Author archive: coll3297
I often get asked how to relieve a sort throat; not because I have any kind of medical education, but probably because I’ve suffered with them so often in my life.
In fact, you might say I’m a bit of an expert on them – from a sufferer’s perspective, that is.
When I was 3 years old I experienced a life-threatening throat infection which included a 107º fever, seizures, other gory details which don’t really add anything of value to this post, and of course, unrelenting sore throat pain. Throughout my life, it seems that every time I get sick it always starts with the most HORRIFIC throat pain imaginable. I mean searing, burning pain that makes you contort your whole body when you swallow to try to avoid it. Razor blades and barbed wire would be easier to swallow than your own spit when you have one of these sore throats.
Yeah . . . I know a little something about the subject. . .
But, when you are a performer who uses your voice like I do, you need to know how to tame the pain and try to keep from losing your voice altogether. The show must go on after all!
One obvious bit of advice is NO TALKING!! This includes no whispering or vocalizing of any kind; whispering is especially harsh on the delicate vocal chords.
It seems like common sense, but it’s harder to maintain radio silence than you think. When you’re a Chatty Cathy (or a Blibbering Betty) like me, it’s the hardest thing in the world to do!
Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!
Aside from shutting your trap, you probably want something in the way of more immediate relief. There’s a wealth of information about sore throat remedies out on the web if you search or you can just ask somebody’s mom. I’ll post links to vocal health advice from trusted professionals below, but first, let me give you some tried and true home remedies that have always worked for me:
Gargle with baking soda and salt in warm water
Mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda in a small glass of warm tap water. You have to repeat often – every hour or so – but it really helps! This is a remedy my mother always gave me when I was growing up. I didn’t much care for it, but once I recognized it’s power (as an adult) I became a firm believer. The real key is that you must repeat it often and don’t drink anything right after gargling or you’ll just wash it all away.
Drink Franks Red Hot
Oh yes it’s awesome – quit giving me that look! Melt in some butter and warm it up if you like (think wings without the wings). It’s also great for the sinuses! I suppose any hot sauce would do, but in my house, Franks rules! Anything else is sacrilege. I only use their original flavor as the others aren’t grain free.
It’s recommended by doctors for cancer patients with sore throats! According to Robert S. Gillespie, MD, MPH – Pediatrician, children 2 years and older can take a mixture of Maalox and Benadryl to coat and soothe the throat. They can take it every 2 hours, as needed. The doses are:
• 2 through 5 years – ½ teaspoon Maalox mixed with ¼ teaspoon Benadryl
• 6 through 11 years – 1 teaspoon Maalox mixed with ½ teaspoon Benadryl
• 12 years and older – 2 teaspoons Maalox mixed with 1 teaspoon Benadry
Drink hot water, honey, lemon, and cayenne
Make a cup of hot water (like you would for tea, but NO tea) and add honey, lemon juice and a dash of cayenne pepper. This is a FABULOUS mixture for when you have to sing or speak with a sore throat. When I’m performing and losing my voice I carry thermoses of it and take constant sips!!
Now that you’ve read my advice, visit these places to read what the pros have to say:
Do you have any remedies of your own? I’d love for you to share them with me by leaving a comment below!
Have you ever loved a horse so much that your entire life was altered by his very existence?
And have you gone to bed dreaming of him before you ever met him and then spent the rest of your life reminiscing about him after he was gone?
I have . . . and so did my father.
The following is an essay my father wrote in 1946 when he was thirteen years old and home sick with the measles. It tells the story of a boy who desperately wanted a horse of his own to love, ride, and teach tricks to, and the little black stallion that fulfilled his childhood dreams.
About 2 years after he wrote the essay, his 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Brooks, read it and asked him to re-write it for an essay contest, which he never did do. It’s worthy to note that Mrs. Brooks was quite fond of my father because he and his trusty stallion chased down her runaway horse and saved her one day, quite like another story he relays in the essay.
My dad and mom are full of tales about life with their horses but it’s a special blessing for me to have a copy of my dad’s original handwritten account regaling his love for and adventures with his all-time favorite steed. I didn’t edit the content of the essay; I only added some punctuation marks and a few stray words here and there that he inadvertently left off in his original writing. I’ve even left the paragraph structure intact exactly as he had written. He’s fully aware of my additions and has approved the minor edits. I wanted to leave the story as original as possible so that we are reading exactly what he, as a thirteen year old boy, had written in 1946.
There are footnotes below which give insight to the timeline of events and offer details rounding out some of the circumstances of which he writes. Of special note is number 9 – he’d like the reader to be sure to understand that he knows you don’t beat a horse to train it. Those words came from an inexperienced child and he went on to learn the finer art of communication with his horses. If reading footnotes aren’t your “thing;” I urge you to at least read that one.
And now, I present to you….
A True Story of a Horse
Written by Stephen Loren Illsey, 1946
Edited by Colleen Ann Guest, 2013
This is a story of my colt and I. But I must start at the beginning.
I was a boy at the age of thirteen  and I had always wanted a horse of my own. My mother had had several horses since she was a little girl and she thought that it would be nice for me to have one of my own, but little did either of us dream that it would come true.
My mother went one day to visit her sister who also lived on a farm. They got to talking and she told my mother about a little colt they had on the farm. He had been tied there most of the winter and they carried feed and water to him because they were afraid as he was a stallion, and he had tried to strike them when they tried to lead him.  Then mother went to the barn to see this little fellow who was only six months old at the time. On first sight she fell in love with this pretty little black colt for he was black as coal. Mom wanted to take him outdoors but her sister said that he would strike her; but Mother took her chances and fixed a twitch and put it on his nose and in no time she led him from the barn.
Oh yes, he did try to act up, but Mother was too smart for him, and the first thing he knew was that he was sitting on the ground. Then she called my cousin who was about thirteen, very light for his age, and sat him on the colt’s back. Once more she started leading him but what happened is he laid down. My cousin jumped and rolled away from him; he was scared. Mother said to him, “Where are you going? I’ve still got a hold of him.” But he only answered back, “I’ve heard stories about stallions before and what they’d do if they got you under them.” Mother laughed and said to herself, “They are really afraid of this little fellow.” Then she thought to herself, “Why don’t we buy him for ourselves?”
Someone had named the colt “Highboy” so we kept calling him that although the name didn’t quite occur to me. 
Mom came home and talked to Dad about getting the colt, but Dad didn’t seem very enthusiastic about it. Then Mom, seeing that she wasn’t making any progress with Dad, said, “He is a nice little colt and has the most intelligent looking head and every bit of him is pure black.
It was about a week after that and Mom and I hadn’t been making progress with Dad about the colt, or at least we didn’t think so, when one evening Dad and Mom were reading the paper and my brothers were playing or something, and I was thinking about how good it would seem to have a colt of my own to teach tricks to. I never realized how hard the task would be.
Then before anyone realized it, a truck stopped in front of the house. A man knocked on the door and my father went to see who it was. I could hear them talking in low tones but I did catch a few words. “Surprise” was one, and then I heard “he” and “fine” and a few others that didn’t make sense.
Then Dad called Mother and me out to the truck. And there it was – a small horse about the size of a pony. “There,” said my Dad “is your colt. Now let me see you unload him.”
At first I started to walk right up in beside him, but then I stopped all of a sudden, thinking, “What if he should kick?” Then I looked at him again and said to myself, “Well, if I’m going to handle you, I better start now.” Again, I started to walk up in beside him, but this time I didn’t hesitate. I untied the rope that held him and thought that I could push him out of the truck backwards, but that was useless. So I turned him around and tried pulling him out, but still, he wouldn’t budge. Then Mother said, “Here, let me help you,” and the next thing I knew was that he was standing right on the ground beside me. “How did you do it?” I asked looking very much puzzled. My mother explained, “Oh it’s quite easy when you know how.”  Come to find out, Dad had hired the man to go and get the colt. 
About a month after that, Dad told me that I had better start teaching my colt tricks because pretty soon he would get too big for me to handle, By the end of five months I had taught him quite a few tricks. Each one taking more patience and time, until I thought that he was the dumbest animal that ever lived; but one by one he caught on, and finally I had him so that he responded to each one of my commands. 
Soon after that I thought that it was about time I started in riding him, so one day I went to the barn and fixed my mother’s saddle and bridle to fit him. He didn’t mind my putting either one of these funny looking things on, but when I got them on him, boy, did he ever look awkward! Then I took him outside and before he realized what was going on I jumped aboard and hanged on for my life, expecting any second to go flying and hit the ground, but to my great surprise, nothing happened. Then I patted him and tried to urge him on but that didn’t go so good. So I kicked him in the ribs and yelled but he still wouldn’t move. So I got off and took him to the house to show my mother how he acted but this time, things were different. Instead of me jumping on I just took my time and the moment I was in the saddle I was out again. I picked myself up out of the dust and blinking my eyes, I looked around and there stood Highboy. I think that if he could have laughed like a person he would. “Why you tricky little mule,” I hollered as I went up to him. “You wait until I get a strap, I’ll teach you to buck when I’m not expecting it.”
So I got myself a strap and once more got on. But instead of just standing still or bucking he took me for one of the scariest rides I’ve ever had. All of the way down hill he ran just as fast as he could go, jumping everything in his way until he finally reached the main road, but not stopping for cars or anything. Neither talking nor pulling on the reigns did any good. But finally he did stop and when he did, he did it so quick that I found myself on the ground sputtering and yelling at my colt. I was so confused and puzzled about my new experience that I hadn’t stopped to think about what would have happened if we had collided with a car or if he had fallen. I was still so shaken up and every bone ached that I decided not to beat him and the expression on his face showed that he was sorry. 
A little while after that I got a new bridle and pretty soon I had him responding to each turn of the reigns.
After that my mother and I rode often together because she also had a horse.
One day two of my mother’s friends came up and wanted to ride although neither one of them could ride very good. We had four horses, so we let the girls ride, but we only had two saddles so we let the girls ride in them, so my mother and I rode bareback. Mom warned me that I shouldn’t ride Highboy bareback, but I finally succeeded in telling her that nothing would happen; but I was wrong.
We were riding through the fields, when one of the girls started running her horse. Then we all started.
We were going pretty fast and Highboy was in the lead. I wanted to see if anyone could catch me. I had forgotten that the girls couldn’t ride too good but I guess that luck was with them. All of a sudden highboy turned around without me expecting it. I didn’t have time to catch my balance before he turned again and then I fell.
All that I remembered is that somebody was talking to me. I woke up again to find myself home. The doctor was there. I asked what had happened but before anyone had time to answer I found out. Pains shot through my right arm and into my head. The doctor told me to lie still; that my wrist was broken.
Three or four weeks after that, my arm healed quickly. Highboy was turned loose in the pasture. My brother was walking in the pasture when all of a sudden Highboy started to chase him. My brother turned and ran toward our dump rake in the pasture. First Highboy would run one way and then the other way around the rake. My brother yelled and hollered hoping that someone would hear him.  Just by luck, I happened to be outdoors and I ran to see what the trouble was. I crossed the fence and ran down to the rake. Highboy stopped all of a sudden and looked at me. I knew at once that he meant to chase me also, so I ran right up to him before he had a chance to move and hit him. At once, he cowered and moved back .I hit him and then I had him in my power because sometimes if you show a stallion that you’re not afraid (of) him, he’ll calm down.  After I assured Highboy that I wasn’t still mad at him, everything was alright.
One day when I was riding, my saddle appeared too tight for Highboy, so I got off and loosened it. My mother said that we had better water the horses so we rode over to the creek. Highboy naturally just put down his head to drink. All of a sudden I felt myself slipping. Before I could do anything about it, I landed into the creek. I never heard anyone laugh before like my mother did. I guess that she laughed all of the way home.
Another time my mother was riding a horse that we boarded on our farm. The horse got to running with her towards home and she couldn’t stop him. We had ridden up to the neighbor’s house to buy a dozen of eggs and I was carrying the eggs when the horse that my mother was riding got to running. I didn’t know what to do, so I started after her on Highboy. Luck certainly must have been with us both that day. The road was slippery but yet I urged Highboy on. I knew that if the other horse ever tried to turn into our driveway at the speed he was going, he would fall down. Faster and faster Highboy ran. The wind blew hard against my face and made tears come into my eyes. But before I knew it, I was reaching out and pulling on the other horse’s bridle. I guess Highboy saved the day. Oh yes, I mustn’t forget tell you that not a single egg was broken.
Not many more things happened after that. Highboy was conquered and was at last ready to obey me.
Not hardly a day passed last summer but what my mother and I had ridden.
We are looking forward to a colt from our mare of which Highboy is the sire. 
It’s my great misfortune that I never knew this horse because he died in the spring of the year I was born. The mares on our farm had several foals sired by him, so I knew quite a bit about his temperament through his offspring. My mom had a feisty horse named Penny and the foals they threw were quite mischievous. I remember vividly one incident in which my brother and I had gotten chased down by one of those horses; it seems that chasing was apparently in their blood! She was a mare named Pride and I fondly recall her living on the farm and even which stall she occupied in our barn. At some point she had been sold and we went to visit her a few months after she left us. My dad sent my brother and me up the hill in her new pasture to call her down, and when she saw us, she came barreling down the hill after us. No matter which way we turned she snaked behind right on our tails. We thought for sure she was going to catch us and KILL us! We ran for our lives and bolted through the fence rails just as she was about to catch us. But when she got to the fence, it appeared that she was in fact happy to see my dad, despite how antagonistic she appeared to my brother and me. He had her trained to rub her muzzle on his cheek when he asked her to “give him a kiss,” and she happily obliged when he asked her on this occasion. It was the last time we visited her, and although I really liked that mare, I was glad we didn’t have to go through the chase ever again. Whew…my heart still beats fast in my chest when I think about it and I can almost feel her breath on the back of my neck to this day. I’ve got other, perhaps more harrowing tales with horses, but I was never more scared of a horse in my life as I was that day running for my life down that hill. If you ask him, I think my brother will attest to the same.
For the Love of a Horse
I am so very blessed to have been given a legacy of the love of horses and the ability to communicate with animals. When my dad speaks of his mother saying that it’s easy to handle a horse when you know how, I get it! My grandmother and parents taught me how to communicate non-verbally with all of our animals and that knowledge transcended simply training them. A phrase my dad used while working with me and the horses was, “Horses and kids – it’s all the same. If you can raise a horse you can raise a child.” I took that to heart and I’d like to think that it was valuable information which aided my parenting skills. But before I was a mom, my horse Sugar was my child, my best friend, and my soul mate. When everything else in my world went wrong, my horse would always be there to make it better.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my mother is an accomplished horsewoman herself and she spent countless hours helping me train the new foals on the farm and breaking the horses. She too has her own stories of how horses were the saving grace in her life. Long before I did the same, my mom, being troubled and not able to sleep, would go to the barn in the middle of the night and grab her horse for moonlight ride. I find it humorous and fitting that I sought solace in the same exact way.
Growing up on the farm with a barn full of noble creatures at my beck and call was an enviable position and I can’t imagine how different my life would have been without horses. It’s a shame that we’ve come so far in our civilization that these beautiful companions have been relegated to either occupying a place in history or their company is only enjoyed by a select few. They could teach us all so much about life, love, and loyalty, and their mere presence is therapy enough to give us the courage to face life and tackle our mental, spiritual, and physical foes.
The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears. ~Arabian Proverb
 My dad was born in January of 1933 and he and his family moved to the farm (the same farm I grew up on) in 1944. He was 11 when he got Highboy in 1944 shortly after moving to the farm, despite his telling that he was 13 in the story. He is about 6 months younger than his cousin who he also tells is 13. But after confirming the details in a phone conversation on 02/09/13, my dad and mom agreed that Steve must have been 11 at the time of acquiring Highboy and not 13 as he wrote, which means that his cousin was probably 12 and not 13 either. Steve must have written the story at age 13 which would make sense given that the horse had matured at least two years during the course of events he described. This time frame works out as my mom is certain Highboy was put down in the spring of 1966 which would make Highboy 22 years old at the time of his death. And that rings true to both of my parent’s recollection.
 Another of my dad’s cousins lived in Pennsylvania and raised Standardbred horses. One of his mares had been bred by a Morgan stallion and Highboy was the resulting foal. And there was a reason his aunt and her family were a bit scared of Highboy even though he was just a young colt. He had reared up and struck his aunt’s husband in the head and they had wanted to get rid of the horse after that incident.
 The truth of the matter is that the horse was named Highball, after the alcoholic mixed drink. My dad strongly disliked that name and had a devil of a time convincing his father that he had to change it. They finally came to an agreement and the name Highboy was settled upon.
 My grandmother had a gift of communicating with animals. She could seemingly talk to any animal she came across and I recall many instances where she would have wild creatures eating out of her hands. She took the time to observe their body language and respond to them in ways they understood, and she was patient beyond measure. Several of us have inherited her gift and have benefitted from her mentoring, but she was truly was The Queen of the Animal Kingdom.
 My grandfather traded a tag-a-long trailer for the colt is how my dad’s family came to acquire him.
 I asked my dad to tell me about some of the tricks he had taught Highboy as that was such an integral part of the early pages of the story. He said that he taught him to shake hands, kneel, lie down, sit up, and stand back up. While the horse was lying prone on the ground, my dad would back up several paces, run at him, place his hands on Highboy’s body, and doing a handspring flip over him and land on his feet on the other side. This was a favorite trick among the neighborhood kids in town. He also taught him to answer yes or no questions. To teach him that particular trick my dad had to prick Highboy in the chest with a pin. Highboy would bend his nose to his chest to rub it as if he had been bitten by a horsefly. After some time of repeating this he got so that my dad would only have to make a motion towards his chest and he would nod his head in a “yes” fashion. Similarly, my dad would take the pin and prick him between his ears and Highboy would shake his head as if to shake off a biting fly. Again, after he was trained my dad just had to make a slight motion towards his head to get him to shake his head “No.” My dad’s very close friend helped him and together they taught both their horses to do all kinds of tricks. I believe one of them was putting them both on a teeter totter together, but they stopped doing that one for fear of hurting the horses as Highboy had slipped off the board a couple of times. They took their horses to perform at schools and other local events and the kids would love to ask Highboy questions and get his yes or no answers. If the children got a yes or no response they weren’t expecting, my dad would quickly reply that Highboy didn’t understand the question and they needed to ask it again. And this time he would come up with the right response much to everyone’s delight.
 My dad also told me more of the story surrounding his first “ride” on Highboy. His father slapped highboy on the rear which launched him on the runaway ride. They ran down the hill, across the road and continued down to the creek on the other side. The creek wasn’t as deep as it is today but it was still quite deep. The reason they came to a stop is that Highboy couldn’t jump out of the creek and slammed his chest into the side of the creek bed. This sent my dad over his head and landed him on the ground.
 I’ve been raised around a lot of horses with my dad and mom, but my dad maintains that Highboy was by far the smartest horse he ever knew. My dad could take Highboy to the horse shows and never had to worry about him being a stallion around mares. Even when a mare was in heat all he had to do was whistle and Highboy would always come right to him. Apparently though, he was also the craftiest horse he’d ever known. Highboy would chase someone down in a heartbeat and he just knew a non-horse person when he came across one. My uncle, who was chased in the story, was apparently a constant target of Highboy’s and he was chased quite often. My mom recalls a few incidences when Highboy was being devilish. One time they were fixing fence and my dad set a hammer on top of a fence post and Highboy took the hammer right off the post and ran off with it. Another time my dad set down his shirt and either the dog, Samson, or Highboy picked it up. One thing led to another and shortly the two were playing tug of war, each with the shirt in their teeth, which culminated in Highboy lifting the dog off the ground while spinning around in circles.
 It is very important to note that this story is written from an inexperienced boy’s perspective and that he didn’t ever really “beat” his horse in a manner in which would be considered harmful or abusive. My father has long since gained knowledge and understanding of how to communicate with and train horses that don’t require hitting, beating, or other methods of intimidation. He would be mortified if the only impression left after reading his essay is that he understood little more of horse training than physical violence and brute force. Horses are highly intelligent creatures with feelings and are quite capable of understanding what we ask of them if we ask in a manner they can comprehend.
 The mare was a large, gentle work horse; perhaps a Percheron, named Mary. She had actually been pregnant with twins and gave birth to a filly and the remains of the twin were found in the afterbirth. Highboy had also been kept for stud purposes and besides the horses on the farm I remember, there were plenty of his offspring spread around the community. Through them, I know he lives on today.
You have let me down for the last time. I’ve been watching you since Fran Tarkenton was the QB for the Giants and I’ve stood by you for well over 40 years. I have bought your licensed merchandise, gone to games, cried over victories and losses, and spent nearly every Sunday of my life during football season planted squarely in front of the TV to watch your games. After last night’s debacle (the thing you call the Super Bowl) I will no longer participate in celebrating the sport that has been so very dear to me and my family.
The advertising before and during the game was at best shallow and at worst extremely offensive and pornographic in nature. Who do you think your audience is? Many of us are families trying to raise children with morals and respect for themselves and the opposite sex. Which brings me to the halftime show. Although Beyonce is very talented, why should we have to watch her and the rest of her dancers/singers prance around half naked? It was embarrassing to say the least. And finally lets talk about your responsibility to your own players. If you’ve known that head injuries sustained on the field are causing irreparable harm to young mens’ brains (and subsequently their lives), your callous indifference, and even worse, your campaign to cover up/minimize your involvement is irresponsible and criminal.
Your focus on ratings at any cost is reprehensible!
There seems to be a disconnect between the NFL, the fans, and the players on so many levels. Although many in my circle of friends and family share similar viewpoints as I’ve expressed, my decision will not be popular (especially within my own household) nor will they take the same action as I have chosen. Lucky for you.
I refuse to give you any more of my lip service, my emotions, my money, and my time. All of which are too valuable to waste on an organization which doesn’t care at all about me and my values.
Goodbye NFL, don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
I wrote this (minus a few edits) on my personal Facebook page where it was suggested to me to send to Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL so that he might actually read it. I tracked down the email address and sent it on its merry way. If anyone else has anything they’d like to say to the NFL, you can email, send a hard copy letter, fax or phone in your opinions. The National Football League (NFL) is located in NY. Their mailing address is: 280 Park Ave. 15th Floor, New York, NY 10017. Their phone number is (212) 450-2000 and they can be faxed at (212) 681-7599 . The email address I used is email@example.com.
Once upon a time, when my brother and I were very small, we used to get terribly excited over the prospect of the first snowfall of the season. When it became that time of year and the first flakes started to drift to the ground, my mother would announce in a very excited voice, “Come look, it’s snowing!” and my bro and I would run down the hall and press our faces against the glass on the storm door and gaze with wonder at the magical flakes cascading down from the sky. Inevitably it was after dark when this would happen which only added to the mystery and enchantment. I don’t know why it seemed so magical then but there was a sense of something very ethereal happening and a happiness bore down to the very core of my soul just witnessing those sparkly gems float to the earth.
As a teenager I loved to take my horse out on a moonlit winter night (February was my favorite winter month) and go for a ride. Between our farm and the neighbors, we had hundreds of acres of wide open fields and woodlands which were uninterrupted by roads or civilization. My parents live on the top of a mountain and I would end my ride at the peak of their hill and get off my horse and lay down in the snow then turn my horse loose to paw at the snow and graze on anything she could find. She never wandered too far from me. While laying in the snow I could look at the winter stars and moon without any light pollution obscuring my view and if I was lucky it would start to snow. It was so quiet and peaceful. The silence itself was a thing of beauty. I maintain that there’s no full moon bigger or brighter than a full moon in February shining over a snow covered mountain in NY. I loved those moments. They soothed my soul and quieted any angst in my heart. I felt close to God and felt that He spoke to my soul in a way that transcended words – in words that didn’t exist. In a way that spoken words could never eloquently enough convey the peace and love I felt while sprawled out on my back on the top of that snow-covered mountain, gazing up at the endless stars, with my horse pawing and snorting plumes of steam a few feet away.
Then I grew up, moved off the farm, and made my life in town. And something dark and insidious took the place of the peace and tranquility that used to fill my heart when it would snow. Slowly, I became hardened to the beauty and magic of snow and became depressed and bitter over the gray skies, dreary days, FREEZING temps, and endless mountains of dirty, sludgy snow piles filling every available space. I had to drive in the stuff, shovel the stuff, and look at the stuff for months on end and it seemed like it would never go away. I learned to curse the stuff. In the approaching fall of 1997 I had had enough. I couldn’t take another winter and I packed up my family and moved to the South. I swore I would never again go home in the winter! I told my family that if they wanted to see me for Christmas, they would have to come to me because I would never go back in the winter as long as I live. And for 15 years I’ve held firm in that conviction and have only traveled back home in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Until this year . . .
January 26th 2013 marked my dad’s 80th birthday and a huge celebration was planned. One of my aunts was gracious enough (and insistent enough) to help me get back via airplane. (I still resolutely refuse to drive through the Poconos in the winter!). I was a little apprehensive knowing that I’d be back home during the dreariest part of the year and the forecasted temps for the time of my visit was to be at or below zero at night and only in the single digits or low teens for the day. This was the very thing I moved away from. But it was my dad’s birthday and I wanted to surprise him (and everyone) with my visit. This was an occasion that I really shouldn’t miss. So I braved the possibilities of flight delays and cancellations, packed my warmest clothes, said many prayers and off I went.
Spending time with my family was an experience that made it all worth breaking my stubborn vow but another unexpected joy beyond my imagination took me by complete surprise. It began to snow one night. And not just any snow. MAGICAL snow!! That’s right – just like when my bro and I were little – that magical snow that makes everything right. It was so cold that the snow looked like crystals in the air and it spread out on the ground like God had sprinkled diamonds on everything. There was a full moon too, and the snow glistened and shimmered so much that no camera could possibly capture it’s beauty. You have to stand in the middle of it to appreciate the magic. And it crunched under my feet!! I MISSED THAT! I couldn’t believe it, but I missed that! It awakened a part of my soul that I had forgotten existed. The next day the sun shone on the fresh fallen snow so that it blinded me with a myriad of colors being reflected from the prisms of the snow crystals. Although the temps were well below freezing, I didn’t feel cold. I was enraptured and felt more peace in my heart than I’ve felt in many, many years. It was just like I was 15 again on the top of the hill with my horse a few feet away. . .
A trip home in the winter wouldn’t be complete without illness and I came down sick with a sinus infection. (They call our area Sinus Valley for a reason!). My folks heat their house with a wood furnace so there’s no thermostat to control the heat output. It’s quite hot and dry in their house so I couldn’t sleep all that well. Because of the sinus congestion and the hot and dry house, I would get up in the middle of the night and just stay up. Well, my dad would do the same thing, so he and I would meet out in the living room between 3:30 and 5:00 every morning and chat about all kinds of stuff until day would break and the rest of the household would wake up and join us. My folks have floor to ceiling windows on three sides of the house. Just before daybreak he and I would stand in the middle of the house watch the full moon setting in the west and the sun rising in the east. And on both sides we could see the reflection of light from both heavenly bodies on the fresh fallen diamond crystalline snow. It was BEYOND beautiful. And it was beyond SPECIAL to share those glorious moments with my dad! Thank you God for snow – magical, beautiful, healing, snow! I feel restored and now I’m craving going home for more.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
~Robert Frost, New Hampshire 1923
When I first read a post on Facebook commemorating the 24th anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Mckay Gell and her unborn daughter Megan, my heart gave pause. The date, 12/29, will forever be burned into my heart. The original date fell on a Thursday. I rarely talk about it and I live with a sense of shame that not many of you can fathom. Yet at the same time, I credit Mary’s (I never called her McKay) amazing family for giving me something more precious than gold – the knowledge of what Christ’s forgiveness looks like. I’ve never put this in writing before and I’ve rarely ever spoken of it outside the confines of my immediate family. Bear with me, after 24 years I need to tell the story. It deserves telling.
To make some extra money, my Aunt and Uncle took the job of cleaning the law offices where my Aunt and Mary worked. They would go on Tuesday and Thursday nights after regular working hours. On this particular Thursday night it was quite cold and neither of them wanted to leave the warmth of their cozy fire at home. So they flipped a coin to see who would go. My aunt lost, so she headed to the office. I had just finished feeding my kids and was settling in to watch a Cheers rerun when I received a frantic phone call from my aunt. She was begging me to come to her. At her office. Mary, who was 8 months pregnant, had been raped and murdered. My aunt found her and the police hadn’t yet arrived.
You must know that my aunt and Mary were very close. Mary was like a sister to my aunt and she often referred to her as her best friend. Mary’s parents and my family had a long history of being good friends. I spent quite a bit of time in that law office where Mary and my aunt worked. I’d come down to go to lunch and hang out with the two of them. We’d talk about our kids and pregnancies since Mary and I had our first children pretty close together and she was currently pregnant with her second child and I had just given birth to my second child. I called the office almost every day and was greeted by Mary’s cheerful voice. She was such a joy-filled person and I greatly enjoyed spending time in her presence.
So on that night, one of my cousins came to babysit and I got down to that office as fast as I could. By the time I got there, the police had just arrived and it was a crime scene. They let me see my aunt and be there to hold her while she was in complete shock. She recounted the details of the scene and it burned into my heart forever…. I don’t care to recount that for anyone. I’ll NEVER forget that night.
It was so incredibly hard to fathom my aunt’s pain at not only losing her best friend to such a heinous crime but to be the first one on the scene to discover the crime was just - unimaginable. I spent the next two weeks living at my aunt’s house trying to comfort her, counsel her, and pray with her. It was HELL.
Then it got worse. My aunt figured out that her own son had committed the crime and had to be the one to turn him in. This son had grown up like a brother to me. We were together ALL the time as children. He slept over at our house so much it was like he lived with us. The events surrounding this crime was so mind reeling and heartbreaking that to this day I don’t think anyone in my family can fully express how we felt then or feel now.
Then came the funeral. It was like a wedding in a macabre way. It seemed like all of Mary’s family was on one side of the aisle and all of my family was seated on the other side of the aisle. My entire family experienced so many emotions collectively – - outrage, shame, guilt, grief – - we felt dirty and unworthy to be in the presence of this precious family. There were no apologies heartfelt enough to be of any comfort to anyone. I heard several of my uncles and cousins outside the church exclaim that they would kill my cousin if they could get their hands on him. With their jaws set and damnation in their eyes – I knew they meant it. Who wouldn’t feel that way??!
Then a miracle happened. A miracle for me anyway. I was already a saved believer in Christ and I knew that I was saved because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. God had forgiven me of my sins. Forgiven! I thought I knew what that word meant. But I didn’t know how little I understood until one by one Mary’s family got up and spoke at that funeral. Their words were full of pain and grief but through it, they ALL spoke of forgiveness and the mercy of God. They continued to be unwavering in their faith in our Lord and trusted Him to have all of this in His control even though we couldn’t understand it. If just one person spoke those words it might not have impacted me so much, but every single one of them spoke about forgiving my cousin and asked that the rest of us do the same. The ones that weren’t ready to forgive spoke of praying to the Lord asking Him to allow them to be able to forgive at some point. I felt like the roof opened and the Lord and I were the only ones in that room. He was telling me – THIS is what I’ve done for YOU! I have forgiven you EVERYTHING, therefore you have no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone including yourself. I cried knowing that I had received divine intervention and wished I didn’t have to learn this lesson in such a real way.
I saw side by side that day hate contrasted with grace. My family was full of hate and her family was full of grace. Mary’s family were the messengers of God himself and I am eternally grateful they allowed themselves to be used by Him to glorify His holy name. My prayer is that I wasn’t the only one who heard the message so clearly. I spent years unpacking the revelations of what forgiveness truly means. I have learned how to have empathy and grace in situations where most people would not. I learned that part of forgiveness is being able to forgive myself for my own sins and shortcomings. If the Lord could forgive a sinner on the magnitude of my cousin (if he chooses to ask for it – and to my knowledge he has not), then I must be able to forgive myself and others. Not to forgive, places me higher than the Lord. Am I greater than He who made me? Certainly not.
I haven’t been faced with having to say “I forgive you” to my cousin, and my prayer, like one of McKay’s brothers said the day of the funeral, is that I would be ABLE to forgive if the opportunity arose. In the meantime, I have lived my life looking through the lens of grace. I still experience extreme guilt and shame just for being related to the murderer. It pains me and torments me when I think of it. Every single time I see Mary’s family and friends I want to crawl in a hole and die. My life was forever changed that December 29th. God redeemed those events to make me a more humble and grace-filled person than I surely would have been otherwise. Whenever I’m tempted to think ill of anyone I have a very real voice in my heart that says “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Acts 13:38-39 Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
While being infirmed with the flu this past week, I have not showered and haven’t even changed my clothes. In a week. A whole week. Let that sink in a minute….Eww, gross I know!
But in my defense the thought of droplets of water hitting my fevered skin seemed like it would feel like someone peppering me with bird shot, not to mention how totally exhausting the whole taking-a-shower ordeal would have been. Changing my clothes meant I would have had to drag the fabric across my skin and that sounded excruciating. So I tried my best to ignore how icky I was getting. The greasy hair, the oily skin, the unshaven pits, etc . . . I ignored it all. With a hopelessly stuffed nose and super polite husband, I can't even speak to how I must have smelled. I did however, muster up the courage to "wash up" and brush my teeth daily, but it was a quick affair and didn't do much to scratch the surface of the growing oil slick taking over my body.
Late yesterday afternoon, my fever finally broke! Oh what a glorious moment, for I knew the creepy, crawly, skin prickles were on their way out the door soon! I woke up this morning still feeling sick, but without the fever - so I determined TODAY would be the day to reacquaint myself with that corner of my bathroom which holds the BB-gun shooter known as "the shower." I admit I was a little scared. With trepidation I turned on the water and thought . . . Do I REALLY want to do this? Maybe I’m being a little premature. After all it’s really only been a week . . . I turned away from the shower and one look in the mirror convinced me to turn right back and get in.
Fast forward...I survive the shower, blow dry & flat iron my hair, get dressed in some comfy CLEAN clothes, and make a cup of tea. About this time Neel gets home from church. He comes in the door talking about how great the service was and how glad he was that he made the effort to go even though it would have been easy not to since I didn't go. All the while he is talking I think how odd that he hasn’t even said anything about how much better I look (and surely smell). He then says he needs a hug and will be careful because he knows how painful my neck, back and skin feels from being sick. So he comes in for the hug and I think - here it comes - he's gonna hug me tight but gently and sniff my hair and say how nice I smell and say something about how great I look . . . and. . . he hugs me ever so nicely . . . and . . . here it comes. . . and . . . I even hang on a bit longer than normal . . . and . . . and . . .
Nothing. . . He breaks away, makes some random small talk and then starts talking about putting up the Christmas tree. Are you kidding me??? I had hit the all-time low in personal hygiene just prior to his leaving the house and performed a miraculous overhaul in time for his return and he doesn't notice?? Which is odd because he ALWAYS notices even the minutest details in a person's appearance. I begin to wonder if he is not feeling well . . . Or if the body snatchers got him while he was out.
But I let it go and he goes about the business of vacuuming and putting up the tree. The hideous, falling apart, fake Christmas tree I bought for $10 about 10 years ago, which he doesn’t fluff up the individual branches so they just hang in terraced flat layers, stuffs a string of lights on it so all the colors and bright spots clump together, and there will be no further decorations added, and, and . . . and my OCD is about to explode - - but (deep breaths) that’s fodder for another blog.
About an hour later, after he’s done “decorating,” I finally engage him in the following conversation:
ME: Honey, didja notice anything?
HIM: Whaddaya mean?
HIM: (looking bewildered) About the tree?
ME: No. About me (smiling my best)
HIM: (looking panicked and scrutinizing me) Um . . . Your hair is getting longer?
ME: NO Dummy, I took a SHOWER!!!!!
HIM: Oh. . . No, I didn’t notice.
ME: ARE YOU KIDDING??? I was a greasy, nasty, filthy mess and I must have stunk to high heaven and you, Mr. I-can-spot-a-lip-sore-on-a-midget-from-100-yards-away, DON’T NOTICE????
HIM: Well, you looked fine and you honestly didn’t smell bad at all so, nope, didn’t notice.
I love this man!
I smile with marital contentment as he heads down the hall to put away the tree box; I pick up my tea cup and begin to sip while reflecting on the moment.
Then, in mid sip and with sinking realization, it hits me! So I shout after him down the hall . . .
"DANG – I could have gone another week EASY!"
“…and Kirchstein’s final look, a fiery dress, was a showstopper.”
WHAT WHAT? HOLY COW!!! The reviewer was talking about the dress I was modeling!! Whoo hoo – I wore a showstopper!! Let me tell you, hitting the catwalk to sounds of cheers and cameras flashing is a pretty heady feeling and but to see the accolades in print is out of this world. Not bad for an old lady who JUST started this modeling thing! OK, not old, but middle aged. Just goes to prove that you’re never too old to try something new! I’m so excited to be part of a world that traditionally doesn’t recognize women if they aren’t 17 years old, skyscraper height and rail thin. I do believe that there’s room for REAL women in the modeling world after all and I’m living proof!!
Last weekend I was so very blessed to be asked to walk a runway show for the “Fashion a Better World” event at Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill, NC. It featured women entrepreneurs in North Carolina focused on sustainable fashion whose aim is to encourage artistic minds to bloom where they are planted, creating an ecosystem of creativity within North Carolina. Brooks Bell, entrepreneur and champion of women-led businesses, was the keynote speaker. They also featured a surprise celebrity guest which you can read about here. The event was sponsored by UNC as part of Global Entrepreneurship week, along with Triangle organizations, to give designers a platform to talk about the significance of their work and promote the growth of the fashion industry in NC.
I modeled for the fabulous Kim Kirchstein of Leopold Designs who is not only an amazing artist but she is one of the sweetest, most down to earth people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’m proud to call her my friend! Check out the UNREAL dress I got to wear. It’s actually 108″ x 45″ of hand-batik silk, with wet-into-wet dye and brushed-on wax strokes which create the soft textures in this design. Kim tied it around me in what she called “the pantsuit” tie. The feeling of silk enveloping my body was heavenly and then to wear it down the runway was just icing on the cake! Read this awesome review from Scope Magazine and the wonderful blog from Pretty Little Snipets to find out more more about all the brilliant designers and how incredible the night was. BRAVO to everyone and a special thanks to Symbology for hosting the event!
I constantly post on facebook or twitter about my grain free living but rarely do I take the time to post recipes of what I eat in place of all those poisonous grains. Today I’m going change that. I will share an amazing ginger lime veggie bake I just whipped up on a whim this afternoon but first,
Grain free eating and living is a way of life for me. It has to be! Grains are poison to my body and most likely they could be to yours too. But when people turn up their nose at the thought of not being able to eat pizza or give me the sad puppy eyes of pity, I just laugh to myself. They have NO IDEA how well I eat or how tasty my food is! My husband and best friend have been lucky enough to experience my cooking and they will tell you – it can be restaurant quality AMAZING!
This week my husband has voluntarily chosen to give up grains for one week to see how it makes him feel so I’ve had to think a bit more creatively to keep his interest. He’s on day 4 and hasn’t cheated or felt deprived; on the contrary he’s LOVING IT! So far so good… Today I offered to make some roast vegetables for him since we totally pigged out on eggs and grass fed pork sausage from our local farmer’s market yesterday, but I wanted to change up my usual veggie bake. Normally I throw some veggies in a casserole dish, drizzle them with olive oil and shake some Italian spices over them and let them bake for about an hour. Walking around the grocery store on my lunch break, I had a stoke of brilliance! I was going to make a ginger lime Oriental flavored dish…but I didn’t know how. But how hard could it be? All I needed was ginger, lime, and veggies right? Easy! Well, I got a bit more creative than that and I’m glad I did. The results were worth it.
Now “Recipe” is a VERY loose term in my world. Keep in mind that I don’t have a culinary degree and I don’t measure. I just wing it but I usually make out OK. You’ll have to be brave and trust yourself to add just the right amount of spices and ingredients if you choose to replicate my creations. I rarely replicate them myself!
1 sweet onion – cut up
1/2 bulb of garlic – peeled & pressed
2 red bell peppers – cut up
2-3 heads of broccoli – cut up
1 bunch of asparagus – woody ends cut off
sliced raw almonds
red pepper flakes
coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup or more olive oil
Saute the onions and garlic in a frying pan with some olive oil until soft and a bit caramelized. Place the broccoli and red peppers in a casserole dish and add the onions and garlic. Place the asparagus on top of the other veggies, keeping them all lined up in one direction (I don’t know what that does for the flavor but it keeps my OCD from spazzing out!). Sprinkle plenty of sliced almonds on the top. Mix together in a bowl about 1/2 cup olive oil, and the spices – I cannot begin to tell you how much; I don’t measure remember?!. Squeeze the juice from the lime into the mixture and then zest the lime over the veggies. Pour the oil/spice mixture over the veggies. Place in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.
My husband RAVED over this dish and I honestly was pretty impressed with myself too. I imagine a few sesame seeds would be a tasty addition too. So if you try it yourself, you’ll have to let me know how it turns out!
As for me… I’m stuffed! Where’s my glass of wine….
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Voice over by Colleen Ann Guest; produced by Stephen Cannon and Shawn McClafferty of Right Foot Forward
Colleen Ann Guest appears in this online viral video in promotion of the award winning short film Foodie.
Foodie is a short, dark comedy horror film about a food service industry professional who receives an invitation to an exclusive, underground dinner party and finds out there’s much more on the menu than he bargained for.
Foodie is a horror comedy short from Cinema Fuel Productions, written by Eryk Pruitt and directed by Christopher G Moore and stars Nick Karner, John Jimerson, Meredith Sause, Jeff Alguire, Tony Hughes, Emlee Vassilos, Tracey Coppedge, David Berberian, Gilly Conklin and Alena Koch.