Saturday, May 31, 2014

Open Mouth, Change Feet

Lisa "Picker"
"Be sure brain is in gear, before putting mouth in motion." (Author Unknown)

Until just a few minutes ago, I didn't know what I was going to write about today. But things change, and very fast, sometimes.

I was swapping funny stories with a friend this morning and we were having a good laugh at his most embarrassing moment, which happened when he was in the Navy.

He then asked me what my most embarrassing moment was.  (At my age, I have had a few) ... and I remembered this doozy.

This was years ago, when we lived in Indiana, and my three daughters were six, eight, and ten.

We had this little neighbor girl who always came over wanting to play. She was nice and always well-behaved -- and her mother was the head of the PTA at the same elementary school where my youngest daughter went to school.

There was one problem. Lisa always had a runny nose and one of her fingers up there, mining for I don't know what ...

Needless to say, her visits were not looked on favorably by my girls and they had a secret nickname for her ... as in, "Oh no, Mommy, here comes Lisa 'picker'.  Mommeee, please tell her we're not home."

I assured them they didn't have to play all day with Lisa, but they were not going to be rude to her, either. She was a nice little girl, even though she was a bit different. I told them they would be nice to her and reminded them that they might be the only ones who were nice to Lisa all day -- and that was important.

(To be honest, I could hardly blame them, because her visits had become a daily ritual).  I tried to help as best I could while Lisa was there, by putting a box of Kleenex near where they were playing.

Then one evening, I had to go to my youngest daughter's school for a PTA meeting. After the meeting, I was talking with several other mothers at the refreshment table.

Suddenly, greeting me warmly at my elbow, was Lisa's mother, the head of the PTA.  The other mothers were waiting for an introduction, since we obviously knew each other.

I started to introduce her to the others, "Ladies, I would like you to meet Jane...Puh--Puh..." I stopped, horrified.  Oh no!  All I could think of was 'picker!'  Crap, what was her real last name?  My mind was racing, trying hard to remember, but the name was gone.

The blank look on my face must have given me away, because Jane kindly broke the uncomfortable silence by graciously holding out her hand and saying, "Hello, I'm Jane Palmer. I'm so glad to see all of you here."

To protect myself from further embarrassment, the names were changed to share this story ... open mouth, change feet.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, May 30, 2014

To a Homeless Man:

Homeless Man - But for the Grace of God, go I

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ― 14th Dalai Lama, [The Art of Happiness]

To a Homeless Man:

Homeless man,
I watched as you
lined a deserted doorway
with Maytag boxes. 

Like stark cardboard monuments,
their Fed Ex labels
and signs point 'This Side Up',
sad reminders of what is,

...and what could be,
but for the Grace of God.

I wondered,
if I wished
hard enough,
a Fed Ex truck
might spirit you away
on a magic carpet ride

to a place where you
wouldn't be invisible
for those who take the time
to look and really see,

to a place where someone
would offer you a job
with no Catch 22,

first telling you to shower
and wear clean clothes
for an interview

and you with no money 
for either, 
without a job.

I wished and I prayed.
But for the Grace of God, go I.

[From the book, "Anatomy of a Poet", by CJ Heck]

By at Amazon

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Children's Poem: Windows in Heaven

Windows in Heaven ...

Years ago, a woman contacted me through email. She told me her husband had recently passed away and her five-year-old son was having a difficult time accepting his father's death.

The boy couldn't understand why his daddy would go away without saying good-bye. She said he even wondered if he had done something wrong.

She told me she had been to my website and searched for something, anything, that had to do with a father dying, but she could find nothing.

I told the woman I was sorry, but I didn't have any poems that addressed the issue, but I would try and write one for her.

So, from a child's point of view:

Windows in Heaven

I know sometimes that clouds bring rain,
in wintertime it's snow,
and spring is good because it makes
the pretty flowers grow.

I know that God is everywhere
and angels all have wings,
that dogs can't talk and bunnies hop
I know so many things.

But why do daddies go away?
It makes kids and mommies sad.
Are there windows up in heaven?
Did I do something bad?

Mommy said it's not like that.
Children all are good.
Sometimes daddies just can't stay,
even though we wish they could.

She said Daddy loved me most of all,
not to think he didn't care,
... and he sees me from the windows.
God just needs him more up there.

[From "Barking Spiders (and Other Such Stuff)" by CJ Heck] 

Paperback and Kindle

Read an Excerpt
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“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Circle of Life

The Circle of Life

I was having my coffee this morning and thinking about my grandchildren.  I have eleven now, from sixteen all the way down to seven months.

I find it fascinating, how children go through so many age-specific stages, beginning with the "terrible twos". Then, from about four on, everything in their world is either black, or white. 

There is no grey area, where things can fall somewhere in between. I'm not sure when the grey area develops, only that somewhere along the road to growing up, it always does.

To a child, there is only right or wrong, good or bad, funny or not funny, nice or not nice, and the kids at school are either friends, or bullies. 

A bad guy is ... a BAD guy, and a bad guy does things that are wrong. Dad is a good guy, because he does things that are right. A mom is another good guy, and so are policemen, mail carriers, doctors, and that nice Mrs. Johnson next door, because she bakes cookies and shares them.

Their view of what's funny is unique, too.  Being teased is not funny, if they feel they are being picked on.  But when someone says 'fart', or 'butt', that is funny.  Even something we adults consider not at all funny, can be very funny to a child -- like, blowing up a marshmallow in the microwave.  You'll know who did it, because the child will be laughing [or trying not to].

Nothing ever smells, or tastes, 'okay' to a child. Again, there's no grey area.  Gasoline and flowers smell good, and feet and swiss cheese smell bad. Brussel sprouts and black jelly beans are 'yukky', but a piece of chocolate cake? As my nephew used to say, "I could make a whole meal outta that."

I think pretending is what comes, just before the grey area begins.  Then life just naturally expands beyond the black and white. 

We learn our parents aren't perfect, teachers don't have all the answers, and our friend will be hurt if we tell him his feet stink. 

Our tastes change, the little mysteries of life are solved, and we find a lot of our questions can be answered by an encyclopedia, or our friends.   

As our view of the world further expands, we shed our childhood innocence. We pretend less and less and enter into the maturity of the grey area, where we stay through all our adult years. 

I was thinking, too, when you get to be my age, everything suddenly turns around.  Ironically, things seem to be heading back to black and white and pretending again.  

Being old and getting wrinkles is bad.  Life, love, children and grandchildren are all good.  And pretending?  Well, I'm pretending I'm going to win the lottery ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cranky Old Man

Old Man - Young Soul

This was written by an old man living in a nursing home.  It was found among his personal things by the staff, after he had passed away.

The next time you meet an older person, think about the still young soul that still lives down inside of them.

The best and most beautiful things of this world can't be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart.

Cranky Old Man

[Author Unknown]

What do you see, nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?

A cranky old man, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,
who dribbles his food and makes no reply?
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!

Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a sock or a shoe?
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
with bathing and feeding.  The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?  Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another;
a young boy of sixteen with wings on his feet
dreaming that soon now a lover he'll meet.

A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five, now, I have young of my own,
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
with my woman beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more, babies play 'round my knee,
again, we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me.  My wife is now dead.
I look at the future and I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing young of their own.
and I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass. a young man still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people, open and see
I'm not a cranky old man.
Look closer.  See ME.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, May 26, 2014

Melissa Venema: Il Silenzio

In Honor of Memorial Day 2014

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Freedom is Not Free

Eagle Bowing in Reverence

Freedom Is Not Free

by Kelly Strong

I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
and then he stood at ease.

I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He'd stand out in any crowd.

I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?

How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.

I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.

I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.

I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.

I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No ... freedom isn't free.

About The Author

This poem is important to Kelly Strong because he wrote it as a high school senior (JROTC cadet) at Homestead High, Homestead, FL. in 1981. It is a tribute to his father, a career marine who served two tours in Vietnam.

Kelly is now an active duty Coast Guard pilot living in Mobile and serving at the US Coast Guard Aviation Training Center. He has three kids and a great wife, Najwa, who just completed work at the Miami VA clinic as a physical therapist.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Swinging Song

Baby in a Swing

When my grandchildren were tiny, I had the cutest baby swing. It was molded plastic and it had a safety bar across the front to hold them in. 

I hung my swing inside a screened-in porch, so mosquitoes wouldn't be a nuisance if the baby fell asleep --like they usually did.

One afternoon as I was swinging a grandson, I started to hum to the gentle motion of the swing.  He started to nod and as the motion of the swing slowed, I also adjusted my humming softer and slower to keep with the motion of the swing.

Later, I added words to the melody and what resulted is the following song.   I miss those days ...

Swinging Song

Bye oh bye up, 

bye oh bye down. 

bye oh bye feet, 

way off the ground.

Swing-ing, swing-ing, 

I love swing-ing. 

Bye oh bye high, 

bye oh bye low. 

Bye oh bye faster, 

look at me go. 

Swing-ing, swing-ing, 

I love swing-ing. 

Bye oh bye fly-ing 

up to the sky. 

Bye oh bye push me 

higher than high. 

Swing-ing, swing-ing, 

I love swing-ing. 

Bye oh bye eyes 

are closing now 

bye oh bye head 

is nodding down 

Swing-ing, swing-ing, 

I love swing-ing. 

(whispering as  swing slows down)

Bye oh bye gent-ly, 

bye oh bye slow. 

Bye oh bye, sh-h-h-h-h . . . 

to    sleep    I    go. 

Swing-ing, swing-ing, 



[From the Book, Me Too! Preschool Poetry, by CJ Heck]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, May 23, 2014

Daddy's Boots

Daddy's Boots 

Daddy left his boots for me 
and here I have to stay, 
'cause daddy is a soldier. 
I'm in charge while he's away. 

In daddy's boots, I can pretend
that now I am the man 
who does the things that daddy does 
as only daddy can. 

I help with little brother, 
I help with folding clothes, 
I help to set the table, 
and I hope daddy knows
that every day I wear his boots 
so I'll feel close to him 
and I try and keep mom happy, 
till he comes home again. 

I know that he's protecting us, 
that's what soldiers do, 
but his boots are way too big for me, 
and my job being him is, too. 

When is daddy coming home? 
I miss him all the time. 
 Mom said daddy's proud of me 
... and his boots fit me just fine.

[From CJ's Book, Barking Spiders 2]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The History of the Poppy for Memorial Day

Poppy:  The Flower of Remembrance 

In Flanders Fields 
by John McCrae 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This poem was written by World War I Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada's First Brigade Artillery. It expressed McCrae's grief over the "row on row" of graves of soldiers who had died on Flanders' battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. The poem presented a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War. The first printed version of it reportedly was in December 1915, in the British magazine Punch.

McCrae's poem had a huge impact on two women, Anna E. Guerin of France and Georgia native Moina Michael. Both worked hard to initiate the sale of artificial poppies to help orphans and others left destitute by the war. By the time Guerin established the first sale in the U.S., in 1920 with the help of The American Legion, the poppy was well known in the allied countries — America, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — as the "Flower of Remembrance." Proceeds from that first sale went to the American and French Children's League.

Guerin had difficulty with the distribution of the poppies in early 1922 and sought out Michael for help. Michael had started a smaller-scaled Poppy Day during a YMCA conference she was attending in New York and wanted to use the poppies as a symbol of remembrance of the war. Guerin, called the "Poppy Lady of France" in her homeland, and Michael, later dubbed "The Poppy Princess" by the Georgia legislature, went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for help. Following its first nationwide distribution of poppies, the VFW adopted the poppy as its official memorial flower in 1922.

However, a shortage of poppies from French manufacturers led to the idea of using unemployed and disabled veterans to produce the artificial flowers. In 1924, a poppy factory was built in Pittsburgh, Pa., providing a reliable source of poppies and a practical means of assistance to veterans. Today, veterans at VA medical facilities and veterans homes help assemble the poppies, which are distributed by veterans service organizations throughout the country.

Donations received in return for these artificial poppies have helped countless veterans and their widows, widowers and orphans over the years. The poppy itself continues to serve as a perpetual tribute to those who have given their lives for the nation's freedom.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

If Love Had Not Called Me

If Love Had Not Called Me

by Robert S. Cosmar

To CJ:
I would never have known you, 
if love had not called me. 
The mystery between us 
would be forever unsolved.
Like strangers never to meet, 
my life would have been empty 
of all joy without you.
An outcast to my own heart, 
I would have been 
as one who was banished 
from the kingdom of love 
and left unfulfilled.
You have completed me. 
You brought my love 
out where I can see it 
and made me the man 
I was meant to become.

Yours forever,

[Robert Cosmar is a published writer, blogger, astrologer, and the Author of four books which focus on Awareness.]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Taxi Ride

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes, I walked up to the door and knocked. "Just a minute", answered a frail, elderly voice.

I could hear something heavy being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like someone out of a 1940's movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.

The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she asked.

I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's nothing", I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my own mother treated.

"Oh, you're such a good boy", she said. 

When we got into the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"Ma'am, it's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued in a soft voice. "The doctor says I don't have very Long."

I quietly reached over and shut off the taxi's meter. "What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. 

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. 

She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. 

Sometimes, she'd ask me to slow down in front of a particular building, or corner, and she would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. 

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. 

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" She asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There will be other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand gently, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. 

For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have ever done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

[Author Unknown]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Desolation Row": by Kay Kendall

Stairway Press
258 pages
Format:  Kindle, Paperback, Audible

About the Book:

The Cold War was the background theme of my childhood. An intercontinental ballistic missile was housed in a silo on the outskirts of my hometown.

The Vietnam War made my life’s course swerve, even though I didn’t fight.

In my debut mystery, “Desolation Row”, I treat that era as long-gone history, inspired by my favorite suspense stories set during World Wars I and II.

Oh yes, and my heroine, Austin Starr, turns into an amateur sleuth, motivated by reading too many Nancy Drew tales. After all, someone has to get her young husband, David Starr, released from jail.

The time—1968. The place—Toronto, Canada, where the Mounties are sure David murdered a US Senator’s son.


"A brutal murder, a young woman fighting to prove her husband's innocence--DESOLATION ROW hooked me on page one. Author Kay Kendall knows how to burrow into your heart." ~~Author Norb Vonnegut

“A smart mystery … The clever structure, remarkable dialog, and subplots result in a wholly satisfying read. Packs a considerable punch. … Readers will look forward to seeing more of Kendall, with her formidable intellect, tart sense of humor, and resolute sense of justice. Unexpectedly magnificent. The author has written a story that engages you in the characters first and the mystery is the subplot.” ~MaryAnn Koopman

“The author is to be commended on two fronts. First, she's told a very absorbing story, and second, she's told it very well. When thinking about her writing style, the word "fluid" comes to mind. And, I can think of no better compliment to any writer!” ~Howard R.

“Desolation Row is a winner. The reader feels empathy for this displaced Texan struggling with the Canadian way of life while supporting her desire to try-out some CIA-investigative skills. Fast moving. And great characters. Enjoy!” ~Judi

“The book was very well written with likeable characters including a fast paced plot. It really gave off the air of living in those times when America was at war with itself. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this author!” ~Deb Krenzer

“I'm not a huge mystery fan, but this one caught and held my attention from the beginning…” ~G. Miller

“From the first page to the last, Kendall proves herself adept at weaving sinister suspense, painting backdrops so realistic you can feel the chill of Canadian winds and smell the cloying aroma of marijuana, and keeping all of Austin's sleuthing techniques within the realms of plausibility…” ~Christina Hamlett

“My husband and I both read this book at the same time. When either of us would put the Kindle down, the other one would grab it. We had continueing discussions over "who dunnit" going back and forth between several of the characters as new clues and story line twists were added.” ~Amy Rosson

“Captivating from the beginning! I loved it!” ~Carolyn Beall

Kay Kendall

About the Author

Kay Kendall grew up in the bucolic Flint Hills of Kansas but dreamt of returning to her father’s ancestral home of Texas and also of becoming a latter-day Nancy Drew or John le Carré.

Instead, higher education and circumstance led her down a long and winding road (footnote, the Beatles) to graduate studies in history at Harvard, to Canada, international corporate communications, work in Russia, and finally, finally, her beloved Texas.

In the spring of 2013, assisted by Stairway Press, she leapt in the direction of Nancy Drew and le Carré with publication of her debut historical mystery, “Desolation Row”.

Now Kay is writing her second Austin Starr mystery, “Rainy Day Women”, at her Texas home shared with her husband Bruce, Wills, their cavalier King Charles spaniel, plus five house rabbits. Her next aspiration is to become an author able to say she “lives part-time in the Cotswolds,” an anglophile’s version of her upbringing.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Morels: Tis The Season

Photo credit: Chris Matherly

There’s just something about morels that drives people to madness.

That’s according to Chris Matherly, a self-described “morel obsessive,” who we spoke to when he was midway through a four-month-long hunt, chasing the hard-to-find mushroom from Georgia to Washington State.

Matherly left his Kennesaw, Georgia home in late March; he won’t return until early July, at the tail end of the morel growing season.

Because they’re elusive, “there’s something about the morel mushroom that just drives people crazy,” Matherly explained. “They get addicted.”

Even among the curious-looking oddballs of the mushroom kingdom, the morel sticks out. With its tall, honeycombed cap, it has the look of a Martian roe sac. Its unique appearance is both a blessing and a curse: There’s little chance of confusing a morel with any other mushroom (including a poisonous one), but its shape and coloring blend effortlessly into its forest-floor surroundings, making it difficult to spot.

Once located, however, the morel is a treat. “The flavor of them is just so unique, kind of nutty and earthy,” Matherly mused.

Among its fans are the hordes who follow Matherly into the woods at each stop along his morel-chasing route. Over the course of his trip, Matherly will host at least 10 guided morel hunts, each with a group of up to 30 fervid mushroom hunters. 

Matherly organizes the trips through his website, Morel Mushroom Hunting Club, which he started in 1999 and which boasts roughly 1,500 members. He says he’s booked solid through the fall. (During the year, Matherly hosts up to 50 foraging trips for other mushrooms and herbs.)

Morels can be found all over the United States, and each region’s season typically lasts for three or four weeks. The warmer the area, the earlier its morel season begins, Matherly explained. In Georgia, the first morels spring up in late February. By April, morels are beginning to sprout up the East coast, all the way up to Vermont. In May, they’re in northern Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.

All told, morels can be found somewhere in America right through the end of August. If you’re interested in finding some of your own, do your research and check Matherly’s Mushroom Report, which compiles morel sightings all over the country. (Right now, Ohioans, you’re in luck!)

Morels generally like to grow in the shady earth near the roots of trees, Matherly said. The type of tree depends on the region: In the flood plains of the Southeast, morels grow under ash trees. In the Midwest, they’re often found under dying elms. In the Pacific Northwest, morels favor firs, and in Kentucky and Tennessee, tulip poplar trees. And on and on.

And what exactly is a morel? “The mushroom that we pick is the fruiting body of an organism that grows underground,” he expounded. Morels “have a symbiotic relationship with certain trees… they get nutrients from the roots, and the mushroom’s root system gives trees extra moisture during droughts.”

Despite these subtle differences, all morels boast that tell-tale honeycomb cap and an earthy flavor. ”I never get tired of them, and I never get tired of hunting them,” Matherly said wistfully. “By August, I know that’s one of the last morels of the year. I start getting depressed. I’ve got to get back home to reality.”

Many morel-enthusiast websites (of which there are many) swear that the only way to properly enjoy morels is to sauté them in butter.

And whether you’re foraging your own morels or purchasing them at your neighborhood farmer’s market, take care to savor the season—morels will be gone before you know it.

[Article by Rachel Tepper, Associate Food Editor]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Nurse's Story

It was approximately 8:30 a.m. on a busy morning when an elderly gentleman in his eighties arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb.

He told me kindly that he was in a hurry, because he had an appointment at 9:00 a.m.

I took his vital signs and asked him to please wait there in the room for one of the doctors.

I knew it was going to take more than an hour before someone would to able to attend to him. After I saw him check his watch anxiously for the time, I decided I would evaluate his wound, since I was not busy with another patient.

On examination, I saw that the wound was well healed. So, I spoke to one of the doctors to get the supplies I would need to remove his sutures and redress the wound.

We began to engage in a conversation while I was taking care of his wound. I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment later, since he was in such a hurry.

The gentleman told me no.  He said that he needed to go to the nursing home to have breakfast with his wife. When I asked about her health, he told me that she had been in the nursing home for a while.  She was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease.

I probed further and asked if he thought she would be upset if he was slightly late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was.  With his head down, he whispered softly that she had not been able to recognize him for the last five years.

Intrigued, I asked him, “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?”

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, “No, she doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”

I had goose bumps, as I thought to myself, “That is the kind of love I want in my life.”

True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be ... and will never be.

[Author Unknown]

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Child and a Mirror

Have you ever watched a toddler in front of a mirror?  It kinda' reminds me of my cat, Sidney, when he sees a sunbeam.  He just can't resist it.

Sidney can be running full-tilt through the living room and the minute he steps into a sunbeam, Wham!  It's like someone shot him.  He drops down, washes his face, stretches, gets all comfy and falls asleep -- in the sunbeam.

Now, if you want to keep a toddler entertained for more than a few minutes, stand him (or her) in front of a full-length mirror.  Be sure to have your camera ready, because you're in for some fun.  I tried it with my grandson while I was babysitting and it was priceless.

His first glance at the mirror was a little like he was making a new friend.  There was the tentative first look at the 'other child'.  Then he gave him a shy smile.  When the smile was returned, and feeling a little bolder, he went for the basic wave, which also was returned.

Next, he turned his back and peeked over his shoulder.  When the new friend copied him, he smiled again, and bravely stuck out his tongue.  Then, a kiss.

Once the 'introduction period' was over, he made a whole bunch of "can you do this?" moves.  Each was copied, (of course), which brought even more complicated face-pulling and body contortions.  It didn't take long before the two were 'best friends'.

From then on, it got sillier and sillier: somersaults, jumping up and down, rolling this way and that, lifting the shirt to compare belly buttons, and well, you'll just have to trust me.  Try it and see for yourself.

For me, the icing on the cake was the infectious laughter.  I'm happy to report the experiment was successful and all captured on film.

Now, I think my next project to watch in the mirror will be Robert, while he's shaving ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Box for Goodwill

A Box for Goodwill

As a friend, I had come to help
yet one more time
and I watched as she set 
the cardboard box on the floor.
It was labeled for Goodwill, 
penned in large block letters.

From deep in the closet, 
she brought out an old blue suit.
It had faded over the years, 
but I saw in her eyes
the memories still had not.

Softly, she smoothed the sleeves 
that dangled flat and empty.
Then she stroked the slack trousers
on the smooth wooden hanger.

Gently, she brushed 
the dust from the collar and lapel, 
and then I heard her sigh.
Her resolve had melted away.
Again we talked and remembered.

We spoke of long ago, 
how the sleeves encircled her
in warm secure hugs, 
and the trousers had covered 
lean muscular legs, 
legs slightly bowed, 
legs that loved to dance, 
and what she missed the most
--the heart that beat below
the lapel of the old blue suit, 
the heart that beat with love for her.

For over forty years, 
the suit had stood sentinel, 
loyally guarding both her
and those memories, 
and I watched as she carefully
replaced the suit and closed
the closet door.

Through quiet tears
she asked once more
how all of that could ever fit
in a box for Goodwill. 

[From CJ's Book, "Anatomy of a Poet"]


"I have only recently become aware of this author and her work and am amazed not only with the diversity in her writings but also the resiliency she has exhibited over her lifetime. One fine author and a magnificent lady. I highly recommend this book with its compilation of meaningful and thought provoking poetry.~Tom C.

"I would recommend this book to all lovers of poetry and, especially, to those who think they are not."
~Mrs. C. I. Campbell

"Heck is very sensual, very honest, and writes in a very lucid manner. I find in myself [with most poetry] an impatience, "Oh for crying out loud, just say it," leading to lassitude and eventual cerebral failure. Not so with this work, her raw emotions and sensuality had my attention. I believe this is the only poetry book that I ever finished." ~Henry Le Nav

"In the pages of this book, you will find powerful, thought-provoking, sensual , and beautifully written poetry from the heart." ~Susan L. Parkins

"I just finished reading C.J.Heck's, book last night and enjoyed it very much. She definitely has a way with words, that will make you laugh and cry, and feel things deeply. She writes from her heart and soul, and her words will definitely make a lasting impression." ~Rebecca Carden

"Totally open and honestly expressed in a variety of poetic styles, each matched to her emotions of the moment. A damn good and honest work." ~John David Lionel Brooke

"I came away from reading this book, the first time, with a peace about my life and how I have lived it. I keep going back and rereading parts of it ... and then rereading the whole section. I better understand the lessons I have been taught and have more faith about the path I am following. A whole lot for a little book to accomplish." ~MaryAnn

"This book has the most amazing and true feelings I have read. She put into words what most of us are afraid to put in writing." ~Margie

"A truly wonderful read, that I recommend highly! You won't be disappointed." ~Joyce Bowling

"Here we have a collection of poems by a woman who writes from the heart ... The headline poem, `Anatomy of a Poet' fulfills the writerly code to go into scary places or don't go at all. "The poet, the woman, the me." completes the poem, throwing back the covers in a heated final exposure. Heck's reference in her signature poem is good advice for any aspiring poet: "swirling eddies, some without rhyme," often come across better than stylized word searching or stretching for rhyme ever could.

...`Anatomy of a Poet' may have been written by a children's book author, but it's poetry for grownups."
~Byron Edgington [Author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Spider Surprise in the New House

Story by Rachel DeBorde 

Maricopa, Arizona

We moved from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona in spring, just as the drywallers were finishing up our house. As I worked around them, I noticed something dark in a corner of the ceiling. When I asked the worker near it what it was, he squinted up and said, “It’s a wolf.”

I stared at the fist-size spot, picturing a large, wild canine. “A wolf?” I echoed. He smiled and explained, “A spider. A wolf spider.”

A wolf spider? The blood drained from my face.

His co-worker added, “We call ’em Arizona tarantulas.”

As if on cue, this wolf-spider-tarantula unfurled its eight long, furry legs and started skittering across the wall. I screamed, scooped up my toddler and made for the farthest corner.

Once I discovered I couldn’t pass through walls, I took long, deep breaths to calm down. Three concerned men stared at me. One softly asked, “Ma’am, are you OK?”

I squeaked, “Please, please, get rid of it! Take it outside!”

One of the men rolled over an enormous Shop-Vac and trained the hose on the monster spider. Nothing. The arachnid stayed put. We actually heard the motor chug. Finally—pop!—the spider disappeared down the nozzle. 

The gentleman operating it flipped the vacuum’s switch and, with a flourish, blew across the end of the hose, gunfighter-style. “All gone, ma’am. It’s dead now.”

I crept from my corner. “Are you absolutely sure?”

Proudly, he tapped the appliance and said, “This is an industrial Shop-Vac. No way it survived.”

With a deep breath, I pressed, “You’re positive? It’s really, definitely dead, right?”

“Blown to bits by the suction,” he assured me.

Another worker stepped forward to say, “Look, I’ll show you.” Unbuckling the lid, he said, “It’s nothing but mush now.” He flipped it wide open and confidently invited me to look inside. Before I could move, out bounced our hairy little friend.

Now it wasn’t just me screaming—I had three backup singers. Together the four of us belted out the loudest, girliest shrieks ever shrieked. Surely people heard us a mile away.

To their credit, the men instantly regained their composure. While I kept up the howling in my safe corner, they recaptured the beast and took it outside. When it comes to spider removal, it turns out my hungry chickens are more effective than the mightiest vacuum cleaner.

I gave my trio of heroes the rest of the day off, then took my child and a big glass of wine and lay down in complete humiliation. 

Eventually I would educate myself on all the local creepy-crawlies to avoid another spider surprise and thereafter give them a wide berth. After all, a spider that can take on a Shop-Vac and live to make three grown men sing soprano has my deepest respect.

Illustration by Kevin Rechin

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fishin' with Grampa

"A child needs a grandparent, anybody's grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world."  ~Charles and Ann Morse

I remember when my grandparents retired and moved to Florida. I was in the eighth grade. I also remember how Mama missed them when they moved.

We kids missed them too, but it wasn't quite the same as it was for Mama.  Now that I'm an adult and living so far from my own daughters and grandchildren, I can understand.

We were at grandma and grampa's all the time, when they lived in Ohio at Will's Creek, right next to the river. Sometimes, we'd sleep over, while Mama and Daddy went Christmas shopping, or just needed to get away for the weekend.

There were always so many things to do there, and Grampa and Grandma were so good at teaching us things that we hadn't done before.

Both of them worked in Coshocton. Every spring, the river overflowed its banks when the snow melted and ran down from the hills above. To solve the problem of getting home while the water was over the road, Grampa tied a rowboat to a tree on the far side. Then they rowed to the other side and walked the rest of the way up to the cottage.

That was always such an adventure.  I used to pretend I was an indian and the rowboat was a handmade birch canoe.  That same rowboat took us fishing on the river in the summertime.

Grampa would only take one or two of us at a time, because there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything with Grampa Shannon --  he taught us the right way to fish, too.

We learned first that we had to be real quiet, "so's you won't scare the fish away"; how to thread the worm onto the hook; how to safely hold the sunfish or bluegill to take it off the hook; and how to thread the large clasp through their gills and out the mouth, so we could keep the fish all tied together in the water just below the side of the boat. We also had to learn how to clean, scale and filet the fish when we got back to the cottage so Grandma could "cook 'em up".

Grandma always packed a picnic lunch to take with us, along with a plastic pitcher of lemonade, or iced tea. I remember staring at the icky worm-goo on my fingers and the fishy smell of my hands and wondering how in the world I was supposed to eat my sandwich. Well, there was a right way to clean up so you could eat, too.

Grampa said, "CJ, don't be such a crybaby." (Grampa was the only one to ever call me "CJ" back then). Anyway, Grampa showed me how to wash up for lunch when you're fishing in a rowboat out on the river.

"CJ, stick your hands over the side in the water there. Now rub 'em together ... see? They're clean. Now, eat your lunch."

... how I miss him now.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Little Common Sense From an Old Cowboy

 by Michael Traveler

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.

Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.

Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Live a good, honorable life… Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.

Don ‘t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin’.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around..

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just kill you.

[Michael Traveler is the author of "Miracle Road" and "Postcards from the Backroads"].