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The Secret of Life
Walk Across the Bridge
You Can Always Float
Eat The Cookies
Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken
Good Enough Today
Holding Hands
The Five Minute Rule of Civility
Authentic versus Real Pumpkin Pie
Leaf Peeps

The Secret of Life

Is…As soon as you find the answer let me know, will ya?

The Secret of Life is different for everyone. But it has a common theme. It’s the realization that your life matters; you matter. And you get a lifetime to figure that one out. Here’s a hint:

The secret? It’s the “thing” (or person or place, etc.) that makes you aware that you are a living and breathing human being.

And whatever secret you discover is the key that unlocks your best life. Not mine. Not your partner’s. Not your boss’s. Not your country’s. Not your parent’s (or their ghosts).  Meaning you never need to explain it or defend it. Ever.

www.befat.netHere’s the kicker: Time. You don’t know how much you’ve got.

I think some of us have an easier time finding the secret to our life. Maybe you knew at age six you wanted to be a veterinarian. Your Dr. Dolittle office filled with stuffed animals in need of care. During school years you volunteered at the animal shelter. Then on to Vet school and now you are a bonafide animal doctor just like you knew you’d be. Then there’s people like me.

I spent most of my life being scared shit. That I would die without ever understanding the purpose and meaning and “secret” of my life.

I ran here and there, zigged this way and that, went up the hill and over the mountain looking for this elusive secret. Maybe it will never make itself known. Or worse, it does and I miss it! I’m aware of that too.

I’ve wandered around the planet, a deranged potpourri brain trying on a zillion masks to see which one fits best.

Remember that famous Confucius line? “Life is really simple; we insist on making it complicated.” Sometimes we inject unnecessary drama. We overthink.

We try too hard to seek what’s already there — you know all that constipated lip service about counting your blessings, gratitude, blah-blah-blah, etc. 

It’s all good, okay? But only if you believe it at your core. It does no good to tack up a poster on your wall because the pictures behind the words are pretty.

Time to discover the secret to your life. Before time is up.

(To me) one of the best takeaway lines on finding The Secret of Life comes from the 1991 movie City Slickers. This isn’t new but it’s worth revisiting…

Here, text from the screenplay, where Jack Palance’s character Curly asks Billy Crystal’s character Mitch the following:

Do you know what the secret of life is?
(holds up one finger)

Your finger?

One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that
and the rest don’t mean shit.

But, what is the “one thing?”

That’s what you gotta figure out.


Video source: 1991 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Walk Across the Bridge

www.befat Walk across the bridge

I live in an island town that is attached to the mainland by a bridge. The locals joke about “going over the bridge” as if crossing to the other side leads to some vast foreign abyss. And for some people it might be. They stay, from birth to death, with or without regrets. I don’t know. What is clear is that many people only toy with the idea of trying something new; someday, right?

Whatever the bridge represents to you — new job, begin or end of a relationship, health choice, a new home, etc. –- requires you to face your fear of the unknown. Fear can be paralyzing. Fear keeps us stuck on this side of the bridge. The side where we know every crack in the street and how to side step them. Where the old man sitting on the street corner waves when we drive by because he knows us by name. It’s familiar, and safe.

By staying on this side of the bridge we may never know what else is out there. Maybe it’s better, maybe not.

Don’t buy into the “grass is always greener” nonsense. This is spoken by people afraid to try a different brand of sliced bread.

Any deviation from the same, regular, predictable behavior is blasphemy. I heard this when I dared to move off the island.

You are here to explore and expand beyond your fenced in safe little yard. To not do so is to cheat yourself of what could be.

The challenge is to go over the bridge. Pack up your fears and worries and stomach butterflies and go. Crawl, walk, run or skip over. It doesn’t matter. Just go.

You can always come back over the bridge, but never in the same way.


Poem and original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio

You Can Always Float

Sometimes life feels like one big ocean trying to swallow you up. You’re swimming and swimming, just barely holding your head above the water. Not always, but sometimes.

A random example: Building or purchasing your dream home.  Your best laid plans can take a hit when any one of a thousand glitches happens — and something always happens!  Inspections go bad, building materials fail to show on time, the plumber is delayed on another project, so you’re delayed.

In the meantime your landlord (or mother) wants you out. You have visions of living on the street dragging a garbage bag that holds all your possessions. Okay, that’s extreme.

Hopefully, eventually, all works out and you get to live in your dream home with your family for many happy years. You just need to keep your head above the water long enough until you reach dry land or be discovered by a pleasure boat at cocktail hour. See? It all ends well.

But other times your “life swim” has more serious consequences. An illness. Unemployment. The death of a loved one or close friend. Perspective enlightens. A late shipment of roof shingles is way different than a poor health prognosis or the real possibility of losing your dream home due to financial hardship or disaster beyond your control.

Even then, please know that at any time — ANY TIME — you can stop swimming.

I learned this, like others, the hard way.

I didn’t know floating was an option.

I swam faster and harder, doing everything I could to not drown. The harder I tried, the more I took in, the heavier I felt, more exhausted my body became. At some point I wished to just drown already. If only I knew enough to–

Stop fighting so hard.

Save my breath.

Relax my muscles.

Gather my strength — and FLOAT.


Image credit: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash
Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio




Eat The Cookies

This blue can of Danish butter cookies was a reliable staple in my grandmother’s cupboard. She’d offer these sweet treats with Lipton tea, served in a china tea cup and saucer, because mugs were for hot coffee served to men in diners. She took her training us to be ladies and gentlemen very seriously.

I bought the exact same brand the other day and enjoyed a tea party with my four-year-old grandson.  We peeled the tape that sealed the lid and spent a good length of time inspecting the variety of butter cookies. Two layers of cookies, separated by a sheet of paper; each layer with individual paper sleeves, three cookies in each.  My grandmother allowed us three cookies and I followed tradition.

After we each ate three, he decided it would be okay if had just one more. His mother was at work, so I agreed. I didn’t worry about spoiling dinner, caloric intake or grams of sugar. We talked about making cookies, decorating cookies, what little kids had made these cookies — hopefully none I said.

He returned the tin to the cabinet and asked that instead of dinner, if we could have a tea party. An excellent idea.

“What do we do when they’re all gone?” I asked.

“Go to the store and get some more.”

Why didn’t I think of that?



Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken

Once again I’ve been the victim of mistaken identity.

I am not a weather girl. With all due respect to the sisters with real credentials, I am not a Meteorologist either.

I’ve been stopped too many times to count. I’m honest right away. Nope, not your gal. Still, they turn their heads trying a different angle, so sure I’m somebody they’ve seen somewhere. Trust me, at eleven p.m. I’m sleeping through the weather report.

This has happened so many times, my pat answer now is, “Yeah, I get that a lot, it’s the hair,” or if pressed, “It’s going to be a beautiful weekend. Get out and enjoy.”

Here’s the thing: I’m average. In height and weight, a homogeneous middle-aged female. I blend well in a crowd.

My husband, who loses me everywhere we go, claims 90% of the blondes in this country use the same hair color dye as me, including, apparently, weather girls.


I’ve been stopped by:


Women (Bead and Button Convention Ladies. Who knew, right?)

Men, some famous  (including then Senator, now Secretary of State John Kerry; former Celtics NBA player M.L. Carr on a JetBlue flight)

Numerous servers, clerks, librarians, and one Marriott doorman who thought I was much nicer in person.

In line at Panera this adorable girl, about 10, is standing next to me awaiting her order. She looks up and smiles; I smile back.

“I like your hair,” she says.

“I like your hair too.” Hers is dark brown, blunt cut with thick bangs, very Prince Valiant.

“I know who you are,” she says.

I shake my head, no.

“You’re the lady on television. You tell us the weather in the morning.”

Again I shake my head no. “I’m a writer.”

Quick to snarl back, she says, “My Mom says you should tell the truth every time.”

“Your Mom is right. Tell her it’s going to be a beautiful weekend. Get out and enjoy.”



Original graphics: Stephanie DelTorchio
Sunshine Clip Art: iClipart

Good Enough Today

Good Enough Today

In big bold letters the bumper sticker said: “I am not good enough.”

This statement, of course is a “feeling”. A bad one. And it is self-inflicted.

The full-to-capacity crowd at the daily I Am Not Good Enough cocktail party were guests in my head. Shit, I hand wrote the invitations with a calligraphy pen. I opened the door to every negative thought, life-sucking emotion and self-defeating attitude that whispered my way. Together we wallowed and moaned over cheap hors d’oeuvres and watered down drinks. They partied hard, stayed late and left behind a mental hangover.

My party ran in syndication for years. You’d think there were awards, perks or residuals for such a long run. Instead I ended up depressed and isolated with deep wrinkles across my face. Even I didn’t want to be with me.

Feeling good enough (or worthy enough) is different than actually being good enough. I may feel good enough to play recreational basketball in an over-the-hill league, but being an over-the-hill, petite female, I am not good enough to play NBA basketball. Let’s be honest here.

Good Enough Today

The Good Enough Manifesto

I am not delusional, but I am hard on myself when it comes to feeling good enough to do most things. Especially my lifelong desire to become a writer.

It started when I was about 12 and ended one day, just like that, forty years later.

The doors to the I’m Not Good Enough party closed for good. I can’t explain how exactly, but the why is easy. Exhaustion overtook my life. The repetitive chattering, uttered nasty barbs of my own construct finally took its toll.

It was a start. And it didn’t happen in one swoop. Changing the rhetoric from

I’m not good enough, to

I’m good enough today

gave me the latitude I needed to accept that each day would bring its own challenges. With a new shift in attitude I could handle the inevitable trips and falls. Knowing I’d done my best that day (and some days I totally sucked) had to be good enough if I was going to get to the next day and the next.

It’s a new party.

I write every day. My stuff isn’t brilliant or award-winning and that doesn’t matter. I sit down, show up and put in the effort to get better. The whispers and chatter around me are none of my concern. They can bang on the door but they’re not getting in.

I am Good Enough Today. It’s a feeling. And it’s good one.



Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio


Holding Hands

Holding Hands

In my former neighborhood, a petite elderly couple, guessing in their early 80s, shuffled up and down the street every day, holding hands.

A stylish, elegant pair, the man always wore a black felt beret and thin dark jacket. The woman dressed appropriate for the weather; a dress or skirt most days, then slacks when it cooled. They both wore white sneakers, laced not Velcroed.

They seemed glued to each other’s conversation, content in their own world, acknowledging no one passing by.

One Spring morning the woman stopped to admire a neighbor’s lilac trees in full bloom. She inhaled a sweet cluster and invited the man to do the same; he obliged and they shared a lovely moment. Then he snapped a few branches and delicately tucked them into her palm.

I imagined their long history. How had this precise, choreographed daily slow dance come to waltz into the neighborhood?

Perhaps they experienced young love, world travel, multiple wars, births of children, deaths of parents and friends, meaningful (or not) professions, communion with nature…all of it.

My last sighting of them was in early March nearly twelve years ago when I moved from the neighborhood. The woman dressed in a heavy coat, scarf wrapped around her head and twisted stylishly at the collar. His hand covered hers; he paused to take her elbow to ease her struggle onto the curb. There was a noticeable slow down to their dance, but they danced.

I wondered how many times over the course of their life, the simple act of holding hands had comforted or celebrated each of them.


Awesome LOVE

Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio

The Five Minute Rule of Civility I can be civil for five minutes

It takes balls to stand in the same air space as a person you’d rather squeeze the life out of. Still, my mother, a woman with great big balls believed anyone can survive a civil conversation for five minutes.

We’re grown-up big people. We know civility aligns with the rules of law and the Almighty. This is how mature adults (should) behave. Five minutes will ease you through a dreaded receiving line or a chance meeting at the deli. Five minutes is the average time it takes to floss your teeth, take out the trash and phone in a pizza order.

As an alternative to total avoidance, she suggested another, albeit radical approach. Go at it head-on. Be the friendly aggressor. Stick out your sweaty, shaking hand first. Say hello.

This is one of those situations where it sounds better on paper. Retreat in the opposite direction is more my style.

I have a certificate from the Absence/Avoidance Institute.

Despite a near panic attack, I sucked it up at a funeral service when it would have been very easy to give my condolences to the family and slip out the side door.

An older woman, the source of many nightmares, sat a few rows away glaring in my direction, buzzing to the people around her. In my mind they were talking about me. Because ego always shows up first. In the past she’d meddled in my business where her only stake in the outcome, to make waves. Her disloyalty ended a lovely friendship, although honestly, I couldn’t remember the exact details that caused us to not speak for years.

Occasionally our paths crossed. We avoided each other in opposite rope lines at the bank or the same grocery register. Easier to look the other way or recheck the list than attempt civility.

www.befat.netI paid my respects and approached the woman, interrupting her mid-sentence. She looked up and examined my face for a moment, trying to place me, then returned to her conversation — parking suggestions for the next day’s church service. My ego got booted out the door on its ass, where it belonged.

I stood in her air space and held out my sweaty hand. To my surprise she stood up and took it. Her frail, boney handshake drew me into a sweet hug. She still favored Jean Naté. Twenty years had rendered its penance. Her slight frame thinner than I’d remembered, now as fragile as a China doll. I thought a good sneeze might shatter her into a million bits.

She softened even more when I mentioned just having made her One-Bowl-Banana-Bread recipe. That the well-worn, stained card she’d written when I was a new bride is still a family favorite. “I don’t bake anymore, ” she said.

And just like that it was over.

We parted, in less than five minutes, with no daggers or bloodshed or promises to see each other anytime in the future. It was a civil conversation, that’s all. I’d like to think we were both better for it.

My mother’s contention:

They’re going to talk about you whether you speak up or walk away. Leave them with a good story to tell.

In fact behind my back one of her elderly friends said, “Can you believe she had the nerve to smile at you and shake your hand?”

I checked my watch. Under five minutes.

And my pizza was ready for pick-up.


Awesome LESSON

Original graphic and Photo image: Stephanie DelTorchio (the recipe)

Authentic versus Real Pumpkin Pie

Authentic versus real pumpkin pie

My daughter was eight when we set out to make two authentic pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pie from real pumpkins, not cans of pumpkin.

During the day-long event, I led the cheer: “Pumpkin pie doesn’t come from a can…,” and she’d chant back: “Pumpkin pie comes from pumpkins!!”

We danced off to the market to purchase small sugar pumpkins for our authentic pies. She inspected each one to find four pumpkins identical in size and as pure orange as a Crayola crayon. This took an hour.

At home we gathered all the utensils and ingredients for the filling and crust. We even tied on matching aprons.

I cut and she peeled the pumpkins. We scooped innards and saved the seeds for roasting later.

While the pumpkins boiled we ate lunch and mocked “real” pies made from cans. Ours would be the most delicious pies the family ever tasted. “Authentic” was the new word of the day.

We made a snack waiting for the pumpkin to drain and cool. She got crackers and I reached into the pantry for the peanut butter. Sitting right there, mocking me, three cans of perfectly pureed ready-to-use pumpkin.

www.befat.netThe crust, made from scratch, was a fail-proof recipe given to me by my aunt. My daughter measured and mixed, incorporating little pieces of butter and shortening with her hands. The dough that should have resembled small beans looked more like Little Miss Muffet’s curds and whey. I made a second batch while my daughter looked for a Disney movie to watch.

The new dough rested as we ate lunch in silence, staring out of the window. “Pumpkin pie doesn’t come from a can…,” I said, and she answered: “I know. Pumpkin pie comes from pumpkins.”

Making the filling became a math lesson. This skill surpassed the fine motor challenge to keep the filling in the bowl using a wire whisk. At this point any parent can appreciate the triple time it takes to do anything when you add in an extra pair of small hands. I sensed losing her to Aladdin.

We rolled the crust nice and thin fitting it in the pan, crimping the edges. Together we poured the filling then placed the pies in the oven until perfectly set.

“Pumpkin pie doesn’t come from a can…,” I chirped and she droned back: “Yeah, pumpkin pie comes from pumpkins. I said I know.”

I choked down two aspirins with a cup of coffee while she watched The Lion King for the twentieth time. It was early evening when the suckers came out of the oven. I pulled my daughter away from the TV to admire our joint achievement.

Her ho-hum demeanor changed on Thanksgiving Day when she got to tell everyone how she made authentic pies from real pumpkins. Such pride. By the way, they were delicious.

The next year, and every year since, I open three cans of pumpkin puree to make real pumpkin pies. It’s a running gag now. “Pumpkin pie doesn’t come from a can…,” I say and she chants back: “Pumpkin pie comes from pumpkins!! In cans.”


Awesome MEMORY

Photo: Stephanie DelTorchio (from my actual pantry)
Image credit: Pixaby

Leaf Peeps

Leaf Peeps 11.15.2015

One of the perks of living in New England is the daily color change of leaves. In ideal conditions foliage in New England, notably Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and western Massachusetts is truly breathtaking, and that’s no pandering statement.

When Mother Nature is in her full glory, “the best things in life are free” is never more true. Sometimes we’re guilty of taking the transformation from green to yellows, oranges and reds for granted.

For the price of gas, a hotel room and a hearty meal, “Leaf Peepers” or “Foliage Hunters” marvel at the dense colors with appreciative wonder. They come for a weekend and leave with postcard worthy images and quarts of maple syrup.

We natives enjoy the beautiful foliage season, too. What’s not to enjoy when the sun of midday shines from the bluest sky and illuminates the mountains and valleys?

As kids raking leaves meant a competition to see who could make the tallest pile. Then who could run fastest to jump in and destroy it. Over and over.

It’s the clean-up work of adulthood we don’t like. A lawn overtaken by leaves is not a one shot clearing. You rake and within a week the lawn is covered again. Where’s the fun in that?

But today I saw some incredibly happy adults doing an adult job with the levity of children.

  • A man with a leaf blower strapped to his back. He sang along to whatever music blasted through his headphones.
  • A woman on a well-worn riding lawnmower. Her broad smile and sweeping wave to passing motorists, as regal as a Homecoming Queen.
  • Another guy, also on a riding mower, made a game of “doing donuts”. The center of his lawn was adorned with a round rug of autumn leaves against the green turf.
  • An elderly husband and wife raked leaves in tandem. One can only assume they’ve had years of practice.
  • A dad raked several piles of leaves while his kids (or grandkids?) jumped in a pile. Then he ran with them and dove into a pile of leaves.

Today, if you’re lucky enough to live in New England, have some fun gathering your leaves. If you are a Leaf Peeper passing through, please come back and see us next year. The syrup will be waiting.



Photo credit: Michael Podger/Unsplash
Original Graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio