“Over the river and through the woods…

…to Grandmother’s house we go” –to taste the flavors of the season! 

 In this LifetimeWriter Author’s Forum blog post, I’d like to encourage all to share a recipe with a theme –a traditional dish we each inherited from a beloved relative and we have updated with some personal flavors or a regional flair.

Julianne’s story…


Mama Julia Parisi, the best Italian cook in the world!

In my youth, we called our grandmother “Mama,” and “Italian” was the cuisine.  Mama’s Christmas day feast began with antipasto plates brimming with meats and cheeses, tomatoes and onions dotted with exotic olives and peperoncino so hot they made me cry. The kids waited patiently while aunts and uncles plowed through the prelude to a feast we waited for all year long.

Soon Mama appeared with the fish and the chicken, and the kids waited some more.

Another hour or so passed and it looked like everyone was sated, but no! Miraculously, we all saved room in our tummies for the best of the best.  In no time at all, we spied Mama in the kitchen, balancing the platters on her petite but strong arms, and we all ran to help her.  She announced in a voice that sounded a bit like St. Nick: “Mangiare! Pasta and sauce for all and to all a good meal!”

Mama’s pasta sauce was a labor of love and she took all day to make it.  She used only the freshest ingredients from Dad’s garden, and she took such care to wash every piece of meat, stirring the pot constantly, gradually coaxing the flavors to blend. My hungry eyes were fixed on Mama as she added the ripe plum tomatoes, onions and garlic.  She sautéed them in only the very best extra virgin olive oil, which she bought in gallon containers. Before introducing the meat to the sauce, she washed and dried each piece of beef neck bone and lamb, and then hand-grated imported cheeses too. Red wine was her “secret” ingredient and no one really knows how much wine Mama added, but her sheepish grin revealed that maybe she had a sip or two while stirring!

And now, my sweet Mama is long gone from this life, but her recipe lives on with me and my cousins who think of her every time we add her signature sauce to lasagna, baked ziti, ravioli, spaghetti and manicotti for Christmas, New Year’s Day and many other feasts.

So that’s where this traditional recipe originated, and now, in 2017, I’ve changed it up a bit, and I wonder: Have you done the same with recipes handed down generation after generation in your family? If so, share them here!  

See below for Mama’s recipe and my personal adaptations:

Mama’s recipe Julianne’s update – see in red
Tomato Sauce for Pasta Dishes

2 large Cans of Whole Italian Plum Tomatoes1 small can of Tomato Paste

Water, add until you have the desired consistency

Olive Oil, enough to cover onions

1/2 onion, sliced very thin

2-4 large cloves of garlic, diced

1 Tbsp. each: basil and parsley

1 Bay Leaf

1 Tbsp. ground pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

¼ cup any dry red wine. Mama used Fortissimo

½ cup block Locatelli Cheese

1 Package of beef neck bones or lamb

12 Ground Beef Meatballs


Wash and dry meat, set aside.

Open all cans, set aside.

Strain whole plum tomatoes to remove seeds.

Slice onion very thin.

Dice garlic, set aside.

If using fresh basil and flat leaf parsley, coarse chop, set aside.

Grate Locatelli Cheese

Cook slowly, simmering on top of stove, low heat:

Place sliced onions in a large, heavy pot and add olive oil just until it covers onions.

Cook onions on low heat until transparent.

Add meat. Brown on all sides, increasing burner heat slightly.

When meat is browned, add wine.

Cover and simmer until liquid is reduced by ½.

Add plum tomatoes and tomato paste.

Stir well.

Add seasonings (basil, parsley, pepper, bay leaf)

Cook for 2-4 hours on low heat until tomatoes and paste and liquid is combined.

Add water a little at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Add salt, grated cheese, and garlic.

While the sauce is simmering, taste often to check for the need to add seasonings. Be careful not to salt too heavily.

Make meatballs, brown them, add to sauce.

Serve over pasta of choice with grated cheese on the side.

Serve meat on a separate platter.



Tomato Sauce for Pasta Dishes
Ingredients:2 large Cans of Crushed Italian Plum Tomatoes or Puree

1 small can of Tomato Paste

Water, add until you have the desired consistency

Olive Oil, enough to cover onions

1/2 onion, sliced very thin

2-4 large cloves of garlic, diced

1 Tbsp. each: basil and parsley

1 Bay Leaf

1 Tbsp. ground pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

¼ cup any dry red wine. I use a good cabernet or chianti if I can’t find Fortissimo.

½ cup grated Locatelli Cheese

1 Package of Short Ribs

12 Turkey meatballs

or add no meat at all, as desired.


Wash and dry meat, set aside.

Open all cans, set aside.

Slice onion very thin.

Dice garlic set aside.

If using fresh basil and flat leaf parsley, coarse chop, set aside.

Cook slowly, simmering on top of stove, low heat:

Place sliced onions in a large, heavy pot and add olive oil just until it covers onions.

Cook onions on low heat until transparent.

Add meat. Brown on all sides, increasing burner heat slightly.

When meat is browned, add wine.

Cover and simmer until liquid is reduced by ½.

If using short ribs, and they have released a lot of fat, remove and strain off the grease, then return to pot.

Add plum tomatoes and tomato paste.

Stir well.

Add seasonings (basil, parsley, pepper, bay leaf)

Cook for 2-4 hours on low heat until tomatoes and paste and liquid is combined.

Add water, a little at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Add salt, grated cheese, and garlic.

While the sauce is simmering, taste often to check for the need to add seasonings. Be careful not to salt too heavily.

Make meatballs, brown them, add to sauce.

Remove Bay Leaf. (My husband hated finding this leaf in his food!) Ha!

Serve over pasta of choice with grated cheese on the side.  Serve meat on a separate platter.

 “Hurrah for fun; the pudding’s done; Hurrah for the pumpkin pie.”


In Loving Memory – May Weller

May 27, 1963 – November 27, 2017

May WellerA beautiful Thai butterfly named “May,” left us on November 27th this year, and she will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved her. Throughout her short life, May Weller had many roles to play. She was wife, mother, sister, Buddhist, businesswoman, community contributor, world traveler, nature-lover and gardener and so much more. Although May’s life was cut short by cancer at age 54, she packed more living into those meager years than most of us would ever attempt. May’s husband, Roger, and their friends and family describe her as a nurturing woman – one who cared for others effusively and unselfishly. May was foremost a spiritual woman, deeply connected with nature, inspired by Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

A native of Thailand, May was born in Bangkok in May of 1963, one of seven siblings. Although her family was poor in material possessions, she was blessed with natural skills and abilities and a personality that glowed with energy and personal magnetism. May was destined to rise above any difficulties and make an extraordinary difference in the world. To know May was to be captivated by her enthusiasm and infectious smile.

From age thirteen through college, May worked in a school-sponsored food kiosk managed by her parents. She continued her learning and involvement in the food industry with Thai Airway International. Very early in her life, May’s ambition exceeded the opportunity offered in her native Thailand, so she became enamored of the American dream. The tremendous opportunity this country represented gave her the courage to come to the United States alone, with determined confidence.

Upon her arrival in 2002, May traveled the United States from the mid-West to the East, from Kentucky to Georgia, to Washington DC, Niagara Falls, NY, Atlantic City, NJ, Indianapolis, Indiana, and she made her home in Ashville, North Carolina. There she met Roger at a chance meeting at a Thai restaurant where she worked. This encounter would usher in a time of fulfillment of all of her dreams, and allow her to apply her skills and talents for the benefit of her family and community. May became a U.S. citizen in 2009.

May’s career in retail began on her journey with Roger, who owned The CW Moose store in Black Mountain, NC. She and Roger made a great team and in a short time, they fell in love and were married.  As co-owner, May took on more and more responsibility at the store: selling, ordering, organizing, setting up displays, and traveling worldwide to trade shows as a buyer.  She returned from these trips to stock the shelves with unique jewelry and other exotic, handcrafted specialty items like quilts and handbags.  More recently, the couple owned and operated the New River Trading Company.

In their marriage and with their move to Florida, Roger and May made the most of their May and Roger Welleryears together by traveling to Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor, Maine, visiting much of the United States that May missed on her travels when she first arrived here. May also made several trips back to her beloved Thailand, where her son and daughter still live. Here in Sarasota County, May became intimately involved with her Buddhist Temple, the Sarasota Forest Monastery, working tirelessly to help build their following and manage paperwork and the process to attain a tax exempt status. At home, May focused much of her boundless energy on her garden, fulfilling her calling and connection to nature.  Roger welcomes neighbors to drive by his home at 462 Rubens Drive East to watch May’s garden grow!

May's gardenIn addition to working a part-time job at Costco, May was a Thai Chef, quilter, and photographer. She participated in a golf league and played tennis. And with all of this, May still found time to design extraordinary gardens, as she coaxed from the earth an amazing confluence of flowers, tropical specimens, Thai herbs and edible plants of all varieties and species.

We created a slideshow of May’s garden on YouTube, so please take a look to enjoy May’s creative spirit through these photos and video. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/WtNYalVTpD0

Roger’s grief over the loss of May is bearable only with his humble acceptance of God’s will and his feeling of being blessed with May’s gifts. Her vibrant gardens grow heartily and surround his home in peace, recalling May’s beauty and love, which will remain in Roger’s heart and in the minds and hearts of our community forever.

Donations in May’s honor may be made to the Sarasota Forest Monastery, 2828 S. McCall Road, PMB 10, Englewood, Florida 34224.









Running from a Hurricane

storm cloudsHurricane IRMA was predicted to be a Category 5 monster and I watched The Weather Channel as it chronicled the hurricane’s approach to the Florida Keys.  Every time I turned on the TV, it seemed the track of this storm had my home in Nokomis on its radar.

I was pretty sure it was coming for me when I evacuated on Thursday, September 7, 2017.  The local Tampa news channels were reporting mandatory evacuations for the Florida Keys. My immediate thought was “Oh my God, thousands of people will be on the road soon!”  As I was only aware of one major highway out of Florida, State Highway Route 75, I imagined myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire time.  Not good.  I don’t do well with that kind of stress.

So I called my handyman to ask if he could board up the windows in my Florida home and thankfully, he came through.  Then I grabbed a few important papers and valuables, gathered up my cat Caily with litter box, and food, made a hotel reservation and headed to Valdosta, Georgia.  I was fortunate. The road was clear. I assumed that the evacuees from the Keys were behind me by several hours.

Caily Kitty settled in with me as if she understood the urgency of the situation.  In the Subaru, Caily was comfortable in her little carrier, and I set up her litter box and food so she could get to them easily every time I stopped for a stretch or meal. From the back seat, Caily cried out to me about every two hours, so I let her be my guide as to when we took a break on our journey.

By that evening, we arrived at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Valdosta. The room was comfortable and it was obvious that the staff was all set to receive evacuees. The hotel offered free breakfast and a heart-warming free happy hour to welcome us.  Bravo, Comfort Inn!  They did not charge me extra for Caily.  Wasn’t that generous?

We stayed in Valdosta two nights. By Friday, September 8th, the storm was tracking north to Georgia and Tennesee.  I panicked once again. The monster storm was following me! Reports of the devastation the storm already caused in the Keys and elsewhere fed my panic.  So I fired up my laptop and searched for the next place to shelter. I knew I had to go further north and west.  I had friends and relatives in Georgia and Tennesee, but they were all located in the projected path of the storm — staying with them wasn’t an option. I considered driving all the way north to stay with family there, but I was concerned about having to get back to a ruined home to fix or board up or whatever was needed after the storm passed.  I didn’t want to be too far from home.  Funny how it turned out.

After a great deal of searching online, getting depressed over all the “sold out” messages, finally, I discovered a vacancy in a hotel in Alexandria Landing, Georgia, which was about 4 hours north. Saturday morning, I awoke and packed for the trip. I picked up my cell phone to enter into Google maps the address of the hotel in Alexandria, when I was shocked to realize that I had made the reservation in Alexandria, Louisiana, not Alexandria Landing, Georgia!!  How did I make such a colossal mistake? Only God knows. It had taken me a very long time to find that booking, and I was sure that everything was sold out by now, so I shrugged and accepted my fate.  I would travel many more miles than expected.  So I took Caily with me to the Comfort Inn check out counter, and with a nervous laugh, I shared my mistake with the hotel clerk.

Here’s where the miracle begins to unfold. The clerk looked at me in earnest and for some reason beyond my understanding, she said: “There is a reason you are going to Louisiana.”  Huh. I was stunned.

I shook off the “Twilight Zone” feeling and we hustled to the Subaru where I sat and typed into Google maps the address of the Holiday Inn, Alexandria, Louisiana.  I intentionally ignored the projected duration of the trip to avoid that stress, and we were on our way. Google took me through beautiful and scenic back road country for the first hundred miles or so, then the traffic bogged down on Route 10 West.  I witnessed traffic accidents, crawled through miles of construction and I passed a blazing wildfire as if it were some circus sideshow!  Then I navigated Route 12, through the Florida panhandle, through Alabama, then Mississippi, past New Orleans and north on Route 49 for the last hundred mile segment into Alexandria, LA. The journey was long and I traveled about 700 miles that night in a total of 14 hours. What took so long? I stopped every two hours and there were hours of crawling at 30 miles per hour with hordes of people in cars exiting Florida. But what made this trip so extraordinary was not the miles or the hours, but the purpose, and the resulting epiphany.

A bit melodramatic?  Read on if you will, then you can decide and judge.

During the trip, to avoid falling asleep by keeping my brain engaged, I turned on the radio to search for a talk radio station. Strangely enough, my car radio was already tuned to EWTN, a Catholic Radio station. At first, I thought this show would be boring, but then the announcer caught my attention: He was conducting an interview with an author who wrote about the proof of God’s existence. Although I didn’t write it down and I find myself searching Google for it today, I believe it was an interview with Dr. Edward Feser who wrote a new book: The Five Proofs of God.  

I won’t try to summarize it here – it could be a topic for a future blog post, but suffice it to say, the interview was riveting and I became totally emersed in the dialogue.  As a result, I no longer felt any effects of the hours of driving except for some stiffness in my neck and shoulders, probably from gripping the wheel to control the car in traffic. I wasn’t tired; I didn’t feel sleepy.  I was alert and awake.  I pulled over a few times to check my alertness and still did not feel any symptoms of the exhaustion that science would have dictated under the circumstances.

The radio interview did not last the entire 14 hours, however. Following Dr. Feser, the EWTN radio host introduced yet another author whose name I can’t find now, but the talk was delivered by a woman who spoke about “Why God wants us to be happy.” She explored the four levels of happiness similar to the definition you’ll find on the Catholic Education Resource Center’s website (I interpret): 1. Happiness in THINGS like food. 2. The happiness of comparative advantage, for example, happiness derived from winning a spelling bee.3. Seeing the good in others and doing good for others, and 4. A fulfillment or fullness that transcends all other forms of happiness.

In the past year, I have been struggling with my grief after my husband’s passing, and so I was “all ears,” hoping to hear some good news, some hope that I can truly be joyful again. This interview delivered.  I was amazed.

Caily the kitty in bed in hotel

Hurricane? What hurricane?

The last 100 miles were physically taxing as my energy reserves dwindled, but I made it to the hotel without accident or incident. I checked us into the Holiday Inn, Alexandria, Louisiana. Caily-Kitty was happy there as she was everywhere we went. As long as she had a pillow for her head and a toy for play, and her “Mommie,” it was all okay by her. Such an angel. I was blessed to have her with me through it all.


St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

I was determined to enjoy the stay as best I could, so the next day I explored the area and I was pleased to find the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, right across the street from the hotel.  I visited the beautiful and very old Cathedral to light a candle and say a prayer and on Sunday, I attended Mass.  The pastor said prayers for the hurricane victims and the basket was passed for donations.  It was heart-warming and I felt safe.

There was a zoo in Alexandria.  I spent the next day exploring the Alexandria Zoological Park where I met a cougar, pink flamingos, alligators, a crocodile, bear, and many species of birds.

It was a beautiful, clear and cool day. Gone was the heat and humidity of Florida. I rode the little train that took me on a tour of the park. I felt young again.


A young cougar at the zoo.

So here I am. Running from a hurricane. Enjoying God’s creatures at the zoo, looking for a life beyond grief.

During all legs of my trip, I did not feel alone.  Friends and relatives kept in touch. They sent me encouraging texts and emails, called me regularly to check on my progress, cared about where I ended up and whether I was safe. Thank you to all those who kept me going.

After spending four nights in Louisiana, hurricane Irma tracked out of Florida, it’s power diminishing as it passed to the northeast, leaving the entire state of Florida in various levels of destruction. I dreaded the thought of driving the distance home in one day, so I made reservations at the Ashton Inn, Pensacola, Florida, which was about halfway. News media reported widespread gas shortages and road closures due to debris and flooding. As I traveled east, I was appalled at the stupidity of some who transformed their vehicles into explosive hazards by strapping a number of filled gas cans to the roofs of their cars or lined them up on a  trailer behind.  With all of the traffic, it’s a miracle that a fender-bender didn’t ignite one of these car bombs. I guessed law enforcement was engaged elsewhere and didn’t have the resources to address this hazard. It scared the heck out of me!  I navigated around these people with care. People do dumb things while running from a hurricane.

Gene's Lounge

Hi Gene!

The morning I awoke in Pensacola, I ventured out of the hotel in search of a healthy breakfast. At one point I veered off the main road and found myself a bit lost.  I have become accustomed to relying on Google maps for directions, so I pulled the car over into a parking lot to check the map. Momentarily, I looked to my right. Here is what I saw. I laughed and thought, “he’s with me on this trip!” HA!


Pensacola is a military town. The presence of the Navy is prominent on road signs and buildings such as the Naval Air Station and Naval hospital. Their city website advertises that they are the “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” home to the renowned Blue Angels, officially known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. There is also about 50 miles of Gulf coastline so there were lots to see and do.  I spent my day at the Naval Air MuseumNavy Museum, wandering around hangers filled with Naval aircraft and memorabilia.  I had lunch at the theme restaurant, the Cubi Bar Cafe, decorated to re-create the bar area of the famous Navy and Marine Corps Squadron’s Cubi Point Officers’ Club.  I worked up the nerve to try the Blue Angels’ flight simulator and I enjoyed an ear-shattering IMAX film about Aircraft Carriers.  I could have spent a week there!

house after hurricane

Thank God, only lost a tree, power on!

A text from a neighbor reassured me that my home in Nokomis was safe.  The outside lights were on, so I had power.  My neighbor sent pictures which reassured me further that the damage was minimal. I lost a tree out front, but otherwise, my home was spared. For others in my neighborhood and in my state, that was not the case.  For weeks afterward, I became aware of the suffering in my state and the herculean effort to rebuild homes and reconnect all those who lost their homes or who had to deal with damage or wait for power to be restored. Everyone pitched in to help each other.

The final trek home brought me to the last lap down Route 75 and a breath-taking rainbow filled the Gulf Coast sky.  I arrived at my front door late Thursday, September 14th. Caily was absolutely gleeful and I walked around the house, counting my blessings.

When I finally collapsed into my usual place in my den, the miracle of my trip, which was all about the 14 hours of driving West to outrun hurricane Irma, listening to The Proof of God and the talk on “Why God wants me to be happy,” engulfed my mind and heart in a way that I can’t encapsulate in any words.

I recall the wise observation of the hotel clerk in Valdosta: “There is a reason you are going to Lousiana,” and she was right.  What was the reason? I think Forrest Gump said it best in the movie after he had run “for 3 years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours”: “My mom always said: You gotta put the past behind you before you can move on….”

That day, I put the past behind me.  Time to start a new life, thank God for the opportunity.


A Blessing for Caily

Caily the cat in her play tunnel

Caily hiding in her play-tunnel!

I am blessed.  I found my little Caily-Kitty at the St. Francis Animal Shelter in Venice this summer and she has been my constant companion, confidant, and receiver of tears and interminable hugs.  She is an unlimited source of entertainment. During our exodus from Florida while we escaped hurricane Irma, Caily traveled with me uncomplaining.  She spent hours upon hours in the car with me, asking for breaks every two hours, which I obliged.  In the hotel rooms, she cuddled up with me on whatever bed we had for the night, just content to be by my side. What more can anyone ask for?

This little love is precious. Caily is smart, amuses herself with all kinds of toys, and has a great appetite for food and life.  She’s happy and healthy and just glad to be with me every day.

Father Fred with pets for blessing

Father Fred with service dogs after Pet Blessing

Today, at my Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey, our pastor, Father Fred, hosted a “Pet Blessing” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi’s Feast Day, which is this upcoming Wednesday, October 3rd. God has blessed me with Caily and today God blessed her.  It’s all very extraordinary.

I am especially fond of the St. Francis Prayer of Peace that I will share with you all here:

St. Francis Prayer of Peace

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled
As to console; To be understood,
As to understand; To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are
Born to eternal life.

Peace be with you all.


Time Passing

I have finally returned home from a week long journey of evacuation from my new home in Florida.  I fled hurricane “Irma” and traveled to Georgia, then through Alabama, Mississippi and finally Louisiana. And all I can think about is the impact of “time.” So I was inspired to write this poem, not about the hurricane, but on the stressful nature of the passage of time.

poem, time passing

Is it Time to Write a Testimony to your Faith?

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel windows

The beautiful stained glass windows of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Osprey, FL

There are many reasons why you might write and publish an autobiography or your memoirs. Some write to set the record straight, others to capture and preserve precious family memories and still others want to leave behind the proof and some measure of the meaning of their existence, for generations to come.

For those of you who have a strong faith in God, and either belong to a particular organized religion or practice your faith privately, as a personal relationship with God, creating a lifetime book can be a lasting testament to your Faith.

Most of us grew up practicing some form of religion because our parents went to Church, Synagogue or other place of worship. You may have attended religious services with your extended family, celebrating milestones, as in a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, and for Catholics, receiving sacraments like First Holy Communion or Confirmation.  Then as we gained our independence in college or in our new careers or vocations, many of us drifted away from organized religion. Some began to question the beliefs taught by our parents and religious leaders and we wondered, sometimes scientifically, about the meaning of life and the existence of God and we questioned His relevance to our lives.

Then without warning, there comes a day when we are struck by tragedy –a loved one is critically ill, a spouse or close friend dies from an illness or accident, a neighbor suffers from an addiction. To cope, some of us come back to God, not always because of any new revelation or understanding, but because we need Him desperately to help us find some way to bear this burden. We may turn to God because He is the only one left to petition.

This is what happened to me: After high school, I had what some might call a crisis of faith.  After a failed marriage and teaching career, I absorbed all the revolutionary thought and rejection of the “establishment” during the turbulent 1960’s. I questioned everything, including my faith. I stopped going to Church and when I met my second husband, Gene, my heart returned to God, but in a very personal way.  To be honest, Christ was not an active presence in my life, but rather Jesus’ life and teaching was the basis for my return to traditional values and beliefs.

Then tragedy struck. My husband, Gene, was diagnosed with cancer and died a year and half later. I was devastated.

I moved out of our home in New Jersey and took up residence on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I was reeling from the emotional turmoil that remained after all the time I witnessed my husband’s struggle against cancer and cared for him. I suffered deeply from the loss of his love and our relationship.

I craved the warmth of a “community,” and I sought solace in the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey.  I joined this community and met a pastor and a congregation who welcomed me with open arms.  Their Grief Support Group helped me weather my personal storm, and I am so grateful. I found peace of mind in the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation and I took solace in a new relationship with God and my religion, as I practice my faith once again.

The ebb and flow of religious fervor that I believe occurs not in the mind, but in the heart, is something that merits testimony. It is a story that begs to be told! Every one of us has a personal journey that may or may not include the recognition of a God who is involved in our destiny. Every story is different. We each have a different starting point and an equally unique destination. We have our reasons for maintaining or abandoning our faith or returning to it, but there is one thing that binds us together in our humanity and cannot be denied – the certainty and inevitability of death.

We are mortal beings and someday all that is in our minds and hearts will be left to those who hold our legacy in their memories. As a resource, they will have our photos and videos and leftover texts, online posts and voice mail messages.  But someday we will no longer be around to explain these, to recount our struggles with faith, or to pass on the lessons we may have learned through the years.

So, if you have learned something important about your relationship with Christ, maybe it’s time to put your story down on paper, if for no other reason, as a testimony to your Faith.



Gene’s Turn to Walk Jake

I lost my pup, “Jake” yesterday and this morning is a strange experience indeed.  Gone are the morning slurpy-kisses, gone are the hourly walks. Gone are the custom made meals of chopped meat and chicken breast, the multiple medications wrapped in cream cheese to assuage the discomfort from the symptoms of Jake’s heart failure. Gone are the funny “whispers” and Jake’s constant begging for treats.  Gone is the unconditional love I felt from him every day.

Click on this image of Jake to watch a “In Memory of Jake.”

Jake the brittany

Click here to watch “In Memory of Jake”

My feelings this morning are part grief, part relief.  I grieve the loss of a best friend who Gene and I raised from a pup.  I can remember with crystal clarity the 4th of July Gene and I picked him up from the breeder in PA.  I held Jake in the back seat of our Toyota 4Runner while Gene drove us to Jake’s new home. His birth name was “Dude,” so I held Jake close, whispering his new name in that floppy ear.  He responded by peeing all over me!  It was a wet ride.

I am relieved that Jake will no longer panic because he can’t catch his breath.  I am relieved that he will no longer suffer sleepless nights.  I am relieved that I will no longer have to feel guilty for being so reluctant to let him go.

From the beginning of our life with Jake, his training was problematic at best.  Training him to pee outside was so very frustrating.  When we took him outside, he pee’d on every bush and tree, and when we took him back inside, he’d pee again, right on the kitchen floor!  He wouldn’t sleep alone without whining loudly, so for days Gene and I slept on the kitchen floor with the little guy, afraid to take him to bed with us because of all the peeing.  Jake loved to hunt and he preyed on everything from squirrels to ground hogs and he also chased the new-born fawns in spring.  It was a constant chase with Jake and he was indeed a handful.  He hated the leash and pulled until he took me off my feet.  So to allow him to release all of this Brittany energy, we took him to parks, to corn fields and to Swayze Mill lake, to swim and run off-leash, and play.  We fenced in a portion of the yard so he could run and play unfettered.

Jake loved his treats and we spent a fortune on Pupperoni’s and raw hide, trying to find that perfect treat that would keep him busy for a few minutes so that I could make dinner, but he gobbled everything down so fast, it was impossible to keep up.

Every morning in NJ and continuing here in Florida, we had a ritual.  After his first walk, Jake and I had breakfast together.  After his meal, I gave him 3 “Liva Snaps” treats and he sat, begged, and gave his paw, then he “whispered.” Yes, Jake learned to “whisper.” I am so sensitive to noise in the morning, that I found a way to train him to bark very faintly in a kind of whisper.  He was so cute when he did this.  It made me smile.  I am happy that I made several videos of Jake whispering and running at the Lake with his friend Skippy, so that I can still enjoy watching him point and hunt and run like a dervish.  Jake was a perfect example of the beauty and grace and loving loyalty of the Brittany breed. He was our third Brittany, and I have to say he was the most beautiful and head-strong.

I want to thank all of our friends for caring for Jake especially while Gene was ill, and I want to thank the kennel owners, Patrick and Myke of Four Paws Playground, and Doug Tigue of Hope’s Kennels, and all of the others who trained and watched over Jake when we were away.  I want to thank Dr. Shatto, Jake’s vet in Hackettstown NJ and Dr. Garner here in Florida for giving us so much time with Jake by keeping him healthy all of these years.

It took a lot of people and support for us to have Jake in our lives, and I appreciate it so much.  I will miss him everyday.  It’s time for Gene to walk Jake again, and I hope to God that Jake and Gene are together in heaven and walking, running and hunting through the beautiful fields of Elysium.

Remembering Dad

It’s so strange when I remember Dad.  It seems that so much of who we are is tangled up with the real or perceived relationship we had or didn’t have with our fathers. Thanks to Freud, I think way too muJulianne and Dad communionch weight has been placed on this relationship, but in any case, it occurred to me yesterday, Father’s Day, that maybe my memories are not as accurate as I think, and they don’t really tell the whole story.

In browsing through picture albums looking for photos of Dad and grandparents to post on Facebook for Father’s Day, I see a kinder, gentler and happier Dad than I remember from my childhood.  Why is that?

I consider my childhood a troubled one, and I blame Dad for most of my unhappiness. I blame him for being too strict a disciplinarian, who had trouble expressing his love for his kids.  He was critical and had very high standards for his children, whether it were in a school performance, academic grades or piano lessons and recitals. I never remember Dad being truly involved with me, despite the fact that I have a clear memory of him attending Father-Daughter days with me at my high school and so many other events.

Dad and momPoklemba family, Marie, John, Julianne and Johnnie bought our summer house in Lakewood. Wasn’t that so my brother and I could get out of the city in the summers and enjoy swimming in the lake and picking blueberries in the woods?  Didn’t Dad take us to amusement parks and host barbeques with the extended family?  And although he punished my rebellious acts, my lying, my subterfuge and sneakiness, didn’t I deserve some punishment, even if what was meted out to me was maybe a bit harsh at times?

I guess the most disturbing memories were those of my mom and dad fighting, which was often accompanied by throwing things and cursing. I thought there was way too much drinking to escape reality. I don’t know how often the conflicts occurred, but in my unbalanced memory, it was a constant background noise that accompanied my upbringing. But all of that had more to do with their happiness, no?  Why was I so affected by their disharmony?  Maybe it was the uncertainty of it all.  Would they stay together? Would they divorce?  When would the next argument explode? I had no idea what they were really fighting about. As a small child, I had no true understanding of the meaning of their hateful words. As I grew to be a rebellious teenager, they seemed quite selfish to me, when, in truth, they sacrificed so much so that I could be secure.

I guess I’ll never know the answer to my questions, but I am grateful for the last decade of Julianne and Dad graduationDad’s life and the new relationship we enjoyed.  He taught me to play golf and took me on fishing trips and to the beach, during visits to their home in Florida. He was a new man in this tropical paradise, and although the cacophony of my parents’ arguments continued, there was definitely a “mellowing” of his personality in his final years. When Dad was struck down by cancer, he drifted away from me as his mind passed into oblivion as a result of the spreading of the cancer throughout his body.  When he left his family to enter the next life, it was a quiet relief.  He had lost all of his dignity and power with this disease, and I know he had finally escaped his own nightmares.

Heroes in Our Midst

This Memorial Day weekend, I dedicate this article to all of the military heroes: those who live among us and those who have died.  My heartfelt thank you for the sacrifices they made to keep us all free.  They and their families truly walk in Christ’s footsteps.

Randy and Becky McConnell

Sergeant Randy McConnell with his wife, Becky.

As a new resident of Nokomis in the community of Sorrento East, I am honored to live among active and retired military service men and women. I recently learned of the heroism and exceptional service of many of my neighbors.  One of these is Randy McConnell, who lives in Nokomis with his wife, Becky.

In an online article published by Don Moore, I learned that Randy served as a Sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division known as the “Screaming Eagles,” an elite modular specialized light infantry division of the United States Army, trained for air assault operations. For his actions under fire in battle, Randy received seven Purple Heart Awards, more than any other living American soldier! And what’s even more amazing is that these were awarded to him for fighting in Vietnam during a period of six months!

In the harrowing months Randy served for two years, 1967 and 1968, fighting with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam during the infamous “Tết Offensive,” Randy also received two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star for valor, along with an Army Commendation Medal with a V-Device for valor.

For those too young to remember this intense engagement with the enemy, it was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War.  The first surprise attacks launched by the North Vietnamese against the South, the United States and our allies, took place on the Vietnamese New Year, known as their “Tết” holiday. Intense fighting continued for many months, resulting in the defeat of the North Vietnamese.

To read more details about Randy’s heroic actions in combat, look up Don Moore’s article at: https://donmooreswartales.com/2015/05/13/randy-mcconnell/. Maneuvering under enemy fire, knocking out enemy bunkers with rifles and grenades, and retrieving the bodies of his fallen brothers, Randy and his men earned a reputation for getting the job done. Randy was wounded multiple times by gunfire and shrapnel, sustaining serious injuries to his neck, his Achilles tendon and ankle.

In Randy’s recounting of the ordeal, our hero returned to the United States with pride, only to be met with the derision of those protesting the war as a result of the political in-fighting and prevailing lack of public support for the war and our military. When asked what his military service and awards mean to him, Randy says: “My military service, though only two years, had profound effect on my entire adult life. It reminds me that freedom is NOT free. I wear my military decorations for those who gave all protecting this country. Veterans represent the best this country has to offer and I am honored to be included in their ranks.”

Personally, I am proud to live in a community where our military heroes are honored and appreciated for their service to our country because without their deeds of valor and courage, we would not be free to enjoy life in this extraordinary state of Florida in the USA. Randy, thank you for your service to our country.