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The turning wheel

I took a long walk around campus last Sunday after dropping my son, Connor off to begin his junior year of college. It was beautiful day so the campus was buzzing with students, parents and all sorts of activities. Passing by an enormous white tent which sheltered long tables covered with brightly colored red and blue tablecloths, I saw many freshman and their families gathering for a barbecue lunch. You could feel the excitement, anticipation and perhaps more than a bit of anxiety in the air. Did Connor walk in these shoes just two short years ago? I remembered his “freshman jitters” as I watched the crowd from a distance. He is so comfortable and confident now, you would never guess he was once haunted by those jitters. I smiled knowing these children will soon shed their jitters as easily as trees shed their leaves. They will adapt and move forward in their new role. As I savored that thought, I was overcome by a sense of peace. The world felt “right”.

 The wheels of life keep turning in a beautiful rhythm. You can see that clearly in the relatively small space of one college campus. Seniors graduate and move on to more education or join the working world, juniors become seniors, sophomores become juniors and freshman become sophomores, making space for new freshman to arrive. Space opens. The wheel turns. Cycles continue. Life moves forward.

This is wisdom for us all. We encounter many situations in life when we feel the pain of “freshman jitters”. This can happen when we start a new job or are let go from another. It can happen when we welcome a new baby into our families, when a loved one passes on, when we move into a new neighborhood, or become ill. It is human nature to cling to that which is familiar. However, we must let go of old ideas, fears and habits so that we may welcome new experiences into our lives and grow.  When we get through the transitions – painful though they may have been – we look back and see that they were necessary. We are strengthened by the experience and fortified for whatever the next turn of the wheel brings our way.

 Although I did not attended a single class last Sunday, I learned a very valuable lesson.



A day away

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops…A day away acts as a spring tonic. It can dispel rancor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit .” – Maya Angelou

I love this statement by Maya Angelou. It is both simple and profound. The idea of withdrawing from the cares which will not withdraw from me sounds just plain enticing. Dare I say delicious? We have the power to withdraw from our worries, responsibilities, self doubt, random negative thoughts and fears – “the cares which won’t withdraw from us”. Sadly, we forget we possess this power and thus become slaves to the unhealthy bondage of our daily routines and responsibilities. The merry-go-round never seems to stop. This can leave us feeling flat and disenchanted with our lives, wondering “Is this it?”

 Imagine a day all to yourself. What would you do on that day to feed your soul? What would make your heart begin to flutter? Most of us think we can only be restored by a BIG  vacation to an island somewhere, a cruise or a wild weekend in Vegas. It can be any of those, but we can also be restored by small, inexpensive and more intimate experiences. The list could be a mile long, but here are a few ideas I came up with:

take a long bubble bath

get a massage

get a pedicure

make pancakes

go to a movie in the middle of the day ( Get the LARGE popcorn with extra butter, of course!)

ride a bike

cook an elegant meal

hike in the woods

go shopping

bake cookies

paint a picture

paint a room

sit on your porch and sip on whatever you love to drink  (Red wine, anyone?)

go to lunch with your friends

volunteer at a shelter

play tennis

play scrabble or monopoly

go to a museum

read a book


You get the idea. Take a day off. Break free from the bondage of your blunted routines. Think of something you enjoy and do it.

Judge its efficacy by how you feel afterward. My guess is you will experience a lightening of the spirit and you will begin to look at life through brighter eyes.



Cindy’s Red Beans and Rice

“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more enjoyable.” – Charles Swindoll


Cindy is a dear friend of mine. In addition to her numerous talents, she is an amazing cook. This red beans and rice recipe is one of the many dishes the boys and I had the pleasure of enjoying –  compliments of Cindy. The following passage from my unpublished memoir, Comfort Food, provides a glimpse of what makes Cindy so special.

“Cindy is originally from Louisiana. She is a die-hard LSU fan, a wonderful hostess, and our authority on all things southern. Cindy lived in New Orleans, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Australia, London and returned to Pittsburgh. Everywhere she goes, she embraces the culture and community. I am certain Cindy has been to more places in Pittsburgh than I, and I have lived here all my life. She is a master at assimilating into new places. Cindy will find a book club, take a watercolor class, enroll in multiple cooking classes, find the best restaurants, get involved in her children’s school and volunteer at church. Before you know it, she has a wide circle of friends and a full social calendar…Cindy is a generous, warm and caring friend. How lucky I am to be one of her ‘Yankee’ friends.”

Cindy’s red beans and rice is a special treat. Tap into your “inner Cajun” and give it a try.

“Typically served on Mondays in South Louisiana – this was wash day – and the red beans took a long time to cook, so it was a perfect dish for Mondays. The vegetables in this recipe: celery, bell pepper and onions are considered the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking and are used in many dishes in South Louisiana.”      – Cindy


1 pound dry red kidney beans

1 large ham shank (or substitute smoked ham hocks)

2 cups each chopped celery, onions, and green bell peppers


2 bay leaves                                                                       2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp thyme leaves                                                          1 ½ tsp garlic powder

1½ tsp oregano                                                                 ½ tsp black pepper

½ to 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 pound skinless smoked sausage or kielbasa, sliced diagonally – about ½ to ¾ inch diagonal pieces

3 – 4 cups cooked rice to accompany

Cover the beans with water and let soak overnight. Drain before using. Cover ham shank with water to 2 inches below top of 6 qt. pan.  Add celery, onions, bell peppers and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. 

Reduce heat; simmer until meat is fork tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove ham from pan and set aside.

Add beans to water (have water about two inches from the top) and simmer for 2 hours. Stir beans occasionally. You want the beans to cook down, to become thick, tender, but not burn at the bottom of the pan. During this time, you can pull apart the ham shank and add to pan. Continue to stir occasionally; the cooking time depends on how high you cook the beans. If you do scorch the beans on the bottom (I have many times), just transfer them to another pan and don’t ‘dig too deep’ when transferring.

Add sliced sausage to red beans and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve over steamed rice. Increase cayenne pepper or add Tabasco sauce if desired.  Adding liquid smoke in the last 30 minutes may also bring a nice flavor.