Halloween Lessons

Here’s a post I’ve updated from my 2012 archive. If you’re looking for last-minute snack ideas for Halloween, check out these Tasty Howl-o-ween Recipes.

pumpkin-swirl250According to a survey conducted by HalloweenSurvey.com in 2012, a lot of Americans love Halloween: 72% celebrate it, 50% of adults wear a costume for the holiday, and over 8 billion dollars is spent every year to prepare for it. That’s a whole lot of scary love. The reverse statistics could mean that 28% of the population either doesn’t care about Halloween or doesn’t like it. But whether we (1) love dressing up and giving ourselves over to the role of our favorite other self, (2) think the whole thing is silly, or (3) believe Halloween celebrations are rooted in evil, we can probably all agree on a few things:

1. Everyone wears a mask sometimes. How many people do we show our real selves to? Probably only a few we truly trust. And even if we are the upfront, this-is-who-I-am kind of people, we still have a tendency to hide our feelings. Anger and cheerfulness can both mask deeply felt pain. Remembering that everyone is wounded and scarred to some degree can make us more compassionate to those around us.

2. Each day is what we make of it. Whether you believe Halloween is loads of fun or just plain evil, the day is ours to take from it or give to it what we will. Just like every other day. Our days are good or bad because of the choices we make and how we decide to perceive life. No matter our circumstances, we are each responsible for our part in the making of every day we’re given.

3. Life is sometimes tricky and sometimes a treat, but more often it’s something in between. We have great days and we have awful days. But life is lived mostly in the ones that fall between those extremes. These are the normal “okay” days that often seem to just creep along, filled with unremarkable hours, unless we take the time to really look for the remarkable in the mundane. Finding contentment right where we are – fun-size chocolate bars, anyone? – is something worth striving for.

How do you measure up to the Halloween statistics?


Can Courage Be Taught?

While I’m off at a conference, I’d like to share this article from my archives.

Even with my limited military experience, I know the value of training, like breaking down a weapon and putting it back together, over and over. Take care of your weapon and it will take care of you, kind of thing. Various forms of combat training, mock emergency exercises, gas mask drills—all done with the goal of solidifying the important things in the brain so when the need arises, the body reacts with little or no hesitation.

I used to volunteer with a white-water rafting company. I trained with the rest of the staff before rafting season, and during the season we trained groups of clients in river safety before each trip. Weekend after weekend, and year after year, it all got drilled into my brain. And when I actually fell out of a raft one day and found myself trapped underneath it, spinning in the current at the base of a waterfall, my body did what my brain had been trained for—and I did exactly what was necessary to escape, without panic.

Knowing the value of training is also the reason I always read through the emergency procedure literature on an airplane before takeoff and watch the flight attendant demonstrate getting out of a seatbelt and putting on an oxygen mask. I look at the pictures and go through the steps in my mind, imagining myself opening those emergency doors and escaping. I want my mind to be ready, just in case, so my body responds accordingly.

The armed forces, police, firefighters, and emergency/rescue workers train hard, and sometimes for years, in order to respond correctly in the face of danger or disaster. When asked about their bravery, many of these people will tell you they are just doing their jobs the way they were trained to do them. I can see this might be true the first time a person is tested, but what about after that?

It takes real bravery to face an enemy more than once, whether the enemy is found in nature or a fellow human. Doing so could be grounded in training, as well as camaraderie—watching somebody else’s back, not wanting to let your buddy down. It could also be the result of truly knowing what the right thing is, and doing it. Otherwise, ordinary people wouldn’t rush into burning buildings to save strangers.

But where do the roots of such bravery come from? Maybe from parents or others whom children admire, teaching them by their words and actions to love their country, respect life, do the right thing, and make a difference. These are the children who grow up to choose vocations that take them into danger or who dedicate their lives to helping others. Or who simply live ordinary lives with grace and conviction (which ultimately leads to a better world).

We may not be able to teach bravery, but perhaps we can plant the seeds of courage.

Where do you think courage comes from?

Change Your Perspective to Change the World

Here’s an updated version of a Live More, Fear Less post from my archives.

Keyhole_and_LadderThere are so many things to worry about in this life: the state of the world with its pollution, wars, natural disasters, famine. There’s human trafficking, drug cartels, economic collapse. Some mothers watch their children waste away through starvation. Some fathers are beaten and killed for their faith or beliefs. Closer to home are the very real problems of putting food on the table, juggling bills, trying to keep a job, and deciding between paying the rent or going to the doctor. And then there are more personal worries like living alone or being lonely, growing old, and being forgotten.

It’s easy to worry, and it’s something I’m very good at because I’ve had lots of practice. When I feel myself slipping into that place where I need to print business cards that say “Cate Macabe, Professional Worrier,” I stop and try to put things in perspective.

If I’m living in a car or a bombed-out building, do I worry about how fat I look in my jeans? While I’m sitting by my child’s hospital bed, do I care that my gray roots are showing? What is the fear of growing old compared to the fear of having nothing to feed my children? How does the fear of crowds or heights or giving an oral presentation compare to facing the devastation of a hurricane or a flood?

When I received the news that a friend of mine lost her teenage daughter to the hands of a murderer, the first thing I did was cry, and then I wailed. I was devastated for my friend, the heartbreak she felt, the horror of the crime. And I cried out for her daughter. There was so much she didn’t get to do. She was too young to be taken from this life. The next thing I did was look at my own teenage daughter and my life with her. Did all my rules, and nagging, and too-high expectations create the relationship I wanted? Did I want to push her away or look at each day with her as a gift to cherish? I decided, on the day I got my friend’s tragic news, what was truly important and began making choices accordingly.

Don’t wait for a disaster to give you a new perspective. Decide now what is most important and take practical steps to follow through.

If living longer and enjoying your family as you age is what you worry about – walk a little everyday, make better food choices, exercise your mind. Is getting a job or holding on to one a concern? Update your skills, work for a temporary agency, volunteer in your field of interest.

Doing something for someone else can shift our focus and also change how we look at our own lives. Visit an elderly neighbor, hold the hand of someone who’s grieving, watch a busy Mom’s kids to give her some alone time, send thank-you cards and letters to soldiers serving overseas (especially in combat zones).

Today, this minute, we can’t help a starving child or love an orphan on the other side of the world, but we can contribute money or time to organizations that can. And if we have the heart for it, we can foster or adopt and change the life of such a child.

Unless we do something with our worry, it becomes a waste of our time and energy because it’s really only a useless exercise of the mind. Don’t let the worries of life get you down for long. Take one step back if you have to, then two steps forward and keep looking ahead.

What do you do to stop worry from getting out of hand?

Image “Keyhole And Ladder” courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Road to the Sun

Today I’ve pulled a post from my archives (December 2012), inspired by an awesome trip to Glacier National Park. If you have time, please check out a new article at my Wanderer website titled “Dare. Dream. Write. More.” about why I decided to break my pledge not to make New Year’s resolutions.

GlacierNP_2The Going-to-the-Sun Road wound upwards around the ice-carved mountainsides of Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Forests of evergreens, patches of fading wild flowers, and the yellow-orange of still-changing foliage spread out before me along the road on three sides. Even the cliff face on my left, climbing toward an autumn sky, held beauty in its grey hues, and jagged lines and shadows. Mountain buttes hid the foothills of ridges. Ridges bowed before peaks. Each layer a darker shade of blue to purple-grey. All filled the horizon above v-shaped valleys.

I went around a curve, the traffic slowed to a standstill, and there, blocking the panorama, was a rocky outcrop with a rough-hewn tunnel leading through it. In comparison, the harshness of the lifeless stone and the spiny, leafless trees here didn’t hold the same beauty as what I’d just passed. Behind me, the view was still so awesome I could have stared at it for hours, if not days (so different from the grassy mesas and the looming shoulders of barren mountains I often hike near my home 1250 miles away).

Glacier_4On through the tunnel, and the vista was again wondrous ahead, this time less so behind. And so, The Going-to-the-Sun Road shifted before and behind, in varying degrees of glorious – because, really, even the views that held too much brown and grey or not enough mountain or sky, still held perfection in their own way.

During one of those moments in my ascent when I just had to stop and try to take it all in, I thought of how much looking back can ruin my present and my future. The landscape of my past is filled with both beauty and ugliness. But living in the past – whether glorious or gritty – has often been a trap that keeps me from living in the present. At the same time, working busily for tomorrow (even if tomorrow means the end of the day) without enjoying this very day, seems as much of a waste.

I don’t make true New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I’m going to try very hard to do this coming year is to enjoy my every today and hope more in the future.

What changes do you want to make in the new year?

Words to Live By

Maya Angelou offered healing in her words of peace and grace. She left our world a much better place.


My Mother Wore Combat Boots

PVT Audrey Salerno, Camp Lee, VA, 1949

At some point in the early 1960s, a classmate on the playground yelled at me, “Your mother wears combat boots!” I don’t remember why this child said such a silly thing. If it was meant as an insult, I didn’t take it as one.* My mother served in the Army before I was born, so I reasoned she could have worn combat boots. I put it out of my mind at the time and returned to more important matters, like passing around “The Outer Limits” trading cards or admiring someone else’s Rat Fink ring. I ignored that remark for the same reasons I ignored those who called me an Army brat: It made no sense, and I had been taught to pick my battles.

With Mother’s Day coming up, I’ve naturally been thinking more about my mom. Audrey Agnes Salerno was born in 1927 in Peoria, Illinois to an Italian-immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. She was taught to love babies and food and how to hunt four-leaf clover. She’s been gone nearly thirty years now, and since I can’t thank her in person, I thought I would share with the cyberworld a little of what she passed on to me from what she learned in her early life.

Audrey Salerno, goat and wagon courtesy of  traveling photographer, 1931

Audrey Salerno, goat and wagon courtesy of a traveling photographer, 1932

Find a Reason to Laugh
She laughed a lot and taught us to do the same. She often said, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,” and so we learned to laugh at ourselves, as well. When a traveling photographer brought his goat and wagon to my grandma’s door one summer day, he snapped a photo of my 4-year-old mother wearing a somewhat sly expression. Perhaps she was already planning her next practical joke – something she was very good at in her adult years. 

Audrey Salerno, 3rd grade at Garfield Elementary, Peoria, IL, circa 1936

Audrey Salerno, 3rd grade at Garfield Elementary, Peoria, IL, circa 1936

Read & Imagine
As a child, my mother often jumped off her porch roof to strengthen her arms for flying. This is the kind of active imagination she encouraged in her own children (but the pursuit of flight was, oddly, discouraged). With her guidance, I could read by the time I was four years old. She filled our home, our birthday presents, and our Christmas stockings with books. And a gift of a secondhand manual typewriter bridged the gap between my imagination and the stories waiting to flow from my fingertips.

Audrey Salerno, 12 years old

Audrey Salerno, 12 years old

Be Grateful
The Great Depression was a great equalizer. Every country in the world was affected by it. The Salerno’s had it better than some in the 1930s, living in a house that was paid for (built by my great-grandfather) with a yard big enough to grow fist-sized tomatoes and multi-colored bell peppers. Times were still tough — even though she was hungry, my mom couldn’t eat dinner the night my grandma made stew from her pet rabbit. When she had her own children, she made sure we had warm coats in the winter and shoes that fit, and always, always, had food on the table. Because of her I learned to be resourceful, grateful for what I had, and to never waste a crumb of anything.

Audrey Salerno, circa 1943

Hold Your Tongue and Your Temper
My mom taught us the importance of our words and how they affect others. She didn’t gossip, didn’t allow it spoken in the house, and she lived by the rule, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” You would think with all that crazy Irish-Italian blood running through her veins she would have been hot-headed, but she was just the opposite. She held her temper like no one else could. She was also an expert at holding on to a secret. I was a teenager before she let slip she never received a high school diploma.

Audrey Salerno w/the girls at Peoria Journal/Star

Audrey Salerno, Peoria Journal/Star, circa 1947

Believe in Yourself
She was 16 years old in 1944 when the world was at war. She grew tired of spending her days in classrooms with “children” much less mature than she and tired of watching life pass her by. Quitting school just seemed the right thing to do. Shy and introverted, she still believed she could do anything she put her mind to. Though she had no skills, she landed a job as a clerk with the Peoria Journal/Star.

Audrey Salerno by Mort Greene, 1947

Audrey Salerno by Mort Greene, 1947

It wasn’t long before the newspaper’s cartoonist Mort Greene became enamored of her, evidenced by gifts of hand-drawn cards, poetry, candy and flowers. Other young women might have jumped at the chance at romance, but my mom had set her mind on something else.

Learn From Your Mistakes
She enrolled in school again, and by the end of 1948 she had received a General Education Development (GED) certificate from Manual Training High School. The war was over by then, but patriotism was still high. Women’s Army Corps (WAC) posters asked, “Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?” She enlisted in 1949, at the age of 21, and went to stenographer’s school.


PVT Audrey Salerno, Ft Leavenworth, KS, 1950

Follow Your Heart
My mom had many suitors in the Army, but it was my dad’s sense of humor that won her over. Within a year of enlisting she had fallen in love with that young Sergeant in the Signal Corps. At the time, women couldn’t stay in the Army after getting married, so PFC Audrey A. Salerno was honorably discharged three days after the ceremony. Today some would bristle at that, but my mom knew her heart and it was the right choice for her. 

Audrey Salerno, 1950

Audrey Salerno, 1950



The Highest Calling
A few days before my mother’s death at the age of 58, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and asked if she ever regretted giving up her future to raise us. She told me she considered it an honor to be a mother, there was nothing else she would rather have spent her life doing. Of all the things she taught me by example, learning the importance of responsibility and sacrifice has served me the most over the years.

What did you learn from your mom? If any of you had a mother in the military, I’d love to hear her story. And if you recognize someone in these photographs, please leave a comment.

*As it turns out, that child really was trying to insult me, but I like to think he was just passing on what he heard someone else say and had no idea what it meant. Urbandictionary.com says this about that playground taunt: During WWII, prostitutes who followed the troops around, sometimes wore army boots or combat boots.

Why We Love Celebrity Memoirs

Steve_MartinI think most people would agree that the appeal of memoirs lies in the worlds they take us to and the struggles of people who may or may not be like us. We want to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experience how they handle life.

Melissa_GilbertCheering for the underdog is something most of us like to do. We’re ordinary people who want others like ourselves to come out ahead, even if we’re stuck in our own ordinary lives. We also want to know that chasing dreams is not a waste of time, that achieving them is possible. If someone else can reach the top of the mountain, maybe we can, too.

Gavin_MacLeodIn the case of someone whose life is shattered by their choices, we look for the turning point, the signs leading up to the fall. Drawn to tragedy and moved by suffering, we sympathize or empathize — and perhaps learn from their mistakes.

But are we drawn to celebrity memoirs, especially those of actors,Rosie_Perez for the same reasons?

It could be that humans are simply curious, like cats chasing shadows in a box. Curiosity could account for some of this attraction, but it might be more than that.

Tina_TurnerAs an audience, we watch actors on the screen or stage interacting in the most intimate of ways, both physically and emotionally. We laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, feel for them in their suffering, as well as their joy. Our hearts pound when a character we care about steps into danger. Then we leave the theater with nubs for fingernails, and stuffed full of popcorn we can’t remember eating. Is it any wonder Roger_Moorewe feel something for these strangers who share their lives with us year after year? When we’re drawn to someone, don’t we naturally want to know more about them?

Regardless of the reasons why some kinds of memoirs are more popular than others, they give us a chance to experience life from a different perspective and end up enriching our own lives because of it — and that’s a good thing.

What do you think of my theory about why we love celebrity memoirs?

These Truths I Believe

I found “This Truth I Believe” on Sharon Lippincott’s The Heart and Craft of Life Writing website. I agree with every one of these truths but would add one more – chocolate is a friend of mine. How about you?

This_Truth_I_Believe copy


eBook or Paper: Which Do You Prefer?

Or The Dilemma of Choosing Between Comfort and Convenience

tablet computer booksA book is like food. If it’s the right kind, it will  nourish and gratify.

When I was a child, I fed on every kind of book that took me away to unknown worlds or introduced me to characters and their dilemmas that helped form my opinions of right and wrong, and the gray areas in between. Reading was my escape and solace. Lord of the Rings swept me away to middle-earth and The Outsiders brought me closer to home – both showed me examples of suffering and courage and perseverance against all odds.

Cloth-bound hardbacks or soft-sided paperbacks or flimsier comic books were the choices back then. We borrowed from libraries and bought from secondhand stores. My mother kept our house stocked with encyclopedias and works of the masters. She even paid for a subscription to Writers Digest Condensed Books, which I devoured along with everything else in the house.

Today, my love of books is evidenced by filled book shelves throughout my house and books in boxes still waiting for a resting place. Dictionaries, thesauruses, and dozens of writing guides live near my computer. Cookbooks laugh at me from the kitchen. Children’s books wait for my granddaughter’s visits. Tons of toddler books are stored away for the day my new grandbaby grows into them. My night stand is stacked with fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. And on top of the stack closest to the bed, and within easy reach, is my Kindle.

Yes, I’ve embraced the digital age (somewhat, anyway). My Kindle holds nearly 50 books I’ve already read, plus 50 more nonfiction and 158 fiction titles in to-be-read “piles.” I don’t buy jewelry or shoes. I do buy books. They are still my solace and my escape.

I shared my love of reading with my children when they were young, and now my ten-year-old granddaughter loves to hear and read a good story both in paperback and eBook.

But I can’t imagine my baby granddaughter growing up without a relationship with physical books. Not running her chubby fingers over color-filled illustrations, not turning pages (tasting and smelling them, even), not leaving baby smudges behind. Don’t children need this tactile interaction? Don’t adults?

Reading on my Kindle is convenient, saves space, and usually costs less than its paper alternative. But there is something more personal about touch versus click, voice vs texting, mailed letters versus emailed ones. It seems a connection is missing from lack of the personal.

I hope we will always have the choice between physical and digital books. For me, if the costs are the same (or close), I choose paper. How about you? Do you prefer reading eBooks or paper? If eBooks, why? Please take a second to choose your answers in the polls below. 

Image ” Tablet Computer And Books ” courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net