Category Archives: Aging Parents

Motherhood and The Duty of Family

Three Generations- Granddaughter, Grandmother, Great Grandmother

Duty: obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position (as in life or in a group)-i.e. was his duty to support his family. Source

It has been four years since I left my full time job to help my mom. In that time I have been through many things and learned much about patience, acceptance, and gratitude. I have started a small business, penned a book, experienced the joy of another grandchild, and spent consistent and overflowing amounts of time with my mom.

In this time with my mom, I often reflect about the two decades devoted to the raising of my two children. They are now beautiful young adults, responsible and contributing members of society.  They are good kids with big hearts. I couldn’t ask God for more and yet He gave me two amazing grandchildren as well.

I remember back to my child rearing days and I’m grateful for a husband who loves and adores his kids. Jim has always been a good provider, often working long shifts and weekends. Many times the kids and I were on our own, attending parties and functions without Dad in tow.

Though I deeply loved my children, I remember feeling at times the need to go to the top of a mountain and sit there for a while. Maybe I’d be quiet, maybe I’d scream, maybe I’d pack a lunch and eat it all by myself without interruption. Even as the kids got older and more independent, the responsibility of them continued (and really still continues to this day). It is a juggle to nurture and encourage our young and adult children without stifling them. I like to think of it as a balance to allow them to be themselves but within the social boundaries of society.

I see my duties with my mom as much of that same responsibility. Sometimes the nurturing and encouraging is on her part, sometimes it’s on mine. I am making the same sacrifices I did thirty years ago. Living on less financially, saying No to things I don’t have time for or basically cannot afford. As an oldest child, this is how I was raised. My sense of duty and responsibility to my family is deeply rooted.

My mother told me once that when I was in elementary school I often brushed my sisters’ hair and helped get them ready for school. I remember consistently looking out for them whenever we were playing or when my parents were not around. My dad told me I was the one they would look up to and to behave accordingly. I may not have behaved in my teenage- hood but I certainly did in my later years.

It is hard for me to describe my views on the caretaking of my mother to others who are not caretakers themselves or not “the oldest child.” I can see the lack of understanding on their faces and part of my acceptance is knowing that they simply cannot understand how it truly is. If you are the oldest or only child and/or the current caretaker of an elderly or aging parent (or even grandchildren), you do understand (and I’d love to hear from you). I am blessed in that I have a couple of dear friends who truly know what it is like. They are my saving grace.

With my mom’s 88th birthday fast approaching, I want to say how much having the experience of spending time with her has meant to me. She is my biggest cheerleader, best friend, and confident. Remember to spend time with your mom this coming Mother’s Day. If that is not possible then be with someone you truly enjoy.

“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm

Read more of my writing at the Orthodox Christian Network. Click HERE for the link.

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Sunrise, Sunset

Sunrise over Sewickley, PA.

Sunrise from Sewickley Bridge, PA.

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

Lyrics from Sunrise, Sunset- Fiddler on the Roof

It’s hard to believe that next month I will be 58 years old. I kind of like that I can say I am pushing 60. Years ago, I thought I would be young forever. When I hit 30, I was excited about that landmark. When I turned 40, it was a bit different. I felt like I really began to feel my age. No wonder people buy red sports cars at that age.

Mom and her daughters- Photo by Karen Long Kern. (LtoR) My sister Mary, sister Cally, Mom, Me

Mom and her daughters- Photo by Karen Long Kern. (LtoR) My sister Mary, sister Cally, Mom, Me

My mom has set the example for me of accepting her age but staying young at heart. She stopped dyeing her hair in her mid – 50’s. She prefers to be around young people rather than join senior types of activities. She is really a trooper and her positive attitude about life continues to inspire and motivate me.

What I’ve noticed about this era is that I can’t do everything I used to do. I get tired. I have the desire to keep going but my mind and body can not always keep up. It’s been a difficult choice to slow down a bit lately. And there’s some things that this age has brought about for me that I’m truly grateful for.

Siesta Key Sunset

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I am losing friends these days to cancer and sudden death. It really puts things into perspective. What is really important? It’s not the latest handbag or hashtag. It’s all about family and friends.

Money is irrelevant. Yes you need money to pay the bills. Do I need the latest wardrobe or fancy shoes? No, I do not. And I’ve really learned that money does not buy true happiness. Who will be with you on your dying day? It won’t be Ms. Money.

It helps to have some spirituality. I don’t know where I’d be without my faith. I had hot flashes for several years that were so bad I don’t know now how I got through them. I survived and I credit my higher power.

A good partner is worth gold. I know I said it is not about the money but a good partner is priceless. My husband Jim is my best friend. Enough said.

Do what you love. I really love giving people unconditional love. How do I do this? I coordinate their wedding days. I send them little messages. I tell them “I love you.” I volunteer for a program that feeds the poor and homeless. I write blogs for my religion that people actually read. It’s mind blowing.

Put guilt into perspective. OK, this is a big one. I carried around way too much guilt about dumb stuff for too long. Life really is too short for guilt. The better my relationship with God, the less guilt I have. Remember that post I wrote on perfection? I will never achieve perfection; only God is perfect. I just try to do my best every day and apologize when I tick someone off.

Less clutter is better. If you don’t use something for a year, chances are you don’t need it and someone else could use it. Make three bags and go through your stuff. One bag is for keeping, one is for trash, one is to give away. Do one room or one area at a time. Drive to Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity ReStore afterwards and donate the contents of the giveaway bag. Take the trash bag to the garbage before you change your mind. Take the keep bag and actually display or use those favorite things.

Family is everything. Who will show up when you really need them? Who’s there for you when you need someone to talk to? Maybe you have close friends that are really like family. Those people count as well. Nurture those relationships and keep them going.

There you have it. All the above is where I’m at right now. Thank you God for this age and this perspective. Bring on the next year. 🙂

Sunset 2-7-15

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Things My Mother Taught Me

Photo by Karen Long Kern. (LtoR) My sister Mary, sister Cally, Mom, Me

Photo by Karen Long Kern. (LtoR) My sister Mary, sister Cally, Mom, Me

“I wondered if my smile was as big as hers. Maybe as big. But not as beautiful.”
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I know how hard motherhood can be. There’s the life lessons to teach, boo boos to kiss and cover with band aids, and those decisions you make that keep you up at night. It’s not easy. I think back on my mother and wonder, how did she do it? She was consistently loving, caring and yes, tough when she needed to be. She ran interference on my Dad once in a while, smoothing out those rough edges of his sometimes sharp personality, buffering us with soft words and a good piece of cake.

I’ve been thinking of the big and little things my mother has taught me over the years. Here’s a few pearls of wisdom she gave me that I’m truly grateful for.

1. Buy Fresh Ingredients. I made baklava one year for Christmas and it didn’t quite taste right. Mom took one bite and said, “Old Nuts.” She was right. They were old nuts I had lying around in the freezer. Never again. I always buy fresh ingredients, including nuts, when I bake at the holidays.

2. Cook from Scratch. My mom amazingly had a home cooked meal for us just about every single night. This was the old days I realize, but even when she worked, she cooked. I don’t remember a TV dinner (as they were called back then) or a pot pie ever in our house. She loved to cook and we ate good food, not always fancy, but still GOOD.

3. Money Isn’t Everything. My mom has gone through some very tight periods in her life. She was a depression baby, the first born to immigrant parents from Greece. She can make due on practically nothing. But she has shown me truthfully that all she ever needs has been given to her. She is a shining example of this.

4. Be of Service. Mom volunteered at church for everything. She cooked and served for the church ladies group, the Philoptochos, for YEARS. She served on the committee to build our church some thirty five years ago. Always involved, she set the example to give of ourselves and showed us that it will be returned- multiplied.

5. Go to the Beach. When the going gets tough, go to the beach. Mom loves the beach and once we hooked my dad on this, we went every year. She’d don her bathing suit, get a tan, and relax for a whole week. She instilled in us a love of the beach and to this day, we all LOVE the ocean.

Mom, front and center, white cap, at the beach

Mom, front and center, white cap, at the beach

I know I am blessed to have another day with my mom. I cherish the memories we are still creating and am grateful to have such a loving and caring mother.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

PS. I’m blogging over at the Orthodox Christian Network! Check out my mother’s day post there. Click HERE.

 

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What a Vacation is Really All About

My Sisters and I on the Beach at Siesta Key

My Sisters and I on the Beach at Siesta Key

I got my ‘joice back, as my pastor says, ie if you want to re-joice, go get your ‘joice back. -Anne Lamott

The above is one of my favorite lines from Anne Lamott. She talked about getting her ‘joice back in her book, Plan B- More Thoughts on Faith, and since then has mentioned it many times on her social media posts.

I know exactly what she means. As a recovering over-doer, I tend to….well, overdo. I love lots of challenges, my plate full to the brim, and service work that is meaningful. It’s a delicate balance. And when that balance gets over or too far under, I am one un-joyful person.

It had been three years since I experienced a vacation of more than a couple of days. A few days here and there at a friend’s house, sporatic park/forest weekends and that was about it. Call it a financial decision or whatever it was, that was the truth.

All I can say is, I had no idea how tightly wound my brain had become. Filled with too many responsibilities and stress, it had been a long time since I truly allowed time for myself. I couldn’t remember when I had last read a book cover to cover, one of my own indications that I was too overloaded.

So it was spiritually perfect that on the very first full day of my Florida vacation, I went to church in Bradenton Florida. It was St. Barbara’s, a beautiful Greek Orthodox church. My Aunt KC had invited me long before I left Pennsylvania and I packed a black skirt just for the occasion. On the ride there, we talked about many things (mostly related to my mom) and when we arrived at the church, I soaked it all in.

St. Barbara's

St. Barbara’s

It was a gorgeous church, full of mosaics, icons and a very eloquent priest who talked about lent and repeating behaviors that we know don’t serve us. I loved his sermon and the beauty of the liturgy.

Then, that night, Aunt KC and Joanie told us there would be drumming on the beach around 7pm. We all wanted to go. In reality, the drumming began much earlier and we could hear the beat all the way up in our condo. By the time we made it down, there were a couple of hundred people and lots of drums.

More Drumming on Siesta Key

It was amazing. I have attended only one drumming event before but this was on a much larger scale. There were lots of people. Lots of drums. The sun was going down. It was a magnificent sight.

Picture by my sister Cally Jamis Vennare

Photo by my sister Cally Jamis Vennare

Lots of Drums!

Lots of Drums!

By the end of the week, I felt like I had my ‘joice back. It was there and I could feel it again. Joy in life, joy in whatever lay ahead, joy in gratitude for a vacation much needed.

Picture by Cally Jamis Vennare

Photo by Cally Jamis Vennare

Moral of the story: we all need a good vacation every once in a while.

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Girl’s Day Out

The weather had been blustery for a couple of days, but luckily last Wednesday it gave us a break. That’s when my mom, Aunt Joy, Michelene (my daughter) and I came together for a girl’s day out of lunch and Christmas window shopping.

Soergel's Yellow Truck

Soergel’s Yellow Truck

We chose a local Eat’n Park as our starting point. After having lunch there, it was only a short ride to Soergel’s Orchards and Greenhouse. They’ve been around for ages and Michelene even remarked that my mother had taken her there as a small child. We were not disappointed when we decided to look in Soergel’s bakery for a sweet treat. Even with choices of baklava, chocolate or pumpkin gobs, or small lemon merigue pies, Michelene chose sugar cookies that turned out to be pillowy puffs of almost cake like goodness, with a fine sprinkle of sugar on top. With a cup of coffee, it was the perfect winter treat.

I was happy to have Michelene along as we maneuvered mom and Aunt Joy through aisles chock full of Christmas treats and treasures. Soergel’s has an amazing Christmas shop with lots of ornaments, decorations, ribbons, sleigh bells and table linens. It was a feast for holiday eyes and hearts.

Fun at Soergel's and their delicious bakery

Aunt Joy (L), Michelene, My mom Katherine (R), Fun at Soergel’s

After some time at Soergel’s, the ladies were still game for one more stop. We hit Sewickley Creek Greenhouses on the way back to my mom’s. We could smell the pine and candles when we walked in the door of this beautiful greenhouse and gift shop. The owners were so friendly and asked if we needed help with anything. We loved just walking around and looking at all the gifts.

Sewickley Creek Greenhouses Golden Tree

Sewickley Creek Greenhouses Golden Tree

Sewickley Creek Lemon Curd Candles

Sewickley Creek Lemon Curd Candles

Here’s what I think of on these kind of days. Every moment is precious and I will remember these days with a fondness. So if I get a bit tired or distracted along the way, I stop and remind myself to be in the moment. I have this experience with my mom, aunt and daughter that time will never erase. My friends tell me to enjoy every minute. I think that’s good advice.

 

 

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A Match Made in Heaven

Mom and Dad!

Mom and Dad!

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Tonight is a special night. I have been planning an event in a beautiful town for weeks. My friends are going to be there- Jim, Joe, Jesse, Nicole (and YOU, I hope!)- and my daughter Michelene, husband Jim, my sister Cally and of course, my mom. We will miss Mary tremendously but I know she will be there in spirit!

Jim of Cuttings Flower and Garden Mart and I have imagined and thought of what you would want to see if you were planning a special event. We have wine, flowers, food, sweets, photographers, beautiful dresses, place cards and menu cards. There are very talented people involved. Local businesses that are passionate about what they do.

Though the focus is on weddings, there will be many good ideas for any type of event. We are pulling out all the stops tonight. My daughter Michelene is modeling my mom’s vintage wedding gown. My mom and dad would have been married sixty years this coming June. It is amazing how time flies. My dad passed eighteen years ago but I can see him at this moment, telling me to “Go For It!” He was always supportive of anything I ever wanted to do or try. I am lucky. My husband Jim has that same quality.

Like most of you, I believe my parents were a match made in heaven. There were good times and not so good; ups and downs. But that is characteristic of a long union. That is how it works. It stands the test of time if both parties are willing. I appreciate all the gifts and talents my parents gave me- salesmanship, hospitality, and great organization!

I feel truly blessed to be participating in “The Reception” tonight with Jim of Cuttings and so many other wonderful businesses!  If you live in the Pittsburgh or surrounding areas, click HERE for more information on this special night and JOIN US!

I hope you can be with us tonight but if you can’t, I hope you’ll think of someone special in your life, your parents or a special mentor, who has made all the difference for you.

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