February 2017 column Glo Magazine: Here’s the Story…

florence-henderson-smileEvery once in a while, my writing career allows me to do something that I think is really cool. So cool in fact, that if I were to go back in time and tell my younger self it was going to happen…I probably wouldn’t believe me. Over the years, I have interviewed my musical idol (twice), called my childhood celebrity crush, met legendary journalists and best-selling authors, hung out with athletic icons and conversed with the man who, this month, will become the Vice-President of the United States. However, one of the stories I am proudest of is my interview with America’s Favorite TV Mom and Dale, Indiana native, Florence Henderson.

I cannot recall a time in my life when I was not crazy about The Brady Bunch. Although I cannot remember watching it when it originally aired, I rarely missed an episode in syndication. Coming from a small, nuclear household, I loved everything about the hustle and bustle of having a big, blended family like the Brady’s. I wanted problems that could be solved in 30 minutes or by building a house of cards. I wanted enough talented siblings to start a singing group. I wanted to square dance in the living room. And most of all, I wanted a mother who had nothing better to do with her day than to help me track down my lost diary, perform “Wherever We Go” at my high school talent show or help me stalk Davy Jones and convince him to take me to the spring prom.

Don’t misunderstand me, my real-life mother was a lovely lady, but she was no Florence Henderson. She couldn’t sing, didn’t needlepoint and (thankfully) did not wear her hair in a horrible mullet. In fact, the only things she had in common with Carol Brady was her Hoosier heritage and that she occasionally made pork cops and applesauce for supper.

Through my interview, I would learn that even though Florence Henderson was Carol Brady, she was more multifaceted than her television counterpart. Born on Valentine’s Day into a large, but poor Catholic family, Henderson grew up near the Ohio River, was taught by the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana and moved to New York at the age of 17 thanks to the financial support of some personal friends.

She was the “Today Girl” on NBC’s Today Show, was the first woman to sit behind Johnny Carson’s desk on The Tonight Show, appeared on Broadway in a number of productions, did a stint on Dancing With The Stars and was a spokesperson for everything from Wesson Oil to Polident and most recently, the LG ProBake Convection oven. She was a regular fixture at the Indianapolis 500, a benefactress to the nuns who educated her, and a consummate professional who was devoted to her family, her television children and fans.

“I have been very blessed in my career,” she said in the interview. “I love what I do and I am always thinking the best role is just around the corner. I’ve always said I’d think about retiring when I’m 95! I love the challenge of performing in front of a live audience.”

She was certainly blessed and for all of us “Brady kids” around the world, we were blessed to have been impacted by her through those 117 zany episodes. The loss of Henderson on Thanksgiving at the age of 82 is a difficult one to accept. She was our surrogate parent who was there to greet us after school. She kept us company until dinner time and showed us that even though life isn’t perfect, we can achieve a happy ending provided that we find out what we do best and then do our best with it and no matter what, “don’t play ball in the house.”

RIP Florence, we’ll miss you.

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February 2017 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Snow Days

snow   I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, I no longer cared for winter nor the weather that comes along with it. I suspect it has something to do with my driver’s license, my job and my two children, but I don’t get excited about “snow days” anymore. It wrecks my schedule, puts me a day behind and takes months to recover from.

Of course, it was a different story when I was a child. There was nothing better than a snow day! I remember eating my Frosted Flakes at the dining room table and listening to the morning DJ rattle off an ever-growing list of closings every half hour. There was nothing more thrilling than hearing your school name if it was announced or more heartbreaking if it wasn’t.

But if, by an act of God, school was closed it was like being let loose in a candy factory! The day stretched out before me with so much untapped promise and potential, it seemed as if it would never end. What would I watch on television? What would I do? Who would I hang out with? Would I go to my best friend’s house, or call him to come over to mine? Would I get out the sled or stay inside where it was warm and enjoy my Christmas presents I’d barely played with?

Naturally, my mother a bizarre rule to go along with this daylong vacation. I was not allowed to go outside unless it was 11 degrees or warmer. For the life of me I don’t know how she landed on that particular number, but it was lock solid. Maybe it’s a heat wave on the Kelvin or Celsius scale, but in Fahrenheit Land, it’s pretty freaking chilly. Luckily she worked most days, believed in the “honor system” and my brother was not a tattletale. What she never knew never hurt her.

But that’s all in the past. Today, the thought of the city coming to a standstill and my being homebound drives me to distraction. I’d rather have an impromptu vacation when it is 75 and sunny and I can get things accomplished. Still, snow days have a way of forcing us to stop and appreciate the majesty of Mother Nature at a time in our lives when she is most magical.

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October 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Wide Awake in Dreamland

sleepwalking        Everyone has his or her own unique was of dealing with stress. Some people are emotional eaters. Some go for a long run or walk while others swear by the concept of “retail therapy,” but I am a bit unconventional…I sleepwalk.

I’m not really sure when my nighttime jaunts began, but I know I didn’t do it as a child. That was my brother’s department. I vividly remember the night in which he padded down the hall and wandered into the kitchen in order to throw his pillow in the trashcan. On another occasion, he removed the drawers from his dresser and stacked them on his desk in a configuration that can only be described as “modern art.” There was also the time that he got up at 1 a.m. thinking it was time to deliver his afternoon paper route. He nearly made it out the back door before my dad caught him and put him back to bed.

When I sleepwalk, it’s just as scary. I am incapable of navigating the layout of my own home. I see people who aren’t there. I try to unlock doors that don’t exist and in my most recent escapade, I stood over my son’s bed and stared down as him as though he were lying in a casket.

“If your planning to audition for the next Paranormal Activity movie, I think you’ll get the part,” he told me the following morning.

“What are you talking about?” I asked him.

Evidently, I got out of bed to visit the bathroom, but for reasons unknown, I chose his facilities rather than my own. This required me to jump over the dog gate at my bedroom door. According to Boy Wonder, when I finished my business, I didn’t go back to bed but rather, took a tour of the entire second floor of my house. I went into my office and sat in my chair for a while. I wandered across the hall to the spare bedroom and for a grand finale; I entered his bedroom and spun around before paying my respects at his supine body.

“Seriously, I don’t know how you did any of that in the dark without killing yourself in the process.” He said as he concluded his tale. “It was really impressive. Frightening, but impressive.”

While I would love to tell you that the story has been wildly exaggerated for dramatic purposes, I know he’s telling the truth. I have a vague memory of needing to use the bathroom and then being in his room…I’m just glad I didn’t confuse the latter with the former. That would not have ended well.

“Oh no, you made it into the bathroom just fine,” he assured me. “As for everything else, I don’t know what you were doing. You just kept saying you were looking for something.”

“Did I tell you what I was looking for?” I asked.

“Yeah…you said you needed to find a pillow.”

I should have checked the trashcan.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: It was like being a Beatle

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.org)aa

It’s a term celebrities and other notable names use whenever they experience an unprecedented level of fame. Over the years I have heard countless musicians, actors, politicians and even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling use the same six words to describe that moment when they realize their career has taken some kind of turn and that people see them as something larger than life: It was like being a Beatle.

It’s a statement that, for the most part, needs no explanation to those who hear it. It’s the kind of analogy people simply “get.” Most everyone who has been plugged into pop culture over the past 50-plus years has seen the iconic images of the Fab Four arriving at the newly christened JFK Airport in February 1964. They watched as the band gave a startled wave to the assembled crowd. They saw the fans pressed along the tarmac hoping to catch a glimpse of the lads from Liverpool. They heard the screams, and cries of an adoring public and read the signs heralding the new British Invasion and they knew within an instant that this band was somehow different than every act that came before. It’s a sentence that encompasses the very essence of that seminal moment in history and conveys all of the feelings and emotions that come along with it. “It was like being a Beatle.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

I was a sophomore in high school before I ever really considered what the gospel writers meant when they said Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Naturally, I understood the “sinners” part (though I am sure I envisioned these people as being much more nefarious than myself) but it was the “tax collectors” part that I couldn’t follow. What was so bad about eating with the good people of H&R Block or the IRS? Weren’t they just work-a-day Joes like everyone else?

Not exactly, according to my religion teacher at the time. Evidently, back in the First Century, tax collectors were a pretty corrupt bunch. I’m not talking about creating a code so complicated few people can actually understand it, but a ruthless, insidious band of characters no one in their right mind would want to hang out with. She explained that when the gospel writers used the term “tax collectors and sinners” they were nodding to popular slang of the time and those who read it completely understood it. Like the Beatle analogy, it was the kind of sentence that said it all.

I often wonder how St. Luke would write his gospel if it were happening today? Would he qualify Jesus’ popularity by claiming He was bigger than the Beatles? Would he explain His influence on others by calling Him the John Lennon of ministry? (And before you ask, yes…I see what I did there.) With whom would Jesus have to have dinner with in order for it to be considered a public affront by most of the world? More importantly, what would be the take away message from this action? Would it be that Jesus is somehow different than anyone who came before him? Would it be that Jesus always represents the gold standard of behavior? Or would it be that Jesus came to heal everyone and no matter who you are there is a place at his table? Maybe we should focus less on how the infamous tax collectors and sinners earned their Beatle-like distinction and instead realize that if Jesus’ mercy extends to them, then perhaps we should pull up a chair and have a seat as well.

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September 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Act Now

towels         I ordered a set of bath towels and ended up with a stalker. I’m not joking. I was young. I was newly married and I was trying to establish my credit at a time when companies did not issue Visas to anyone breathing oxygen.

And so…I ordered the towels: Four bath towels, four hand towels, eight washcloths and two fingertip towels (I am not totally sure what that is.) There was also a set of swan shaped salt-and-pepper shakers that were included as a bonus “free” gift as a thank you for your order. Naturally this was all available for the low, low price of (say it with me) $19.99 plus shipping and handling. I can’t remember the final total now, but I was expected to cough up four monthly payments of $6 and change.

But then, I couldn’t get rid of these people! Every day my mailbox was full of their catalogues, postcards and not-to-be-missed offers that I literally had to move out of the state in order to escape. Sometimes I got multiple, but uniquely different catalogues in the same day’s delivery. It was nuts.

I won’t mention the company’s name because I appreciate their special brand of capitalism, but after a while their persistence was a little creepy. The copy on their mailings addressed me by name and referred to my previous purchase as if it were the single greatest coup since Jefferson bought Louisiana! It was bath towels. Cheaply made, fall-apart-in-the-washing-machine-after-ten-showers bath towels! I had to wonder how they would react if I actually became a repeat customer. I had a feeling they would become so giddy with appreciation that they might decide to move in with me!

I really don’t know what possesses a company you have never heard of to send out one random catalogue or post card in hopes that you bite on whatever they are selling. And if you are crazy enough to put down some hard earned money on their unique products, then you have a friend for life. Not only that but they tell their friends about you and they all send you their publications in hopes of finding out just how gullible you are.

For 20 years, I managed to elude them. I had to buy a new house nearly a thousand miles away and enter the witness protection program, but I didn’t hear from them at all. To be honest, I thought the company along with their inexpensive home décor had long gone out of business, but then one night…I saw a commercial for them on television. Television! They’re baaaaaaccck!

I held my breath until the commercial was over, but I no longer feel completely safe. I’m starting to see their ads creeping into my local weekly circular and a few mailings addressed to “occupant.” I am not taking any chances. I refuse to take their bait, or even let them know that they are swimming in the right pond. They may have gotten me once hook, line and sinker, but I am not going to let them reel me in again.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: How cool is that?

(This is a reblog from one of my 2016 posts at http://www.Acatholicmoment.com)b

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the ABC hit television series Happy Days and like many viewers; I couldn’t get enough of Arthur Fonzarelli (a.k.a. “The Fonz.”) In the event you have never heard of this individual, the Fonz (played by Henry Winkler) was a tough-talking, 1950’s era, bad boy greaser with a heart of gold who lived in a small apartment above the Cunningham’s garage and served as an adopted son, older brother, idol, mentor and pal to the rest of the show’s ensemble.

Those who are familiar with the series know there was nothing that Fonz couldn’t do. He was the coolest of the cool. He could always be counted upon to show up in a pinch, take on any challenge and defeat any foe whether it was a rival gang, a power hungry police officer, or even an alien named Mork. He was both revered and feared by his friends who were intimidated and inspired by his special brand of magic no one fully understood. He could turn off the lights or cause the jukebox to play with a bump of his fist. He could make the phone ring or the girls to flock by his side with a mere snap of his fingers and over the course of 11 seasons performed any number of stunts no normal person in their right mind would attempt.

One of my favorites occurred during an episode in which the Fonz joins Richie and the gang on a campout in the woods. While attempting to sleep under the stars like a cowboy, he becomes annoyed by the numerous nighttime noises, rises from his place by the fire and shouts, “Cool it!” into the darkness. The animals naturally cease on his command and when he is satisfied by the outcome, the Fonz straightens his jacket, folds his arms and lays back saying, “Let’s see Tarzan do that!”

Whenever I see a rerun of this episode, I am reminded of today’s gospel in which Jesus calms the sea. Though it may be sacrilegious to compare the Son of God to a beloved television icon, I can’t help seeing the similarities. Though He didn’t wear a leather jacket or ride a motorcycle, I get the impression that Jesus’ presence commanded attention wherever He went. He was the coolest of the cool. His friends counted on Him to come through in clutch situations, did not understand the special power He clearly possessed and seem both awed and afraid of Him at the same time.

What I find most interesting is how those around these two individuals react to their God-given abilities. No matter how many times they ride in like the cavalry or save the day in the nick of time, their friends them genuinely seem surprised when it happens. It is as though they lack faith in someone who has proven time and time again how capable he is and more than ready to stand up to the challenge.

Unfortunately we also lack that faith in ourselves. Both the Fonz and Jesus stress to their friends the need to have faith in themselves when problems arise because one day, they won’t be around to fight their battles for them. Though we may not be able to control nature or command the sea, when we look inside our own hearts we must seek to find that little bit of Jesus or the Fonz that lives inside of us; the part that has the faith in our ability to weather any storm, stand up to any test, remain cool under pressure and use the gifts God has given us. It’s only then will we accomplish more than we ever dream possible.

I think even the Fonz would have to give that idea two thumbs way up.

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August 2016 Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: The Approaching Storm

storm-door        When I bought the storm door, I should have known there were going to be problems. After the closet door debacle, the Christmas tree light fiasco and an assortment of other home improvement nightmares, you would think I would learn. What can I say? I’m a hopeless optimist.

Things got off to an auspicious start with an intense “discussion” involving the saleswoman and the door’s advertised price. When I didn’t get anywhere with her, I broached the subject with the cashier which led to a staff meeting between two more associates, the store manager and the previously mentioned woman in the door department. A half hour later, my door was ordered and I made my way out to the parking lot…accidentally leaving behind over $50 in change that took two days to get back.

Two weeks later, the door arrived and I went to pick it up. That’s when I discovered the box was wider than my trunk by two inches. I called everyone I could think of who might have a truck and who could come and help me but it was Friday night and no one was home so I finally decided to throw money at the problem and have it delivered. I would tell you about the complicated paperwork involved in what seemed to be a simple solution to the problem, but suffice to say, it would turn Gone With the Wind into a short subject and I don’t have that level of time.

Over the next twelve hours, my husband kept insisting that before we could install the new door, we would have to modify the existing framing in order to make it fit. Now, I love the man but he makes me nervous when he tries to modify anything beyond a noun. He has a long-standing history of making mountains out of molehills and failing to measure twice and cut once so it’s no surprise that it took two days for him to buy the wrong board three times, nail it to the door jam, fill in the cracks with wood putty, sand it and paint it to match the rest of the frame. The manufacturer of the door claimed the whole thing could be installed in 45 minutes. (Dear Andersen, we should all have your level of faith.)

However, the door is now in place and for the most part, there is little left to do. Oh I still have to take back the $50 handle I was told to buy because the door didn’t come with one. (They lied.) And there is a small one-and-a-half inch space between the jam and the storm door, which is big enough to let in every bug and rodent in America, but my husband doesn’t seem overly concerned. We simply have to buy one small thing to adjust it. He swears this is no big deal but the Vegas odds makers disagree. I sense the storm isn’t over and you may want to place your bets.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Along for the Ride

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.com)

Saturday 1/16/16 – Along for the ridea

I was heading out on a routine Saturday afternoon errand run when I asked my husband if he wanted to come along for the ride.

“Well now, that depends,” he said, diverting his attention from the television. “Where are you going?”

I threw out the name of a local shopping hub, but I didn’t go into a lot of detail. I knew that if I told him my exact itinerary and how many stops I planned to make, he would opt to stay at home and binge watch martial arts movies. Quite frankly, I wanted the company so I adopted a less-is-more approach.

It worked. He slid his feet into a pair of sneakers, grabbed his coat and hat and gamely followed me out to the car. However, before I could back out of the driveway, curiosity got the better of him. “Exactly where are we going?” “How long will this take?” “What are we getting?” “Why are you going here instead of there?”

I have a notoriously short fuse so naturally, it didn’t take long for me to snap. I informed him that I did not bring him on this field trip so that he could question my every move or second guess my entire plan. After all, he was only holding down furniture when I came along so it wasn’t like he was doing anything important. Where did he get off trying to micromanage the whole operation now that he was in a moving vehicle? “Can’t you show a little bit of faith in me and just go along with the program without interfering?” I asked.

“Yes, I can,” he replied, remaining silent for the rest of the trip.

I felt terrible. I couldn’t very well get too mad at him when I hadn’t given him all of the facts in the first place. Deep down I knew if I had told him my entire plan for the day, there was little chance he would want to accompany me and if I wanted someone who understood the subtle art of retail therapy, I would have called a girlfriend. Instead, I chose to spend time with him and that meant enduring his endless questions without blowing my top in the process. Just as Jesus does for me.

Although the Gospel writers often paint a portrait of perfect obedience when it comes to the early followers of Christ, chances are they were a lot like my husband and didn’t get too far down the road before critiquing His plan or trying to micromanage the movement. Jesus understood that and took them as they were, without losing His temper. He knew these were not devout, faith-filled people but flawed folks with a lot of issues. Issues He was willing to endure as long as in the end, they came along for the ride.

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July Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: My Firework

sandy        The earliest memory I have of my Aunt Sandy is set against the backdrop of a Fourth of July family cookout we had at her Irvington home. I was very young, between four and five at the most, but I distinctly remember the event. As my brother and I played Frisbee in the backyard, my aunt burst out of the back yard, clapped her hands together and asked, “Can we get a three-handed game going here?”

This amazed me for two reasons. 1.) It was the first time I remember an adult actually wanting to play with me, and 2.) I was unaware that my aunt even knew how to toss a Frisbee!

Eventually I would learn that my Aunt Sandy, who was as colorful as a firework knew how to do a lot more than that. She had an independent spirit and over the years, she taught me how to crochet, cross-stitch, make a meat loaf and a sure fire way for keeping rabbits out of my garden. She was a glass-half-full type who always found something to compliment whenever she stopped by for a visit, she told the best stories and although she was a very active adult, she always knew how to be in the moment.

Although she was not the kind of person for idle chitchat, whenever I called her, she always made a little bit of time for me. More often than not, I was calling to read her a draft of one of my columns for MHH. Whenever I wrote about my mom, dad or grandparents, especially if it were an over-embellished re-telling of a factual event, I worried that I might go too far and I wanted her to sign off on it, so to speak.

As soon as I began reading the copy, she’d start laughing. She had a great laugh. It was deep, throaty and genuine and I knew if she laughed, I must have hit a home run. She was my biggest fan and these columns would not be the same without her.

Not long ago, I received a call from my cousin telling me that my aunt had passed. Evidently she’d been ill for most of the year, but didn’t want anyone to worry about her. I saw her for the last time at my house in February. She walked into the living room, praised my housekeeping skills, laughed at my cookbook collection (even though I don’t cook) and asked if I was working on a new column.

“Always,” I told her.

“Good,” she said. “I love the way you write.”

She certainly did and as part of her final arrangements, she requested that I deliver her eulogy. It was a command performance that I couldn’t refuse and yet, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The words were easy, of course it’s always easy to talk about someone you love…the hard part is realizing they are no longer there to bounce things off of or tell you when you got it right.

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January 2017 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: The Dixie Cup Debacle

dixie-cup     When my mother and father were married in the early ‘70s, they moved into an apartment a few blocks away from the neighborhood where they would eventually buy a home. It was a tiny cracker box of a place with scant furnishings and few accouterments however it did have something that was a bit of a luxury at the time and the envy of every kid who came to visit: A Dixie cup dispenser in the bathroom.

Now, my folks did not entertain much, but their frequent guests included my male cousin who happened upon the cup dispenser, mastered its features and decided to share the discovery with his three sisters.

“Psst, guys…come here, you have to see this…it’s amazing,” he hissed while gesturing wildly. The trio scampered into the bathroom, gathered around the innovation and marveled at it as though it were the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.

“What is it?” One of the girls asked.

“Then you take a cup from it, a new one appears in its place every time. It’s like magic!” the boy declared. He yanked a cup from the dispenser, got an ounce of water from the tap and gulped it like a shot before throwing it into the pastic trash bin with a flourish. His dramatic demonstration was rewarded with a round of enthusiastic applause.

“Ooh, I want to try it!” His oldest sister said.

“Me too!” Another replied.

“No, me next.”

One by one they all took a cup, got a drink and threw their waste away going around in turn until their were no cups left. The adults in the living room continued their conversation oblivious to the fact that my cousins were holed up in the bathroom hosting happy hour. It wasn’t until everyone went home that my mother found a trash can full of Dixie cups and an empty dispenser on the wall.

“I’m going to kill those kids,” she vowed as my father tried to stifle a laugh.

She didn’t of course, but she did remove the Dixie cup dispenser from the bathroom the next time they stopped by and kept close tabs on their whereabouts whenever they were on the premises. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust them, but she wasn’t about to deal with the aftermath should they find her pop up box of tissues, discover dad’s electric tooth brush or try to get a piece of candy out of my brother’s Mickey Mouse gumball machine without putting a penny in it first.

After all, they may have been curious, but my mother wasn’t crazy.

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