what it is. From above.

I know there is more to life but for now it is enough. Because grasping for it too soon will be fruitless. I believe in stopping. In letting life happen as it should. In showing up.

I will live until my time has come and embrace the end as the final chapter in the most wonderful book I’ve ever read. Like a child not wanting it to end, but too desperate to know the ending to stop. …

I hope you embrace your journey with observation and reflection. And to believe that all you are is already enough. Even if you are perfectly broken. Like me.”

micaela1Micaela Bensko, Copyright © 2013, Fried Nerves & Jam. All rights reserved.

I think you will find Micaela and her life discoveries intriguing, touching, heart-wrenching, entertaining, and encouraging. It just depends on what part of her book or blog you are reading.

Stay tuned, and I will share more with you later on The Soldier and the Squirrel, as well as let you know when Fried Nerves and Other White Meat has been printed and is available for purchase.

Meanwhile, keep on hoping and praying and trusting in God’s plan and in His grace.

greater-grace

Advertisements

Book Break: Thunder: A Novel by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Thunder: A Novel (Stone Braide Chronicles)

As an avid reader of fantasy, science, fiction, and young adult novels, when I heard about the book Thunder, I knew it would be right up my alley. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian* society, the descendants of those who survived The Time of Sorrows either live off the land in a somewhat primitive way, while trying to determine what is still “safe” to eat, or they are part of the self-contained Mountain people (aka The Company) who carry out mysterious scientific experiments with the benefit of technologically advanced equipment.

Thunder

I would describe the overall story as a combination of action, adventure, young romance, and science fiction. It is also a bit of a coming of age book where the teens within (Selah and Bodhi as well as others) are learning about themselves and the world around them, as they strive to not only make the right decisions but to survive. As you meet the various characters and follow along on the journey/quest with them, you will enjoy a tale (told from various points of view) full of secrets, lies, danger, corruption, friendship, betrayal, hope, and love, while all along a battle between good and evil simmers below the surface.

From reading other reviews, I understand that some readers felt that this book did not have a deep enough spiritual tone (coming from a Christian publisher) or that it lacked any mention of faith or spiritual content, I felt like the spiritual references were subtle and intriguing (e.g., references to the Kingdom, the Presence, and one of the experiments being called an “abomination” to name a few). However, I admit that there were a lot of things that were not explained in this book that I would hope are either covered in the FREE e-book prequel—Tremors (which is now available online) or that things will become clearer in book two: Lightning. Perhaps the Landers, who are referred to as Immortals, are angels or some other type of spiritual being; I don’t really know at this point. The good thing about this subtleness, in my opinion, is that those who are not familiar with Revell as a publisher of Christian books will enjoy the adventure, action, and mysteries contained within the story without realizing that there is an underlying message of hope and redemption. A message that will, hopefully, become clearer later on in this series.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to more to come.

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for providing me with an advance copy for my personal review and my honest opinion.

  *A dystopia is a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia. Such societies appear in many artistic works, particularly in stories set in a future. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. (wikipedia.org)

Back Cover copy:

The Time of Sorrows is long past.
The future of Selah and her people is shrouded in mystery.
And the clock is ticking.

Hidden in the tall grasses along a shore littered with the rusted metal remnants of a once-great city, a hunter crouches. It is the eve of her eighteenth Birth Remembrance and high time she proves to herself and her brothers that she can stand on her own two feet. Selah Rishon Chavez waits not for game but for one of the small boats that occasionally crash against the desolate shoreline. Because inside one of these boats she will find her quarry—a Lander. These people from an unknown land across the ocean are highly prized by the Company and bring a good price—especially if they keep the markings they arrive with. Everything falls to pieces when the Lander whom Selah catches is stolen by her brothers, and Selah wakes the next morning to find the Lander’s distinctive mark has appeared on her own flesh. Once the hunter, Selah is now one of the hunted, and she knows only one person who can help her—Bodhi Locke, the Lander her brothers hope to sell in the Mountain.
Inside Cover copy:

With evocative descriptions of a strange new world that combines elements of disturbing scientific advances, devious political conspiracy, and survival in a hostile wilderness, Bonnie S. Calhoun weaves a captivating tale of a society more like our own than we may want to admit. From the tension-laced first scene to the captivating last page, Thunder is an epic journey into the heart of humankind that explores how far we are willing to go when we’re pushed to the limit.

Having a Bad Day? You Are Not Alone.

Despite our best efforts to keep our lives on a steady track, like a carousel, life is typically more like a roller coaster. We have our ups—things are great, life is good, we’re on top of the world. And then we have our downs—those trying times when it seems that everything that can go wrong does.

Personally, I am only on a small slope right now as I experience a little uncertainty about my income in the upcoming months and continue to deal with the on-again/off-again issues of carpal tunnel and fibromyalgia. However, among my family and friends, there are several people experiencing more traumatic issues like the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, multiple surgeries, major medication and rehabilitation, long-distance moves, and various other shake-ups.

Today, whether you are experiencing a steady decline or you feel like you are descending at a rapid rate, remember: looking back does not change the course; every down is followed by an up; and finally, whatever you are going through, you are not alone.

Roy Lessin image

Virginia Knowles, who writes about motherhood on her blog (This Mom Grows Up!) posted this today: “When Life Is Not a Bowl of Cherries”

“So much we go through, the good and bad mixed together. It stretches our faith. It teaches us life lessons. It connects us to those who want to help us. It draws on our capacity to love others. It shows us where we need to put forth more effort.”

Another blogger I follow, Susie Middleton (at SixBurnerSue.com), shares some of the crazy downs experienced in farm life:

“It’s … easy, this time of year, to look around a farm and get discouraged. Weeds are ravenous, pests are ravenous, farm stand customers are ravenous. (And our egg supply isn’t keeping up with demand.). The pretty green frilly stuff of spring has fled, replaced by dying pea vines and bolted lettuce and plants ravaged by potato beetles.

But wait. That’s only one way to look at it.”

She goes on to comment on the cheerful sunflowers and zinnias, the bountiful tomato harvest, and the fresh black raspberries now ripe for making homemade berry ice cream.

Copyright © 2014 Susie Middleton

Copyright © 2014 Susie Middleton

Sometimes, how you look at your surroundings and what you choose to see is more important than what appears at first to be the overwhelming “reality.” Changing your focus is not always easy to do, especially if you are experiencing financial difficulties or overwhelming grief, but you can often find the silver lining in many situations if you try and/or if you give it time. (Of course, there are some things that we will never understand or see the good in … at least not during our earthly lives. For those things, we simply have to trust in God and His plan.)

JoAnn Potter, shares some really good thoughts on bad things in her blog post, “God Never Says ‘Oops'”:

“Whenever something bad happens to me, my first reaction is to think that I don’t belong in my situation. Surely, there’s been some kind of mistake.

My son shouldn’t be sick. I shouldn’t have constant conflict with my boss. I’m not supposed to have broken my mother’s prized china. My husband wasn’t supposed to be downsized out of a job. Our car shouldn’t have broken down. …

Regardless of what I want to believe about my situation, I am in it for one of only two reasons: Either God has willed it, or He has allowed it.

If I do not admit this, then God becomes subservient to my will, to the devil, to chance, or to something else. And He can’t. If He does, He is not God. …

God is not selectively perfect. He is not selectively knowing. He is not selectively loving. God is these things all the time.

He does not make me do stuff, but He does work all things together for good. He can turn my bad decisions, eventually, into good. He can turn evil inside out. He does it all the time.”

PEACE - I Have Overcome the World

Whatever you are going through, I pray that your burden will be eased; that you will receive encouragement through your connection to God, friends, and family; that you will find relief from your pain and comfort for your sorrow; that you will discover the desires of your heart and the path that will get you there; and that you will find rest, peace, and renewal at the end of the “ride.”

Dr. Charles Stanley says, “Perhaps the hardest part of receiving the desires of our heart is waiting for them to materialize. Yet God’s Word insists that we rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. This means relying on Him to work out circumstances even when achieving our desire seems impossible.”

 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing
the Lord is about to do…”
1 Samuel 12:4

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.”
Jeremiah 17:7

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Stop Worrying

Broken … but Loved As Is

As the slender needle slipped into my wrist, I felt an electric jolt travel through my palm and up into my thumb.

“Feel that?” the doctor asked?

“Mmmhmm.” I got out through clenched teeth.

I thought you weren’t supposed to feel the needles going in with acupuncture. At least that’s what I had read and what I had heard others say. I discovered for myself that this proved to be true more so for my back, but not so much for my hand and forearm.

Acupuncture Treatment

I was at the acupuncturist’s office because my carpal tunnel and arthritis in my right hand/wrist had started getting worse. Numbness had begun affecting my thumb and two fingers while working on the computer during the day, and numbness in my whole hand had started waking me up at night. I was also experiencing pain in my palm with various movements throughout the day.

The cortisone shots that the hand specialist had given me had worn off after only a month. The last shot I got from my orthopedic doctor had helped for a good six months. On top of that, my fibromyalgia was flaring up again (my shoulders and lower ribs felt tender and bruised). I knew it was time to try something else to alleviate the pains I was experiencing. So I thought I’d give acupuncture a shot.

Although, technically speaking, Chinese Medicine doesn’t treat “conditions,” it treats “patterns,” the doctor thought that she could help with my carpal tunnel. And the brochure said that acupuncture could help with arthritis and fibromyalgia as well. However, after half a dozen visits, I didn’t feel like it was making any difference, so I have decided not to go back. I plan to talk to my regular doctor as well as the hand specialist within the next couple of weeks to determine a new course of action. It’s possible that surgery might be on the agenda in the near future, but I don’t even know what my other options are at this point, so I will need their input to make that decision.


So … besides sharing a specific experience in my life, why am I writing this? How is it connected to the topic of spiritual whitespace that I have been writing about lately? Well, in Chapter 8 of Bonnie Gray’s book Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, she shares her experience with insomnia. Some of her thoughts and words resonate with me and I think they might be useful for others who are currently experiencing various health issues as well.

Xxxxxx [insert your specific issue here] “is a soul’s journey to find rest. Self-care is one movement in that journey to make room for whitespace and fill it with rest. Self-care is a step of faith to take care of our body and soul.”

Sometimes we feel guilty or selfish focusing on ourselves; sometimes doing so requires us to make major life changes; sometimes we find that we have to ask others for help on our path toward healing.

“Every movement that gives your body a chance to heal gives your soul room to breathe. Prioritizing self-care is an act of faith to tune your heart with God.”

Nurture Your Voice

“When we care for our well-being, our hearts become tender. We become moveable. God can prompt us. Without whitespace, we become emotionally disconnected. …  Because the focus of God’s heart has always been your heart, self-care is really a soul’s journey to fully receive his love.

Here are some of the things I have discovered while reading this book and/or through my own personal journey:

  • I need to be kind to my body.  I need to begin taking my supplements more regularly again. I need to nourish my body with better foods. And I need to get back to exercising, even if it is just stretching and walking at first. (Bart tries to remind me of this, but ladies, you know how it makes you feel when your husband does this. Not good.) I found out about a yoga class that meets twice a week at the library; I am going to try to go to this, starting Monday.
  • I need to take time for friends and fun. Sharing our stories with others and allowing them to share theirs with us brings us deeper connections and friendships.  Surface friendships may help you get through the day, but “in-the skin” friends (those who can handle the weak, tired, or troubled you) help you get through life. Luckily, I have been able to make more time for friends and fun lately. So, I’m already on the right path there.

Reach for Joy

  • I need to remember to ask for help. I’m a pretty self-sufficient person most of the time. I enjoy helping others, but I don’t always feel like asking for help myself. Especially with my hand in a more sensitive state at the moment, I need to quit trying to act like there’s nothing wrong with it. Until I get more feedback from the doctors on what will help or hurt it, I have to stop lifting, turning, and gripping things as if there’s nothing wrong. I don’t want to make the problem worse. (Don’t worry Mrs. Avis, if I end up needing your help, I will call and ask you to come up.) 🙂 [ And thank you Bart for steam-cleaning the living room rug tonight.]
  • I need to seek the expertise of professionals and the will of God. Sometimes I try so hard to figure things out on my own when I really don’t have the knowledge or background to do so. I also forget to seek God’s answer and/or lack the patience to wait on a response. I read somewhere that sometimes God invites us into an encounter with Him and other times He waits for us to extend the invitation. I need to remember to ask and then to be still enough to allow God to speak to my heart. I am working on this, and will also be calling my primary care doctor this next week to get in to see him and consult with him.

“Even in the storm … God is alive and faithful to make something beautiful out of us. We don’t need to understand how it will happen, how he can carry us through … It doesn’t matter. … God won’t abandon us. … He’s carrying us in his arms, no matter how bruised or broken we feel. He’s planting beautiful seed for our journey … That seed is Jesus. Alive in us.”

Every time we invite Jesus directly into our situation, whenever we allow the seed of rest to grow in our lives and hope to triumph over despair, we are caring for our hearts and bodies and creating spiritual whitespace: space for self-care … space to be loved. As is.

BookArt4_brokenbeauty-300x300

“Hope is secure when it is aligned with God’s desires,
which are revealed in the Bible. However, our expectations
are often based on wishes, feelings, and personal preferences—
we yearn for job promotions, good health, or quick solutions
to problems. Such desires can be strong, but we have no
sure promise from God that they’re part of His will for us.
… Ask Him to clarify and direct your desires to coincide with His way.
Then rest in His goodness and keep your hope in Him.
(Dr. Charles Stanley)

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind FaithBarista.com. She wrote about her own heart-breaking but inspiring journey to find rest in Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest. I have found so many nuggets of insight and words of wisdom in this book. I invite you to read it and join me on the journey to rest.

You can get your own copy HERE.

21 Days of Rest: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

Dare to Dream and Do

When was the last time you lounged around on a deck or the beach or even on your couch, looking up at the sky, reading, napping, or catching up on your favorite TV shows? (We have two seasons of one show recorded that we still haven’t watched.) What about going on a hike or exploring a nearby town that you haven’t visited before? Heart Leaf

When was the last time you did nothing and enjoyed it? Doing nothing is not always nothing; sometimes it means you are caring for your soul. But doing something that brings you joy … now that is living. Think about it. What awakens your soul? What speaks to your heart?

Many of us get so bogged down in everyday life, we don’t make or take the time to pause or pursue our dreams—you know, the things that make us happy that we so often put on the back burner. As caretakers of others, we often move ourselves and our dreams to the bottom of the priority list in order to take care of all the other things that seem to be so important. Of course, some of them are … but, then again, so are we. I matter. You matter. Our happiness matters.

These words from Darling Magazine provide a good reminder: “No matter the season we’re at in life, we should also remind ourselves of the hobbies, dreams and aspirations that give us life. When you feel as though you’ve lost hope, intentionally choose to partake in the activities that bring you joy. Whether it be going on a nature walk, painting, playing tennis, sewing, [creating a fairy garden,] baking your favorite recipe or scrapbooking old photos, remind your heart that it can still experience joy and passion.”

Fairy Garden from Gallrein Farms

Fairy Garden created by Gallrein Farms, Shelbyville, KY

Thankfully, I am experiencing a rare slow period with my work and I have been able to spend a little more time this past month reading, writing, taking pictures, and working on crafts. It has been a time of rest and a time of fun! How sad that so many people seem to have forgotten what it feels like to have fun or what they would even do if they had time for fun.

In one of the books that I am reading: Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, Bonnie Gray explains: “Just as beautiful art needs whitespace, we need … spiritual whitespace. Our souls need rest. … Spiritual whitespace makes room—room  in our hearts for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God, room in our lives for rest, room in our souls for rejuvenation.”

Blank Canvas

In thinking about my own spiritual whitespace, I am reminded of my “one word” for this year: happy. In my attempt to focus on and live this word, I am re-learning how to have fun—to embrace the gifts and the dreams that God gave me, to feed my soul, and offer up my words, photos, etc. in a way that honors those gifts and brings me joy. I am no longer simply dreaming of the things that make me happy; I am doing. In fact, I recently started a crafting Meetup group (Happy Scrappers) and this next month, we will be creating art journals. I plan to make mine a “one-word” journal using words, watercolors, chalk, magazine cutouts, photos, and who knows what else. It will be an ongoing process and a compilation of the things and moments that make me happy.

Art Journal

What dreams and joyful activities have you been forsaking?

Bonnie says, “Each time we reach for joy, we take the step of faith to say, ‘This is mine. My Father in heaven knows what I like and I’m learning to discover it too.’”

Join me in June as I take part in Bonnie Gray’s blog tour 21 Days of Rest: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

I’ll be posting some of my favorite quotes from her book with my personal photos to share with you. On some days, this will be the only thing I post. On others, I will share additional thoughts and photos with you. I hope the words and images that I share from my heart will touch and bless your heart.

Enjoy the Moment

Bonnie’s book Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest releases Tuesday, June 3rd. If you order before then, you will receive some exclusive pre-launch bonus gifts.

On top of that, GoodReads is giving away five copies of her book. Click to enter by Tuesday, 6/3.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered her a Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.

Whitespace Community Linkup @ faithbarista.com

Seasons of Life

As time moves on, our individual seasons or stages of life pass and change–sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Regardless of the speed or whether we are currently where we want to be, it’s a lot easier to navigate if we are open and receptive to the continual ebb and flow of life. If we hold too tightly to where we are and resist change, our hands will not be open to receive the new gifts before us, and we may find ourselves forcefully swept off our feet. On the other hand, if we wish away each day until a “better” season comes, we’ll miss out on the beauty and wonder of the here and now and that wonderful feeling that comes with knowing (regardless of the “bad” times) and accepting that you are where you are supposed to be.

You know, even if you are going through a difficult or uncomfortable time in your life, you can’t let it fill the entire window of your view on the rest of the world. You’d be better off, perhaps even happier, seeing it as simply one of the many panes to view your life and the world through. Whether you realize it or not, there is so much more going on around you and inside you: growth, change, learning opportunities, loving moments, blessings. If you make an effort to adapt your focus, you will begin to think about things that may not be readily visible … things that really matter.

When you look at your life, what do you see? I found these words from Lysa TerKeurst: “Do I see the incredible spouse I married, or do I just grumble about his faults? Do I see the health of a son who can play sports as a good thing, or do I just grumble about his sweaty laundry? Do I see how fortunate we are to have enough food to eat, or do I just grumble about a kitchen that never stays clean?” Think about it. What do you see?

It sort of reminds me of conversations I have had with friends about my job as a coypeditor. Overall, the evidence of my work is not visible to most people because they don’t see the mistakes that were caught and fixed. However, if I’m not doing my job or I do it poorly, people notice; some might even be quick to point out the mistakes. Similarly, some people tend to focus more on what is wrong in their lives than what is right.

Do you ever think about all the good things God is doing for you every single day? Things that you don’t even notice? I imagine the good things that go on in our lives because of Him are not noticed nearly as much as the things we determine are wrong or inconvenient or “shouldn’t have happened.” And we sure seem to pray or talk to Him about all the things we wish he would take away or fix more than we thank Him for all the good He has done. I know I am guilty of that.

For example, sometimes when I’m driving, my mind goes elsewhere. Suddenly, I find myself at my destination with no real recollection of the drive. (I do pay attention most of the time. Really.) Have you ever thought about how many wrecks you didn’t have because God was watching over you? Do you thank God every day that you can get up in the morning and you can breathe easily and walk steadily and you aren’t in pain? If you’re like me, I think we tend to take stuff like that for granted, until we experience the opposite.

After suffering whiplash from an accident and dealing with some other issues, my sister Elizabeth commented on a Facebook post recently:  “so today was totally opposite from yesterday and was a very bad day mostly. woke up in severe pain, baby is teething and in tons of pain, lost all my contacts in my phone, power went out, etc. But like I told my brother, today has made me realize how many wonderful days I have and how very very few bad ones. I love my life even when it is a bad day :)” She’s got the right idea. Thankfulness and prayer can help turn your inner turmoil into peace. Peace about who you are, where you are, and what is going on in your life, no matter what the season. And with that peace comes hope.

My friend Matt Wagner wrote this: “Hope can spring up in any circumstance, any scenario. Like joy, it’s not a product of our surroundings; it’s a product of us. At times it is a simple, inexplicable feeling. Just as often, it is a conscious decision that we make. Either way, hope is always a good thing. It is a catalyst to inner strength, the root to persistence and a defense for happiness.”

So, if you haven’t already, take a moment now to be grateful for who you are, who is in your life, what you have as well as what you don’t have … and be sure to truly experience and learn from the here and now of this season in your life.  It will be gone before you know it. But you won’t need to look back with regrets; there will be a new day to live right in front of you.

*************************************************

And now, moving on to something a little lighter:
I’ve got an easy “seasonal” recipe to share with you.
Anything Goes Pizza

 

I started with a Freschetta wheat crust. You can use whatever you want: Pillsbury pizza dough, a Boboli crust, pita bread, tortillas, English muffins … it’s up to you. (If you choose muffins, pita bread or tortillas, and put out a variety of toppings, everyone in the family can create their own personal pizzas.)

Next, I got my selection of toppings together. I was going for a Greek pizza, so I chose Prego Veggie Smart sauce, grilled chicken breast strips, black olives, spinach leaves, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta cheese. Here is where you can mix things up by selecting seasonal veggies and/or adding in your own personal favorites. I would have made it without the chicken, but I added the meat for Bart.

I layered all the ingredients and baked on 350 for about 8 to 12 minutes. If you choose a crust that needs to be baked, you’ll need to follow the directions on the package before adding your toppings and popping it back in the oven. The only part of this recipe that takes a little time is chopping your toppings. Other than that, this is a quick and easy meal and could turn out to be a fun/creative event for the family. Enjoy your time together and your fabulous pizza!

To those who follow my blog, I apologize for not posting anything for about three weeks. I was enjoying family time with my stepson who was in town visiting us, and then I had to get caught up on work. Thank you to Angela who checked up on me and requested a new post. 🙂 It’s always nice to hear you are missed. 

Life Lessons – Heart Connections

Last year, I entered Real Simple magazine’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. The question was: “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” Just last night, I read the winning entry published in the April 2012 issue of the magazine. It was a great story, and it brought tears to my eyes.

It also reminded me that I had not yet shared my own story with anyone, besides a couple friends who provided feedback while I was writing it. So, today, I’m posting another special feature article rather than one of my “usual” posts. I hope it touches your heart, makes you think, and maybe even inspires you to reach out to someone in pain or re-connect with a family member.

*********************

Heart Connections

I knelt on the bathroom floor, holding Gabrielle’s hair back as she sobbed and threw up; my body shook, but not from the cold tiles. My baby sister had just told me that she was tired of being sick, tired of hurting so much, tired of everything. She wanted to give up. But I couldn’t let that happen. She was only 22, and her 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, needed her.

I clutched my personal heartache close as I watched her suffer. She didn’t need to know about my pain. Not right now. Not when, more than anything else, I had to convince her that life was good and worth fighting for. I prayed a frantic but silent prayer—please God, help me help her.

In the prior year, after a divorce left her with a scarred heart, Gabrielle had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent surgery and then attempted to move on with her life. As Gabrielle recovered and adjusted to her role as single mother, we all thought everything was on an upswing for her, and we were thankful.

Meanwhile, back at my house: after 11 years of marriage, my husband and I continued to drift apart; we were just so different; we loved each other, but were no longer “in love.” Pick your cliché;  the truth was, I felt trapped and unhappy. We rarely spent time together anymore, and neither of us really knew what we wanted in life, or how to communicate, be honest with ourselves, or take action. On top of that, the Lab we got as a puppy shortly after our wedding was not well. I struggled to keep my emotions in check and my life under control as I went to work every day, pretending like nothing was wrong.

But I wasn’t the only one pretending. Gabrielle had been keeping her own secrets. She finally admitted to Elizabeth, another sister, that the cancer was not gone; in fact, it had spread to her uterus and her liver. She had also started chemotherapy treatment without telling anyone.

Everything I researched seemed to emphasize the dangers of chemo. In fact, a lot of people get sicker faster when they are on chemo, and that was exactly what was happening to my sister. Her immune system was wiped out; she began losing weight and became very tired and run down. In her last conversation with her doctors, they had told Gabrielle there was nothing more they could do for her except try to make her “as comfortable as possible.” They gave her a year to live. That’s when she finally decided to share the news with the family, which led up to our bathroom moment.

I watched my sister go through another round of dry heaves. There was nothing left inside of her. Or me. Oh, I was physically healthy at the time, but with Gabrielle’s illness and the painful disconnect in my marriage, I was drained. At home, it felt like we had both checked out already. The only connection we shared at this point was grief over our dying dog.

But I couldn’t deal with my personal issues right now. I had to be strong. I had to come up with a plan to save Gabrielle’s life.

You know, up until that time, I don’t think I had ever appreciated my family quite so much. Growing up with five sisters and one brother was often challenging with limited space, limited funds, unlimited arguing. I used to wish I was an only child. But as my sister lay there beside me, curled up on the floor, I allowed the despair over my own personal loss to mingle with the anguish I felt for her, and I wept.

Then, just like in the Christmas story about the Grinch, I felt my heart swell several sizes with love—real love, not heightened feelings based on hormones and chemistry and starry-eyed dreams of a perfect future, but a true heart connection. Something that had been sadly lacking in my marriage. At that moment, I would have willingly given up my life to give Gabrielle a second chance. But that obviously wasn’t in God’s plan.

So, the first step in my plan was to temporarily get Gabrielle out of Florida, to a place where she could rest and receive special care. The obvious choice—Aunt Robin’s. Robin was living in California at the time, so she sent plane tickets for Gabrielle and my grandmother to come out for a visit. It was a good spot for a stress-free getaway. Plus our aunt is a natural nurturer, so it only made sense. Her main goal was to try to help Gabrielle see that she could still find joy in life if she didn’t give up.

While Gabrielle was out of town, and little Ashley spent time with other family members, I began researching treatment programs. I met with a doctor who focused on treating the whole body, not individual parts or symptoms. The way he explained it made sense: over several weeks, through nutritional changes as well some complementary therapies, the acidic atmosphere that cancer survives and thrives in is neutralized, and a more alkaline and healthy environment is created in the body. I was sold. But now to convince Gabrielle.

An update from Robin provided a glimmer of hope. Gabrielle had gone horseback riding, and her spirits had improved tremendously. She was eating fairly well and actually joking around a bit. Robin told me that Gabrielle was concerned about coming back and having everyone tell her what she should do. So, we agreed that I would be the family spokesperson.

I worked with the rest of the family to figure out a schedule. We made arrangements for who would take Gabrielle to the doctor’s office each day for treatment, who would watch Ashley, who could help financially, etc. Just making a plan gave me a more positive outlook, and it really pulled our already-close family even closer together. When Gabrielle came back, I was happy to find her receptive to our ideas.

Mondays were my days to take Gabrielle to the doctor. Thankfully, the company where I worked was flexible and understanding about my hours during that time. And I chose to ignore my personal heartache and focus on my sister’s health and happiness.

The first visit was fairly easy. We just sat and talked for a few hours while she got an IV drip. I think we developed an even closer bond during that time. The nurses said there were only a few potential side effects, but Gabrielle experienced them all—nausea, loose stool, and later trouble with her IV pic line, which had to be replaced.

Gradually, things got worse. On some days, Gabrielle felt so sick that she couldn’t get out of bed. I got a call one morning from my mom. Gabrielle wouldn’t get up. I left work and spent quite a bit of time convincing her that it was important for her to keep her appointment. She finally went with me.

The worst thing about talking Gabrielle into continuing with her treatments was my own doubts and fears that began to emerge. What if this wasn’t helping her? What if she got worse and it was my fault? Every time I thought of this, my breath caught in my throat and my heart pounded wildly as I blinked away the tears. That just can’t happen! I had to believe that she would get better; I had to believe in something at this point. I couldn’t give up.

Thankfully, despite my concerns, after the treatment plus some added nutritional support through supplements and natural juices, and special home care from our oldest sister, Theresa, Gabrielle began to slowly get better. I think several other factors helped in the healing process: Gabrielle realized that life still held moments of joy and possibility. And we both figured out that it’s important to learn to love yourself first and determine what you want out of life before you can really commit and communicate to building a lasting relationship with someone else.

I also discovered the importance of working in community, being there for one another, not trying to take on the world alone. You know, we’re all interconnected in some way — like pieces of a puzzle. And life just seems to make so much more sense when we look at the big picture and find our place in it.

The happy ending to this story? It has been 14 years since Gabrielle was given one year to live, plus she finally found her soul mate, and they were married just last month.

Me? My dog passed away and my divorce happened shortly after, as it needed to so we could both move on. I not only survived, but I’m now remarried … this time to my true heart connection.

The missing piece to my life puzzle has been put in place, and love is the glue that holds us together.

____________

Disclaimer: I don’t have the best of memories, so I may not have all of the details/facts of the events right, but the story and the emotions are true and real.