My Take: Everything Happens for a Reason, and I Can Prove It

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Photo Credit: Des Philippet for Find-A-Grave

I love to help people.  If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, that’s probably painfully obvious.

When I was a girl, I always tried to help bickering friends, hurt animals, sad people, you name it.

In college, I routinely gave money to Jerry, the homeless man near school.

I put flowers on, and swept off, ignored graves.  Strange, huh?  I don’t know.  I just felt compelled.

For 15 years, I worked in a long term care pharmacy, and was very dedicated to helping elderly and terminal patients – day or night.  Because sometimes all you can provide is comfort.  And in my time working, I estimate that I filled over 1 million prescriptions.  Prescriptions for suffering, healing, and comfort.

I’ve thought about this facet of my personality a lot in my life.  Knowing my family history as I do, and the fact that this *trait* is pervasive in my woodpile, I can say that this is a horribly internal need that I have.  I can no more ignore it than I can simply stop breathing.   Help. Fairness. Equality.  They’re as intertwined in me as the systems that keep me alive.

Of course, this isn’t what this story details.  It is one piece, of many, that fits in this puzzle though.  A puzzle that began over 90 years ago.

So with that, I’ll ask you a question…or more.

Do you ever wonder why some things happen?

Or maybe wonder if God’s still moving among us?

Or if he has forgotten you?

Me?  I don’t.  I never do.  Why?  I don’t know.  I just don’t.  There is no real explanation for my solid position on that topic because I question the stability of most everything in my life on a somewhat daily basis! But if you do wonder about these things, let me tell you something.

Everything happens for a reason, and I can prove it.

My cousin, Don, was born in 1923.  He died in September 2010.  He was 87.  That wonderful man was my right hand in the search for our Mitchell family.   I met him many years ago when I was heavily searching for information about our ancestors.   I loved, respected, and adored him more than I can say.  We emailed and spoke often.  And since his passing, my mother and I have spoken of him many times.  I miss him.  Terribly.  And in that time that we have known Don, we’ve spoken to his son, Randy, once.

Through our extended family, we heard Randy was trying to contact us to pass along his father’s genealogical papers and notes. Not able to find his telephone number, I consulted the internet.  So did my mother.

What happened next is nothing short of a miracle.  It was driven by fate.  Because all of our steps are ordered.  Everything that happens is meant to happen.  And you must believe that. You must.  Because it IS so.

This event changed the lives of myself, my mother, an 88 year old WWII veteran, and the nephew of a fallen comrade because of, what seemed to be, a simple search for our cousin.

My mother located a Randall, who was the same age, and was convinced his location was familiar.  I was not so convinced, but retrieved the phone number while my mother jotted down the associated email address.   She called, left a message, and received no reply.  She decided to email him.  In this email, she stated she was looking for Randy, the son of Don and Irene.  Again, she never received a reply.  This was three-ish weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 6th, she received a phone call at 4pm from a Nelson, father of Randy, who was a brother of Don and Irene.

My mother inquired further, as we had never heard of Nelson, “Irene was from Flint, correct?”

“No, she was from Oklahoma.”, replied Nelson.

Wrong family.

Don and Lorene were Nelson’s brother and sister-in-law.

Don and Irene were our family.

Nelson has a son, Randy, not Don and Lorene.

Don and Irene, my family, have a son, Randy.

They continued to talk anyway, as he is 88 and my mother is 80.  Both had similar life experiences to share.  And in sharing, the heaviest of heavy burdens spilled out of this man.  “Since you’re near Flint,”  he said,  “I was in service with a young man from that area.  I’ve been looking for his family since I got home in 1945.  That young man and I were very close.  I was with him when he died in Europe, and I want his family to know what happened to him.”

My mother listened to his story, racked her brain, but did not know the family.  She did, however, assure him that her daughter could help him find that family.   Of course, he did not want to burden anyone with his search, but my mother was certain that if anyone could help, it was me.

Heaven help me.

Yes, that was my first thought.   As the story was relayed to me, I felt as though I was being covered with layers and layers of wet blankets.  I almost couldn’t breathe.  But without any hesitation, I agreed to do everything I possibly could to help.

Heaven. help. me.

I begged.  I pleaded.  I cried.

I have to help this man.  I have to.  Have to.

It was already deep in my soul.

I focused.

I shut off every single thing  having anything to do with the blog, and I worked.  I worked.   I worked.  I stayed up until 3am working.  Well, that isn’t entirely true.  From about 2-3am, I spent most of that time staring at Charles’ picture.

By the time I went to bed, I had found a picture of him, his grave, his military service records,  stories from his battalion, death record information, and what I thought was the correct family in the 1940 census.

This man, Nelson, and his buddy landed on Omaha Beach.  D-Day.

Battle of the Bulge.

His buddy, Charles R Lawrence, survived the first to be killed before the second on September 29, 1944.

I thought of my Uncle Vern who was shot down over England.  I thought of my Uncle Tom, a fellow soldier in the Battle of the Bulge. And really, countless others in my extended childhood network who were in the war –  Al, who was in the Pacific.  Another Don, who escaped combat due to cancer in his leg…I could go on and on.  I respected these men, and have often said I feel more connected to that generation than my own.  After all, I was raised around my mother’s older brothers and sisters, the eldest of whom was born in 1920.  That said, this was all very familiar to me.

So, I got up Thursday morning at 7am.  Who could sleep?  I worked.   I found him on the 1930 census.  I was now relatively convinced I had the right family, as the census said Charles R Lawrence.  Mind you, there were three census options for Charles, and this one was not in Flint.  I began looking for his two brothers, Don and Frank, to try and narrow things down further. I couldn’t find anything about Don.  I had two options for Frank that I felt were reasonable.  I had no death record for him, no obituary, no marriage record – only the 1930 & 1940 censuses and a whole lot of guidance from above.  A whole lot.  Heaps. Tons.

I called the first of my two options, a woman in Texas.  Her husband served in WWII.  In fact, his brother was killed in Europe, but they didn’t match up. I emailed another man – two different ways.  I stared at his picture.  He looked like an older Charles.  Enough that I was relatively certain I had the right man.

I found his phone number and gave it to my mother. I don’t know why.  I just couldn’t call him.  I’d have dissolved on the phone before saying a word.

She called.

And just like that, we found them.  It was the right family.

Like rain, details of “Uncle Sonny’s” life poured out of his brother’s widow, along with the generic knowledge that he had been killed in Europe. Uncle Sonny’s brothers were gone, but his brother’s widow and nephew are here.  Uncle Sonny.  We called my Uncle Vern, Sonny.

Charles’  nephew, who loves his Uncle Sonny dearly, has the flag that draped his coffin, and various other personal effects, his mother shared with my mother.

After concluding their hour-long conversation, my mother called Nelson to let him know that the family he had been searching for just under 70 years had been found.  He was beyond ecstatic, choking back tears, and overwhelmingly grateful.

That night, just over  24 hours from the start of my search,  Nelson spoke with Frank Jr. for 3 hours – telling stories of his time with Charles, as well as his  passing.

Frank was so moved that he plans to visit Nelson in California shortly.

He plans to visit my mother and I in the next few weeks.

He already calls my mother, Mom.

I guess it goes without saying that we’re so touched  by all of this.  I couldn’t love and care for these people more than if they were my own family.

Not having spoken with him myself, I decided to look Nelson up on Facebook and send him a message –  To thank him for his service to this country, and just for being a very fine man, among other things.

And in looking at his picture, I thought he looked familiar.

Very familiar.

I was instantly taken back nearly 10 years to a trip my husband and I took to Las Vegas.  We sat next to a man and his wife who looked strikingly similar to Nelson and his wife.  So much so, that I asked my mother to bring that up to him the next time they spoke.

And yes, it was Nelson.

He and his wife were there, at the same show, sitting next to us in December 2003.

Don. Irene.  Children named almost 90 years ago – who ultimately married.

Don. Lorene.  Children named more than 90 years ago – who ultimately married.

Charles R Lawrence killed Sept 29, 1944. 68 years ago.

Randy. And Randy. Children named 60+ years ago.

Las Vegas. 10 years ago.

Among the many other life events unknown to me that these circumstances influenced, I can clearly identify this ONE experience that depended on these events.  In exactly this order.  Falling into place.  Exactly this way.  For this day to come – simply because Randy thought my mother was referring to HIS Aunt Lorene and Uncle Don.  He may have thrown that message away otherwise.

It overwhelms me with emotion.

I’m so grateful to have been a part of this reunion.  Because, without this man, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.  Those boys overseas were willing to die for us.  Many did.  In watching my uncles and their friends discuss the war in even the most general terms, I saw faces change.  Quiet.  Details were scarcely revealed.  Unspeakable horror.

For me, all I knew was that I couldn’t touch them.  I couldn’t help them.  I couldn’t fix it or comfort it away.

Last week, I was able to help Nelson.  To bring him something good from that horrible part of his life that I’ve never been able to reach…in anyone. And now, lives are changed.  Not because of what I did, but because of what God did through so many people along the way.  I’m so profoundly grateful that I was chosen to be a part of that path.

I’ve always wanted to be used for something great.  Heck, we all want to be used for something great, and it just doesn’t get much better than this.

Food For Thought: Avoiding Pink Slime & Arsenic

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This is not meant to start any controversy, but provide some direction for you if you feel trapped by what’s going on with our food supply.  Most of us have heard the reports about high arsenic levels in rice and juice, as well as reports of pink slime in the beef and chicken supply.

As you probably also know, several readers and myself talk about a variety of topics on a daily basis. Current events tend to reign supreme, and this one keeps coming up over and over.  And since I’m not a fan of fear, but solutions,  I thought I’d give you a bit of direction if you’re looking to avoid some of these things.

This is an update from ABC regarding their original report about Pink Slime in beef.  It gives short list of those who sell pink slime beef and those who do not.  If your store is not on the list and you’re concerned that they sell it, ask.  If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, do what you can to get one.  If you’re still nervous, trust your instincts.  Shop a different store or buy from a local farmer.

Comments from other grocery store chains:

This is an old report about arsenic in rice, but it has recently come back into focus because of a study done by Dartmouth University that noted organic brown rice syrup from the US is heavily contaminated with arsenic.  Nevertheless, this article outlines the states with the highest contamination levels- Louisiana and Arkansas.  That remains accurate today.  If your packaging indicates origin, opt for rice grown outside the US or in California.  Here is a FAQ from Dartmouth and another article that discusses washing your rice and other proactive measures you can take to reduce your exposure.

You may also have heard that there are high arsenic levels in juices.  This is a quick guide from Dr. Oz that will tell you what to look for when you purchase apple juice.

Again, this is not meant to stir up any controversy.  This blog has always been, at the core, about being sensible.  As much as  I enjoy providing you help in shopping drugstores as if they’re dollar stores, it has always been about intelligent decision-making and  informed choices FIRST.

For Fun: Lessons In Happiness For My Birthday!

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I’m not in the business of diagnosing or solving problems.  Helpful hints?  I’ve got loads of them.  Since today is my birthday, I thought I would share some things with you that makes me smile.  Of course, I cannot tell you how to be happy, but I can give you some tips for finding the happy moments.  String enough of them together and you’ve found it.  Is it that simple?  No.  All of my medical training will tell you that there are plenty of people with biochemical imbalances that make it difficult to feel happy.  That said, I will also tell you that your body responds to positive stimuli.  Replace some negative with positive and at least some of the veil will lift.  That IS a fact.  With that in mind, here is what I know to be true for me.

No one can take happiness from you.  No one.
You know the old saying – A rotten apple spoils the bunch.  Well, that may be true for apples, but the last time I checked, you’re not an apple and neither am I.  I don’t plan to become one nor do I eat rotten ones.  Come to think of it, I’m having a lot of trouble finding how any of that statement applies to people.

  • Make a commitment to be happy each day when you get up.  It will help establish the tone for the day and give you a magical force field against negativity.

Eat well.
When you take a bite of your spinach salad, make a mental note that you are doing something healthy for your body.  Concentrate on feeling good about that particular choice.  Don’t dwell the candy bar you ate yesterday.  You WILL start to feel good about making positive changes in your diet – one by one.

Begin a Happiness Diary.
You know all the free and super cheap notebooks we got last month?  Put one to good use.  Keep it on the kitchen counter or common area in your home that you frequent and make notes of things that made you laugh or smile.  Whether it is something you saw on tv or a fond memory, they’re good reminders to have around when you feel down.  What if you can’t find a happy moment?  Make one.  Send an e-card to a friend. Come over here and participate in one of our Feel Good Fixes.  Right now, Kraft Huddle to Fight Hunger still needs meals won via their game to help feed the underprivileged.  That brings me to my next topic.

Help Others.
There is always someone less fortunate than you.  Don’t believe me?  Well, here’s an easy example.  You follow this blog and I show you all kinds of ways to get free items.  There are  plenty of people who don’t use any money saving resources and cannot afford basic necessities.  Pick up an extra tube of toothpaste the next time you head out freebie hunting and take it to a housebound person you know, donate it to a local shelter, wherever you feel led to help.  C’mon, just one tube of  toothpaste, you ask?  You tell me.  Would you rather have one tube of toothpaste or none?

Appreciate Beauty.
Blue skies are beautiful.  So are cloudy skies.   More simply?  So is the fact that you can see them.

Here’s a story for you.  I was born in 1973.  My Aunts on my mothers side were all born between 1920-1928 and were consistently some of the happiest people I’ve ever known.  Here are a few things I learned in my youth by watching them.

  • Tell only funny stories…over and over.  They get funnier each time because you anticipate the hilarity of it all.
  • Watch old comedies – Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant films.  Among my favorites is Bringing Up Baby.  The story is no less complicated than one you’ll find today, but the presentation cannot be beat.  Oh, the joy of watching the delivery of a funny punch line with no profanity or verbal hit against someone else.
  • Value family.  These ladies loved each other fiercely, and their youths were far from perfect.  Unconditional love heals and comforts.  Period.
  •  Forgive.  Grudges are too heavy to carry around.

A Fool Learns From His Own Mistakes.  A Wise Man Learns From The Mistakes of Others.
In this case, a wise man learns from the experiences of others.  I used to work in long term care pharmacy…for years…15ish actually.   These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from those wonderful people.

  • Eat, Drink and be Merry –  in moderation.  Highs are too high.  Lows are too low.  Strive for balance in everything.  If you can’t make that happen, roll with the punches.  They will stop eventually.
  • Stay active.  Like I always say – mosquitoes don’t breed in moving water.  Neither do many other undesirables.
  • Pursue your passion.  I love to help people.  I can’t not do it.  Part of me dies when I’m not doing something for other people.   I think it has something to do with my family history.  It’s as if it’s genetic.  I could go on all day about the things they’ve done that inspire me.
  • Shoulda, coulda, woulda must die.  Replace them with a check mark next to your box that says *Done*.  If you can’t, well, surely there is something you CAN do.

There, I’m done.  Now, if  you want to do something for me for my birthday.  Be happy.   I promise, it’s the best gift you could ever give me. 🙂

Nuttin’ Easy: Father’s Day Every Day & A Favorite Recipe!

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I am not one of those eternal, vomit inducing optimists, but I DO believe all things are possible. Every problem has a solution.  Every question has an answer.  Whether we, as humans, have the capacity, guidance, and sometimes willingness, to find them determines the outcome of the situation.  Where in the world am I going with this?  Well, if you’ve read my mini-blurb about myself, you know I’m a stay at home Mom.  This is part of that story….

Before my son was born, my husband and I chatted about homeschooling, more as a novelty than a reality.  I had every intention of returning to work.  After all, our income restrictions mandated it…or so we thought.  Differing little from most mothers, the first time I saw my son I knew I could never leave his side.  In his 6 years, he has  never left me for more than a few days to stay with my mother, his wonderful Grammy.  And without a doubt, that is also why it took much longer to confirm his peanut allergy.  It was while visiting her that a vague notion became very real.  Since that event nearly three years ago, all of our lives changed.  The prospect of preschool and my return to work were throttled.  Because, while I never wanted to leave his side, I wanted a *normal* life for him.   Believe me, I mourned that impending change like nothing you can imagine!  However, since his *event*, we’ve learned more about the severity of his allergy and that if he were simply breathed on by someone who had eaten peanuts/pb, he may have a life threatening reaction.  Sobering.  Frightening.  MY son.  So with that, my husband and I agreed (as any parents would) that we would do *whatever it takes* to keep him safe.  Homeschooling was our only option, as no school was/is willing to be peanut free.  Even if they agreed to make that change, there is nothing they can do about what is eaten for breakfast.  It is also beyond the scope of expectation.  And so, we are now knee deep in our foray into homeschooling and home based existence.  Do I make it sound daunting?  Hah!   Hardly.  From a mother’s standpoint, there is no greater joy than to be able to call my children into the room simply for a hug, to see their beautiful faces, to bake cookies, read to them, oh, and did I mention? Just BE THERE.  Since all of these changes took place before my daughter showed up, she didn’t experience the shift in perspective that we did.  She just reaps the benefits.  For that, I am also grateful, as things are much simpler and more defined than they were just a few short years ago.  Keep in mind that I said nothing about perfection or ease.  It is, by no means, easy or perfect.  It is our life, though, and the long and short of it is that it would not be possible without our dedication and commitment to it.  In that vein, there can be no discussion about dedication and commitment without mention of my husband.  My wonderful husband, whom I’ve known since my youth, has transformed from an already wonderful man into the most respectable of men.  He is our champion, hero, provider, problem solver, Magic 8 Ball, and sometimes just Dad.  For us, Father’s Day is a time for us to acknowledge the gift that he is and be grateful for his many daily sacrifices.  I have such great respect for him, his tireless dedication, boundless love and commitment to his family.  I cannot imagine my life without him.  Period.

This is perhaps the ONLY time I’ll ever mention him here.  After all, he will tell you that this blog is MINE, for ME, about ME and what I do.  It isn’t.  Without HIM, I wouldn’t be here.  Right now. Doing this.  Doing what I do every day – What. I. love.

So there, that’s what I think about my guy and this day – shorter rather than long, because I can truly go on forever.  And now, one of my hubby’s (and buddy boy’s)  favorite nut free recipes that I’m making for him today.

Chocolate Covered Brownie Bites
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick + 2tbl)
5oz semisweet chocolate – I use Hershey’s semi-sweet chips because they melt more evenly.  You can use Baker’s, if you have it.
2/3 cup flour
1 & 1/2 tbsp Hershey’s Cocoa
1/4 tsp Salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Coating
Remaining chips from Hershey’s bag
1 tbsp Crisco

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease then line an 8 inch square baking pan with foil, leaving overhang to pick up.  Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large microwavable bowl, heat butter and chocolate for one minute depending on how spastic your microwave is.  If you know it will melt sooner, use less time.  FYI: I don’t allow the chips to melt completely.  I semi-melt them and stir until they melt completely.  Add sugar and brown sugar and mix until well combined.  Add eggs and vanilla and stir until sugar is smooth and not granular.  Stir in flour until just mixed.  Add additional chips if you’d like – 1/4-1/2 cup.  Pour batter into the pan and allow to bake for about 30 minutes until the center is set when toothpick comes out clean.  When they’re done, I allow them to cool then pop them in the fridge for an hour or so.  Lift them out using the foil handles onto a cutting board and cut off the edges.  I crumble and save that to use for brownie sundaes.  Now, you can do the next step one of two ways – use a melon baller to carve out brownie balls or you can use a knife to cut one inch squares.   Place them on a cooling rack with wax paper lined beneath the rack.

Place the chips and Crisco in a small bowl, then heat in the microwave at 30 second intervals until melted and stir until smooth.  Dip the tops of the brownie bites into the chocolate and place onto the rack to set.  You can dust them with cocoa if you like.  I don’t.  Blech.

These will keep in a covered container in the fridge for about 5 days.  They also freeze well too!  That’s what I do with my sundae topping.    Yield: around 50.

Simple Things: Smiles & Savings!

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There are a few things that I’ve picked up over the years that have brought me the most happiness.  They’re all relatively inexpensive, yet unique, and readily available.  As a child, my mother dragged me to garage sales hunting for various antiques and I rolled my eyes, of course.  But as with most things in life, I’ve grown as I’ve been bent and I have a few select items that I’m always looking for now, too.

Since we all like saving money, I thought I’d share them with you here. Maybe it will inspire you to find that little something that you love – on the cheap, of course.  Whether it’s a vintage apron, antique ring, handkerchief quilt or just gets you thinking about the things you like, I hope it makes you smile.  Sometimes it’s nice to think about some other great deals that are out there.

1.) I love antique rings~rose gold, in particular.  I’ve gotten most of mine on e-bay for around $45.  As a matter of fact, the one above is identical to one given to me by my mother that belonged to my grandmother.  It’s $45.

2.)  Vintage apron lots.  Many of you have told me about pretty aprons you’ve gotten from Flirty Aprons, but I’m partial to those I’ve found on e-bay and garage sales over the years.  While many of them aren’t necessarily functional (sheer half aprons), they’re certainly beautiful.  I found this lot today on e-bay for $39.99.  That’s certainly steep by my standards, but these are in very good condition AND there are 8 of them ~ so really $4.99ea!  I like these because I feel as though they were lovingly stitched and made one stay-at-home Momma feel very pretty.  I particularly like the first one with the birthday cakes on it.  Don’t you just know she made this one to wear only when making her them for her children?  It tells me she loved someone very much.  For that alone, I love it, too.


3.) Vintage hankies.  Say what you will about the gross factor, but you can pick up plenty of these decoratives for around $0.99 for a lot of 5 or 20 for $1.99.  These were hardly (if ever) used.  I have great aspirations to (one day) make a Handkerchief Quilt.   These would be beautiful in that capacity.

4.)  While I don’t have one of these yet, it’s on my list.  Besides, if I have everything I want, what would be left?  Oh, and it might help if I tell you what it is!  It’s a pie cupboard/safe with punched tin inserts in the doors.  The punching in the inserts ventilate the cupboard, allowing baked goods to cool but keep bugs out.  They originated in the US with the Pennsylvania Germans….ya know, if you were wondering.
These are just a few of my favorite things.  There are many other similar items in the same vein that I love to look at and shop for and etsy is a great place for that.  It makes for a nice balance between old and new.  Do you have any special trinkets or perhaps garage sale lottery winners…you know, the $100 item you snagged for a quarter?  I’d love to hear about it!