Crockpot Italian Beef Sandwiches

This recipe is an adaptation from The Pioneer Woman.  The sandwiches are SO delicious and so easy to make, my family has asked for them twice this week!  Here ya go:

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 3 lb chuck roast
  • 1 envelope of Good Season’s Zesty Italian Salad dressing mix
  • 8-oz Giardiniera (Chicago-Style Italian Sandwich Mix)
  • 14.5-oz can of beef consumme
  • provolone cheese slices
  • hoagie buns

Directions

  1.  Place chuck roast into the bottom of a 6-quart crock pot then sprinkle with salad dressing mix.  Add the Giardiniera and beef broth.  Place the lid on the crock pot then cook on low for 8 hours, or until meat shreds easily with a fork.
  2. Split buns in half then scoop the meat mixture on top and add provolone cheese slices.  Serve warm.

DELISH!!!!!

 

 

“Just As You Freakin’ Are?”

Remember that pivotal scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” when she tells her friends that Mark Darcy has told her he likes her “very much – just as you are“?  They react with wide-eyed amazement.  “Just as you freakin’ are?,” one of them repeats with disbelief.   It’s so simple yet rare to have that kind of love, right?

Imagine enjoying that kind of love for self:  developing the ability to look in the mirror each day and say to yourself, “I love you, JUST AS YOU ARE.”  This is the best way I can describe my life after 555 days of soul-searching sobriety.

For some unknown reason, my sobriety has yielded the spiritual gift of truly deep and unfailing JOY.  Because of joy, I have had the courage to explore many new paths in 555 days – paths I would have had to ignore while drinking, to make time for hangovers!

Here is what 555 days and approximately 2,220 cups of coffee, accompanied by lots of reading, thinking, sharing and exploring has opened up in my life:

  • Spirituality  Admitting you are powerless over a substance has a way of removing a huge burden from your shoulders and opening your eyes to the Spiritual Journey we are all on.  When I meet people now that I am sober, because of the Grace and Humility that sustain me, I am more likely to search for whatever good I can find in that person and connect in any way to the story of their life – not just their outward appearance, or even their words;
  • Creativity Before I got sober, I had to think for several months about exactly what it was that I wanted for myself that was more important than numbness.  For years, I have had a yearning to write about many things, but of course, the fear of looking stupid is a powerful inhibitor.  No, I decided to try it:  to give up numbness for the feeling of expressing myself on paper, even if nothing came of it, was a risk I decided to take.  I am SO thankful I did!;
  • Intuition It is so lovely to open up space in your life for peace and quiet.  For a long time, my drinking and subsequent numbness was the crutch I had to use to “get there” – my pseudo- place of satisfaction.  Sobriety can deliver enormous intuitive capacity to the person in long-term recovery.  Through quiet reflection, which is definitely a necessary daily practice to ensure I am not going to drink during each 24-hour period, a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can rely on my very own skills to deal with whatever life challenges me with that day.  I feel 100 percent more competent and trusting in my intuition;  
  • Financial Sobriety/ Simplicity Early in sobriety, it is common to consider all of the things that are “out of control” in one’s life as a result of the chaos regular numbing creates.  Broken relationships, employment and financial disasters are often the “Big 3” demons someone committed to long-term recovery must confront.  What I am experiencing personally is such personal fulfillment inside, my spending habits and attitudes toward money are changing.  I am starting to actually enjoy making changes to build a nest-egg rather than finding reasons to use money to cover my pain today.  Somehow, I have finally internalized the message that I HAVE enough because I AM enough. THIS is a miracle!  To read more about this concept, visit Meadow Devor’s blog @ http://www.meadowdevor.com.

In short, learning to love yourself “just as you are” is one way to express growing up.  Being a grown up was never very appealing to me, at least not every single dimension of it.  The personal responsibility and accountability part of being a grown up have strengthened the most during my 555 journey.  I believe myself when I say I will do something, unlike before, when a voice inside of me was constantly bickering in the background and telling me I would somehow mess things up entirely.

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Messing up is part of life, it is what makes us unique and human.  Many times, messes give us our biggest lessons and greatest joy.  Go forward in your journey, the path does not have to be straight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Carpe Diem As Passionately As You Can!

“Do you remember spreading your trick-or-treat candy on the floor with your brothers and sisters and trading with each other for your favorites?,” my husband asked me last evening as we watched a Netflix show portraying this tradition.  “No, my brothers and sisters were away at boarding school. Maybe, if I got lucky, one of them drove me around town to trick-or-treat,” I replied.  “That’s so sad, I can’t believe with so many siblings you never had that,” my husband replied.  He’s usually not this sentimental.  But we are both raw in a happy, sappy, parent-y kind of way.

We just returned from a college visit with our daughter, our precious jewel who is approaching her time to move away for college.  That was the conversation we had just before bed on the day we took Isa to the University of Arkansas.  When I woke up this morning, I was drifting out of a panicky dream of trying to keep all of my loved ones inside a bowl.  The bowl was imbalanced and my loved ones were unhappy being crammed in it against their will.  But I selfishly wanted to keep them there to hoard the good times forever.

When I was much younger, I used to create collages for family and friends to capture funny memories and special photos and create something permanent.  I would glue magazine images to coke bottles, homemade cardboard footstools, cigar boxes and more, so happy to have created something permanent out of moments from the past.

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If you lived through the 1970’s, you most certainly recognize this collage of images to capture the essence of that decade.

 

I think aging can sometimes feel like a struggle to create permanence – maybe out of fear or sentimentality – but mostly from the desire to comfort and reassure ourselves of many things.

After all, when we are young, we are encouraged and supported to “try new things” based on the assumption we will devote a lifetime enjoying and perfecting the things we choose when we are young.  When we are older, however, because of the uncertainty of time and limited energy and resources, the tendency to accept or try new things feels risky and pointless.  After all, shouldn’t we just reach a magical age when work is over and all we have to do is sit and bask in the splendor of relationships we have worked our lives to create?  While this is one of the assumptions that traditional American retirement is based on, I know that, at least for me, it is not going to work.

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This is a literal translation of the musical sign for resting.  I love it because music has been a part of my life, I still remember my first piano lesson in kindergarten.  A rest in music, perfectly timed, can elevate an ordinary sound to a glorious experience.

 

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Ripened peaches make me drool, just like life sometimes!  They are the perfect metaphor for aging well to me – we are supposed to continue to experience life and savor everything with gusto.

Aging well is more about accepting impermanence and knowing when to do the 2 most important things in life:  1.  Resting; 2. Devouring the ripened fruit.

 

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My creative photographer husband, Michael, captured this image one summer Saturday morning as we enjoyed watching our beautiful, round and ripened baby girl, Isabella, enjoy her first bagel.

My sweet little baby girl has ripened into a young woman – it is time for her to transition from living with me to expanding out into the big world.  She no longer fits in a bowl, the world is her bowl and I have prepared her for it.

 Painful as it is, launching a child into the world is a beautiful act of creation.  Our daughter is her own person, influenced by genes, experiences and love from home.  She belongs to herself and her footprint in this world is original, unique, and borne of her own spirit energy.

Takeaways from all of this?

  1.  It isn’t sad that I never swapped Halloween candy with my 6 older siblings – at least I never felt that loss until my husband, who is much closer in age to his 2 younger sisters, pointed it out.  Obviously, that experience from childhood meant something to my husband that continues to bring him joy today.  Any time we can grab a fleeting moment of warmth from our past, it’s a divine experience – like eating a ripened peach – that we must stop and enjoy;
  2. Denying the sadness I feel over my daughter’s emerging adulthood would prevent me from fully experiencing what is happening now, and I don’t want to miss the parade. Literally, she is in a parade in 2 hours

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

Dinner for a Droopy Day!

I’ve been feeling “droopy” (a “Miss Rhetta-ism” – my Momma’s signature speaking style) lately.  The heat and humidity of summer persist, fall schedules and allergies are pressing down on me, and I have a serious case of the “I don’t Wanna’s”!  Weighing heavily on my mind is the fact that it is my beautiful daughter’s SENIOR year of High School.  I am overloaded with scheduling ACT tests and tutors, college visits and organizing volunteers and resources for all her Drill Team fundraisers this year.  This girl needs some delicious, cream-based sauce and crusty bread for dipping!!!!

That’s when I go to the kitchen for comfort.  Sometimes, it is a tried and true recipe that comforts me, other times, it is a new one I’ve had my eye on that I will try.  Of course, leave it to me  to take a Cooking Light recipe and make it unhealthy and delicious!   I am ready for crisp weather and my French Girl dipping sauces made with scrapings of lovely browned bits from my saucepan.  I am at least 1/8 French (Grandmother’s maiden name is De Lisle, my legal Middle name), so craving delicious sauces is natural for me!

Here is the FREAKING OUT OF THIS WORLD pan chicken recipe I modified from the January/February 2016 Cooking Light magazine for my family last night – prepare to drool.

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Skillet Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Skillet Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots 

(Cooking Light Magazine, January/February 2016)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 8 ounces baby carrots
  • 8 ounces small, red potatoes, halved (*I did not include this in my recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (*How I wish I had an herb garden!  I used dried).
  • 8 thin lemon slices, seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided (*I went for it and substituted one pint of heavy cream)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (*all I had on hand was vergetable stock)
  • 1/3  cup fresh flat-leaf parsley (*I never have this so I don’t use it)

Directions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees;
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil, swirl to coat.  Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes or until golden brown (*I always cook a few minutes longer because I am scared to death of food poisoning); Turn and cook 2 minutes.  Remove chicken from pan.  Place carrots and potatoes (*I just used carrots), cut side down, in pan; sprinkle with thyme.  Place pan in oven; bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Return chicken to pan; top with lemon slices.  Bake at 425 degrees for 10 12 minutes.  Remove pan from oven.  Place chicken and vegetables on a plate.
  3. Combine 1/2 cup milk (*remember heavy cream is WAY yummier – lol!), flour, and the rind in a bowl.  Return pan to medium-high heat (do not wipe out pan).  Add flour mixture, remaining 1 cup milk, and stock to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits (this is where your heavenly taste will come from); cook 3 minutes.  Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add chicken and vegetables to pan.  Sprinkle with parsley.

Razzle Dazzle Your Diners With This Simple French-Inspired Dish

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

New Chances

It’s the First Day of School…..again.  Moms and Dads all over the world proudly and wistfully send their hearts out the door as their children take on a new year of challenges.  I am all too familiar with the emotions this day brings.  Big expectations and hopefulness, with a sprinkle of tears over the loss of another year of youth.

The start of a new school year is like a new chance – an opportunity to discover, redefine and experience life.  Our kids probably don’t see it this way, but we parents know how rarely in life we get new chances – and how easy it can be to squander such a beautiful gift. THAT’S why it is bittersweet for us.  We don’t want our kids to really know about the frightening and painful parts that new chances bring.  Sentimentality overtakes our senses and before we know it, we are overlaying the new chance with memories, stories, pictures and gratitude our children were once innocent.  That’s how the first day of school feels for me, anyway.

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Mario’s “Turkey Hand” from pre-school.

The backpacks stuffed with homemade craft projects coming in the door are in my past now.  I have them all, they are overflowing in plastic tubs but many of them I have framed.  The innocence and tenderness expressed through the art my children have  bestowed upon us is one of the best experiences of parenthood. Now, instead of art projects, I look into their eyes for those signs of love and expressions of how they are relating to the world.  This morning, I saw a freshness in my son’s eyes I have not seen in many years.  Hopefully some of the storms of his early adolescence have passed.  In my daughter’s eyes, I saw a beautiful, spirited young woman on the brink of leaving the nest – her “senior year” eyes.  She loves her journey, and I think we are both on the same page:  enjoy every minute.

So this brings me to my final point this morning:  I have also been given a second chance, and today is a wonderful day to celebrate and “mark” it.  14 months ago, I began my recovery from addiction.  I have been given a second chance to savor the present moment free from the numb world of alcohol.  Living in the real world, fully present, each day committing to accepting my journey without altering it in any way – is a beautiful second chance.  I am ready for Sophomore and Senior year of High School and incredibly humbled by the gift of this second chance.  Even the difficult days are grounded in goodness because they are real and offer second chances to grow into the future.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e.e. cummings

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Okay To Be Late To The Party

13724844_10208785568789224_8461321461091356507_oI hadn’t really thought about my High School experience for years, especially while enjoying the vividly contrasting experience my children are having today in High School.  The world is so big (and scary to some – like me), and my children’s perspective of their future, because of the co-educational, diverse, academically challenging environment they are in for High School, is optimistic.  Personally, though I appear Pollyanna-ish, I am a cautiously optimistic person by nature.  “Expect the best but prepare for the worst” would be a good description of my life choices, and not always in a good way – I have missed alot of fun and friendship by choice because I felt I would not fit in.

Over a month ago, several of my former High School classmates lovingly and gracefully responded to the pleas of our friend and sister, Lori, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed support. Lori, the Boston College Graduate with a Law Degree from Washington University, an impressive curriculum vitae and solid history as a humanitarian and philanthropist, asked for her sisters’ loving consolation for strength.  Wow.  I reached out a couple of weeks after the group had formed (I was on a social media sabbatical) by joining along with my classmates in cheering Lori’s indomitable spirit on, as we all knew she would prevail, as always.

Throughout our 24/7 conversations that took place over about 21 days, I couldn’t help but remember one of the foundations of our High School education from Visitation Academy, a Catholic, all-girls school in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, founded by the Sisters of the Visitation:

St. Francis de Sales:  “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as true strength.”

In the moments between conversations,  I randomly remembered things that happened in those days and then judged my immature 17-year-old behavior against what I know about myself and life today.  The most difficult memory to reconcile involved Lori herself.  We were co-counsels in a mock trial against my scrappy best friend (who ultimately graduated from Law School and became the First Female Chief of Staff for the Governor of Missouri).  I knew she’d knock our teeth out in the first round.  So what did I do?  I hardly prepared – I let Brilliant, Sweet Lori do the majority of the trial preparation while I focused on what I liked to think of as “aesthetics” (e.g., flirting with our lawyer sponsor and shopping for my beautiful trial outfit).  Heavy guilt and shame to bear 32 years later when this sweet angel has included me in the most intimate conversation of her life.  In fact, more recently, instead of begrudging me for the things I did or did not do in High School, Lori reached out to support me in my Recovery from alcohol addiction.  I learned in later conversations with friends that Lori was doing the same with many, many people – sending cards, donations to charities, and anything uplifting she could think of to love and support others.

I realize now because of Lori that people like her – beautiful, strong, accomplished, immersed in life – ask for help and support when they need it.  That’s STRENGTH, not weakness.

I wish this story had a happy ending involving a massive reunion including Lori after cancer had left her body for good.  It does not.  She received devastating news about a month after her original diagnosis about the cancer having spread.  She learned there were no treatment options.  She continued to love and communicate positively with her dear High School friends until she entered hospice, passing away less than a week later.  Stunned and overwhelmed with grief, many of us who had been writing to Lori through her most difficult journey gathered in the presence of our dear Visitation Nuns and honored her.  We sang our School Anthem and prayed and embraced one another.  We ate donuts, Lori’s favorite treat, and tried to reminisce about the happiness she had brought us instead of the sadness we were feeling.

Truth be told, I almost did not go.  Even during my 4-hour drive to attend Lori’s service, I was tempted to turn around and go home to sit quietly on my comfortable couch.  Why?  Because I did not feel worthy of the experience.  She was so good and I have so many faults.  At one point, the voice in my head even taunted me and tried to make me believe that I did not belong – my presence would be meaningless.  Still, I drove on to be with my Viz sisters and embrace the women we have become. I am glad I did.  Lori taught me, even after her spirit left her body, that it is okay to be late to the party – it is okay to feel like an outsider, because we all have special gifts to give.  The nuns hugged me and were so glad to see my dimples and big blue eyes!!!  My friends fell over laughing when they heard my uniquely explosive cackling.  I may not have been Lori’s best friend, but I had a special connection with her.  I did belong and Lori made space for me, even unto her death.