Traditions — When Everything Old Is New Again by Jeanie Croope


I love that word. It brings to mind memories of times past and occasions and activities that were so special, unique, or fun that they became incorporated into our souls and repeated over and over again.

No season seems to echo the thought of tradition more to me than the winter holidays.

For me, it’s Christmas and all that goes with it. A visit to the greens market with my friend Jan. Cookie decorating on Christmas Eve with the kids. A holiday gift exchange with good friends where we choose our gifts based on the theme of a favorite holiday song.

For my friend Jane it is baking biscotti at Hanukkah. For my interfaith cousins with a large extended family, it is a way to make gift giving for Hanukkah and Christmas both fun and economical.

My holiday decorating begins on Thanksgiving weekend. And with that seasonal launch comes the revisiting of treasured ornaments, favorite recipes and memories of all the past seasons.

When I pull out the giant Gingerman my dad made for my mom, it reminds me of a tradition we used to share with our family, long before marriages and illnesses changed those holidays, making it difficult for us to get together. We would have an original gift-wrapping contest with various categories (“Best disguise of an obvious object,” “Best wrapping paper,” “Most unique”). Both adults and kids — we were all teens or in college — participated, spending hours dripping candle wax over a small, square box to create a faux candle or turning a rolled-up poster into a trumpet.

One year, after Mom had been making tiny stuffed gingerbread-man ornaments, Dad stitched up a giant one, leaving a small hole in its side where he hid a pair of earrings. It’s now the topper on one of my trees.

Other ornaments and decorations remind me of special times and people. An Eiffel Tower or dangling piece from Japan recall trips Rick and I have enjoyed together. The creche my parents bought in Mexico has a spot, along with the Santa my friend Mary Jane made for me several years before she passed. They’re all part of my Christmas and they will all be on the tree or in my home, no matter where I might one day live.

When Rick and I joined forces, his boys were quite young. That’s when we started the Christmas Eve cookie decorating tradition. I made the cut-outs ahead of time and after our dinner was tidied up, we’d get out the frosting and go to town. Some of the creations were artistic and elegant. Some were just obnoxious sugar bombs. The cookies would end up as dessert the next day, with some headed off to their mom, others shared with friends or neighbors.

Those boys are grown now and one even has two boys of his own. And we still do cookies. It may not be on “official” Christmas Eve. But we’ll gather at the table, cups filled with colorful frosting and enjoy our time together.

That’s the other thing. Traditions evolve over time. Families expand and we learn to “share” those we love with others. But we hold tight to the feelings, the essence of the holiday.

My Cleveland cousins started a new shopping tradition several years ago when getting presents for the extended family of 17 or more became a financial nightmare. With all the children as adults now, this became a fun, easy way to cut down expenses. Each person would get a one, five, ten, and twenty dollar gift that could go to a male or female. These would be exchanged by drawing numbers. They would draw a name for a special present in the thirty dollar zone for one person.

The exchange brought loads of laughs, the financial cost was significantly reduced (they used to all exchange!), and it was a fun challenge to find the right thing. (Dollar Tree certainly benefited from this!)

About fifteen years ago we started a tradition with another couple of choosing a holiday song as our theme for gift giving. We set a twenty-five dollar limit and pick a song. Sometimes we interpret literally (when we did “The Christmas Song” we both found “chestnuts” to roast on an open fire!). We’ve done “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Let it Snow!,” “White Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas Island,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and many others. The changing theme helps the concept never get old!

I will always make my cousin Bonnie’s “Jingle Balls,” (which you may know as Italian wedding cookies or snowballs), along with several other cookies that are holiday “musts.” We’ll have the roast beef Christmas Eve dinner that Rick’s grandfather used to make for them and the strata

breakfast casserole that goes in the oven while we open presents on Christmas morning. We will watch “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” and I will be sure to watch “White Christmas” (by myself, probably, since everyone else burned out on that one.)

And that’s OK. Because for me, traditions are both those shared with others and those we hold close to ourselves. That moment of quiet to remember those no longer with us, a review of photos from Christmases past. When I decorate the little tree in my bedroom that has fishing ornaments and other things that remind me of my dad, he’s there with me, just as mom appears when I set the table with her Spode Christmas tree china and silver. To others, it might just be a tree or a pretty table setting. But I know.

As time evolves, new traditions emerge and those that no longer work are gently set aside as sweet memories.

What are your treasured holiday traditions? Hold them close and share them, too. Pass them down to the next generation. They’ll change in time to be sure. So will we. But they will remain in our hearts as we recall family, friendships, holidays and most of all, love.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

The Invisible Traveling Companion by Jeanie Croope

It was early September, 1973. I had just graduated from college and several weeks later would begin graduate school.

For more years than I can remember leading up to that, I had been in love with England. I loved Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie in equal measure. I had a small library about the royal family and yes, a crush on Prince Charles. (Dodged that bullet.) I was studying theatre and longed to see the wonderful theatres in London, to ride the underground and scoot through city streets on the “wrong side of the road” in a black British taxi.

And so, on that early September morning, my mother and I went to London for what would be two weeks of theatre, history and fun.

I was finally a grown-up (though I’d always be her little girl!) and we could talk about things in a grown-up way. I was so comfortable with England that I could truly be the “adult” and guide her around as though I’d been born there.

I chalked up her exhaustion to the differences between a 54-year-old woman and one who had just turned 21, not knowing there were underlying causes.

My mother died several years after that trip, but it wasn’t long after we returned home when she learned she had cancer. Our trips after that were limited to the lake, to relatives within driving distance and to Mayo Clinic. So, in my heart, those two weeks, one-on-one with my mom, were two of the most important weeks in my life.

Last month, I returned to England. This time I was with my life partner, the forever guy that my mother never knew. It was his first real trip there, though one might count a 24-hour layover we enjoyed a few years before. That trip I had a temperature of 102 and it rained. (It’s England. It rains.) Did I let it stop me? Not on a bet.

I didn’t let this trip stop me, either, even though I was walking around on ruptured tendons (which I learned after I returned home). I was traveling for myself and to be with Rick, certainly. But I was also traveling for my mom.

She was a constant presence in my heart as I revisited Kensington Palace. There was so much I didn’t remember from before, but I do remember that we were enchanted with the beauty and the history. This time there was an exhibit of Diana’s dresses. Mom would have loved that.

She was in my heart when Rick and I met our friends from the other London (Ontario) to see Stephen Sondheim’s new version of “Company.” Oh, Mom would have been in her glory! She loved a good musical and this one was top notch. And she would have been so happy to know that I was in London with Suzanne — one of my oldest friends and one of a very few who actually knew my mom and remembered her.

She was in my heart when the city bus we were on stopped outside of Westminster Abbey and let us all out because a demonstration up ahead had blocked the route. (We looked and never did find the demonstration.) But I remember going to Westminster with her on a Sunday morning and being in awe of this magnificent structure.

She was in my heart when I rode the escalators from one level to another in the underground, remembering how nervous we were the first time we got on one and realized how steep they really were.

She was in my heart when Rick and I went to Harrod’s and looked at the magnificent food hall. And again when we were in Fortnum and Mason where she and I shared a delectable lunch with one of her old friends.

She was in my heart when I would see brass rubbings hanging in galleries, shops and churches as I remembered our going to a small country church and making our own.

She was in my heart as I visited the church where my great grandmother, whom I never met, was christened and where her parents, my second great-grandparents,  married.

Mom never even knew their names — that was one of my genealogy discoveries. She would have been thrilled to be at my side while Rick and I tracked down information on them in the Westminster archives.

She was in my heart at the National Gallery when we saw Leonardo’s “cartoon” of The Madonna and Saint Anne,” which we had seen together so many years before. I still think it’s my favorite of all his works.

And she was in my heart when Rick and I did things I hadn’t done with my mom, too, as we made our own memories and had experiences she would have loved.

With Rick I carved out new places for my memory bank as we explored the British Library and the Churchill War Rooms; sat under a very old oak tree and ate the sandwich we bought at a deli on the way to Hyde Park; heard magnificent music and spent time with new friends, enjoying the hospitality of a blogger as warm and wonderful in person as on screen. I will remember Rick’s patience and goodness as he pushed me on a wheelchair through museums when I could no longer walk.


We visited cities that Mom and I didn’t have time to see and we made in those places our own memories of things we’d love to see again — Blackwell’s bookstore in Oxford; Evensong at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor; the countryside near Bath where we stayed in a charming cottage and enjoyed tea after a morning walk in a pub while we waited out the rain.

But even then, I knew. Mom would have loved it. Because in a way, she was there. An invisible companion, lodged forever in my heart, watching me create new memories for another day.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Escape to Art Camp by Jeanie Croope

It all started as a fun weekend for two like-minded friends to leave work and families behind, escape to a lakeside cottage and share their mutual passion for creating. For one, it was paint and linoleum block printing. For the other, it was a combination of mixed media and craft.

The weekend was such fun, they decided to do it again another year. There was more of the same and sometimes the media changed as a new skill was learned. But the message was clear.

This wasn’t just a weekend. It was art camp. And it was fun!

My friend Kate and I have been “doing” art camp for probably close to ten years now. I’ve lost count. That weekend expanded to several days, even a week, and this past month, eleven days. Eleven days of long talks, walks, swims, visits into town, wonderful dinners using all the best from the local farmer’s market, time to read, a nightly viewing of a Miss Fisher Mystery on Netflix and most of all, time to create.

We choose a time each summer when we can head to my Northern Michigan cottage, the car packed full of art supplies, swimsuits, necessities and a rather vocal black-and-white cat. We arrive two-and-a-half hours later, quickly unpack and settle in and then whip out the projects.

On occasion a lesson will be involved. Several years ago Kate showed me how to carve linoleum blocks for printing. Another year I shared a technique for making journals I learned at a workshop.

Sometimes we do the same thing. How the kitchen survived two women doing gelli printing and creating volumes of brilliantly colored deli papers I’ll never know.

But most of the time we do our own thing, sitting at opposite ends of a table on the screened-in porch. In recent years, Kate has focused her time on the bird calendar she makes and sells each December.

The images may be done in watercolor or gouache or perhaps she’ll design and carve a block to be printed later. I confess, I love to turn to my annual calendar and see one of the creations that evolved at art camp!

Several years ago I decided to channel most of my visual art energies into photography and painting and art camp is my painting intensive. Working with a more experienced painter is fun and useful too. When I get into a jam on color mixing, I know that there’s someone who can provide some sound advice and more than once that’s saved me from a big mess!

For me, and I think Kate would agree, art camp is the perfect escape.

There are no appointments to tend to, no social obligations or requirements. While we work together and dine together, we are free to operate on our own schedules. Kate will be up and walking by 7:30. I’ll sleep later and walk later — or opt for an extended swim instead. If creative overload saps one of us but not the other, we feel free to take a book-break and read or get a snack. We talk often and about every topic under the sun, but we don’t feel compelled to have conversation for conversation’s sake. There is simply no pressure.


Weather doesn’t matter. We’ve experienced a rainstorm that overtook our work area in a matter of seconds and killed the power, sending us to town to buy battery operated reading lights. One year, we went in late September — a particularly cold September. We brought the work table in from the porch and set up in the living room, keeping the fireplace glowing and space heaters on high.

It’s not easy for me to spend extended time with anyone. I’m an introvert by nature, the only child who grew up learning to occupy herself happily. By and large, I am far more content independently than with others, and when  my time “runs out” I long to escape a conversation, a place, a person or activity and just breathe. There are probably only two or three people I could do extended art camp with, without one of us grinding on the others’ nerves and making me want to escape.

But art camp is the escape. There has never been a time when I’ve wanted to run from a single moment. But there have been more than a few moments at other times, in other places, where I’ve wanted to run and run fast to art camp.

In determining which colors to use in a visual art piece, artists often work with a color wheel, which displays all the colors, showing how they blend into the next on the wheel, complement one another or are totally in opposition. The color wheel reveals tension and harmony and when used correctly can help the artist find balance in the piece at hand.

To me, art camp is the perfect physical rendition of the color wheel. The days move harmoniously, one into another, blending and evolving into something quite different, yet with the tones of the day before.

The reds of a steamy hot day into the oranges of sunset and the golden yellow glow of dawn. The greens of the woodland walks blend into the blue of the cloudless sky and sparkling lake. Those blues evolve into rich purples and violets, another sunset.

We all have our own “art camps.” It may be a spa or a yoga retreat. It might be a week at a writer’s colony or a cooking weekend. The media doesn’t matter. It’s the message. Relaxation. Joy. Peace. Restoration. Creation.

And it’s all good.

PS – Join me tomorrow and I’ll be sharing tips for creating your own artist camp.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

A Summer Escape by Jeanie Croope

It’s a quiet Monday morning at the cottage. The lake is draped with a haze of fog, the opposite shoreline barely visible, like a pencil drawing that had been badly erased and only a light shadow remains. The lake is still and gray, barely a ripple. Islands of foam rest without moving on its surface, like globs of whipped cream floating in a sink of dirty water.

The monochromatic palette is broken only by the brilliantly colored water floats tied to the neighbor’s dock. A bright pink flamingo, a yellow trampoline, a goldenrod inner tube, a floating island with a green palm tree protruding from the top. Their cheerful colors signal the lively activity of the day ahead.

The weekenders have returned home to their regular routine of work, appointments and obligations and it is quiet, oh so quiet. Only the well modulated voices of dulcet radio anchors on “Morning Edition” and the sound of the neighbor’s lawn sprinklers break the stillness.

Why, oh why, do people have lawns at the lake? This is where we come to escape the routines of the city and the suburbs. Mowing lawns. Street traffic. A faster pace.

On our morning walks we might encounter Mr. Bird and his dog, Snoopy; Karen and Lou, with their dazzling garden; Penny and John, who are laying in their own driveway; Steve, who is married to the Little Free Library lady; Paul, the painter, who has a smoker and who, if we are lucky, may offer a taste of delicious smoked meat; Josh and his dad, with Josh’s kids packed into a double-stroller and their blond German shepherd by their side.

We greet each other with a smile, maybe a bit of chat, swatting away a mosquito or two if the day is damp or humid. We note the flower pots with black eyed Susans in an otherwise neat little garden, tipped over the day before in the breeze, are now planted, straight and tall.

The occasional red-tipped leaf is a sign of days to come.

Our minds relax.

The solo walker will perhaps dream up plots for stories that may or may not be written or notice the way light hits a cluster of leaves, trying to determine how to capture that light in paint. Those traveling in the company of others will notice all about them as well, pointing out bunnies or birds, or simply share a morning conversation.

A car may go by, carrying its driver into town, perhaps for a day job, perhaps for groceries or a trip to a breakfast restaurant. They slow as they approach, giving the walkers plenty of room and all parties wave as they pass by. It’s part of the unwritten etiquette code.

And yes, there are different types of waves.

The open-handed royal wave, the windshield wiper wave and the wiggling finger wave. The two-handed steering wheel wave finds the driver wiggling the fingers on both hands as it holds the steering wheel at “ten” and “two,” the official drivers education position.

There is the open window arm-out wave and it’s not so pleasant cousin, the cigarette-out-the-open-window wave, leaving behind an after-fragrance of dubious quality.

Back on the porch, the radio has moved from news to classical. The black-and-white cat sits on the cushion of a faux-wicker chair, alternating naps with a careful perusal of the beach as she awaits the passage of a bird or chipmunk.

Yesterday’s swimsuits and towels hang from nails on the porch beams, drying out for today’s swim. A potted sunflower sits on the table, herb gardens and small begonia pots seem to thrive.

The lake is still clam, the white foam seemingly barely moving in the almost-non-existent current.

A long boat passes by and the fog, if one looks straight out, is moving gently to the north, like slow-moving smoke. Yes, it’s still there, that fog, but lifting now, the trees on the opposite side more visible than a half hour before.

In another hour the sun will break through the clouds and bring with it the warmth of another summer’s day.

There will be the sounds of more boats, a barking dog, perhaps the laughter of children or adults, enjoying the water.

A lone swimmer will stroke in the deep water along the shoreline, from one buoy to another, counting strokes and attempting to do more than the day before. And more than one fisherman will slowly move their boats boat down the lake, hoping for “the big one” and more likely later telling stories of the one that got away.

And, in due course, the sun will sink slowly beyond the horizon, leaving streaks of orange, pink and gold on the surface of the lake.

The sky will move to inky blue, then black and stars will emerge, perhaps the moon. The lake will again be calm, the stillness after a day of play will set in as it does for us. Time for rest.

There will be tomorrow in our little heaven on earth. And we will treasure it as much as today.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Cultivating a Creative Kitchen by Jeanie Croope

Not long ago, a friend asked me for my pasta sauce recipe. And so, I wrote it something like this.

  • Brown Spicy Italian Sausage
  • Brown an onion with it and some garlic.
  • Add 1 big can of crushed tomatoes (or puree)
  • Add 1 small can of diced tomatoes, drained (but if you want, skip this or use diced fresh). Save liquid in case sauce is too thin. Or not.
  • Add kalamata olives, capers, artichoke hearts, oregano, basil, bay leaf, wine and whatever and let it go.

Needless to say, I got questions. How much sausage? Large onion or small? How much garlic? How much of the spices and wine. How long do I cook it?

And I didn’t have answers to any of those questions except — “Whatever you think works for you.”

Some people cook by the book. Some cook by the seat of their pants. I do both.

How do you cultivate a passion for cooking in yourself or a child? Just do it. A lot.

My mother was a “dump cook.” Remember, this was back in the 1950s where you dumped a can of mushroom soup into anything creamy. She rarely measured, except when baking (which I do faithfully). She just seemed to know how much to add and how long to cook it.

And so, that’s what I learned too. Decades later, when I went to make her scalloped potatoes, I had to fish for a recipe (and found it in her original “Joy of Cooking”) just to figure out how long and at what temperature to cook it! But the rest I remembered — layer thinly sliced potatoes, dot with butter, salt, pepper and flour, to the top of the pan. Fill with milk till it comes to the top of the potatoes and cover with paprika. I could do it in my sleep. And now I can again. (For those who care, 350, 1 hour, 45 minutes! And yes, you can add ham and cheese if you like. Don’t ask me how much!)

I think we learn to cook partly by the book and partly by our gut. I equate it gardening — you start with the basics but then you modify as you choose. Natural fertilizer or chemical? Or none at all? In pots or the ground?  Sun or shade? Perennials or annuals? And then you just have to do it, maintain it, keep at it, to make it all you would like it to be.

I have quite the collection of recipe books (and printouts and cards passed down from generation to generation and bits torn out from magazines) and yes, I do use them! I use the baking recipes almost every time (only a few are committed to memory and I even mess with those!). The others, main dishes veggies and sauces, I use at least once or twice and then only as reference, mostly for timing, or if I’ve not done it in a long while.

But I didn’t start out that way. I certainly learned to wing it and modify things from Mom. But I remember the anguished times of following everything word for word, minute for minute. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was flat.

So, enter experimentation! And I will say this comes with mixed results, especially at the beginning. I’ve burned things, made them so spicy that even Rick didn’t ask for seconds and turned down a take-away of leftovers. I’ve omitted key ingredients because I thought I was above checking the recipe. Once I threw out a batch of the cakey part needed for pumpkin rolls because I only doubled half the recipe.

And I learned.

It comforts me to know that Julia Child tried recipes 50 times or more (quite often, more) before adding them to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Many of those recipes she would send to her friend Avis DeVoto, thousands of miles from France in Boston, to test. Avis would send her feedback ranging on everything from availability of ingredients to instruction specifics. That detail is why “Mastering the Art” is a classic and the recipes — at least the ones I’ve tried — work.

Years ago, when working on a cookbook for a charitable organization, we had to test recipes at least six times by six different cooks to a group of six or more people who had to rate each one. There were hundreds of recipes tested by dozens of cooks who entertained at holiday gatherings, family events and club meetings or who took treats to the office.

Recipes were ruthlessly eliminated, but chosen based on the feedback from both the cook and the diners. The result was that the cookbook itself (which is no skinny thing, by any means) remains a tried and true friend because the recipes work.

I find that when I grow my own herbs, I use fresh herbs more. And I use them in all sorts of things. During herb season, my scrambled eggs are brightly speckled with basil, dill, thyme, rosemary and tarragon. I’ll give sugaring mint leaves or viola leaves a try because why not? It’s pretty (they taste good, too!).

And before you go all thinking I’m some gourmet kind of person, bear in mind, I know my way around a Lean Cuisine and the deli. Sometimes I’ll try to figure out what’s in the deli salad I love and make it (and sometimes I’ll even try to look it up!). And sometimes I’m just lazy because life is too short to limit yourself to only one passion!

I had to ramp up my cooking skills when I met Rick! But we have different styles so it works like a charm. And talk about cultivating cooks — when they were small, both his sons played a big role in the kitchen and now they both are wonderful cooks with, like us, different styles in both cooking and dining. One is a four star grill master and can pull out great party food; the other is into all things exotic. But the fact is, they learned it young and grew with it over time.

My great grandfather was a confectioner — his recipe book included one for opium lozenges in a distinctive scrawl. My grandparents on Dad’s side owned a bakery until it burned down in 1919 and I learned to bake at my grandmother’s side. In their line of work, things needed to be consistent; you had to follow a recipe so that your customers would know what to expect, much like a McDonald’s burger is pretty much the same no matter where you have it.

But times have changed. We can still trust the cooks who work hard on their recipes and techniques and are gracious to share them with us. And I respect their skill, practice and testing.. But we can also swap things out, ramp up or take down the heat and add ingredients that work for our palates and purposes.

I think my mom would be happy to know that I’ve followed in her footsteps to some degree.

But remember my friend who asked about the pasta recipe? Well, I recently returned from a visit to Rick’s cousin who made a killer chicken and rice dish, which included adding broth and soup mix. She told me the ingredients (I immediately forgot three of them because I didn’t write them down). When I later went back to it and I looked at her shorthand note (it included BSCT — which is boneless, skinless chicken thighs, in case you were wondering), I had to ask those same questions my friend once asked of me — how much of the broth and how much soup mix and by the way, how long and how hot should I cook it?

Maybe I’m not as inventive as I thought!

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Meeting My Old Self in the Photo Album by Jeanie Croope

Selfie. The theme of this issue can conjure up many thoughts about the self — inner and outer, good and bad. It was a terrific theme and I confess, a bit of a scary one on which to write. To really look at one’s own self honestly requires a healthy dose of courage and more than a little bit of Kleenex. At least it does for me.

Here on what should be a beautiful April day (but is, in fact, another day where snow and cold is predicted to again hit our Michigan city), the Easter Bunny has come and gone, leaving in its wake leftover jelly beans and chocolate eggs and probably more than a few pounds on my hips. It will require far more work to bid farewell to them than one would like!

A gloomy day like this is perhaps not the best to look deep within oneself, opening that Pandora’s box of faults and foibles. Deadlines don’t care.

My first diet was self-imposed. I was eight and it was post-Halloween. With self control unique for an eight-year-old, I rationed my Halloween candy, piece by piece, limiting myself to three pieces a day. Somewhere between age five and age eight, I had gone from cute, curly-headed girl to a little porkette. To put on my little green tutu with the antler ears for my ballet recital was a memory I’d like to forget. The combination of bad wardrobe, big tummy and an awkwardness that made ballet not my greatest artistic achievement did not lead to a performance I anticipated with great joy.

Throughout the following years, I struggled, as many do, with weight and I do to this day. I wanted to be pretty, like the other girls. My wildly curly hair didn’t allow for the long, straight hairstyle of the day, parted on the side with a strand of hair pulled across the forehead to the opposite side, then tucked neatly behind the ear and hanging below the shoulders. Nor did it work with the shorter chin-length bob with a bit of poof — but not too much poof. Instead, my hair was cut short, the same way it had been since I was — well, eight.


On the night of my junior prom, we went to dinner with a group of friends. I was on Weight Watchers so I ate only lettuce from the salad bar. (Weight Watchers was tougher in the late 1960s than it is now.) My boyfriend in senior high, knowing my struggle, gave me a most thoughtful and wonderful gift on Valentine’s Day (and it remains one of my favorites of all time!) — a huge candy box filled with sliced red, yellow and green peppers, carrots and celery sticks. Some would take offense. I was relieved.

The summer before I went to college, my mom made my 18th birthday cake. It was styrofoam, frosted beautifully. But when college came along, with its dorm food, I met the “freshman fifteen.” Then there was the year of apartment living during college — inexpensive pasta and pizza were the two main food groups!

This led to the brewer’s yeast diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet (that was a very bad idea), liquid protein (another bad idea), Dr. Atkins, bingeing and purging (this didn’t last long, fortunately), calorie counting, points counting. You name it.

And the self image continued on its topsy turvy rollercoaster. Round face, big hips, overbite. I thought I looked bad all the time. Every single minute of every single day for decades. And it didn’t matter what anyone else said.

Not all that long ago I was looking at photos taken during my 30s with a friend.  There are three of us, dressed in gowns for an Oscar party, with our friend who was “the producer.”  And we look great. Really terrific. My friend said, “And we thought we were so fat. Wouldn’t we kill to look like that now?”

I had thought that many times.

We do such an number on ourselves, don’t we? Long before the media discovered Photoshop, conveniently removing blemishes and double chins, we were looking at others, trying to see ourselves in them — and failing. Because we were ourselves.

And when I think of me, there was nothing really wrong with that self except some extra pounds, and not even that many. That self had certain talents, some well recognized, the others less obvious but still good. That self I knew had far more kindness to others than to herself. That self could listen to others for hours, could be there when needed but didn’t know how to be there for herself or listen to the positive parts of her inner voice instead of the negative ones.

That self had (and has) grit. She overcame paralyzing shyness, could sing and act on stage, appear on television or speak in front of groups and shake hands with strangers at a public gathering when necessary. That self studied theatre in college and has acted every single day of her life in one way or another, while still doing her best to be her own genuine self — a contradiction, yes, but a truth.

It was no surprise when I took the Myers-Briggs test again, some 20 years after the first time, to find I was still in INFP-T, an introvert who was intuitive, feeling (versus thinking), “prospecting” (or seeking) versus judging and turbulent (emotion-driven) versus judging. That’s the person who could do a meet and greet or work a public event and then return home, mentally exhausted for having been “on” with strangers and the one who hated being a supervisor because making decisions or disciplining others was simply too hurtful.

But there are good things that come of this introspection, some self-realization that is positive. Or, to put it in the words of Oscar Hammerstein in a song from “The King and I,” — “When I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

That porky introvert did learn to mix and mingle; to get up there and tell her story (granted, far easier on a keyboard than at a TEDtalk); to do a multitude of things well (some, very well) and never lost that north star of believing that the feelings and needs of human beings and living things are perhaps more important than anything else in the world. Those crazy, irascible, unpredictable, loving, annoying, cuddly, frustrating, irritating, beautiful, wonderful  creatures.

And sometimes, one of those creatures is one’s own self.

And so, I look at yesterday’s pictures and see something different. Something better than I saw before. And I look at today’s pictures, too.

The hair is still curly and unruly — but most of the time it looks kind of cute (and it’s really easy to take care of). Every five weeks the gray hair at the roots begins to show and I make my faithful visit to the stylist who does her magic. Yes, it’s vain, but I can work with that.

The hips are still too big — and always will be. The thighs don’t always stop moving when I do and I could throttle Michelle Obama for launching the sleeveless craze. The orthotics in my shoes for the heel spurs mean you are less likely to see me in a dress but I still find pretty things I like and I can work with that, too. And thanks to the extra chin (or is it lack of jaw line?) and my overbite, I have learned the best way to look at a camera — and it isn’t profile!

But I still smile. I smile big, I smile happy and I smile because I’m alive in this world and there’s less time that there was a few decades before. There’s less time for all of us, really, because in truth, we never know when our last moment will be. And wouldn’t it be a shame to have it come and realize all those we wasted thinking we weren’t pretty or smart or talented enough when maybe, just maybe, we were?

I will still try to lose some of those extra pounds. And I will succeed — and fail — and succeed again. Because I want to be healthy, not pretty. Someone very wise (sometimes annoyingly so) reminded me — health is the goal.

But life is too short not to travel the world, even if you have bad feet. It’s too short not to take a chance and learn something new, do something unexpected, find light in the dark, conquer your own demons.

And life is too short not to enjoy chocolate eggs or jelly beans every now and then. Because after all, it’s a long way till Halloween.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

A Journey of Self Discovery Through Family History by Jeanie Croope

I like to say it’s all Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ fault.

For many years I’ve enjoyed his PBS shows on tracing genealogy and I had plenty of questions about my own. Last year I decided to dig into my past in earnest.

Anyone who has engaged in family history research knows that there are a million rabbit holes into which one can fall. Start googling or using one of the several more common genealogy web services out there and you begin to find names you never heard of and stories you never knew. I knew that the results would be interesting. What I didn’t realize was the effect those revelations would have on my sense of self and family.

My mother’s family was a bit of a mystery to my cousins and me. We had a few stories on my grandmother’s side, but Grandpa’s family was a complete unknown, never discussed. Mysteries evoke speculation (there was plenty of that!) and I was determined to learn what happened to my great grandparents, Henry and Angeline (whose names I never knew until I started this journey).

It took awhile but I discovered things I never would have imagined, some sad, some inspiring, some just interesting. As this information was revealed, bit by bit, like layers of an onion gently falling off to reveal its core, I realized that I, too, am part of this story. These men and women and the struggles and challenges they faced, were all part of my DNA, my true self.

Call me ignorant, uninformed or too far beyond the American history I learned in school, but I had long forgotten that not all American settlers in the 1700s came from England and for a variety of reasons. I had no idea that the first immigrants of my great grandmother on my grandfather’s side came as a result of religious persecution that began in Switzerland during the 1500s.

Switzerland? Really?

They were Mennonites and part of a group that came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s from Germany known as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a group that also included the Amish. My Swiss ancestors, those of our great grandmother, Angeline, after fearing torture and even death for their beliefs, fled to Germany and from there to America. They would later move north, to Canada.

My grandfather’s paternal side also came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, but their initial motivation was to find a better life during a period of financial challenges in Germany that lingered after the Thirty Years War. Many sons in this family also joined the Mennonite movement and my ancestors were among them.

These brave families were indeed pioneers. Pennsylvania had just been established as a commonwealth by William Penn and promised religious freedom and the hope of prosperity. My ancestors, as did many of yours, came thousands of miles on a ship that took months to arrive and on a journey that for many resulted in death at sea. Quite literally, they had nothing but the clothing on their backs and what they could pack. They built the towns, the stores, the schools and farmed land never before cleared.

Think about what it would be like to move into a new community with no ready communication sources, no schools, no stores, no doctor or dentist unless one came along with you. It puts things in perspective.

As the generations moved on, Henry’s ancestors moved west, first to Ohio. In fact, his father walked to Ohio alone, purchased land, established a farm, and then returned to Pennsylvania to bring back his parents and wife in a covered wagon. It was in Ohio where Henry was born and raised. As an adult, he came to Michigan to settle about an hour from where I now live and started his family, my grandfather being one of the youngest of his six children.

I unraveled all sorts of stories about relatives on both sides but the mystery of Henry continued until we learned that he had been committed to a mental institution and in a stroke of great luck, found his commitment papers, which tell a sad story of mania and perhaps schizophrenia.

His counterpart, my grandmother’s father, William (presumably born “at sea” but I’m still looking for documentation), emigrated as an infant to Buffalo, NY and set out on a long career as a confectioner during the booming years of candy making in New York. It was a life of relative prosperity and comfort, much unlike the life of a farmer in the 1800s. Their stories simply couldn’t be more different.

As I’ve studied these stories and others in the family line, I have more than once pondered how I feel about this history and how I fit into this narrative.

And the short answer is proud. And sad. And impressed, in a way.

I have lived in the same city since the day I was born. Sure, I travel, I get around. But I’m not what one would call adventurous. I’m not a risky person. And so to consider that my people lived in such conditions where leaving their homeland was the only reasonable solution to their life situation evokes such a feeling of respect and awe. There are many who would simply deny their faith, fit in with the norms of the time and live in relative safety. But my family took a different path. To make that very long, often dangerous trans-Atlantic crossing required commitment and courage, a courage I’m not sure I have.

I am filled with admiration for their dedication to a faith that provided so many obstacles. While this is not the faith I practice, I admire the Mennonite’s basic tenets of belief, particularly the strong emphasis on peace and not bearing arms, and my ancestors’ willingness to die for it, to hide in caves and to worship in secret. It takes strength of character to defy the rules for one’s beliefs. I like to think I have some of that — but I’m not sure I am that strong.

As I’ve learned about farming in the American Victorian period, I’ve realized how difficult it was when technology had not brought tractors and other farming implements to make the work easier. We all know this, rationally. But it wasn’t until I both read more and then actually saw the property that was my great grandparent’s — 100 acres of farmland in western Michigan — that I realized the challenge of it all. Farming was a family job. The children worked alongside their parents and that work was done manually. Michigan winters are tough and west Michigan tends to have some pretty rugged weather due to the lake effect snow. My people had to work hard, very hard, relying as farmers today do for weather conditions throughout the growing season to provide the best crops.

I have trouble growing tomatoes. In pots.

I am so soft.

I’ve learned I am much like my grandmother — a creative soul who loves to laugh. I had heard stories from my mother, her sisters and my mother’s best friend about my grandmother and her wonderful sense of humor, her creative streak and her good nature. What I didn’t know was that her parents had come to America in the 1800s from England to settle in a new city. Why they left remains a mystery. But somehow, through the chance happening of two people working in the same confectionery business, Minnie’s parents met.

Try as I may, my candy making ventures will never be store-worthy. (Witness the peanut butter fudge epic fail at Christmas.) Yet to know my great grandfather William was a candy maker — and indeed, I have his handwritten recipe book — gives me the confidence to try again.
My ancestors were not academically educated. I believe my mother’s generation was the first in her family to attend college. But they had a toughness and determination to build a good life, a new life, in a new land and to thrive.

I look at today’s news, stories of refugees fleeing oppression and seeking a freedom — religious or otherwise — they do not have. They are no different than the families of Angeline and Henry, William and Bessie. I find myself nurturing a desire to help those who come to my community settle into a new life. I haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet, but if there is one legacy I hold dear from the stories of my past, it is that in challenge we can triumph, over generations we can soar. These new immigrants deserve the same chance as my people did.

Perhaps one day, their descendants, too, will look back with awe, admiration and respect at their courage and strength and feel a little bit changed. I know I do.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Instrumental: The Holiday Grieving Survival Kit by Jeanie Croope

It’s the season of hope and wonder, of parties and cookie and decking the halls. We are told to have a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah and we say the same in return.

And sometimes we are neither Merry nor Happy.

The winter holidays can be stressful even for those who love them and “Martha to the Max.” But for those experiencing grief and loss, the first winter holidays without someone they love, they can be especially challenging.

This year there will be many who have lost loved ones in fires and hurricanes, through accidents and illness. Add to that the loss of a home or a job and the holidays don’t seem so merry and bright. For many years I volunteered at a family grief center and clearly the winter holidays were the hardest time. If you are dealing specifically with grief or loss issues, these tips on getting through the holidays might be helpful. And if you are not currently on that grief journey, you may see some ways you can help someone who is.

Sometimes Tradition, Sometimes Not

A dear friend facing a challenging holidays said recently, “I’m dreading the traditional this year. The new experiences I am looking forward to, but the old ones — I don’t know.”

Too much food, too much stress, too much pressure and too little time. Add to it a major life change and the old-familiar may be a little too tough.

So, give yourself a break. I’d never advocate changing traditions that work, but consider trying something new. Good grief, even if you’re happy as a clam, try something new, whether it’s a cookie recipe or a change of venue! It may become a new tradition or maybe it’s just an event for this year to help shake things up in a good way.

You may see your best (and most unexpected) holiday concert ever. Enjoy a walk through a dazzling winter wonderland on a zoo walk. Sample far too many treats as you stroll through a holiday gallery walk. Go caroling for the first time since college. Watch “The Nutcracker” live or on video.

Consider a road trip. If being home is too hard, venture to a new place or accept the holiday invitation to spend it at the home of friends or relatives. It doesn’t have to be a permanent tradition, but it might make the first year under new circumstances a little easier.

And if your friend is grieving? Help out with a surprise meal of pasta, salad (in a bag makes it easy, if not exciting!) and some crusty bread. And if you can, join them. Dinner alone can be tough for the newly widowed.

Be willing to listen — to sadness, to memories, to fears for the future. And remember, loss can be complicated. Not everyone is sad for a death — they may be sad for what was and now can never be. Don’t assume you know how they feel. You might know how you think you would feel but everyone’s experience with a person who died is unique.

Welcome the Person Who Is No Longer With Us by Remembering

You might light a candle in someone’s honor — whether it is at the dinner table or privately. Honor the light they brought to your life. Or stop by the cemetery to lay a pine bough or some holly.

I have the “Dad” Christmas tree (with ornaments that reflect things he loved) and the “Mom” tree, with ornaments that were some of her favorites along with new ones that I know she’s love.

Try a helium balloon flight — write a note to the loved one, tie it to the string of the balloon, then let it go high in the air. This is especially meaningful for children. When I was volunteering in the grief center, the annual balloon launch was the “event of the year” and the kids and adults alike valued sending up their thoughts to their loved one.

If stitching is your thing, consider making ornaments from one of their clothing garments or jewelry or use something that was part of them as part of your holiday decorating. Or ask your crafty friend if they can make you something in the year ahead — a stuffed bear or tree ornaments, for example. This year my friend Suzanne gave me several necklaces of her mother’s, whom I knew and liked very much. She thought I might pass them on to charity. They are costume jewelry but that long strand of pearls and another necklace are now a beautiful beaded garland on one of my trees. The others will be given away but these memories of Nolda will remain on my tree for years to come.)

Do Something that Might Make You Feel Like You Are Making a Difference. 

It can be hard to give back when you feel you have nothing left to give, but volunteering doesn’t mean just working at an organized activity with a major time commitment. You may have an elderly neighbor who might not easily be able to wrap gifts for the family. A couple of gift

bags, some tissue and you’re good to go — you’ll make that person’s day and you’ll feel pretty great yourself. Park yourself in the lobby of the nursing home or assisted living site or in a room at your church after Sunday services, loaded with wrapping paper.

Often I do what I call my “Random Acts of Christmas” — chipping in $5 at the grocery cashier to go toward the order of the old man behind me, anonymously of course. Priming the meter or parking attendant with another dollar’s worth for the next user. An anonymous gift to someone who needs a lift. Once you start, it is really hard to stop.

Most of All, Be Gentle with Yourself

Remember, holidays can be tough on a good day. There are parties when you don’t feel like partying, a whole lot of sugar and butter, things to do, like shopping and wrapping and mailing — presumably with a deadline, and so much more. Sometimes it’s good to

go out, see friends, make merry. Sometimes that’s even very healing.

But there are other times when you just can’t. Don’t beat yourself up over it. People will understand. If the cards don’t get out, it’s not a crisis. If you can’t bear to write the holiday letter that covers your year, skip it and just send a card or an e-card.

Pick a few things to do — not everything. Talk it over with your kids (young and older, too) and let them know where you stand, and learn where they do. You can probably come to consensus.

As a friend, if you are headed to the store or the post office, ask if you can pick up groceries or stamps. Bring a tray of crudites instead of cookies, maybe with a light dip or cold shrimp and sauce. There are loads of ways you can help someone take care.

Remember, There IS Hope. And There IS Wonder.

It may feel impossible to find hope when things dark and sad. But it’s the time we need it most. And seeing the wonder of the world may just be an important part of the antidote. The twinkling lights, whether on your own tree or in a shop window. The smile on a child’s face. The grateful appreciation for an act of kindness. The quiet snowfall on Christmas Eve. The blanket of stars in an inky night sky or the dazzling pinks and lavenders of the perfect sunset. There is wonder in the love we have known, that great gift that carries us through.


And there is wonder in the cycle of life, of knowing that flowers will bloom, leaves will change into a glorious array of colors and snow will fall. The sun will rise and set and the world will spin its orbit. And with it comes the hope that next year will be a little kinder, a little easier, a little more settled.

I will not wish you a Happy Holiday — I’ll leave that to you, and it may be hard. But I will offer my wishes for peace and healing and the hope that you will find even just a wee bit of wonder to help you in your journey this season. May that star shine brightly to lead you into a new year of hope.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

What Do You Do with a Baby? by Jeanie Croope

I am an only child. I’ve never had a baby of my own and the ones I am fortunate enough to have shared with Rick were already young boys when I met them. I don’t know what to do with a baby.

But when Kevin and Molly told us they were expecting their first child, I was elated. To be fair, probably not nearly so much as their birth parents who would see another generation of their own come to be, but pretty darned close.

And perplexed. What do you do with a baby?

I know how to play with puppets and even change into all sorts of different voices to make them different. But you can’t do that with a baby. A child needs to be a little older — a toddler, at least.

And I know how to color and help a little one discover the joy of crayons and play dough and markers. Big paper. Cover the table. Not on the walls unless your mom says “OK.” And coloring in the lines is not a requirement. But a baby doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to do that. So, that’s out.

As we watched Molly come closer to her due date, both my joy and anxiety grew. I was going to be such a flunkie gran. And besides, he would have two other grans and a great grandma, too. Would I be up to snuff? And what could we do together?

I know hide and seek and peek-a-boo. That’s a possibility. And I can show him the wonders of baking — but not till he’s a little taller and a little more stove-and-knife savvy. Stirring is a good start. We can plant things and he can help harvest his grandpa’s garden. But first he has to get a little older. So, what will we do till then?

Our Baby Grand was born on the night of the 2017 Oscars. (I never did to see the Best Picture announcement snafu, and that was just fine by me!) Around 10:30 we got the call; Molly was in labor and I think we were  on the road to the hospital so fast it was a blur. We finally heard the good news about our baby boy’s arrival and soon we got to see him for the first time.

I’ve never seen a baby that small — and all I could think of was the joy and wonder of it all. His hands and feet — they were so tiny. He was all wrapped up in a swaddle like a baby burrito with a little red face and itty-bitty fingers. And he was beautiful.

My dilemma of still not knowing what to do with him continued. I loved him to bits, but all I could really do was hold him, maybe feed him, watch him sleep. I still haven’t done the diaper thing. There seems to be quite a routine to it. I know that if I can make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguigon, I can put a Pamper on a little pooper but somehow, I find this daunting and secretly hope he’s an early toilet trainer and I miss that part of grannying.

But with every visit, as I’ve watched him get bigger, stronger, taller and more awake and alert for longer periods of time, I’m beginning to see a light, a time when I don’t just hold him or smile or talk with him, but actually can play.

One of our most recent visits found him at seven and a half months. He was on the threshold of crawling — right now he looks more like an army guerrilla fighter in the jungle or a Pilates expert doing a plank. He can work the knees and he can work the arm motions but he just doesn’t quite have the left-right/arm-leg thing going yet. He will soon, though, and when he does, watch out!  Perhaps even as I write these words he is scurrying across the floor!

Our Baby Grand is learning how to do things, to process and understand. He has little toys he can open and close and seems to get the if/then concept — if I hit this button, then it opens; if I press it down, it closes. Of course, he doesn’t know open-and-close. But he sees cause and effect. He can throw things and loves to and pet the dogs. And he adores his swing. There’s that great big smile when he’s pushed back as far as you dare and he comes toward you. Oh, this boy is loving life.

He smiles and laughs and talks up a storm — not in any intelligible language, but I’m sure he knows just what he means. He has two tiny teeth and eats baby food and a little bit of real food — and when he doesn’t like it, his eyes get big, his bottom lip juts out just a bit, his pale brows wrinkle into a confused frown and his eyes look betrayed. Oh yes, he has language — it’s written all over his face!

His hands are bigger than in those first  moments, a few hours after his birth. It will take some time before they are as large as Grandpa’s but Grandpa’s strong hands will be there to catch him, hold him and love him, to push him in the swing, to teach him to ride a bicycle like the wind.

Those hands will grow more in good time, to hold cooking spoons and paintbrushes, Scrabble tiles and Candyland cards. Yes, there will be real board games involved.  One day, and perhaps not a day too far away, he will be able to hold a crayon and pull it across a page. It will be a scribble but it will be his scribble. With a little luck, he’ll pick up his Uncle Greg’s artistic talent or mine and those scribbles will turn into something you hang on the fridge because it is good — and not just because someone you love did it!

I realized that I have never seen anything except a kitten grow from infancy to adulthood on a regular basis. The process, I am discovering is one of great wonder with every encounter bringing new thoughts, hopes, dreams, wishes and great gratitude that I am allowed to follow this journey with our Baby Grand and his parents.

I think I’d better start looking for my puppets. Time goes much faster than it seems.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Sun Spots and Sunsets by Jeanie Croope

I’ve had a heck of a time figuring out what I wanted to write for this issue’s Light and Shadow theme. It should be so easy. If nothing else I could come up with some art-related post looking at the brilliant chiaroscuro techniques developed by the old masters, like Caravaggio and implemented in so many ways in art since then. The brilliant light of the Impressionists. The gray-and-black shadows of Picasso’s Guernica.

There’s something there, don’t you think?

But I couldn’t make it work.

How about writing on how the light changes as we move into autumn? We see long shadows, earlier twilights. Deeper sunsets find brilliant oranges, purples and pinks contrasted with the shadows of the dark clouds and disappearing light, coming in to rest for the evening. Heaven knows I have enough sunset photos in my bank to illustrate an entire photo essay on the subject.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I think part of the problem in nailing this is that I am a “light” person. I prefer to see the light in a situation instead of the dark, even when the dark is pretty murky. it’s not that I avoid reality, I see it for what it is. But I’ve been around enough to know that in all tragedy or dark times, there is the light that comes from goodness, caring, rebirth.

You can call it Pollyanna. (I sometimes do.) There is little good in hurricanes or earthquakes that decimate entire communities. Yet I also see the helpers who fight so valiantly to rescue the trapped, who leave their comfortable homes to go to another place and work hard to help rebuild.

I think you can see that it is very difficult for me to go into the “shadow” mode. I don’t need to add that to bring me down when something is already swinging on the downside.

But recently, after many months of self-diagnosing (don’t do that), doc visits that offered remedies that worked for a few weeks and then didn’t, I finally went to the dermatologist for a very pesky lip problem. When the biopsy came back it was cancerous.

They told me it was no doubt from too many hours in the sun back in the days of long ago. Before sunscreen became an essential piece of summer outdoor wear. (And do you put sunscreen on your lips? You should.)

I know many readers may have dealt with squamous cell carcinoma. Basically, a skin cancer. It’s about as common as a Hershey bar at a grocery store check-out stand. Rarely are these life threatening unless left too long and metastasized. This is not your deeply concerning liver or stomach, ovarian or breast cancer.

Rick calls cancers like these “candy cancers.” You do the treatment, it works, and off you go to enjoy life. It’s a bit cavalier but in a way it’s spot on. No fun, but you probably won’t die.

But when you hear the C-word, one can’t help but feel a bit of a shadow come over things, even when the doctor has assured me that it was on the surface, hadn’t spread and that the radiation would do the trick. There’s a lot of light there.

And I see that and am immensely grateful. I keep reminding myself of that. See the Light.

But has I’ve tried to wrap my head around the fact that now I, too, am part of a club to which I never wanted to belong, there is a bit of shadow. I remember the mother who died before I was a fully-formed person, the friend who battled her cancer for years and died too young, and so many others who fought valiantly and others who do to this day.

Their cancers, I remind myself, were far more complicated than a little curable candy cancer on the lip. There simply is no comparison.

But as I watch the heron on my lake come to visit during the day and again at twilight, and then fly off into the sunset to rest, I am reminded once again to grab every bit of beauty and joy from life and celebrate it, cherish it. Next time one may not be so lucky.

There is beauty in the light of the sun. Blinding, sometimes searing, sometimes dangerous, but great beauty. And there is also beauty in the sunset, the shadows of evening, the silhouette of a blue heron, winging his way through the sky to meet the light again in the morning.

And I hope to meet that light in the morning for many sunrises to come.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.