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Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Dead Camels

5 Sep

“When you find yourself in need of spiritual nourishment, it is in the opportunities to serve others that you will find the abundance you seek.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being
On May 25th of this year, I met the most delightful man. “I picked him up at the airport.” Little joke.. that’s what he told his wife. I was on my way to Chicago and had a couple hours before my flight. There were dozens of military personnel scattered about, and I tried to shake hands and thank as many of them as I could for their service. That’s when I met Chaplain Jim, waiting for a flight home to see his family for a few days before deployment. I bought him a “nutritious” McDonalds breakfast and we talked for over an hour.

Chaplain Jim and I have been corresponding. He is in Kuwait, serving his country and The Lord. I thought I’d share his words of wisdom with all of you.


Dead Camels
I didn’t spend a lot of time in Kuwait my first two deployments, but enough to have some significant memories seared into my brain. My first time here was in December, 2004, and I distinctly remember the ride from Camp New York where we were staying in to Arifjan where I am now, to consult with the sr. Chaplain here. That first ride in, it seemed like we were driving on the moon, with the ONLY sign of life or human habitation being the road, heading off to the horizon with NOTHING in sight. Then we finally saw the first tree-lonely, all by itself in the distance off to the right. It seemed like forever before we saw that first tree, but it was probably more like 20 minutes driving through nothingness until we hit that first sign of life.

This time around, in the summer of 2013, I do that same ride pretty frequently. The desert is still the same, yet it’s not. Where it had looked like a moonscape, now there are fences, there are Beduin camps that we see, never up close, and never close to each other, but there are quite a few scattered around. There’s trash-mostly plastic bags caught in the fences, occasionally a pile of tires to mark an otherwise indistinguishable route to a camp, sometimes a toilet in the sand, but most remarkable are the dead camels and sheep. I have no idea how these camels and sheep survive out there-well, obviously not all do, but we usually see a lot more LIVE camels than dead ones, but the dead ones are usually right by the road-road kill perhaps?

The difference is dramatic across the almost ten years’ difference between my first and current stays here-and as strange as it may sound, the dead camels are a remarkable sign of life and normalcy. Ten years ago, the desert was the biggest barrier between the instability of Hussein in Iraq, and the fallout that followed. NO ONE wanted to live out there anywhere NEAR Hussein! Now, that there are dead camels, trash, toilets and tires and Beduins in the desert, indicates a new comfort level, a “new normal” as we like to say. The dead critters wouldn’t be there, had they not already been ALIVE and grazing through the sand in a new sense of stability.

Sometimes signs of growth and life can be disguised-like in a dead camel. But IF we are working on growing ourselves and growing our families in our spiritual lives, we will be able to find the fruit of that growth if we look for it. If we don’t find fruit of our spiritual growth-maybe that means we’re not being intentional about nurturing that growth!

Keep on growing!
Rev. Jim-“on assignment” for Family Matters in Kuwait

Chaplain (Major) James R. Lewis
371st Sustainment Brigade
Brigade Chaplain
Thank you, Chaplain Jim.

Tuesday Tip of the Day: Give

4 Sep

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
Maya Angelou
When you have been blessed, it is an honor and privilege to share your blessings with others.
I feel sorry for the people who have never experienced the joy of giving, sharing, teaching or volunteering. It is a feeling like no other. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money. Sometimes, just a few kind words, a smile, or a simple gesture could impact another human being.

When did the world become so self-absorbed in personal self-gratification? What’s in it for me? How can I get more? This just isn’t right! Every religion or faith promotes kindness to others and sharing our blessings. Why have so many lost their religion, lost their faith? Thank goodness for those who follow the golden rule, not the almighty golden coin.

So, my tip for today is GIVE! Share a word, a smile, a few hours. You will be blessed in return thrice-fold. What do you do to share…what will you do? I’d love to hear from you.

I have the pleasure of volunteering every Friday with some beautiful seniors.

A load of back to school supplies found their way to The Samaritan Inn Shelter.

Some stickers and supplies heading to CASA for the children.

Saturday Sweet Spot

4 Aug

Research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate. ~Sandra Boynton ( Think about it!)

Saturday morning writing group is one of the things I really look forward to every week. Our group is small, but we are close friends. Over the years, we have learned, and shared, laughed and cried. Friends!

We started meeting at Saxby’s Coffee Shop in McKinney, then they changed hands. We floundered around a while looking for a comfy meeting place. We started meeting at Coffee2 on the Square. Just a few months ago, Sweet Spot Bakery opened up inside the coffee shop, sharing the space. Yummy cupcakes, ice cream, brownies, cakes, and freshly baked breads aromatically and visually tempting locals and visitors.

Kathy White, owner of the sweet shop, told us that in a few weeks, she was taking over the entire store and expanding the bakery. Yeah! We can use a fun bakery in downtown McKinney. Kathy is a sweet gal herself. Sometimes she’ll sit and chat with us, sharing ideas and stories, while we complain about our lack of self-control.

We wish Miss Kathy the best of luck. If you’re in McKinney, stop in at 120 W. Louisiana and support a new and exciting small business. Say Toni sent you.

Kathy has a lot of exciting plans for Sweet Spot.


Monday Montage: A Week in a Peek

1 Jul

From dancing dogs to putting out fires, it’s been a busy week, and as they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Wait a minute. Who is they, anyway? Hold on! I’m gonna look that up…. OK, here it is…from Wikipedia…or just scroll down and look at the photo… much easier and faster…

[The adage[citation needed] “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.
The expression “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” appears in a 1911 newspaper article quoting newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane discussing journalism and publicity.[1]
1913 newspaper advertisement
A similar phrase, “One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words”, appears in a 1913 newspaper advertisement for the Piqua Auto Supply House of Piqua, Ohio.[2]
An early use of the exact phrase appears in an 1918 newspaper advertisement for the San Antonio Light which says:
One of the Nation’s Greatest Editors Says:
One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
The San Antonio Light’s Pictorial Magazine of the War
Exemplifies the truth of the above statement—judging from the warm
reception it has received at the hands of the Sunday Light readers.[3] ]

So, there you have it. TMI


Sittin’ Around Sunday: Fighting Fires and Other True Stories

1 Jul

Sunday is my sit around and do nothin’ day. I thought to myself, “Self, what are you going to write about today? You don’t go anywhere or do anything exciting on Sunday.” This will be a tough one.” I fed the dogs, made my tea, grabbed my iPad and went to sit out in the backyard. It wasn’t so hot this morning and there was a powerful breeze. As the bright pink blossoms from the crepe myrtle trees started snowing crimson, I thought, maybe I’d make another music video. (Saving that for another day.)

I sat with my green tea, and the dogs tussled and ran around the yard. When I glanced up from my emails, I saw black billowing smoke coming from my next door neighbor’s back yard. The trees between our yards have gotten very tall, maybe fifteen feet or more. At first I thought, maybe someone was barbecuing or using a smoker.The dark smoke rose high above the trees.

I ran over to the fence, only to see huge white flames flashing almost to the garage roof. Panic! I yelled out, but no one was in the yard. The dogs were confused and barking, so I put them in the house and ran next door. I rang the bell and pounded on the door. No one was home.They were probably at church. Now what? If I ran home and dialed 911, it might take ten minutes or more for a fire truck to get there. The house could burn down.

A garden hose was just a few feet from the fence. Should I try and put out the fire myself? What if gas or electricity was involved and I made it worse, or God forbid, something explodes. The fire was coming out of melted pipes and singed connections from the pool equipment. My greatest concern was, if I didn’t act quickly, the house might catch on fire, so I grabbed the hose and said a prayer. After only five minutes or more, the fire seemed contained, but I gave it a few more minutes, wedging the still spraying hose between pipes, aimed at the black melted pipes. Then I ran home to dial 911.

The dispatcher asked for my name, location, etc., and I tried to be calm, but I’m sure my adrenalin induced voice sounded more like panic. I explained that the fire was out, but I’d feel better if the fire department checked it out. The truck arrived in just a few minutes. They turned off the circuit breakers for the equipment just to be safe and inspected the damage.

I felt pretty good when they said I did a good job and may have saved the rest of the equipment from catching on fire, and perhaps reaching the house. They were kind enough not to say anything like, “What were you thinking, lady? Just call 911!” Firefighter Simmons recognized me from my last cupcake drop-off at Station 5 last month, so I think he was being kind.

Needless to say, the neighbors were more than grateful when they got home. I told John, “Well, you saved me from that big snake that climbed into my dryer vent. I think we’re even.” A lot of hugs were exchanged and I was SO happy that I was in the right place at the right time. And yes, now I had something interesting to write about on an otherwise sleepy Sunday.


If I told you the nickname that my Mom calls me, you wouldn’t believe me. But, that’s another long story.

Monday in McKinney: Neighbors Making a Difference

18 Jun

A community came out to support one of their own. Officer John Libby served on the McKinney Police Department from 2007 until May 27, 2013, when he was lost in an off-duty motorcycle accident. Officer Libby left behind a wife and two young children.

Sicily’s Pizza and Pasta in McKinney hosted a fundraiser today at 1502 W. University Drive. Owners Eddie and Merita sponsored this special event at their restaurant, which is normally closed on Mondays. They are donating 100% of all proceeds to the Libby family. Local police officers and firefighters volunteered as servers to help with the constant crowds. Neighbors, friends, and strangers stopped by for a great meal and to support the Libby family. People who couldn’t stop by to eat, phoned in donations or dropped off cards and cash. The restaurant was packed from 11am till 8pm.


When I arrived around 4:30, the place was pretty full. I saw a young man sitting alone, so I asked if I might join him. His name was Jacob Sample from Frisco. He said that an email was sent to all the employees where he works about the fundraiser. Jacob had never been to Sicily’s, nor did he know Officer Libby, but he felt compelled to pay his respects and make a donation for the family. That’s what happens here in North Texas. People help strangers all the time. But actually, there are no strangers, just a lot of extended family. Y’all know what I mean!

Jacob Sample from Frisco

Eddie thanked each and every patron personally. Thank you, Eddie!

Wednesday: Words of Wisdom and “Perfect” Strangers

30 May

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dallas Fort Worth Airport. It was a busy Memorial Day weekend. Terminal A was already bustling with stranded passengers from the bad storms that had grounded and cancelled dozens of flights the night before. Servicemen were scattered everywhere. I was catching a flight to Chicago, but my flight was delayed too, leaving me with few hours to kill.

I tried to shake hands with all the soldiers and thank them for their service, but I’m sure I missed a few. As fate would have it, I struck up a conversation with a soldier sitting all alone, and I asked him if I could buy him breakfast.

To make a long story short, we sat, ate a nutritious McDonald’s breakfast,(humor) and chatted for well over an hour. It turned out that Chaplain James Lewis was an army Major heading home on a four day pass before being deployed. He had been stranded overnight at DFW, losing a day of precious family time. We shared more than stories and email info that morning. We shared a small moment in time where The Lord lets you meet a fascinating, kind, and special person; a stranger who now becomes a friend.

Here is my first letter to Chaplain Jim and his response. I am truly blessed to have made a wonderful new friend.
(May 28, 2013)
Dear Chaplain Jim,
It was such an honor to meet you Saturday. I always say The Lord puts certain people in my path for a reason. I’ve had so much fun visiting with my sons, Mom, and my sister, and of course, sharing my story of the wonderful Chaplain I met at the airport. I hope you made it back home to your family without more delays.
As I told you, I write everyday, and thought I’d share my blog from Memorial Day. I’d be honored to hear from you now and then, and hope you don’t mind if I keep you in my email ramblings. I definitely will keep you in my prayers.
Your new friend,
Toni Andrukaitis

(Chaplain Jim’s response on May 28, 2013)


Thanks for breakfast and the chance to share. I do intend to keep up with you and will include you in my Chaplain’s Chats weekly mailings, starting up again probably next week once we are in country.

It was fun to tell my wife that I got picked up by a gal at the airport eager to connect with a lonely Soldier! She’s a fun one– I think I’ll keep her. Next week will be our 26th anniversary.

She kept my trip home a secret from the kids– a good time was had by all, despite the rather cool weather as we were camping on the lake– counldn’t tell it was summer!

If I miss you next week, send again so I cann get you on my list when I’m building my new routines.
Keep being a blessing-


I look forward to hearing from you, Chaplain Jim. Stay safe!

Friday: More Faces, More Firemen

25 May

I see faces everywhere, in my eggs in the frying pan, in my brownie batter, and today in my cheesecake mixture. Yes, faces everywhere! The fun part is, the funny faces in the batter always bring about smiling faces in the recipients of the finished product.

When the eggs are dropped in, the face just happens. This is never done on purpose. A gift or a curse?

The finished product…mini-cheesecakes.

With Memorial Day around the corner, I wanted to thank our local fire fighters with some homemade treats. They certainly go out of their way for us, don’t they!


But sound aloud the praises, and give the victor-crown
To our noble-hearted Firemen, who fear not danger’s frown.
~Frederic G.W. Fenn, “Ode to our Firemen,” 1878

Wednesday: Words of Wisdom

25 Apr


Excellent words to live by. Everyone has special talents and gifts, and they should be used and shared with everyone. Maybe you can’t draw or paint, but perhaps you bake, sew, sing, or write. Your gift might be being able to make someone smile or laugh. There are so many ways to create. You may not believe you are creative, But YOU ARE! Think about it. What are your gifts and how can you share them?


Sunday Salutations and Other Sentimental Stuff

21 Apr

So much craziness is going on in the world, it’s refreshing to hear the voices of people who just want to enjoy life without being inundated with mayhem 24/7. One of my friends, Gail, posted on her Facebook page that she was sick and tired of it. Well, good for her. I strongly believe the more violence and terror you see, the more it effects you. That’s why I try to post mostly happy or uplifting stories, except of course, when my dogs drive me nuts. Here’s what Gail had to say, and I totally agree. Then my friend, Carolyn, commented with such a lovely response about my writing.


Carolyn wrote: “Yes, I agree with you Gail. Funny, that is what Fr. Michael’s sermon was on this morning. We are inundated with news now as compared to when he was young and one could sit with a cup of coffee and read the newspaper or turn on the TV at your own decisive time. My one comment was we could sit around the radio and listen. Then spend time looking at the beauty around us and thank God for those times also. I have been thinking a lot about Toni Armenta Andrukaitisitus lately. As I was perusing my facebook there were all kind of hate messages against and for our president, against the bomber, etc. Then I came across Toni’s post. She sees something good every day in her life and writes a post about it. So refreshing and fulfilling. Thank you Toni!”

I am honored that so many people are influenced by my positive and humorous writings. If we all shared a little sunshine instead of gloom, the world would be a much better place. Have a great day, as the old annoying cliché goes!