CIAO FOR NOW, BUT NEVER LOSE HOPE!

0529150745-1When i was very very young, i learned one of the oldest, silliest -and as i came to discover in life – most profound stories ever told. It came out of ancient Persia, the tale of a little bird trying to save his forest home from a raging fire. The bird kept flying to a nearby stream where, in front of a frog, it picked up a droplet of water, then flew back to drop it on the growing flames. On one trip the frog asked, “What do you think you are doing, you fool?” The bird simply answered, “I love our forest. I have to try.” Moments later, on the next rendezvous, the flames reached up and swallowed him.

Also when i was very very young, i came face-to-face with great misery – in the “City of Brotherly Love” of all places, my second home. On the sidewalks and park benches of Philadelphia i saw so many men and women sleeping under newspaper-blankets or in cardboard boxes. Later in life, when i had children of my own, i did not shield them from the misery. i took them to my Philly to see the Great America at its best and worst.  One of the classic American films was made there, of the classic American hero, Rocky Balboa. The ultimate scene took place in that very park with the hero refusing to give up, rather pushing himself way beyond his limit on the steps of the Museum of Art.

Rocky was Great, Rocky was So Inspiring – but Rocky wasn’t Real. But, my life has been so blessed to have a Real Rocky to call my friend, my brother, and in light of the Pope’s visit to my Philly, i want to now introduce him to my blog, knowing that he will be a frequent “guest” of this site, honoring it with his words and acts of inspiration. His real name is Gerry Thomas Straub, and to me he is the perfect example of all that Pope Francis has been talking about in America and around the world. The American Catholic Publishers’ Association agrees, declaring his book (now also his film), “The Loneliness and Longing of St. Francis,” to be perfectly in tune with the heart and the global mission of this People’s Pope, the Pope of Hope.

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My first encounter with Gerry-in-motion was in a mission of his to Africa, where his vehicle nearly ran over a tiny boy, whose almost lifeless body was lying in the dirt, starving. Little Sam was 7 but barely bigger than Gerry’s camera. The genuine loving anguish of this man, as he looked up from Sam, has haunted me every day since: “What are we gonna do?!” he said in a Prayer to God and a plea to his fellowmen,  the Persian bird all over again. This boy is my brother and my son, just as all of the other people at the margins of human society are. I don’t know about you, but “I HAVE TO TRY!”

Gerry Straub wasn’t always such a “brother.” Starting out in New York City he quickly shot up like a star in the television and movie world, one of the early producers of one of the all-time hits, General Hospital. Gerry was growing by the day in success and fortune – and utter emptiness. An avowed athiest visiting Italy in the mid-90’s, he came to encounter God through Francis of Assisi, who spoke to Gerry’s “lonely, longing spirit.” There was no time for weighty theological ramblings, but if Gerry wanted to meet God face-to-face, he simply had to join the Saint and his Lord where they live until Kingdom comes. It was like a “peekaboo, I see you!” And then he’s gone, but with the promise, “Find us again wherever the very, very poor dwell…” And so Gerry did – here, there, and everywhere, always with his camera running, capturing the Lord and Francis for all the world to see – in these dusty, hungry, bloated, dying, naked, wounded, bleeding, imprisoned, tired, but so often beaming bodies. All over the globe,  from Africa to South and Central America,  from the Philippines to Philadelphia!!!  Yes, Gerry’s faith, hope, love and camera truly confronted that misery which i had encountered so young. It always seemed so bleak to me, so very hopeless – til men like Gerry came to town. His documentary on the St. Francis Inn, where friars serve the hungry and homeless of Philly, led to donations of $250,000. Gerry seeks nothing. He has all that he needs in the Love and Mercy of God.

Oh, how ready was Gerry for the Holy Spirit’s Gift to the World in the person of Pope Francis. Gerry had already, for a long time, transferred from “General Hospital” to what the new Pope would announce on his Day One to be his “place in this world, namely, the Field Hospital of the world,” the ever-moving care for all of the wounded souls of the earth. Gerry was quite well established in that field-work by then, but the Coming of a True Shepherd has both sealed and strengthened his resolve and hope.

Gerry, being only human, often shares with me how uplifting but also how down-pounding it is, this mission. The severity of poverty and suffering he knows so well is at times so overwhelming, but he NEVER LOSES HOPE, he NEVER STOPS TRYING to make things better one sip of water, one cracker, one new shirt, or just one little smile at a time. So often knocked down himself, this New Yorker transplanted in RockyTown getsright back up with Grace.

i will bring my readers back many times to Gerry. For now i just want them to know that the Hope of the Pope is ALIVE and WELL because of people like my friend, Gerry Straub! You can learn so much more about my hero at his site, Pax et Bonum Comm.org. His movie about St. Francis – and Gerry’s own Conversion – is just now “hot off the press!”And his blog should be a part of every person’s “daily bread” to chew on.FrancisNewCoverV2 (1)

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THE REAL TREASURE

0927150838The real highlight of my recent trip into New York City for a glimpse of the Pope was when my stepson, Benjamin, took me to his place of work. LOL! shall i confess that having stood in one spot for over four hours, i was in dire need of a bathroom!? And who has a nicer bathroom than Tiffany’s? Except maybe the neighbor, Mr. Trump.

Yes, my Benny works, among other places, at the famous tower of jewels! i had a funny feeling all throughout the day that he was eager to take me there, to show me the treasures, though he knows me well, he knows that i have zero interest in polished stones, other than how nice they look. But my precious stepson had no interest or plan to show off the Tiffanic jewels in all of the glass cases. He was eager to introduce me to REAL TREASURES of Tiffany, to JOSEPHINE and SELENA, to MARK and SUSAN and GIOVANNA and JACKIE, to name just a few of his twinkling, sparkling, truly BEAUTIFUL co-workers. And OH, HOW impressed i was!!! The Glow of God in Josephine’s eyes is worth more than any stone in that giant tower! HECK, it’s worth more than the WHOLE TOWER!!!!

Having lived in and around NYC for much of my life, never once did i have an inkling or desire to enter that building which i have strolled by hundreds of times, but THANK YOU, GOD, thank you for my son, who highlighted my latest trip to the Big Apple by bringing me to the TREASURE there.

Isn’t this what Pope Francis’ visit to America has been all about? And isn’t this what his very papacy since that glorious, lucky day of 3/13/13 has been all about, telling us that the treasures of the earth are not the jewels we wear on our fingers or ankles or around our necks. Yes, they are lovely, for sure, but the treasures are what we hold within, our faith, our love, our HOPE! That night at the Vatican, when he first stepped out on the balcony with the new name which immediately told what a different different Pope he would be – FRANCIS!!!! – he passed on the traditional First Blessing of the masses in the Piazza San Pietro. Instead he bowed to the beauty, or what he calls “the Transcendent Dignity of Each Human Being,” and he ASKED THEM TO BLESS HIM. Unthinkable, unimaginable…but true!0924150723 (1) OH, HOW THEY SPARKLED BEFORE HIM!!!!

All throughout his visit to the great megalopolis these past few days his message has been consistent, simple and clear. The REAL TREASURES of the Earth are the poor, the homeless, those who want to work but cannot find sufficient work to feed their families and are caught up in a great and terrible spiral downward. The Real Jewels of society also are those who do find work and go about their business hour after hour, day after day, trying to make ends meet, while a relatively small few become richer and richer, more and more powerful, forgetful of their beginnings and of what GIFTS they have received…for the sharing.

(i love Beyonce, modern day queen. i know that behind her incredible voice (and gorgeous body, lol) lies a deep and powerful Faith in God and a Heart of true Gold Love. When i heard recently that she bought a pair of shoes for $300,000, it broke my heart. It could have fed whole cities of children who will starve this week. What got into the poor Queen’s mind?) i love her, because i always think of her as the little girl singing in church about Jesus. Before money became a factor. Our HOPE lies in the CHILDREN we once WERE  – and still ARE inside, if we can only learn the famous “striptease” of St. Francis of Assisi, get rid of the trappings, take off the “fake jewelry,” get back to WHAT IS REAL.

i am so grateful for my journey to the Heart of New York – to gaze upon the sparkling white diamond of a People’s Pope. i am so grateful for precious time with the most wonderful stepson a man could ever have, my Benjamin – who KNOWS where TRUE VALUE lies. i am so grateful that he introduced me to the “jewels” he cherishes. i pray that Tiffany’s TREASURES them, as Ben and i do. They are far more PRECIOUS than all of the diamonds  in their vaults.

A PERFECT RAY OF HOPE

0925151631In a recent blog about a coming visit by the Pope i predicted it would be “the perfect storm of grace,” much like Hurricane Grace of 1990 came to be known for such “perfection.” All of the elements just had to be in place. Yesterday all of the elements came together, and i found myself right smack inside its “peaceful eye.”

i had never dreamed of being part of this storm of grace, but at the last minute an ole pal o’ mine, my true blue Man in Blue, Officer Brian Reilly of the NYPD secured me and my stepson, Ben, a place in the Heart of New York, its Central Park. And not just anywhere in that gigantic park, what better place could it all come together than John Lennon’s precious Strawberry Fields. There 200,000 humans of every possible variety were pressed together in one spirit of hope, patiently awaiting the briefest glance at one who has shown himself to be “the Ambassador of Hope on Earth.”

Those standing on the highest hill were shouting out frequent false alarms of his arrival. Then suddenly they screamed and pointed the vast crowd up into the blue sky, where some passing clouds miraculously painted into the whole scene a magnificent rainbow, the Biblical Symbol of Hope. Noah told the people for all time that it meant God would never give up on us. And right in our midst there below was the most beautiful baby in the world, telling us in the wonderful words of Gandhi, “Every baby born is God’s personal love letter to tell us so…” Of course, our baby’s name was CLAIRE, named after St. Francis’ best friend! Many of us in the crowd decided she’d be perfect bait to catch a Pope!!!0925151724

It didn’t work this time, but all of us were perfectly satisfied that between the baby, the Papa, the Rainbow, and our human family, HOPE reigned!

Pope Francis whisked by, many an eye cried, every heart skipped a beat, and then the mob slowly went home happy. Ben and i were among the last ones to leave, as, of course, i just had to pay my Johnny a visit. We stopped by his IMAGINE Memorial, and as i read, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” i thought, “Johnny Boy, you’d be mighty proud of this Pope Francis. Today he made your beautiful dream come true. Watch over him for us please. Let him stay around a good while longer. Thanks, friend! We still love you.
Oh, and buddy, they all say this man’s predecessor, Pope John Paul, really changed the world, working with Ronald Reagan to knock down the Wall and end Communism. But i always said JohnPaul couldn’t have done it without John and Paul – and George and Ringo. You guys sent words and melodies of sweet love over the Wall and into the broken hearts of those in that Darkness, making their chains unbearable, intolerable. And do you know what, Johnny? This Pope Francis knows it’s true. He knows that to change the world, we must embrace the world and all that’s in it! Bye for now…See ya next time. Peace.”0925151749

HE SIMPLY CAME TO REMIND US…

0924151052aIt’s carved on our buildings, printed on all our legal tender, and burned in our brave and free hearts. The man in white just came to remind us!

When i wrote the other day that Papa George Washington and Papa Jorge/alias Pope Francis colliding in Spirit would mean Fireworks, i didn’t mean  Fourth of July type. Although this Pope is absolutely EXPLOSIVE with
Joy at times, the “Fireworks of Faith” are in general more subdued – but at the same time more intense. i am about to hop on the Metro North Hudson Valley Line on my way to Central Park, NYC, to encounter the “Ball of Wonder” himself, who has taken America by storm. i hope to get a firsthand glance of those fireworks in his eyes.  …Wish me luck….

i first encountered such “fireworks of faith” in a teeny tiny lady named Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The twinkle in her eye was actually so bright that i had to look away (she also made me feel worm-like  in my own practice of our faith). Later, in 1985, a true man of God named Pope John Paul II had just recently been “assassinated,” or at least that’s how some doctors put it. His bullet wounds were such that he should not have been up and still walking – let alone pressing the flesh again through massive crowds. Oh, how he was frustrating the doctors and the Roman Curia and the Swiss Guards in his holy disobedience!!! When they asked, “Do you want to get killed?”, he just laughed. It wasn’t even a valid question. He just had to be with his people, and his Faith, his Trust in God, made him fearless. No one could hurt him, REALLY, as no one could harm his soul. More than once, i had the awesome experience of looking directly into his eyes and seeing those fireworks.

Pope Francis is exactly the same way. There could very well be someone out there any minute of any day, out to get him. How many threats there have been!!! And he just laughs or goes through the mobs with that twinkle in his eye, fearless in Faith. George Washington was the same, totally trusting in God.

But i saw those fireworks before! Before Mother, before any Pope, i had encountered a massive display in a place i never thought of finding them. i was sent to West Texas to offer my knowledge about St. Francis to a new group of friars, who had taken up residence within a Mexican migrant camp. It turned out to be the most influential school of my own life. How many times i would stop in the middle of a lesson – to listen — and then to tell the brothers not to listen to me. If they wanted to learn about St. Francis, if they wanted to MEET St. Francis, if they wanted to KNOW St. Francis, they simply should go out and hang out with the Mexicans. The famous Hereford cows right across the highway were probably eating better, and better cared for. There were whole families of these faithful people of God living in shacks the size of my present backyard shed. But there was a little church in the center of the camp, and i would often wonder how it remained in tact, as they would “rock” it with joyful song and dance with a Faith and a Gratitude so great that even now it leaves me in tears and in chills. In a way their faith could actually TRUMP the faith of these famous SAINTS i mentioned. i know that Pope Francis  would agree with me. i can just see him bowing to the “transcendent dignity” of my Mexican Family of Faith, Hope and Love.

Hey! Speaking of TRUMP, none of these hundreds of Mexicans was a rapist or a drug-dealer.  Only a few hundred saints! Penniless Saints, whose parents had had no fortune to leave them, except the ONLY REAL FORTUNE, FAITH. They often told me that what brought them to Texas was the Motto of our Fair Country, IN GOD WE TRUST.  Truly all that they owned was a pure and perfect trust that the All-Loving Father would get them food for each day. The mighty twinkles in their eyes often made me ask, “Who ARE the true poor of the earth, and who ARE the truly rich?!” When i reflected the other day on what the Father of our Nation wrote in Newburgh, N.Y., to his People-not-yet-born, about how they would never become a great or happy nation unless they were committed from the start to be humble and thankful, compassionate and caring for anyone in need, and that they must beware of “the arrogance which is so very possible with prosperity,” – when i posted George’s Plea, i must admit that “the Donald” did cross my mind. As a kid he was always in a brawl, so his parents decided to send him upstate to military school. His formative years were spent JUST DOWN THE ROAD from George Washington’s House. The General’s Spirit was, or should have been, the Spirit of that school. Did little Donnie miss a lesson or two? i wonder. His opinion of Mexicans alone brings up the question. Maybe Fred and Mary would have done better to send the boy to the school of a migrant camp?

How interesting that perhaps the strongest responses to Pope Francis’ historic speech to Congress came when he said, with brilliant smile, “I am happy that America remains a land of dreams…” and “Never be afraid of foreigners, for most of us were once foreigners.” In God We Trust.

FRANCOBOLLI – Come on, roll it!

0924150723 (1)One of my oldest (meaning “most faithful”) friends, Carole Roberts, once said, “Oh, Michael! You make the world seem so beautiful!”
i must admit, i have tried for much of my life to do what Pope Francis does to perfection, to always see the good through the bad, the light in the darkness, the gold in life’s ore. i have had a great deal of help in this quest from a God Who has simply smothered me with gifts, especially so many
“angels.”

One of the most powerful of such occasions, that very much sealed my optimism, happened in the Spring of 1985 when the Capuchins sent me to Italy for a few months special assignment. Very soon after arriving, i experienced at the Vatican a genuine miracle, though far unlike any that i had ever dreamed of. To experience it with me i am going to challenge your linguistic ability. Get ready to roll with some beautiful Italian.
My dad had sent me a check to cover my mail and gifts to family and friends, and i heard that the Vatican Bank had the best exchange rate. It was still in lire then, so i walked out of the bank with about a million! i was headed to the Vatican Post Office, one of the world’s busiest, to send dad a “grazie.” There i stood among a great mass of humanity of all kinds. We were all waiting for – LOOK OUT, HERE IT COMES – FRANCOBOLLI!!! Ah, don’t you love it? It means stamps. What a word, but it must be rolled. Come on, you can do it!

Anyway, so i fixed my FRANCOBOLLI, mailed my letter, and took off down Via di Porta Angelica for a cappuccino. But after slowly savoring my drink, i reached for my money to pay, only to realize i had left it ALL on a counter at the post office in that vast sea. My heart sank. It was all i had. The cafe guy felt my pain and let me go on a “domani” (tomorrow). Walking back, then, towards St. Peter’s, i just kept thinking of how long it had been and how at least 1000 had gone by the spot. Still, a spirit pulled me into the building and through the mob, only to find that someone had spread a million lire across three feet of counter space, so that the loser might see it. A woman was licking francobolli inches away, and she knew by my eyes that i was “the guy.” “Eh, Bravo!” she screamed, and with her a couple hundred souls, all applauding me, patting my back or hugging me. i just stood in awe, a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. i bowed to them, to the Good God in them, as i recalled the sentiment of Thomas Merton, the day he left his sacred hermitage in order to return to a city to see a doctor.It was in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, at its busiest intersection, that Fr. Merton stopped dead in his tracks, seeing, as if for the first time: “The Blessed Human Race! If only they could see themselves, shining like the Sun.”

How utterly awesome on March 13, 2013, when a brand new Pope, who asked to be called Francis, stood on a balcony overlooking that very spot where i met God. And now, with billions watching, he did something totally new. He was supposed to give them all his very first blessing, but instead he bowed to them, to the Very Sacredness of them, each and every one, and asked them to bless him. Recently my niece, Andrea, was visiting Rome, and when she returned, she brought me this refrigerator magnet picturing that very very
moment, reinforcing the reinforcing of my memory of God in His Creatures. No wonder Pope Francis started his American Visit with a Cannon Blast of HOPE.
How can i not believe, with him, in the what he spoke of today before the Congress, “THE TRANSCENDENT DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN BEING!?”0923151850 (1)

GOD LOVES KNUCKLEHEADS…

416613_290084634406173_382317597_oi had a whole blog planned for today, but then i

saw the Holy Father, Pope Francis, giving his first speech to America on the lawn of our

White House. It was as refreshing as the Glorious September Weather that wraps around

the Megalopolis (i.e. NY to DC). WHAT a POWERFUL OPENING PUNCH OF HOPE and

OPTIMISM!!! The line which especially stood out to me was, “We know by faith that the

Creator never abandons us or regrets creating us” no matter how much we might mess up.

When people ask me whether i regret leaving the priesthood, i look at this picture of my

daughter, Molly, and say, “REGRET?!” As the Pope spoke, i kept thinking of another great

great “Franciscan,” (who wasn’t even Catholic, though he was more “catholic” than most

Catholics) Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The only battles to be fought on this earth should

be those of each man on the battlefield of his own heart. I must confess I haven’t fared

well on my own. I suppose that is why I have so much patience with the other scoundrels

of the earth….” But he also said, “Every baby that is born is a love letter from the Creator,

saying, ‘LOOK, I HAVEN’T GIVEN UP ON YOU YET! AND I NEVER WILL!!'”

Later today the Pope will address the GIGANTIC CONTROVERSY of declaring Fr.

Junipero Serra a Saint, despite his many sinful treatments of the Native American people.

This amazing TRANSPARENT man of God, Pope Francis, means to FACE the SINS of our

Church, GREAT AND SMALL, Past, Present, and Future, lay them out on the table —ask

forgiveness, and say MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE that no matter how rotten we each

could be, the Love of God is there, it is ESPECIALLY THERE INSIDE US, each and every

one, WELLING UP, BUBBLING UP INFINITELY, intent on washing us clean, healing us

completely, and giving us a Brand New Start. Sainthood is God’s doing, not ours! POPE

FRANCIS often says, personally, “Please pray for me. I AM A SINNER.”

To me, one word perfectly represents Pope Francis, and that is OPTIMIST. The word

means ONE WHO ALWAYS LOOKS FOR THE BEST, EVEN INSIDE THE BEAST!!! In

every single person, however horrid a bitter or a self-centered life could transform them,

is a little child – like this Molly girl – FOREVER LOVED!

Again, a friend just asked me whether i still wish i was a priest? i told him that i am

perfectly content and satisfied to be a KNUCKLEHEAD. i truly believe that the best of

all “careers” that any of us could take on in life is that of becoming a “master apologizer

and forgiver.” Nothing else matters so much in the long run. And the start of such a

quest – at least i’m at the start – is to realize what a knucklehead i am.

THANK YOU, HOLY FATHER, for starting with HOPE. i said in a previous blog

that the great Quaker, William Penn, tried the experiment of all seeing each other as

and living as brothers and sisters under one God. “PHILADELPHIA” failed terribly

time and again, but we have to keep trying. Ain’t that what you mean, Papa???!!!

KNUCKLEHEAD’S SOUP

0729150944e-1-1May i Offer You a Bowl?

My writing career commenced at the ripe old age of 58, when i found myself out of work and with some spare time on my hands. My wife had encouraged me for years to do a memoir – of quite a fascinating life – but my usual answer was, “There is really nothing new to say; it has all been said or written before.”

“Oh, but, Honey!” was her tupelo-honey version of “Bullcrap!” “Just think of your 22 years with the Capuchin friars, ten as a priest in good graces with the Church! Mix into that 22 years back out on the road again, marrying me and my four children, and whipping up two more little beauties of your own. I think you have something to say and an obligation to say it.” In other words, she was not taking No for an answer! And so, in a matter of two weeks i decided to give her – in lieu of flowers, jewelry or chocolate – a very unique Mother’s Day gift. “Squeaky Kneeler” was its title, the nickname i had chosen for myself upon leaving the priesthood – but still hanging out in church. There, at St. Mary’s in Fishkill, N.Y., i’d found a little pew way in the back, and it had, by chance, a very squeaky kneeler. That will be me, said i, no longer a preacher, but i can’t help squeaking now and then.

This little book, complete with photo of my kneeler, went from my wife’s hands into the world and soon took a life of its own, making its way as far as Pope Francis’ inner circle. A thousand copies sold on Amazon and Kindle. The more that i re-read it, however, the more i knew it needed help, change, revision. i knew that there was a better way to say what i was squeaking inside, and, first and foremost, i needed to clarify just who the author is. When my good parents first took me into St. Helena’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware, for my Baptism, they chose for me the name of Michael, the High Prince of all of the saints and angels. i’m sure that they had high hopes for me as well. But, it wasn’t long before my grandfather “re-christened” me with another name, one which was to stick and echo in through the minds and mouths of many others; and, to be honest, it became the name that i preferred: KNUCKLEHEAD! One who learns very slowly, one who makes many mistakes, one who must make many an apology….but, God knows, one whose little heart is good.
Authorship clarified, what about the Soup?! Well, it seemed to me that the better way to put all of this, this unique mix of all that came to me in life, no matter how old or used before, is in terms of Soup. My wife knows me to be a master soup-maker (thanks to Father Jude Duffy, my “seminary dad” who stressed that we should learn not just out of books but all about life and independence. He made sure we learned to cook and bake.) And my Bridget points out that though my ingredients might be very common, there is no one who mixes them just the way i do, no one who applies the spices of life just like me. Generous on both laughter and tears, for example, the two being really one and the same, as i see it, the deeper the depression, the heartier the humor. i will be very liberal with blood, sweat and tears, then stir them up into one giant guffaw! There’s a lot of good STUFF in this here bowl, drawn from the stories of so many “EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY” people who graced my life. My blog, which hopefully in time will be placed inside a bookcover, is mostly their stories. My own is quite dull and knucklish, if not for those “visitors.” And TALK ABOUT KNUCKLEHEAD!? My latest – and Greatest – act of stubbornness was in not listening to my kids who for years told me, “Books are out, Blogging’s in! Do one, dad!” It is the proper way to dish out the soup.

Most important is that you know this to be a Knucklehead’s Soup. Never do i want to sound “pontifical,” that sad, ugly word meaning “know-it-all.” Meanwhile, i am happy to present myself as my Pop Pop’s – and the Lord’s “Stubborn Gus,” though one in love with learning. But, even if i did “know-a-lot,” what is that, if knowledge does not filter through the heart to make “the Broth of Good Living?” i assure you, whatever you find in FriarDadAdventures comes straight from the heart. i hope that you will come, come often, to try my soup. (And hey! should anyone like to try my “Squeaky Kneeler,” it is still available at The Book Patch.com and on Kindle…)